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GOLFLER launches concierge service app for golfers

Jason Pearsall has spent more than his fair share of time around golf courses. He grew up on a golf course where his father worked as a general manager.

"I am very familiar wit the golf industry and the problems golf courses have," Pearsall says. "I also play a lot of golf myself."

Which makes sense why he would start a business based around golf. GOLFLER is launching mobile app that features an all-inclusive, on-course concierge service for golf courses and players.

GOLFLER's app aims to speed up course play, help golf courses generate more revenue, and make golf more enjoyable for its players. The app offers players on-demand access to course menus, equipment, and cart delivery during rounds. It also features a 3D rangefinder, live weather updates, digital scorecards and real-time direct messaging.

GOLFLER launched last March and is currently made up of a team of 35 people. It has information for 12,800 golf courses across the U.S. and is working directly with 20 courses in Michigan, Florida and Arizona. GOLFLER aims to sign up another 5-10 golf courses each month for the rest of this year.

"We're trying to grow at a pace that is realistic," Pearsall says.

Source: Jason Pearsall, president & chief legal officer for GOLFLER
Writer: Jon Zemke

Community Choice Credit Union executes second merger of year

Community Choice Credit Union has executed its second merger in four months, expanding its reach even farther across metro Detroit.

The Farmington Hills-based credit union absorbed the Eastside Family Federal Credit Union earlier this month. Community Choice Credit Union merged with NuPath Community Credit Union last April. All three of the newly merged entities will go forward as Community Choice Credit Union, but the credit union is working to retain all of the existing employees from the merger and maintain the familiarity of the old credit union.

"We want people to walk into the Eastside Family Federal Credit Union and see the same people that worked there before," says Dan Munro, executive vice president & COO of Community Choice Credit Union.

Eastside Family Federal Credit Union is a small credit union based in Eastpointe. It has $30 million in assets and 3,100 members across a couple of branches. The addition means Community Choice Credit Union now has 13 branches and 67,000 members. NuPath Community Credit Union brought in 11,500 members and $100 million in assets. Community Choice Credit Union now has 250 employees after hiring 55 people in the last year.

These mergers follow a recent trend of smaller credit unions merging with larger ones in the wake of the Great Recession. Many of those credit unions tapped their cash reserves to ride out the economic downturn and were left depleted of resources in a newly competitive banking environment.

"They will draw that capitol down as they try to compete in a very competitive financial services industry," Munro says.

Those that can’t compete have to choose between folding or merging with a larger credit union. Fast-growing credit unions like Community Choice Credit Union end up as desirable targets for a merger.

Source: Dan Munro, executive vice president & COO of Community Choice Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke

Double-digit revenue growth drives Arbor Teas expansion

Arbor Teas is hitting the sweet spot for its tea production, clocking double-digit revenue growth and pushing its packaging to become even more sustainable. The Ann Arbor-based online retailer for loose-leaf tea prides itself on selling its teas in compostable packaging. It upgraded that system earlier this year by adding a compostable adhesive that makes it packaging easier to assemble and biodegrade.

"That was fairly revolutionary for us," says Jeremy Lopatin, co-founder of Arbor Teas.

Jeremy Lopatin launched Arbor Teas with his wife, Aubrey Lopatin, a little more than a decade ago. It now has a staff of seven people, including three hires since early 2014. The new jobs include inventory management at its warehouse on Ann Arbor's north side and customer service.

Arbor Teas sells a broad variety of organic-certified teas from around the world. It recently added teas from Kenya, Korea, and Hawaii. It sells them online but is aiming to expand into brick and mortar sales over the next year. The Lopatins are also looking at opening an organic tea bar in Ann Arbor.

Arbor Teas grew its sales by 25 percent last year. It is exceeding its sales forecasts for this year so far.

"We're doing about 21 percent this year," Jeremy Lopatin says.

Source: Jeremy Lopatin, co-founder of Arbor Teas
Writer: Jon Zemke

First residents begin moving into 618 South Main

The first residents began moving into the luxury apartments at 618 South Main late last week as one of downtown Ann Arbor’s newest construction projects comes online and on time.

"We currently have 40 units occupied with more moving in each day," says Meg Murphy, community manager for 618 South Main.

While a number of other high-rise apartment buildings in downtown Ann Arbor have fought to keep up with their construction schedules, 618 South Main is opening its first phase in August, a predicted, and is set to open the rest of the building a month from now.

"It's a matter of a lot of people working well together," says Dan Ketelaar, president of Urban Group Development, co-developer of 618 South Main. "Our whole focus is on our tenants. That drives us."

The $27 million development is building a six-story apartment building on the southern edge of downtown Ann Arbor. It replaces the old Fox Tent & Awning business. The new building will feature 164 apartments, including studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units. Prices range in price from $1,395 per month to $2,905 per month and the building is 82 percent leased now.

