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Urban Partnership Bank expands staff as it grows lending

Urban Partnership Bank (UPB) is expanding its lending staff in Detroit as the Chicago-based financial institutions looks to grow its business portfolio in the Motor City.

"We're aggressively seeking community borrowers to build businesses and revitalize business districts in Detroit’s neighborhoods," says Brian Berg, director of communications for Urban Partnership Bank.

UPB has set a goal of lending $10 million to small business, nonprofits, and real-estate investors for this year. It has already loaned millions of dollars to Detroit-based businesses since opening its Midtown office in 2012.

Among the recipients of Urban Partnership Banks loans is the Parkside-Five. The 138-unit apartment building at 23740 Fenkell St received a $1.3 million loan for a renovate. Urban Partnership Bank also gave three loans worth $3.3 million, in collaboration with the Michigan Economic Development Corp and Invest Detroit, to Grandpapa's, a Detroit-based business that manufactures cheese balls, pork rinds, and other snack foods. The loan helped the business purchase and renovate an abandoned 139,000-square-foot production facility on East Davison Avenue.

"The company plans to add 50 new employees," Berg says.

Urban Partnership Bank recently introduced new lending options, including fixed-rate mortgages, home-equity loans, CD-secured loans, and secured lines of credit. It also added two new positions to its Midtown office to help it meet its goal of lending $10 million this year.

Source: Brian Berg, director of communications for Urban Partnership Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

Telegration expands cloud computing services offerings

Cloud services are becoming an increasingly important part of Telegration's bottom line and its growth prospects for tomorrow.

The Clawson-based firm specializes in technology consulting. It services a broad range of organizations, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to local government agencies. The 24-year-old company’s products include local, long-distance and Internet services, and it's expanding into cloud computing this year.

"We are adding more products and services to our portfolio," says Rayon Treadwell, marketing administrator for Telegration. "Our customers are clamoring for cloud services."

Telegration is still in the process of fleshing out its cloud computing experiences, which it expects to complete this year. The company is also ramping up its marketing.

"We're starting to increase the visibility of our cloud services," Treadwell says.

Telegration has continued to grow its company as it expands the services it offers. It has hired five people over the last year and now has a staff of 50 employees and two interns. Among its recent hires are a channel support manager, sales engineer, finance specialist and customer service professionals.

Source: Rayon Treadwell, marketing administrator for Telegration
Writer: Jon Zemke

Cirrus Group leverages spike in school district customers

Schools are becoming an increasingly important part of Cirrus Group's future.

The Rochester Hills-based company specializes in back-end software for school districts and after-school programs. It has expanded significantly into school districts in the Phoenix area, where it represents six school districts.

"We have grown quite a bit in the school district space," says Michael Garret, COO of Cirrus Group. "We have also experienced growth in all of our segments."

The 11-year-old firm’s software handles operational, financial and customer management functions for child-care facilities, community centers and school districts. The platform manages enrollment, participant payments and communications, scheduling and government compliancy requirements including state and local subsidy payments and food care programs. The subsidy part has proven to be a distinct competitive advantage in recent months.

"We are one of the few companies that offers a subsidy management tool," Garret says.

That has allowed Cirrus Group to hire two people in software development and customer service over the last year. It currently has a staff of 14 employees and three additional openings for software developers.

Source: Michael Garret, COO of Cirrus Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Elegus Technologies develops advanced battery tech

A group of three Masters of Entrepreneurship students, one PhD student, and one professor from the University of Michigan believe they have come up with a better cell phone battery, or at least a piece of technology that will help these batteries last longer.

Elegus Technologies is commercializing a battery separator membrane that keeps battery electrodes from touching and short circuiting. It's thinner, less expensive, and more heat resistant than current option on the market. It's applications range from helping prolong cell phone battery life to jets to electric vehicles.

"We saw a lot of potential for growth not only with lithium-ion batteries but with other applications," says John Hennessy, co-founder of Elegus Technologies.

The team at Elegus Technologies has raised $23,000 in seed capital from grants and business plan competition wins. They hope to raise $150,000 by the end of summer. That money will help validate the technology. It is working on testing it through the rest of this year.

"Once we get that testing done we can get samples out to customers who are interested in it," Hennessy says.

Hennessy is one of three masters of entrepreneurship students at U-M’s Ross School of Business and a U-M PhD student who decided to take on the technology and turn it into a startup. Elegus Technologies was recently named the Entrepreneurs of the Year by the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship. Hennessy and his team are currently working with the professor at U-M that originally developed the technology.

