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Southfield attorney grows staff of Rights First Law firm to three

Stephanie Fakih was not out of law school long when she launched Rights First Law. A year later, the freshly minted attorney is growing her firm.

Rights First Law now employs three people and helps a broad range of clients across Metro Detroit. Fakih expects to keep growing through word of mouth this year, too.

"We're seeing that return a lot quicker than we expected," Fakih says.

Rights First Law is a general practice law firm. It has been helping a broad range of clients including people starting businesses and people planning for retirement. Fakih choose to open her law firm in Southfield because of the high concentration of other small businesses.

"I felt like it was the perfect place to get a business going," she says.

Source: Stephanie Fakih, founder & principal of Rights First Law
Writer: Jon Zemke

Lochbridge grows workforce to build 'LAYR Cloud,' a connected car framework


Technology in cars used to be simple. A motorist would turn a dial and the radio would come on. A little bit later a driver could touch a button and the windows would automatically roll down. Or the doors would lock. Or the cruise control would set. That's far from the case today, and Lochbridge is growing its workforce in downtown Detroit to accommodate it.

"It's getting a lot more fancy," says Raj Paul, vice president for automotive and emerging technology for Lochbridge.

Lochbridge used to be a division of Compuware until it was a spun out into its own full tech-service integration firm and acquired by Los Angeles-based Marlin Equity Partners. It now employs about 1,000 people in downtown Detroit.

One of Lochbridge's biggest pushes is the development of its connected car framework. LAYR Cloud enables easier automotive app integration and improves the driving experience based on driver preferences. LAYR Cloud allows for one-to-one personalization where the information delivered to the vehicle adapts to the drivers preferences and behaviors through a single, uniformed interface that can delivered through any technology platform.

"The whole thing is personalized around the driver's need and where he is going," Paul says.

Lochbridge currently employs about 300 people working on automotive. Paul's team has about a dozen people working on LAYR right now, several of whom were hired over the last year. He expects those numbers to grow over 2015.

"We always look for young talent," Paul says.

Source: Raj Paul, vice president for automotive and emerging technology for Lochbridge
Writer: Jon Zemke

Bizdomís PaymentScholar hopes to simplify school bureaucracies

Dealing with school-related bureaucracy can be frustrating. Sometimes simple tasks like filling out permission slips at the school office or collecting money for extracurricular activities can be a challenge for parents, students, and school administrators alike. A new startup out of Bizdom is aiming to streamline that experience.

"I thought there was a great opportunity to come in and help schools with these issues," says Melanie de Vries, co-founder & CEO of PaymentScholar.

PaymentScholar specializes in digitizing forms, registrations, and payments for schools. It creates one platform to handle that small but important part of the education system so things don’t lost.

"This is a great time efficiency for them," de Vries says. "A lot of payments never make it to the bank. Checks get lost or they bounce."

PaymentScholar is currently working on a Beta version of its software with Pinckney Community Schools. It's looking to launch it publicly later this summer. In the mean time, the startup's team of four people is continuing to tweak the platform and raise seed capital at events like the most recent Great Lakes Angels meetup.

Source: Melanie de Vries, co-founder & CEO of PaymentScholar
Writer: Jon Zemke

Premier acquires U-M spinout Electric Field Solutions

Premier, a gas and electrical industries service company, has acquired Electric Field Solutions, a University of Michigan spinout specializing in electric field measurement and detection.

"The company that acquired us has been working with use for over a year," says Nilton Renno, co-founder & CEO of Electric Field Solutions. "The testing exceeded its expectations by far."

Renno, a University of Michigan professor of engineering, first developed Electric Field Solutions' principal technology to measure electric fields caused by dust storms on the surface of Mars. The Ann Arbor-based company, it calls the Venture Accelerator home, is developing the Charge Tracker, a sensor product that can identify stray voltage from a distance of more than 10 feet. That technology caught the attention of Premier, a unit of Houston-based Willbros Group, which acquired Electric Field Solutions for an undisclosed amount.

