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After leading the city through bankruptcy, Jones Day grows its Detroit office

White-shoe law firm Jones Day made a splash in early 2015 when it announced plans to open an office in Detroit after successfully guiding the city through municipal bankruptcy. A year later, the growth of the firm's Detroit business has led Jones Day to lease 25,000 square feet in the 150 W. Jefferson Building in downtown Detroit.
"Over the last year we have built the personnel from three lawyers to 10," says Tim Melton, partner in charge of Jones Day Detroit.

In addition to its 10 staff attorneys, Jones Day's Detroit office employs two full-time support staff and hosts a steady rotation of legal personnel from the multinational firm's other offices.

"We have enough space for 25 lawyers," Melton says. "The expectation is we will have that many lawyers by 2018."

Based in Cleveland, Jones Day has 43 offices around the world. The law firm made a name for itself locally when it helped shepherd Detroit through municipal bankruptcy in 2013. One of its partners, Kevin Orr, left the practice to serve as Detroit emergency financial manager during that time. He eventually rejoined Jones Day after the city exited bankruptcy.

The law firm opened a Detroit office last year to help better serve its clients in the area. Melton declined to discuss its current roster of local clientele but did say the firm has been adding new clients and new work from existing clients over the last year.

"We're starting to do work with more companies on the automotive side and other large businesses that are headquartered here or have large operations in Detroit," Melton says.

Source: Tim Melton, partner in charger of Jones Day Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroiter invents cooker that makes diabetic-friendly rice

Swad Komanduri isn't trying to reinvent the wheel with his first startup. He's just trying to reinvent the rice cooker.

Komanduri came up with the idea after his father was a diagnosed with diabetes. His father is a vegetarian who eats Indian dishes composed mainly of rice, which his doctor suggested he cut from his diet.

The Komanduri family had a better idea. Instead of preparing the rice in traditional cookers, they started cooking the rice al dente, so it's still slightly firm. The end result is a significant reduction in its glycemic index -- as much as 30 percent. Within a few months, Komanduri's father returned to pre-diabetic health levels.

"It immediately improved my dad’s health," says Komanduri.

But cooking rice in a pot requires some maintenance. Given his family's proclivity for the grain, that added up to a couple of hours each day of watching rice cook.

"You can't just put it on the oven and go to the gym," he says.

So Komanduri, who worked in robotics in high school and got an engineering degree, started to tinker.

He is also a fellow with the 2014 class of Venture for America in Detroit. The nonprofit pairs promising college graduates with startups in economically challenged areas like Detroit in search of talent. Komanduri has spent the last two years working for NextEnergy and is nearing the end of his fellowship. He had been weighing different opportunities to launch his own company, and then the rice cooker idea popped into the center of his family’s life.

Komanduri launched a crowd-funding campaign to produce the initial prototypes with an eye on commercializing them within the next year. He hopes to raise $5,000.

Source: Swad Komanduri, founder of Simple Kitchen
Writer: Jon Zemke

Online Tech aims to hit 100-employee mark by 2018

Online Tech is on track to hit some big numbers in the not-too-distant future. The biggest milestone might be the size of its staff within the next two years.

"We expect growth close to 30 percent a year," says Yan Ness, CEO of Online Tech. "In fact we expect that over the next three years. We expect to be at 100 people by 2018."

The Ann Arbor-based company runs data centers and specializes in providing software for cloud infrastructure for large companies. It has five data centers across the Midwest, including two in Ann Arbor, one in Flint, one in Westland, and another in Indianapolis. It also runs two cloud-computing infrastructures in mid Michigan Indianapolis.

The cloud infrastructures allow Online Tech’s clients to more safety and maneuverability for their IT needs. That way they can either back or switch their IT needs from one infrastructure or another with a few key strokes.

"A customer can run their applications in our cloud infrastructure in mid Michigan and a fail copy in Indianapolis," Ness says. "Or it could have two resilient copies in both infrastructures."

Online Tech also recently introduced a new product called disaster recovery as a service, which allows its customers to essentially back up their IT and data infrastructure in case of a system collapse or hacking. The idea is to help offer its clients a robust set of data center services that would take years of work and millions of dollars for clients to set up themselves.

"We now have IT infrastructure that rivals a Fortune 500 company," Ness says.

This has allowed Online Tech to continue to grow steadily in recent years. It had a top-line revenue growth of 25 percent last year and it expects to do that again this year. Online Tech also hired 23 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 68 employees. It is also looking to hire another three people in sales, digital campaign management, and software development.

