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Video game development incubator to launch in Ypsi

A new business incubator meant to foster video game development in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area will launch Jan. 19, with an introductory meetup at SPARK East in downtown Ypsi.

Organizer Larry Kuperman says the short-term goal for the collaboration between Meetup group A2 Game Designers and SPARK is to offer monthly meetings for developers to network, collaborate, and get advice from industry players working in the area already.

"Initially we're looking to create a shared space with developers, including students, and exchange ideas and practices," Kuperman says.

Local game studios currently include PC game maker Revival Productions and mobile games maker Gaudium in Ann Arbor, as well as PC game producer Stardock in Plymouth. Gaudium cofounder David Cai will speak at next week's meeting.

In the long term, Kuperman hopes to help launch and grow startups that can tap into the region's venture capital resources and make connections with other sectors.

"Whether it's an auto manufacturer saying, 'Hey, we want you guys to design a game-oriented technology we can use for our cars,' or the university says, 'We're looking for people to design educational games,' that's what I see in our future," he says.

Kuperman, an Ann Arbor resident, is director of business development for Nightdive Studios, a Portland, Ore.-based company that specializes in re-releasing and remaking classic video games. He says gaming's low startup and overhead costs make it an attractive industry.

"A games development studio can be one to two guys with a laptop, if you're thinking about mobile games development," Kuperman says. "Some of those monetize really, really well, when you think about the return on investment."

Kuperman's motivation is partly personal. His adult children moved out of state after college to pursue careers in tech and nursing, and he sees no reason students in any of the gaming programs offered at nearby colleges and universities shouldn't be able to find employment or set up shop here after school if they want to.

"These bright graduates come out of school, and there isn't any place for them to go to work in this area, so they gravitate to San Francisco, to Seattle, to New York, and I want to change that," he says.

The Craft Cafe Detroit thrives on city's lower east side

The Craft Cafe Detroit is off to a fast start. The "sip and paint" party venue opened last June on Mack Avenue, just blocks from city's eastern border with Grosse Pointe Park, and it's already turning away customers as some parties reach capacity. But that's a good problem to have.

While owner Candice Meeks is considering a move to a bigger location, she says she wants to keep the Craft Cafe in the neighborhood. Its location is part of the reason for its success.

"The location at Mack and Phillip, there's nothing like this in our community," Meeks says. "You have to drive downtown and pay for parking or drive out to the suburbs for this kind of fun. We need to keep something like this in the neighborhood."

Craft Cafe Detroit hosts a variety of celebrations, from birthdays to bachelorette parties. Guests can bring their own food and drinks while Meeks leads the party through a painting session. Subjects are pre-sketched onto each person's canvas, allowing them to paint along while Meeks teaches different techniques like blending colors. She also offers vision mirrors, where guests create collages on mirrors and then seal them with a clear coat finish.

Other parties include Eat | Paint | Drink, where refreshments are provided, and monthly date nights, where couples paint together.

Meeks credits a number of small business programs that helped her get off the ground. She graduated from ProsperUs Detroit, where she met her current landlord. Meeks was also the recipient of a $4,000 technical assistance grant from Motor City Match. She says she plans on using the grant money to help with marketing and website construction costs.

"Going through those programs really gave me a platform to open my own business," she says.

The Craft Cafe Detroit is located at 14600 Mack Ave. It's open Tuesday through Friday, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Build/Create Studios adds staff, sharpens marketing services

