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Your People expands 'kitchen table' with new team members

Your People has always been the boutique public relations agency that could. The Huntington Woods-based firm started from Lynne Golodner's kitchen table and has lived there for most of its nine years. Now it’s adding a few more kitchen tables.

Your People recently hired two people (an executive assistant and a marketing manager) to round its team out to five people. While many companies get offices to accommodate that sort of growth, Golodner is keeping it at the kitchen table to help ensure a better, more personal connection with clients. So the new hires will also work from kitchen tables.

"I still really like the kitchen-table model," Golodner says. "It's a special person that can work on their own and still be a part of the team."

Your People has carved out its niche by finding a way to offer public relations services on a cost-effective model. Their services range from helping build marketing strategies for small businesses to giving individuals pointers on how best to tell their story. The idea is to make such services more accessible to everyone.

"I have always believed that everybody needs PR, but not everyone can afford a PR agency," Golodner says.

The new hires will help Golodner and her team do everything from providing more marketing services to arranging and selling more seminars, retreats, and speaking gigs. 
 
"I needed some people on the team who are focused on this," Golodner says. "It's hard for just me to juggle five things at a time."

Final year of NEI's challenge to grant local businesses a total of $500K

On April 20, the New Economy Initiative (NEI) kicked-off the third and final year of the NEIdeas challenge, "a two-tiered challenge awarding $500,000 to existing small businesses in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park for their ideas to grow," as described in a press release.

The half-a-million dollar sum is divided into two grant tiers. For businesses that gross under $750,000 annually, NEI will award 30 grants worth $10,000. And for businesses that gross between $750,000 and $5 million annually, NEI will award two grants worth $100,000. Applying is as simple as explaining, in 500 words, an idea to expand your business that requires investment and is "impactful, courageous, interesting, achievable, and understandable." The application deadline ends June 1.

A key component of the NEIdeas challenge is that these grants are for existing small businesses -- those three years or older. So much reporting and grant-giving is devoted to new businesses that it's refreshing when a challenge like this rewards established businesses that haven't benefited as much from renewed interest in Detroit entrepreneurship. 

"This is a really special challenge that has had an incredible impact on local businesses and communities," says NEI communications officer Matthew Lewis by email. "In fact, we think NEIdeas is the only philanthropic challenge in the country that directly awards small businesses for their contributions to neighborhoods."

Past winners include Goodwells Natural Foods Market, which invested their reward in growing their inventory and marketing services for new bulk herbal apothecary offerings; The Hub of Detroit, which made improvements to the appearance of its storefront; and many, many more. They also released a fun hype video featuring some of those past winners

NEI will hold a series of informational events throughout May to help applicants. The next one takes place on May 4 at the Matrix Center in Osborne on Detroit's Northeast side. Click here for a complete list of those events.

NEI is a philanthropic effort that supports small businesses and entrepreneurs. It's funded by a host of foundations and institutions, and, since 2009, has awarded over $96 million in grants.

Disclosure: Matthew Lewis is a former managing editor of Model D. 

Automation Alley sinks seed capital into six local startups

Automation Alley is continuing its investment in local startups, sinking seed capital into another six companies in the first quarter of this year.

The most recent startups to receive investments include RazorThreat, Len & Jerry's Modular Components, MEISelectric, The Automation of Things, MagWerks LED and Quipzor. All of these companies have participated in Automation Alley's 7Cs program, which is focused on helping local companies integrate advanced manufacturing methods into their business models.

RazorThreat is a Pontiac-based software firm that specializes in online security. Len & Jerry's Modular Components is a manufacturing company that works in custom tooling in Clinton Township. MEISelectric is based Clawson and works in conceiving and creating prototypes.

The Automation of Things creates software for industrial applications and is based in Sterling Heights. Oxford-based MagWerks LED works in LED light products. Quipzor calls Bloomfield Hills home and helps enable pre-surgical collaboration between hospitals, physicians and surgical device company representatives.