Electric Field Solutions employed a couple people and a few independent contractors. Renno is now going on to work on another startup that helps detect black ice and sends feedback to the braking system in vehicles. Why leave Electric Field Solutions and go onto a new venture?

"I have a full-time job," Renno says. "I think we went through three CEOs with the company. We didn't find the right person to direct the company. When the last CEO left I decided to sell the company."

Source: Nilton Renno, co-founder & CEO of Electric Field Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Data Driven Detroit helps lead Motor Cityís information aggregation

Over the last year, Data Driven Detroit (D3) has been working behind the scenes on large data projects that have made big headlines -- from Motor City Mapping, which documented the condition of every piece of property in Detoit, to the creation of a quality of life scorecard for the city.

"Everybody is looking to Detroit as a model, which is intimidating and flattering at the same time," says Erica Raleigh, director of Data Driven Detroit, an organization whose core mission is to make metro Detroit's information more easily accessible to help improve quality of life in the region.

Raleigh became D3's permanent director early last year after the nonprofit's founder Kurt Metzger stepped down to become mayor of Pleasant Ridge. Metzger had served as the nonprofits director for six years.

Recently, D3 worked with Loveland Technologies and a diverse aray of community partners on the Motor City Mapping project. Together they created an online interface that allows users to document the condition of individual properties in the city. Using the interface, a team of surveyors supplied information to a database documenting each of the city's 375,000+ parcels, which can be updated using an app called "Blexting."

Data Driven Detroit is also working on the OneD Scorecard, which serves as sort of a quality of life indicator in the city. It shows how different geographies rank in terms of economic opportunity, proximity to good schools, and crime.

Data Driven Detroit plans to strengthen relationships with existing clients and community stakeholders over the next year by focusing on work it has already started.

"As always we will be working on improving the accessibility of data to the community at large," Raleigh says.

Source: Erica Raleigh, director of Data Driven Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Betty Brigade refines business model, in hiring mode

Betty Brigade joined Goldman Sach's 10,000 Small Businesses program last summer, and it ended up having a profound impact on the concierge service's bottom line.

The Ann Arbor-based company’s sales are up 90 percent in both January and February, and are trending in a positive direction for the rest of the year.

"We have had tremendous sales growth when we are typically quiet," says Sharon McRill, president of Betty Brigade.

McRill started Betty Brigade in 2004 after being laid off at Borders. It now employs 10 people. It has hired three people over the last year and is looking to hire two more now.

That growth is largely thanks to the lessons McRill learned at the Goldman Sach's 10,000 Small Businesses program. She was able to cut $4,000 worth of monthly overhead from her business without laying anyone off or cutting salaries. One of the ways was downsizing the company's offices by half because the whole space wasn't being fully used.

"That really helped me clean up some areas that weren’t working and places we were spending money where it wasn't effective," McRill says.

It also helped the Betty Brigade attract more profitable work. For instance, it has been doing more work for trusts and banks at cleaning out houses and buildings.

Source: Sharon McRill, president of Betty Brigade
Writer: Jon Zemke

Lighthouse Molding joins Automation Alley's 7Cs program

Lighthouse Molding, a small electronics manufacturer based in Sterling Heights, has become one of the first entrants to Automation Alley's 7Cs program.

The 10-year-old company plans to leverage the program's resources in advanced manufacturing to grow its business in the automotive market.

"The potential for new electronics in automotive has grown," says Scott Lowes, president & CEO of Lighthouse Molding. "We have always done electronics assemblies in consumer applications. In automotive, the electronics have gotten much more complex."

And necessary as the automobiles become more digitally oriented. Lighthouse Molding specializes in low-pressure overmolding to encapsulate and protect electronic assemblies. It has hired two people and is looking to add another three to its staff of eight employees.

The Automation Alley 7Cs program is focused on helping local companies integrate more advanced manufacturing methods to their business model. The idea is to help them accelerate their growth and create more jobs.

"It puts emphasis on the advanced manufacturing aspects of electronics," Dalton says. "They are also helping us become a better-managed company."

