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Fortune Magazine highlights growth of black women-owned businesses in Detroit

The number of women-owned businesses is on the rise in the U.S., having grown by 74 percent over the last 18 years.  The number of businesses owned by black women, however, is growing at an even more astounding rate of 322 percent over the same period. That makes black women the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country, according to a recent story by Amy Haimerl for Fortune Magazine.
Haimerl highlights Build Institute, an organization dedicated to helping local entrepreneurs grow their businesses, and Detroit small business owners Danielle Smith of Detroit Maid and Carla Walker Miller of Walker Miller Energy Services.
Writes Haimerl:
"In Detroit, where city leaders, foundations, and even President Obama have promoted entrepreneurship as an economic development tool, a tiny nonprofit is making outsize efforts at helping black women become business owners. Since it was formed in 2012, the Build Institute has graduated nearly 600 students from its eight-week courses, which teach the basics of starting and running a business, including such topics as money management and how to determine your break-even point. Nearly 70% of those students are women, and 60% of them identify as a member of a minority group."
Read more: Fortune

IT firm CBI moves to downtown Detroit

CBI, also known as Creative Breakthroughs, is making the move to downtown Detroit, taking up a large chunk of office space in the city’s central business district.

The IT firm is taking up three floors of 1260 Library St., which is every bit of the 4-story building except for the ground floor retail. CBI is moving 50 people into the 10,000 square feet of office space this summer.

"We looked in downtown and Midtown," says Steve Barone, CEO of CBI and a Detroit native. "We couldn't find anything in Midtown."

CBI specializes in IT risk management. It helps protect its customers from hacking and other dangers in the IT world. It's a space in which the 26-year-old firm has grown rapidly.

"We have been doing it a for a long time," Barone says. "It's finally out there that this is something companies need to spend money on. We are in the right place at the right time."

CBI has been averaging 30 percent revenue growth in recent years. It's on track to grow another 40 percent this year. That means more hires. The firm has hired 40 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 120. Despite those hires, CBI is currently looking to fill 20 new open positions.

"We are in rapid-growth mode," Barone says. "We think we will hire 40 more people this year."

About 50 of those people will make the move to downtown Detroit. Thirty more work remotely across the U.S. The rest are staying in CBI's current temporary offices in Ferndale. It moved there from Troy last year, but downtown Detroit is the company's final destination, according to Barone.

"I am glad we're moving back to the city," Barone says. "It's a lifelong dream to get back to the city I love."

Source: Steve Barone, CEO of CBI
Writer: Jon Zemke

Loveland Technologies launches custom mapping platform, Site Control

For several years, Loveland Technologies has been a startup without a steady revenue stream, relying on custom projects creating digital tools to document property ownership in cities across the U.S. Now the downtown Detroit-based software firm is opening what it hopes will be a new pipeline of consistent business.

Loveland's newest product is Site Control, a software-as-a-service platform that enables users to open personal accounts within Loveland Technologies software and create their own custom maps. The company is offering two Site Control subscription levels: a scaled-back package costing $30 a month and more robust one at $1,000 per month. Loveland is targeting municipalities, neighborhood groups, real-estate developers, and researchers as its initial customers.

"We're trying to get on this track of many more people paying us less money," says Jerry Paffendorf, co-founder & CEO of Loveland Technologies. "We want to grow that pipeline."

The inspiration for Loveland hit Paffendorf and his friends a few years ago when they bought a vacant lot in Detroit and sold square inches of it online. That evolved into a software startup that mapped out every parcel for sale at the Wayne County Tax Auction. WhyDontWeOwnThis.com came online when Wayne County started selling tens of thousands of tax-foreclosed properties, mostly in Detroit, a few years ago.

Since then, Loveland Technologies has monetized its technology by doing custom projects, mapping out things like property ownership or property condition for municipalities. Its highest profile project was working on Motor City Mapping last year. It has since expanded to mapping out close to 500 counties across the U.S. (out of about 3,200 counties), including most of the country's major metropolitan areas. 

