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Zingerman's to open new retail candy shop this weekend

Zingerman's latest standalone business, the Zingerman's Candy Manufactory, will mark its grand opening with treat samples and candy-making demonstrations on Oct. 28 at 3723 Plaza Dr., Ste. 3, in Ann Arbor.

 

The Candy Manufactory has been running as a wholesale business since 2009 out of a space inside Zingerman's Bakehouse, with products being sold at retail stores around the country and through the Zingerman's mail order business. However, the candy manufacturing business ran out of production space in recent years. Staff had been discussing moving for almost two years, says retail store and marketing manager Allison Schraf.

 

The company moved into its new location between two other Zingerman's businesses — Zingerman's Coffee Co. and Zingerman's Creamery — in May, with a "soft opening" of retail operations in late August.

 

Schraf says the community response to the announcement of the candy store's opening has been "amazing" and proves that the company's idea to open a retail space was a winner.

 

"Nothing substitutes for people being able to walk in and hear about our candy, taste it, and see it being made," Schraf says.

 

The store will offer Zingerman's marshmallows, candy bars, roasted nuts, and other products such as bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup. But 30 percent of the inventory will be hard-to-find candies from other manufacturers around the globe, like French Broad chocolates, Shraf says.

 

The candy store will host a grand opening celebration from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28. Guests are invited to watch the candy production process, sample various sweet treats, and enter a drawing for a collection of candy valued at $200. Children who visit will be given a free Halloween-themed book, and all visitors are eligible for a 20 percent discount on purchases all day.

 

"We think the grand opening and the discount will be a great way to thank the people who have been supporting us and buying our candy for so many years," Schraf says. "We want to make it a big, fun party and show that we put our heart and soul into everything we make and all the service we give."

 

More information about the grand opening is available at the Zingerman's website.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Zingerman's.


How empathy carried Duo Security to a $1 billion valuation

Asked what recently propelled Duo Security to a valuation over $1 billion, chief technology officer Jon Oberheide mentions a concept that isn't often associated with high-tech businesses: empathy.

 

He notes that when a large company has a prominently reported security breach, other cybersecurity companies engage in the software industry's version of "ambulance-chasing," calling or emailing the company's security team to try to sell their product immediately.

 

In contrast, Duo's sales team sends pizzas and energy drinks to the company's security team with a note expressing empathy for their pain and inviting the company to call Duo when they come up for air.

 

The Ann Arbor-based cybersecurity company's approach certainly seems to be paying off. Duo raised $70 million in a recent round of financing, placing the company among the small handful of venture-backed private companies worth $1 billion or more. The company also recently celebrated another milestone, exceeding 10,000 customers worldwide.

 

Oberheide and his co-founder Dug Song began the company in 2009 with the intention of staying in the Midwest.

 

"We knew we wanted to start a company together and stay in the Midwest, and specifically in Ann Arbor, given the talent pool available in our backyard," Oberheide says. "We set out to solve the biggest problem in the world at that time, cybersecurity."

 

The company currently has more than 500 employees, with about 350 in Ann Arbor and the rest in San Mateo, Calif.; Austin, Texas; and London.

 

Oberheide says the company's good reputation and credibility make it stand out to investors. At this point, Duo doesn't need to seek out investors because investors are seeking them out instead. It's the company's empathy with both tech staff and end users that makes Duo's product so user-friendly as well, Oberheide says.

 

"It's a back-to-basics story for us," Oberheide says. "Other companies build security for networks of systems. We build security for people. Security is the fundamental problem that organizations of all shapes and sizes face, and we focus on doing that very well in a highly useable way."

 

Oberheide says this latest round of funding will allow the company to develop new products and expand into other industries and geographic regions. The team will also expand as the company gains new clients.

 

"We're always expanding the team," Oberheide says. "For the past eight years, we've doubled in size every year, so it's a brand new company every year, a new set of teammates. But that means we grow faster and learn faster, and I expect that to continue in the future."

This piece is part of a series highlighting local business growth in the Ann Arbor area. It is supported by Ann Arbor SPARK.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Duo Security.


Ann Arbor's second annual Atomic Games challenges programmers to build an AI in a weekend

Daniel Michelin, a senior at Kalamazoo College, was the clear winner in the 2017 Atomic Games Ann Arbor, a computer programming challenge that requires participants to create an artificial intelligence (AI) over one weekend.

 

Custom software company Atomic Object has hosted the games for three years in Grand Rapids, and for two years in Ann Arbor. The games help the company identify talented programmers and to occasionally recruit participants who do well.

