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Mountain Pass Solutions streamlines faculty hiring process

Managing a major research institution is in no easy task. Too much of the time, it's maddeningly inefficient. A University of Michigan spin-out believes it has a way to simplify and streamline at least one aspect of an institution's responsibilities.

Mountain Pass Solutions has created a web-based platform that manages the hiring, credentialing and on-boarding of university faculty. It also helps manage faculty workflow so the user can optimize things like document creation and the size of their support staff.

The U-M Venture Accelerator-based startup got its start when Deb Komorowski, a director of faculty affairs administration & finance for U-M Medical School, saw the inefficiency of bringing on new staff and faculty. She created the platform and got it noticed by the University of Michigan Office of Technology Transfer.

"It was pretty obvious that what Deb built was satisfying a big need on the market," says Dave Morin, interim CEO of Mountain Pass Solutions.

The 1-year-old startup now employs five people and is further developing its platform with early customers, such as Central Michigan University. The bootstrapped startup plans to start scaling up its client base later this year.

"We will be looking at some rapid U.S. expansion this year," Morin says.

Source: Chris King, Deb Komorowski and Dave Morin, co-founder of Mountain Pass Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

CCS grads return to Detroit to launch boutique creative firm, Space Camp

Scott Waraniak and Marcus Mullins followed a fairly typical path when the graduated from the College of Creative Studies a few years ago. They took their graphic designs degrees and headed for creative class jobs on the coasts.

Waraniak spent a couple of years in Los Angeles and spent more time thinking about where he came from instead of where he had moved to.

"The entire time we were out there Marcus and I talked about starting our own studio in Detroit,"  Waraniak says.

Words turned into ideas which turned into action. Waraniak and Mullins came back to the Motor City a year ago and launched Space Camp. The fledgling boutique firm specializes in design, branding, and animation work for video productions. Check out Space Camp's demo reel:



Some of Space Camp's initial projects include the creation of videos on behalf of Team Detroit for the launch of the new Ford Explorer. It has also done other automotive work, but the company is looking to diversify its client base this year.

"We just want to keep growing," Waraniak says. "We want to find a way to bring new people on."

Local job creation was a significant factor in the inspiration for Space Camp. Waraniak and Mullins lament that many of the job opportunities for them and their peers were on the coasts and not closer to home. The company recently moved to Penobscot Building in downtown Detroit to make some room for its first employees.

"It was frustrating watching all of this talent being outsourced to Los Angeles and New York," Mullis says. "We want to create reasons for people to stay."

Source: Scott Waraniak and Marcus Mullins, partners, designers and animators of Space Camp
Writer: Jon Zemke

Diversity of projects leads to significant growth for Motor City Electric Co.

Motor City Electric Co. has been in Detroit for a long time. Since it formed in 1952, the company has seen several of the city's comebacks and renaissances start and founder. Despite those experiences, the commercial electrical company is more optimistic than ever before about growth in its hometown.

The firm, which is headquartered near City Airport, has secured work on a growing number of large projects throughout Detroit that have allowed it to hire 200-300 union electricians and another 25 office workers, bringing its administrative staff to at total of 145 people.

"It just seems like things are starting to click," says Thomas McGrail, executive vice president of Motor City Electric Co.

The company has scored work with the Detroit Public Lighting Authority’s street lamp project. It has also done lighting work at local Chrysler plants and the Detroit Medical Center. It's biggest score, however, is with Rock Ventures, the umbrella entity for Dan Gilbert's business and real estate portfolio.

"We do numerous projects for them and their remodels," McGrail says.

Motor City Electric Co.’s work isn't limited to Detroit. The firm has subsidiaries across the U.S. in seven states as far west as Nevada and as far south as Florida. It also has a subsidiary in Ontario. McGrail expects his firm’s workload to grow both here and across the country.

"We think the construction industry will continue to grow over the next year or two or three," McGrail says.

Source: Thomas McGrail, executive vice president of Motor City Electric Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

LevelEleven spins out of M@dison Building and into bigger downtown offices

LevelEleven is leaving the nest where it was formed, the M@dison Building, and moving into its own office a few doors down on Woodward Avenue.

