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Corbe Company moves to Detroit from island off Washington coast

One of the newest tenants in the Russell Industrial Center traveled a great distance to set up shop in Detroit.

Originally located on an island off the coast of Washington state, Corbe Company is a ceramics design studio specializing in making housewares and custom products. Ryan and Kaitlyn Lawless (partners in business and life) started the studio three years ago, not long after graduating college. Kaitlyn has family in metro Detroit and the pull of the Motor City was too much to resist for them and their growing company.

"We outgrew our old space," Kaitlyn says. "A better opportunity presented itself here. The Russell Industrial Center has a lot of space so we seized it."

"Everything is happening in Detroit these days," Ryan says. "Artists and creatives are moving here, so we wanted to be a part of that."

Corbe Company now employs a staff of three people in the Russell Industrial Center. That team works on several projects, including its flagship line of products 50 United Plates. Each plate is made in the shape of one of the 50 states. Check out a video featuring the plates here.

Corbe Company's products can currently be found online, at its studio, and in some local retailers like City Bird in Midtown. The Lawlesses plan to get their products into more retailers this year and expand its sales across the country.

Source: Ryan and Kaitlyn Lawless, co-founders of Corbe Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

Endeavor report calls for focus on gazelle startups to spur job growth

Two things are evident after reading Endeavor’s Detroit office's assessment report of metro Detroit's entrepreneurial ecosystem: the region has lost a lot of jobs since the Great Recession and metro Detroit's best chance to get them back come from gazelles, i.e. young, fast-growing companies.

Gazelles, also known as scaleups, are small businesses that with tremendous growth potential. They traditionally grow from a couple of employees to a staff of a few dozen people in a matter of months. These are the companies that attract large sums of venture capital investment and make headlines as the new darlings of the local business world.

"Scaleups are a really important part of creating new jobs," says Mike Goodwin, project leader with Endeavor Insight. "They have the most potential for creating new jobs."

However, the "Scaling Up In The Motor City" report, supported by the New Economy Initiative, points out that gazelle growth declined by more than 50 percent between 2007 and 2012, going from 674 to 323. That is the same time Michigan's unemployment rate went from 7.6 percent to 10.1 percent. Michigan needs to create 6,000 more jobs to get back to its 2007 employment levels.

Endeavor opened an office in Detroit with three direct employees and seven members of its board of directors earlier this year with the idea of helping reverse those job-loss numbers. The New York City-based nonprofit helps build regional entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world by helping gazelles grow even faster, introducing them to talent, mentors, and, eventually, investors.

The office in downtown Detroit is currently evaluating a broad range of local gazelles with the idea of picking half a dozen to enter into Endeavor's network by the end of the year. Endeavor's Detroit office will start taking on up to eight gazelles each year after that with an eye on supercharging metro Detroit's economic engine.

"We are aiming to accelerate and support the growth of high-impact entrepreneurs and in being successful we expect to contribute to the growth of the the region," says Antonio Luck, managing director of Endeavor’s Detroit office.

Source: Antonio Luck, managing director of Endeavor’s Detroit office and Mike Goodwin, project leader with Endeavor Insight
Writer: Jon Zemke

Blaze Medical Devices earns first revenues, new investment and hires up next

Blaze Medical Device accomplished a big milestone many other bio-tech startups never even get close to.

"For the first time we are generating revenues," says David Weaver, CEO of Blaze Medical Devices.

The Ann Arbor-based startup made its first sale of its blood analysis services earlier this year. Blaze Medical Devices' platform enables medical researchers and product developers to better understand blood damage from all causes.

"They didn't want to wait," Weaver says. "It has a huge upside for us. It shows that the market is real."

Blaze Medical Devices is now working on adding more clients by the end of the year. The 9-year-old firm is also in the midst of raising a $2 million angel found. Late last year it landed a $200,000 SBIR grant and has since landed more angel investor capital. So far the company has raised $1.3 million toward its $2 million goal, which it expects to close on by the end of the year.

Blaze Medical Devices employs a staff of six employees and is looking to add some summer interns. It has hired one lab technician earlier this year. Weaver expects his staff to continue to grow as it generates more revenues and closes out on its angel round.

Source: David Weaver, CEO of Blaze Medical Devices
Writer: Jon Zemke

DeepField plans to move to bigger space to accommodate growth

DeepField is moving to a bigger office in downtown Ann Arbor, making room for more staff. The extra people are needed to keep up with the demand for the company's IT infrastructure platform. The Ann Arbor-based firm will be moving from its current office above the Michigan Theatre to the second floor of 111 N Ashley, taking over 5,200 square feet of office space.

"It's three times the size of where we are right now," says Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField.