"We thought it had the best potential out of all of them so we stuck with it," Hennessy says.

Source: John Hennessy, co-founder of Elegus Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Aysling moves to former Borders HQ to accommodate growth

The digital publishing company currently known as Aysling has a brand new home in Ann Arbor.

The firm has taken 12,500 square feet in the former Borders headquarters, giving it more room to grow. Aysling has added half a dozen people over the last year, and another two in the last week, rounding out its staff to 32 employees. The new location for its headquarters is expected to accommodate that easily.

"We anticipate doubling in size over the next 12-24 months," says Patrick Becker, CEO of Aysling. "Possibly sooner than that."

The 9-year-old firm, formerly known as Aysling Digital Media Solutions, provides Adobe and WoodWing digital publishing software solutions and digital media production services for publishers, retailers, and corporations. Rebranding as just Aysling made sense from a streamlining point of view.

"We have grown well beyond digital media solutions," Becker says. "While rebranding we thought it made sense to drop it."

Becker adds that the company's growth has previously been constrained by the smallness of its previous offices. Its last space was 6,000 square feet. The former Borders headquarters has several hundred thousand square feet, which should provide plenty of room for Aysling to grow and stay in Ann Arbor.

"We feel like this is where we want to build our team," Becker says.

Source: Patrick Becker, CEO of Aysling
Writer: Jon Zemke

Hype takes center stage at Techweek Detroit

Matt Burns, the senior editor at TechCrunch, was about to take the stage at Techweek Detroit when the minute-long, Kid Rock-inspired video for Opportunity Detroit blared across the big screens behind him. For a moment, it seemed like the coastal technology reporter forgot he was about to interview Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert.

"That's quite the opening," Burns said. "It's like we're at a wrestling match."

Techweek Detroit was pure Detroit 2.0. Big on tech with equal parts grit and glitz. Heavy on the hype. And that's a good thing.

Building tech communities in Michigan often relies heavily on playing the Midwest nice card. Think lots of nerds doing cool things in polite, quiet little enclaves like Ann Arbor or Grand Rapids -- all of them nudging the tech world forward at their own speeds.

Techweek Detroit, and most of the events that revolve around the Quicken Loans family of companies, always have more of a fast-paced feel to them. They are tackling big things, whether its renovating large sections of downtown, building/funding cutting-edge technology, or working to eradicating blight. When presenters at the Techweek Detroit say they are working to make the world a better place, it comes across as far more sincere than the techie cliche the TV show Silicon Valley likes to make fun of.

Techweek Detroit isn't the place where startups secure seed capital for startups or investors score exits. It's the type of event that is meant to get people excited about doing those things in Detroit. It’s about showing off the city's cool factor in a half-renovated building where construction resumes as soon as the conference ends. It's about showcasing momentum whether its millions invested in buildings, or maturing startups like Are You A Human, or up-and-coming entrepreneurs like UpTo CEO Greg Schwartz.

Midwestern tech startups are stereotypically light years behind their costal counterparts when it comes to marketing themselves and whipping up hype about their products (and their valuations) -- too reliant on being quietly cool. That's not the case with downtown Detroit's tech scene. While the loud colors and (at times) forced quirkiness that have become synonymous with the Quicken Loans family of companies, it works for those firms because they own it. It's who they are. They're proud of it. They want the world to know about it.

Like it or not, this sort of hype creates real momentum. Excitement even. The type that attracts idealistic young people and enterprising angel investors. It makes Gilbert’s proclamations of eradicating blight in Detroit within five years seem plausible when so many leaders have made similar promises previously, and always come up short. So while the Quicken Loans hype machine might be a little more pro wrestling-like than some are comfortable with, it’s good to have a local organization that knows how work a hype machine.

Writer: Jon Zemke

Mobile startup Larky closes on $1.76M Series A round

Larky, a discount mobile app startup, has secured $1.76 million in a Series A round of seed capital.

A mix of venture capitalists and angel investors have invested in the downtown Ann Arbor-based startup. Leading the round was North Coast Technology Investors. Also participating were the Michigan Angel Fund, the BlueWater Angels, and the Pure Michigan Venture Match. Larky raised an additional $650,000 in a seed round last year.

Larky's mobile app helps user maximize the discounts and savings available to them. So it a member of an alumni association can get 10 percent off on their car insurance by using a certain carrier, Larky’s app will them. The 2-year-old startup has already roped in a number of large clients, including the Detroit Regional Chamber and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

"The value for end users is still there," says Gregg Hammerman, co-founder of Larky. "The average Larky's still have nine discounts stored into one space."

