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Paintings in Eastern Market, Woodbridge to celebrate Detroit's literary heritage

Ten writers, poets, and publishers, each with their own unique connection to the city of Detroit, will be the focus of an art unveiling Sunday, Sept. 20. The writers are featured in the latest installation of the Detroit Portrait Series, and each is the subject of one of 10 large portraits to be unveiled at 1 p.m. on Sunday in Shed 3 of Eastern Market. A poetry reading and book signing by five of the poets will follow the big reveal.

The Detroit Portrait Series is the work of artist Nicole Macdonald. The latest round includes Detroit literary figures Naomi Long Madgett, Bill Harris, Lolita Hernandez, Terry Blackhawk, Melba Joyce Boyd, Philip Levine, Mick Vranich, Dudley Randall, Robert Hayden, and Sixto Rodriguez. Each is the subject of a 5 ft. by 7 ft. portrait.

According to the artist, the Detroit Portrait Series was initially inspired by Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" and its style of history-telling from the bottom up. Macdonald's previous portraits have included such Detroit luminaries as Hazen Pingree, Yusef Shakur, and Grace Lee Boggs.

The current round of portraits went on display Saturday, Sept. 12. The official public unveiling on Sunday, Sept. 20 will feature a meet-and-greet with Macdonald and readings from Long Madgett, Harris, Hernandez, Blackhawk, and Boyd. The readings will take place from 1-3 p.m., followed by a 3-4 p.m. book-signing.

After a month-long stay at Eastern Market, the portraits will be permanently installed over the boarded-up windows of the Liquor Store at Trumbull Avenue and the I-94 service drive in the Woodbridge neighborhood. The reason is two-fold; the series is sponsored by Woodbridge- and public art-boosters Dr. Lilian Lai and Larry John, and the party store location is across from Wayne State University, with which many of the subjects have some connection.

Writer: MJ Galbraith

Urban Science acquires AutoHook, moves staff from Ann Arbor to Ren Cen

Urban Science has added staff in downtown Detroit through organic growth. This fall it's adding some through acquisition.

The automotive retail consulting firm acquired AutoHook, a digital marketing division of New York City-based HookLogic. The division called downtown Ann Arbor home until the acquisition, when its 17 employees relocated to Urban Science's offices in the Renaissance Center.

"They are already here," says Jim Anderson, CEO of Urban Science. "We didn't waste any time."

Urban Science provides analytical and software solutions for automotive OEMs and their dealers. It got its start in 1977 with a few thousand square feet of newly built Ren Cen. Today is occupies several floors of the skyscraper. Urban Science has a staff of 870 people, about 370 of whom are based in its Detroit headquarters, which is up about percent over the last year.

AutoHook provides digital marketing solutions, specifically focused on driving in-market shoppers directly to dealerships. This sort of sales lead generation is meant to help move Urban Science's business model to a more digital orientation.

"It's part of the evolution of our product," Anderson says. "It's one more step that leads to a more robust solution for us."

Source: Jim Anderson, CEO of Urban Science
Writer: Jon Zemke

Flyball aims to grow staff, clientele with move to Midtown

Flyball is moving its headquarters from Ferndale to Midtown, a place where the IT firm hopes to grow. That's why the 10-year-old company is taking over a space that is larger than what it currently needs.

"We want to have a presence here and grow it out," says Courtney Griffith, manager of Detroit affairs for Flyball. "We can fit another 10 people in this space comfortably. That’s our goal."

Flyball specializes in offering managed IT services for businesses. Over its decade in business, the company has expanded to 10 employees after hiring two people in systems administration. It is also looking to hire another systems administrator.

Flyball, which established itself in Ferndale, is now moving its headquarters to Midtown, where it will take up 1,000 square feet of 4160 Cass, the small retail building at the corner of Cass and Willis. Flyball still plans to maintain a presence in Ferndale.

The company made the move to be closer to some of its core clients, even though most of its clients are based outside of Michigan. The firm is working to change that, aiming to grow its client base in Michigan now that the state's economy is growing stronger. It's also looking to hire more people who are firmly planted in Detroit.

"We want to find people who want to work and live in Midtown," Griffith says. "We feel we will get a better performance out of them."

Source: Courtney Griffith, manager of Detroit affairs for Flyball
Writer: Jon Zemke

The Work Department grows with purpose in Corktown

The Work Department has been making complex information more accessible for six years, but the Corktown-based consultancy didn’t end up where it is today by accident.

"We have grown quite organically," says Libby Cole, partner at The Work Department. "It's a slow but steady growth. It's quite purposeful."

Cole and Nina Bianchi launched The Work Department as a studio that specializes in design, communications, and strategy, using human-centered and participatory design processes. The idea is to give clients the tools to make a more effective impact.

