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Homes Eyewear turns reclaimed wood into sunglasses

Reclaimed wood is making its way into more and more facets of Detroiters' lives these days. Homes Eyewear, which manufactures wooden sunglass frames, is one of the latest businesses to make use of this resource in its product line.

The Eastern Market-based company uses wood harvested from blighted homes that have been dismantled by Reclaim Detroit. The Homes Eyeware also makes a line of wooden sunglasses that are made from non-reclaimed wood, but the glasses made from hardwood recycled from old houses are the firm's distinctive products.

"I needed something that would set my company apart from other wood sunglass manufacturers," says Achille Bianchi, founder of Homes Eyewear.

Bianchi, who graduated with a journalism degree from Wayne State University, worked for several years as a copy editor for The Michigan Citizen and as a community manager for Mode Shift before launching Homes Eyewear.

"I just like working with my hands," Bianchi says. "We have a laser cutter in our shop and I wanted to be my own boss."

Bianchi operates Homes Eyewear from the OmniCorpDetroit hacker space. He was inspired to start the business after a friend showed him the wealth of heartwood that Reclaim Detroit has collected. Bianchi has since sold 50 pairs of the sunglasses, which retail for $150 to $200. He hopes to scale those production numbers with more online sales and establish the company's presence in local retail stores this year.

"I want to keep making the product better and build the product's online presence," Bianchi says.

Source: Achille Bianchi, founder of Homes Eyewear
Writer: Jon Zemke

Arbor Teas finds innovative ways to stand out, thrive

Arbor Teas is a family business, and it has many of the stereotypical traits of one. It started by a husband-and-wife teams, was built from scratch, and has grown to a staff of seven today. But it also has its distinctive features.

First off, it got its initial start because said wife of the team, Aubrey Lopatin, realized she didn’t want to be an architect anymore.

"One day she woke up and said, 'Why am I going to architecture school when this is not what I want to do?'" says Jeremy Lopatin, co-founder of Arbor Teas. He adds they got the first website for their business shortly after that through a trade. They agreed to paint the living room of a friend in exchange for him building that website.

"While we were priming and painting he was working on his computer, building our website," Jeremy Lopatin says.

That was 10 years ago. Today the Ann Arbor-based business specializes is selling a broad variety of organic-certified teas from around the world. It recently added teas from Kenya, Korea, and Hawaii.

"We are responding to an incredibly growing demand for home-grown (made in the U.S.) tea," Jeremy Lopatin says.

Arbor Teas has also made sure it limits it packaging and that its packaging is compostable. It went so far to create packaging for the tea that is backyard compostable so it minimizes its carbon footprint. Most other packaging for teas is only compostable in commercial operations.

"You can dig a hole in your backyard, put our package in it, and a month or two later it will be gone," Jeremy Lopatin says.

Source: Jeremy Lopatin, co-founder of Arbor Teas
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M student startup Seelio gets acquired after just 3 years

From kitchen table to acquisition, a U-M social media startup see bright days ahead.

Excerpt:

"When Seelio launched, Lee envisioned it as an alternative to LinkedIn for the Millennial set—a place where students could showcase their talent, experience, and hobbies. For example, users could create a page that detailed a fictional company created for a business course complete with photos, videos, and information about the company’s business model."

Read the rest here.
 

Macomb-OU Incubator steers next-level dollars to two start-ups

An advanced technology developer working to improve fuel efficiency and emissions and a biotech start-up that's designed a natural supplement to treat diabetes and pre-diabetes are receiving grants to help bring their products to market.

The awards of $50,000 to Nostrum Energy LLC and $36,635 to Omni One LLC and its DiabetainC supplement come from the Michigan Small Business Development Center's Business Accelerator Program through the Macomb-Oakland University INCubator.

The Sterling Heights-based incubator selected the two recipients based on their success to date and their sound business practice and potential.

"We look forward to watching these two well-positioned companies take it to the next level," says Julie Gustafson, executive director of the Macomb-Oakland University INCubator. "The BAF program, supported by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, is an important catalyst for business growth in the state."

The amount of awards allotted to the Sterling Heights-based business incubator for its clients make it the top recipient statewide of dollars from the Business Accelerator Fund to date. The incubator provides space, expertise and other services to high-tech businesses, academic innovators and research and development start-ups.

Source: Joan Carleton, spokesperson, Oakland University
Writer: Kim North Shine

Rockbridge Growth Equity fills Gas Station TV with new investment

In an e-world, consumers can now get their fill of TV at the gas station, all brought to them by Birmingham-based Gas Station TV.

