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Ann Arbor's PriceLocal browser app compares Amazon pricing to local retailers

When PriceLocal launched a little more than a year ago it was a spunky, local startup carving out a niche by helping local retailers compete with e-commerce prices. Today it is a significantly bigger startup looking to make grow even more during the holiday shopping season.

The Ann Arbor-based startup connected with a couple dozen retailers in 2014. This year it has scaled that number into hundreds of retailers and even more users.

"We have thousands of users across the country, in all 50 states," says Matt Chosid, CEO of PriceLocal. "We have hundreds of businesses across the country."

PriceLocal's technology is a plug-in for your web browser. The platform helps consumers search for a product online and then provides local stores the opportunity to match the online price. So, if you are are searching Amazon and other e-commerce sites, you now have the option to see if a local business can offer a comparable price.

"That's the frosting," Chosid says. "The real cake is you can search and find where something is located."

Chosid worked on the litigation team at Borders from the 1990s until it closed, watching e-commerce sites play a critical role in toppling the national bookseller. That experience inspired him to start PriceLocal with the help of Alfa Jango. He also brought on Larry Freed, formerly CEO of ForeSee, as chief strategy officer. PriceLocal currently has a staff of 10 people working toward leveling the playing field for retailers.

“The most important thing to us is local retailers,” Chosid says.

Source: Matt Chosid, CEO of PriceLocal
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor Distilling Co opens doors in downtown Ann Arbor

Patrons began walking into the newly opened Ann Arbor Distilling Co's tasting room in downtown Ann Arbor a few days ago and Rob Cleveland hopes they notice one thing, the combination of industrial and rural aesthetics.

"We're industrial meets farm," says Cleveland, managing director of the micro distillery. "It's a turn-of-the-century building. It has a lot of brick and concrete. It's a very robust building. We also built out the building with wood from Urban Ashes and Recycle Ann Arbor that was salvaged."

Cleveland and Ari Susssman have been working on opening the craft distillery for the last two years. It is located at 220 Felch in the same building as Icon Interactive, a digital marketing agency Cleveland serves as the founder & CEO. Cleveland and Sussman saw a demand for locally made craft cocktails in downtown after watching decades of success from local craft brewers.

Ann Arbor Distilling Co is currently selling bottles of its vodka, gin and rum cocktails or serving cocktails made of those liquors in its tasting room. It is also working on making its own whiskey and bourbons, liquors that traditionally take years to distill.

"We are also looking at having apply brandy in the not-too-distant future," Cleveland says.

The craft distillery held a soft opening last Saturday and opened its doors to the public yesterday.  Its tasting room encompasses 1,000 square feet and has a capacity of 35 people. It has another 5,000 square feet of production space that can produce up to 60,000 gallons of liquor annually. Cleveland expects to start distributing Ann Arbor Distilling Co's liquors by the bottle in local retailers by second quarter of next year.

Source: Rob Cleveland, managing director of Ann Arbor Distilling Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

IDI takes hassle out of time management with Quick Time Entry

Integrated Design Inc has been in the software business for a long time. The Ann Arbor-based firm is a year shy of celebrating 30 years of delivering customized application-integration software for its clients. It plans to spend the next year introducing a new, time-management software platform.

Integrated Design Inc, also known as IDI, will be launching Quick Time Entry, a web-based application designed to streamline the tracking of employee hours, labor and pay codes each pay period. The solution provides an alternative time-entry system for organizations that do not need a full time-and-attendance application but do need to gather and manage time sheets. Check out a video of it here.

"It's an online timecard entry application for organizations that are capturing hours either in excel spreadsheets or timecards," says Kit Dickinson, president of Integrated Design Inc. "This gets those organizations off of antiquated methods and onto a more reliable, accurate time-management solution."

Integrated Design Inc is marketing the platform to non-profits, project-based businesses, construction companies, and other small businesses that need to grapple with payroll and employee time management but are not familiar with what technology options are available or feel overwhelmed by them.

"They just don’t need all of that overhead of a full time and attendance system or ERP," Dickinson says. "They need something that is simple, transfers time data to their payroll or other systems and comes in at a lower price point."

Integrated Design Inc also makes the lions share of its revenue from custom integration software projects it gets through a partner network. That network has grown from handful of companies to a half dozen. Integrated Design Inc has also grown its revenue by 11-13 percent each year over the last few years, allowing it to hire three people in tech support over the last year. Dickinson expects to repeat those gains soon.