Larky plans to use its new round of seed capital to continue to develop it’s technology and advance its marketing. It is also growing its team. The company employs eight people after hiring five staff in software development and sales over the last year. It is also looking to hire another two people.

"We need to get out to more of our customers and continue to evolve our product," Hammerman says.

Source: Gregg Hammerman, co-founder of Larky
Writer: Jon Zemke

PriceLocal aims to divert more Internet sales to local retailers

PriceLocal thinks has a way to help local retailers take back some of the sales they have lost to e-commerce over the last decade.

The Ann Arbor-based web service givers local stores the opportunity to match the online price for a product when shoppers are searching Amazon. The idea is to harness the momentum of the shop-local movement and pair it with savings consumers traditionally have only gotten online.

"Local stores have an advantage over Amazon no matter how many drones they say they are going to fly," says Matt Chosid, founder & CEO PriceLocal. "The local store can put a book in your hand today."

Chosid knows a thing or two about that. He worked on the litigation team at Borders from the 1990s until it closed. He saw the good years and bad ones. He saw how consumers increasingly used Borders as a showroom for their online purchases.

"They would take a book and say I can get this cheaper at Amazon," Chosid says. "They would walk out of the store and buy the book on Amazon. I am not saying that is the only reason for Borders' demise, but we didn’t have a response for that."

PriceLocal is that response. Chosid and the tech team at Alfa Jango created a web-browser plug-in that consumers can download at getpricelocal.com. Once its installed, shoppers can click on the PriceLocal button and send a price request to local stores to see if they will match it. If a local store has the item and can match the online price, shoppers get a coupon for the item at the Amazon price.

PriceLocal is launching with more than a dozen Ann Arbor retail partners. It has received requests from retailers ranging from Royal Oak to California.

Source: Matt Chosid, founder & CEO PriceLocal
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor startup TurtleCell is starting to get noticed

It's a cell phone case. It's a set of headphones. It's two great tastes that taste great together. ...Or something like that. Ann Arbor-based TurtleCell has developed a nifty new cell phone accessory and they're getting more and more attention for it.


TurtleCell is set on embracing its young startup culture by delivering entertaining content to fans, including WTF's, (short for Weekly Turtle Facts), a live Twitter feed highlighting tangle haters worldwide, and a "Tur-Torial" video. TurtleCell aims to break the barrier between a product and its consumers through superior customer service, social engagement and fun promotional campaigns.

Read the rest here.

Steel startup Detroit Materials spins out of Wayne State

A new startup spinning out of Wayne State University believes it can make a stronger steel that will have applications in a broad range of industries, including defense, infrastructure, and automotive.

Detroit Materials technology promises to create a high-quality steel that is both lighter and stronger than current options. The steel alloy is expected to help create efficiencies in areas like energy sustainability, pollution reduction, increased safety, and lower production costs.

"We're in the process of revalidating the technology so we can show that everything we say can happen in a lab can happen in a production facility," says Pedro Guillen, CEO of Detroit Materials.

The technology was developed by a research team led by Wayne State University Engineering Profesor Susil Putatunda. The team focused on creating advanced materials with high-yield strength, fracture toughness, and ductility. A $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and $25,000 from the Michigan Emerging Technologies Fund got the technology to the point where it could be considered for commercialization.

Detroit Materials is also partaking in the New Economy Initiative's Technology Development Incubator Program, which opened the door for a licensing agreement and the creation of the startup last September. Detroit Materials is currently working from the Invest Detroit offices in the Renaissance Center while it looks for a permanent office in the greater downtown Detroit area.

Detroit Materials currently has a staff of two, including its CEO. Guillen worked as an entrepreneur-in-residence for the Detroit Technology Exchange. The company is also looking to hire two part-time engineers while it works to secure three pilot programs for its steel technology by the end of this year. It is also preparing to raise a Series A round of seed capital.

"Our goal is to raise a Series A within the next six months," Guillen says.

Source: Pedro Guillen, CEO of Detroit Materials
Writer: Jon Zemke

Level One Bank hires 18, grows assets 25 percent

Level One Bank is well on its way to the next level, thanks to a spike in its asset size and staff.

The Farmington Hills-based bank’s assets have grown 25 percent over the last year, topping out at $630 million. Its deposits also stand at $545 million. That has allowed the company to grow its staff to 145 people at its seven branches across the region. It has hired 18 people over the last year, mostly in lending. The bank currently has four open positions.