"Why would we stop at Detroit?" Paffendorf says. "This is an interesting way to view the world."

Loveland Technologies is also growing its team. It has doubled its employee base to 20 people over the last year and is bringing on two more people (Venture For America fellows) this fall. The company also landed an angel round of investment early last year worth a little more than $1 million from investors like the University of Michigan Social Venture Fund. The firm is funding its expansion with that cash and its own revenues.

Source: Jerry Paffendorf, co-founder & CEO of LOVELAND Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Michigan Good Food Fund launches to promote access to healthy food throughout the state

Last week, dozens gathered at Shed 5 of Detroit's Eastern Market for the official launch of the Michigan Good Food Fund, a new public-private partnership loan and grant fund created to address lack of food access in rural and urban communities by supporting good food entrepreneurs across the state.
According to the Michigan Good Food Charter, good food is healthy, green (sustainable), fair (no one was exploiting during its creation), and affordable.
The fund meets two distinct needs for urban areas like Detroit: the need for healthy food access and the need to drive economic development within the local food supply chain, from cucumber farmers to jam makers, farm stands to grocery stores, processors to distributors, and any entity in between.
The fund is not only available for financing, but will provide technical assistance and counseling for businesses serving disadvantaged communities.
Clearly, the time is right for the Michigan Good Food Fund here in the Motor City. Detroit’s food scene has kept pace with the city’s burgeoning farm and garden movement. Detroit Food Lab has 140 members that participate in training and activities to help cultivate their individual food business start-ups. Between the city’s pop-up-shops-turned-restaurants, internationally envied urban gardens, and many small producers making big waves, the momentum is growing.
Yet, despite the growth and promise in farming and food production in Detroit, many of these high-quality fresh and processed goods don’t make it into low-income households.
What’s happening in Detroit is happening statewide. While Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation with food and agriculture contributing $101.2 billion annually to the state's economy, more than 1.8 million Michigan residents—including 300,000 children—live in lower-income communities with limited healthy food access. Wayne County has the highest food insecurity rate among U.S. counties, at 20.9 percent.
The lack of access to affordable and nutritious food has serious implications for the health of our children and families—more than 30 percent of Michiganders are obese, the second highest rate of obesity in the Midwest region. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted.
“The Michigan Good Food Fund will be an essential component of our work to provide accessible healthy food to everyone in Michigan, especially vulnerable communities,” said Oran Hesterman, Fair Food Network president and CEO. “The fund will also be an incredible opportunity for food entrepreneurs, harnessing capital, and growing strong, local economies.”
Fair Food Network and Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems will co-lead business assistance and pipeline development. Other core partners include the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and fund manager Capital Impact Partners.
Source: Meredith Freeman, program director at the Fair Food Network
Writer: Melinda Clynes, Michigan Kids project editor
This story is part of a series of solutions-focused stories and profiles about the programs and people that are positively impacting the lives of Michigan kids. The series is produced by Michigan Nightlight and is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read other stories in this series here.

Woodward Throwbacks scores major order with Nordstrom

Lots of aspiring entrepreneurs start lifestyle businesses with big dreams of selling their wares across the country. Woodward Throwbacks is starting to live that dream.

The small business that turns reclaimed wood into consumer goods can now be found in more than a dozen Nordstrom stores across the U.S. The luxury retailer is helping the Corktown-based business launch its line of products nationally.

"They really like what we're doing," says Kyle Dubay, co-founder & CEO of Woodward Throwbacks. "They like the authenticity of it. They think it's a great fit for their stores."

Dubay and his partner Bo Shepherd launched Woodward Throwbacks after they began making products from wood they found at illegal dumping sites across Detroit. The products ranged from bottle-opener signs to six-pack containers that resemble lunch boxes from the early 20th century. Prices for these products range from $20-48.

The four-person operation makes the items by hand at its Corktown studio. It raised $12,000 in a crowdfunding campaign last year to build out its new permanent home just west of Corktown. That project is still ongoing, but Dubay the business will move there within the year.