Excerpt:

"Rockbridge Growth Equity pumped new capital into Gas Station TV, a company that provides pretty much exactly what you would think -television at gas pumps.

Consumers have likely seen Gas Station TV network without even realizing it. It’s currently in 42 states, and at more than 2,600 stations, featuring content from AccuWeather, Bloomberg TV, ESPN and CNN."

More here.

Pillar Tech moves downtown to accommodate growing staff

Pillar Technology Group is on the move in Ann Arbor and is hiring about as many people as it can find.

The Columbus-based technology firm specializes in software and consulting services. It customer base is spread across the Great Lakes region and features companies in a broad range of industries, such as automotive, financial, and telecommunications, among many others.

About a third of its workforce (45 people) is based in Ann Arbor. For a long time, the Ann Arbor office called Tech Brewery home but a recent spate of hires (15 software developers over last year) meant it had to find a bigger home quickly.

"It was a nice space but it was just too small," says Charles Fry, regional vice president of Pillar Technology Group. Tech Brewery has made a name for itself as a entrepreneurial collective for tech startups. Think a large collective of startup teams of six people or less.

Pillar Technology Group has just signed a lease to take the entire seventh floor (10,000 square feet) of the office building at 301 E Liberty St. The company expects to move into the space by this fall, at which point it should have filled a number of the 20 open positions it has right now.

"We will probably be at 50 or 60 people by the time we move in," Fry says. "As long as the economy doesn't do something stupid on us we could see being at 100 people over the next couple of years."

Pillar Technology Group also considered a number of other different locations for its new home. Some of them include offices outside of Ann Arbor, including Detroit.

"Our team really like Ann Arbor," Fry says. "Most of the people have made their life decisions to live in or near Ann Arbor."

Source: Charles Fry, regional vice president of Pillar Technology Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

PishPosh expands studio downtown to make room for new shows

PishPosh is growing its presence in the virtual world and the real world.

The 3-year-old podcasting and video production startup is growing its portfolio of shows and expanding its office space in downtown Detroit. Its studio space in the Department of Alternatives (the downtown Detroit-based entrepreneurial collective) will grow from a few hundred to more than 1,000 square feet.

The new space includes a moveable light grid system and a cyc wall, which is shadowless because it has no corners, to enable better green screen work. The increase in space enables the PishPosh team of three people (all co-founders) to tackle a broader diversity of projects.

"We might be building out beyond that if we need it," says Ben Duell Fraser, co-founder of PishPosh.

PishPosh is also expanding its portfolio of shows. Over the last year, the company made its name with "Slash Detroit," a video roundup of the local news with the sharpest sense of humor in local media right now. Viewers will recognize Duell Fraser as the main anchor from the broadcast that comes out each Friday.

PishPosh is also experimenting with new shows, such as "Detroit Media Zone" (also known as DMZ), which Duell Fraser describes as friendly paparazzi focused on finding fun with local celebrities, politicos, and everyday people. Check out the pilot broadcast of DMZ here.

"If we can find enough celebrities and politicians, we'll keep doing it," Duell Fraser says.

He and his team are also looking at creating round table shows for the service industry ("The 86 List") and a "Real Time with Bill Maher"-style politics show that focuses on Detroit issues, both local and national.

"Detroit is the epicenter and it radiates out from there," Duell Fraser says.

PishPosh is also working to create some sponsored content, such as creating niche shows promoting civic hacking (making public information easier to access through new technology). The idea is to build on the success of Slash Detroit (which will stay an independent-minded pet project) with a broader range of sponsored content production.

You can sign up for Slash Detroit and the rest of PishPosh's productions here. Check out more about Slash Detroit's shenanigans here.

Source: Ben Duell Fraser, co-founder of PishPosh
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

AltaFlux adds 12 staff on demand for cloud computing services

Cloud computing is taking tech firms like AltaFlux to higher places these days.

The Troy-based firm has hired 12 people over the last year, thanks largely to the increasing demand for its cloud computing services. The company now employs 30 people with most of its new hires consisting of IT consultants.

"We have been growing steadily," says Vijay Nachimuthu, CEO of AltaFlux. "Quarter over quarter we have seen double-digit growth."

AltaFlux specializes in technology consulting services. It offers cloud applications and data and integration technology services. Many of AltaFlux’s customers have been leveraging its cloud computing services, specifically to get on board with the latest trend in tech, and also to create cost savings by optimizing existing operations and talent.

