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Custom Home Health acquires hospice company, plans expansion

Custom Home Health recently acquired Advance Professional Hospice Care in Troy and is relaunching that business with an eye for broadening Custom Home Health's services and strengthening its bottom line.

The Royal Oak-based firm specializes in providing full-service, customized home health care services. The addition of a hospice sets the table for Custom Home Health to launch Custom Hospice and grow its operations.

"With the addition of hospice and the projected growth in health care, we are expecting between $2 million to $2.5 million in projected growth this year," says Chris Tillotson, president of Custom Home Health.

Custom Home Health raised its revenue by $2 million last year, crossing the $10 million milestone in 2015. It also hired 30 people in a wide variety of positions over the last year. The addition of Custom Hospice adds another dozen people to Custom Home Health's staff, which now stands at 135 employees. The company plans to hire at least 50 home health care and hospice clinicians and management staff in the next six months to support its growth.

"We are looking for the best people," Tillotson says.

Tillotson says his staff embodies Custom Home Health's competitive advantages. The firm looks for the right people that fit its company culture and work to achieve a high standard when it comes to performance. That translates to better outcomes for its patients.

"It comes down to outcomes and company culture," Tillotson says. "We hold our team to a higher standard."

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

Loven Systems creates big data tech that mimics user decisions

Lots of tech companies claim they can solve big problems in business with big data analytics. A new startup in Northville, Loven Systems, believes it can do it better than everyone else by making technology that can mimic its user’s decision-making process.

"We look at how people make decisions," says Satyendra Rana, CTO of Loven Systems.

Loven Systems is developing a cognitive software solution that will help business users outside of the IT department gain valuable insights from their available data. Rana is a serial entrepreneur who has worked in data analytics for decades. He co-founded Wayne State University's Big Data and Business Analytics Symposium and has worked to expand the data industry in the region.

Rana knows where the pitfalls are when it comes to big data’s potential and its reality.

"There is a big gap between what businesses want and what technology can produce," Rana says.

Loven Systems bridges that gap by crafting its software to think like its users. The idea is that if it makes decisions like its user would, then they will be more comfortable with the software's results and follow through on the insights. Rana points out that too often big data analytics firms come up short because they are used to running perfect information, which isn’t easily found in the real world.

"In the business world there is no perfect information," Rana says.

Loven Systems got its start 18 months ago with just Rana. By January of 2015, the company had a team of four people. Today it employs 30 individuals who are helping the firm lock up new clients in the retail and healthcare sectors. It's aiming to add financial sector firms soon, which will create the need for more hiring.

"We will probably have 40 people by the end of the year," Rana says.

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

U-M senior tackles global hunger and overfishing with insect feed

Eric Katz and Viraj Sikand were working at a salmon hatchery on a Native American reservation last year when they came up a business idea that called for making food with fewer fish and more insects.That was the day Kulisha was born.

Katz, a University of Michigan senior studying business, and Sikand, a Brown University senior studying environmental science, became fast friends last summer. Sikand spoke about a small village he visited in Kenya that had a big problem with overfishing. Essentially, the inhabitants were fishing not only for their own food but to also produce animal/fish feed to sell. This put a huge stress on the local aquatic ecosystem.

"We wanted to think of ways to help stop that from happening," says Katz, co-founder of Kulisha.

Kulisha, Swahili for "to feed," is their attempt to do just that. The company is creating a business model where villagers can create the animal and fish food from local insects instead of fish. They came up with the idea to use insects during a hike through a local reservation.

Today they have built out a team of five people and are planning a trip to Kenya to set up their operations this summer. They hope to begin production by July and expect to be on-site through September.

Source: Eric Katz, co-founder of Kulisha
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Castle closes $2M seed round from Silicon Valley investors

Castle, a property management software startup, hit a big milestone last week, locking down a little more than $2 million in seed capital. Model D recently profiled Castle, just before it announced this seed round.

The Detroit-based company has raised $2.75 million to date over its first two years of business. The startup's seed round was led by Kholsa Ventures out of Silicon Valley. SV Angel, and Point Judith Capital, also participated in the round.