Nordstrom will sell Woodward Throwbacks products in 27 of its 118 full-line stores. They can be found in stores as close as the Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi and as far away as Anchorage, Alaska.

Source: Kyle Dubay, co-founder & CEO of Woodward Throwbacks
Writer: Jon Zemke

AlumaBridge's first aluminum bridges go up in Quebec, Florida

AlumaBridge's big claim to fame is creating a better bridge, made out of aluminum, which is lighter, stronger, and more durable than traditional options. Travelers should get their first chance to test it out later this summer.

The Ann Arbor-based company’s first bridge is being built in Quebec, Canada. AlumaBridge completed the fabrication of its bridge deck sections late last year. Those pieces are currently being constructed by the Quebec Ministry of Transportation.

"It should be open to traffic by the first week of August," says Greg Osberg, president & CEO of AlumaBridge.

The 1-year-old company uses aluminum as its principal material for prefabricated pieces of bridging. The idea is the specially fabricated aluminum pieces will extend the life of aging bridges much beyond the current standards for concrete. The aluminum bridge deck panels are made using friction stir welding and have a non-skid surface. They can easily be applied to the steel girders on existing bridges, giving many more years of service.

AlumaBridge is also working on a fabricating more bridge sections for a span in Florida. It delivered the first sections early this year and expects that project to come online later this year.

"We will have additional panels shipped in August," Osberg says. "They will be tested by the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida International University before they are installed."

AlumaBridge is currently working with Florida and Canada on more potential bridge projects. The company is also trying to make in-roads with the Michigan Department of Transportation, but the company’s most promising prospects appear to be north of the Great Lakes State.

"The city of Montreal also indicated that they have some projects in mind," Osberg says.

Source: Greg Osberg, president & CEO of AlumaBridge
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor's record setting $100M office sale

If you want an indicator of how much office space is in demand in Ann Arbor, consider Oxford's $100M office acquisition.


"It's hard for me to put into context," said Andrew Selinger, market analyst for Oxford, "but it's probably one of the defining deals of Ann Arbor real estate history."

Read the rest here.

Digital marketing, software work drive growth at Enlighten

Enlighten is a digital marketing company that has been around long enough to know success revolves around customer service.

"We are focused on the customer experience," says Steve Glauberman, CEO of Enlighten. "We see better customer service as a path to higher profit margins."

For the 31-year-old company that meant transitioning from marketing to digital marketing to software development to all of the above. The company now offers a comprehensive suite of marketing services along with the software development products to help complement its traditional offerings.

The strategy has worked well. Enlighten grew its revenue by 25 percent last year and it's projecting to do it again in 2015. That has allowed the company to hire close to a dozen people. It now has a staff of about 100 employees and eight interns. It is also looking to hire half a dozen more people now, including senior account managers, software engineers, and project managers.

Enlighten is also pushing forward on its own software projects outside of custom work for its customers. It launched two photo-oriented software platforms in 2012, WhatWasThere.com and YearlyMe.com. OffersNow, a coupon and marketing software program aimed at helping small businesses, launched in 2013.

"Those projects are still going well," Glauberman says. "We are looking to enhance them."

Source: Steve Glauberman, CEO of Enlighten
Writer: Jon Zemke

First scooters set to roll off Mahindra GenZe’s line this year

Ann Arbor's Mahindra GenZe is gearing up to produce its first scooters this year.

Mahindra GenZe is a division of an Indian-based scooter manufacturer, Mahindra and Mahindra. It opened a regional technical center in Ann Arbor to design scooters to sell in North America three years ago. Its manufacturing facility followed a little more than a year ago. The first scooters are set to roll off the assembly line later this summer.

"We are kicking out our last pre-production prototypes," says Terence Duncan, head of product management at Mahindra GenZe. "All of the engineering work is done."