The investment comes from Automation Alley's Pre-Seed Fund. The $9 million fund invest tens of thousands of dollars into each startup, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. It has invested in 54 locally startups since 2004.

Nanotex adds key hires to accelerate growth

Nanotex has made some strategic hires over the last year in an effort to help the Bloomfield Hills-based firm continue its growth around the world.

The fabric firm has hired eight people, including a handful of scientists and sales professionals. Among the hires is John McMichael, brought on as business development manager for Nanotex's North America operations. McMichael previously worked as a sales manager for the military and commercial segments of AEC Narrow Fabrics.

"He is really interesting, because he has a long history in textiles," says Randy Rubin, chair of Crypton, which owns Nanotex. "He was a really strategic hire for us."

Nanotex has carved out a niche for itself as an innovator in fabric by enhancing textiles with nanotechnology in the apparel, home and commercial/residential interiors markets. Nanotex has 11 products, including Resists Spills, Releases Stains, Neutralizer, and Coolest Comfort.

Nanotex has more than 100 manufacturing partners around the world, although Crypton has brought more of Nanotex’s engineering and administrative work back to North America in recent years. The company has grown its customer base to include Banana Republic, the Gap, Dickies, Cabela's, L.L. Bean and Target, among others.

"Now the business is well into the black," Rubin says. "We have a lot of attention and have brought in a lot of great sales people."

Crypton has worked in the textile industry since 1993. Its flagship product, CRYPTON Fabric, is widely used in fabrics in the healthcare, hospitality, government, education and contract markets. Crypton acquired Nanotex in 2013.

Emerging leaders: Help us tell the story of metro Detroit



What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the metro Detroit region? What issues are undercoveredor poorly covered—
by the media and deserve more attention? And how can the media better communicate both the complexity of these issues and possible solutions?

These questions are at the heart of a new partnership between Metromode, our sister publication Model D and Metro Matters, an organization dedicated to recognizing and building on our regional commonalities rather than our divisions.

Our goal: Tackle metro Detroit’s most persistent challenges through the power of story.

As humans, we learn best through stories. So what better way to grapple with the complex history, current policy and ongoing movements around our region than through great storytelling?

To help guide this process, we are looking to convene a group of emerging leaders from various communities and professional backgrounds to form an editorial advisory board.

Every few months, these up-and-comers will come together to discuss what they see in the region: the problems, the promise, and the varied perspectives. These conversations will highlight not only the priority issues for metro Detroit, but also the people and projects working to make a difference.

We’ll turn that input into reporting. But not just any reporting. Metromode writers will embrace “solutions journalism,” an approach that emphasizes in-depth investigations into the context surrounding an issue, and, critically, the possible (and often in-progress) solutions that could work for metro Detroit.

We believe metro Detroit has a moment of opportunity. The investment and energy pouring into the core city is creating momentum that can fuel not just improvements but transformation. To make the most of this opportunity, residents should benefit from the smartest, best possible coverage of the issues that need addressing.

And that’s where you come in. To guide our first year-long series, we’re looking for emerging leaders to serve on our inaugural regional editorial advisory board. You could be a fit if:
 
  • You are passionate about exploring creative, collaborative solutions to metro Detroit’s contemporary challenges.
  • You're upwardly mobile. You might not be making all the decisions yet… but you’re on track to make some of them.
  • You’re a student with a focus on policy, government, urban planning, business, or another relevant subject.
  • You can point to something and say “this demonstrates my passion for metro Detroit.” It can be a resume, a project, a social media presence—anything, really. We just want to know you share our love for our region.
  • You’re a skillful listener who likes to hear others’ perspectives just as much as you like to share your own.
  • You’re excited about being part of something new, and helping shape a nascent program into a useful platform for the region.
  • You can commit to quarterly meetings on the following dates:
    • June 1st, Wednesday
    • August 4th, Thursday
    • November 3, Thursday
    • January 18, Wednesday
 
When we think of our emerging leaders, we usually think of people between the ages of 18 and 35—but that’s not a hard requirement. If you’ve recently changed careers or gotten involved in your community, you could be a great fit. We want the editorial board to be diverse in terms of race, gender, geography, and thought, so whatever your background or perspective—we value it and encourage you to apply.