"It's an incredible opportunity," says Max Nussenbaum, co-founder & CEO of Castle. "But it's not a success in and of itself. This is the fuel in the tank, not the end game."

Nussenbaum was part of the inaugural class of the Venture For America, serving his two-year fellowship in Detroit. He co-founded Castle with two other VFA Detroit fellows (Tim Dingman and Scott Lowe) while the trio renovated a tax foreclosed mansion in Virginia Park. Today that house is their home and the headquarters of Castle, but the company is also looking to move into its own offices in the greater downtown Detroit area later this year.

The trio of VFAers also used the experience renovating that house as a compelling story to help get Castle admitted to Y Combinator, arguably the most prestigious startup accelerator in the world, earlier this year.

Castle has developed a software platform that makes property management easy by automating communication between tenants and property managers, rent collection, and repair requests. It currently manages 525 units, almost all of those are single-family homes or small multi-unit buildings. All of the rentals are in Metro Detroit and about 60 percent are in the city of Detroit.

Castle's leadership teams plans to use the seed capital to continue building out its software platform. It's also looking at expanding outside of the Detroit market, potentially opening up a new market early next year. It hasn’t chosen a specific one yet, but among the candidates are Baltimore, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Florida.

"The early markets will be in line with Detroit," Nussenbaum says. "They are the ones that are underserved by our competitors."

Castle currently employs a team of about a dozen people and is still adding staff, including a head of growth in Detroit. The company’s team is currently aiming to double its units under management by the end of the year. Most of its new customers come from word-of-mouth recommendations.

"It's an incredible vote of confidence in us and we are so appreciative of it," Nussebaum says.

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

ProModel grows step by step with Ann Arbor's economy

ProModel is a tech company that risen with Ann Arbor's tech economy over the last decade. The predictive analytics firm opened its Ann Arbor office in 2004 at the behest of the firm's CTO Daniel Hickman, an Ann Arbor resident born and raised in the region.

"I love Ann Arbor," says Daniel Hickman, CTO of ProModel. "In the early days we found it really easy to hire really smart people with all of the universities around here."

Today the company employs 38 people in Ann Arbor out of its 100 total employees. It has hired 38 people alone in the last years and expects to add more.

"We went from one person to three to six to 24," Hickman says. "We have steadily grown."

And the company found room to grow in the mid-2000s. Back then the automotive industry was in a perpetual slump, Pfizer was pulling up stakes from Ann Arbor and the Great Recession was just around the corner. Hiring talented people and finding cost-effective office space was much easier back then. ProModel carved out a home with room to expand on the city's south side.

"It's not true today," Hickman says.

Real estate in downtown Ann Arbor is tight. ProModel is glad it got in early. Today its managing a growing client list with project work ranging from military projects to shipbuilding. Hickman expects that workload will continue to grow and ProModel will be able to take advantage of it because it got a head start when the getting was good.

Source: Daniel Hickman, CTO of ProModel
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M Desai Accelerator announces 2016 cohort of startups

The University of Michigan's Desai Accelerator announced its second cohort of startups> A group of six promising young companies were selected from more than the 80 that applied.

The Desai Accelerator is a joint venture between the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business (Zell-Lurie Institute) and the U-M College of Engineering's Center for Entrepreneurship. Last year it welcomed five startups to its 16-week program, its first cohort.

The startups have to spend at least four of the six weeks working in Ann Arbor, leveraging U-M's network. This is what sets Desai apart from other startup accelerators. The U-M Alumni Association has 540,000 living alumni and tens of thousands of students, making it one of the deepest talent pools in the world.

"These are people we tap for mentors, strategic advisors, investors and partners," says Kelly LaPierre, managing director of the Desai Accelerator. She adds that many U-M students could also serve as potential early employees for these startups.

The six startups chosen for the accelerator’s 2016 cohort are:

Ash & Anvil, an affordable, stylish, everyday clothing provider for shorter men co-founded by Venture for America Detroit fellow Steven Mazur and Eric Huang.

"It's not a traditional tech business like most people are doing," LaPierre says. "But what they are doing is truly innovative."