The 4-year-old startup makes software that helps big companies keep up with the constant changes that come with Internet's back-end IT infrastructure. The platform leverages big-data analytics that correlates telemetry from routers, switches, DNS, and more, decoding that morass of information. The user ends up with a better view of their IT network.

DeepField launched its platform a little more than a year ago with a handful of customers. It had grown that clientele list to nine firms by the end of last year and is now servicing 15 customers today. Groe aims to have 20 big corporations using DeepField's technology by the end of this year.

"We have a number of companies who are testing it right now," Groe says. "Our pipeline is really strong."

DeepField has been hiring quickly to keep up with that demand. It has added 12 people over the last year, including software developers, sales and marketing professionals, and executives. It is also looking to hire another five people right now to add to its staff of 29 employees and four interns.

"We are certainly looking to hire and grow," Groe says. "Our goal is to be at 45 people by the end of the year."

Source: Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField
Writer: Jon Zemke

HiveLend creates web platform to connect beekeepers, farmers

Bees and farmers make a natural combination. A new startup launching out of Ann Arbor aims to make it profitable one for all involved. HiveLend is developing a web-platform that connects local farmers with hobbyists beekeepers with a matching algorithm. The idea is to connect the two groups to help better pollinate crops while putting some extra cash into the pockets of beekeepers.

This sort of transaction isn't a new one. There are commercial beekeepers who own hundreds if not thousands of hives. Each growing season they sell the placement of those hives to commercial farmers. Prices for a bee hive range from $60-$80 per hive in Michigan to $150-$200 per hive for almond farms in California. HiveLend's founder, Nicholas Zajciw, is a hobbyist beekeeper who wanted to work a similar deal on a small scale with local farmers.

"I realized there was no tool for that online and (making that match between farmer and beekeeper) required a lot of research," Zajciw says.

He launched HiveLend shortly after realizing that earlier this year. The three-person HiveLend team is developing the early versions of the platform now with a public launch date set for July. HiveLend recently won Ann Arbor SPARK's Boot Camp, a crash course in business building that helps entrepreneurs quickly and effectively validates and better focus their business idea.

HiveLend will initially focus on connecting hobbyist beekeepers and local farmers in Michigan this year. Zajciw expects a growing season of working with small customers will enable them to perfect the platform for use by commercial users later on. It's also the easy path for HiveLend to follow for now.

"I have a good network I have built with beekeepers in Michigan," Zajciw says.

Source: Nicholas Zajciw, founder of HiveLend
Writer: Jon Zemke

RightThereWare’s software improves auto navigation tech

Ever been in your car and end up getting to your destination long after your navigation system said you would? John Heed has, and it inspired him to solve that problem by launching his own startup, RightThereWare.

The Ann Arbor-based company is creating a software platform that gives motorists more reliable and realistic estimated time of arrivals. The idea is to dissect the trip into smaller sections, giving firmer travel time estimates for each leg of the journey.

"Our technology chops the geography into equal surface areas," Heed says. "You can get more reliable ETAs that way."

And create more efficiency for the users, potentially creating double-digit performance improvements. Those gains played a significant role in RightThereWare winning the Global Automotive Innovation Challenge at NextEnergy in Detroit last month.

RightThereWare's team of four people plans to take that win and use it to help it push for a public release of its platform early this fall. It is targeting companies with large fleets of vehicles, such as trucking companies.

"We can optimize in these platforms," Heed says. "We are in discussions with a number of fleet companies."

Source: John Heed, president of RightThereWare
Writer: Jon Zemke

Zingerman's now available at Detroit airport

Travelers cannot (and should not) eat by fast food alone. It's about time that DTW got something a little better than bags of processed food dropped into a multinational franchisee's fryer.

Enter Ann Arbor foodie stalwart Zingerman's! Hopefully sales will be good enough to inspire an actual Zing's cafe. Until then...


"Hungry guests passing through the McNamara terminal will be able to enjoy Zingerman's foods and coffee at an HBF-operated kiosk near terminal gates 70-78. Visitors to the kiosk will be able to purchase such classic Zingerman's staples as packaged pastries from Zingerman's Bakehouse, savory cheese plates and packaged cheese spreads from Zingerman's Creamery, delicious Cold Brew from the Zingerman's Coffee Company, sandwiches made using Zingerman's Deli meats, cheeses, and condiments, as well as fresh-baked bread from the Bakehouse. To top it off, guests can enjoy handmade, fresh candy from the Zingerman's Candy Manufactory. "

Read the rest here.

AlphaTherm brings heated windshield wiper fluid to vehicles

AlphaTherm got its start as a winter product, a logical niche for a heated windshield wiper fluid technology. However, the Farmington Hills-based company soon realized its product had broader applications.