 

"Atomic Object, over its 16-year history, has had difficulty hiring developers straight out of college," says Jonah Bailey, a managing partner in the Ann Arbor office who organized the Ann Arbor games. "What college teaches is a highly theoretical base that will serve them well throughout their career, but what they often lack are technical skills and a chance to apply that theory in practice."

 

The Atomic Games require contestants to log into a server where a "boilerplate" game is uploaded. Last year's game was a version of Connect Four, while this year's game was similar to the popular strategy game Starcraft. Over one weekend, participants program a real-time strategy AI to play the game. The contestants' AIs then face off against each other, and the winning developer takes home a $500 prize. Seventeen programmers competed for the prize in Ann Arbor last year. This year 21 participated over the long weekend of Oct. 20-23.

 

Bailey says Michelin won "pretty resoundingly." He says Atomic Object doesn't just look for winners but also looks for participants who get up and running quickly, who offer to help others, and who generally show "outstanding leadership abilities."

 

Bailey also says students who had a passion for programming before they entered college often do well in the games. That was the case for Michelin, who took a programming course in middle school and went to summer camp for programming during high school.

 

Once in college, Michelin initially thought he would study political science but switched to computer science and math his sophomore year. While studying at Kalamazoo College, Michelin has participated in other coding challenges and even runs a few coding competitions with fellow students.

 

"I really like being challenged to think a lot in the span of a little bit of time," he says. "But I have only taken one machine learning class and have never done anything with AI, so I actually thought I was going to get my butt whipped by kids from the University of Michigan. I was surprised that I won."

 

He attributes his success in the Atomic Games to the fact that he plays a lot of chess and other strategy games, which helped him during the programming challenge.

 

"He really got the game, understood it, and worked hard over the weekend," Bailey says.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Atomic Object.


Ypsilanti Community Schools hosts "Girl Magic" event to empower middle-school girls

Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS) hosted a daylong self-empowerment event this week to teach middle-school girls about inner and outer beauty, wellness, girl power, and more.

 

About 90 girls participated in the event, called Girl Magic, on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at Ypsilanti Community Middle School. The day began with opening remarks from Lips and Hips founder Yodit Mesfin Johnson and ended with closing remarks from Dyann Logwood and Nyambura Njee of the Women's and Gender Studies Department at Eastern Michigan University. In between the opening and closing remarks, groups of about 15 girls rotated through six breakout sessions, which were led by female community leaders.

 

Ypsilanti Community High School assistant principal Djeneba "DJ" Cherif taught the girls how to dress appropriately in different situations during a session called "Fashionista: Dress to Impress." Another session called "Fashion on the Fly," hosted by Vanina Gilmore of Indigo Forest, focused on sewing, hemming, and repurposing clothing. The girls learned how to admire and care for natural hair during a session called "Moxie Magic," led by Original Moxie owner Rachel Blistein.

 

A session called "Beauty and Power," hosted by Johnson of Lips and Hips, taught girls about the importance of self-affirmation and inner beauty while they learned how to make organic lip gloss. Theresa Arnold-Robinson of the Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools taught the girls about positive coping skills, reframing negative thoughts, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy skills during a session called "#HealthyMindsMatter." Another session called "Girls Talk: Courageous Conversations," hosted by Morghan Williams of the Corner Health Center, focused on wellness, hygiene, body changes, and body images.

 

Kharena Keith, coordinator of wellness and community partnerships for YCS, says Girl Magic gave middle-school girls the opportunity to receive non-academic support that they usually couldn't get during a regular school day. She says the event also allowed them to learn about some of the resources available to them in their community.

 

"The K-12 educational system does not really teach the whole child," Keith says. "We don't cater to everything that a young person really needs to succeed in school and in life, so it's up to the schools to supplement and support students and offer them extra enrichment opportunities. If we all recognize as staff and as a community that young ladies are not getting vital information that they need then it's up to us to coordinate opportunities for them to get that information. So that's what this is about to me, is to take a day and talk about the power that exists in you and the resources that exist in the community."
 

The community partners came together organically for Girl Magic because Keith works with some of them in different capacities through her role at YCS and some of them are part of a community of female entrepreneurs. A few of the community partners, including Original Moxie and the Corner Health Center, had been talking to Keith about doing an event for young female students for about a year. But the idea really started to come to fruition over the summer after Blistein reignited the conversation through an email to Keith.

 

"That’s one of the things I'll say I love about businesses in Ypsi. ... So many of them are really interested in figuring out how they can give back," Keith says.

 

YCS officials hope to continue hosting Girl Magic as an annual event and to expand it to Ypsilanti Community High School. The middle-school girls who participated in the event filled out evaluations so the administrators and the community partners can figure out how they can make improvements for next year.

Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.

Photos by Taryn Reid.


