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Blexting expands to Highland Park and Hamtramck

Save for the border they share with each other, the cities of Highland Park and Hamtramck are completely surrounded by Detroit. Despite that, those two small cities did not receive the benefit of the Motor City Mapping project that occurred earlier this year. That all changed Monday, Oct. 20, when that project, which cataloged every parcel of land in the city of Detroit, kicked off a week of documenting properties in Highland Park and Hamtramck.

Blexting -- a portmanteau of the words 'blight' and 'texting' -- is an app that has allowed people to document the physical shape of their communities, in turn allowing municipalities to better tackle issues of blight in those neighborhoods. Developed by Michael Evans of Loveland Technologies, the app is available on both iOS and Android smart phones.

This week, surveyors will canvas the two cities, taking photographs of parcels of land and then detailing each property with information regarding vacancy, damage, blights, and similar variables. For the project that occurred in Detroit, residents can now update that information through the app. Residents of Highland Park and Hamtramck will soon be able to do the same.

20 surveyors have been hired to document the roughly 6,600 parcels in Highland Park and 6,700 parcels in Hamtramck. Funding has been provided by the Skillman Foundation and Kresge Foundation with support from Loveland Technologies, Data Driven Detroit, and Rock Ventures. It's predicted that the surveying will take about one week to complete.

Blexting was developed by Detroit programmer and technology enthusiast Michael Evans in 2013. Having shared a co-working space with Loveland Technologies at the Department of Alternatives in downtown Detroit, Evans eventually joined Loveland to develop the app. Since its initial use in Detroit in late 2013 and early 2014, a number of cities have showed interest in the app, including New Orleans, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh.

Source: Rock Ventures press release
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Downtown Detroitís foodjunky spreads across U.S.


Last year, foodjunky was a startup trying to gain traction for its 21st century food ordering platform. It had big ambitions and a small customer base, mainly in downtown Detroit. This year, that customer base is much wider.

"In January, we were in one state," says Travis O Johnson, co-founder of foodjunky. "Now we're in nine states. We’ve been growing pretty rapidly."

The 1-year-old company's platform helps large groups make orders from restaurants, simplifying the error-prone process of one person relaying lots of food orders to another over a phone line. Check out this video of how foodjunky works: 



Foodjunky currently has a few hundred restaurants in its network, mainly in the Midwest and Texas.

"We will be hitting 1,000 pretty soon," Johnson says.

Foodjunky, which graduated from Bizdom last fall, has hired two people over the last year, and is currently looking to hire a software developer. The startup employs a staff of six people.

Those number could grow quickly as foodjunky gets ready to close on a seed round. It originally aimed for $250,000 but became over-committed. Johnson hopes to close on a bigger round later this year. He also hopes to hit $1 million in revenue next year.

"We should have a majority of the U.S. states covered," Johnson says.

Source: Travis O Johnson, co-founder of foodjunky
Writer: Jon Zemke

OcuSciences enlists Adams Fellow to grow startup

OcuSciences hired two people over the last year, expanding the bio-tech startup’s staff to five. One of those hires was a new CTO (coming Accuri Cytometers) and another is from the Adams Entrepreneur Fellowship program.

The Automation Alley-managed program pairs recent college graduates with locally based startups. The idea is to get more talented young people involved in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Erich Heise joins OcuSciences as its business manager, specializing in business development.

"It's a chance for Erich to get his feet wet in a company," says Kurt Riegger, COO of OcuSciences. "OcuSciences is doing a lot of business development and Erich has a chance to do a lot of it."

OcuSciences spun out of the University of Michigan six years ago developing a new way to diagnose diseases like diabetes with eye scans. Its ocular diagnostic technology for metabolomic diseases that allows doctors to diagnose patients earlier and with higher accuracy. It's the type of new technology in an emerging area that attracted Heise back to Ann Arbor after he graduated from Case Western University.

"Ann Arbor is really an area of opportunity when it comes to entrepreneurship," Heise says. "Most people run to the coasts but I think this area is really blossoming."

OcuSciences’ technology is being used in two clinical centers, and the startup is working to bring two more online in the coming months.

"The need is high," Riegger says. "The challenge is can we get ahead of the need?"

Source: Kurt Riegger, COO of OcuSciences
Writer: Jon Zemke

Customer Discovery Ninja platform helps gauge customer demand

Customer Discovery Ninja isn't Steven Sherman's first startup, but his first startup served as the inspiration for Customer Discovery Ninja.

The Ann Arborite spent a large part of last year trying to build up YouKnowWatt, a technology platform that brings real-time information to home energy audits with an eye for making more houses energy-efficient. That startup didn't pan out, but Sherman and his co-founder did stumble upon a market need when trying to determine their customer base.

