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Banza turns chick peas into next big thing in pasta

Brian Rudolph ran into a something of a conundrum early in his adult life. The Detroiter is gluten free and loves to eat healthy, but he also loves to eat pasta. He reconciled these contradictions by creating his own gluten-free pasta and bulding a business, Banza, around it.

"I stopped buying pasta and started making my own," says Rudolph, a Venture for America fellow who co-founded Banza with his brother, Scott Rudolph. "The more I worked on it the more I realized this could be a $1 billion company."

Banza's pasta is made from chickpeas, so it is more akin to hummus and falafel than traditional pasta. It is gluten, grain, and soy free. While normal pasta lacks in providing nutritional value, Banza contains a load of nutrients. It has seven grams of fiber and 13 grams of protein in a serving.

"It's more (protein) than you get in a protein bar," Rudolph says.

The 8-month-old company and its team of three people are currently working to get their pasta-replacement food to market. It is currently in the Eatly fine food stores in the U.S. and should be on the shelves of the 200 Meijer stores by September. The Rudolphs also just participated in a taping of Restaurant Startup, a Shark Tank-style show for entrepreneurs on CNBC.

"Our goal is to do to pasta what Chobani did to yogurt," Rudolph says.

Source: Brian Rudolph, co-founder of Banza
Writer: Jon Zemke

Shelving ponders acquisition, more hiring

Long-term is an important word at Shelving.

The Auburn Hills-based company is a family owned business that aims for strong single-digit revenue growth and steady employee growth. It recently hired an e-commerce/Internet sales professional, expanding its staff to 24 employees.
 
"We have a lot of long-term employees here," says Mike Schodowski, co-owner of Shelving.

Jack Schodowski started Shelving in 1960. The company offers storage products, along with design-build and after-the-sale support services. Among its 15,000 products are wire shelving, rivet shelving, pallet racks, lockers, mezzanines, in-plant offices and security fences.

Shelving grew its revenue by 8 percent over the last year, in line with the family's aim.  Much of that came from extra work from existing clients.

"Slow and steady is our motto," Schodowski says. "You don't want to grow too fast."

With that said, the slow part might not be as slow in the next year or two as Shelving looks to keep expanding.

"We are looking at acquiring another company down the road or hiring some additional sales people," Schodowski says.

Source: Mike Schodowski, co-owner of Shelving
Writer: Jon Zemke

STEM aims to reinvent science-based education

Andrew B. Raupp launched a company six years ago looking to reinvent STEM education by creating synergies between science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. He rebranded the company as STEM last fall after he was able to acquire the URL www.STEM.org.

"Because we got that it made a lot of sense to update the site and the logo," Raupp says.

The Southfield-based company is working to improve STEM education in the school curriculum through better intermingling of the subjects. He points out that subjects like math and science are taught in silos and don't bring things like engineering and technology into the curriculum enough, even though all four things are interdependent. Check out a video of it here.

"Very simply, we help schools, districts, and organizations do STEM better," Raupp says.

The company employs nine employees after making two hires (an education director and a partnerships director) over the last year. It also has a stable of 150 independent contractors.

STEM is also working to open a satellite office in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood this year. The firm is currently in the process of raising $700,000 to build out the space that will help local schools, teachers and students integrate STEM materials into their everyday lives.

"We want to create an incubator where schools can learn to set up AP programs, career technical education programs, and STEM programs," Raupp says.

Source: Andrew B Raupp, executive director of STEM
Writer: Jon Zemke

Park n Party's tailgating services start to go mainstream

Park n Party launched a couple of year’s ago with a novel idea, enabling tailgaters to reserve a parking spot online for University of Michigan home football games. The business has really started to gain traction since then.

"Last year what we saw is people definitely told their friends," says Jason Kapica, partner with Park n Party. "The pinnacle was last year’s Winter Classic hockey game. We sold 3,000 reservations. We sold every spot we had access to."

The big one-off events have proven as popular as the home football games. Park n Party has done well with annual events like Ann Arbor Art Fair and the Manchester United soccer game at Michigan Stadium. Park n Party has also been able to expand into South Bend, Indiana, for Notre Dame home football games and is eyeing Madison, Wisconsin, for University of Wisconsin football games.

