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West Coast work drives hires at HelloWorld in Southfield

For a long time, HelloWorld has been the tech company standard that most Metro Detroit startups aim for. Start in a garage, develop a cool technology (marketing software), land venture backing, hire hundreds of people, and become acquired for a large sum of money.

Today the Southfield-based firm is becoming the tech company multi-national brands wants to get to know better, specifically those on the West Coast. HelloWorld has been growing its workload with big companies all along the West Coast for the last year, including adding to its Seattle office to handle an increased work with Microsoft. Today, West Coast work makes up 20 percent of HelloWorld's revenue.

"We think there is a lot of headroom for growth there," says Peter DeNunzio, CEO of HelloWorld.

HelloWorld started as ePrize 17 years ago in Josh Linkner's garage. It rebranded a couple of years ago to convey its mission better as a digital promotions firm. HelloWorld's software platform helps enable brands to connect with consumers through a variety of experiences, including mobile marketing, live event activation, in-store activation and loyalty programs.

HelloWorld executed a move from Pleasant Ridge to Southfield last December. It has been on a hiring binge over the last year, bringing on close to 60 people. The staff now totals about 385 employees, most of whom work in Southfield. It hires a handful of people each week.

"We have three full-time recruiters on our staff constantly scanning the marketplace," DeNunzio says. "Most of the folks we have hired have been new add-ons to the staff."

HelloWorld has organically grown its revenue by 10-12 percent in each of the last three years. That growth comes from expanding its workload, primarily by adding more services and growing its relationships with existing customers. It's a plan that has worked so well that DeNunzio is optimistic about the company’s prospects this year and into 2017.

"We're on track," DeNunzio says. "We had the strongest first quarter we have ever had in the last three fiscal years. We have some nice, signed deals in the pipeline."

Community Choice Credit Union adds branches as it grows

Community Choice Credit Union is a financial institution on the rise, and it's plainly visibly from the new branches it's building.

The Farmington Hills-based financial institution opened a new branch, which it calls a member center, in Northville earlier this spring. It's also in the process of building a new branch in Shelby Township that it expects to open in October. There are also plans to build another branch in Canton next year.

"We have to look at where our membership lives and works," says Alan Bergstrom, senior vice president of retail development & chief marketing officer for Community Choice Credit Union. "So we decide to add member centers to make our credit union more convenient and accessible for our members."

Community Choice Credit Union got its start in 1935 and has grown steadily since then. Anyone who lives in Allegan, Genesee, Kent, Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, Ottawa, St. Clair, Washtenaw, or Wayne counties can become a member. It currently has 75,000 members after adding 19,000 in the last year.

Mergers have made that growth possible. Community Choice Credit Union merged with two smaller credit unions (Nupath and East Side Credit Union) last year, adding a handful of branches and more than 10,000 members. The larger credit union now has 16 branches and a staff of 240 people after adding 60 people last year.

Community Choice Credit Union has also significantly grown its bottom line. It went from being a $570 million credit union last year to an $800 million credit union this year, and it's expecting similar growth this year.

"We have grown pretty rapidly," Bergstrom says.

SVS Vision grows into optical retail juggernaut

Ken Stann never intended to acquire SVS Vision, yet he became a key figure in its transformation into an optical retail juggernaut.

The Mt. Clemens-based company is the largest retail optical chain in Michigan, but it didn't start out that way when it launched in 1974. Back then it handled insurance work and had built up 52 optical centers by the early 2000s. That's when Stann became a part of the team. His job: help broker a sale.

Completing that task didn't go smoothly. Stann would help put a deal together only to watch it die on the vine not long after. By 2007 he put together a deal to buy SVS Vision with some partners, and Stann became the president & CFO of the firm.

"The more deals I watched die, the more I wanted to put a deal together and buy it myself," Stann says.

With a change in ownership came a change in SVS Vision’s business model. Stann and his partners took the firm from relying on insurance work to a retail model. That meant taking many of its existing locations and switching them to more retail-friendly spaces.

"We have achieved substantial growth by relocating existing stores," Stann says.

That meant re-evaluating the viability of optical center as the leases came up. SVS Vision ended up moving 40 of its 52 optical centers to better serve a retail clientele. It added a few more over time and now has 69 stores in eight states. It’s in the process of opening up two more in Belleville and near the Meijer on Detroit's west side later this month.

That allowed SVS Vision to grow its revenues by nearly 10 percent over the last year. It is currently on track to grow by 12 percent this year. SVS Vision has also hired 50 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 515 people.