"Businesses are warming up to a lot of things they have ignored over the last five years," Nachimuthu says.

Source: Vijay Nachimuthu, CEO of AltaFlux
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rockbridge Growth Equity acquires Gas Station TV

Rockbridge Growth Equity has acquired GSTV, aka Gas Station TV, in a deal aimed at growing the downtown Birmingham-based startup rapidly.

GSTV got its start in 2006 by putting TVs on top of gas pumps showing news and advertisements. The idea is to catch drivers at a natural pause in the person’s day where their attention can easily be captured. It now has a network across North America with a monthly viewership of 50 million people.

"David (Leider, GSTV’s CEO) and his team developed a new industry that is growing very, very quickly," says Kevin Prokop, managing director of Rockbridge Growth Equity. "It's a very nascent industry. It has really developed over the last eight years."

The downtown Detroit-based private equity firm (part of the Quicken Loans family of companies) plans to keep GSTV at its home in downtown Birmingham while it focuses on growing the business. Prokop says a decision on a permanent home could be made within the next year, (many Quicken Loans-related businesses have moved to downtown Detroit in recent years) but he knows it will stay in Metro Detroit.

"We have a lease here," Leider says. "We're focused on working with Rockbridge on the business now."

GSTV employs a staff of 65 people, the bulk of which are based in downtown Birmingham. It has hired 10 people over the last year and has four open positions right now. More information on those here.

Source: David Leider, CEO of GSTV, and Kevin Prokop, managing director of Rockbridge Growth Equity
Writer: Jon Zemke

Varnum targets Metro Detroit with 12 newer hires for Novi office

The Varnum law firm has been around a long time. One hundred and twenty-five years, to be exact. And the Grand Rapids-based firm sees a big part of its future in Metro Detroit.

Varnum offers a broad range of legal services, ranging from technology development to employee litigation. It opened an office in Novi 12 years ago, and it has grown significantly in the last year.

"Our firm has concluded that the Metro Detroit area is a place where we have many current clients and many opportunities with clients," says Rich Hewlett, partner at Varnum. "We see a lot of really good attorneys here as well."

Varnum has hired eight attorneys and four paralegals at its Novi office over the last 18 months. It currently has a staff of 29 attorneys, eight paralegals and 18 support staff in Novi. Hewlett expects the Novi office to continue growing for the foreseeable future.

"We have a lot of really good things going on here," Hewlett says. "We see this area as a place that is very favorable to us."

Source: Rich Hewlett, partner at Varnum
Writer: Jon Zemke

SAMSA moves into bigger office in downtown Ypsilanti

A little more than a year ago, tech firm SAMSA opened an office in downtown Ypsilanti. This spring it’s moving to bigger office at 7 S Washington to accommodate its growth.

The Saginaw-based software firm choose to open its southeast Michigan satellite office in Ypsilanti because of it offered a vibrant urban area at a low price point. It is also in a central location of the region’s tech hubs in Ann Arbor and downtown Detroit.

"I like Ypsilanti because it's strategically between Ann Arbor and Detroit," says Mike Stackhouse, president of SAMSA. "It just feels good."

The 25-year-old company employs 20 people, including two in Ypsilanti. It is currently looking to add two more software and computer technology professionals to its Ypsilanti office.

SAMSA is also looking to do more marketing in southeast Michigan to drum up more business for its software services. It will be aimed at more mid-sized clients as the company takes a measured approach to its future growth.

"We're already quite busy," Stackhouse says. "We're taking an approach where we’re not looking for fast growth at all costs."

Source: Mike Stackhouse, president of SAMSA
Writer: Jon Zemke

TurtleCell launches iPhone case with retractable headphones

Every time I take my cell phone out of my pocket, I usually have to untangle a small web of earbuds. It’s the type of frustrating process that makes me wonder why I even want to use earbuds to begin with.

The team at TurtleCell believes it has an answer to this problem. The Ann Arbor-based startup is launching a new product, a cell phone case with retractable earphones. It’s not the first time the fledgling startup has tried this. Last year is started floating the idea for the product, even launching an ill-fated crowd-funding campaign.

Then it went back to the drawing board. The actual drawing board. The three-man team redesigned their product, upgraded the headphones, streamlined its business approach. They created a cell phone case (for iPhone 5 and above) they are excited to use every time they take it out of their pocket.