"The goal is to do that again, and Quick Time Entry can help get us there," Dickinson says.

Source: Kit Dickinson, president of Integrated Design Inc
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit furniture maker Floyd finds a few good legs to stand on as it scales sales

Floyd, formerly The Floyd Leg, found a leg to stand on nearly two years ago when it created a versatile furniture leg that can turn any flat surface into a table. Today the Corktown-based startup is gaining its footing as it prepares for a big growth year in 2016.

Floyd recently released its biggest product to date, a bed, while fleshing out its staff at its home in Ponyride. Now the startup is raising a seed capital round and laying the groundwork for a large global sales push in 2016. But first it’s enjoying some significant sales gains since its launch nearly two years ago, clocking more than $1 million in revenue so far.

Its core product, the Floyd Leg, is leading those sales. The Floyd Leg is a steel table leg with a clamp that can attach to any flat surface, turning it into a table. The legs are sold in groups of four and serve as the support system for a light-to-medium-use table.

"That makes up the core of our sales," says Kyle Hoff, co-founder and CEO of Floyd.

Floyd ships these Michigan-made table legs all around the world. About 30 percent of its sales are international and go to 20 different countries. Some of the most popular destinations include New York City, San Francisco, and Tokyo.

"It's places were people are living in very dense areas," Hoff says. "They don't want to go to a big-box store to buy a chair and then pitch it when they have to move."

Floyd also kicked off a crowdfunding campaign for its newest product, the Floyd Platform. The bed features a frame made of honeycombed core panels, steel supports with design inspiration from Floyd Legs, and straps to hold it firmly in place.

The Floyd Platform retails for $495, and the first are expected to be delivered in February. Floyd is also working on other furniture concepts, but is sticking to its knitting when it comes to co-debuting new products in 2016.

"Right now it's tables and beds," Hoff says. "But anything in the apartment is fair game."

Floyd currently has a staff of seven people working on the company's product catalog and growing sales. That staff also includes two Venture For America fellows, promising recent college grads who are paired with equally promising startups in economically challenged areas like Detroit.

Floyd's team is also working on raising a $550,000 seed capital round to fund its expansion by early next year. That money will go toward efforts to further open up markets in Europe and Asia, along with solidifying domestic gains.

"The goal is to open up some market channels," Hoff says. "Up until now it’s been pretty organic and word of mouth."

Source: Kyle Hoff, co-founder & CEO of Floyd
Writer: Jon Zemke

First Class Committee provides high fashion without high price

When Terrance Jones went to start a clothing company, he had more than one theme to base it on in mind. To Jones, craftsmanship, music, and affordability all play integral role in the hand-sewn clothes he makes at First Class Committee.

"I want to give people access to high fashion without paying high prices," Jones says.

The Midtown-based clothing label got its start when Jones was studying at Louisiana State University and was in its infancy when he moved to Austin, Texas, after college. First Class Committee started to come into its own when Jones made the move to Detroit a little less than a year ago. He is now a part of the Fashion Incubator at the Detroit Garment Group.

There he is working on developing his label's production and branding. For now, his line is primarily made up of shirts, sweaters, and hoodies. He designs them with an urban aesthetic that draws inspiration from contemporary music, often hip hop, but also from other genres like alternative rock and techno.

Jones hand-makes all of First Class Committee's clothing, cutting and sewing it entirely himself. To him that's a competitive advantage because it lowers the production costs and enhances the craftsmanship.

"It cuts out the middlemen," Jones says. "I can make it more affordably."

Jones currently sells First Class Committee's clothing online and in local retailers like Bob’s Classic Kicks. He wants to spend 2016 establishing the brand in Detroit and pumping up sales, though he doesn't see himself giving up the sewing until his brand success mandates it.

"I like making them myself," Jones says. "It's one on one with me and my clients. It's a unique and personal feeling."

Source: Terrance Jones, founder & CEO of First Class Committee
Writer: Jon Zemke

Bogobrush remakes toothbrush with bioplastic from Michigan farms

Bogobrush made a splash a few years ago, selling its first run of biodegradble toothbrushes thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign. Today Bogobrush is debuting a better, more sustainable toothbrush.

The original Bogobrush toothbrush featured a shaft made of sculpted bamboo and bristles composed of bio-plastic nylon. The idea was to use materials that grew quickly (bamboo) and decomposed nearly as fast. The idea turned out to be better on paper than in reality.