Ypsi Bike Co-Op nears end of successful first season

The Ypsi Bike Co-Op is wrapping up its first season of offering free bike tune-ups and repairs at the Ypsilanti Farmers Market in Depot Town.

 

The co-op's goal is to help those who rely on bikes for transportation, as well as showing them how they can fix their bikes and keep them in working order on their own. Sometimes a visitor will grab a screwdriver and work on his or her own bike with guidance from an Ypsi Bike Co-Op member.

 

"A lot of the folks that we really like to help are folks who ride their bikes for transportation, like they need it to get to school or a job, and we really want to keep that population rolling on safe bikes and help teach them to do it themselves," says Georgina Hickey, a co-founder of the co-op.

 

Ypsi Bike Co-Op has been at the Depot Town farmers market every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. since mid-May. The group's presence will continue until Oct. 28, the last Saturday before the market closes for the season. The group plans to take some time over the winter to plan and prepare for next season. The co-op is considering hosting workshops on specific bike repair tasks (like repairing a flat tire or lubricating a bike chain), as well as the possibility of maintaining a booth at the downtown farmers market on Tuesdays next summer.

 

Hickey says the co-op had repaired 310 bikes at the market as of Oct. 14. The group doesn't charge people for tune-ups or repairs, but it encourages donations to help pay for bike parts and materials so the effort can continue.

 

The Ypsi Bike Co-Op is affiliated with Bike Ypsi, a 10-year-old community group that advocates for local cyclists by promoting bicycle awareness and cycling safety, and hosting cycling events. Some members of Bike Ypsi, including Hickey, started talking about forming a co-op about three years ago and finally decided to do it this year. Hickey says the two groups complement one another because Ypsi Bike Co-Op is focused on bikes and Bike Ypsi is focused on rides.

 

The co-op is always looking to connect with people who want to donate old bikes or get involved in the group. Hickey says the group operates under a "peer model" through which members of the group share bike expertise with each other. Throughout the season the group has accumulated several new members who have helped man the booth and teach repair or tune-up techniques with other group or community members.


Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.

Georgina Hickey and Nathan Voght photo by Brianna Kelly. All other photos by Christine Gibler and Ryan McGavock.

4 Ann Arbor firms, individuals among nominees for Michigan Venture Capital Association awards

Ann Arbor individuals and firms are well-represented in the 2017 list of nominees for the Michigan Venture Capital Association's (MVCA) annual awards dinner. This year marks the MVCA's 15th anniversary.

 

The winners in each category will be announced at the awards dinner Nov. 15 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit – a change from previous years, when winners were announced ahead of time.

Ann Arbor's Dug Song and Jon Oberheide, founders of cloud-based cybersecurity company Duo Security, are nominated for "Entrepreneur of the Year."

 

"[Duo is] an exciting company that a lot of folks in Ann Arbor and throughout Michigan have been watching," says MVCA executive director Maureen Miller Brosnan. "Dug has been recognized before for work in industry, so it's nice to be able to recognize Dug and Jon together as builders of such a fast-growing company."

 

The other two nominees in this category are Dan Gilbert, chairman and founder of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans Inc., and Kaylan Handique, a founder of life sciences startup Celsee Diagnostics.

 

Two Ann Arbor firms, Deepfield and LLamasoft, are represented in the "Capital Event of the Year" category.

 

Deepfield, an information technology startup, started at the University of Michigan, secured early-stage investments, and added 65 employees in five years before being acquired by Nokia in 2017. LLamasoft, a supply chain modeling and design software firm, recently announced an investment and partnership with TPG Capital, the global private equity fund of leading alternative asset firm TPG.

 

The third nominee in this category is Cirius Therapeutics, a life science startup with research and development operations in Kalamazoo.

 

Ian Bund, senior advisor and founding partner of Plymouth Growth Partners in Ann Arbor, is nominated in the "Lifetime Achievement" award category.

 

"Ian Bund is legendary throughout Michigan," Brosnan says. "He's been a huge asset in helping to shape Michigan's venture capital community. He's been crucial to the success of a number of firms in the state, not just Plymouth Growth Partners."

 

Bund was recruited to Michigan back in 1976, when Michigan's venture capital community was much smaller than it is today.

 

"He's one of those people who have been there from the very beginning, and you'll see his name pop up associated with many venture capital events every year," Brosnan says.

 

The other nominees in the "Lifetime Achievement" category are investor and entrepreneur Mike Jandernoa, and investor Jody Vanderwel.

 

Also new this year is a "Community Impact Award." Nominees in this category are individuals, organizations, or events that create connections and build community in the entrepreneurial and venture capital ecosystem.

