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Saline-based Image Data Conversion hires 7 as it continues to grow

Image Data Conversion has been growing a lot since the economic recovery commenced a couple of years ago through both organic growth and acquisitions.

The Saline-based company specializes in digitizing documents. Think turning paperwork and microfilm into more readily accessible digital documents. That could be everything from newspapers to building permits.

"The business has been growing in the double digits since 2010," says Bob Palmerton, director of finance administration for Image Data Conversion. "There is a lot of paper out there."

The 4-year-old company has also been acquiring or launching new divisions in the last few years. It acquired Beam Film in 2012 and launched Reveal Digital in 2013. It has steadily consolidated it sales efforts since then.

That has allowed Image Data Conversion to hire seven new people over the last 18 months, expanding its staff to 65 employees. Of those, 55 are based in Saline. That number could jump again in the near future as the company considers acquiring more firms in the not-too-distant future.

"We keep a short list of potential candidates that would fit in well with the company," Palmerton says.

Source: Bob Palmerton, director of finance administration for Image Data Conversion
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rochester's Trent Design rebrands to Trent Creative, grows

Trent Design is in the final stages of rebranding itself as Trent Creative, a move the boutique branding firm will execute later this month.

"We do more than design," says Marilyn Trent, principal of Trent Creative. "Our current clients know that but when we talk to new prospects it can be limiting."

The Rochester-based company, it also has an office in Midtown Detroit, has hired two people in design and client services over the last year. It currently employs six people and the occasional intern. It is also looking to hire two more people in software development and marketing.

Trent launched what will soon become Trent Creative 23 years ago. It has focused on design work for most of its life but recently moved into offering more comprehensive branding services.

The firm's work for Art X Detroit was also recently chosen as one of the 350 best designs in the U.S. in the 2014 Regional Design Annual representing the best in the Midwest. While awards like that may not directly translate into more business it is another feather the company can put in its cap when pitching new clients.

"It gives us credibility and respect," Trent says.

Trent Creative also plans to become more engaged in work in the greater downtown Detroit area. It is currently working with Midtown Detroit Inc and M-1 Rail to help encourage people to continue to do business in the neighborhood while construction of the trolley line is going over the next 18 months.

"We want to continue to help people keep shopping and doing business on Woodward as we keep building this wonderful rail," Trent says.

Source: Marilyn Trent, principal of Trent Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

Akadeum Life Sciences spins out of local entrepreneurial ecosystem

Akadeum Life Sciences just landed a six-figure seed capital round. The $150,000 raise was led by Ann Abror-based venture capital firm Michigan eLab.

"They are wicked smart entrepreneurs doing something really hard that will have a big impact on the world," says Doug Neal, managing director of Michigan eLab. "Those three criteria are really important to us."

Akadeum Life Sciences is developing a platform that helps researchers prepare samples faster and more efficiently. It uses buoyant beads to improve cell isolation, allowing the targeting of cells in complex solutions using surface antigens.

The technology was spun out of the University of Michigan and the two-person startup leveraged a number of local entrepreneurial resources along the way, including U-M's I-Corps program and Invest Detroit. It is currently sharing space at Menlo Innovations office in downtown Ann Arbor, receiving mentorship from the company’s principals, like Richard Sheridan.

"We like their approach to solving problems and making products, which is customer-oriented," says Brandon McNaughton, co-founder & CEO of Akadeum Life Sciences.

The 9-month-old startup is rare in that already has customers. Eight researchers working on cancer research are paying for the technology and another half a dozen potential customers are in the pipeline.

"We want this in as many hands as we can possible get," says John Younger, co-founder & CSO of Akadeum Life Sciences.

Source: Brandon McNaughton, co-founder & CEO of Akadeum Life Sciences; John Younger, co-founder & CSO of Akadeum Life Sciences; Doug Neal, managing director of Michigan eLab
Writer: Jon Zemke

Reliance One hires 15 as it expands across Midwest

Reliance One has become a staple in the staffing business in Michigan over its 16 years.

The Auburn Hills-based company is now working toward expanding that reputation, opening a new office in Chicago this winter.

"We have clients in that market and clients we currently have locally have offices in Chicago," says Jim Beath, co-founder & chairman of Reliance One. "We need to continue that relationship with our clients."

The company has grown significantly over the last few years, notching a double-digit revenue gain in 2014. It’s on pace to do it again this year. That growth has allowed the company to hire 15 people over the last year, including recruiters, administrative, and back office support staff. It now has a staff of 65 employees and an intern. It is also looking to hire four more recruiters and promote more people internally.

"We added a lot of great people that have learned a lot about our company and our industry," Beath says.