"We ended up losing half of our first product run (due to problems with using bamboo)," says John McDougall, who co-founded the Midtown-based business with his sister Heather McDougall. "We knew it wouldn’t be a suitable material for us."

So the McDougall siblings went back to the drawing board, and it’s a decision they are happy they made. They switched the shaft material from bamboo to bioplastic, specifically a flaxseed oil-based plastic from local farms. It allowed Bogobrush to move production of the toothbrushes from overseas to Michigan.

"We were able to get the same compostability as we did with the bamboo, but we could do it locally," John McDougall says.

The new Bogobrush toothbrush comes with a stand (also made of the bioplastic) and compostable nylon bristles. The whole package is just as biodegrable as the previous version, meaning it can return to the earth within a few months if tossed out into a compost pile.

"You should expect it to break down as fast as a piece of wood," John McDougall says.

Bogobrush started off with an order of 5,000 brushes and has done two more new orders. John McDougall hopes to send out 10,000 in orders by the end of this holiday shopping season. Currently it is running a social mission special where for every toothbrush purchased, one is donated to a person in need. It has already sent more than 2,000 toothbrushes through partner health clinics like Covenant Community Care, which provides dental care to patients throughout Metro Detroit, regardless of their ability to pay.

"The more we can sell, the more we can give to our partners," John McDougall says.

He hopes grab a toehold in the metro Detroit market this year, selling a few ten thousand toothbrushes over the course of 2016. That would leave a lot of room for growth in a market where 450 million toothbrushes end up in landfills. Bogobrush's new toothbrushes retail for $14.25 and can be purchased here.

Source: John McDougall, co-founder of Bogobrush
Writer: Jon Zemke

VizBe aims to help employees achieve their goals through visualization

Natalia Petraszczuk believes that people can will themselves to better things by consistently visualizing their goals -- so much so that last spring she launched a startup, VizBe, around the idea.

"I saw a very big niche in the self-development industry," Petraszczuk says. "It's an $11-billion market."

A client of the Macomb-OU INCubator and a tenant at Grand Circus in downtown Detroit, VizBe is creating a goal-setting platform that helps people achieve personal and professional success through visualization, specifically assigning visual imagery to goal-setting in a practice called vision boards. The platform helps instill motivation and accountability into people.

"It allows them to easily create vision boards, set due dates, and prompts them to help them realize their goals," Petraszczuk says.

The three-person team is currently working on an enterprise model for companies to use with their employees. It is also looking at adding some clients in education next year, but first is focusing on its commercial end.

"We're piloting with a few companies in the area," Petraszczuk says.

Source: Natalia Petraszczuk, founder & CEO of VizBe
Writer: Jon Zemke

How to do Small Business Saturday the easy way

With the holiday season (and all of the shopping it entails) upon us, there's good reason to feel stressed. Thankfully, several Detroit nonprofits are teaming up to make shopping easy and enjoyable, all while promoting city-based small businesses.

This Saturday, Nov. 28, the Downtown Detroit Partnership is hosting its 12th annual Shop Detroit event in conjunction with American Express's Small Business Saturday. Participants will be able to hop on busses at any of nine pickup locations around the city and be shuttled to a handful of retail districts, including the Cass and Canfield district, the shops at the Park Shelton, the Fisher Building, the Livernois Avenue of Fashion, and downtown. Along the way, the good folks at the Detroit Experience Factory will provide background on the shopping options, as well as historical tidbits about the city. The best part? The tours and shuttles are free and open to the public.

In conjunction with Shop Detroit, the Build Institute will be hosting a Build Bazaar in the atrium of One Campus Martius. Build Bazaar is a rotating pop-up marketplace celebrating emerging entrepreneurs from Build Institute's small business development program. To learn more about Build Institute's Shop Detroit Build Bazaar, click here. Can't make it this Saturday? Check out one of the other Build Bazaars happening between now and Christmas.

To RSVP for Shop Detroit, click here.

Alchemy spins out Tadpole, a bargain branding agency for startups

Tom Nixon and Brent Eastman have worked with a lot of entrepreneurs in their years as part of the leadership team at Alchemy, a Troy-based marketing agency.

They know the well-established ones make good customers, but the new ones launching startups have the most potential. The problem is those companies usually have the most limited budgets at the time they need the resources the most to effectively get to market. Nixon & Eastman spun out Tadpole with the idea of providing a bridge of sorts for those companies.

"A young company [usually] has a great idea and some funding, but they [often] don't have enough funding to pay a firm to bring the product to market," Eastman says. "A marketing agency is one of the last things they will spend their money on."

