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M Den's flagship State St store expands to XL size

M Den's flagship store, adjacent to the University of Michigan's campus, is taking over the retail space once occupied by La Mersa Meditterean Cuisine. The store already occupied most of the building at the 300 block of South State Street. Taking over the former restaurant space, 301 S State, will complete its occupation of the entire structure.

"The only thing we didn’t have is the downstairs of 301," says Scott Hirth, co-owner of M Den.

The boutique retailer that specializes in University of Michigan apparel will turn 40 years old next year. It currently employs 125 people (which doubles in size during football season) after hiring 20-plus people over the last year. It currently has six brick-and-mortar stores after opening its sixth last August. It also has 12 retail locations inside University of Michigan athletic facilities during games, like Michigan Stadium.

M Den is currently working on the build out of the expansion of its flagship store, which it hopes to open in time for the Ann Arbor Art Fair later this summer.

"We are going to use it for an expanded women's and children's sections," Hirth says.

Source: Scott Hirth, co-owner of M Den
Writer: Jon Zemke

Pour-over coffee bar, Black Diesel Coffee, opens in Ann Arbor

Black Diesel Coffee, a pour-over coffee bar, opened its first location on the east side of Ann Arbor this week.The new coffee shop is taking over a former Peet’s Coffee shop at 1423 E Stadium Blvd, at the corner of Stadium and Packard, with ambitions of bringing coffee drinks that are both high-end and small batch to Ann Arbor.

Blaclk Diesel will primarily do that by offering pour-over coffees, a trendy new way of making coffee where the hot water is hand poured over a filter that then drips directly into the customer's cup. It will also offer espresso drinks and traditionally drip brewed coffees.

"There are many ways to express the flavor profiles of a coffee bean," says Nick Ferris, proprietor of Black Diesel Coffee. "We will use different styles that will best fit each coffee."

They will also offer a variety of coffee flavors from a number of different brands.

"We are partnering with several small batch artisanal roasters from across the state," Ferris says.

Black Diesel employs a staff of 16 people, and Ferris has ambitions of growing the company relatively quickly. He is looking at opening a second location in the Ann Arbor area later this year and next year.

"We will spend the first six months working on our overall concept," Ferris says.

Source: Nick Ferris, proprietor of Black Diesel Coffee
Writer: Jon Zemke

TSRL pivots business model to become technology accelerator, grows staff

To say Therapeutic Systems Research Laboratories has been through a lot over the last year might be an understatement. The Ann Arbor-based life sciences firm lost its president and general manager, John Hilfiger, in April of last year. That led to the promotion of Elke Lipka as president of the company just at the time when it started to pivot its business model from drug development to technology accelerator.

"We are partnering intensely with academic institutions," Lipka says. "We are providing the wet lab space and drug development services."

...And more importantly showing its clients the way to non-dilutive seed capital. Therapeutic Systems Research Laboratories, commonly known as TSRL, uses an ongoing collaborative process that lets entrepreneurs leverage its expertise to obtain the data and non-dilutive funding necessary to develop and commercialize their technologies. In exchange, TSRL takes a fee and small equity stake in the company.

"Much smaller than a venture capital firm would take," Lipka says.

TSRL is focusing on companies that optimize treatment for infectious diseases, such as influenza, HSV, VZV, CMV, EBV, poxvirus, HPV, Adenovirus, and RNA viruses. It is currently working with a handful of partners, including one from the University of Michigan.

"Three are pretty active right now," Lipka says.

TSRL has hired two people over the last year, including a business development manager and a chemist. It is currently looking to hire a research scientist to add to its staff of 10 employees and one intern.

Source: Elke Lipka, president of Therapeutic Systems Research Laboratories
Writer: Jon Zemke

Urban Ashes surge in sales of reclaimed wood lead to big expansion

The operations for Urban Ashes used to be scattered. The Ann Arbor-based reclaimed wood firm had a corporate office on one side of town, a prototyping facility on the other side of town, and outsourced its manufacturing to Brighton. That all changed last fall. The 6-year-old business consolidated its operations into one building adjacent to the home of Leon Speakers on Ann Arbor's south side. It now has 3,000 square feet of work space and a symbiotic relationship with Leon Speakers to help it grow its business.

"Now it's all in-house (manufacturing) and in one location," says Paul Hickman, founder of Urban Ashes.

And Urban Ashes growing. It has added two new products on top of its original offering of picture frames made of wood reclaimed from deconstructed Detroit homes. Now it is also producing home goods and furnishings for businesses, such as tabletops made from reclaimed wood for restaurants.

