Innovation & Job News

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New pitch competition offers $5,000 prize for eastern Washtenaw County entrepreneurs

The organizers of a new Ypsilanti-centric business plan pitch competition hope to generate excitement for entrepreneurs setting up shop or expanding operations into eastern Washtenaw County.

Pitch Ypsi $5000 will offer five finalists a chance to make their case to a panel of five judges for a shot at winning $5,000 during a Pitch Night event on March 8 at SPARK East. Local entrepreneurs have until Feb. 13 to apply.

"There's a lot of great things that happen in Ann Arbor, and we would like to have that kind of energy on the east side in Ypsilanti," says planning committee member Angela Barbash.

The event's planning committee also includes Ypsilanti mayor Amanda Edmonds and SPARK East business accelerator manager Joe Licavoli. Barbash says the committee is looking for startups or existing organizations that are excited about locating in Ypsi, with "bonus points" going to those who can show how they will make Ypsi a better place.

"We're not saying, 'Hey, everybody who submits needs to be in social enterprise,' but if you can demonstrate how your product or service or your company is going to impact the community in a positive way, then that's certainly going to put you ahead of the pack," she says.

The competition is modeled after Grand Rapids' popular 5x5 Night events, in which five judges put up $1,000 in prize money each. Barbash and Edmonds lobbied to have one of the contest's judge seats represent more members of the community, so four judges will contribute $1,000 apiece and the remaining $1,000 will come from 10 individuals donating $100 each. As of last week, 18 submissions had already been received.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Pittsfield Twp. "escape room" visitors hunt new puzzles in Kerrytown businesses

The team behind Pittsfield Township "escape room" Decode Detroit recently entered the second phase of its multi-part adventure game with the launch of Minerva's Escape, a free puzzle scavenger hunt in Ann Arbor it hopes will help promote local businesses.

The original escape room challenges players to figure out how to outwit Minerva, "an adolescent artificial intelligence with ambitions too big for her motherboard," with whom they've been "locked" in a room. In a new extension of that experience, Minerva has "escaped to the internet," and players must track her down through a series of clues left at Ann Arbor businesses and restaurants.

Participating businesses include Ann Arbor Spice Merchants, the Lunch Room, and TeaHaus, all located in or near Kerrytown. Each digital puzzle is concealed within an item that fits into the surroundings of its host store. Players identify the puzzles by the Decode Detroit logo that marks each one.

TeaHaus manager Jody Jones says the game has already generated some new foot traffic for her store and is a good way to bring people in who wouldn't normally stop.

"It's a great fit for our business, because we really enjoy engaging with our customers no matter what the reason, and we also have the opportunity to introduce someone to tea who may have never been introduced," Jones says.

She says the puzzle is well hidden and fits seamlessly in the shop. While most customers haven't recognized it, for those playing, it's unmistakably part of the game.

"It has been a lot of fun to see people looking for the piece in the store," Jones says. "You almost know immediately if they are a customer or a game player by they way they are searching. I have to resist the urge to play that one game you played as a kid: 'You're getting warmer, you're really hot, you're on fire!'"

If nothing else, the game can be a conversation starter.

"I did have one experience on the first day we had the puzzle, where I thought someone was playing and asked him, 'Are you playing the game?'" she says. "The guy looked at me inquisitively and was like, 'I don't know, am I playing the game?' Turns out he wasn't, and that it was a pretty funny question to ask someone just shopping in TeaHaus for the first time."

Two more Minerva's Escape missions are planned for downtown Ann Arbor, according to Decode Detroit cofounder Patton Doyle, including puzzles at Vault of Midnight, Downtown Home and Garden, and 826michigan.
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

After $22 million funding round, FarmLogs still "home to stay" in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor's FarmLogs continues to grow with no signs of slowing down. The agricultural data science company recently raised $22 million in a Series C round of funding and more than doubled its staff in the last year.

Spokesperson Nicole Duhoski says the new capital will be invested back into product improvements and adding more employees to the company's current staff of 70.

More than one in three U.S. row crop farms use FarmLogs today, according to Duhoski. That adds up to more than 20 percent of the country's row crop acres and more than 60 million total acres of land managed with the software. FarmLogs software allows farmers to easily record and track activities like fertilizing or seeding, and to predict and maximize crop yields.