They were doing customer research with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform when they realized the technology wasn’t doing everything they wanted. So they decided to make their own to facilitate more comprehensive interviews with potential customer.

"You're not pitching a solution," Sherman says. "You're trying to understand the core of their problem."

Customer Discovery Ninja is currently in private Beta with a handful of paying customers. The platform works to gauge customer demand for a new product. For now the new service is limiting its focus as it building up its platform.

"It's for general U.S. consumers," Sherman says. "You won't find an B2B on there."

Sherman and his partner would like to hire 100 paying customers (think businesses and entrepreneurs) paying $5 per interview by the end of this year.

Source: Steven Sherman, co-founder of Customer Discovery Ninja
Writer: Jon Zemke

BoostUp grows staff to 6 people in M@dison Building

Finding the money for the down payment on a car or a home is never as easy as it sounds. It's a challenge one Detroit-based startup is turning into a business.

BoostUp provides an online platform that helps users to save up enough money for the down payment on the house or car of their dreams. The platform lets the user tell their family and friends about their goal through social media and gives them an option for people to donate toward that cause in the form of birthday or holiday gifts.

"We have recently put the emphasis on cars and homes," says John Morgan, founder & president of BoostUp. "We are focused on the downpayment phase."

The 1-year-old company spun out of Synergy Marketing Partners and was originally named Motozuma. It scored an angel investment from Detroit Venture Partners, which prompted it to move from Chicago to the M@dison Building. It is working with a number of large corporations, such as Hyundai and Quicken Loans.

BoostUp currently has 40,000 users. They spend about 4-6 months saving for vehicles and 6-12 months saving for homes. Morgan hopes to scale those numbers significantly over the next year hitting six-figures of users.

"We think a goal-based interface is important for consumers," Morgan says.

BoostUp currently employs a staff of six full-time employees and another three part-timers. It has hired four people over the last 12 months, including positions in marketing, sales and customer support.

Source: John Morgan, founder & president of BoostUp
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ease Living brings style to home medical equipment

Getting old isn't really fashionable in the 21st century. A new company in Beverly Hills is trying to change that.

Ease Living sells lifestyle aids for seniors and people with disabilities. The offerings are curated to help bring more fashionable items to the people who need them, such as compression socks with patterns.

"Most of the common home medical equipment doesn't work very well and it's ugly," says Alison Emerick, president of Ease Living.

Emerick is an occupational therapist who launched the company from her home a year ago. She sees making these sorts of fashionable offerings as bringing mobility and dignity to the people who need them.

"No one want their house to look like a hospital room," Emerick says.

Ease Living sells its wares from its website. Emerick is looking at adding a print catalogue to appeal to older customers. She is also looking at the idea of opening a brick-and-mortar shop in the next year.

Source: Alison Emerick, president of Ease Living
Writer: Jon Zemke

The Recovery Project adds 5 jobs, plans move to larger office

To say The Recovery Project comes from humble beginnings might be a bit of an understatement.

The physical rehabilitation firm got its start in the Livonia YMCA with three people in 2003. Today the company employs 40 people between its home base in Livonia and satellite office in Macomb Township. It has hired five people over the last year, including physical therapist assistants and technicians.

"We do plan on hiring over the next year," says Charles Parkhill, co-CEO of The Recovery Project. "Probably 4-6 over the next year."

The Recovery Project specializes in high-intensity physical therapy and rehab services. It has full-service independent clinics in Livonia and Macomb. The company has watched its revenue jump 20 percent over the last year as more and more doctors refer patients.

"They only come when doctors see progress with their patients," Parkhill says.

The Recovery Project is also planning to move its Macomb Township facility to a larger space next year. The new space will be about double the square footage of its 2,700-square-foot office.

"We expect our clientele to quickly fill out the space," Parkhill says.

Source: Charles Parkhill, co-CEO of The Recovery Project
Writer: Jon Zemke

Hygienic Dress League art project goes public with IPO

The Hygienic Dress League is blurring the lines between business and art with its latest art project, going public.

The Eastern Market-based street-art collective is soliciting 36 investors to purchase stock in the Hygienic Dress League corporation with the idea of eventually going for an initial public offering.

The husband-wife duo behind Hygienic Dress League, Steve and Dorota Coy, launched the organization as a corporation in 2007 so it can be used as a medium of art commenting on advertising with its art installations. They are all public art installations, so there is no gallery or operations or even a consumer product created. New work that will be part of the initial public offering includes "projects inspired by corporate processes such as interactive 1-800 numbers and augmented reality videos broadcast onto billboards," write the Coys in their investor pitch.