 

Nominees in this category are the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, which awards $1 million in cash and in-kind prizes through its pitch competition; the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, connecting early-stage companies with venture capitalists and strategic investors from Michigan, the Midwest, and across the U.S.; and Techstars Mobility, a mentorship-driven accelerator program focused on the future of mobility and transportation.

 

In general, Brosnan says that when choosing nominees, MVCA members are looking for "people willing to take risks."

 

"They are people who work hard to foster a vibrant entrepreneurial community and set the stage for the next generation," she says.

 

More information about all nominees and the awards dinner is available at MVCA's website.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of MVCA.


SAHI Cosmetics wins $100,000 investment in AOL founder's Rise of the Rest competition

SAHI Cosmetics' win in the Oct. 11 Rise of the Rest competition in Ann Arbor, netting the company an investment of $100,000, is just the latest triumph for SAHI founder Shelly Sahi.

 

SAHI focuses on makeup products aimed at Arab, Latina, and Indian consumers with "medium" skin tones that may have yellow or olive undertones.

 

"Rise of the Rest is a very interesting competition, with the founder of America Online (AOL), Steve Case, investing in your company if you win," Sahi says. "Just that name alone, having someone so sought after in the technology and entrepreneurial world — it was an honor to be chosen as a semi-finalist."

 

Sahi's main concern was that Case is from a technology background, and she wasn't sure he would take her makeup company seriously.

 

"But Steve was really happy with my business idea," Sahi says. "He saw that it was scalable and profitable, and the judges thought I was a credible leader who could lead the company to success."

 

SAHI was one of eight local companies who pitched to Case at the Michigan Theater last week. The other competitors were SkySpecs, Pitstop, Genomenon, Inmatech, Warmilu, SurClean, and Civionics. The pitch competition capped a day in which Case toured Ann Arbor accompanied by local public figures including Michigan governor Rick Snyder, Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor, and Rock Ventures founder Dan Gilbert.

 

Sahi brainstormed the idea for her company while still an MBA student at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. She started working on the company full-time in December 2016, making SAHI one of the youngest companies to make the list of finalists in the Rise of the Rest competition.

 

SAHI has had several early successes. In February, Sahi won a $25,000 prize for best business in the Michigan Business Plan competition, plus an additional $2,000 for her outstanding presentation. In August she received a $100,000 investment from the Zell Founders Fund. She also got major exposure when Marie Claire published an article about her business this September.

 

When asked during the competition about how she handles struggles and hard decisions, Sahi shared that she had a chance to put her products on a website that sells products on discount.

 

"We could have made a lot of sales from that, but I knew that, ultimately, our strategy is to position SAHI as a luxury brand, so we couldn't have it discounted the first time somebody encountered our brand," Sahi says. "We could have made money in the short run, but it didn't fit our long-term strategy."

 

Sahi's plan for the new investment is to continue to build brand awareness.

 

"We need more people to find out about SAHI and try our products," she says. "I know they'll be satisfied and will come back for our newer products."

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Shelly Sahi.


Genomenon offers free edition of genomic search engine for clinical, research, and academic clients

Genomenon, a spinoff company from the University of Michigan that makes software for genetic analysis, recently announced that it will offer a free edition of its Mastermind Genomic Search Engine to academic institutions, clinicians, and researchers.

 

"Using a Google search or even Google Scholar to search the literature is like searching for a needle in a haystack," says Genomenon CEO Mike Klein.

 

When a researcher searches for a specific genetic mutation that may cause cancer or another genetic disease, a search engine will return documents that range from patents to journal articles on biology. Even a well-trained researcher will have to spend hours hunting through thousands of articles to see if a document is clinically relevant.

 

"There were half a million papers related to genomics published just last year," Klein says. "That's a lot of new knowledge emerging around DNA diseases and diagnoses."

 

The professional version of Mastermind has been in use for six months, and helps researchers and clinicians find relevant studies and papers much more quickly.

 

However, Genomenon soon realized that many people who could benefit from Mastermind might not be able to afford the full professional version.

 

"You might have genetic counselors who see patients and want to translate genetic reports for patients," Klein says. "They might not be able to afford the professional edition, but a lot of value is provided in the free edition, and they could do some research before they counsel those patients."

 

The release of the free edition is meant as an altruistic move that will benefit the entire field of genetic analysis, but wider use of the search engine will also be beneficial to Genomenon as it tweaks Mastermind and gets ready to distribute it more widely.

 

Genomenon continues to offer a professional edition of Mastermind with enhanced data and clinical capabilities, data access tools for workflow automation and analyzing large sets of genomic data, and professional genomic data analysis services.