Duhoski credits the product's success to FarmLogs' sophisticated, easy-to-use offerings.

"We're giving farmers access to better information and tools than they've ever had before, and we're directly impacting their profits," Duhoski says. "Today, farmers are getting squeezed from every angle. Margins are tight, input costs are rising, and commodity prices are declining. All of this makes it incredibly difficult for farms to remain profitable."

Addressing farmers' needs without trying to sell them something else helps too, she says.

"Most of the competing products are built by large conglomerates, like Monsanto, where they are also trying to sell you the seed and inputs," Duhoski says. "Our independence differentiates us. We don't sell seed. We don't mind telling growers to spend less on seed if it will make them more money."

Founded in Silicon Valley before resettling here, Duhoski says Ann Arbor is FarmLogs' "home to stay" because it offers close proximity to its customers ("we're within a day's drive to anywhere in the corn belt," she says), as well as access to top talent coming out of the University of Michigan.

"We felt Ann Arbor is the place in the Midwest where we could have the best of both worlds," Duhoski says.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

New Ann Arbor Solar Club eases hassle, cuts costs of going solar

Washtenaw County homeowners and businesses intrigued by the prospect of installing solar energy equipment may find helpful assistance and financial savings from a new partnership involving several local organizations.

The Ann Arbor Group Solar Program – also called Ann Arbor Solar Club – is a partnership between the City of Ann Arbor's energy commission, the nonprofit Clean Energy Coalition, outreach and education effort a2energy, and online solar energy marketplace Geostellar. The program will offer educational events and social media forums, and emphasize the use of Geostellar's online platform to compare, customize, and find installers for solar equipment. A discounted group-purchasing rate is available to county property owners who use the promotional code "A2" when purchasing equipment through Geostellar.

Geostellar CEO David Levine says Geostellar's patented technology produces a "Solar Profile" unique to each property, which is used to tailor site-specific offerings.

"We can adjust the equipment types, system size, racking, and financing terms to optimize the installation for total savings over the life of the system or monthly savings on each bill," Levine says.

Initial surveying is done virtually with Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology that measures surface heights by bouncing lasers from airplanes off objects on the ground.

Interested home or business owners can see an initial survey of their property's solar potential and estimated installation costs for panels, as well as projected energy cost savings and greenhouse gas emissions reduction, by entering their address on the Geostellar homepage and following some simple steps.

"This saves the property owner a lot of time and money, because the consultation can happen over the phone," Levine says. "Only after the estimate is dialed in will Geostellar deploy a local installer to perform an on-site verification of the design."

Once design and contracting are complete, Geostellar assigns a project manager who works through scheduling and logistics for delivery and installation. Levine says the whole process takes about 90 days from estimate to installation, after which Geostellar monitors the systems and dispatches a contractor to fix any problems.
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

SPARK East to launch meetup series on artificial intelligence

The organizer of a new Ypsilanti meetup series on artificial intelligence (AI) says he'll welcome questions ranging from how to make AI work for a new business idea to "Is 'Terminator' going to happen?"

The series starts Tuesday, Jan. 24, at SPARK East. Organizer Adam Sypniewski says he wants the meetups to be a fun place to share ideas, foster collaborations, and address any and all machine learning-based questions.

"There is this vibrant startup culture in the Ann Arbor area," Sypniewski says. "I want to meet the people who have cool ideas out there. I want to introduce them to cool ideas and hopefully have something fun happen from this."

Sypniewski is an Ann Arbor resident and AI developer for Deepgram, a San Francisco-based "speech search" company that uses AI to transcribe, spot keywords, and get insights from phone calls, video footage, and online media.

"[If you] go to YouTube right now and enter your search keywords, the results that Google serves you are not based on the content of the video. They're based on the metadata, the title, or the description," Sypniewski says. "Deepgram could do something very similar, but we would search over the content. We could give you the results for that phrase, and when it was actually spoken."

Sypniewski got his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Michigan, where he used machine learning to calculate distances between galaxies and also met Deepgram's founders. After school he did applied AI work for a defense contractor before joining Deepgram.