The Work Department has collaborated with 35 organizations since its founding, including the Allied Media Projects (a longtime client) and Detroit Future City (a new client). It now employs a team of six people after hiring a new designer over the last year thanks to nearly 300 percent growth since its founding.

"The relationships we form are typically longterm," Bianchi says. "We stay away from transactional relationships. We grow with our clients."

Source: Libby Cole and Nina Bianchi, partners at The Work Department
Writer: Jon Zemke

EMU develops phone app to promote better study habits

Here's something for older folks to grouse about: a phone app that rewards students for better study habits. Can't you almost hear them say, "How about good grades? Isn't that reward enough?" Oh, grandpa.


"Students earn points for activities such as meeting with a tutor or success coach, attending campus events and more. Points accumulate and can be used to “purchase” items in a prize store or used at the end of the year to bid on major benefits such as free tuition, housing, a meal plan, a tablet device or gift cards to the campus book store."

Read the rest here.

Mother's last words inspire launch of The Little Bird Cafe in Ypsilanti

Joanne Kwiatkowski died of breast cancer three years ago, leaving a hole in the life of her daughter, Beth. But Joanne also left her daughter with some words of wisdom.

"She asked me that I live my life and not let anybody hold me back," Beth says. "That's what inspired me to do this crazy thing and spend all of my money on it."

That crazy thing is Beth's own coffee shop, The Little Bird Cafe in Ypsilanti. Beth has worked as a coffee buyer for Whole Foods for years. She loved going into work everyday and seeing people who eagerly awaited her work with coffee. Today she works in a more corporate capacity for the upscale grocer. While Beth likes her current job, she wants to get back to interacting with customers on a regular basis.

"I'd like to do my own thing and not be in the corporate world anymore," Beth says. "I think I would be perfect for it."

So Beth is in the process of launching The Little Bird Cafe, a craft coffee shop that specializes in espresso drinks and pour-overs. She bought a small commercial building at last year's Washtenaw County Tax Auction. The 1,200-square-foot structure at 908 N Congress was an abandoned party store that Beth used to jog past in Ypsilanti’s Normal Park neighborhood.

"I said this would be the perfect place to open my coffee shop one day," Beth says.

The city of Ypsilanti recently approved the zoning for The Little Bird Cafe. Beth is now starting to gear up to renovate the building with an eye of opening the doors in mid 2016.

Source: Beth Kwiatkowski, owner of The Little Bird Cafe
Writer: Jon Zemke

MuniRent targets large govt agencies to spike growth

MuniRent launched with the idea of bringing the sharing economy to municipalities across Michigan. Today the Ann Arbor-based startup is looking to spike its growth by bringing its technology to large government agencies, like state departments of transportation.

The 1-year-old startup's software enables municipalities to share heavy equipment, such as backhoes and earth movers, that would otherwise sit around and gather dust. It's two-person team had recruited 24 Michigan municipalities into its fold when the Oregon Department of Transportation came calling. It wanted to use MuniRent's platform internally for its nearly 100 work crews.

Nearly a year later the Oregon work crews (each crew is the equivalent of small city in Michigan) are averaging between 1-3 transactions a day. They have clocked 5,800 days of reservations for equipment that is in steady use.

"The data is unbelievable," says Alan Mond, co-founder & CEO of MuniRent. "It's real telling how much equipment use increased."

And word is getting around. MuniRent is fielding interest from state transportation departments in Texas, Colorado and Minnesota, along with the city of Los Angeles.

"We want to have at least 20 different large governmental agencies in the fold by next year," Mond says.

Source: Alan Mond, co-founder & CEO of MuniRent
Writer: Jon Zemke

TorranceLearning looks to hire six in downtown Chelsea

TorranceLearning is a name that gets around, but it doesn't have to pay to reach its customer base. The downtown Chelsea-based firm lets it track record do the talking. And that has spurred its growth.

"We don't pay for advertising," says Megan Torrance, CEO of TorranceLearning. "We only pay for two trade show booths a year. It's really about the quality of our work that gets us our attention."

TorranceLearning calls the Chelsea Clocktower home and specializes in creating custom education projects for companies and non-profits. Its clients range from major auto suppliers like Denso to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. It recently landed work with NSF International, Consumers Energy, and Steelcase. That has allowed to start looking to hire half a dozen people to add to its staff of 13 people.

"We will finish the year 40-50 percent higher than last year," Torrance says.

TorranceLearning has been able to attract those new clients and expanded business through its growing reputation. The 13-year-old firm has landed several stories in niche publications about its work and growing business. Work like that has made Torrance optimistic about the company’s near-term prospects.