Source: Scott Lowes, president & CEO of Lighthouse Molding
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rising Pheasant Farms grows urban ag operation on east side


It's the dead of winter in Michigan, but Rising Pheasant Farms is not sitting idle. The urban farm on Detroit's near east side is growing its production capability and space in an effort to expand operations.

"We just bought four more lots," says Carolyn Leadley, owner & farm manager for Rising Pheasant Farms. "We will be up to a half acre in the next couple of years."

Leadley and her husband, Jack VanDyke, launched the farm in 2009 while Leadley was working at Greening Detroit. "I got excited about all the folks here doing urban agriculture," Leadley says.

The three-person operation -- it’s in the process of hiring one person now -- grows seasonal vegetables that it sells to local restaurants and at Eastern Market. All of its produce is delivered via bicycles.

Rising Pheasant Farms also recently won a $10,000 NEIdeas grant last fall. That money helped them install a radiant heating system in their greenhouse to increase growing capacity while minimizing utility costs.

For Leadly and VanDyke, urban agriculture offers them opportunity of becoming leaders in sustainability in farming. "We are growing in the city in a truly sustainable model," Leadley says.

Source: Carolyn Leadley, owner & farm manager for Rising Pheasant Farms
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Atwater Brewery to expand Detroit facilities and build new ones in Texas and North Carolina


Atwater Brewery's production, which grew dramatically in 2014, is set to reach even higher heights this year as the company becomes a national brand in craft brewing.

The riverfront-based brewery sold in excess of 40,000 barrels of beer last year, raising its sales by 68 percent compared to 2013. It expects to hit 60,000 barrels of beer this year. Atwater Brewery is also in the process of opening up two more remote production facilities across the U.S.

"We would have done more if we had more capacity in 2014," says Mark Rieth, owner of Atwater Brewery.

Atwater Brewery was one of Michigan's early craft breweries, opening in 1997. Rieth took over the operation in 2005 and set the brewery on a strong growth track. It is now the biggest brewery in metro Detroit and the third-largest brewery in Michigan on the strength of the sales of its popular beers like Dirty Blonde Ale and Vanilla Java Porter. Atwater Brewery has also expanded its staff, making eight hires in marketing, sales and production over the last year. It now employs 38 people and plans to hire 20 more to keep up with its production goals.

"We're going to add 10 people this year and 10 in 2016," Rieth says.

Those new employees will be working in the soon-to-be-newly expanded production space on Jos. Campau close to where the street dead ends at the Detroit Riverfront. Atwater Brewery is adding 40,000 square feet of production space to that facility, installing new state-of-the-art German Brewhaus equipment.

It is also building a new brewery in Austin, Texas, to handle its West Coast expansion. Next year it plans to open another brewery in North Carolina. Atwater is also working to enter Canadian markets next year, along with Colorado, California, New York, and New Jersey. The goal is to hit 300,000 barrels of production within five years.

"We are looking at doing 150,000 barrels in Detroit," Rieth says. "We are looking at two other locations in Austin, Texas and North Carolina, which should come online by the end of 2016."

Atwater Brewery is also working to expand its product offerings. It will launch new Atwater Spirits and Detroit Dry Cider brands this year and plans to begin offering 16-ounce can options for some of its beers. Most of its new products will only be available at its local brewery tap rooms and Atwater in the Park brewpub in Grosse Pointe.

Source: Mark Rieth, owner of Atwater Brewery
Writer: Jon Zemke

Q LTD adds new work, such as new website for The Ark

No joke: A longtime Ann Arbor institution and a local business that has been around the block a few times meet in a downtown bar. The result is a brighter 2015 for both.

Q LTD is working with The Ark, the renown performance venue, to redesign and revamp its online presence. The downtown Ann Arbor-based non-profit hasn't updated its website in more than a decade. The new website is now mobile friendly and includes more information about The Ark's well-known events, such as the Folk Festival.

"The Ark is heading into its 50th year this year and it's kicking off a capital campaign," says Christine Golus, managing director of Q LTD.

The 34-year-old firm has been doing more work in recent years and is looking to add to its staff. Q LTD currently has a staff of 12 employees and an intern. It’s looking to hire a software developer, too.