For the first meetup, Sypniewski plans to present a layman's introduction to AI and a survey of what's been happening in the field for the last 50 years. From there, he hopes to get into more detailed examples, involve guest speakers from the automotive and other industries, and even host workshops where participants could play with some of Deepgram's recently open-sourced technology.

"A lot of companies and a lot of people see [AI] as scary and complex, and it's really not," Sypniewski says. "It's very intuitive, and it's very simple for a lot of people to get into, and I want people to start to appreciate that and hopefully see more companies, even in this area, start to try it."
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Video game development incubator to launch in Ypsi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Collaboration gives Ypsi High students professional photography opportunity

A new partnership between Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS) and Ypsi clothing boutique Puffer Reds is giving Ypsi high school students their first shot at professional fashion photography.

Under the terms of an agreement struck last month, YCS district photographer Nick Azzaro has begun engaging Ypsilanti High School students in promotional photo shoots featuring Puffer Reds gear. Students volunteer for the shoots, and Azzaro coaches them as both photographers and models. The first shoot occurred earlier this month.

"They're pretty much doing everything, and they're learning lighting along the way," Azzaro says. "They wouldn't be able to walk away and recreate it on their own quite yet, but we'll get to that point."

Puffer Reds owner Eric Williams provides apparel for the shoots and will use the resulting photos for promotional materials. No money will change hands under the arrangement. The program is coordinated through the Learning Studio, Azzaro's studio at YCS, which he hopes to eventually turn into a full-fledged student-run photo studio with multiple clients.

Azzaro has worked with YCS since 2013, when he began teaching photography for the district through Eastern Michigan University's Bright Futures after-school program. He recently closed his downtown studio, Chin-Azzaro, to refocus on his work at YCS. He says he'd long envisioned a collaboration between YCS and a business like Puffer Reds.

"So far, I haven't met a student that doesn't like to be photographed," Azzaro laughs. "I knew the recipe would work. It was just a matter of getting a backer like Puffer Reds."

Since photos from the first shoot appeared on Puffer Reds' blog, Azzaro says he's received an "overwhelming number" of inquiries from students interested in participating in upcoming shoots. As an incentive for academic performance, the program is currently only open to students who have a GPA of 3.2 or higher.

"The kids are talking about it: 'Hey, when are you going to get me in there?'" Azzaro says. "'What's your GPA?' – that's my first question."

Patrick Dunn is the managing editor of Concentrate and an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer for numerous publications. Follow him on Twitter @patrickdunnhere.

Photos courtesy of Nick Azzaro.

Ann Arbor-based reversible baby bottle launches

After a couple of years of designing, fundraising, and testing, the brothers behind Ann Arbor-based Flipsi Bottle have launched Flipsi Baby, a baby bottle that can be turned inside out for easy cleaning.

The bottle is also designed with a natural nipple shape to help transition babies from breastfeeding to bottles, and it features flexible, food-grade silicone sides that collapse inward while feeding to minimize air intake and help prevent colic. Flipsi cofounder and chief technology officer Jeff Plott and brother, CEO, and cofounder Chris Plott originally conceived their product as a reversible sport bottle, but pivoted to focus on a baby bottle design in 2014.

The Plotts have had an eventful 2016 leading up to the launch. That included winning an Innovation Fund grant from Macomb Community College and a Business Accelerator grant from Ann Arbor SPARK.

"This funding provided the last push we needed to kick off the bottle’s mass production," Jeff Plott says.

Next came extensive quality testing for choking hazards and harmful substances in build materials. The bottle passed all required testing.

Flipsi Baby has been available at Flipsi's website and through Amazon since mid-October, and Plott says user reviews and feedback have been overwhelmingly positive so far.

"One thing that really sticks out from the initial feedback is that babies who had refused other bottles seem to really latch onto the Flipsi Baby right away due to the natural shape," Plott says. "We are extremely pleased to hear how much parents and babies love our bottle."

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

U-M Law School startup offers equity crowdfunding

Investors of all stripes may now purchase shares in University of Michigan (U-M) Law School startup Court Innovations through the equity crowdfunding platform NetCapital.