 

Klein says he's already heard reports from clients who have changed a diagnosis for a patient after using Mastermind.

 

"We're able to sequence DNA more cost-effectively right now, but the bottleneck is how to figure out what that data means," Klein says. "We're helping doctors get a faster diagnosis and make sure doctors never miss that important information that could save a patient's life."

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Genomenon.


Free workshops invite Ypsi residents to create luminaries, costumes for ypsiGLOW

Ypsilanti community members are invited to participate in weekly free workshops to create glowing costumes and luminaries for the second annual ypsiGLOW, a nighttime festival in downtown Ypsi.

 

Drop-in "GLOWorkshops" will be held at Riverside Art Center's Off Center, 64 N. Huron St., every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until ypsiGLOW takes place on Oct. 27 on North Washington Street in downtown Ypsi. All ages are welcome, and artist facilitators will be on hand to help community members with their creations. WonderFool Productions, creator of Ann Arbor's FestiFools and FoolMoon, is hosting the ypsiGLOW workshops and event.

 

There's a big emphasis on making ypsiGLOW inclusive and accessible to everyone in the community. WonderFool Productions producer Adriana Zardus says one of the reasons for hosting the event is making art accessible to diverse segments of the community and getting them involved in ypsiGLOW.

 

Zardus says WonderFool Productions staff serve as the "creative enablers" that provide the platform and resources for ypsiGLOW, but artists and community members decide what they would like to create for the event. She says WonderFool Productions doesn't dictate or prescribe what the event will look like, so the creative vision is in the hands of the artists and community members who participate.

 

"One of our strategies for achieving this core goal of inclusivity was to activate other nonprofits and community groups in making their own 'glow' to bring to the event," Zardus says.

 

WonderFool Productions facilitates satellite workshops for specific organizations, like the Ypsilanti District Library and Ypsilanti High School, that are playing particularly active roles in ypsiGLOW. Members of the participating organizations come together at the satellite workshops to work on a cohesive project.

 

For example, a group of kids from Ozone House has been working with the new program director of Riverside Art Center, Trevor Stone, to design blacklight-reactive hoodies that represent what the nonprofit means to them. The kids will wear the hoodies at ypsiGLOW and then continue to wear them during the colder months. Stone also will help the kids make blacklight-reactive masks using cardboard and neon tape.

 

Another workshop will be held at Cultivate, 307 N. River St., beginning at 5 p.m. on Oct. 27 until the ypsiGLOW festivities begin. There will be music, face painting, and costume making for community members who want to participate in the event but weren't able to attend one of the drop-in workshops. A glow-in-the-dark processional led by musicians from the Music and Arts Guild will start at Cultivate and go through Riverside Park to North Washington Street.

 

The main event on North Washington Street will include dancing, street performances, multimedia projects, art installations in storefront windows, interactive art activities, and more. All of the festivities incorporate some kind of spontaneous design or performance art that presents a sense of discovery for the participating community members to experience.

 

"There’s going to be a lot of hidden gems up and down the street that beckon event-goers to explore and create," Zardus says. "What we really try to foster at our events is a sense of participation and engagement."

 

Several local businesses, including Bona Sera, Ziggy’s, and Tap Room, will host gatherings with music and dancing after ypsiGLOW. Some of the businesses plan to create special glow-in-the-dark food and drinks for the event.

 

For the past two years, ypsiGLOW has primarily been funded by the Washtenaw County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. But it's uncertain where funding will come from for future ypsiGLOW events, so a Kickstarter campaign is being held in an effort to raise $3,000 to ensure it will continue.

 

"The only reason why we were able to grow this event so quickly is because this community was able to get behind this crazy idea that didn't even exist yet," Zardus says. "They just totally bought it and owned it. There's not many communities that you can go into and create a brand new community art event and have people buy in and just show up in costumes."

 

Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.

 

All photos by Brianna Kelly.


Entrepreneurship program for kids to launch in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor entrepreneur Debra Power wishes she had been able to attend a course or summer camp about starting a business when she was a kid. To make that dream come true for Washtenaw County children, she's started an entrepreneur education program for middle and high schoolers called Running Start.

 

"When I was a kid, I did every camp you could imagine," Power says. She attended space camp, civics camp, and leadership camp, but didn't have the opportunity to learn about building her own business.

 

"I'm really passionate about entrepreneurship and youth," she says. "I am also interested in demonstrating that, in this community and really all of Michigan, there are opportunities to build a business, to grow, to stay, and be successful."

 

Power says the idea for Running Start also came from an experience with grade-school girls who were developing their entrepreneurship skills.