Clash Audio, a neuroscience-based streaming service that uses human curation, neuroscience research and popular music theory to analyze new music and distill millions of songs into a small, optimized database.

Gaudium, a creator of anime-style mobile games; runner-up of 2016 Michigan Business Challenge.

MySwimPro, a social fitness platform for swimmers and triathletes.

Roomations, an online platform and subscription service that provides homeowners easy access to interior design services online, including 3D room designs, shopping lists, style boards and personal design advice, by crowdsourcing freelancer designers.

Sultant, a cloud-based SaaS platform that acts as a digital financial "advisor" for small businesses by providing quick and meaningful insights, actionable recommendations and intuitive visualizations

Source: Kelly LaPierre, managing director of the Desai Accelerator
Writer: Jon Zemke

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."

Final year of NEI's challenge to grant local businesses a total of $500K

On April 20, the New Economy Initiative (NEI) kicked-off the third and final year of the NEIdeas challenge, "a two-tiered challenge awarding $500,000 to existing small businesses in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park for their ideas to grow," as described in a press release.

The half-a-million dollar sum is divided into two grant tiers. For businesses that gross under $750,000 annually, NEI will award 30 grants worth $10,000. And for businesses that gross between $750,000 and $5 million annually, NEI will award two grants worth $100,000. Applying is as simple as explaining, in 500 words, an idea to expand your business that requires investment and is "impactful, courageous, interesting, achievable, and understandable." The application deadline ends June 1.

A key component of the NEIdeas challenge is that these grants are for existing small businesses -- those three years or older. So much reporting and grant-giving is devoted to new businesses that it's refreshing when a challenge like this rewards established businesses that haven't benefited as much from renewed interest in Detroit entrepreneurship. 

"This is a really special challenge that has had an incredible impact on local businesses and communities," says NEI communications officer Matthew Lewis by email. "In fact, we think NEIdeas is the only philanthropic challenge in the country that directly awards small businesses for their contributions to neighborhoods."

Past winners include Goodwells Natural Foods Market, which invested their reward in growing their inventory and marketing services for new bulk herbal apothecary offerings; The Hub of Detroit, which made improvements to the appearance of its storefront; and many, many more. They also released a fun hype video featuring some of those past winners

NEI will hold a series of informational events throughout May to help applicants. The next one takes place on May 4 at the Matrix Center in Osborne on Detroit's Northeast side. Click here for a complete list of those events.

NEI is a philanthropic effort that supports small businesses and entrepreneurs. It's funded by a host of foundations and institutions, and, since 2009, has awarded over $96 million in grants.

Disclosure: Matthew Lewis is a former managing editor of Model D. 

Automation Alley sinks seed capital into six local startups

Automation Alley is continuing its investment in local startups, sinking seed capital into another six companies in the first quarter of this year.

The most recent startups to receive investments include RazorThreat, Len & Jerry's Modular Components, MEISelectric, The Automation of Things, MagWerks LED and Quipzor. All of these companies have participated in Automation Alley's 7Cs program, which is focused on helping local companies integrate advanced manufacturing methods into their business models.

RazorThreat is a Pontiac-based software firm that specializes in online security. Len & Jerry's Modular Components is a manufacturing company that works in custom tooling in Clinton Township. MEISelectric is based Clawson and works in conceiving and creating prototypes.

The Automation of Things creates software for industrial applications and is based in Sterling Heights. Oxford-based MagWerks LED works in LED light products. Quipzor calls Bloomfield Hills home and helps enable pre-surgical collaboration between hospitals, physicians and surgical device company representatives.

The investment comes from Automation Alley's Pre-Seed Fund. The $9 million fund invest tens of thousands of dollars into each startup, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. It has invested in 54 locally startups since 2004.

Nanotex adds key hires to accelerate growth

Nanotex has made some strategic hires over the last year in an effort to help the Bloomfield Hills-based firm continue its growth around the world.

The fabric firm has hired eight people, including a handful of scientists and sales professionals. Among the hires is John McMichael, brought on as business development manager for Nanotex's North America operations. McMichael previously worked as a sales manager for the military and commercial segments of AEC Narrow Fabrics.