Launched in 2014 with intellectual property developed at U-M, Court Innovations' Matterhorn online case resolution platform is now in use in 20 courts across Michigan and Ohio. Matterhorn allows courts, law enforcement, and citizens to communicate about and resolve minor infractions without setting foot in court.

"It's kind of exciting to be able to extend equity investment to more people, just like we're extending the court to have more people access it," Court Innovations president M.J. Cartwright says. "It really fits our model."

That extension is made possible under the federal Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) by way of a 4(a)(6) crowdfunding offering, with the transaction facilitated by NetCapital's Securities and Exchange Commission-authorized funding portal. The JOBS Act is meant to encourage funding for small business by easing some securities regulations. The act was passed in 2012, but provisions for companies to issue securities through crowdfunding finally took effect in May of this year.

"You don't have to necessarily be an accredited angel investor, and you can actually invest in companies that are, like ours, offering some of their common stock, and you can be involved in company investment," Cartwright says. "Which we think is very, very cool."

Founded with funding from U-M's Third Century Initiative, Court Innovations is now looking to raise close to half a million dollars, staff up, and expand into courts in all 50 states.  
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

TechArb's latest group of U-M student startups pursues next-gen orthotics and more

Class is in session for the next generation of University of Michigan (U-M) startups in TechArb's 2017 winter cohort.
 
Between now and mid-April, the student venture accelerator's latest group of 11 student-run startups will conduct customer research, refine their business models, and receive mentorship from industry experts.
 
For the team at ArborThotics, that includes working with orthotists, federal regulators, and 3-D printing labs to continue the work they started in their capstone software engineering class last fall at U-M. ArborThotics cofounder Dom Parise and his team developed software to help produce custom ankle-foot orthotics using U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved scanners and 3-D printing.
 
Parise says producing this type of custom orthotics is currently a lengthy process that can involve plaster molds and specialized plastics baked for several days by technicians. From consultation to prescription to finished product, the process typically takes two to three weeks.
 
"It's really long, and kind of archaic at this point," Parise says. "With the 3-D printing, we can now print them in probably six to eight hours on the high end."
 
With FDA sign-off on the product and process, Parise hopes the team will have its solution on the market by mid-summer, but he's prepared for a longer haul.
 
"We can improve the product at the rate of software, but sales are at the rate of healthcare," he says.
 
For now, Parise and his team enjoy working with a group of like-minded entrepreneurs who are all at similar stages in their work, as well as the structure and deadlines provided by the TechArb program. For instance, the accelerator holds weekly meetings in which each company reports on its progress.
 
"The entrepreneurship process can be solitary if you don't have the right network," Parise says.
 
In addition to custom orthotics, the new TechArb cohort includes ventures working on original approaches to hassle-free funeral planning, healthy food choices, and connecting people living with chronic illnesses for local peer support.
 
TechArb was founded in 2009 as a joint venture between the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship and the Zell Lurie Institute at U-M's Ross School of Business. Forty teams have participated in TechArb this year, and have since received more than $2 million in funding.
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Photo courtesy of TechArb.

Winter Art Tour offers prizes for gallery visits this weekend

Each summer, the Ann Arbor Art Fairs draw in thousands of art lovers from all around the world – but what about winter? This weekend Ann Arbor's Yourist Studio Gallery will team with an expansive group of local artists and studios to launch the inaugural Winter Art Tour, featuring the work of over 150 local artists spread across nine Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti venues.
 
Organizer Cara Rosaen says the event, which runs Dec. 9-11, was conceived with the goal of improving "the visibility and viability of local artists, and to create a more vibrant arts community for everyone."
 
The experience begins when a participant obtains a "Passport to Art" online or at any of the nine participating venues, which range from the Ann Arbor Art Center to this weekend's DIYpsi art fair. From there, participants are encouraged to visit as many of those venues as possible, collecting stamps on their passports at each stop. Once four stamps are collected, passport holders may be entered into a drawing with a chance to win one of 21 pieces of art from participating artists.
 