"It has been a complete transformation of an entity," Stann says. "I am really proud of it."

Detroit entrepreneurs have until July 1 to apply for Motor City Match

The clock is ticking for entrepreneurs thinking about applying to Detroit's Motor City Match program. July 1 is the deadline for the small business competition, which awards grant funding, design and technical support, and landlord-tenant match-making assistance. The quarterly competition offers up to $500,000 in grants each round.

Entrepreneurs ranging from established to nascent are encouraged to apply. The competition offers different levels of prizes to local small businesses, depending on a number of factors. For the new entrepreneurs, Motor City Match offers free business planning programming. More advanced entrepreneurs may be matched with a Detroit landlord seeking to fill a storefront or building. Design services from local architecture firms are also available.

The most advanced applicants are eligible to receive up to $100,000.

Since launching in 2015, Motor City Match has awarded $1.5 million in grant funding, which has been leveraged for nearly $10.5 million in investment.

Lana Rodriguez is the recipient of one of those grants, having received $18,000 from Motor City Match in the most recent round of competition. She's using that money to help start Mama Coo's Boutique in Corktown, an upscale resale and vintage clothing shop.

"I'm a hustler and I knew the store would open, but it would have only been partially realized," says Rodriguez. "This grant money lets me get started and go all in. I know I have a better chance of longevity and success."

According to Motor City Match, the organization has already served over 300 businesses and 180 commercial properties since 2015. Detroit-based businesses make up about two-thirds of the winners and minority-owned businesses make up 70 percent of the successful applicants.

Visit www.motorcitymatch.com to apply.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Build Institute hits road with Build Bazaars pop-ups and Open City forums

Build Institute has made a name for itself with classes that help aspiring entrepreneurs in Detroit learn the basics of building a company or small businesses. To complement that, they're hosting a number of Build Bazaars pop-up marketplaces and Open City small business forums across the city this summer.

"We are more than just classes," says Christianne Sims, program manager for Build Institute. "People can go through our programs but they also have other resources available to them."

Build Bazaars are rotating pop-up marketplaces featuring products from small businesses in Detroit. Graduates of Build Institute's classes use the bazaars to help drive initial sales and get their businesses off the ground. The products range from artisanal candles and soap, to fresh baked goods and handmade wares.

The first Build Bazaar was held last week at the 24th Annual Congress for New Urbanism at the Detroit Opera House. Two more will be held at the MASH Detroit soft opening at 14711 Mack on June 25 and the Concert of Colors diversity themed festival at the Max Fisher Music Center in Midtown between July 14 and 17.

Open City is where Detroit's aspiring and established small business owners go to network. The small forum is composed of a panel of speakers (selected by Build Institute) that discuss small business topics. The free gatherings take place on the third Monday of every month at the downtown bar Cliff Bells. (For more on Open City, check out this Model D article from 2015)

The first "on the road" event is the Brick By Brick: Building Community Through Small Business, which will focus on how small businesses are the anchors of their communities and the socio-economic hubs of the surrounding neighborhoods. It starts at 6 p.m. on June 20 and will be held at the Detroit Blues Café, 14493 Gratiot Ave.

"Detroit is more than downtown," Sims says. "We have so many commercial corridors."

Lake Brothers Beer Co. begins brewing lagers in Corktown

With the launch of Lake Brothers Beer Co. this spring, Sean Farrell and Mike Grodecki are two of the newest craft brewers in Detroit. They only produce a lager, but they have high expectations for it.

The brothers-in-law see the lager as their ticket into the micro brewing industry. It's a light, crisp beer that's been historically popular in the U.S. All of the marco brewers mass produced lagers for for much of the 20th Century, and it wasn't until the birth of the micro-brewery movement in the last 20 years that ales came back into favor.

"We have been inspired by the lagers of the old days," Farrell says. "We're trying to replicate that in today's market."

Brewing lagers is easier said than done. They typically need to brew longer and in colder temperatures, meaning they take more time and resources to produce.

"It's a hard beer to make," Farrell says. "Any imperfections shine through."

Lake Brothers Beer Co. is making a classic lager with a light amber color. It's brewed out of the Brew Detroit facility in Corktown, packaged into 12-ounce cans and sold in boxed six packs. Patrons can buy them at independent retailers, bars, and restaurants across Metro Detroit, such as Mudgie's Deli in Corktown or Honey Bee La Colmena supermarket in Mexicantown.