Tadpole finds a way to help startups circumvent that pitfall. It provides them with expert analysis and consultation, market research and proof-of-concept, a brand strategy and engineering, a launch plan, and a marketing execution roadmap. And it does it all for the first year at minimal cost.

Tadpole works on a deferred-compensation plan, so the startup business has minimal financial outlays for the first 12 months of the engagement. Rates are steadily increased in subsequent years so they are affordable to the startups as they begin to generate revenues. The end game is to help them become future clients of Alchemy.

Tadpole will choose four to six startups each year to work with, specifically companies that are beyond the product development stage but not quite to second stage where they are generating sustainable revenues.

"We define a tadpole as a company that has moved beyond the startup phase but isn't quite to stage two," Nixon says.

Source: Tom Nixon and Brent Eastman, co-founders of Tadpole
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wixom's LawnGuru hopes to become the Uber of landscaping

LawnGuru wants to be the answer for people who need a lawn mowed the way Uber is the answer for people who need a lift.

Seems simple, right? The sharing economy has become ubiquitous in most sectors, so why not landscaping? Anyone who has tried to nail down a mowing service in April or a snow plowing service in January (when those services are in highest demand) might disagree, but LawnGuru’s team believes it can overcome those misgivings.

The Wixom-based startup has created a mobile platform that enables users to hire landscapers to mow lawns in much the same way Uber does with rides -- it connects an independent contractor with someone who needs a job done, and everybody wins. Contractors can choose jobs close to where their established work is, allowing them to maximize the efficiency and earning potential of a workday.

"Our platform gives them more money for jobs they are already near to, with no invoicing or backend work," says Skye Durrant, co-founder and president of LawnGuru.

Durrant adds that about 75 percent of the companies working in landscaping are owner-operated, so they are cutting lawns, managing employees, and filing paperwork to make it all happen. To say they're stretched thin is an understatement. LawnGuru gives them a chance to increase their revenues with less overhead headache.

LawnGuru launched its service in May and now has about 2,000 users, mostly in metro Detroit. Next year it’s aiming to expand across Michigan, then the Midwest, and then across North America. Its team of eight people executing that expansion while raising a six-figure seed round. They have already secured $25,000 by winning the product and service category at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, Michigan's biggest business plan competition.

"In terms of the network in Michigan, it was amazing," Durrant says. "The experience as a whole was incredible."

Source: Skye Durrant, co-founder & president of LawnGuru
Writer: Jon Zemke

Accio Energy scores $4.5M to field test wind-energy tech

Accio Energy just landed a lot of money. And that means further development of its innovative wind energy generation systems. And the Ann Arbor-based startup has its eyes on raising even more in busy 2016.

The 7-year-old startup received a $4.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy to fund the field testing of Accio Energy's technology. Accio Energy plans to spend next year laying the groundwork to field test its off-shore wind energy generation systems off the coast of Maine in 2017.

"This is our opportunity to scale it more than 10 times and take it offshore," says Jen Baird, CEO of Accio Energy.

Accio Energy's technology generates alternative energy from the wind without the turbine. Its aerovoltaic technology harnesses the electrokinetic energy of the wind (think static electricity) through a screen-like piece of equipment with no moving parts. The technology has been proven in wind tunnels, but this new funding means it can be built up for field testing in Penobscot Bay of Maine near the town of Castine.

The federal funding is a bit more than a grant because the feds will have an active role in the project, but the money is still non-dilutable government funding. It will also allow Accio Energy to hire a few more people to its staff of eight employees. The federal partnership comes with a 10 percent match requirement for Accio Energy and Baird expects to begin raising a multi-million-dollar seed round next year.

"It's a big step," Baird says.

Source: Jen Baird, CEO of Accio Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke

AdAdapted's native advertising tech for mobile goes national

AdAdapted isn't just a little tech startup with big dreams in Ann Arbor anymore. The 3-year-old native advertising company is building a sizable client base with ambitions of landing a few national advertising campaigns.

AdAdapted has created a native advertising platform for mobile apps. It connects apps with advertisers with an easy-to-use technology to create and place customized native ads. It also provides content tracking of brands and purchases for its customers. Demand for AdAdapted's technology and services has spiked.

"We are on pace to double our revenue since last year," says Michael Pederson, CEO of AdAdapted. "2016 is looking to be significantly larger."