618 South Main comes with a lot of extras. It has a common deck with a pool, outdoor grills, fire pits and lounge areas both inside and outside of the building. It also has 132 underground parking spots. 618 South Main also has some big-ticket green features, including a rain garden that filters all of the water runoff from the building, is estimated at 900,000 gallons annually, and sends it back into the Huron River.

"It's pretty unique," Ketelaar says. “"t captures 100 percent of the water runoff and filters it."

Ketelaar and his team are putting the final touches on the common areas of 618 South Main this month. Murphy expects to have the building fully leased and occupied by the end of September.

Source: Meg Murphy, community manager for 618 South Main; Dan Ketelaar, president of Urban Group Development
Writer: Jon Zemke

Jolly Pumpkin ripens business with more tap rooms, distribution channels

Dexter-based Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales is growing by capitalizing on a number of revenue streams. This includes adding tap rooms across Michigan and opening up more distribution channels for its popular beers.

Jolly Pumpkin opened new tap rooms in its Dexter home last year and in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood last April, where it employs about 50 people.The artisan ales company currently has four tap rooms across Michigan is looking to open a few more.

"We will continue to find new locations and open up Jolly Pumpkin tap rooms in Michigan," says Ron Jeffries, founder of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.

It's part of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales' plan to focus its growth in the Great Lakes State. Its distribution in Michigan is up 70 percent over the last year. The 11-year-old brewery is aiming to produce 12,000 barrels of beer this year, which would be up from 8,000 barrels in 2014.

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales is pushing to sell more of its upscale brews in chain retailers. The brand is currently in a number of super markets, like Busches, Whole Foods and Kroger, but it is looking to add more chain restaurants to its distribution roster.

"Our sales team have been making great strides for us," Jeffries says.

The growth has allowed Jolly Pumpkin to hire more and more people. It currently has a employee base of just more than 200 with its tap rooms. A staff of 25 people mans the brewery in Dexter after hiring three people in the last year, and it's looking to hire three more now.

"We are currently looking for more people," Jeffries says. "We have been interviewing people for the last month."

Source: Ron Jeffries, founder of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales
Writer: Jon Zemke

Job sprawl a major problem for Detroit residents

In a recent story for the Detroit News, Mike Wilkinson of Bridge Magazine confirmed what many Detroiters already knew: that there aren't enough jobs in the city of Detroit for its residents. The immensity of this problem, however, is shocking.
 
According to Wilkinson, "80 percent of city residents live more than 10 miles from a central business district, one of the highest rates of the country." On the whole, Detroit has approximately 200 jobs per 1,000 residents, which is significantly worse than other cities, even those also located in the Rust Belt. Cleveland, for example, has an about 481 jobs per 1,000 residents.
 
The problem is particularly bad on the city's west side, where there is less than one job for every 10 people.
 
Wilkinson points to poor public transportation systems as a major challenge to solving the jobs sprawl problem.
 
Read more: Detroit News
 

Ribbon Farm Hops hopes to fill niche in Michigan's booming craft beer industry

Ribbon Farm Hops is cultivating its own niche within Michigan's rapidly growing craft brewing industry. The southwest Detroit-based firm specializes not only in hop production, but also in developing trellis systems used to grow hops.

The new business is growing hops at the Detroit Tube Products facility at Junction and Harvey streets a few blocks from Fort Wayne. It is also developing a trellis system that it hopes will help spread hop production across Michigan.

"We're going to stay small for small batch brewers and home brewers," says Susan McCabe, president and head farmer of Ribbon Farm Hops. "We're also going to sell trellises to people who want to grow hops on their own."

Hops have experienced increasing demand as the craft brewing industry has grown. More and more farms across Michigan are starting to grow the crop again to help meet demand from local brewers. Michigan is one the largest craft brewing states in the U.S.

This is Ribbon Farm Hops' third growing season and the first when its plants are starting to produce some significant yield. McCabe currently has 14 people working on her farm in a variety of capacities.

McCabe worked in museum industry for 30 years (most recently working as the curator of the Henry Ford Estate) before starting Ribbon Farm Hops. She is a longtime gardener who became interested in craft brewing and started home brewing.

"I was always fascinated by the plants," McCabe says. "It seemed like a really good adventure to begin."

Source: Susan McCabe, president & head farmer of Ribbon Farm Hops
Writer: Jon Zemke

Lazlo employs returning citizens to make sustainable clothing

T-shirt companies are a dime a dozen in Detroit, but Lazlo, a new company in Corktown, is working to set itself apart from that pack.

Brother and sister partners Christian and Kathryn Birky are doing so by employing formerly incarcerated Detroiters to make high-end, socially conscious t-shirts and paying them a living wage.