"Every aspect has been improved," says Nick Turnbull, director of business development for TurtleCell.

TurtleCell started taking pre-orders for its first run of products this week. Buyers can get the product for $39.95 (which includes $10 off the full retail price) and expect to have it delivered in October. The company expects to make tens of thousands of its cell phone case in time for the holiday shopping season.

"It's somewhat up in the air but it will be more than 100,000," Turnbull says.

Making all this possible is a successful seed capital round. The company has raised $250,000 from angel investors, allowing it to bypass another crowd funding campaign and just move forward with production.

"We raised almost all of it over the last month," Turnbull says.

Source: Nick Turnbull, director of business development for TurtleCell
Writer: Jon Zemke

Urban Partnership Bank expands staff as it grows lending

Urban Partnership Bank (UPB) is expanding its lending staff in Detroit as the Chicago-based financial institutions looks to grow its business portfolio in the Motor City.

"We're aggressively seeking community borrowers to build businesses and revitalize business districts in Detroit’s neighborhoods," says Brian Berg, director of communications for Urban Partnership Bank.

UPB has set a goal of lending $10 million to small business, nonprofits, and real-estate investors for this year. It has already loaned millions of dollars to Detroit-based businesses since opening its Midtown office in 2012.

Among the recipients of Urban Partnership Banks loans is the Parkside-Five. The 138-unit apartment building at 23740 Fenkell St received a $1.3 million loan for a renovate. Urban Partnership Bank also gave three loans worth $3.3 million, in collaboration with the Michigan Economic Development Corp and Invest Detroit, to Grandpapa's, a Detroit-based business that manufactures cheese balls, pork rinds, and other snack foods. The loan helped the business purchase and renovate an abandoned 139,000-square-foot production facility on East Davison Avenue.

"The company plans to add 50 new employees," Berg says.

Urban Partnership Bank recently introduced new lending options, including fixed-rate mortgages, home-equity loans, CD-secured loans, and secured lines of credit. It also added two new positions to its Midtown office to help it meet its goal of lending $10 million this year.

Source: Brian Berg, director of communications for Urban Partnership Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

Cirrus Group leverages spike in school district customers

Schools are becoming an increasingly important part of Cirrus Group's future.

The Rochester Hills-based company specializes in back-end software for school districts and after-school programs. It has expanded significantly into school districts in the Phoenix area, where it represents six school districts.

"We have grown quite a bit in the school district space," says Michael Garret, COO of Cirrus Group. "We have also experienced growth in all of our segments."

The 11-year-old firm’s software handles operational, financial and customer management functions for child-care facilities, community centers and school districts. The platform manages enrollment, participant payments and communications, scheduling and government compliancy requirements including state and local subsidy payments and food care programs. The subsidy part has proven to be a distinct competitive advantage in recent months.

"We are one of the few companies that offers a subsidy management tool," Garret says.

That has allowed Cirrus Group to hire two people in software development and customer service over the last year. It currently has a staff of 14 employees and three additional openings for software developers.

Source: Michael Garret, COO of Cirrus Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Elegus Technologies develops advanced battery tech

A group of three Masters of Entrepreneurship students, one PhD student, and one professor from the University of Michigan believe they have come up with a better cell phone battery, or at least a piece of technology that will help these batteries last longer.

Elegus Technologies is commercializing a battery separator membrane that keeps battery electrodes from touching and short circuiting. It's thinner, less expensive, and more heat resistant than current option on the market. It's applications range from helping prolong cell phone battery life to jets to electric vehicles.

"We saw a lot of potential for growth not only with lithium-ion batteries but with other applications," says John Hennessy, co-founder of Elegus Technologies.

The team at Elegus Technologies has raised $23,000 in seed capital from grants and business plan competition wins. They hope to raise $150,000 by the end of summer. That money will help validate the technology. It is working on testing it through the rest of this year.

"Once we get that testing done we can get samples out to customers who are interested in it," Hennessy says.

Hennessy is one of three masters of entrepreneurship students at U-M’s Ross School of Business and a U-M PhD student who decided to take on the technology and turn it into a startup. Elegus Technologies was recently named the Entrepreneurs of the Year by the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship. Hennessy and his team are currently working with the professor at U-M that originally developed the technology.

"We thought it had the best potential out of all of them so we stuck with it," Hennessy says.

Source: John Hennessy, co-founder of Elegus Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke
2729 Articles | Page: | Show All
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