"I'd really like to get to Columbus for Ohio State," Kapica says. "Madison is definitely something we're looking at for football."

Park n Party’s software allows people attending big events to reserve parking spots online, saving them the trouble of driving around searching for a place to park their car. The four-person team has refined the system so it covers more than 3,000 parking spots around Michigan Stadium. Those have proven popular with large groups of friends attending Michigan football games and corporate events.

"We get a lot of calls for large tailgate parties," Kapica says.

Source: Jason Kapica, partner of Park n Party
Writer: Jon Zemke

NVIDIA staffs up Ann Arbor office thanks to auto industry contracts

NVIDIA opened a technology center in Ann Arbor last year. The good news is the Silicon Valley-based tech firm has been hiring people (10 so far) for it. The better news is it still has plenty more hiring to do to hit its employment goal.

"It's designed to support up to 20 employees," says Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive for NVIDIA. "We're still staffing up. We’re about halfway there."

NVIDIA's Ann Arbor tech office specializes in making software for the automotive industry. Think navigation and infotainment applications. Ann Arbor turned out to be the perfect place for the company because of its proximity to Metro Detroit’s automotive base and Ann Arbor’s tech startup scene.

NVIDIA got its start making graphics for the video game industry in 1993. It eventually evolved into offering graphic solutions for a variety of sectors. It has been focused on automotive for about the last decade. It does work with the like of BMW, Audi, and Tesla. Shapiro estimated NVIDIA’s products are in 6.2 million cars today.

Source: Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive for NVIDIA
Writer: Jon Zemke

3LG Tech Solutions spins out with new database technology

3Leaf Group got its start with audio books 19 years ago in a room full of tapes. This year it's spinning out a tech startup, 3LG Tech Solutions, that specializes in database management. Make sense? Trust us, it will.

The Oak Park-based firm has grown to include more comprehensive DIY education solutions, such as streaming instructional videos and training assets. That meant a bigger immersion in technology and a lot of information to manage. The next thing the company knew, it had what it took to create solutions for next-generation database technologies.

That prompted the spinout of 3LG Tech Solutuons six months ago. Today the company and its team of a dozen people are putting the finishing touches on the software platform and working to establish sales with big clients. It currently is running a pilot with a Big 4 accounting firm and installing its software at a shoe manufacturer in Florida. It is also targeting government contracts, including sales in the defense sector.

"There are so many needs," says Stuart Newman, president of 3LG Tech Solutions. "There are so many exit points. We believe there is a lot of value we can bring to the table."

3LG Tech Solutions is currently working to land a variety of customers across industries, ranging from automotive to professional services. Newman points out his firm is doing the hard work of making the long sell to big clients that take a long time to make decisions. But when he gets them to bite he expects to make a lot of sales progress quickly, as soon as next year.

"I'd like to have four signed deals by December 31st," Newman says.

Source: Stuart Newman, president of 3LG Tech Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Custom Coach outfits food trucks, vans, and limos with new interiors

Here's a company on a roll outfitting coaches with luxe new interior swag.

Excerpt:

"As the owner of  Detroit Custom Coach LLC, he knows a few things about building out food trucks. For the past four years, he's been fabricating custom food trucks — such as the newly finished  Eskimo Jacks  ice cream sandwich mobile — as well as turning limos and vans into rolling dens of luxury...

It's a good line of work that allowed Ramos to turn former competitors into clients. His first business was a shuttle service called  Night Moves Transportation. But when Ramos realized he could charge more to rent a party bus, he decided to build one...

Recently a client hired DCC to turn a van into a rolling humidor, complete with high-end TVs and sound system. And while that was a big job, the most extravagant vehicle in DCC's portfolio is a custom project for  Jim Beam.The bourbon distiller wanted the passenger shuttle running at its distillery in Clermont, Ky., to look like an old 1930s truck delivering barrels."

More here.

Amplifinity keeps hiring, closes Series B, looks for bigger home

Amplifinity is gunning for the growth trifecta in downtown Ann Arbor this year. The tech startup has been steadily hiring over the last year, is close to locking down a multi-million-dollar round of venture capital investment, and is starting to look at options for a bigger headquarters.

"The size of our organization could easily double in the next year," says Eric Jacobson, president & CFO of Amplifinity.