Source: Jim Beath, co-founder & chairman of Reliance One
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wayne State University issues call for new cohort of Detroit Revitalization Fellows

On Monday, Jan. 26, the Detroit Revitalization Fellows began accepting applications for a third cohort.
A part of Wayne State University's Office of Economic Development, the Detroit Revitalization Fellows program is seeking to match approximately 20 "talented mid-career leaders with civic, community and economic development organizations working at the forefront of Detroit’s revitalization efforts." Since 2011, the program received approximately 1,000 applications and awarded 48 fellowships over the span of two cohorts.
Fellows will be paired with one of the program's partner organizations, where they will work for two years as full-time employees while concurrently receiving a slew of professional development services and participating in monthly workshops, study trips, and dialogues with community leaders.
While the program seeks applicants from around the country, it is, according to a press release, "especially interested in receiving applications from Detroiters already living in the city and those who have left the region and are ready to bring their talent back home." Fellows typically possess a graduate degree and between five and 15 years of professional experience.
According to the program's website, Detroit Revitalization Fellows applicants have the chance to be placed with the following employers:
Belle Isle Conservancy, Charles H. Wright Museum, City of Detroit Department of Transportation, City of Detroit Department of Innovation & Technology, Data Driven Detroit, Detroit Creative Corridor Center, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, Detroit Future City, Detroit Historical Society, Detroit Riverfront, Conservancy, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, EcoWorks, Eight Mile Boulevard Association, Global Detroit, Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation, Henry Ford Health System, Invest Detroit, Metro Matters, Southwest Detroit Business Association, and Teen Hype.
For a complete list of Detroit Revitalization Fellows job descriptions, click here.
To apply to the program, visit detroitfellows.wayne.edu/application.
Applications will be accepted now through Feb. 20.

Touch of Class scores NEIdeas grant to expand restoration business

David Moss's path to entrepreneurship is a fairly familiar one. He started in business as a kid with a paper route. As a grown-up, he went to work in corporate America as a quality analyst, but he grew tired of that and decided to go back into business for himself, starting Touch of Class Restoration.

"When you start with that mentality, it just keeps growing on you," Moss says.

Started 14 years ago as a cleaning business, Touch of Class Restoration has evolved into a remediation company specializing in cleaning up water and fire damage. Moss made the transition after learning there were higher profit margins in that niche.

The company suffered a major setback a 18 months ago when a burglary left Moss with a lot of work and no equipment. Since then, the company's fortunes have changed for the better. Moss applied for a $10,000 NEIdeas grant, which Touch of Class Restoration won last fall.

"I bought a lot of new equipment," Moss says. "I wasn't going to let criminals run me out of Detroit."

Source: David Moss, president of Touch of Class Restoration
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M grads seeks to promote social entrepreneurship with Arbor Brothers

From the University of Michigan to Teach For America to Wall Street, a pair of U-M alums get together for a beer at Ashley's and realize that they still wan't to make the world a better place. Enter Arbor Brothers, a part-time philanthropic organization that helps facilitate social entrpreneurship.


"While maintaining their day jobs, the two started with a few pilot projects. They spent 100 hours with Nick Ehrmann, then a Ph.D. student at Princeton University, who founded Blue Engine, a nonprofit that places teaching assistants in public high schools in New York City. They worked with Hot Bread Kitchen, an organization that empowers women and minority entrepreneurs in culinary workforce programs, a loan package that financed a move to a full-time kitchen. Then in September 2010, they quit their jobs and focused all their efforts on Arbor Brothers."

Read the rest here.

Selocial expands to 6 as it makes finals of Extreme Tech Challenge

Social media startup Selocial helped bolster its brand earlier this year at the Extreme Tech Challenge in Las Vegas.

The Ann Arbor-based company made the semi-finals of the business plan competition, earning an invite to do a live demo on the Monster Product stage of this year's Consumer Electronics Show. It beat out 2,000 other entries to score a Top 25 spot.

"This is really big," says David Baird, co-founder & CEO of Selocial. "I didn't expect it."

Baird likes to describe Selocial as an Instagram meets Spotify or Pandora. The company’s software allows users to make a "Selomix," which is a 15-minute visual playlist that combines the users preferred music with a photo. The company launched midway through 2014 and is still in Beta.

"We would love to come out of Beta in the next six months," Baird says. "We're looking at a couple of partners right now."

The 1-year-old startup has expanded its staff to six people. That team is currently working on enhancing the software platform by adding more features and plugins.

"Someone could listen to someone else's mix on Facebook without having to go to our site," Baird says.