Source: Yan Ness, CEO of Online Tech
Writer: Jon Zemke

Revenue growth spike inspires HookLogic to increase its high-tech staff

This reporter got a tour of HookLogic's Ann Arbor office in downtown a little more than a year ago. At the time the software firm had taken over the old home of Leopold Bros Brewery and was filling it out with techies of all stripes. The front half was full and bustling while employees were just starting to take desks in the back half.

That has changed since then.

"It's pretty full now," says John Behrman, chief product officer of HookLogic.

HookLogic creates software for paid product listings on commerce sites that help influence online shoppers. Its three verticals include retailers (Target), online travel agencies (Expedia), and automotive dealerships. The firm is based in New York City, but its leadership team has deep roots with Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, prompting it to set up shop here.

HookLogic took over the old microbrewery/distillery at 523 S Main St a few years ago. It turned the 11,000 square foot former industrial space into a startup hotbed, preserving the historic aesthetic of the circa-1927 building while modernizing its infrastructure for the new economy of the 21st Century.

Today 62 of HookLogic's 140 employees work from there. The company has hired 15 people in project management and software development at the Ann Arbor office over the last year and it's looking to hire another 16 now. It also plans to welcome 10 new summer interns later this year.

"The space can hold 100 people," Behrman says. "This summer it will definitely get cozy. It will open up later this year. We will have to start to get creative with our space in 2017."

A significant growth spurt has powered this expansion in Ann Arbor. HookLogic had a goal of hitting the $100 million revenue milestone in 2015. It hit $115 million.

"We're shooting to double up our revenue with $200 million this year," Behrman says.

Source: John Behrman, chief product officer of HookLogic
Writer: Jon Zemke

Steve's Custom Signs opens newly expanded space in Ann Arbor

Steve Jedele is opening the newly expanded home for his business, Steve's Custom Signs, later this month. Its several thousand square feet of production space with lots of employees - a far cry from its humble beginnings.

Steve's Custom Signs got its start in Jedele's parent's home while he was still in college. He worked from their bonus room above their garage. "I started doing stickers and signs there," Jedele says. "I moved it to my house after college."

Jedele moved Steve's Custom Signs to its first commercial space at 4676 Freedom Drive on the south side of Ann Arbor around 2005. Back then the business was Jedele's full-time job and he employed a couple of high school kids on a part-time business.

The business has changed significantly since then. Today it offers a variety of services, including promotional products, custom apparel, vehicle graphics, many types of printing services, and custom made signs. Steve's Custom Signs currently employs 14 people after hiring five in production and sales over the last year.

"Now we have a full-time person who specializes in each department," Jedele says.

Steve's Custom Signs recently expanded its work space by 2,400 square feet. The additional space include more room for production, a larger showroom, and a new client consultation area. Jedele also brought on some new automated equipment, including a 8-color M&R Diamondback screen printing press, and a 6-head Tajima embroidery machine. The new equipment will allow for the company to up its production to 400 shirts an hour.

"All of that comes from customers demanding more of our products faster," Jedele says.

Steve's Custom Signs grew its revenue by 20 percent last year, and Jedele expects it will keep growing this year and in the near future. The currently expanded space has room for up to 20 employees, and Jedele could see another expansion in the company's not-too-distant future.

"Every six months to a year we end up adding more space for one reason or another," Jedele says.

Source: Steve Jedele, owner of Steve’s Custom Signs
Writer: Jon Zemke

Corridor Sausage conquers Midwest markets one weenie at a time

Corridor Sausage is a staple in metro Detroit. Go to Detroit's Eastern Market or the Royal Oak Farmers Market and you will find people crowding around a stand to buy Corridor's gourmet sausages. Same thing with events at Ford Field or jet setters at Metro Airport. It's almost to the point where it's hard not to stumble across a Corridor Sausage product in the Motor City.

But what's making life good for the Eastern Market-based food startup is that its brand is spreading far beyond the region, and even Michigan. The 6-year-old business recently launched into the Chicago and Wisconsin markets through new distributors, and it is planning to make headway into major metro areas in Pennsylvania through another new distributor this year. And then there is Ohio.

"Ohio has been really great for us the last 12 months," says Will Branch, co-owner of Corridor Sausage. "We are adding as much geographic territory as fast as we can."

Corridor Sausage specializes in making artisan sausages from fresh, local ingredients. Its selection of links ranges from chorizo to bacon and beer brats to Morrocan lamb and fig. Demand for these sausages has jumped 30 percent over the last year as the Corridor Sausage team works to keep up with the mix of local customers it has cultivated over the years and new clientele just discovering the brand.