The 6-year-old company's bread and butter is software that generates Internet referrals through social media called Advocacy Management Platform. The product allows people to advocate for brands by referring new prospects, endorsing products, and amplifying marketing messages.

Amplifinity has hired 12 people over the last year, including a former intern. The firm now has a staff of 37 employees and is looking to hire half a dozen more people, including software developers and client services professionals.

"We're looking for people who are really good at working with other people," Jacobson says.

Amplifinity is in the final stages of securing a Series B round of investment. Jacobson declined to say how much the round would amount to besides saying its worth several million dollars. Amplifinity raised a $3.5 million Series A in 2012.

"We have the capital to grow," Jacobson says. "We are acquiring new customers very rapidly."

The recent growth is also pushing Amplifinity toward the capacity of its office space in Ann Arbor. The firm is starting to explore options for newer and bigger offices in a broad range of locations, but Jacobson says the firm’s leadership has a preference on where it wants to end up.

"We really love Ann Arbor because it’s a wonderful, creative town," Jacobson says. "It has really smart people. It allows us to grow a company here as well as our competitors, which are primarily in Silicon Valley."

Source: Eric Jacobson, president & CFO of Amplifinity
Writer: Jon Zemke

Carlisle/Wortman Associates opens office in Troy

Carlisle/Wortman Associates opened its first satellite office in Troy last May, bringing three people from its Ann Arbor office to jobs in Oakland County. The planning firm assists local municipalities in Michigan’s wealthiest county in keeping up with demand for new development.

"Oakland County has always been an economic engine in Michigan," says Dick Carlisle, president of Carlisle/Wortman Associates. "As the economy improves those are the communities that see an increase in interest."

Carlisle/Wortman Associates has made a name for itself helping local municipalities overhaul zoning ordinances, create master plans, and complete other civic planning projects. It has seen a jump in business over the last year as the economy improves and developments are coming back to life across Michigan. More and more communities are facilitating new developments in the industrial, commercial and residential sectors.

"We are definitely seeing a resurgence in residential development," Carlisle says.

Source: Dick Carlisle, president of Carlisle/Wortman Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

Nutshell goes on hiring spree with 12 new job openings

For the longest time, Nutshell was a tech startup with a handful of employees. For most of its first five years it was primarily software developers and other techies building out the company’s customer relationship management software platform.

That's changing this year. The downtown Ann Arbor-based software firm has hired three people so far (including one that started this week) growing its staff to a dozen employees. It is now looking to hire another dozen people in software, marketing, customer service, administration and design.

"Now we're filling out the ranks of the rest of the organization," says Joe Malcoun, CEO of Nutshell.

Nutshell's first years consisted of it developing its software and growing organically without any strategic marketing. It has already crossed the $1 million threshold for sales.

"The company has been growing pretty steadily since it launched its first product," Malcoun says.

That attracted the attention of some investors and it’s now closing on a Series A1, which is an extension of the original Series A round for its initial investors. The Series A1 is expected to come in at about $1 million, money that will allow the company to grow rapidly over the next couple of years.

"I'd like to see us doing $2.5 million a year in revenue by the end of 2015," Malcoun says.

Source: Joe Malcoun, CEO of Nutshell
Writer: Jon Zemke

Siren PR adds to staff as revenue more than doubles

Every year is a growth year at Siren PR, or at least so far for the young public relations firm.

The Royal Oak-based company launched a little more than two years ago handling work for Metro Detroit non-profits, such as OLHSA. The company has gone from revenues of $75,000 in 2012 to nearly $200,000 last year. It is on pace to easily surpass $200,000 in revenue this year.

"We have grown every month since we started," says Lindsey Walenga, co-founder of Siren PR.

That has meant the need for more woman power. The two co-founders hired their first employee last September. That person took another job this month but not before Siren PR made another hire. The company probably isn't done adding to its head count this year.

"We will probably be expanding to four in the near future," Walenga says.

Siren PR has made its mark so far taking on clients with a social purpose, or as Walenga put it, "A mission they can believe in." For OLHSA that’s helping local people find the help and social services they need to succeed. A recent addition is Detroit Bikes, which is working to bring manufacturing back to Detroit by becoming the largest bicycle manufacturer in the U.S.

"I'd love to be representing more for-profit companies that have a community purpose," Walenga says.