 

"Earlier this year, I was doing a badge workshop for Girl Scouts, and I was watching third-graders come up with business ideas," she says. "I was surprised how sophisticated youth are about entrepreneurship."

 

Power is an entrepreneur herself, having founded Power Marketing Research about 16 years ago. She's made many contacts in her years as a business owner and she received nothing but positive responses after asking her network for feedback on her brainstorm of hosting workshops for young entrepreneurs. She has since recruited many of those contacts to serve as mentors in the program.

 

In a series of four weekly mentor-led workshops, children will develop, test, market, and pitch a business idea. The workshops will have room for 25 middle school students for the morning session and 25 high school students for an afternoon session.

 

Power says she knows that not everyone will become a business owner, but entrepreneurial skills are important in any workplace.

 

"Today, people aren't sitting isolated in a cubicle doing their job," she says. "These days, most workers are asked to come up with new business concepts, to engage in new ways, to think creatively like a business owner."

 

The program launches Oct. 21 with an informational meeting for parents from 1-2 p.m. at GO Where Meetings Matter, 4735 Washtenaw Ave. After a sign-up period, workshops will run from Feb. 24 to March 17, and then another session of four workshops will start up April 21.

 

The series of four workshops cost $199, but scholarships are available. More information is available on the Running Start website.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photo courtesy of Debra Power.


13-year-old entrepreneur among speakers at Ann Arbor's fourth annual WordCamp conference

A 13-year-old web design entrepreneur from Westland will be among the speakers at the fourth annual WordCamp conference in Ann Arbor, which brings together Michigan businesspeople to promote good web development practices.

 

The conference will be held Oct. 13-14 at the University of Michigan Rackham Building, 915 E. Washington St. It includes time for entrepreneurs, students, and others to learn more about building websites and promoting their businesses online with the WordPress publishing platform.

 

The conference kicks off with a half day of panels and workshops Oct. 13, with many programs geared toward newer users. A full day of programming Saturday wraps up with a party Saturday evening.

 

This year's event features a number of speakers including 13-year-old Emerson Jeffries, who has a web design business called Emerson DSign, Inc. Jeffries has built or modified WordPress sites for more than 50 individuals and small businesses, all while continuing to attend school and being involved with the youth theater program Mosaic.

 

"It's actually a pretty funny story how I started off," Jeffries says. "My interest in building websites came out of me playing school in my basement."

 

All his pretend students had to go to a website to get their homework assignments, and Jeffries began building websites with Weebly, soon switching to WordPress.

 

His first paid job was for a friend of his father's who is an attorney. She initially asked him to create business cards for her, and when he said he didn't do that but that he did build websites, she said she needed a website as well.

 

"That was the day I was established as a small business, and soon after that, I registered my business with the state," he says.

 

Jeffries says he picks up some of his work through freelance marketplaces like Fiverr, but most of his business comes in via word of mouth. He says he hasn't really found it challenging to get clients to take a 13-year-old entrepreneur seriously, but his status as a minor does create legal hurdles when it comes to opening bank accounts or registering as a business.

 

Jeffries will give a talk at WordCamp on the topic of "How to Own Your Business as a Young Entrepreneur." He will cover time management, creating content, discovering your audience, and marketing.

 

"The most important one is time management," he says. "As a kid, you have school and you have to manage household chores and after-school activities. But you still have to impress your clients so they will take you seriously."

 

Admission to the WordCamp conference is $36. Ticket and conference information is available at the WordCamp Ann Arbor website.
 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photo courtesy of Emerson Jeffries. Cory Miller photo courtesy of WordCamp Ann Arbor.


12 Ann Arbor companies named semifinalists in Accelerate Michigan competition

The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition recently announced its 2017 semifinalists, and 12 Ann Arbor-area businesses made the list.

 

Accelerate Michigan is the state’s largest gathering of high-growth, high-tech companies and venture investors. The competition awards $1 million in prizes, including a $500,000 grand prize. Accelerate Michigan is operated by Invest Detroit Ventures with the support of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Ann Arbor SPARK, Invest Michigan, Spartan Innovations, the Michigan Small Business Development Corporation, and JR Turnbull.

 

All semifinalists will pitch during the morning and afternoon of Nov. 16 at the Detroit Masonic Temple. The top 10 finalists will pitch that evening during a gala awards dinner, when the grand prize is announced.

 

Among the Ann Arbor semifinalists is Soft Lesion Analytics, a firm whose technology allows patients and healthcare providers to speed up diagnosis by ensuring that enough cells are collected during fine-needle aspiration biopsy procedures.

 

"It basically comes down to biopsy quality control," says CEO and founder Michael Moore. "One out of five biopsies come back as inconclusive because they don't have enough tissue to test and say for sure if it's cancer."