With expanded services and staff to support its clients' digital marketing needs, the team at Ann Arbor's Build/Create Studios feels poised to plant a firmer foothold in the web design and development market.
The firm has committed itself to beefing up its digital marketing services this year, introducing automation software from SharpSpring and hiring Matthew Perkins as its first director of marketing. According to cofounder Ian Wilson, the investment is paying off.
"It’s been an exciting year … and [it] has added the need for additional marketing help that we’re trying to attract to help solidify future growth," Wilson says.
Founded as a two-person operation in 2010 by designer/coder Wilson and business/client manager Eric Lynch, the company has grown to a staff of six. It offers web design, web development, digital marketing, and search engine optimization services in the WordPress platform.
According to Wilson, SharpSpring's software works along with Build/Create's inbound marketing and SEO efforts to track site visitors, quantify their value, and automate "the lead nurturing process."
While other tools like SharpSpring are available—HubSpot and Marketo, to name two—Wilson says SharpSpring offers a few advantages.
"First, it is easy to use while also being incredibly robust," he says. "Secondly, the monthly cost is about one quarter the cost of competitors."
And SharpSpring is only sold through agencies, which gives Build/Create an additional advantage.
"A reasonably priced, competitive product that gives businesses the data they need to make smart sales and marketing decisions is an easy pitch to make," he says.
With the new business Perkins has helped generate, Wilson says the company is looking to fill out its marketing team with new hires who can build SharpSpring workflows, execute email marketing campaigns, consult on SEO and paid media, and complement the studio's existing strengths.
"Having the development chops to integrate our tracking and marketing automation software into existing website and business processes is a major asset, and something we are very proud of," Wilson says.

German tech company opens first U.S. office at Ann Arbor SPARK

A German tech company specializing in streamlining business apps and digital processes says opening its first U.S. office in Ann Arbor was a simple decision.

iTiZZiMO, creator of a tool called the Simplifier, recently expanded its operations into the United States, setting up shop in Ann Arbor SPARK's business incubator.

"Ann Arbor really is the next hot spot when it comes to high tech," says Anne Prokopp, a spokeswoman for iTiZZiMO. "People are highly educated and talented. In addition, Ann Arbor is a great place to live."

Having a nonprofit business development organization like SPARK as a resource to get started here also helped.

"The mix of great support, family-like attitude, and great potential of the Ann Arbor area convinced us," Prokopp says.

So what is the Simplifier? Prokopp describes it as a tool for bringing together the different systems and data that a company uses and builds up over time, without having to program code to make them talk to each other, so to speak. She says conventional programming requires hundreds of hard-coded interfaces between those systems that are difficult to change.

"With the Simplifier, you connect all systems to the platform itself, so you can use all data from every source you want," Prokopp says. "This can be systems, but also machine sensors, geodata from mobile devices, and everything else."

Today the company's U.S. presence is modest, with one employee in Ann Arbor and a CIO in Germany charged with establishing the company's operations here. Once settled in, the company hopes to eventually hire more staff—sales and account management to start, and eventually a small team of developers—from the Ann Arbor area.

Landline Creative Labs receives $56,000 grant from Ann Arbor SPARK

Landline Creative Labs' plan to create a complex of nine low-cost creative studio spaces in Ypsilanti has received a big hand from Ann Arbor SPARK in the form of an Innovate Ypsi grant.

Mark Maynard, co-founder of the $650,000 mixed-use development in downtown Ypsi, says the $56,000 performance-based grant will help with the costs of getting the project up and running. The Landline team has completed demolition in the former Michigan Bell building the project will occupy, and is now turning towards building out studio spaces.

“It'll help tremendously, and it's really helped us to move quickly,” Maynard says. "Today we have carpenters in the space, a historic window restoration team, plumbers, and electricians."

Expected to open in early fall, Landline will complement the SPARK East Incubator in Ypsi, according to Jennifer Olmstead, a senior business development manager at SPARK who oversees the Innovative Ypsi program.

“In order for downtown Ypsi to be successful, it needs to develop a critical mass of successes and a mix of businesses, retail and residents,” Olmstead says.

SPARK's support for the project isn't necessarily limited to providing funds. SPARK has also helped Landline secure a tax incentive from the city of Ypsilanti. Olmstead says SPARK is committed to helping Landline, and similar efforts in the area, succeed through access to its range of development and talent services.

"The success of Landline Creative and the momentum it is building in Ypsi is an important next step for downtown Ypsi, and certainly a story that Ann Arbor SPARK can use to highlight the types of businesses that can achieve success in Ypsi," she says. "Entrepreneurs at all levels...are looking for communities that provide a sense of place and affordable rents and downtown Ypsi has all of these ingredients."

Prominent public relations firm Berg Muirhead transitioning to new name and ownership

The transition seemed almost instantaneous. Last week Berg Muirhead and Associates was one of Detroit's most recognizable boutique public relations agencies. This week it has a new name, Van Dyke Horn Public Relations, and new owners. But this change has been a longtime coming.