Urban Ashes has hired five people over the last year to keep up with its production, including four ex-felons. It is also looking to hire two people to add to its staff of seven employees. They are all striving to keep product in the company 225 retail locations across North America.

Urban Ashes has also grown its revenue significantly. It has doubled its sales in each of the last three years and is aiming for an even loftier goal this year.

"Our goal is to triple our sales," Hickman says. "We're going to come close. I'd like to add two more people this year sooner rather than later."

Source: Paul Hickman, founder of Urban Ashes
Writer: Jon Zemke

Bmax USA preps to launch new facility in Pontiac

Bmax USA, a subsidiary of a French tech company called I-Pulse, is setting up its North American presence in Pontiac this year.

The global corporation specializes in technology for metal processing that can be utilized by a variety of industries, such as automotive, energy, aerospace, and packaging. It plans to invest $4.3 million into creating a new facility in Pontiac.

"We considered a number of sites, including Columbus, but decided to go with metro Detroit as we have a potential customer base in the region as well as a large catchment area for the engineering, business, and technical staff we will need," says Paul Lester, director of business development for Bmax USA. "We looked at Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties and decided upon Oakland County, which has been incredibly supportive and given us many resources to help our start up and continues to do so."

The investment, which comes with a $250,000 grant from the state of Michigan, is expected to create 26 jobs. The firm expects to create those jobs, and probably more, over the next three years.

"I expect to get to that number very much quicker," Lester says.

Work on the next facility at 777 Enterprise Dr. is about to begin. Lester expects the work to wrap up later this year and the firm to begin moving into its new home by late July.

"We will be finalizing the legal paperwork in the next couple of weeks and some remodeling will take place immediately," Lester says.

Source: Paul Lester, director of business development for Bmax USA
Writer: Jon Zemke

MOD Pizza coming to metro Detroit

MOD Pizza (short for Made on Demand) is opening in Livonia June 22.

A second location for the Seattle-based chain known for "super fast" artisanal-style pizza made with organic ingredients in exactly the way customers wish is expected to open in Northville later this summer.

Livonia-based TEAM Schostak Family Restaurants plans to bring 25 MOD Pizza franchises to southeast Michigan in the next five years.

The Livonia location will be located in a 2,600-square-foot space on Middlebelt Road south of I-96.

The Northville store will open in the sprawling Park Place redevelopment at Seven Mile and Haggerty roads.

Besides build-your-own pizzas made from a choice of 30 ingredients and baked in an 800-degree oven in less than three minutes, MODs serve draft beer and handmade milkshakes.

Source: TEAM Schostak Family Restaurants
Writer: Kim North Shine

S.E.T. Products turns Detroit blight into thriving board-up business

Scott Millman and Justin Comstock both worked in the steel industry until their employer went belly up in 2012. The next logical step for the friends? Start a business that boards up abandoned buildings. They call it S.E.T. Products.

"We saw a need and developed the S.E.T. system," Millman says.

S.E.T. stands for Simple, Effective, Tough. The Farmington Hills-based company makes specialized systems for securing vacant properties that utilize specially made sheets of galvanized steel that fit over windows and doors and are stronger than plywood. The 3-year-old company and its staff of three (it's looking to hire a sales person now) has deployed more than 200 of these systems on vacant properties, primarily in the city of Detroit.

"We can cover any home you can find in the city of Detroit, or anywhere for that matter," Millman says.

The normal S.E.T. system costs between $800 and $1,000 to secure the average bungalow in Detroit. Each project in individually quoted for free. S.E.T. systems are sold to the user, where most comparable systems rent them out.

"It allows the customer to spend less money and put those funds elsewhere," Millman says. "It's also cost competitive with plywood and stronger."

Source: Scott Millman, CEO of S.E.T. Products
Writer: Jon Zemke

Vision Institute of Michigan opens second location in Macomb

The Vision Institute of Michigan recently opened its second location in metro Detroit, adding about a dozen new jobs.

The eye-and-ear medical practice has called Sterling Heights home for its first 30 years. It recently opened a new location in Macomb Township at 21932 23 Mile Rd.

"It (the new office) has every piece of technology and equipment that we offer in Sterling Heights," says Mark Berkowitz, partner with the Vision Institute of Michigan. "It was placed there to be more convenient to the people in the area and farther north."

The Vision Institute of Michigan provides eye care, hearing, and cosmetic services. It offers the latest advancements in technology in cataracts, laser, glaucoma, lasik, retina care, hearing instruments and cosmetic services.