The company hopes it can be the regional lager of choice, like Shiner Bock in Texas or Brooklyn Brewery in New York or Yuengling in Virginia.

"We want to be the premier lager brand for the Great Lakes region," Farrell says.

Prestigious fellowship for founder of Building Hugger demonstrates the firm's growth

Amy Swift is going on vacation soon. It may not be a full-on vacation, but she'll take it. That's because it will be the first time Swift has been away from her fledgling business, Building Hugger, for an extended-period of time.

"I have never left this work for this long since I started," Swift says. "Frankly, it scares me. But I'm not going to pass on this opportunity."

Building Hugger is a preservation-focused construction firm that does a lot of work in the lost trades of historic preservation like woodworking, but specializes in window restoration.

It's also growing quickly. Building Hugger currently employs 11 people with a goal of hitting 15 by the end of the year, up from four a year ago.

"It's not like there is a trade school for windows," Swift says. "We have to train everyone in-house."

This is not the time to take the hand off of the tiller of a fast-growing business. But the opportunity, a fellowship with the Tory Burch Foundation, is too good to pass up. 

The New York-based foundation helps women entrepreneurs grow their businesses by providing access to capital, entrepreneurial education, mentoring and networking opportunities. The year-long fellowship comes with a three-day workshop, a $10,000 grant for business education, and the chance to pitch for a $100,000 investment.

Building Hugger is no stranger to finding clever ways to raise seed capital. It won a $10,000 challenge grant from NEIdeas last year and has raised thousands of dollars from Kiva Zip loan drives. Building Hugger also received a Motor City Match design grant to build out a specialty hardware store.

That money helped Building Hugger grow and create jobs over the last year. It recently moved into a bigger shop, which included its new hardware store, on Chene near Eastern Market. 

Building Hugger has taken on a number of window restoration projects that have helped it double its revenue over the past year. Those projects include work on the Henry Ford Fair Lane Estate, the George Ladve House in Brush Park, and the Michigan State Capitol dome.SaveSave

Giffels Webster acquires Lathrup Village-based Clearzoning

Giffels Webster executed its first acquisition in recent memory when it bought Lathrup Village-based Clearzoning earlier this month.

The downtown Detroit-based infrastructure consulting firm plans to integrate the planning and zoning firm into its three offices across Metro Detroit to fill out its service offerings. 

"Our vision is to continue to promote our diversity of projects," says Scott Clein, president of Giffels Webster. "They type of balance we have enjoyed in our 60 years of existence."

Giffels Webster plans to absorb all of Clearzoning's nine staffers. Giffels Webster has hired 10 people on its own over the last year, bringing its total staff to 105 people occupying offices in Detroit, Oakland County and Macomb County.

The merger will turn Giffels Webster into a multi-discipline firm that handles everything from planning to engineering to consulting for infrastructure and construction projects both public and private.

"We don't like the work integrate, as in integrating the two companies," Clein says. "We are using the word harmony. We are trying to bring together two great company cultures."

Giffels Webster wasn't looking to acquire a company when the Clearzoning opportunity presented itself. Clein says his team decided to pursue it because the two companies' cultures are so similar and work well together.

"At the end of the day we are all trying to accomplish the same things," Clein says. "We’re just trying to get the job done."

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

Cambridge Consulting Group moves to downtown Royal Oak

A move from Troy to Royal Oak is part of insurance and financial services consulting firm Cambridge Consulting Group's efforts to develop a company culture that encourages its employees to have a passion for its projects.

The idea is to create an environment where the employees want to make a big difference for the firm’s clients through their work.

"It's something we have pushed for a while," says Dan Cornwell, CEO of Cambridge Consulting Group. "It's really resonating with our team."

Making a move to a dynamic city center like downtown Royal Oak is a significant part of the development of that culture. Cambridge Consulting Group's leadership believes being in a cool environment like downtown Royal Oak will help inspire passion in its employees and be a better work environment overall.

"A walkable, vibrant downtown definitely resonates with our team now," Cornwell says. "It will also help with our recruiting because it’s what the next generation wants."

Cambridge Consulting Group got its start in Troy in 1985. It has since grown to a staff of 60 employees, including 10 new hires over the last year. It has leased 20,000 square feet at 400 W Fourth St. It is creating an open, collaborative office space that is expects to move into in August. The new space also comes with a little room to grow.

"We think we can add 25 additional people to it," Cornwell says.