"I'd like to triple our revenues next year," Torrance says. "I'd to have a team of two dozen people or more."

Source: Megan Torrance, CEO of TorranceLearning
Writer: Jon Zemke

Work begins on downtown Ypsilanti co-working space

A new co-working space called The Back Office Studio is under construction in downtown Ypsilanti and should be open this fall.

Construction workers with JC Beal Construction have begun working on 13 N Washington with a target of having the space completed in time for a Halloween opening. In the meantime, The Back Office Studio team is recruiting its first patrons.

"We're looking for second stage companies in any industry," says John Newman, general manager of The Back Office Studio. "We're not going to be incubating startups. We ware looking for established companies looking for office space or collaboration space."

The Back Office Studio is also looking for freelancers and other new economy professionals to fill out its space. The plan is to start at the ground floor of the 9,000-square-foot building and go from there.

"We're going to start on the first floor and expand into the second floor," Newman says.

The co-working space will enable users to have 24/7 access to the building through a key card. Memberships are available to $100 a week or $25 a day trial memberships. Regular memberships where people can access a desk on a first-come-first-serve basis are available for $200 per month. A membership where the user has access to a private desk go for $350 per month. Users will also have access to the stereotypical co-working options, like coffee, snacks, conference rooms, and WiFi.

"We're working to have a really robust wifi," Newman says.

Newman and his partners purchased the building earlier this year with the idea of turning it into a new economy hotspot. They want to complement the Ann Arbor SPARK East Incubator in downtown Ypsilanti by creating a space for more mature companies.

"We want to add to the vitality of downtown Ypsilanti," Newman says.

Source: John Newman, general manager of The Back Office Studio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Billhighway focuses on employee career development to fuel growth

Billhighway is a tech company that knows it can't just hire its way to a steeper growth curve. It has to look inside, too.

The Troy-based firm, which provides software for member-based associations and nonprofits, is hiring, but not with just an eye for putting bodies behind desks. It's looking to find people who can grow their careers along with the company.

"We focus on career development for our entire organization," says Brenda Gallick, director of team member services for Billhighway. "It's a tough market out there, and we want to be engaged."

Billhighway got its start in 1999, providing software that helped people divvy up expenses, such as dues or dinner costs. Today it specializes in cloud-based automation software for nonprofits and other similar organizations. That software platform integrates payment processing, banking, and accounting with existing systems and provides a transparent, holistic view of an organization’s finances so it can work more efficiently.

Over the years, Billhighway has added more and more staff, and it is consistently hiring people today. Gallick says that the company's team now numbers in the "high double digits" and is growing. Billhighway now utilizes an employee career development program with a goal of promoting from within. Often people who are hired as a member of the client care team end up working in other areas of the business. Over the last year, five people working in client care transitioned to other parts of the business after receiving technical training and other opportunities to grow their skill set.

"When we recruit people we look for people with skill sets who would fit in other areas," Gallick says.

Software developers have become a hot commodity in today’s economy, a reality Billhighway is acknowledging by hiring more young developers fresh out of college or a few years removed. The hope is as these employees grow professionally they will help grow the company in a number of ways.

"As we bring in new talent we provide them with training and opportunities to grow into other parts of the business," Gallick says. "We want them to bring fresh perspective and ideas."

Source: Brenda Gallick, director of team member services for Billhighway
Writer: Jon Zemke

DeepField doubles staff, revenue, and bike house space

Doubling is a popular word at DeepField this year. The IT startup has doubled its customer base, revenue, and staff over the last year. And its doing that by doubling down in downtown Ann Arbor.

The 4-year-old startup recently moved to its new downtown home to accommodate its growing staff. DeepField currently has 40 employees after hiring a cool 20 over the last year... and it's still hiring.

"We'll be at 45 by the end of the year," says Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField. "Most of them will be in Ann Arbor."

DeepField's software helps big companies keep up with the constant changes that come with Internet's back-end IT infrastructure. That platform leverages big-data analytics that correlates telemetry from routers, switches, DNS, and more, decoding that morass of information. The user ends up with a better view of their IT network.

"We're about to launch our second and third products this year," Groe says.

Hence the growing staff to keep up with demand and to continue innovating new products.

However, while the company is filling out its new office space with new hires it has to come up with new ways to help get them to the office. Deepfield has reserved several spots in the newly opened bikehouse in the Ann Ashley Parking Structure. Its employees already had a couple of spots reserved in the sold-out Maynard Street Parking Structure bike house.

"We have a lot of young people who tend to bike to work," Groe says. "The average age of our employees is in the late 20s. Our current space wouldn’t allow us to have bikes in the office. It's also not the best place to have bikes."