To that end, we’ve made it easy for you. View and complete the application below, then go directly to social media and share it with everyone you know. If this opportunity isn’t for you, consider sending it to your best and brightest employees, students, colleagues, children, grandchildren, etc. With your help, we’ll recruit a strong board of connected thinkers who will, in turn, help us cover the most important issues in a way that will help us better understand this place we all call home.

APPLY HERE by May 15, 2016.

Civionics to expand sensor pilot with local manufacturer

It's not uncommon for tech startups to pivot in their focus. Not all survive the decision. Ann Arbor-based Civionics seems to be thriving after such a choice. The company has gone from using its wireless sensor technology to measure the strength of large-scale infrastructure (think bridges) to monitoring the strength of the machines in factories.

"We couldn't find a market pain that was screaming out for our technology," says Gerry Roston, CEO of Civionics, explaining the pivot.

Civionics technology uses a prescriptive diagnostic method to monitor factory machines. The idea is to minimize downtime and wear and tear. It is currently deployed in a factory of a major local manufacturer (Roston declined to say which one) as part of a pilot project. Civionics three person team (it recently hired a new person) has grand ambitions for that pilot project.

"It's the first step in a long roll-out in the factory," Roston says. "The customer is sticking its toe in the water."

Civionics has also been participating in a number of local programs and competitions to grow its profile. Those include Automation Alley's 7Cs program, which helps local firms with manufacturing. Civionics also recently advanced to finals of Global Automotive & Mobility Innovation Challenge.

"Those warm introductions are extremely important," Roston says.

Source: Gerry Roston, CEO of Civionics
Writer: Jon Zemke

Personal tragedy inspires launch of U-M spin-out, Neurable

Making the world a better place is the kind of warm and fuzzy rhetoric tech entrepreneurs use when launching their new startup.

Ramses Alcaide wants to make the world a better place, too, but his inspiration comes from personal experience.

The University of Michigan PhD candidate is dedicated to developing technologies to assist people with physical disabilities because he witnessed first-hand the challenges of living with such disabilities. In particular, the hardships that faced his favorite uncle. That uncle, also a scientist, suffered an accident that immobilized his legs when Alcaide was a young man. His struggles stuck with the U-M grad student.

"I remember seeing him struggle to relearn how to walk with the archaic technology of the time," Alcaide says. "I thought there has to be a better way. But I had no idea what that was."

Those memories served as the inspiration for Alcaide's post doctorate studies and a new startup called Neurable. The University of Michigan spin-out is developing a non-invasive brain-computer interface that allows for real-time control of software and physical objects, allowing people to control wheelchairs, robots and even a car with no training.

Neurable currently has a working prototype of its technology and is working toward commercializing it next year. The startup aims to raise $500,000 in seed capital to make that happen and more.

"We have much bigger dreams," Alcaide says. "We want to make it into a full-fledged company."

It's off to a good start. Neurable, with the help of U-M's Zell-Lurie Institute, took second place in the Rice Business Plan Competition. That gave it $50,000 in seed capital, as well as up to $280,000 for the competition's OWL Investment Prize.

"I really wanted to bring this technology to the next level so I can help as many people as possible," Alcaide says.

Source: Ramses Alcaide, founder & CEO of Neurable
Writer: Jon Zemke

Corktown's Beard Balm goes global as it nears $1M sales

When Jon Koller first thought of turning his homemade beard balm into a business, he imagined how he would market it. Four years of business building and bootstrap pulling later, he gets to do that with Beard Balm.