"We're still tracking similar growth for 2016," Branch says. "It's always a mix of those two things. The last thing you want to do is start covering new ground and forget about your existing territory."

Corridor Sausage has made four hires (two full-time, two-part-time over the last year, all on the production end. It now employees seven full-time people, two part-time employees, and an intern from the Detroit Food Academy.

"We will definitely start hiring again in a month," Branch says. "Our busy season starts off in April, May."

Corridor Sausage also recently opened a stand in the McNamara Terminal of Metro Airport. The small venue opened near Gate A in November. It joins Corridor Sausage's two retail stands at Ford Field.

"It (the Metro Airport location) has been excellent," Branch says. "It's been really exciting for us."

Source: Will Branch, co-owner of Corridor Sausage
Writer: Jon Zemke

Three Lyons Creative aims for big third year in Corktown

Three Lyons Creative is in the middle of its small business evolution. The media production firm is in that dynamic stage where it’s no longer just a small group of friends trying to make a job for themselves, but not quite to the point where it's an established small business in the community.

"We're in the in-between stage where we are going from startup to a legitimate business," says Tony Eggert, co-founder of Three Lyons Creative.

Two years ago, Eggert, his brother Daniel, and his cousin Mike Williams, launched the company in Hamtramck. They quit their day jobs so they could work to support Detroit brands and businesses through video, web, audio, and graphic artwork creation. The first year was all about getting on their feet. Last year was about something more than that.

"We have grown substantially over the last year," Eggert says. "We have worked with a lot of clients in and around the city."

Three Lyons Creative added four people to its team this year, including a CFO out of Chicago, rounding it out to seven people. Its workload has grown exponentially with Mercy Education Project, which offers support for low-income women and girls in education, and the Sugar Law Center, a legal aid nonprofit based in Midtown. Three Lyons Creative is also working on its own projects with a focus on improving the quality of life in the city.

"We designed a zine that's all about the state of the parks in the city," Eggert says. "It should launch this spring."

Three Lyons Creative moved to a Bee Hive co-working space inside the St Peter Episcopal Church in Corktown last May. The space is a little bit smaller than its previous home, but it puts the firm at the center of its client base.

"We have really been lucky to work with some fabulous local businesses and organizations that are inline with us ethically," Eggert says.

Source: Tony Eggert, co-founder of Three Lyons Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

With move to Troy, Innovative Learning Group hopes to double in size

Innovative Learning Group relocated to a new home in Troy last week, a move that the firm believes will set the stage for growth.

"It affords us the ability to double or more than double in size," says Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group.

Innovation Learning Group specializes in developing training and human performance improvement programs for businesses. It brands itself as a "performance-first learning company" that creates custom training and tools that help employees of companies do their jobs more effectively.

The company turned 12 years old on Tuesday and has registered an average annual compound growth of 16 percent during that time. Last year it hit 20 percent revenue growth and crossed the $5 million annual revenue growth milestone.

"Fifteen percent seems like a good goal year after year," Toenniges says. "That seems like steady, profitable growth."

That also means Innovative Learning Group has outgrown its home in downtown Royal Oak. That sent the firm searching for a new home a little more than a year ago. It found its new home and started work on it last spring. It moved into the new building at the same time it is rebranding itself.

The 10,000-square-foot building at 1130 Coolidge Highway is more than 2.5 times the size of its previous office, which will be occupied by local video post-production firm DarkSpark.

"We found a building we love," Toenniges says. "It's in a great location. It’s central to our customers and our employees."

Innovative Learning Group plans to continue its steady growth streak for the next dozen years. To Toenniges such a controlled growth plan is smart way to go to ensure the firm's long-term viability.

"I don't have any desire to double overnight and live in chaos," Toenniges says.

Source: Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

DataFactZ turns big data analytics into big growth spurt

DataFactZ has evolved by helping other companies evolve through analyzing the evolution of their data, and that has helped make it one of the fittest companies in its class.

The Northville-based firm is a global business analytics company. It helps large organizations manage and leverage data with a suite of services in data engineering, data science, and decision science. The idea is to use big data and advanced analytics to help clients become a data-driven companies.

"We help people solve problems with their data," says Jim Salter, director of sales for DataFactZ.

The 13-year-old company didn’t start out that way. It originally worked in business intelligence software. That led to a transition into data warehousing and IT services before eventually making its way into data analytics a few years ago.

"It evolved into a more project-based business," Salter says. "As big data started to take hold, we branched into data analytics."