The software startup is taking the third floor of 1520 Woodward, one of the recently renovated commercial buildings on the same block as the M@dison Building. The block of buildings is being branded as the M@dison Block. It is primarily owned by Rock Ventures, the umbrella entity for Dan Gilbert's business and real estate portfolio, and occupied mostly by Gilbert-affiliated startups.

"We want to stay in the tech community that is building here," says Bob Marsh, CEO of LevelEleven. "Detroit Labs (another early occupant of the M@dison Building) is on the floor above us."

The 2-year-old startup has hired 10 people over the last year, including two that started this week. The new positions include sales professional and client services people. LevelEleven is looking to hire another three people currently.

"We have about 25 people and this space will allow us to grow to about 50 people," Marsh says. "There is a lot of room to grow."

HelloWorld spun out LevelEleven to sell an enterprise gamification app (native to the salesforce platform) with the idea of motivating sales professionals and tracking their progress. It recently added the Scorecard feature, which offers personalized analytics and historical trends for salespeople that allow managers and teams to assess and respond to key pieces of data.

"It tells the sales person exactly what they should be spending their time on," Marsh says. "It's a huge evolution for us."

LevelEleven, a portfolio company of Detroit Venture Partners, is looking to close on a 7-figure Series A in the next 60 days. That money will help it scale its business. It is already growing at a 200 percent annual growth rate and has added a number of new clients, such as Staples, Pandora, and Ford.

"We work with companies that have 25 sales people to companies that have a couple thousand like Comcast," Marsh says.

Source: Bob Marsh, CEO of LevelEleven
Writer: Jon Zemke

Video production firm Detroit Lives! moves into Penobscot Building

Philip Lauri launched his creative agency, Detroit Lives!, just as the Great Recession was getting started in 2009. It turned out to be the right move despite the dour time.

The video production company has doubled its revenue every year since its launch. It recently moved into bigger offices in the Penobscot Building (the former offices of the Detroit Stock Exchange) to accommodate its growing staff.

Detroit Lives! has expanded to five people, including hiring an editor over the last year. Lauri is also looking to add another editor to help enhance his team and its story-telling abilities.

"We make sure we always do our best work," Lauri says. "Whether its a big project or a little project, we want to be the best."

Detroit Lives! has made videos for a variety of customers over the years. Some of its more recent work includes videos for the Kresge Foundation’s Innovation Project and the NEIdeas competition.

"We are currently working with Chrysler on some video content," Lauri says.

Lauri plans to expand Detroit Lives!'s clientele by doing more work with traditional advertising firms.

Source: Philip Lauri, founder & creative director for Detroit Lives!
Writer: Jon Zemke

Campus Commandos launches mobile app for college students

Campus Commandos, the college student marketing agency, is launching a mobile app called Go Commando that it expects will help it expand its reach to an even wider audience.

Go Commando pairs big name brands and with enterprising college students. The users (the students) can earn money and build their resume by performing simple tasks on the mobile app on behalf of the brands, including posting on social media and filling out surveys.

"It allows you to put your brand in the hands of millennials within minutes," says Adam Grant, CEO of Campus Commandos.

Go Commando is available at 460 colleges across North America. Grant hopes to have 100,000 downloads of it by the end of the year. The plan is to get a high percentage of active users of the app rather than just focus on achieving a blanket download with little usage.

"We're more interested in the quality of the users," Grant says.

Campus Commandos specializes in marketing for the college environment, creating campaigns for everything from students to university staff. Grant, a Bizdom graduate, got his start in the business while attending Michigan State University in the mid-2000s. The firm’s client list includes huge brands like eBay and Nike.

The 5-year-old firm is based in downtown Detroit in the First National Building. It currently employs a team of about 10 people after making two hires in sales over the last year. It is currently looking to hire another sales professional later this year.

Source: Adam Grant, CEO of Campus Commandos
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Bikes to open retail space on Capitol Park as its sales grow

Later this week, Detroit Bikes will open its first retail space in a storefront overlooking Capitol Park in downtown Detroit.

"It's an opportunity for us to sell bikes the way we want them to be sold," says Zakary Pashak, founder & CEO of Detroit Bikes.