And it's not just because Koller wants to do it -- he needs to. Beard Balm, based in Corktown's Ponyride, is selling its products around the world and closing in on $1 million worth of sales this year. Koller expects to hit the seven-figure milestone by the third quarter.

"We're about even now in sales with what we did all of last year," Koller says.

Beard Balm makes an all-natural, leave-in conditioner for beards and facial hair. The company uses natural products like lanolin oil, coconut oil, and beeswax from a Traverse City farm. Beard Balm sells in 1.5-ounce tins for $16 to $18 a pop. The regular balm and the "Naked," fragrance free version sell for $18 a piece. 

Since releasing its Heavy Duty version a year ago, Beard Balm has focused on expanding sales by hooking up with a national distributor. Beard Balm's products can be bought in every state in the U.S., every country in the European Union, and 12 other countries around the world. Beard Balm has tripled the number of stores carrying its products in the last two months.

"We will probably double it again in the next three months," Koller says.

That success has prompted Beard Balm to grow its team to five people, and will likely add more soon. New hires will do everything from production work to helping with marketing and branding.

"Everything but sales," Koller says.

Sales growth seems to be taking care of itself these days.

Nexcess adds two more data center support facilities in Southfield

Nexcess is doubling down on its commitment to Southfield, adding two new data center support facilities this spring and making plans for a new data center.

The 16-year old company specializes in providing IT, data center, and managed hosting services to companies large and small. It is currently in the latter stages of building out two data center support facilities that would double its footprint in Southfield.

"We like having our data centers near our people and our people near our data centers," says Chris Wells, CEO of Nexcess.

Nexcess has has data centers around the world, including in Dearborn, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Netherlands. While it's grown internationally, most of those jobs have been added in Metro Detroit. It currently employs 112 people and expects to add another 35 after it opens and staffs up its new facilities on Melrose Avenue in Southfield this spring.

Nexcess averages about 30 percent annual revenue growth. It has spent the last six years on the Inc 5000 list and the last three years on the Deloitte Fast 500 list. Because of this growth, its data center facilities working capacity has begun approaching its limits. 

"We're going to need to build a new data center soon," Wells says. "Our current Southfield data center is approaching 60 percent usage. It's starting to get a little tight."

Detroit tech community leads venture capital boom in Michigan

Michigan's venture capital community continues its rise with another year of growth, and Detroit's tech scene is playing a significant role.

With $328 million in 2015, Michigan enjoyed its best year of venture capital investment. That's up from $224 million the year before, and $246 million from the second highest year in 2012, according to a new report from the Michigan Venture Capital Association. In total over the last decade, Michigan has seen a 150 percent increase.

Detroit's rise as a center for tech mirrors that climb. There was little to no venture capital activity downtown 10 years ago. Today, it's home to several venture capital firms that make early stage investments in tech firms, many of which are based in or near Madison Block. One of Michigan's two largest VC funds, the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, a fund so large it only invests in smaller VCs, is also located downtown.

"Detroit is a big area of focus," says Maureen Miller Brosnan, executive director of the Michigan Venture Capital Association. "Automotive and IT technologies are a great areas of growth."

VC growth is happening at a time when it's on the wane across the U.S. According to the same Michigan Venture Capital Association report, the number of venture capital firms headquartered in Michigan, their total capital under management, and number of venture capital investments made in Michigan, has doubled and in some cases tripled while those numbers have decreased nationally.

That build up has come from a combination of capital from private and public sources. While the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund has accumulated its money from private funds, it's counterpart the Venture Michigan Fund got its backing from government. The Michigan Department of Treasury helped establish local VC infrastructure over the last decade, including the Venture Michigan Fund, by providing investors with up to $450 million of tax-voucher certificates.

Future support from the state of Michigan, however, is not guaranteed. That doesn't mean anyone is deterred. Rather, they're striving for greater self-sufficiency.

"Firms are looking at this and saying we’re going to have to do this on our own," Brosnan says.

