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Southfield's Ayar Law Group takes off with tax law work, adds 5 jobs

When Venar Ayar launched his own tax law practice, Ayar Law Group, two years ago he quickly realized he had a growing problem. But it was a good problem.

The Southfield-based firm's legal services were so in demand that Ayar had to move out of the 10-foot by 12-foot office within three months because he hired his first employee. Three months later he had to move to a bigger office after he hired two more people. Three months later, Ayar Law Group moved to its current offices to accommodate its growth.
"This office is almost to the point where I am at capacity," Ayar says. "I have grown so fast."

Ayar Law Group offers legal services in tax law, including audit defense, tax-debt relief, negotiating tax settlements, criminal tax fraud defense, and unfiled tax returns. It services individuals, families, and small businesses.

Today Ayar Law Group has a staff of eight employees and three interns, including five hires over the last year. It is currently looking for another attorney to hire and a law student for an internship.

"I am always looking for more law students and lawyers," Ayar says. "I don't plan to stop hiring anytime soon."

Ayar has a Master of Laws in Taxation (the highest degree available in tax law practice) from the University of San Diego School of Law. He also worked as an IRS defense lawyer for five years. He started Ayar Law Group two years ago because he saw a huge uptick in tax troubles thanks to the Great Recession and the economy was finally improving to the point that people were becoming optimistic.

"It was sort of the perfect time for this," Ayar says.

Source: Venar Ayar, principal of Ayar Law Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

The state of Detroit's startup scene

Ann Arbor likes to think that it exists in a magical economic and political bubble. But the truth is, we are part of the Detroit metro region and its fortunes impact our fortunes. And so as our community's entrepreneurial ecosystem strengthens it only makes sense that we should pay better attention to Motown's situation... especially as more and more U-M grads choose to move there.


"Detroit has lost more than 20 percent of its population 25 years and over in the last decade, according to U.S. Census Data. But a more shocking statistic indicates a different narrative: the population of college-educated residents under 39 year-olds increased by 59 percent in the 7.1 square mile area of Greater Downtown from 2000 to 2010, according to a Forbes report from 2011.

“There is a certain demographic that comes to Detroit that is well-educated, affluent and white and wants to do something,” said Associate Prof. Nick Tobier, who teaches topics like social entrepreneurship in the University’s School of Art & Design. “I mean that in good and bad ways.”

Now, Detroit is building an ecosystem of entrepreneurship, including venture capitalists — those who provide early-stage funding to promising startups — entrepreneurship-focused non-profits; lawyers; a tech-savvy Chamber of Commerce; office hubs, the vibrant urban areas that innovators crave and months-long programs that provide funding and mentorship to innovators."

Read the rest here.

Stony Lake Brewing Co. nanobrewery to open in Saline

As a concept, Jerry Tubbs's forthcoming Saline business has been brewing for years now. Come February, however, the nanobrewery Stony Lake Brewing Co. will finally be ready for patrons to get their first hoppy taste of the new local watering hole. 

"My wife and I have always played around with different business ideas over the years," says Tubbs. "My love for beer and brewing made it just kind of fit."

The 3,300 square foot Stony Lake Brewing Co. on E. Michigan Ave. in Saline has been under construction for months now, after Tubbs began his lease in June. Building a brewery from scratch takes time, however, and Tubb is just now getting his brewing equipment installed and ready for operation. His microbrewers license will allow him to brew and serve his own beer at the location. Offering food and and selling his beer to other local establishments may come further down the line. 

"My kettles are three-barrel, which is on the small side, so I follow what a lot of these nanobrewes have done," Tubbs says. "I'm hoping with a year or two under our belt we'll be planning for larger tanks".

While Stony Lake Brewing Co. will offer a variety of different beers, the menu will include a number of IPAs — Tubbs's own personal favorite. While he will brew the beer himself, he expects to hire a staff of about seven to operate the taproom when he opens in February. 

Source: Jerry Tubbs, Stony Lake Brewing Co.
Writer: Natalie Burg

SkySpecs wins Accelerate Michigan, spot at Techstars incubator

Third time turned out to be the charm for SkySpecs. It took the Ann Arbor-based drone startup three tries at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition before it won it all and a hefty payday to go with it.