"We're trying to do something that has never been done before," says Steve Coy. "It rides the line between serious and satire."

The solicitation of investor money is serious. The Coys will have five Class A shares in Hygienic Dress League. They will sell 100,000 Class B shares as part of the investor solicitation. They are looking for up to 36 investors because that is the maximum allowed by SEC rules. Those shares will be able to sold on the open market when the Hygienic Dress League offers an initial public offering either in a marketplace it has created or a low-barrier stock exchange.

"This is really a big experiment," Steve Coy says. "We don't know how much money we're going to raise."

Don't expect this transaction to be completely 21st century. The Hygienic Dress League will give out gold papered stock certificates. Think of it like a deed to a house. The certificates will be made in the same way they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for stockholders. These certificates will serve as both legal documents of ownership and pieces of art from the Hygienic Dress League. The Coys like to describe the certificates as their conceptual commentary on art value.

"It gets to the idea of how value can be arbitrarily assigned to art," Steve Coy says.

Check out examples of Hygienic Dress League’s public art installations here, here, and here. For information on investing in Hygienic Dress League, send an email to investor.relations@hdlcorporation.com.

Source: Steve and Dorota Coy, co-founders of Hygienic Dress League.
Writer: Jon Zemke

Atwater in the Park named one of nation's 10 best new beer halls

The beer tasters at Jetsetter.com are drinking the suds and the ambience at Atwater Brewery's new beer hall.

Excerpt:

"The most traditional beer hall of the list,  Atwater in the Park  opened in former Grosse Pointe Park church. Brew barrels now stand where the altar once sat, and long, communal tables have been fashioned out of reclaimed church pews. The menu skews German — think fresh kielbasa, pretzel baskets and smoked knockwurst — but the 40 drafts are from all over. The bulk or them are brewed in house (the bar also has a distillery license in the works), but about 15 of them are secured exclusively for to the Atwater in the Park taps."

More here

Ann Arbor-based Stratos develops one card to bind them all

We've covered Stratos big investment scores in a recent issue of Concentrate but it looks like TechCrunch just caught wind of the A2 company developing an all-in-one, inter-connected credit card.

Excerpt:

"The startup raised $5.8 million from Midwest and West Coast investors. San Francisco-based Toba Capital led the round with Western Technology Investment, Hyde Park Venture Partners, and Michigan-based Resonant Venture Partners also participating.

Stratos is one of the latest companies to come out of Ann Arbor. Olson was born in Michigan, and its CTO co-founded Detroit Labs. Stratos operates out of the same building that houses the hot security startup, Duo Security."

Read the rest here.
 

PublicCity PR leverages PRConsultantsGroup for future growth

PublicCity PR recently scored membership in an organization the boutique public relations agency expects will lead to growth beyond its normal metro Detroit stomping grounds.

PRConsultantsGroup recently choose the Southfield-based firm as its Michigan representative after its previous rep folded up shop. The 14-year-old organization is composed of senior-level public relations and marketing consultants in every major market in the U.S. Members often work together on projects with each member acting as the expert for their region.

"You don't always have the time to learn a new city," says Jason Brown, co-founder of PublicCity PR. "Who are the people to speak to in St. Louis or Chicago? Now we have the resources on the ground in those places."

PRConsultantsGroup members have worked with some big corporate names, including 7-Eleven, Procter & Gamble, and Wal-Mart. PublicCity PR has grown steadily since it was launched in 2008. It now employs four people and Brown expects the firm to grow even more in the next few years as PRConsultantsGroup members look to do more work with his firm.

"The business has grown as it always has, through word of mouth," Brown says.

Now it looks like those words can travel much further and faster than ever before.

Source: Jason Brown, co-founder of PublicCity PR
Writer: Jon Zemke

Midwestern Consulting continues growth spurt with four new jobs

The fact that residential and commercial development is on the rise is good news for a lot of folks, but perhaps few more than Midwestern Consulting, an engineering services firm. Though their staff dipped to 32 employees during the recession, that number has risen to 55 over the last 24 months, including four newly added positions. 

"The residential and commercial development is up about 40 percent of what it was last year," says Scott Betzoldt, a partner with Midwest Consulting. "These people we've added are directly involved in residential and commercial development."

Midwestern Consulting has provided engineering services such as civil, environmental and transportation engineering, as well as surveying, planning, information technology and landscape architecture to both private and public clients since 1967. The new positions include  a senior project manager, project engineer, project landscape architect, and engineering and ACAD Technician. Between them the four new employees have more than 60 years of experience in their fields — they don't represent the end of the Ann Arbor firm's growth. 