Detroit outpaces rest of southeastern Michigan for new residential unit permits

In prior decades, Detroit had very little new building construction. Not anymore, especially for residential units.

According to a report recently released by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), Detroit issued more permits for new residential units than any other city in southeastern Michigan last year.

There were 913 residential units permitted in Detroit in 2015, more than double the second-highest city on the list, Ann Arbor, at 405 units. Canton, the only other city in Wayne County to make the top ten, came in third with 397 residential units permitted.

Of the 913 residential units permitted in Detroit, 97 percent were apartment and loft units. Broke down further, there were 882 apartment units, 17 condominium units, and 14 single family homes permitted in 2015.

According to the report, "Gains continued in apartment construction due to pent-up demand for rental housing from young professionals and downsizing households, low vacancy rates, and a growing job market."

Still, it's not all rosy in Wayne County. According to this Detroit Free Press article from March 28, 2016, new census numbers revealed that the county lost 6,673 residents between July 1, 2014 and July 1, 2015, the second highest population decline in the country. Only Cook County, Illinois lost more during that period. Though second place is better than first, which is what Wane County occupied for the previous eight years.

Detroit also far exceeded any other city in demolitions, razing 4,667 residential units in 2015.

Immigrant turns American Dream into own business in Pontiac

Hector Martinez came to metro Detroit with little more than a dream for a better life and some loose connections to the area. 20 years later, he's built his own a business and created jobs in Pontiac.

Trees&Co has established itself as a staple in the local tree-trimming market. It added two people over the last year, expanding its staff to five full-time employees and another four part-timers, and is looking to hire even more, for jobs ranging from arborists to climbers to groundsmen to sales reps.

"We have been building up our system and our equipment," Martinez says. "Now I feel like we are there. We have the customer lists and the equipment. Now we just need the people."

Twenty years ago Martinez wanted to be one of those people, a guy on someone's team working for an honest day's wage. In 1996, he moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland in hopes of finding a better life, and choose Pontiac because an acquaintance lived there and could make room for him.

Martinez worked at a Taco Bell for a few months until a friend complained about being quoted an arm and a leg to have a tree removed near his house. Martinez offered to give it a try for $100.

"I was able to cut the whole thing down without hitting his house," Martinez says. "He said you should do this for a living."

That was the start of Trees&Co. Martinez wasn't afraid of heights and liked working outside. He bought a chainsaw and started building up a customer base. Word of mouth made slow-but-steady growth possible over the years, allowing Martinez to turn the weekend side job into his full-time gig. Then he started hiring people. Today Trees&Co does $500,000 in gross revenue.

"I want to provide more work for more people," Martinez says. "We have the potential to make $2 to $3 million and provide more jobs in the community."

Clarity Quest Marketing capitalizes on patience, focus

For more than a decade, Christine Slocumb has been spreading the good word about her clients at Clarity Quest Marketing. And she has learned a thing or two about running a PR firm over that time.

"Don't worry about the first two years," Slocumb says. "The first two years are the most difficult. Also, over 15 years you will have a few years that are lean and mean."

Ann Arbor-based Clarity Quest is celebrating its 15th anniversary this month. The company has 20 employees and an intern between its home base in Ann Arbor and offices in Connecticut and Seattle. Its revenue is up 25 percent last year, and that's on top of a 23 percent increase the year before that. Slocumb wants to hit 30 percent revenue growth this year as her firm's work grows across the U.S.

"We have some of our first clients in Silicon Valley now," Slocumb says. "That's a region I always wanted to tap into."

Slocumb suggest other small companies focus on a handful of things to really grow and establish themselves: patience, perseverance, hard work and finding a niche. Clarity Quest Marketing has sharpened its focus in its later years to concentrate on work in healthcare IT firms. That specialization has really allowed the company to grow in recent years.

"That really paid off for us," Slocumb says.