Source: David Baird, co-founder & CEO of Selocial
Writer: Jon Zemke

iRule lands $2.5 million in venture capital with Series AA round

When the Quicken Loans family of companies launched the M@dison Building building a few years ago, it envisioned the building serving as a hub for high-growth tech startups. Startups like iRule, a M@dison Building-based company that just raised $2.5 million in venture capital.

The five-year-old company makes a cloud-based universal remote control system for entertainment centers that can be operated from the user's mobile device. The $2.5 million will go toward the further development of the company’s product line.

"It will continue to fuel our growth both in terms of products and manpower," says Itai Ben-Gal, CEO of iRule.

The $2.5 million in seed capital comes from existing investors like Detroit Venture Partners and new investors like AOL co-founder Steve Case. Ben-Gal says this round of venture capital is a Series AA for his firm.

The tech startup has grown its revenue by 50 percent over the last year and Ben-Gal expects his company to do it again in 2015. That has allowed iRule to hire seven people over the last year, including four in the last quarter. It currently has a staff of 21 employees and two interns and is looking to hire several software developers.

"We're always interviewing for that position," Ben-Gal says. "We're constantly growing so if the right person walked through the door, we would find a way to bring him onboard."

Source: Itai Ben-Gal, CEO of iRule
Writer: Jon Zemke

JPMorgan Chase, Invest Detroit, LISC among latest group to give millions of dollars to M-1 Rail

M-1 Rail has fit a big piece into its funding puzzle. The 3.3-mile-long streetcar line has agreed to a second round of funding though the federal New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program. In addition to NMTCs received earlier in 2014, the recent agreement on a second phase of tax credit funding brings M-1 a grand total of $40 million. This is the first time a transit project has received NMTC funding since that program's creation in 2000.

NMTCs were designed to spur development, economic growth, and investment in low-income urban neighborhoods by offering tax credits to organizations contributing to qualifying projects. NMTC investors receive a tax credit equal to 39 percent of their total qualified investment. That tax credit is spread out over seven years; the first three years of the credit returns at five percent and the last four returns at six percent.

JPMorgan Chase, Invest Detroit, The Great Lakes Capital Fund, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and United Fund Advisors contributed to the NMTC fund. Major contributions include $18.4 million from Invest Detroit and $14 million from JPMorgan Chase.

Tahirih Ziegler, executive director of Detroit LISC, says her organization is investing in M-1 Rail for various reasons. "All of the catalytic affordable housing and other development that will result as part of the project is really important to our 'Building Sustainable Communities' activities in the Grand Woodward neighborhood," she says. "We think this project ties into other opportunities for small businesses to come in and create new jobs available to local residents."

The approximately $40 million in funding through NMTCs covers just a portion of the M-1 Rail construction costs. M-1 Rail projects that it will cost $140 million to acquire the streetcars and build the streetcar line and vehicle maintenance facility. The rest of the money has been obtained from a combination of private and public entities, including a recent $12.2 million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation in September 2014.

Source: M-1 Rail press release
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Rockstar Digital expands staff, work into LED signs

Ever want to use your big-screen TV as a tablet computer? Surf for information with a touch of a fingertip on a screen with plenty of space for information? A Sterling Heights-based company is making that happen.

Rockstar Digital is turning large, flatscreen TVs into interactive displays. That includes everything from use one to help customers navigate the car-buying maze in an automotive dealership or finding their favorite store in their mall.

"We're creating a 70-inch, 3-D map of the mall," says Robby Dhillon, president of Rockstar Digital.

Dhillon is a recent graduate of Kettering University in electrical and computer engineering. He saw the rise of LED technology in 2007 and worked to created a software point of sale platform for Lady Jane. A little more than a year ago he launched Rockstar Digital with the idea of combing different sectors of cutting-edge technology.

"I wanted to do something that wasn't just software but software and hardware," Dhillon says.

Today the company has a staff of 12 employees and an intern. That team is working on turning 70-inch flatscreen panel into way-finding machines for everything from businesses to city streetscapes. Check out a video of how it works here.

Source: Robby Dhillon, president of Rockstar Digital
Writer: Jon Zemke

Creative Many Michigan moves HQ to TechTown

Creative Many Michigan is moving its headquarters from Wixom to TechTown, bringing with it seven jobs to New Center.

The arts-based-economic-development nonprofit, formerly known as ArtServe Michigan, was renting space in the Detroit Public Television facility in Oakland County. It is now occupying about 1,400 square feet of space to be closer to the heart of the region’s arts scene and its major players, such as the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, which also calls New Center home.

"Clearly Detroit is a major hub for arts and creative industries," says Jennifer Goulet, president & CEO of Creative Many Michigan.