SkySpecs first participated in Accelerate Michigan's student competition in 2012 when the startup was being launched by some University of Michigan students. It took third place in the student portion that year. It came back again in 2013 and made the semifinals of Accelerate Michigan. This year it went all the way and took home $500,000 in seed capital.

"The biggest things for us is it's going to really accelerate our product development," says Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs. "It will enable us to do what we need to do to get our project out into the world and hire more people."

SkySpecs is developing aerial drones that use artificial intelligence to inspect infrastructure in dangerous locations, such as the blade of wind turbines. It's WingMan platform allows the aircraft to hover near an object without fear of hitting it. Check out a demonstration company’s WingMan technology here.

SkySpecs has hired two people (business development and computer programer) over the last year, expanding its staff to nine employees. Those nine people are currently working in New York City at the Techstars incubator. The company plans to wrap up its tour there and return to Michigan by February when it hopes to have 10 prototypes working in the field.

"We thought (Techstars) was going to help us to take it to the next level," Ellis says. "They have the right network and the right skill set."

Source: Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Soothsayer Analytics launches out of Livonia

A new analytics startup is launching out of Livonia, and it's looking to start making a name for itself as the company that can translate the effectiveness of cutting-edge algorithms into everyday English.

Soothsayer Analytics likes to describe itself as a data science and machine-learning startup. It aims to use machine learning and statistical techniques to find hidden insights and patterns from complex and unstructured data.

The 3-month-old company currently has a core team of six employees and nine advisors, along with some help from overseas universities. It is also in the process of hiring another employee.

"We have some really respected people in a variety of different fields," says Christopher Dole, partner of Soothsayer Analytics. "We expect to do some really exciting work."

Some of the projects in the pipeline include a technology that will be able to forecast which college football players will make the transition to the NFL, and which team each individual player would do best with. It’s also working on a mathematical model that will help predict things like stroke or heart attack.

Soothsayer Analytics is hosting a conference at 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 14. It will feature a two-hour presentation by Murthy Kolluru that aims to demystify data science. The idea is to provide business leaders with a deeper understanding of the subject by emphasizing intuition instead of the math behind some cutting-edge algorithms and concepts like machine learning.

The event will be held at 21000 W. 10 Mile Road in Southfield in Room M336. For information click here.

Source: Christopher Dole, partner of Soothsayer Analytics
Writer: Jon Zemke

Inteva continues to grow in Troy

Lots of companies like to call themselves global because they have an office in Europe or a sales employee in Asia. Inteva Products likes to call itself a global firm because it employs 11,500 people in 18 countries.

The automotive supplier specializes in everything from interior systems to engineering. It employs 300 people at its Troy headquarters after making a handful of new hires over the last year.

"There have been a number of hirings," says Karen Manardo, global director of marketing & communications for Inteva Products.

Inteva Products spun out of Delphi in 2008. It acquired Arvin Meritor in 2011, a move that essentially doubled its size.

"That was our biggest growth phase," Manardo says.

The company went from $1.2 billion in sales to $2.4 billion. It has since grown quickly, with its revenue edging up to about $2.8 billion.

"We have continued to grow, particularly in China," Manardo says. "That's our biggest growth area."

Source: Karen Manardo, global director of marketing & communications for Inteva Products
Writer: Jon Zemke

Brooklynite moves back to Detroit to grow her line of eco-friendly makeup, The Lip Bar

When Melissa Butler recently moved back to Detroit from Brooklyn, she brought her business with her.

Butler grew up in Detroit and graduated from Cass Tech High School. She moved away to go to college in Florida and then lived in New York City for the last six years while working on Wall Street. She started making her own makeup in the last few years, which she eventually launched as her own line of cosmetics, The Lip Bar. She moved back to Detroit earlier this fall to grow that business.

"I was really inspired by the rejuvenation and rebirth of Detroit," Butler says. "The reality is New York City didn’t need me. Detroit needs me."

Butler is running The Lip Bar from her home on Detroit's east side. The cosmetic line consists primarily of lipstick and is sold online at the business’s website, the Urban Outfitters website, and a few retail locations. Butler would like to get her products into more retail stores and is even thinking of opening up her own storefront.

Butler started making her own cosmetics out of frustration with the options available on the market, which tend to contain numerous toxins and are not environmentally friendly. The Lip Bar's products contain natural ingredients that achieve higher environmental standards while making its users look good.