Source: Christine Slocumb, president of Clarity Quest Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

Michigan venture capital growth outstrips national averages

Venture capital in Michigan has come a long way over the last 15 years, and a new report from the Michigan Venture Capital Association puts some numbers to that growth.

The Ann Arbor-based non-profit released its annual report this week showing growth with some impressive numbers for the venture capital in the Great Lakes State. Michigan enjoyed its best year for venture capital investment in 2015, clocking $328 million. That's up from $224 million the year before (it's third best year) and $246 in 2012, its second best year. Venture capital in Michigan is up 150 percent over the last decade, according to the report.

Michigan-based venture capital firms have $2.2 billion under management, up 47 percent in the last five years and more capital under management than ever before. Michigan venture investors finance nearly every Michigan venture-funded startup. The report concludes that local venture capital has gone from practically non-existent in Michigan 15 years ago to having firmly taken root and growing steadily.

"There are a lot of factors at play at this point," says Maureen Miller Brosnan, executive director of Michigan Venture Capital Association. "Venture capital has firmly established its role in as an economic driver in Michigan."

Ann Arbor is widely seen as the capital for venture capital activity in Michigan thanks to its proximity to the University of Michigan. There is also a large concentration of local VCs headquartered in Ann Arbor and a number of out-of-state VCs with offices in Tree Town.

The report also shows a rise in angel investing in Michigan. There are currently 128 startups in Michigan that have received funding from a locally based angel group, a 42 percent increase in the last five years. Membership in Michigan’s nine angel groups hit 294 investors, a 59 percent increase in the last five years. Michigan’s Grand Angels was listed among the three most active angel groups in the country, and a new angel group in the Upper Pennisula, Innovation Shore Angel Network, launched last year, according to the report.

"Grand Angels has set the pace for growth of the nine angel groups in the state of Michigan," Miller Brosnan says. "There has been tremendous growth there."

Source: Maureen Miller Brosnan, executive director of Michigan Venture Capital Association
Writer: Jon Zemke

Sizzles Burgers and Subs brings Mediterranean twist to downtown Ypsilanti

Many restauranteurs have grand ambitions for changing their local food scene with new foods and flavors, but almost all of them end up offering standard American staples like hamburgers, sandwiches and pizza.

Mohamed Fayed wants to put those two things together with his new eatery, Sizzles Burgers and Subs, in downtown Ypsilanti. He describes it as typical American fare with a Mediterranean twist.

"It will be burgers, subs and wraps with Mediterranean flavors," Fayed says. "It will be everything we are used to with fresh ingredients and a Mediterranean twist."

Sizzles Burgers and Subs is as much a new adventure for Fayed as it is a venture. The Dearborn resident came to the U.S. from Yemen at age six and grew up in Metro Detroit with family that had been here for generations. He graduated from Fordson High School in Dearborn, then the Michigan Institute of Aviation & Technology, and worked as a supervisor at Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems. Then he decided he wanted to be his own boss and open his own restaurant.

Fayed scanned Metro Detroit to find the right location. The right one for him turned out to be a tough one. He bought a small shoebox of a storefront in downtown Ypsilanti. 10 N Adams hasn't been occupied in the better part of a generation and it showed the day Fayed walked through it.

"It had a lot of clutter," Fayed says. "The ceiling had moisture. The paint was peeling. A lot of mold, but we have remediated that. It was just an all-around mess."

Fayed has cleared out the building with the help of his brother, Ali Fayed, and is working to take plans to the city for Sizzles Burgers and Subs this spring. The Fayed brothers are doing most of the work themselves to get it open.

"It's a big challenge," Fayed says. "There are a lot of hurdles we have to overcome."

But that doesn't mean the Fayed brothers haven't gotten a warm reception.

"I like the area," Fayed says. "Plus the people here are very friendly. They all came out and congratulated me."

Source: Mohamed Fayed, owner & operator of Sizzle Burgers and Subs
Writer: Jon Zemke
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