DataFactZ's most recent offering is Quick Strike solutions, a free, short-term data analytics solution for new customers. The platform provides advanced business analytics more accessible through offering customized, full-project, turn-key solutions for their specific job functions. The goal is to help businesses predict behavior, visualize patterns, and analyze data in real time using a small data set over a month. The idea is to help fast-growing companies used to solving their own problems grow faster with some help.

"At some point they run into scalability issues, and they need a company like us to figure out the right direction," Salter says.

Work like that has allowed DataFactZ to grow significantly over the last few years, averaging between 15-20 percent revenue growth. It has also hired close to 100 people, expanding its global workforce to 850 people. Of those, about 60 work in Northville, including another 15 new hires.

Source: Jim Salter, director of sales for DataFactZ
Writer: Jon Zemke

Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. to open new location in Clinton Township

The Warren-based brewery Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. is set to open a second location in Clinton Township on Monday, Feb. 29. The Clinton Township location will offer a full food menu in addition to the company's own lines of beer, wine, mead, and distilled spirits.

The company's second home used to be a home and garden center and, at 45,000 square feet, is quite large. Kuhnhenn will take advantage of that space, filling it up with a 280-seat taproom, a full-scale production and distribution space, and a full kitchen. The new facility is located at 36000 Groesbeck Hwy. in a somewhat industrial part of town. Sixty hourly and 4 salary employees have been hired to staff the expansion.

The new brewing facilities will be used for large-scale production and distribution. The original Warren location will focus on small batch brews. The Warren location, at 5919 Chicago Rd., will keep its taproom open, as well.

Kuhnhenn will remain focused on its brews, keeping its new menu on the small side with offerings like small plates, artisan sausage, charcuterie, and cheese boards. The taproom will be open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-12 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Following the official opening on Monday, Feb. 29, at 11 a.m., a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Wednesday, March 2, at 4:30 p.m.

3.7 Designs grows via word-of-mouth referrals, adds new partner

The plan wasn't to give Declan O'Neill a piece of the business when he started working at 3.7 Designs, but that's what ended up happening as the company grew. The young professional got his start doing side project work for the Ann Arbor-based web development firm in 2011. Today he is a full-fledged parter at 3.7 Designs.

"He started out working for us part-time," says Ross Johnson, CEO of 3.7 Designs. "He was a stay-at-home dad who helped us with sales and other projects."

That role evolved into a managerial one, handling projects for the company. Today he helps oversee the firm's staff of nearly a half dozen folks, including a recently hired software developer and another developer opening that is about to be filled. "He has proven himself very valuable," Johnson says.

3.7 Designs got its start 10 years ago building digital presences for local companies. Today it has established itself as a staple in Ann Arbor’s tech community. It handles a variety of projects for some big local names, such as the University of Michigan. That has allowed it to grow its bottom line with more interesting work.

"It has proven to be a really great mutually beneficial relationship (with U-M)," Johnson says.

3.7 Designs also has been working on growing its Panorama software. The platform specializes in project management. Sales of it have grown 25 percent over the last year with word-of-mouth referrals. Johnson plans to grow those numbers even more this year with more targeted marketing.

"We do little marketing for it," Johnson says. "It's mainly just people who come to us looking to grow that we recommend use it."

Source: Ross Johnson, CEO of 3.7 Designs
Writer: Jon Zemke

Seat Side Service expands smartphone software to pay for event concessions

Growth at Seat Side Service isn't just about offering the best mobile concession services at events. It's about giving people more options. "The product has expanded tremendously," says Barak Leibovitz, founder & CEO of Seat Side Service.

The Ann Arbor-based startup got its start four years ago developing a mobile concession software. The platform enables spectators at athletic events to order and pay for food and beverages through their smartphone. Their order is delivered from a centralized kitchen, enabling vendors to only have to carry the food ordered.

Seat Side Service got its first start working with the Toledo Mud Hens, the AAA affiliate for the Detroit Tigers. It developed its original idea over a couple of minor league baseball seasons, but has expanded how it does business over the last year. Users can now place an order on the system and go pick up the food and the system can be used by cashiers at a venue.

"We're more of a full-service, point-of-sale system for entertainment venues," Leibovitz says. "The utility of the product has grown tremendously along with the applications for it."

That has allowed Seat Side Service to add more types of clients, such as concert venues, golf courses, and amplitheaters. Seat Side Service has also closed a six-figure seed capital round late last year and is in the midst of leveraging it to grow its footprint across North America.

Source: Barak Leibovitz, founder & CEO of Seat Side Service
Writer: Jon Zemke

Bon Bon Bon grows into own storefront in downtown Hamtramck

Bon Bon Bon turns 2 years old this summer, and the maker of delicious chocolate snacks has become so successful in such a short time that it has to limit the ways people can give it money.