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

ContentOro scores 1st clients, $1M-plus in seed capital

Last year ContentOro had an employee, a customer and new marketing platform it was trying to get off the ground. This year, it has a number of clients and more than $1 million in seed capital with an eye on closing a multi-million-dollar Series A.

"A lot happens in a year for a startup," says Bob Chunn, founder & CEO of ContentOro.

The Ann Arbor-based startup sees a big problem in modern marketing: a lack of authoritative content. Its solution is providing marketeers with that authoritative content by making the information in books more easily accessible on the Internet.

Clients and publishers are starting to flock the idea. ContentOro currently has five paying customers and 30 publishers making content available to it. The company's goal was to recruit 20 publishers by the end of the year.

"The publishing community has been very receptive to our business model," Chunn says. "We have gotten a great response from them."

ContentOro has raised $1.5 million in pre-seed capital including a convertible note. The company wants to close on its Series A by October. ContentOro has also hired eight people this year, expanding its team to nine people.

Source: Bob Chunn, founder & CEO of ContentOro
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Delphinus Medical Technologies lands in larger HQ in Novi

Newer, bigger and better offices often come to startups that lock down a multi-million-dollar venture capital raises. Add Delphinus Medical Technologies to that list now that it has moved on up to a newer, bigger and better headquarters in Novi.

The biotech startup has called Plymouth its home for most of its five years. Then it landed one of the largest rounds of venture capital in Michigan history last fall. The $40 million Series C round (led by Farmington Hills-based Beringea) will go toward developing and selling its whole breast ultrasound system, growing its team and finding a bigger place to house that team. At 21,000 square feet, the company's new home in Novi is three times larger than its previous office in Plymouth.

"It's just a fabulous facility," says Mark Forchette, president and CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies. "It has a great, inspiring cultural vibe to it."

Delphinus Medical Technologies is creating a new way to detect breast cancer utilizing technology spun out of Wayne State University and the Karmanos Cancer Institute. SoftVue is a whole breast ultrasound system that allows physicians to image the entire breast, including the chest wall. The technology platform incorporates a circular ultrasound transducer, producing cross-sectional ultrasound cross-sections through the entire volume of breast tissue. 

The new headquarters will provide more space for research and development of SoftVue. Delphinus Medical Technologies has hired eight people so far this year, growing its team to just shy of 50 people.

Delphinus Medical Technologies signed a lease on its new office with the idea of providing enough room for R&D and also to act as a showcase for that technology. Forchette expects to host frequent visits from healthcare leaders, customers and vendors, so the company has added a dedicated demonstration room.

"We have room to grow," Forchette says. "We have a facility here that is multifunctional. We have lab space and office space and demonstration space."

Rochester company deconstructs, not demolishes, old homes

As is often the case for successful entrepreneurs, one business begets another. That's certainly true for Robert Bloomingdale, whose recently established Rochester Salvage & Supply most likely wouldn't have happened had it not been for his other booming business, Bloomingdale Construction.

Rochester Salvage & Supply specializes in reclaiming, repurposing, and reusing materials from deconstructed older houses. Bloomingdale Construction builds a lot of its houses in downtown Rochester, a town with plenty of old houses and virtually no empty lots, says Bloomingdale. That's where he got the idea for Rochester Salvage & Supply.

"We demolish a lot of older homes in the process of building new ones," says Bloomingdale. "I always felt bad about sending old, vintage materials to landfills. Now, we save what we can."

Rather than demolish the old houses, Rochester Salvage & Supply now methodically deconstructs them. Materials like shingles and siding are sent to be recycleda cost the company pays out of its pocket. Others, like salvaged lumber, are repurposed into furniture, and other items that can either be sold individually or built into the new homes constructed by Bloomingdale.

Bloomingdale contends that deconstructing a house costs more than twice as much as demolishing one. And paying for materials to be recycled isn't making him any money. But the reclaimed materials trend is a hot one right nowsomething Bloomingdale credits to HGTV shows and other media as having fosteredand he has been astonished by the feedback and interest he has received since announcing the formation of Rochester Salvage & Supply this past April.

For now, Bloomingdale says his goal is "to not lose money." It's a month into the new business and he's learning as he goesafter all, his business has been building homes, not deconstructing them. But he already has plans to expand Rochester Salvage & Supply from its base in Rochester to begin deconstructing homes in Pontiac. The business has had prior involvement in that community, donating materials to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore there and working with the Power Company Kids Club.