AlphaTherm makes electrical heating, cooling, and heat exchange devices. Its patented Heated Wash windshield washer fluid heating system using a minimal amount of energy produced by the vehicle’s electrical system to produce a warm washer fluid.

The product was originally developed to remove frost, ice, and snow during inclement weather. Truck drivers who began trips in Canada and finished them in Florida learned it was also useful to remove bugs, road grime, and other debris.

"They said the warm fluid cut through it without a problem," says Joe Trubak, general manager of AlphaTherm.

The Heated Wash system has been applied to more than 1.5 million vehicles through OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). AlphaTherm and its core team of five people are now targeting the heavy truck and after-market industries.

AlphaTherm recently joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program to help grow its market reach. The 7Cs program provides assistance and guidance in advanced manufacturing to small firms with the ability to scale their production with the idea of accelerating their growth. Automation Alley's entrepreneurship team also helps its clients make connections with other potential partners.

"They have a number of companies that we can network with," Trubak says. "A number of those companies have a fleet of vehicles or know other companies that do."

Source: Joe Trubak, general manager of AlphaTherm
Writer: Jon Zemke

Michigan First Credit Union expands to supermarkets with first Kroger branch

Michigan First Credit Union is in the process of expanding across Michigan, and it's using Kroger as a vehicle on that journey.

The Lathrup Village-based credit union opened its first in-store branch in a Kroger supermarket in Macomb Township at the corner of 26 Mile and Romeo Plank. It plans to open four more branches in Kroger supermarkets in St. Clair Shores, Southgate, Brownstown Twp., and Roseville before the end of the year.

"We are in constant growth mode," says Michael Poulos, president & CEO of Michigan First Credit Union. "Within two years we should have a minimum of eight Kroger branches."

Michigan First Credit Union signed a multi-year contract with Kroger to open in-store branches across Michigan. These in-store Kroger branches replace the handful of branches Michigan First Credit Union had in Meijer stores.

The in-store branch measures 500 square feet and can facilitate savings, loan, and investment support services. They also feature MoneyWorks ATMs that allow users to select bills in multiple denominations (from $50s to $1s) and allow members to make loan or credit card payments.

"We like the in-store model," Poulos says. "We get the opportunity to talk to people who aren't members of Michigan First Credit Union. We get to offer extended hours."

Michigan First Credit Union was founded in 1926 by a group of Detroit teachers. It has since grown to 110,000 members across Michigan, adding about 10,000 new members over the last year. The credit union has about $750 million in assets (up $50 million from last year) and a $390 million loan portfolio (up $30 million over the last year).

The credit union also employs 300 people and a handful of interns. It has hired 40 people over the last year and is looking to fill six open positions. You can check out the job openings here. Poulos expects those numbers to continue to climb as the credit union focuses on growing its presence across the Great Lakes State.

"Now we can serve the entire state of Michigan," Poulos says. "We are looking for more opportunities across the state."

Source: Michael Poulos, president & CEO of Michigan First Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke

PSI Repair Services hires 5, completes 20,000th wind turbine repair

PSI Repair Services got its start well before wind turbines became fashionable generators of electricity. Today the Livonia-based is hitting a major milestone: repairing its 20,000th wind turbine.

The 48-year-old firm, a subsidiary of Phillips Service Industries, specializes in repair and engineering services for everything from electronics to hydraulics. Wind turbine repair has become a fast-growing part of the company's bottom line since 2009 when it started doing work for some large wind farms.

That work has allowed the PSI Repair Services to grow its staff. It has hired five people over the last year, expanding its team to 120 employees. The new jobs include electronic technicians, engineers, and shipping and receiving personnel. It’s also looking to hire electronic techs who can perform circuit card repairs down to the component level.

"Our strategic goal is to grow 10 percent year over year," John Greulich, sales director at PSI Repair Services, wrote in an email.

Wind turbine work isn't the only growing part of PSI Repair Services revenue stream. It's also growing in the automotive, semi-conductor, and defense industries.

Source: John Greulich, sales director at PSI Repair Services
Writer: Jon Zemke

(EO)2 Fastener creates streamlined car-top transport system

Richard Rayos had a stroke of inspiration the fall of 2009. The metro Detroit resident worked in robotics and the automotive industries, but his true passion was for the outdoors.

Rayos was heading out on a trip with one of those large carriers full of gear strapped to the top of his car. They carrier was convenient as far as size and staying attached to his car, but not much else.

"You don't want to take it on or off because it’s a pain in the ass," says Rayos, president & CEO of (EO)2 Fastener. "I thought there had to be a better way."