The Detroit-based startup aims to make the Motor City the home of the classic American commuter bicycle -- a bike whose streamline design employs thinner, smoother tires on larger wheels, a frame made of chromoly steel, and only three speeds.

Detroit Bikes bicycles will be showcased at 1216 Griswold in the ground-floor retail space of The Albert starting on Friday. The store will also serve as a place for Detroit Bikes to tell its story and showcase other local businesses the firm works with.

Pashak moved to Detroit a couple of years ago from Calgary to start Detroit Bikes. He bought a vacant 50,000-square-foot factory on Detroit’s west side and retrofitted it to manufacture the classic American commuter bicycle. The company currently employs 25 people after making 12 hires over the last year, including welders, marketing professionals, and product managers. It’s now looking to hire a couple of welders and a national sales director.

Detroit Bikes sold 1,000 bikes in its first year through bike shops across the U.S. Its bikes can also be found at at a few retail locations in Switzerland and Canada. This year Pashak has loftier sales goals. He brokered a deal with New Belguim Brewing to promote its Fat Tire Amber Ale.

"This year we'll do 4,000 to 5,000 sales," Pashak says. "We already sold 2,500 to New Belgium."

Source: Zakary Pashak, founder & CEO of Detroit Bikes
Writer: Jon Zemke

Eastern Market: Newly renovated Shed 5 sets standard for regional food hubs

On Saturday, May 2, local dignitaries and Eastern Market Corporation officials gathered to celebrate the unveiling of Eastern Market Shed 5 in all its renovated glory. After Detroit mayor Mike Duggan and Sen. Debbie Stabenow took part in the pageantry of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, market-goers explored the renovated shed while Shed 5 vendors saw their patience rewarded.

Shed 5 stayed open and was host to its usual vendors during its three-year renovation. For all the dust and inconveniences vendors weathered during the various rounds of construction, the improvements made to Shed 5 should prove worth it.

The shed was built in 1981 and had seen few improvements since. Because of the recent renovations, Eastern Market Corporation believes that Shed 5 sets a new standard for regional food hubs.

"Shed 5 was functional before the renovations, but now we can really brag about the shed," says Caroline Glidewell-Hoos, marketing and communications manager for Eastern Market Corporation. "For one thing, it will increase attendance in the winter. A lot of people don't realize we're open year-round and now we have a heated indoor shed."

Shed 5 floors are now heated and its doors are reinforced and better suited for keeping the heat in during cold-weather months.

Adding to the Shed 5 experience is the DTE Energy Foundation Plaza. The newly-landscaped public outdoor space on the Russell Street side of the shed will feature special events and entertainment and likely food trucks and other vendors. Also new to Shed 5 is the Kid Rock Kitchen Commons, a large room dedicated for meeting space that can be rented for parties, exercise classes, and other uses. Green Collar Foods has installed a vertical indoor growing system.

One of the biggest additions to Shed 5 is the community kitchen. It's a fully licensed commercial-grade kitchen available to small food businesses and entrepreneurs. The facilities will allow Detroit Kitchen Connect, a group that connects local entrepreneurs with its network of kitchens, to increase capacity and accept more small businesses into its program. A number of Eastern Market vendors, including Chez Chloe and Five Star Cake Company, have come through the Detroit Kitchen Connect program.

Eastern Market Corporation funded the $8.5 million renovations by way of a number of contributors that include the city of Detroit, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the New Economy Initiative, DTE Energy Foundation, WK Kellogg Foundation, Kresge Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, and Whole Foods Market.

Source: Caroline Glidewell-Hoos, marketing and communications manager for Eastern Market Corporation
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Grubbable connects locally sourced food with local customers

Click on Grubbable's website and three words stick out: "eat with purpose."

The 1-year-old tech startup helps people looking to eat out find the best restaurant that serves locally sourced food. Then they can know that fruits and vegetables and other ingredients in the food they are eating is made in the most sustainable way possible.

"We love eating good food," says Michael Feng, president of Grubbable. "But it's really hard to find restaurants serving locally grown ingredients."