"It wasn't a quick turnover process," says Peter Van Dyke, CEO and co-owner of Van Dyke Horn Public Relations. "We have worked toward this slowly and carefully for the last five years."

Berg Muirhead and Associates is one of the household names in Detroit public relations. The company was founded in 1998 by Bob Berg, a public affairs adviser for former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, and Georgella Muirhead, a public relations administrator for the cities of Detroit, Southfield, and Ann Arbor. The company built an enviable client list that included everything from Detroit Future City to Strategic Staffing Solutions to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

Successful businesses like this are often built on the shoulders of their founders, and too often live and die with them. But Berg Muirhead/Van Dyke Horn seems like it has a better shot than most of surviving because it's been preparing for this moment for a long time.

Van Dyke started as an account executive at Berg Muirhead a decade ago, becoming an account supervisor a year after that. Five years ago Van Dyke made the move to vice president. He became a partner in the firm about two years later. Marilyn Horn, the co-owner and president of Van Dyke Horn, has been working at the company for even longer as director of administration before becoming a vice president in 2013. All four people became practically interchangeable over the last few years in preparation of this transition.

"Bob, Georgella, Marilyn, and I work very close together," Van Dyke says. "If we can work closely together and leave each day as good business colleagues and friends, then we have something special going on."

That group of four will continue to work together. While Horn and Van Dyke are the new owners, Berg and Muirhead are staying on as "of counsel" senior staffers. The company's staff of nine will remain the same and continue to work in its offices in the Fisher Building in New Center. In fact, Van Dyke expects to hire another account executive or two before the year is over.

He and Horn have set a goal of raising the firm's annual revenue to $1 million this year. Van Dyke expects to announce new clients within a few months, and hints they many will come from developers building up the greater downtown area and the rest of Detroit.

"There will be a lot of growth in the next six months," Van Dyke says.

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.

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 [email protected]

Jolly Pumpkin to add restaurant to Dexter facility and taproom

Dexter's Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales is adding a full service restaurant to its main brewing facility, the ultimate complement to its already popular taproom.

The addition of the restaurant is part of an effort to turn the 50,000-square-foot facility into a destination for beer lovers. Patrons will be able to experience the full restaurant experience of Jolly Pumpkin’s brewpubs in Ann Arbor and Traverse City and the award-winning beer, wine and liquor served at them.

"It will be like our other Jolly Pumpkin restaurants where all of the alcohol will be provided by Jolly Pumpkin companies," says Ron Jeffries, founder, president & brewmaster of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.

The taproom will remain with the restaurant adjacent to it. Together the two, along with Jolly Pumpkin’s offices, will take up 20,000 square feet of the facility. Jolly Pumpkin is also working to work in tours and limited public access to the brewery.

"That is at least a year or two out," Jeffries says.

Jolly Pumpkin is one of the fastest-growing breweries in Michigan. Production at its recently expanded brewery in Dexter hit 7,000 barrels last year. This year production is on track to be up by at least 30 percent, exceeding the 10,000 barrel mark.

"We hope that growth continues through the rest of the year," Jeffries says.

Jolly Pumpkin employs in excess of 300 people at its breweries and restaurants, including 45 in Dexter. That number is expected to go up later this year or early next year when the new restaurant is expected to open. Jolly Pumpkin is currently working with the city of Dexter on plans, and hopes to start construction late this summer or early this fall. Jeffries hopes to open the restaurant by the end of the year or early 2017.

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

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

Humax Corp launches app to take paying it forward into 21st Century

Wayne and Cheryl Baker have long believed in the concept of paying it forward. The Ann Arbor couple believe in it so deeply they launched Humax Corp, which specializes in creating social capital, more than 20 years ago.

They also created the Reciprocity Ring exercise in 2000, which helped push the practice of paying it forward to a broader scale. Today they are taking their concept into the 21st Century with the Give and Get mobile app.

"We have always wanted to," says Wayne Baker, chief scientist of Humax Corp. "There has always been a need for it. We just needed technology to catch up."