 

That wastes the healthcare workers' time and increases patients' stress when they have to come back for another biopsy before getting a definitive diagnosis. Soft Lesion Analytics' technology does a cell count, so the healthcare team knows immediately if they have enough tissue for a diagnosis.

 

Moore says winning the Accelerate Michigan competition could "change things dramatically" for his company, which is still in an early stage. The prize money would help the company fund a clinical validation study it has scheduled for spring of 2018.

 

Moore says that just being named a semifinalist is an honor.

 

"It's an opportunity to start building a brand presence and get connected on a larger scale," he says.

 

Building that brand presence will include converting to a C corporation in the next few months and changing the company name to "Medkairos," derived from a Greek word for "opportune moment," Moore says.

 

Other semifinalists from Ann Arbor include:

 
  • Circadian Risk Inc., a company that has created a vulnerability assessment app and allows companies to create remediation plans to mitigate risk.

  • Foodstand, a company building an app that helps motivate good eating habits through community health eating challenges.

  • Kulisha, which uses insects for eco-friendly and sustainable livestock feed.

  • Mi Padrino, a crowdfunding platform for organizing, planning, and funding traditional Latino events.

  • Parabricks, a technology company providing high performance genomic analysis.

  • Plinqit, which creates a mobile app to encourage people to set financial goals to build their savings accounts.

  • Ripple Science, a company that builds web-based software to facilitate the recruitment and management of participants for clinical and translational studies.

  • Slideless, a technology company that aims to help health providers switch from glass microscope slides to digital pathology.

  • SpellBound, an augmented reality company that helps sick children deal with trauma and hospitalization.

  • TechStak, An online platform helping small businesses find technology solution providers for their outsourced technology needs.

  • Uru, an online platform that connects athletes with teams and playing opportunities all over the world.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Michael Moore.


Blogger creates community project to document life in Ypsi this weekend

Ypsilanti blogger Mark Maynard is encouraging other residents to join him this weekend in a somewhat spontaneous effort to document everyday life in Ypsilanti.

 

Maynard published a post on his blog last week announcing the project, called #DocumentYpsi2017. He hopes other Ypsi residents will help him take photos, videos, and audio recordings of little things around Ypsi that often go unnoticed, change frequently, and might be of interest years from now, like the drink menu at Haab's Restaurant or the marquee at Deja Vu. He's asking residents to take photos from Oct. 6 to 8 because he figured lots of people will already be out and about for First Fridays Ypsilanti.

 

Anyone who participates should share on social media using #DocumentYpsi2017. Maynard plans to upload some of his favorite submissions to his blog, while the rest will be accessible on social media as a virtual archive through the use of the hashtag. He envisions the hashtag being used years from now as an easy way to remember what life in Ypsi was like in 2017.

 

"It's something that I've thought about for a while, but it's just one of those things you put out there and see what happens," Maynard says. "I said, 'Well, maybe it'd be kind of cool if we just picked a weekend and we all took pictures and put them online and see what happens,' and thankfully people liked the idea and started to do something with it."

 

Ypsilanti High School art teacher Lynne Settles wants to get her students involved in the project, so she's encouraging them to take photos on their cellphones over the weekend. While they were in class, the students discussed Maynard's blog post on #DocumentYpsi2017 and brainstormed things they could photograph. The students who opt to participate will send their photos to Settles and share them on social media using #DocumentYpsi2017.

 

Ozone House's Drop-In Center, located at 102 N. Hamilton St., is also getting involved in the effort. Executive director Katie Doyle saw Maynard's blog post and decided to purchase disposable cameras to hand out to kids for them to use over the weekend. Youth opportunity director Colleen O'Brien also talked to the kids who participated in Ozone House's peer outreach worker training last week and they were really excited about the project. Ozone House plans to post the photos on its Facebook page and share them with Maynard.

 

Maynard hopes the project will generate enough interest to continue doing it every year and get more people and organizations involved. He foresees the possibility of Riverside Arts Center hosting a one-day art show to display some of the photo submissions or the Ypsilanti District Library making an archive of the audio recordings.

 

"Hopefully it'll be easier for people in the future [if they think,] 'I wonder what things were like in Ypsi in 2020,'" Maynard says. "They can put in #DocumentYpsi2020 and start flipping through thousands of photos of what life was like here. That would be kind of cool, I think."

 

Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.

 

Photo by Doug Coombe.


Ann Arbor businessman's $185 million deal featured in sequel to bestselling business strategy book

The authors of the best-selling business how-to book Blue Ocean Strategy found a 2008 Ann Arbor business deal so noteworthy that they decided to feature it in their new book, Blue Ocean Shift, released Sept. 21.