The Vision Institute of Michigan opened the Macomb office four months ago. Since then its revenue has jumped 20 percent. It now has 10 of its 80 employees working there with more hires expected to keep up with the growth.

"I think it's going to grow quite significantly over the next 1-2 years," Berkowitz says.

Source: Mark Berkowitz, partner with the Vision Institute of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

ElimiTix makes fighting traffic tickets easier, cheaper

Ever get a traffic ticket that you know you could beat, but never got around to fighting? A new law firm thinks it can make regrets like that a thing of the past.

ElimiTix is a law firm dedicated to traffic defense representation in metro Detroit. The Southfield-based firm specializes in everything from speeding to suspended licenses to drunken driving.

"We want to simplify the process for people who want to handle their tickets but don’t have the time," says Steven Mamat, who co-founded ElmiTix with Matthew Satovsky.

They also want to help lower the cost of hiring representation in traffic court. It’s not unusual for attorneys to charge a couple hundred bucks to take a speeding ticket case. ElimiTix will handle it for as little as $99. That representation also comes with a mobile app that allows the user to track the progress of their case in court on their smartphone. The firm is also offering a no-points guarantee with its representation.

"Once you hire us you will get your money back if you receive any points," Mamat says.

ElimiTix launched a year ago and now employs four people. The firm currently covers Metro Detroit, but its founders are looking to expand into adjacent areas like Livingston and Washtenaw counties.

Source: Steven Mamat, co-founder of ElmiTix
Writer: Jon Zemke

Littlite aims for South America for international expansion

Littlite is know for its small, adjustable lights that are used for everything from sound mixers at concerts to first responders in emergencies. Though its products are small, the Hamburg Township-based company is working to significantly grow its footprint this year.

Littlite offers more than 300 types of task lamps that can be used for permanent mounting or temporary purposes. They have long, adjustable arms and small lights that offer bright illumination for specific spaces.

"It started with a console light," says Rhonda Fackert, general manager of Littlite. "That is what it is at its core."

The company's core business has been in the entertainment industry, such as people handling music equipment at concerts and needing small but strong lights to work. Littilite has since expanded its clientele to include public safety workers and healthcare facilities. Its products have become ubiquitous across North America.

The 19-person firm makes the products in America but is now looking to expand its sales abroad. The company recently went on a trade mission to Chile and Colombia with Automation Alley to help facilitate business connections abroad.

"We're trying to get into South America," Fackert says.

Littilite has grown steadily since the recession, notching a few percentage points of revenue growth here and there. Fackert is aiming for 5 percent growth this year as she and her team work to export more of its products.

Source: Rhonda Fackert, general manager of Littlite
Writer: Jon Zemke

Troy-based iDashboards hires 30 on heels of global expansion

Troy-based tech firm iDashboards is enjoying rapid growth as the firm's global expansion gains traction.

IDashboards creates business intelligence dashboard software with real-time results. The interactive computer dashboards for businesses analyze, track, and organize data into easily useable parts that help streamline a company and enable it to grow faster.
The 12-year-old firm spent its first decade establishing its product in North America. In recent years, it has expanded internationally, adding customers in dozens of countries and a recently opening an office in Germany. iDashboards is planning to open another office in the United Kingdom later this year.

"It's a big world out there," says Shadan Malik, president & CEO of iDashboards. "We have software that is pretty unique. We have customers in 40 countries. That speaks for itself."

IDashboards' revenue grew 18 percent last year, and the company is aiming to spike it by as much as 50 percent this year. That's possible because of its diversified customer base and its efforts to grow globally have gone quite well so far this year.

iDashboards has hired 30 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 90 employees and three interns. It is also looking to hire four more people.

"We just hired five people yesterday," Malik says.

Source: Shadan Malik, president & CEO of iDashboards
Writer: Jon Zemke

618 South Main preps for August move-ins in downtown Ann Arbor

Construction workers are hurrying toward the finish line for the 618 South Main project on the southern edge of downtown Ann Arbor.

The $27 million development plans to open its first half of the building to residents in August and then the second half in September. The six-story building is expected to bring 164 more apartments into the city’s center.

"One of the things downtown needs to be viable is people," says Dan Ketelaar, president of Urban Group Development, co-developer of 618 South Main. "People are not driving into downtown to do their shopping anymore."

618 South Main is one of a number of new mid-and-high-rise buildings that have been built or are under construction in downtown Ann Arbor. Most of the structures have been geared toward students at the University of Michigan. Ketelaar was working on one of those projects six years ago when he realized there is just as much demand for dense, luxury, urban living from young professionals as there is from students.