The idea behind this sort of ethical eating is that most food served the U.S. is shipped over long distances, such a leafy greens from California or fruits from Central and South America. By eating locally grown foods, consumers knows that they are helping maximize the impact on the local economy and preventing pollution from long shipping distances.

The Villages-based startup and its team of three co-founders just released an app that helps local consumers make these connections. Grubbable is currently featuring seven eateries in the city on its app and is partnering with 70 restaurants across the region that it will add to the app later this year. Users can download the app for free or become members and pay a $4 monthly subscription for enhanced services, such as discounts on food at all participating restaurants.

"It's kind of like a Diners Club," Feng says.

Source: Michael Feng, president of Grubbable
Writer: Jon Zemke

Line Studio Detroit turns concrete countertops into boutique business

Andrew Ward and his wife Jessica Smigels moved to Detroit from North Carolina to raise their family near the numerous members of their extended family. It turned out there were far more family members than job opportunities, so the Wards decided to make their own jobs.

The couple founded Line Studio Detroit, a Corktown-based company that turned concrete into countertops and pieces of furniture. Today it has become their full-time jobs.

"It was hard to find a job that paid well enough to keep the lights on and for me to go to school," Ward says.

Line Studio Detroit has carved out a niche for itself making custom jobs for cast-concrete countertops, vanity tops, and furniture. It’s aiming to release its own line of housewares later this year. Further down the line, Ward hopes to add large outdoor public works to the company's clientele, including water fountains.

Line Studio Detroit has become so busy that Ward is starting to look at making his first hire. He would like to add two new team members by the end of this year.

"I would like to keep us small enough so we can pivot when necessary," Ward says.

Source: Andrew Ward, co-founder of Line Studio Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Arbor Assays scores with 40 percent revenue growth, adds staff

Russ Hart has been so success at growing a business making assay kits he decided to do it again.

Hart and his partners grew Assay Designs in Ann Arbor to the point it got so big it wasn’t fun for them to run it anymore. They exited it in 2007 and launched another, similar firm later that year, Arbor Assays.

"We just like doing what we do," says Hart, partner with Arbor Assays. "It's an opportunity do the things we enjoy and make money while doing it."

The 8-year-old firm is doing well researching and developing high quality assay kits. It has gone from three co-founders to a staff of 11 people, including two hires (sales & marketing, and manufacturing positions) over the last year. Those staff additions are justified by 35-40 percent revenue growth each year since Arbor Assays' founding.

"We sell to a whole bunch of different industries," Hart says. "We sell to pharmaceutical companies and bio-tech companies and academic institutions."

Arbor Assays has grown 40 percent in the last month alone, and expects to do it again each month for the foreseeable future.

"The month before we did slightly better than that," Hart says. "Each month is better than the last one."

Source: Russ Hart, partner with Arbor Assays
Writer: Jon Zemke

Backyard Brains looks to double revenue with national marketing

Backyard Brains has been chugging along for years, making a nice little business out of neuroscience testing kits with cockroaches. After five years it has hit $500,000 in revenue, but has its sights set on a much bigger number.

"We want that to increase to $1 million," says Tim Marzullo, co-founder & chief science officer of Backyard Brains.

The Ann Arbor-based company is getting ready to embark on a national marketing campaign to close that gap. Marzullo likes to say that when he or members of his sales team show off the company's insect neuroscience kits for grade-school education products, like the RoboRoach, they become instantly popular with teachers and students to the point orders are placed on the spot.

"It shocks us when we go to a neuroscience conference and people haven't heard of us," Marzullo says.

Which is a bit surprising because Backyard Brains is an international firm with a growing office in Chile. It has made five hires over the last year and now employs a team of about a dozen people. Marzullo hopes that team will be able to really make a name for itself this year.

"We want to expand beyond word of mouth," Marzullo says. "We're selling every day but not the numbers we need to be selling."

Source: Tim Marzullo, co-founder & chief science officer of Backyard Brains
Writer: Jon Zemke

Intertwine Corp's software streamlines product design, development

Todd Norwood spent 20 years in the automotive industry, working at five companies across Metro Detroit. He noticed one consistently missed opportunity at all of the places he worked: information was plentiful and shared, but rarely absorbed.