The electric scooter is sleek and simple, focused on the needs of urban commuters looking for a convenient transportation option that works well in densely populated areas. The scooter comes with a 7-inch touchscreen monitor built into the handlebars and plugs into normal electric outlets to charge its lithium-ion battery. Check out a video on it here.

"Our monthly numbers will be very low at the start," Duncan says. "We will increase our output gradually. By the end of the year we hope to be at 3,000."

Mahindra GenZe currently employs a staff of 35 people in Ann Arbor. It has hired a dozen people over the last year in mostly white collar positions. It is also looking to hire another six people who specialize in assembly, electrical engineering, and project management.

That staff is not only working on the company's scooter but widening its product portfolio. The company is currently experimenting with electric bicycles that it is looking to produce in Ann Arbor, too.

"We are building prototypes for them," Duncan says.

Source: Terence Duncan, head of product management at Mahindra GenZe
Writer: Jon Zemke

Virta Labs tests prototypes to protect medical devices from malware

As the healthcare services start to increasingly rely on technology, they need to start thinking about protecting themselves the same way computers do. Or at least that is how the team at Virta Labs sees it.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, which calls the Tech Brewery building home, is developing a technology platform that will defend medical devices from malware attacks. Pace makers and other high-tech pieces of medical technology are vulnerable to cyber attacks because security is largely undeveloped.

One-year-old Virta Labs, which won the Best of Boot Camp award at Ann Arbor SPARK's Entrepreneur Boot Camp last year, focuses on protecting those medical devices. The company has recently built prototypes and is looking to beta test its security technology later this summer.

"The hardware is pretty much complete," says Denis Foo Kune, co-founder of Virta Labs. "We are in the scaling phase of development of our cloud infrastructure."

Virta Labs recently grew its team of 10 people. That staff includes seven PhDs, a fact Foo Kune is quick to point out.

"We pride ourselves on our strong technical team and being engineering driven," Foo Kune says.

That team also recently landed a Phase 1 SBIR grant worth $150,000 to develop its technology. It is also in the midst of raising a six-figure seed capital round.

"We will be closing our seed round very soon," Foo Kune says.

Source: Denis Foo Kune, co-founder of Virta Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

JVS launches eCycle Opportunities to create low-barrier jobs

JVS is launching a electronic recycling department called eCycle Opportunities. The new operation will focus on harvesting recyclable materials from everyday electronics and employing people facing numerous challenges when it comes to entering the everyday workforce.

"These jobs will be filled by people with significant disabilities or face barriers to employment," says Stacey Lareau, director of new business development for JVS.

The Southfield-based nonprofit provides services for workforce development, youth services, affordable housing, and financial education. It will celebrate its 75th birthday next year and currently employs about 300 people.

The eCycle Opportunities department already employs three people and Lareau expects that number to hit 10 by the end of the year. Those workers will be harvesting precious metals and other raw materials from pieces of electronics like mobile devices and laptops. JVS is already talking to 10 different local companies that would supply them with old electronics in need of recycling.

JVS also has a pipeline of people Lareau and her team see as prime candidates for jobs with eCycle Opportunities.

"We want to have a diverse workforce," Lareau says. "JVS has programming that supports these people. We work with this demographic a lot."

Source: Stacey Lareau, director of new business development for JVS
Writer: Jon Zemke

Lighthouse Molding, Civionics land Automation Alley pre-seed funding

Automation Alley’s Pre-Seed Fund has made two more investments in local startups, Civionics and Lighthouse Molding.

The two companies, based in Ann Arbor and Sterling Heights respectively, received a total of $75,000 in seed capital. The investments are intended to spur expansions in the companies and bring about more job growth.

"We want the jobs," says Tom Kelly, COO of Automation Alley.

The Automation Alley Pre-Seed Fund is worth nearly $9 million. It has made investments in 47 different companies in a little more than a decade. It plans to invest another $100,000 to $200,000 before the end of this year.

"We have been quite active over the years," Kelly says.