The nonprofit has added one new person to its team of seven people over the last year. It is also looking to add another person. That team plans to spend a large part of 2015 updating the non-profit's Creative State Michigan report, which details the economic impact of the arts and creative communities across the state.

"We are directly working with Detroit Creative Corridor Center for the second phase of our creative economy research," Goulet says.

Source: Jennifer Goulet, president & CEO of Creative Many Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

MEDC pledges aid for N'Namdi-led arts district

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation has launched another matching grant program for a successful crowdfunding campaign, this time by influential Detroit art dealer and developer George N'Namdi. If N'Namdi can raise $30,000 in 30 days, the MEDC will award N'Namdi another $30,000.

George N'Namdi is the owner of N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Midtown. His goal is to establish a new arts district around the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Rosa Parks Boulevard. The crowdfunding campaign will help finance Quarter Pop on Grand River, an arts incubator and gallery and retail district that will rotate entrepreneurs in and out of renovated storefronts in three month increments. The 4200 block of Grand River Ave. is the focus of the project.

"The vision for the Quarter Pop is to create and activate a space where Detroit creatives can gain success for their businesses while strengthening the neighborhoods around them," says N'Namdi. "Quarter Pop will be a huge catalyst for creative cultural change in the Grand River Creative Corridor, Detroit, and beyond."

Quarter Pop occupants will receive marketing, accounting, and legal advice along with entrepreneurial mentorship. An emphasis will be put on creative retailers. Money raised will be put toward construction and business service costs.

This is not the first time the MEDC has pledged matching grant money toward crowdfunding campaigns. In November 2014, a campaign was announced to fund the construction of a skate park at the old Wigle Recreation Center. That campaign was soon aborted as it was discovered that the city of Detroit seeks to sell the property. In August 2014, the MEDC pledged matching grant money toward a new green alley in Midtown, which began construction in September of that year.

N'Namdi has until Feb. 13 to raise the $30,000. As of this reporting, the project has already received over $17,000 in pledges from just 6 donors. The campaign is being hosted by crowdfunding site Patronicity.

Source: Michigan Economic Development Corporation
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Ink Detroit aims to take t-shirt/garment business national

T-shirt companies are a dime a dozen when it comes new business starts. There are low-barriers of entry and lots of people with ideas for clever garment designs.

Ink Detroit is the exception to that rule. The 10-year-old company has its t-shirt designs, such as its trademark "I Love Detroit" brand, in a stores across Michigan. It employs four people after hiring a sales manager last year. And now the company plans to hire a few more people later this year as it looks to take its business national.

So what's the secret to success in such a competitive industry? Experience, according to Ink Detroit's president & owner Steve Mansour. He and his partner have years of experience in fashion and garment industries, and Manour's family has been in the business for a long time. It's the type of inside track that often leaves newcomers in the dust.

"They don't have the network capabilities to get their product into distribution," Mansour says.

So the Royal Oak-based company has grown. Its revenue is up 30 percent over the last year after adding a few new retailers in 2014.

"We're curated in 25 stores locally," Mansour says.

One of those new stores is one in Metro Airport. Its parent company has 145 locations across the country. Mansour hopes to leverage those connections to launch his new Ink City brand later this year in major metro areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Miami. The new brand will be locally specific much like I Love Detroit is today.

"It's pretty much city themed merchandise geared toward those cities," Mansour says.

Ink Detroit is also looking at expanding locally, too. The company is aiming to open a retail location in downtown Detroit later this year.

"We'd like to have a full-time operation there," Mansour says.

Source: Steve Mansour, president & owner of Ink Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Level One Bank aims for big 2015 after acquiring Lotus Bank

Level One Bank made headlines last fall after acquiring fellow Oakland County-based Lotus Bank. Look for the newly merged banks (the acquisition should be completed in March) to make more news as they integrate together this year.

"This will be our third transaction," says Patrick Fehring, president & CEO of Level One Bank, referring to his bank's acquisitions of Paramount Bank in 2010 and Michigan Heritage Bank in 2009. "We're focused on completing the acquisition of Lotus Bank and folding it into Level One Bank."

The Farmington Hills-based bank got its start seven years ago. It has since grown to $825 million in assets, including the $110 million it added with the Lotus Bank acquisition. The bank has grown organically, too, locking down 18 percent growth in 2014 and projecting another 15 percent gain this year.

Level One Bank has hired 15 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 150 people. It’s also looking to hire another five people now. While those new jobs are largely across the board many of them are in the bank's newly beefed-up commercial banking and residential lending departments.

"We're pretty bullish on the local economy," Fehring says. "It seems southeast Michigan is fairing pretty well right now."

Source: Patrick Fehring, president & CEO of Level One Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke
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