The Ann Arbor-based firm has taken on a wide variety of projects as of late. Those include work for the University of Michigan's Human Resources and SIGGRAPH, which is short for Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques.

"We are feeling a definite uptick in projects and work," Golus says. "We are seeing an improvement in the economy."

Source: Christine Golus, managing director of Q LTD
Writer: Jon Zemke

Broadsword Solutions hits 30 percent growth, hires more staff

Broadsword Solutions scored some big wins in 2014, setting the stage for the Waterford-based firm to consolidate a lot of those gains this year.

The technology consulting company grew its revenue by 30 percent in 2014. That enabled it to hire two more people, including a senior consultant and a director of strategic solutions. It is still looking to hire another senior consultant. The 10-year-old firm currently employs 10 people.

"Last year was our biggest year ever," says Jeff Dalton, president of Broadsword Solutions. "We have grown into new states. We're currently in 12 states now."

Broadsword Solutions got its start providing tech consulting to local automotive and manufacturing industries. It has transitioned to doing more work with the federal government. It spent much of last year doing work with the likes of NASA and the U.S. General Accounting Office.

"Now we are focusing on the clients we have, and make what we do with them even better," Dalton says.

Source: Jeff Dalton, president of Broadsword Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

IT sales pros launch own firm, Prime-IT-Solutions

Pete Kaczmarek worked for someone else for 20 years. He did sales in technology and IT, and it did it well. So well that he decided he could do it better on his own and launched his own company.

"I felt like I was on a remote island, and I am doing everything anyway," Kaczmarek says.

So he started Prime-IT-Solutions. The Troy-based company is value-added reseller of technology. Kaczmarek and his team of eight people are selling equipment for the likes of data centers and other IT applications.

Prime-IT-Solutions is targeting small businesses at first, primarily those with fewer than 50 employees. Kaczmarek sees that section as underserved and have significant growth potential. He is also selling to a few larger businesses, mainly because of his history in that area.

"I knew the people," Kaczmarek says. "It was a smooth transition."

Source: Pete Kaczmarek, president of Prime-IT-Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor State Bank continues growth streak, adds new hires

Ann Arbor State Bank is making significant strides forward with its bottom line and is expanding its product offerings... and staff.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based bank has made about 90 percent of its profits from commercial and mortgage lending. It is now adding private banking and leasing services to its portfolio. The leasing services would focus on commercial and equipment leases for businesses.

"It's a small piece but we hope it will become a big piece," says Peter Schork, president & CEO of Ann Arbor State Bank.

The 6-year-old bank has grown its staff, adding six new hires over the last year. It currently has a staff of 37 employees and one intern. Its new hires include professionals specializing in mortgage lending, private banking, and commercial leasing.

Ann Arbor State Bank has grown quite a bit over the last year, going from $205 million in total assets to $230 million in total assets by the end of 2014. Schork expects the community bank to make similar gains this year.

"We had a great year," Schork says. "A very profitable year."

Source: Peter Schork, president & CEO of Ann Arbor State Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

Metromode's editor says farewell

Today Metromode publishes its 376th issue. I have served as the publication's managing editor for 369 of those issues, since taking the helm in February of 2007. This issue will be my last. 

I'm not a sentimental person by nature. At first, I wasn't sure I wanted to write a Dear John letter. Choked-up sign-offs always struck me as, well, somewhat self-indulgent. As Metromode's editor I have been, by choice and design, someone who worked behind the scenes, shaping the publication's narrative, generating its story ideas, guiding its writers, but mostly letting others take the focus.

My wife convinced me to reconsider. 

So, this is my attempt (last minute as it may be) to explain what I've learned during my tenure at Metromode, what I tried to accomplish and who I have to thank for any success we might have achieved.

First and foremost, running Metromode has been an experience that has profoundly shaped the way I regard metropolitan Detroit, and one I am immensely thankful for. The last eight years have been a crash-course education in understanding what makes this region tick - no small thing for a non-native like myself, a guy who grew up in New York but spent his professional years living in the Pacific Northwest. 