"People largely moved Excel spreadsheets from one person to another and never collaborated with the data," Norwood says.

So he decided to do something about it launched his own company, Intertwine Corp. The Ann Arbor firm produces a cloud-based program called Q-It that acts as a business process optimization management software. It primarily serves the automotive industry but can work for any company that deals with product development and bill of materials management, enabling them to effectively leverage their data collection.

"It gives the customer the opportunity to dig into the granular level of data," Norwood says.

Intertwine Corp recently made the finals of the Global Automotive Innovation Challenge. It is looking to roll out the platform across the U.S. this year periodically updating it and enhancing it for its customers.

The 6-year-old company employs a staff of 11 employees and one intern. It has hired two people over the last year (a sales professional and a training-and-development coordinator) and it looking to add more interns this summer.

Source: Todd Norwood, president of Intertwine Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

Paragon Design + Display hires 4 as it expands workload

Paragon Display Group started out with some humble beginnings in 1982, offering photo finishing for Ann Arbor customers.  The company has since grown into a full-service environmental graphics and printing studio, employing a staff of 34 people and a summer intern. However, getting to this point required a number of pivots to adapt to the market. Paragon Display Group made the move from consumer to commercial work about the same time photos went from primarily hard copies to digital.

"We had to evolve into another type of business," says Gary Snyder, director of sales for Paragon Design + Display. "The commercial work became much more important to us."

And it grew quickly. Paragon hired four people in the last year, and is looking to hire another sales professional. Over the last year it has spiked its revenue by 29 percent and is on track to hit a similar number in 2015. They accomplished this by completing several large projects, including a number for the University of Michigan Athletic Department, Central Michigan University, and Kettering University. However, downtown Detroit-based Fathead is proving to be its most important customer.

"That is growing astronomically as well," says Bill Van Cleve, president & CEO of Paragon Design + Display. "They are giving us a lot of work."

Fathead's work includes everything from its traditional decal wall stickers of athletes to large decals of things like Star Wars characters. It is also doing a lot of corporate display work for Fathead. Paragon Design + Display would like to expand this sort of work to more small businesses in Michigan in the next year or two.

"We want to help brand their environment," says Holly Schoenfield, director of marketing for Paragon Design + Display.

The firm is also looking to return to its consumer-facing roots to help diversify and grow its revenue streams. Paragon Design Display would like to attract more work from everyday people who would like to print out their important photos and other pieces of artwork for their individual living and work spaces.

"Now we're trying to open it up to consumers," Van Cleve says. "We want them to know they can get fine art printing here."

Source: Bill Van Cleve, president & CEO of Paragon Design + Display; Gary Snyder, director of sales for Paragon Design + Display; and Holly Schoenfield, director of marketing for Paragon Design + Display
Writer: Jon Zemke

123Net acquires Holland-based Internet firm, T2 Communications

Southfield-based 123Net is expanding across Michigan, acquiring another telecommunications company in Holland, T2 Communications.

"It will give us better and more robust connectivity throughout Holland," says Steve Hazel, agent manager for 123Net. "It will also give us a more robust customer support system."

The 20-year-old firm is one of Michigan’s largest telecommunications and Internet service providers. It has been active in West Michigan since 2000 and has partnered with T2 Communications for years. 123Net has also invested significantly in its Grand Rapids fiber ring, wireless PoP sites, and its Grand Rapids/Byron Center data center.

123Net serves thousands of businesses across Michigan with a network that includes over 2,500 route miles of fiber, more than 70 high speed fixed wireless towers, and four world-class data centers. It has grown significantly over the last six months, hiring five people in positions like marketing and project management. It currently employs a staff of 43 and is looking to hire three more.

The T2 Communications acquisition is 123Net's third merger over the last year. Although there aren't any more acquisition candidates in 123Net's pipeline right now, that doesn't mean there won’t be another one before the end of the year.

"There is always the possibility," Hazel says. "We seem to acquire firms at a steady pace of a couple at a time."

Source: Steve Hazel, agent manager for 123Net
Writer: Jon Zemke
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