Wayne Baker is a professor of management and organization at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. Cheryl Baker, Humax Corp's CEO, is a research at U-M.

The Reciprocity Ring creates an environment where the practice of paying it forward fulfills personal and professional requests from strangers. So instead of people paying it forward to specific people for specific reasons, the Reciprocity Ring broadens the giving so users pay it forward to strangers because they want to do good. You can check out Wayne Baker's TED Talk about it here.

The Give and Get app takes those good deeds and the requests for them to the digital realm, helping groups people with the ease of using a mobile app. Humax Corp's team of four people (it recently hired two people) launched the app in a private beta in February and is testing it out with pilot groups of 40 to 100 people.

"The app can support much larger groups than that," Wayne Baker says.

The Bakers plan to keep working out bugs of the app and streamline its efficiency this spring and summer. A launch date for a public beta has not been set, but Wayne Baker expects that to happen before the end of this year.

Source: Wayne Baker, chief scientist of Humax Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Oxford Companies narrows artist submissions for latest mural

Oxford Companies is working to put up another large mural in downtown Ann Arbor this summer, and the property management firm is in the beginning stages of picking the design.

The mural will go on the side of 1214 S State St near the University of Michigan campus. It will be one story tall and measure 500 square feet. It is expected to have a U-M athletics theme. The company has received 20 submissions from artists and expects to pick a winner by July.

"We want to see it completed before the students get back," says Jeff Hauptman, CEO of Oxford Companies.

The Ann Arbor-based firm recently became the largest landlord in Ann Arbor, managing more than 1,000 units of student rentals next to the University of Michigan. It also purchased $115 million in commercial real-estate in Ann Arbor last year, and refinanced another $50 million worth of local properties.

Oxford Companies commissioned one of the largest pieces of public art in downtown Ann Arbor last year, a two-story mural on Fifth Street near Liberty Street. It also is the caretaker of the author’s mural at State and Liberty streets. This will be its second mural its commissioned.

"The goal is to do at least one a year," Hauptman says. "We want to recruit other property owners to do it, too. We have the next site picked out."

Oxford Companies commissions the public art as a way of raising the quality of life in Ann Arbor and its property values.

"To me its just a matter of making Ann Arbor a better place," Hauptman says. "When it comes to how much to spend on it we ask how much does it cost to do it right?"

Source: Jeff Hauptman, CEO of Oxford Companies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Your People expands 'kitchen table' with new team members

Your People has always been the boutique public relations agency that could. The Huntington Woods-based firm started from Lynne Golodner's kitchen table and has lived there for most of its nine years. Now it’s adding a few more kitchen tables.

Your People recently hired two people (an executive assistant and a marketing manager) to round its team out to five people. While many companies get offices to accommodate that sort of growth, Golodner is keeping it at the kitchen table to help ensure a better, more personal connection with clients. So the new hires will also work from kitchen tables.

"I still really like the kitchen-table model," Golodner says. "It's a special person that can work on their own and still be a part of the team."

Your People has carved out its niche by finding a way to offer public relations services on a cost-effective model. Their services range from helping build marketing strategies for small businesses to giving individuals pointers on how best to tell their story. The idea is to make such services more accessible to everyone.

"I have always believed that everybody needs PR, but not everyone can afford a PR agency," Golodner says.

The new hires will help Golodner and her team do everything from providing more marketing services to arranging and selling more seminars, retreats, and speaking gigs. 
"I needed some people on the team who are focused on this," Golodner says. "It's hard for just me to juggle five things at a time."

Clarity Quest Marketing capitalizes on patience, focus

For more than a decade, Christine Slocumb has been spreading the good word about her clients at Clarity Quest Marketing. And she has learned a thing or two about running a PR firm over that time.

"Don't worry about the first two years," Slocumb says. "The first two years are the most difficult. Also, over 15 years you will have a few years that are lean and mean."

Ann Arbor-based Clarity Quest is celebrating its 15th anniversary this month. The company has 20 employees and an intern between its home base in Ann Arbor and offices in Connecticut and Seattle. Its revenue is up 25 percent last year, and that's on top of a 23 percent increase the year before that. Slocumb wants to hit 30 percent revenue growth this year as her firm's work grows across the U.S.