It also employs a team of nine people, including three full-time hires in engineering and client services over the last year. AdAdapted has built up a client list that includes some large multi-national corporations, including Nestle and Proctore & Gamble. Pedersen and his team want to add more of those sorts of large clients in 2016.

"That's our target area," Pedersen says. "We're looking for brands that want to advertise on a national level instead of a local or regional level."

To do that, AdAdapted is looking to raise some seed capital next year. It has raised $1 million since 2013 as part of a seed round. It is also in the beginning stages of raising more but those efforts are still in their infancy. With that said, Pedersen knows one thing is certain.

"We will raise some money next year," Pedersen says.

Source: Michael Pederson, CEO of AdAdapted
Writer: Jon Zemke

Homeward Healthcare turns 2015 pilot program into 2016 profits

Homeward Healthcare started this year testing its healthcare technology at Hurley Medical Center in Flint. It's ending this year with a successful pilot program and a few paying customers in its pocket, not to mention ambitions to take its business model national next year.

The 2.5-year-old startup has developed a mobile platform that enables clearer communication between hospital staff and patients. It provides a questionnaire to patients to illicit more frank information about their health free from social pressures to say certain things to impress doctors or other medical staff. The idea is to enable medical professionals to deliver better care.

"We use an interactive medical platform to provide risk stratification to help prevent patient re-admissions," says Joe Gough, president & CEO of Homeward Healthcare.

Homeward Healthcare's pilot program dealt primarily with cardiac patients. Kettering University is about to release a white paper on the results of the program that shows a 47 percent reduction in readmission of patients dealing with congestive heart failure and a 33.4 percent reduction in readmission in patients in general cardiac care.

"That translates to 69 fewer readmissions out of 1,000 patients," Gough says.

Homeward Healthcare has been able to translate that work into three paying customers, including Hurley Medical Center, Mammoth Hospital in California, and Evolution Hospital in Las Vegas. Homeward Healthcare also has a handful of other hospitals lined up to become customers in the first quarter of 2016. The health systems they are attached to could mean that Homeward Healthcare has customer ceiling of up 600 hospitals.

Homeward Healthcare plans to go national with its platform next year. Besides its office in Ann Arbor, it also has offices in Toledo and San Francisco. It employs 18 people, including 11 hires over the last year. Gough expects those numbers to rise as his team works to raise more seed capital. It closed on a $1.5 million Series A a year ago and is currently raising a $1 million bridge round with an eye on closing a Series B by the end of next year.

"We opened it (the bridge round) last week," Gough says. "We already have $250,000 in it."

Source: Joe Gough, president & CEO of Homeward Healthcare
Writer: Jon Zemke

Slingshot Cloud Services opens data center in Royal Oak

IT company Slingshot Cloud Services is opening in Royal Oak this month with two guiding principals: simplicity and affordability.

"We offer (IT) infrastructure as a service," says Vincent Barrett, CEO of Birmingham Capital. "We believe IT doesn’t have to be hard."

Birmingham Capital is launching Slingshot Cloud Services after buying the cloud-computing assets from Munger Capital. Those assets are now part of its newly re-launched class-3 data center in Royal Oak where about a dozen people work on any given day.

"It's probably one of the top five nicest data centers in Oakland County," Barrett says. "We have a group of the best engineers helping us out here."

Slingshot Cloud Services offers private or hybrid cloud software solutions to growing businesses, specifically targeting companies in the manufacturing, financial, and healthcare sectors. Barrett is optimistic about hitting its goal of generating more than $1 million in revenue in its first year because it acquired the cloud-computing infrastructure so cheaply that it can undercut its competitors prices significantly.

"Every dollar we make is profit," Barrett says. "There is nobody’s price I can't beat."

Source: Vincent Barrett, CEO of Birmingham Capital
Writer: Jon Zemke

The ascendance of metro Detroit's family foundations

It's hard to believe, but just 30 years ago, metro Detroit had no endowed family foundations. In recent years, however, names like Erb, Fisher, Davidson, Taubman, and Wilson have become well known to the people of metro Detroit—and for not how members of those families made their fortunes, but for how they are giving them away.
"The patriarchs of several major philanthropic Metro Detroit families have died in the last two years, leaving survivors, younger generations and foundation employees to carry on their legacies," writes Jennifer Chambers in a recent feature in the Detroit News on the increasing economic and social impacts  family foundations are making on metro Detroit.
"The impact of family foundations will be felt far and wide in the next decade, with billions of dollars coming into Detroit and the region, said Mariam Noland, president of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan."
Read more in the Detroit News.
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