Source: Lindsey Walenga, co-founder of Siren PR
Writer: Jon Zemke

Andy Ross Design fills out workload in Ann Arbor

Andy Ross and his wife, Amanda Ross, launched their own design firm a couple of years ago called Stunning Creative. The move was prompted by Amanda Ross' job loss and turned into an opportunity for the Ann Arbor couple to create their own business.

That lasted for a year or two until Amanda landed a new job. That left Andy with a company that just didn’t quite fit right anymore. So he started a new one this year called Andy Ross Design.

"I've been pretty busy," Andy Ross says. "I have done some work for some larger local clients like Aysling.  It's a newer client."

The design company has also been taking on more advertising agency work, including working with Lowe Campbell Ewald on its Cadillac account. Andy Ross says he has doubled his workload in the last year as more and more marketing firm take on an increased workload.

"A lot of it is I have put more effort into marketing the company," Andy Ross says. "Advertising budges have increased over the last year."

Source: Andy Ross, owner of Andy Ross Design
Writer: Jon Zemke

Blue Newt Software expands products and staff

Blue Newt Software is expanding its staff with more full-time employees thanks to a new addition to its business tool box.

The Ann Arbor-based software company, which calls Kerrytown home, has hired three engineers over the last year. That brings its staff to six fulltime employees and six independent contractors.

Blue Newt Software got its start in 3-D graphics and high-level visual graphic consulting. Recently is began producing its own software, including simulation technology for training and engineering that gamifies the experience.

"We have a bunch of things our work has expanded into," says Bob Kuehne, CEO of Blue Newt Software.

Part of that expansion is thanks to Kuehne’s acquisition of Renaissance Sciences last fall. The Arizona-based business specialized in producing simulation technology for the federal government. One of its largest customers is the U.S. Navy.

Kuehne is using the acquisition as an opportunity to further the reach of Blue Newt Software's products. So while the two companies aren't merged together, they do leverage different synergies to help each other grow.

"It has greatly expanded to bring more Blue Newt Software products to the market and expand our reach," Kuehne says.

Source: Bob Kuehne, CEO of Blue Newt Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

The Daily Show puts the Michigan Daily in the spotlight

What is the current state of journalism? Where does it go next? The Daily Show takes the Michigan Daily to task for its oh-so old timey ways in a segment called "Internet Killed the Newspaper Star."

Watch it below:

 

Farmington Brewing Co. builds downtown house of suds

Renovations are underway for a brewery that's coming to Grand River Avenue in downtown Farmington.

Farmington Brewing Co. will open, possibly in September, at 33336 Grand River in a space previously occupied by a coffee shop. The renovations of the 1,600-square-foot space will make room for beer-making barrels and a bar that runs the length of half the space.

Four, five-barrel fermenters (a barrel is equal to two kegs) will be just behind be the bar and be the focal point of the room.

"Our equipment will be directly behind our bar. We think it adds to the ambiance of the space to have all the equipment there. We will not be brewing during serving hours, but customers will see where we do the work," says Jason Hendricks, partner in Farmington Brewing Co. with Jason Schlaff and his father Gary Schlaff.

Hendricks and Jason Schlaff started home-brewing beer about five years ago, says Hendricks.

The two are environmental scientists and chemists, while Gary Schlaff works in marketing for a TV station.

"We started out as home brewers and began experimenting more and more and developing the recipes of beer we like to drink," Hendricks says. "As friends and family started to enjoy it along with us we decided to expand our horizons."

"It's something we love to do," he says. "We figure if you do what you love you never work a day in your life."

Farmington Brewing Co. will not serve food. It will instead partner with local restaurants to deliver food to its guests who want a meal to go with their beer. Nearby restaurant menus will be kept on hand and delivery will be made quick and easy by Farmington Brewing Co. employees.

Opening day hinges on regulatory approvals, mostly, says Hendricks, but the target date is mid-September.

The opening is much anticipated by locals, says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority. She hopes the brewers can be a part of the city's annual Harvest Moon Festival.

Facebook posters regularly ask when it's coming and say they can't wait.

It is located across the street from the Grove Street redevelopment that is remaking a tired strip mall into a more attractive retail district for new businesses.

Source: Jason Hendricks, co owner, Farmington Brewing Co.
Writer: Kim North Shine
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