"It's guilt-free good looks," Butler says.

Source: Melissa Butler, founder of The Lip Bar
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor lands office for Texas-based VC firm, Mercury Fund

Mercury Fund, a Houston-based venture capital firm, is opening its Midwestern office in Ann Arbor and is taking aim at making investments in Michigan-based startups.

To solidify its plans it has brought on Adrian Fortino as a partner to run the Ann Arbor office. Fortino had been running the Invest Detroit fund (he will remain an advisor) and will utilize his local expertise to make more investments in local startups.

"We are deeply interested in exploring the research and industrial background here," says Adrian Fortino, partner with Mercury Fund. "I see an immense opportunity in the industrial and research corridors."

Mercury Fund is in the midst of raising a $100-million investment vehicle, which Fortino expects to close before the end of the year. Mercury Fund has made investments in two local startups, DeepField and Swift Biosciences, and is currently looking at other potential investments.

The Ann Arbor office of Mercury Fund is located in the Headwaters space in Kerrytown. Headwaters is a small community of startups and early stage investors led by Ann Arbor-based Huron River Ventures.

"There is an incredible value to being around other investors in town," Fortino says.

Source: Adrian Fortino, partner with Mercury Fund
Writer: Jon Zemke

Caelynx expands bottom line on growth of software platform

Three years ago Caelynx made all of its money from its engineering consulting and staffing services. By next year its only going to get about half of its bottom line from those sources. The other half, from its rapidly growing software platform.

"Software is continuing to be the major growth area," says Hans Steiner, director of business development for Caelynx. "All areas are growing but software is leading it."

The Ann Arbor-based company's computer-aided engineering platform works as a simulation platform for the company.

"This allows them to test it virtually so they can see if it performs," Steiner says.

Caelynx recently notched another 20 percent revenue growth year, making it the sixth consecutive year to do it. Ann Arbor SPARK has now recognized Caelynx as one of its FastTrack award winners for exponential revenue growth.

Caelynx has also hired one person in the U.S. and three for its Romania office over the last year. It now has a staff of 12 people in the U.S. and six in Romania. The company also recently moved from Ann Arbor's southside to a new office just north of downtown near the Amtrak train station.

"It's smaller but it's the right size for us," Steiner says.

Source: Hans Steiner, director of business development for Caelynx
Writer: Jon Zemke

D:hive design director launches own firm, Good Done Daily

You could say Andy Kopietz is a victim of his own success.

Kopietz has been working as a designer in Detroit for the last several years, most recently as the design director for D:hive, an organization serving as a welcome and help center for all things Detroit. Earlier this fall, D:hive announced it was splitting into two different organizations, which meant neither one could afford its own design person.

"I'm kind of designing my way out of a job," Kopietz says. "I have been a designer for 10 years, and I felt it was a good time to make a change."

That change was founding his own design company, Good Done Daily. The boutique graphic design firm is working with a number of local organizations, including the New Economy Initiative, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Midtown Detroit Inc. (the branding work for Dlectricity), and the Hudson-Webber Foundation.

"It's been very challenging because I have a full-time design job (the D:hive split doesn't take place until January) and I have a full-time business," Kopietz says. "I have been trying to straddle that line the best way I can."

He wants to grow Good Done Daily into a business with an employee or two next year. He also wants to open a Good Done Daily studio.

"I have started to look at office space in the Jefferson-Chalmers area," Kopietz says.

Source: Andy Kopietz, principal of Good Done Daily
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit region's economy most high-powered in Michigan

Despite past setbacks, southeast Michigan is still the state's significant economic engine – and that's not likely to change.


“The southeast side is going to be the center for economic activity for many years,” said George Erickcek, an analyst for the Kalamazoo-based Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. “It is going to be a long time before the west side of the state matches the east side of the state....

The Detroit region’s share of the state economy has dropped, however, from 54.7 percent in 2001 to 52 percent in 2013. And the area’s GDP last year is 8 percent below its peak in 2005. But the Detroit-area’s most critical business sectors are gradually clawing back, with health care emerging as a vital new area of growth."

More here.

Houston VC firm opens in Ann Arbor

Somebody smells money. If there's one thing Texans don't fool around about it's football, oil and, of course, making money. To wit, Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury Fund has set up shop in The Deuce.