"We would like to increase our client base in Washtenaw County and Southeast Michigan and try to return to what we were before 2005 and 2006," says Betzoldt, referring to the company's pre-recession staff of 85, "and at that point, we'll then consider branching out into other parts of the state." 

Source: Scott Betzoldt, Midwestern Consulting
Writer: Natalie Burg

Reconsider launches pilot for local biz investing awareness

Reconsider is starting a big to help channel more local investment dollars into local small businesses.

The Ypsilanti-based firm is teaming up with the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development to launch the venture LOCAL, an initiative to raise awareness that people can invest in local companies and see comparable returns to more traditional investment vehicles, like stocks and bonds.

"It's a local investing awareness and education campaign," says Angela Barbash, founder of Reconsider. "The idea is to get some companies to do some fundraising online."

The venture LOCAL campaign aims to accelerate investment in Washtenaw County-based businesses by highlighting more of those opportunities. For instance, the effort by the Tecumseh Brewing Co to raise $120,000 in seed capital.

"What would Ann Arbor look like in five years if there was an infusion of local capital?" Barbash says.

Reconsider specializes in research and education about community capital and social entrepreneurship. Barbash, a veteran financial advisor, works with a team of six independent contractors. She is currently interviewing two Shifting Gears program participants as potential interns.

Barbash is optimistic that the venture LOCAL campaign will be successful in Washtenaw County over the next few months, opening the door for its expansion across Michigan.

"It could be a turnkey solution for other communities to use," Barbash says.

Source: Angela Barbash, founder of Reconsider
Writer: Jon Zemke

App maker Locqus goes on hiring spree after raising $2M

Everything was lining up nicely for Sandy Kronenberg when he launched his latest tech startup, Locqus.

Kronenberg liked the tech hub under development at the M@dison Block in downtown Detroit, especially the talent that was flocking there. Having worked as either a principal or CTO at Netarx, Yottabyte, and Logicalis, Kronenberg had a few nice exits under his belt. He also knew he had enough cash to get Locqus off the ground.

"I wasn't looking for outside capital at all," Kronenberg says.

In fact he had turned down funding offers from local venture capitalists. They were only bringing money to the table. Then Moneris came calling and it was too hard to say no to one of the largest electronic payments firms in North America.

"They do 40 percent of all digital transactions in Canada," Kronenberg says. "It's kind of a big deal."

Locqus is developing Field Manage, a mobile app that helps small businesses in the service industry (think skilled trades people or mom-and-pop ventures) handle the back end of the business. The app manages time clocks, scheduling, inventory, etc, and it synchronizes many aspects of the business between employees on everyone’s personal mobile device or computer.

"At the end of the day we're a mobile solution for the service industry," Kronenberg says.

Locqus has also formed a strategic partnership with Samsung, which will recommend Locqus as an must-have app with some of its mobile devices. That effort will work hand in hand with the $2 million is has raised.

"For the most part it (the $2 million) is for hiring more folks and raising awareness through marketing," Kronenberg says.

Locqus has expanded its staff to 16 employees and an intern since it launched last year. The company is also looking to hired four more people in software development or customer service. Kronenberg expects the employee count to be closing in at 25 people by the end of the year.

For now the staff is working at the co-working space of Bizdom at 1528 Woodward. Kronenberg expects he will move Locqus into its own space within the next few months, but he is trying to maintain his startup’s presence in Bizdom's home for as long as he can.

"We're going to hold out as long as we can because it's a great group of people," Kronenberg says. "It's a collaborative environment. It's a great culture. It's a natural fit."

Source: Sandy Kronenberg, CEO of Locqus
Writer: Jon Zemke

Birdhouse app for autism shares focus with caregivers

Birdhouse for Autism is looking to set itself apart from other autism technologies by not only helping the person living with the condition but the loved ones taking care of them.

"Unfortunately there isn't much focus on the family involvement," says Ben Chutz, co-founder of Birdhouse for Autism. "The parent is the center of the child’s development."

The downtown Detroit-based startup -- it graduated from Bizdom in September -- has created a mobile app that helps track the behavior of autistic children so the people taking care of them can better manage the disorder.

The Birdhouse for Autism app is available in both laptop software and for mobile devices. Thousands of families have downloaded it as the startup works through its public beta and prepares for larger releases.

"I like to say we're outgrowing our prototype," Chutz says. "We're redesigning everything at the moment."

Birdhouse for Autism has landed a $250,000 angel round this spring, using the funds to grow its team to three full-time people (Chutz plus co-founders Dani Gillman and Adam Milgrom) and seven part-timers.

Source: Ben Chutz, co-founder of Birdhouse for Autism
Writer: Jon Zemke
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