"We have some of our first clients in Silicon Valley now," Slocumb says. "That's a region I always wanted to tap into."

Slocumb suggest other small companies focus on a handful of things to really grow and establish themselves: patience, perseverance, hard work and finding a niche. Clarity Quest Marketing has sharpened its focus in its later years to concentrate on work in healthcare IT firms. That specialization has really allowed the company to grow in recent years.

"That really paid off for us," Slocumb says.

Source: Christine Slocumb, president of Clarity Quest Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

Sizzles Burgers and Subs brings Mediterranean twist to downtown Ypsilanti

Many restauranteurs have grand ambitions for changing their local food scene with new foods and flavors, but almost all of them end up offering standard American staples like hamburgers, sandwiches and pizza.

Mohamed Fayed wants to put those two things together with his new eatery, Sizzles Burgers and Subs, in downtown Ypsilanti. He describes it as typical American fare with a Mediterranean twist.

"It will be burgers, subs and wraps with Mediterranean flavors," Fayed says. "It will be everything we are used to with fresh ingredients and a Mediterranean twist."

Sizzles Burgers and Subs is as much a new adventure for Fayed as it is a venture. The Dearborn resident came to the U.S. from Yemen at age six and grew up in Metro Detroit with family that had been here for generations. He graduated from Fordson High School in Dearborn, then the Michigan Institute of Aviation & Technology, and worked as a supervisor at Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems. Then he decided he wanted to be his own boss and open his own restaurant.

Fayed scanned Metro Detroit to find the right location. The right one for him turned out to be a tough one. He bought a small shoebox of a storefront in downtown Ypsilanti. 10 N Adams hasn't been occupied in the better part of a generation and it showed the day Fayed walked through it.

"It had a lot of clutter," Fayed says. "The ceiling had moisture. The paint was peeling. A lot of mold, but we have remediated that. It was just an all-around mess."

Fayed has cleared out the building with the help of his brother, Ali Fayed, and is working to take plans to the city for Sizzles Burgers and Subs this spring. The Fayed brothers are doing most of the work themselves to get it open.

"It's a big challenge," Fayed says. "There are a lot of hurdles we have to overcome."

But that doesn't mean the Fayed brothers haven't gotten a warm reception.

"I like the area," Fayed says. "Plus the people here are very friendly. They all came out and congratulated me."

Source: Mohamed Fayed, owner & operator of Sizzle Burgers and Subs
Writer: Jon Zemke

Tech startup aims to raise $1M for visual content platform

This is the year tech startup TernPro expects to take off.

They believe its visual content software platform, Slope, will gain traction with customers and hit some significant milestones. The biggest one TernPro is closing a $1 million seed round later this spring. It's also looking to bring its platform, which is currently in private Beta, online to the public.

"This year it's really about product development and customers," says Brian Bosche, co-founder & CEO of TernPro. "Once we close this round we want to perfect the product and get it out in the field."

Bosche is a member of the inaugural 2012 class of Venture for America, a two-year program that pairs talented college grads with startups in economically challenged cities like Detroit. He worked with the leadership team at the Bizdom startup accelerator in downtown Detroit during his fellowship, helping many of the startups in the incubator tell their stories through short videos.

Bosche and fellow VFAer Dan Bloom launched TernPro in downtown Detroit two years ago, primarily as a full-service digital video agency. Not long after they started developing Slope, a software platform that enables novice digital media users to design, store, produce, and collaborate on creating visual content.

TernPro was accepted to the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator last year, a program that helps startups build their technology and scale their products. The TernPro team was attracted to it because of Microsoft's expertise in developing enterprise software, and opened an office in Seattle after completing the accelerator.

"We still work very closely with them," Bosche says. "It's been a great relationship."

TernPro has a team of eight people after hiring three in UIX design and software development in the last year. The company recently moved to the Elevator Building overlooking the Detroit Riverfront.

The company released Slope in private Beta in late 2015, and plans to make it public later this year to start building out its customer base.

"It's a fully functioning product but we are still building it out," Bosche says. "We even got our first paying customer."
1352 Creative Sector Articles | Page: | Show All
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