That led to the creation of (EO)2 Fastener, a snaptop rail and carrier made to securely attach to your car and easily come off when you want it. The carriers come in both large sizes and sizes small enough to use as a backpack on a hiking trip. Check out a video on (EO)2 Fasteners here.

(EO)2 Fastener has been working with automakers and automotive suppliers, selling 120,000 units last year. It's looking to increase sales this year as it targets both regular consumers and commercial uses, such as military customers looking to use the system to better attach equipment to vehicles.

"It can be used for everything from camping gear to putting a battery on a tank," Rayos says. "As you need it you can snap it on the vehicle and travel 100 mph in the rain and it won't come off."

The Sterling Heights-based firm currently calls the Velocity Incubator home. It employs a staff two people and Rayos is currently looking to hire an administrative assistant.

Source: Richard Rayos, president & CEO of (EO)2 Fastener
Writer: Jon Zemke

APAG Elektronik, Promac open U.S. offices in Oakland County

Oakland County is now the destination for two global manufacturers looking to land in the U.S. this year.

APAG Elektronik AG and Promac plan to establish offices in Oakland County, according to county officials. Leadership from the companies met with county officials at the recent SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington D.C., which prompted both firms to look as Troy as a new home for their new offices.

"These companies have seen what a thousand others who came before them saw – that Oakland County is the best market for international investment," Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said in a press release.

Italian-based Promac is an automotive supplier that produces parts for many industries, including aviation, aerospace, energy, precision prototypes, and complex machining. It plans to open its first North American facility in Troy.

Switzerland-based APAG Elektronik AG is an electronics design and manufacturing firm. It plans to open a sales office in Troy this summer. It's also looking at opening an electronics manufacturing facility in 2016. It is currently using space in the Automation Alley International Business Center.

Source: Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Highway Media’s online video work spurs firm’s growth

In recent years, online video work has become an essential part of Highway Media's revenue stream.

The video-production firm got its start making videos for commercial users and recently did work for DVDs before transitioning to online videos. Last year, Highway Media reached a major milestone in its online video work, producing more than 100 online videos. It’s on pace to do more than 150 this year and aiming for 200 in 2016.

"Most companies are realizing the necessity of having a video on their website," says Mark Salloum, president & owner of Highway Media. "It does so many things for a website."

The Canton-based firm is also trying out more innovative ways to create those videos. It's experimenting with drones to bring a broader variety of camera angles to its videos.

"They're becoming a great tool for us to use when we're filming, say, an industrial video, and you want to see a birds-eye view," Salloum says.

Highway Media currently employs a core team of seven people and a large stable of freelancers. It has hired two people over the last year (an editor and a business development manager) and expects to add more in the future as demand for its online videos continues to rise.

Source: Mark Salloum, president & owner of Highway Media
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor-made Stratos card put to the test

Wired takes the all-cards-in-one Stratos credit card out for a spin… and is impressed with what it can do. 


"There are a thousand upsides to a card like Stratos, even beyond finally ditching your gigantic George Costanza wallet. It can make sure you actually use your gift cards, or make getting a loyalty card totally automatic. It’s much more secure than a standard credit card, for a variety of reasons. If you lose it, just shut it off—you don’t need to cancel the individual cards themselves. It even uses Bluetooth to warn you if you left it in the check-holder, and will shut off if you get too far away."

Read the rest here.

Artist space Ypsi Alloy Studios aims to open in June

A trio of women artists is pooling their resources to launch a new artists collective space in Ypsilanti, Ypsi Alloy Studios.

Ilana Houten, Elize Jekabson and Jessica Tenbusch are in the final stages of opening the new space on Carpenter Road. The 3,600-square-foot space is in a light industrial building that previously was occupied by a print shop.

"It's a shared studio space," says Houten, a sculptor. "It's going to be 99 percent community artists who work in a variety of mediums. Each artist will have their own private space and there will be a communal space."

The three women are active in Ypsilanti's growing artist scene. They wanted to create a space for more artists in their little corner of Washtenaw County, especially now that SPUR Studios is closing.

There will be space for 15 artists and Ypsi Alloy Studios already has commitments from 14 artists in the community. The venture is still looking for a couple more artist tenants. Send an email to ypsi.alloy@gmail.com for more information.

"We hope to be able to move in on June 1st," Tenbusch says.

The trio believes there is a pent-up demand for this sort of space in Ypsilanti, especially now that the economy is picking up and commercial space is becoming harder to come by.

"We hope to get more interest so we can expand into a bigger space," Jekabson says.

Source: Ilana Houten, Elize Jekabson and Jessica Tenbusch, co-founder of Ypsi Alloy Studios
Writer: Jon Zemke
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