"He said there is a depth of engineering, computer science and machine-learning talent in the area, bolstered by graduates of the University of Michigan. One of Mercury's main areas of investment is biotech, and there are numerous contract research organizations in Ann Arbor that were founded by former Pfizer Inc. employees after it closed its local operations in 2008."

Read the rest here.

Leon Speakers hires 12 as it grows, evolves business model

Leon Speakers is forever evolving, and the evolution of the Ann Arbor-based company has accelerated over the last year.

The high-end electronics company got its start in a University of Michigan dorm room making custom speakers in 1997. It has since grown into its own international business with dozens of employees. The company executed its first acquisition late last year, and has now upgraded its manufacturing process by implementing lean manufacturing.

"It's been a pretty big transition lately," says Noah Kaplan, founder & president of Leon Speakers.

The company has hired a dozen people over the last year, bringing its staff to just under 50 people. Among its new hires are product managers, sales directors and factory labor. That expanded staff has helped the company post double-digit revenue gains over the last year.

A big part of growth is thanks to Leon Speakers acquisition of Florida-based Media Decor, makes custom frames for flat screen TVs. Leon Speakers has folded Media Decor's portfolio into the rest of the company. It has also upgraded its factory to enable a more efficient production. It can now produce high-end electronics that can aim to be price competitive with electronics made overseas.

Leon Speakers is also working to make its newly redone factory into a tour-ready facility that it wants to make part of its artistic expression. The company is also aiming to expand its physical presence to Europe next year.

"We are leveraging the factory and our capability to manufacture so we can compete internationally," Kaplan says. He adds, "we're looking at some more exponential growth and a tour-ready factory."

Source: Noah Kaplan, founder & president of Leon Speakers
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Development Fund lands $10M for small business lending throughout the city

The Detroit Development Fund recently landed $10 million in new funding that will allow it to make loans to more small businesses throughout Detroit.

The downtown-based nonprofit makes loans to small businesses, developers, and entrepreneurs in Detroit and has invested in excess of $27 million to 214 recipients. Of those, 64 percent are minority-owned ventures and 49 percent are owned by women. The fund currently has $23 million under its management.

This summer, the Detroit Development Fund received $10 million in new funding -- $5 million from Goldman Sachs and $5 million from Huntington Bank. The Goldman Sachs money will be loaned to in increments of $100,000 to $250,000. The Huntington Bank money will be used to launch the Detroit Microloan Collaborative, which will make loans ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.

"We're trying to deploy as much as we can with a focus on minority-owned businesses in the city, not just downtown," says Ray Waters, president of the Detroit Development Fund.

The Detroit Development Fund launched in 2002 under a different name. It rebranded in 2010 and has grown its staff since then. The nonprofit currently employs seven people after hiring a loan administrator and a credit analyst over the last year. It is currently in the process of hiring a new lending officer.

Source: Ray Waters, president of the Detroit Development Fund
Writer: Jon Zemke

Cribspot adds $100K to seed round with Accelerate Michigan win

Cribspot announced raising a $660,000 seed round a little more than a month ago. Add another six figures to that number after its win at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, it also has an office in downtown Detroit, took second place at Michigan's pre-eminent business plan competition. That showing comes with $100,000 in seed capital the startup can use in the best way it sees fit.

"We want to add more features that cater more toward landlords," says Jason Okrasinski, co-founder & CEO of Cribspot. "We also want to have a larger footprint across the country."

The 1-year-old startup and recent Bizdom graduate is creating an online portal that creates one central website for off-campus housing in higher education. The co-founders, mostly University of Michigan students, recognized that finding off-campus houses is an exercise of searching craigslist ads and signs on the sides of buildings. Cribspot offers a central location where students and landlords can come together to find/offer/manage student housing.

Cribspot landed $660,000 in seed capital early this fall with the round led by Huron River Ventures. It plans to put most of the $100,000 it won at the Accelerate Michigan competition to hiring another software engineer, expanding its staff to six full-time employees and four interns. It is also looking to expand into an other few university markets (it’s currently in 15) including Wayne State University and the University of Detroit Mercy.

Source: Jason Okrasinski, co-founder & CEO of Cribspot
Writer: Jon Zemke
2923 Articles | Page: | Show All
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