"Our primary businesses are focused on commercial loans," says Patrick Fehring, president & CEO of Level One Bank. "We're seeing a lot of action in our loans to entrepreneurs. We're also seeing an increase in our residential mortgage loans."

Fehring expects his bank to grow another 15 percent this year. He sees Level One Bank's status as a local bank as a key ingredient to its success at a time when an increasing number of people don’t trust large financial institutions.

"We think that gives us a distinct competitive advantage," Fehring says. "It's easier to connect with a decision maker at Level One Bank."

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

U-M student-led FrostGear develops motorcycle helmet cooling tech

Zachary Hwang has been riding motorcycles for years. The temperature inside his helmet has, well, been less than comfortable.

"Heat has always been a big problem in the summer," Hwang says. "There is no air conditioning."

That inspired the University of Michigan student to launch his own startup, FrostGear. Hwang and two of his fellow Master of Entrepreneurship classmates have been working on a cooling technology for motorcycle helmets. The technology works because it cools the helmet, which in turn helps make the rest of the rider's body cool.

"We can make a smaller device that attaches to the helmet," Hwang says.

The TechArb-based startup is currently working on prototypes of its technology, leveraging resources from Ann Arbor SPARK and the University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship. It has applied for a provisional patent for its technology.

"Ideally by December we will have a Beta product that we can take to trade shows," Hwang says.

Source: Zachary Hwang, CEO of FrostGear
Writer: Jon Zemke

Grand Circus Media establishes itself in local music scene

Joe Choma found himself working in the financial investment sector after college, but not for too long. The long-time music fan decided to pursue his passion and ended up starting his own company, Grand Circus Media.

The Grosse Pointe-based business specializes in management, booking, and promotions of live music acts. Among its projects are the Dark Star Orchestra show at the Majestic and the Rag Birds show at the Magic Bag.

"We typically work with an electronic theme," Choma says. "We also work in folk, bluegrass, or jam-band indie rock."

Choma got his start interning for Paxahau, working with its street team promotion. He now does artist relations and marketing for Paxahau’s biggest events.

"I wear a couple of different hats," Choma says. "I like doing it. I started doing work at Movement five years ago doing artist check-in. My role has grown since then."

Choma plans to keep increasing the number of events Grand Circus Media puts on. He also wants to help grow the local bluegrass music scene.

"It's interesting because I work in one realm at a far end of the spectrum, and then on another form at the end of the music spectrum," Choma says.

Source: Joe Choma, owner of Grand Circus Media
Writer: Jon Zemke

Class Appraisal hires 13 in downtown Birmingham

Class Appraisal is employing a new software platform and a bigger staff in downtown Birmingham this spring.

The 5-year-old company has hired 13 people since October, including professionals in quality control, sales, reception, and customer service. It is also looking to hire another four people in customer service and quality control. The company currently employs 60 and is looking to add interns this summer.

"We anticipate the company growing quite a bit over the next quarter," says Kimberly Morrison-Schop, president of Class Appraisal.

Class Appraisal rolled out a new software platform for its operation in January, which focuses on streamlining the appraisal process. The company is also focusing on training its staff to make the appraisal process as efficient as possible.

"We have noticed the time for appraisals has decreased by a full day," Morrison-Schop says. "It's a huge gain for us."

Morrison-Schop is optimistic that the new streamlined business practices will allow the company to double its sales over the next year. She expects more hires at the company will follow.

"As we grow our staff is going to grow," Morrison-Schop says.

Source: Kimberly Morrison-Schop, president of Class Appraisal
Writer: Jon Zemke

PR firm merger creates new, bigger company called Alchemy

A couple of friends/former coworkers with their own public relations firms merged them together last fall, a move that allowed them to add more clients and double their staff.

Brent Eastman and Tom Nixon both worked at Identity (a public relations firm based in Bingham Farms) before setting out on their own a few years ago. Eastman started Alchemy Group and Nixon launched LV8 Communications. Last September they merged the two companies and rebranded the new firm as Alchemy.

"Tom and I have known each other for a number of years and have worked on a number of projects," Eastman says. "We looked at the future and thought it would be a good idea to team up and merge companies."

At the time of the merger, the two companies employed three people. Today they employ six people at a 1,500-square-foot office in Troy.

"We have complementary skill sets and distinct skill sets," Nixon says. "Brent is from a creative background. I have a more traditional marketing and PR background."

Alchemy has added 18 new clients since the merger, mainly charities and manufacturers.

"We are on track to more than double our business," Nixon says.

Source: Brent Eastman and Tom Nixon, partners at Alchemy
Writer: Jon Zemke
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