Source: Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField
Writer: Jon Zemke

EMU gets $3.26 million gift for special ed, music therapy programs

Eastern Michigan University was handed a $3.26 million gift from long-time supporters William and Delores Brehm. The philanthropic couple are dedicated to growing the university's special education programs and have, over the years, donated more than $8 million to the school.


"Dee Brehm, herself a graduate of EMU’s special education program, says that their objective is to help train special education professionals and researchers who will lead the way in supporting people with disabilities as well as those who can benefit from music therapy."

Read the rest here

Grizzly Peak celebrates 20 years by refreshing with renovations

Grizzly Peak Brewing Co is hitting a stage of development most other restaurants only dream about. It has been in downtown Ann Arbor long enough that it has become a fixture of the local brewpub scene. However, that longevity comes with a price paid through renovations. The popular brewpub is spending a significant part of August renovating its interior with an eye on the future.

"The idea is to do something of a facelift," says Stacy Baird, general manager of Grizzly Peak Brewing Co. "The restaurant has been around 20 years. It’s a local favorite. But obviously 20 years is a long time. The idea is to make us a little more current."

The work included new light fixtures at the tables and fans in the dinning rooms. Workers are also rebuilding the entrance area to make it more open and hospitable to merchandise sales. While construction is going on the kitchen is also refreshing the menu with a few new items with new ingredients, such as beet pesto and goat cheese pizza.

"They are simpler things with more flavor," Baird says.

Grizzly Peak Brewing Co was closed for three days last week, and has had certain parts closed here and there for the rest of the month. Work is expected to wrap up in the next week or two so the entire restaurant can be open to commemorate its 20th anniversary in September.

Source: Stacy Baird, general manager of Grizzly Peak Brewing Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

Growing demand leads to second bike house in downtown Ann Arbor

Downtown Ann Arbor is set to cut the ribbon on its second bike house tomorrow, and the first spots in it are reserved for employees working in city's center.

A bike house is a small, secure facility where users can store and access their bicycles, sort of like a locker room for bikes. Renters pay an annual or monthly fee to rent a space in the bike house.

Local high-growth tech startups Duo Security and DeepField helped inspire the construction, offering to prepay for reserved spots in the new Ann Ashely Bike House for their employees. Both companies call downtown Ann Arbor home and have been hiring dozens of new employees, mostly young people, over the last year.

"We have a lot of young people who tend to bike to work," says Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField. "The average age of our employees is in the late 20s. Our current space wouldn’t allow us to have bikes in the office. It's also not the best place to have bikes."

Other local businesses have jumped on the bandwagon, reserving spaces in the new bike house.

"It's not just the tech companies," says Nancy Shore, business services director for getdowntown program. "We also have people who reserve spaces who work at Mighty Good Coffee Roasting Coffee and Workantile."

Employees from Thermo Fisher Scientific, Olark and WATS have also signed on to take over spots.

The Ann Ashley Bike House is downtown Ann Arbor's second bike house. It is occupying a formerly dead space in the Ann Ashley Parking Structure. Construction was paid for by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The first one was built in the Maynard Parking Structure.

Source: Nancy Shore, business services director for getdowntown
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Original Moxie's growth leads to cramped space in new Depot Town home

Original Moxie is 4 years old but it’s this last year that has really taken the Ypsilanti-based business on a ride. A year ago it was a home-based business operating out of Rachel Blistein's basement. A steady rise in demand lead Original Moxie to find its own brick-and-mortar home in Depot Town last fall. A new partnership made that growth go even faster.

"In the last six months we have gone from opening a storefront to almost growing out of our space," Blistein says.

Original Moxie makes a full line of hair care products (shampoos, conditioners, stylers) for both straight and curly hair. All of its products are made of natural, organic products. All of its hair products are sulfate-free, paraben-free, artificial-fragrance-free, and cruelty-free. The idea is to enable its users to feel good about looking good.

Blistein started toying with the idea of making her own hair-care products a few years ago while she was working as a landscape architect. Blistein started working with a local stylist to develop the line and the next thing she knew she had a winner of a product on her hands ...and a new career.

"Through a series of accidents it turned into a bunch of different products for different types of hair," Blistein says.

A few months ago Original Moxie was approached by Sephora, a French-based chain of cosmetics stores. One of the Sephora's employees had become a fan of Original Moxie. The next thing Blistein knew Original Moxie was a featured brand in the Sephora lineup. More business came with it.

"The growth just jumped exponentially," Blistein says.

Which has allowed Original Moxie to expand its staff. It hired its fourth employees recently and more additions are possible in the not-too-distant future.

Source: Rachel Blistein, founder & CEO of Original Moxie
Writer: Jon Zemke
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