"A large portion of the prison population ends up back in prison after it gets out," Christian Birky says. "There are many reasons for this, but the difficulty in finding a job is part of it."

Christian Birky spent time working as a tutor in a prison in New Jersey before starting Lazlo. He knows there is a large pool of untapped potential in that section of the population that only needs a pathway to success, which to him includes a well-paying job.

The Birky siblings think they can provide that by making high-end clothing in Detroit. Lazlo's first product is a white t-shirt. The Birkys are using high-end, organic cotton produced in America to make shirt, which is designed to better fit each user and comes with a life-time guarantee. Prices start at $120 and top out at $198.

"I was looking for clothing I wanted to wear made in a way that I wanted to support," Christian Birky says. "There was a disconnect between what I was wearing and the values I held in my life."

The Birkys plan to expand their product line into more menswear items by next year. They also want to expand their production team to 10 people by next year. In the meantime they are working to raise $27,000 in a crowdfunding campaign to get their venture off the ground.

Source: Christian Birky, co-founder of Lazlo
Writer: Jon Zemke

Betty Green Organic Beauty opens in downtown Ypsilanti

Malissa Eckley is officially opening her new hair salon, Betty Green Organic Beauty, this week in the place that made the most sense for her, downtown Ypsilanti.

"I love the people, the atmosphere, and the sense of community," Eckley says. "It just made sense to be where I want to be."

Eckley has worked as a stylist for 13 years and spent years working and volunteering in Ypsilanti. So when the opportunity to open her own salon at 10 N Washington St. she jumped at it.

Eckley likes to say that Betty Green Organic Beauty is Ypsilanti's first natural and organic hair salon. It will feature organic color and products from Organic Colors Systems and Ypsilanti-based Original Moxie. These products are ammonia free and are not tested on animals.

Betty Green Organic Beauty will work with a business philosophy focused on sustainability. For instance it will use LED lights and reclaimed materials in its build-out. It will also recycle all of the material it uses, including the aluminum foil for hair coloring and only use certified organic products.
 
"It's better for your hair and the environment," Eckley says.

Betty Green Organic Beauty will host a grand opening at 6 p.m. Friday as part of the First Fridays Art Walk in downtown Ypsilanti. The party will feature a performance by Ann Arbor musician Annie Palmer.

Source: Malissa Eckley, owner of Betty Green Organic Beauty
Writer: Jon Zemke

LLamasoft continues hiring spree in downtown Ann Arbor

This is how much LLamasoft has grown in recent years: It just sent out a press release announcing a new hire that "will lead business development efforts for the LLamasoft team worldwide."

Lots of companies like to talk about going international or becoming global firms. A sizable number of those are PR smokescreens. LLamasoft isn’t exhaling any of those vapors. The downtown Ann Arbor-based firm is now running logistical operations on six out of the world's seven continents.

"We are a very global company," says Ginger Stegmier, vice president of global marketing at LLamasoft. "Our first customer was in Europe. We have offices on every continent, except Antarctica."

And the 13-year-old company has the statistics to back up that reach. It is a $40 million firm with 264 employees world wide, including more than 146 in Ann Arbor. It has hired 60 people over the last year and is currently looking to hire another 20.

"We are hiring people every week," Stegmier says. "I had two people accept offers this week."

One of those hires is Bob McFarland, the new senior vice president of global sales at LLamasoft. Before coming to LLamasoft, he worked as the senior vice president of retail sales at Epicor and has built a career working in management at retail, technology, and logistics.

"At this point we need someone who will have an overarching view of all of our activity," Stegmier says.

Source: Ginger Stegmier, vice president of global marketing at LLamasoft
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M opens a medical library without books

Technology is helping to reinvent the way we interact with libraries. U-M's Taubman Health Sciences Library just under went a a $55 million overhaul... and major rethinking of how it functions best.

Excerpt:

"Hundreds of thousands of books were moved to an offsite location and are available on demand for delivery, and by becoming "bookless" the school said that frees up space for medical student education. The facility on the school's Ann Arbor campus officially reopened over the weekend."

Read more here.

Passion for tech, manufacturing drives DELRAY Systems' success

Joe Rocca's career in automotive manufacturing started in the early 1980s, and it didn't take him long to combine his passion for technology with his work.

Most recently, Rocca was doing so at Fisher/Unitech. Today, however, he's launched his own firm, DELRAY Systems. The Rochester-based firm focuses on incorporating the latest in technology with manufacturing processes to create efficiencies.

"I want to make an impact on the industry and then turn it over to some folks who have the same passion," Rocca says.

The 1-year-old firm works to integrate process improvement solutions for automating manufacturing, utilizing techniques like reverse engineering and product development processes. This includes 3D printing, 3D scanning, and 3D modeling solutions.
"We want to provide the technology that will help automate manufacturing," Rocca says.