Civionics is a University of Michigan spinout commercializing wireless sensor technology primarily used to measure the strength of large-scale manufacturing equipment. Lighthouse Molding is a small electronics manufacturer for automotive firms, specifically low-pressure overmolding to encapsulate and protect electronic assemblies.

Both firms have recently joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program, which 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.

Source: Tom Kelly, COO of Automation Alley
Writer: Jon Zemke

WorkForce Software hires nearly 100 people

WorkForce Software, a Livonia-based software firm, has added 86 new jobs in 2015, expanding its staff to 520 people, most of whom are based in southeast Michigan.
"We've been on a multi-year growth streak," says Jonathan Corke, director of communications for WorkForce Software. "In addition to expanding our Ann Arbor office, we have been acquiring more real-estate at our home office."

WorkForce Software has grown its downtown Ann Arbor office to 20 people in just three years. More than half of its employee base calls the Livonia headquarters home, which has gone from occupying one floor of its building to three. WorkForce's logo serves as the building's marquee signage on the structure overlooking I-275 and 7 Mile Road.

WorkForce Software makes management software for large-scale employers. Often that software helps them make sure they are conforming to whatever federal, state or local regulation they need to abide by.

"There is a lot more for large employers to deal with," Corke says. "In short, we get compliance right."

It's proven to be a profitable endeavor. The company consistently has grown its revenue by at double-digits in recent years, including a 21 percent bump last year.

"The prior year we grew significantly more than that," Corke says.

He expects that growth to continue as more and more big companies figure out they need help to conform to new laws and streamline their operations.

"We are in a very good position," Corke says.

Source: Jonathan Corke, director of communications for WorkForce Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

ZF North America to expand Northville tech center

ZF North America plans on making a big investment in its Northville facility, an expansion that is expected to bring a few hundred jobs and a few hundred thousand square feet of commercial space.

The automotive supplier, a subsidiary of German-headquartered ZF Friedrichshafen AG, specializes in driveline and chassis technology. It has a technical center in Northville where it plans to make the bulk of its investment. The expansion will allow for additional research and development services to design, develop, and test new vehicle components and systems.

"Michigan has been home to ZF's North American headquarters for more than 15 years and we are excited to continue our growth in the state and in the industries we serve," says Julio Caspari, president of ZF North America.

The firm plans to invest up to $71.2 million to add almost 210,000 square feet at its Northville tech center, an investment that is expected to create 571 jobs. There currently 53 positions open in Northville, which can be found here.

To ensure that investment happens, the state of Michigan is offering ZF North America a performance-based grant worth up to $4 million through the Michigan Strategic Fund. Northville Township is also offering a property tax abatement to the project.

Source: Julio Caspari, president of ZF North America
Writer: Jon Zemke

Greenview Data's solution for zero day viruses drives growth

Sometimes problems are just opportunities in disguise. At least, or so businesses philosophy goes. Greenview Data is proving that mantra is true with the latest edition of its signature product, SpamStopsHere.

The spam prevention software targets an elusive new computer malware called zero day virus. The viruses employ antivirus software signatures that are not yet known to antivirus software.

"We have developed the technology that can find it in an email," says Ted Green, CEO of Greenview Data. "It's working very, very well."

He adds that most software solutions for zero day viruses catch about 20 percent of them trying to get through. Green claims his Ann Arbor-based firm's solution can catch them 99 percent of the time. Rising sales of the SpamStopsHere platform have allowed Greenview Data to spike its overall revenue by 25 percent over the last year and hire three people in that time. Green expects that growth to continue.

"The virus is still out there and it's still in the news," Green says.

Greenview Data is also looking to diversify its revenue streams a bit. The 25-year-old software firm has also recently released a new mobile app called Geoscribe.

"It's an app for sharing information about interesting places," Green says.

He adds that it allows people to share interesting information about places they visit so others can look it up on the app when they are there, too. The product is a departure from Greenview Data's normal work, but that's a good thing for Green.

"It helps to have a change of pace," Green says.

Source: Ted Green, CEO of Greenview Data
Writer: Jon Zemke
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