"He is really interesting, because he has a long history in textiles," says Randy Rubin, chair of Crypton, which owns Nanotex. "He was a really strategic hire for us."

Nanotex has carved out a niche for itself as an innovator in fabric by enhancing textiles with nanotechnology in the apparel, home and commercial/residential interiors markets. Nanotex has 11 products, including Resists Spills, Releases Stains, Neutralizer, and Coolest Comfort.

Nanotex has more than 100 manufacturing partners around the world, although Crypton has brought more of Nanotex’s engineering and administrative work back to North America in recent years. The company has grown its customer base to include Banana Republic, the Gap, Dickies, Cabela's, L.L. Bean and Target, among others.

"Now the business is well into the black," Rubin says. "We have a lot of attention and have brought in a lot of great sales people."

Crypton has worked in the textile industry since 1993. Its flagship product, CRYPTON Fabric, is widely used in fabrics in the healthcare, hospitality, government, education and contract markets. Crypton acquired Nanotex in 2013.

Emerging leaders: Help us tell the story of metro Detroit

What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the metro Detroit region? What issues are undercoveredor poorly covered—
by the media and deserve more attention? And how can the media better communicate both the complexity of these issues and possible solutions?

These questions are at the heart of a new partnership between Metromode, our sister publication Model D and Metro Matters, an organization dedicated to recognizing and building on our regional commonalities rather than our divisions.

Our goal: Tackle metro Detroit’s most persistent challenges through the power of story.

As humans, we learn best through stories. So what better way to grapple with the complex history, current policy and ongoing movements around our region than through great storytelling?

To help guide this process, we are looking to convene a group of emerging leaders from various communities and professional backgrounds to form an editorial advisory board.

Every few months, these up-and-comers will come together to discuss what they see in the region: the problems, the promise, and the varied perspectives. These conversations will highlight not only the priority issues for metro Detroit, but also the people and projects working to make a difference.

We’ll turn that input into reporting. But not just any reporting. Metromode writers will embrace “solutions journalism,” an approach that emphasizes in-depth investigations into the context surrounding an issue, and, critically, the possible (and often in-progress) solutions that could work for metro Detroit.

We believe metro Detroit has a moment of opportunity. The investment and energy pouring into the core city is creating momentum that can fuel not just improvements but transformation. To make the most of this opportunity, residents should benefit from the smartest, best possible coverage of the issues that need addressing.

And that’s where you come in. To guide our first year-long series, we’re looking for emerging leaders to serve on our inaugural regional editorial advisory board. You could be a fit if:
  • You are passionate about exploring creative, collaborative solutions to metro Detroit’s contemporary challenges.
  • You're upwardly mobile. You might not be making all the decisions yet… but you’re on track to make some of them.
  • You’re a student with a focus on policy, government, urban planning, business, or another relevant subject.
  • You can point to something and say “this demonstrates my passion for metro Detroit.” It can be a resume, a project, a social media presence—anything, really. We just want to know you share our love for our region.
  • You’re a skillful listener who likes to hear others’ perspectives just as much as you like to share your own.
  • You’re excited about being part of something new, and helping shape a nascent program into a useful platform for the region.
  • You can commit to quarterly meetings on the following dates:
    • June 1st, Wednesday
    • August 4th, Thursday
    • November 3, Thursday
    • January 18, Wednesday
When we think of our emerging leaders, we usually think of people between the ages of 18 and 35—but that’s not a hard requirement. If you’ve recently changed careers or gotten involved in your community, you could be a great fit. We want the editorial board to be diverse in terms of race, gender, geography, and thought, so whatever your background or perspective—we value it and encourage you to apply.

To that end, we’ve made it easy for you. View and complete the application below, then go directly to social media and share it with everyone you know. If this opportunity isn’t for you, consider sending it to your best and brightest employees, students, colleagues, children, grandchildren, etc. With your help, we’ll recruit a strong board of connected thinkers who will, in turn, help us cover the most important issues in a way that will help us better understand this place we all call home.

APPLY HERE by May 15, 2016.
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