 

Just as the American housing market was collapsing and the economy was entering a recession, Ann Arbor businessman Ted Dacko turned around a struggling healthcare industry consultancy called HealthMedia and sold it for a profit to Johnson and Johnson at a price of $185 million. Impressive at any time, the feat was highly unusual in 2008.

 

In Blue Ocean Shift, authors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne explore concrete examples of companies across various industries that succeeded by implementing the first book's strategy. Dacko's deal is cited as an example of using the Blue Ocean Strategy of creating "uncontested market spaces" in the healthcare sector.

 

Dacko says HealthMedia created those market spaces by finding the sweet spot between expensive but highly effective telephone or in-person coaching and ineffective but inexpensive generalized content such as websites and brochures.

 

But before that innovative new model of delivering health coaching could hit its stride, the NASDAQ crashed and venture capital dried up. HealthMedia's board offered Dacko a chance to turn the company around.

 

He chose to radically slash the staff from 85 to 18 and lived "hand to mouth," barely making payroll, for almost two years.

 

It was during that two-year period that the company published a randomized controlled study with Kaiser Health, proving that the HealthMedia model was promising, and Dacko first read about the Blue Ocean Strategy.

 

"The study showed we could really impact membership in terms of savings," Dacko says. "We could provide the efficacy of coaching at the cost structure of building a website, which was revolutionary at that time."

 

Dacko used the Blue Ocean principles to grow the company, and by the end of 2007, Dacko says the phone was "ringing off the hook" with venture firms that wanted to invest in the company.

 

The revival of HealthMedia ultimately led to the profitable sale to Johnson and Johnson, where Dacko continued to work for more than a year after the sale.

 

Today, Dacko's consulting firm, Arbor Dakota, shows other companies how to implement Blue Ocean Strategy and stand out from the competition.

 

His passion is helping to build CEO talent in the Ann Arbor area.

 

"In Ann Arbor, we have a number of great companies and great product ideas," he says. "The founders are people who know how to build a product but don't know how to build companies around those products."

 

He says that companies can't attract venture capital unless they have strong leadership.

 

"I find many founders don't know what a CEO does and when they find out what a CEO does, they want the title but don't want to do the job," he says. "It's a struggle to make them understand that, unless they transform from a founder to a CEO, the company isn't going to make it. Building a company requires more than a single skill."

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Ted Dacko photo courtesy of Ted Dacko.


New door-to-door ridesharing service expands public transit options in Ypsi Township

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) has introduced a pilot door-to-door shared-ride program called FlexRide, in addition to launching expanded bus service in Ypsilanti Township.

 

Mary Stasiak, manager of community relations for AAATA, says the portion of Ypsi Township served by FlexRide doesn't have the density to warrant a fixed route. So transportation officials needed to get creative in helping residents in that area get to the Paint Creek shopping center, the Whittaker Road branch of the Ypsilanti District Library, and other destinations in the area.

 

"There are a lot of residents in the area who need access to shopping or medical appointments or to get to work or school," Stasiak says. "It's a pilot service, and we may make adjustments as we go. The idea is to introduce it and see how people are using it."

 

After a bidding process, AAATA chose to partner with Metro On-Demand (MODE), a division of Golden Limousine, to operate FlexRide.

 

Currently, the service operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and for limited hours to Lincoln Consolidated schools when school buses are not running. The service costs $1 per trip each way. Discounts are available for students, seniors, and disabled riders.

 

Riders can reserve a ride the day before a trip or at least 45 minutes in advance for same-day rides by calling (734) 794-0377, by visiting MyFlexRide.org, or through the MODE Car app. Walk-ons may be accepted at the Paint Creek Shopping Center connection point if not all seats are full.

 

AAATA has also expanded traditional bus service on Route 46, which includes Huron River Drive and Textile Road, doubling service in the northwest corner of the pilot service area up to Whittaker and Merritt Roads in Ypsi Township.

 

Both the route expansion and the FlexRide pilot program were made possible by the approval of a 2014 transportation improvement millage.

 

Stasiak says the expectation is that FlexRide will continue to operate for the term of the millage, and possibly beyond, if voters choose to renew the millage in August 2018. As AAATA sees how riders use the service, the authority may tweak the hours and the pilot program could be expanded.

 

"We hope the service will do well and we can translate it to other areas as well," Stasiak says.

 

Stasiak says the transportation authority doesn't feel threatened by the rise of transportation options like Uber and Lyft, adding that she welcomes collaborations with other organizations.

 

"That's why we're working with MODE on this service," Stasiak says, adding that collaborations create "a future that has many new ways of providing transportation."


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
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