Construction started on 618 South Main in January of 2014 in the space that once house the old Fox Tent & Awning business. A few hundred construction workers have worked on the project since, preparing it for its opening.

618 South Main is currently a little more than 40 percent leased out. It is made up of studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units that range in price from $1,395 per month to $2,905 per month.  Residents can also rent out one of the 132 parking spaces underneath the building or access its Zipcar.

"We thought a lot of these young people will not have cars," Ketelaar says. "Right now about 50 percent of the leases are taking parking spaces."

Residents will have access to common deck with a pool, outdoor grills, fire pits and lounge areas both inside and outside of the building. All of the water runoff from the building (about 900,000 galloons per year) is also filtered through a rain garden system and into the Huron River.

"This is essentially a lifestyle community for young professionals," Ketelaar says.

Source: Dan Ketelaar, president of Urban Group Development, co-developer of 618 South Main
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor FarmLogs now used by 20% of farms in U.S.

Agricultural technology businesses are thriving and Ann Arbor-based FarmLogs is reaping big rewards with its crop monitoring technology.


"Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, FarmLogs launched about three years ago and participated in the Y Combinator startup accelerator program. FarmLogs raised $10 million in Series B about six months ago, bringing its total institutional funding to $15 million thus far. FarmLogs is used by farmers in all 50 states and internationally in over 130 countries across six continents. FarmLogs currently has 30 employees and the farm management software company plans to double its staff count this year."

Read the rest here.

Ann Arbor startups claim lion's share of Michigan Pre-Seed Fund

Ann Arbor-based startups are taking the lion’s share of the new early stage seed capital from the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0.

Promising small businesses from Tree Town made up three of the last five recipients from the fund. Ann Arbor-based ventures have also comprised 10 of the 18 investments made so far.

"The recent activity has been concentrated in Ann Arbor," says Charles Moret, president of Invest Michigan, which manages the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0. He adds that there are plenty of other promising startups at the front of the line for funding, including several from the west side of Michigan and Metro Detroit.

Invest Michigan launched a little more than a year ago and currently employs a staff of four people in downtown Detroit. It oversees the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0. The $5.8 million fund is capitalized by the Michigan Strategic Fund, which is administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

The Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0 makes small investments ($50,000 to $150,000 in a convertible note or equity investment) in early stage startups looking to rapidly grow their businesses. All companies that receive funding are required to secure a minimum of 1:1 in matching co-investment funds. Some of the industries it is targeting include automotive, agriculture, alternative energy, defense, IT, and life sciences. Startups that do well can receive a follow-on investment worth up to $500,000 from the fund.

"Our strategy in Michigan is to enable investors to pool their money together to support early stage startups," Moret says.

The most recent companies to receive funding include ENT Biotech Solutions, NanoRETE, Arborlight, Cribspot and Picospray. The last three are based in Ann Arbor. Arborlight makes architectural lighting that mimics daylight. Cribspot serves as clearinghouse for rentals on and near college campuses. Picospray is developing technology that makes small engines more fuel efficient and produce fewer emissions.

Moret expects to make another 10-12 investments in Michigan-based startups before the end of the year.

"We have funding for the next two years if we maintain our current pace," Moret says.

Source: Charles Moret, president of Invest Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Cribspot scores $50K as it adds more U.S. campuses to its off-campus housing service

Cribspot has landed some more seed capital, enabling the Michigan-based startup to start taking its software platform national.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company (it also has an office in downtown Detroit) recently landed a $50,000 investment from the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0, a fund capitalized by the Michigan Economic Development Corp to invest in early stage tech startups. That investment brings Cribspots total seed capital raise to $680,000, which includes investments from Ann Arbor-based Huron River Ventures and a number of angel investors.

"It (early stage investments from local funds like the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0) is extremely important," says Jason Okrasinski, CEO of Cribspot. "The access to state funding, grants, and debt is one big advantage and differentiator from San Francisco."

Cribspot and its team of seven people is creating a centralized online portal for college students looking for off-campus housing. The co-founders, mostly University of Michigan students, were inspired to start the company after struggling with their own searches for off-campus housing that usually entailed Craiglist ads and looking for landlord signs in the sides of buildings.

Cribspot is a product of the Bizdom accelerator program in downtown Detroit. It also won $100,000 when it took second place at last year's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. Shortly after that win Cribspot started to spread its presence across the U.S.

"We currently have a presence at 175 campuses," Okrasinski says

Source: Jason Okrasinski, CEO of Cribspot
Writer: Jon Zemke
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