DELRAY Systems recently opened a training and technology center at Oakland University. The firm recently struck a partnership with ANSYS, a company traded on the NASDAQ. DELRAY Systems will sell its software, ANSYS SpaceClaim, to 3D printer users in the Midwest.

Source: Joe Rocca, president of DELRAY Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

Secure Beginnings sees significant growth after 'Shark Tank' appearance

For its first five years, Secure Beginnings was a sleepy little company making breathable mattresses for infants with the intention of preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Then it went on TV.

Specifically, it went on "Shark Tank," a reality TV show on ABC that features entrepreneurs pitching the next great business idea to investors. Secure Beginnings appeared on the show in May and its visibility immediately took off.

"In the first day we had it up (a video describing its product), we had 2 million views," says Julie Andreae, founder and president of Secure Beginnings. "The growth just took off."

Detroit Riverfont-based company makes a mattress for babies that is more like a trampoline than a normal mattress. It is made of a porous frame and bedding material that allows greater air circulation for both infants and toddlers. It contains no fiber-fill. The fabric the child sleeps on enables airflow to prevent harmful levels of carbon dioxide from building up near a baby's head, even if the child is on its stomach.

Secure Beginnings is now three months behind on filling its orders thanks to the spike in demand from its turn on reality TV. The company went from making $40,000 a month selling its mattresses to $70,000 a month. It is now aiming for $80,000 a month and profitability.

Secure Beginnings is also now looking to add to its staff, which is has double to six people over the last year. It's also looking to hire three more people now to keep up with demand. The firm is also looking to expand its sales reach to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada this year.

"We have a lot of growing left to do," Andreae says.

Source: Julie Andreae, founder & president of Secure Beginnings
Writer: Jon Zemke

Downtown projects now the bulk of Kraemer Design Group's workload

Kraemer Design Group has played a pivotal role in transforming downtown Detroit over the last 20 years. Now downtown Detroit is playing an increasingly important role in the architecture firm's bottom line.

The downtown Detroit-based firm did a lot of marquee projects in its early years, including the Lofts of Merchants Row and Harmonie Park commercial buildings. When the Great Recession hit, more and more of Kraemer Design Group's workload came from outside of Michigan, so much so that only 20 percent of the company's workload came from Detroit four years ago.

That has changed in recent years with downtown Detroit’s rapid rebound. Kraemer Design Group has served as the architect for a number of marquee projects in recent years, including the Broderick Tower and the David Whitney Building renovations. That work pushed the share of its revenue from Detroit project past 50 percent two years ago. Today it's nearly 80 percent.

"Now it's coming back and coming back incredibly strong," says Robert Kraemer, principal of Kraemer Design Group.

That has allowed Kraemer Design Group to hire seven people over the last year, expanding its staff to 29 employees and an intern. That team is working on a number of historic renovations in downtown Detroit, including 28 W. Grand River, 1201 Wooward (the new GSTV headquarters), and an expansion of the Lofts of Merchants Row.

That's going work for now but Kraemer expects the historic rehab work to start tailing off and turning into more new construction over the next few years.

"There are not too many of the big empty buildings left in downtown Detroit," Kraemer says.

Source: Robert Kraemer, principal of Kraemer Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor startups score seed capital from Innovation Fund

A couple of Ann Arbor-based startups have taken the lion's share of seed funding from the initial round of the Innovation Fund Macomb Community College, Powered by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

MyFab5 and TurtleCell received the top awards, $100,000 each, from the Innovation Fund. The $100,000 investments are focused on helping push those startups toward large-scale funding.

"We're laying the foundation to accelerate our growth," says Omeid Seirafi-Pour, co-founder & CEO of MyFab5.

MyFab5's platform works through Instagram, allowing its users to take pictures of their meals at restaurants and then rank their experience. The 2-year-old company got its start allowing users to rank their top five businesses in certain genres in local areas, but transitioned to a photo-based version when it noticed its users liked using it with Instagram.

MyFab5 averages more than 300,000 users each month. That is more than double its user rate from last fall. MyFab5 users have shared over 1.25 million restaurant recommendations and photos. It now employs a staff of four and three interns.

The platform also streamlines social media marketing for restaurants, providing a dashboard that enables creation of custom marketing plans, analyzing audience, generating leads, creating and publishing social media posts, tracking and engaging fans, and creating analytics reports.

TurtleCell makes a smartphone case with retractable headphones so users can avoid tangled, broken or lost headphones.

The Innovation Fund made five investments overall in startups based in Metro Detroit. The total investment package from the came to $275,000. The $2.7 million fund focuses on stimulating economic development and job growth among promising Metro Detroit entrepreneurs and next-stage businesses with high-growth potential. Investments range from $25,000 to $100,000.

Source: Omeid Seirafi-Pour, co-founder & CEO of MyFab5
Writer: Jon Zemke
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