Rochester Salvage and Supply operates out of a warehouse on South Street in Rochester, though Bloomingdale prefers customers interested in reclaimed materials make inquiries via email. Reach him at robert@bloomingdaleconstruction.com.

Ann Arbor's Park n Party expands online parking biz across U.S.

Park n Party got its start five years ago helping tailgaters find an easier way to party at Michigan football games, specifically helping them reserve that perfect parking spot online. Today, the Ann Arbor-based company is helping tailgaters across the U.S..

Park n Party has partnered with LAZ Parking to offer its online parking reservation services at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Indy 500 this spring. The company also has brokered partnerships to offer its services in downtown Detroit; Lincoln, Neb; Pasadena, Calif, and South Bend, Ind.

"We're hoping to get into Lansing," says Jason Kapica, co-founder of Park n Party. "We have some contacts there and we hope to get in there this fall."

Park n Party specializes in helping people attending events find and reserve a parking spot online. That way they can avoid driving around a traffic-choked venue looking for a parking spot.

"We make your event day a lot less stressful," Kapica says.

Park n Party started with a few hundred parking spaces near Michigan Stadium. Today it manages about 10,000 spaces in five cities, primarily towns with big college football followings. However, Park n Party doesn’t limit itself to any one sport. Users can utilize Park n Party’s online platform for any sort of game, concert or event.

Usually Park n Party and its team of four people rely on partnerships with parking lot owners near these venues to grow. Its work with these parking companies has allowed it to grow to other markets and create a density of parking offerings there. That's how its current expansion into Indianapolis took place and how the company plans to keep growing the future.

Source: Jason Kapica, co-founder of Park n Party
Writer: Jon Zemke

Family-owned consulting firm moves to bigger office downtown to accommodate growth

LoVasco got its start in 2013 as a small, family-owned consulting firm specializing in insurance, employee benefits and retirement services. The father-son team started out in a small space in the Buhl Building in downtown Detroit. Today it has grown to a point where it needed to move.

LoVasco recently relocated to 8,000 square feet of office space in the One Woodward Avenue building at the corner of Woodward and Jefferson avenues. It brought 20 employees with it to the 15th floor of the Minoru Yamasaki-designed skyscraper overlooking Hart Plaza and the Detroit River.

"It's really starting to feel like a home," says Michael LoVasco, executive vice president of LoVasco. "Everyone has a view of the water."

The LoVasco family went into business for itself in 1956 when John LoVasco (Michael LoVasco's grandfather) started selling insurance. Gene LoVasco (Michael LoVasco's father) joined the business in 1986. The family grew the company before selling it in 2007.

John LoVasco retired but Gene LoVasco kept working for the larger firm until his five-year contract expired. Then he and his son decided to give a family business another try.

"He was ready to be his own boss again," Michael LoVasco says. "We had talked about launching a business together."

So far it's working out quite well. The company grew its revenue by 50 percent in its first year and then another 30 percent the following year. This year LoVasco is on track to hit another double-digit revenue increase.

It's achieving this growth by serving primarily privately owned family businesses based in Michigan. Those companies range in size from a couple hundred employees to five-figure staffs.

NextChallenge aims to smarten up urban infrastructure tech

Technology upgrades are an everyday part of our lives. New phones, computers, and entertainment centers are practically a rite of passage in the 21st Century. Cutting edge technology in public infrastructure, not so much.

It's why NextEnergy is hosting NextChallenge: Smart Cities, a competition to find new hardware and software solutions that address unmet challenges facing urban areas. 

"These are 15 to 30 year assets," says Jean Redfield, president & CEO of NextEnergy. "People expect a return for their decisions. And it can be hard for tech companies to penetrate these environments."

NextEnergy is partnering with DENSO, DTE Energy, and Wells Fargo to launch the challenge. The winner will receive up to $80,000 in seed capital from the Wells Fargo Foundation to demonstrate and validate its solution. Potential winning ideas could range from developing smart parking technologies to smart building solutions.

Developing those technologies is one thing. Getting the market to adapt to them is another. Most of those technologies are big-ticket items with, at best, a limited track record. It's a bet most aren't willing to make on their largest purchases.

"People have to see that they work in the context of the existing system before they are willing to try it," Redfield says.

NextChallenge: Smart Cities wants to bridge that gap. It is accepting applications through July 28. An information webinar will take place on June 9 between 2 and 3 p.m. For information, click here.
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