To say that Metro Detroit's personality, pathologies, dysfunctions and triumphs are unique, would be an understatement. This is a place rich in history and possibility, often frustrated by what it knows it can be but has yet to achieve. Watching the region's recent evolution has been both heartening and frustrating - but always exciting. 

Change makes for a good story, but also a painful process for those involved. As Metro Detroit has wrestled with issues of identity and place, I saw Metromode as a tool for conversation, a forum for ideas, innovations and examples that might otherwise get drown out by traditional narratives. We've learned as we've gone along, and done our best to respond to what is moving the region forward... and what might be holding it back.

It's been an exciting to follow the new, innovative industries that now pepper our region's 1300 square miles, as we take the first steps toward a more diverse and nuanced economy. It's been encouraging to see open and heated discussions about transportation and community planning take centerstage in the media. I hope that my time at Metromode was, at least, partially responsible for igniting those conversations.

After a decade-plus of living in Michigan, I can no longer claim to be an outsider. But I hope my non-native status has prompted me to ask questions and tackle local issues with a somewhat different point of view. I have lived in diverse cities with reliable, efficient mass transit and dense urban cores. I know what it is like to own a home on a block with a seven story apartment building at the end of my street. I have rented apartments that were located within walking distance of a grocery store, a hardware store, nightlife and, even, my job. I have lived in communities that have been recycling for several decades rather than years.

Charting and challenging Metro Detroit's on-the-ground and behind-closed-doors attempts (some more serious than others) to address these and many other issues has not only helped me better understand the place I now call home, but informed my own entire world view. Not everyone gets the benefit of learning about their community through their job, especially with the breadth, depth and sophistication I have. For this I am blessed.

I have also been blessed with colleagues who have educated, partnered, supported and, thankfully, questioned my ideas and choices over the years. Jon Zemke, Kim North Shine, Dave Lewinski, Tanya Muzumdar, Dennis Archambault, Natalie Burg, Nicole Rupersburg, Amy Kuras, Nina Ignaczak and Patrick Dunn are only my more recent partners. They, and everyone who came before them, have been the heart and soul of the publication, working for far to little to produce far more than I asked. Luckily, their work here will continue even if mine does not.

Leaving Metromode does not mean leaving Metro Detroit, however. I will remain the managing editor of Concentrate in Washtenaw County (at least for the foreseeable future) and you can continue (or start) to read my film reviews in the Metro Times.

There is also, of course, the many friends, colleagues, contacts and connections I have made over the years. This community is rich with thoughtful, passionate and innovative people. I am honored to know them and look forward to finding other ways to know them better.

I have a good friend who ends our phone calls with, "bye, for now." I've always loved the sentiment behind that sign off. It's the promise that we'll talk again. So, to the readers of Metromode, past and present, thank you for indulging in my editorial vision for the last eight years. I look forward to more conversations, more debates, and more instances of inspiration.

Bye for now,

Jeff Meyers

TernPro set to launch first product platform, Slope


Online media startup TernPro is gearing up for the release of its first software product, Slope.

The software platform specializes in video creation so everyday people can produce videos and track the public's interaction with them. That way they can store all of their photos, graphics, and videos and have them available to create online content.

"Think of it like a Dropbox for media content," says Brian Bosche, co-founder & CEO of TernPro.

Bosche is a member of the inaugural class of Venture for America, a two-year program that pairs talented college grads with startups in economically challenged cities like Detroit. He lives in a house on Virginia Park that he and other VFA fellows purchased at the Wayne County tax foreclosure auction and are renovating into a home for future fellows.

Bosche's VFA job consisted of working with the leadership team at Bizdom in downtown Detroit, helping many of the startups in the incubator tell their stories through short videos. Bosche and fellow VFAer Dan Bloom parlayed that experience into TernPro, a full-service video production company serving the tech scene in downtown Detroit.

Slope is its first principal product, and it's set to launch into private Beta next week. TernPro's team of six people is aiming for a public launch later this summer.

"We have over 200 signups now," Bosche says. "We have 20 companies lined up for that in our private Beta."

Source: Brian Bosche, co-founder & CEO of TernPro
Writer: Jon Zemke
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