"We can't meet demand for our products," says Alexandra Clark, founding chocolateer of Bon Bon Bon. "We limited the ways people could get our product. We only sell them through retail."

That’s about to change now that the Hamtramck-based company is moving into a newer, bigger home on Jos. Campau, the city’s main drag. The new location will provide Bon Bon Bon with a retail space and a large production area with enough space for future growth.

"We definitely needed more space and we definitely weren't leaving Hamtramck," Clark says.

Bon Bon Bon purchased the building at 11360 Jos Campau earlier this year. It came with 3,000 square feet of commercial space -- six times bigger than its old home -- on the first floor. There is also residential space on the second floor and more space further into the bowels of the building.

"Downstairs will be our full production space," Clark says. "There is also a basement we can expand into."

Bon Bon Bon has grown into a staff of 10 people in the nearly two years since its founding. About half of that staff works on a full-time basis, while the rest is part-time. That workforce has allowed Bon Bon Bon to double is sales over the last year. Clark expects production to pick up now what she has the room to grow.

"Hopefully this is something that can house us for a very long time," Clark says.

Source: Alexandra Clark, founding chocolateer of Bon Bon Bon
Writer Jon Zemke

Motor City Match seeks business and commercial property owners for third round of grants

Detroit entrepreneurs and commercial property owners are once again being encouraged to apply for the city's Motor City Match program. Applications are open for submission March 1-April 1. It's the third round of the program intended to stimulate Detroit's commercial corridors.

There are four major award categories for which business and property owners can apply for a share of $500,000 in grant funding. Each category is designed for business and property owners at different levels of building a business.

The first category is for business plans, which Motor City Match will help entrepreneurs develop. 

The second category seeks to match commercial property owners with business tenants. Buildings must be in good shape and entrepreneurs must have quality business plans or successful track records.

The third category will award architectural design assistance, construction documents, and priority permitting to business and building owners with recently signed leases.

The fourth and final category is for those with signed leases, quality business plans, and bids for building out the space, but who still have to bridge a financial gap. This category awards cash to such applicants.

Motor City Match was launched by Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation in 2015. Roderick Miller, CEO of the DEGC, says in a statement, "After two rounds of Motor City Match awardees, it's clear this program is making an impact in Detroit. From restaurants and retail establishments to service companies and even manufacturing, Motor City Match is growing neighborhood small businesses across the city."

According to officials, the Motor City Mach program has invested $1 million in 20 businesses to date, leveraging an additional $6 million in public and private investment. Motor City Match also points out that 70 percent of the 196 businesses and property owners that have received support are minority owned. Furthermore, two-thirds are from Detroit and half are minority woman-owned businesses.

Visit motorcitymatch.com for details on how to apply.

Disclosure: Model D receives support from Motor City Match to tell stories of small business development in the city's neighborhoods.

Sit On It Detroit to open furniture store and studio in Midtown

Sit On It Detroit is opening a store in the 71 Garfield building in Midtown. The custom furniture shop is renowned for the benches it's built, donated, and installed at roughly 50 bus stops around the city. The new location will serve as a space to both showcase some of its work and provide co-founders Kyle Bartell and Charles Molnar a place to sit down with clients and customers and hash out the planning and design part of the business.

While Sit On It Detroit is best known for fashioning reclaimed wood into free and creative benches at city bus stops, the company is also an accomplished designer and manufacturer of custom indoor furnishings. It's produced headboards for the home, the mason jar chandelier at Kuzzo's Chicken & Waffles, and tables at Thomas Magee's Sporting House Whiskey Bar, among many other products.

The Midtown showroom gives Sit On It Detroit a more central location to display its wares and meet with clients, away from the flying sawdust and noisy tools of its workshop. It's a store-studio hybrid.

The workshop is located near McNichols and John R roads.

"There's a lot going on with this space and we're still figuring it all out," says Bartell. "It's not going to be your typical showroom or furniture store."

The duo values community engagement and placemaking, he says, and their location at 71 Garfield lends itself to those objectives. The building is an art cooperative, located along the same block as the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Among its tenants are artists, architecture firms, and pottery studios.

The spring is a busy time for Sit On It Detroit. The company hopes to install another ten benches at city bus stops as the warm weather comes. They've teamed with artists and sponsors to create new takes on the already unique benches.

Bartell says to expect a soft opening some time in mid-March. As for the official opening, they've set a target date of April 8, opening day for the Detroit Tigers baseball season.
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