Rosaen says ceramic artist Rosie E. Gomez brainstormed the passport idea to connect numerous art shows across Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
 
"We realized there were nine-plus art shows on the same weekend last year, and wanted to figure out a way to make everyone's event bigger," Rosaen says. "Once we got nine great art shows on board, we knew we had something special."
 
Participating galleries were hand-selected in an effort to offer "a good mix of artists and atmospheres for tour-goers," according to Rosaen, and to highlight everything from intimate home studios to "large indie art shows with over 80 artists."
 
With larger galleries such as Selo/Shevel and Clay Gallery having closed their doors in recent years, Rosaen and her collaborators see events like the Winter Art Tour as an increasingly important means of keeping the pulse of the local arts community strong – even in the dead of winter.

Jason Buchanan is a writer, father, and film fanatic living and working in Ann Arbor.

MGoBlog-endorsed OSB Community Bank pursues Ann Arbor community banking niche

Brooklyn, Mich.-based OSB Community Bank has been barely a stone's throw from Ann Arbor for nearly a century, with six branches including Jackson, Onsted, and Adrian locations. But the bank is now making its first foray into Ann Arbor in an effort to fill a community banking void in the city.
 
That's thanks in part to bank president and CEO Rick Northrup, who joined the bank just this January. Northrup has worked as a banker in Ann Arbor for nearly 20 years, most recently at the now-defunct United Bank and Trust. Northrup served as that bank's executive vice president and was promoted to senior vice president at Old National Bank when it acquired United Bank and Trust.
 
"I stayed for a while, but I didn't like it," he says. "I wanted to get back into community banking."
 
When Northrup took the job at OSB, he saw an opportunity to give Ann Arbor another locally-owned banking option. He notes that both United Bank and Trust and Ann Arbor Commerce Bank have closed in recent years, leaving Bank of Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor State Bank as the only community banks in town.
 
"They're really good banks and I have friends that work at both of those institutions," Northrup says. "But where there used to be four, now there's only two, and we felt there was a need in the marketplace for another alternative bank."
 
OSB's new loan production office at 305 E. Eisenhower currently employs two people, with a third hired to join the staff early next year. The bank is currently seeking a fourth employee for the branch as well. Northrup says the location is already running "pretty well ahead of plans" for loans and other new business.
 
OSB arrives in town with the notable endorsement of Brian Cook, editor of the popular U-M sports blog MGoBlog.
 
"I've met [Cook] once," Northrup says. "But I'm a big fan, as a lot of people are, of his writing and the website."

Patrick Dunn is the managing editor of Concentrate and an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer for numerous publications. Follow him on Twitter @patrickdunnhere.

Ann Arbor baby carrier company employs moms with challenges

Being a new mom is challenging, but continuing to work at the same time can be overwhelming. Ann Arbor resident and mother of two Brea Albulov knows this struggle well, so she created a baby carrier to allow women to do both.
 
Founded in 2015, Albulov's company Hope Carried offers a wrap-like baby carrier in three different styles, made by moms who struggle with a variety of barriers to employment. Albulov endeavors to hire women whose language skills, cultural restrictions, transportation issues, or simple lack of experience make it difficult for them to find employment.
 
Albulov was seeking a way to inspire positive social change with her business when images of Syrian refugees prompted her to begin researching local refugee services.
 
"My heart was breaking," Albulov says. "I kept seeing mothers and thinking about what it would be like to not to be able to feed my child. That spurred the idea to try and find women who needed employment but for various reasons couldn't enter the traditional workforce."
 
It wasn't long before she came into contact with Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County (JFS), an Ann Arbor-based resettlement organization, and organized an open house.
 
The response was overwhelming, and resulted in the hiring of her first three employees. Today she's up to six, and JFS has pledged to provide a sewing machine for any woman who goes to work for Hope Carried.
 
Albulov is currently seeking to take her business to the next level with a Kickstarter campaign. Funds raised through the campaign will allow her to buy fabric wholesale and eventually add eight new employees to her team.

Jason Buchanan is a writer, father, and film fanatic living and working in Ann Arbor.

What drew San Francisco's SF Motors to Pittsfield Township?

San Francisco-based SF Motors, a subsidiary of Chinese auto manufacturer and supplier Sokon Industry Group, has announced plans to invest in a $10.7-million research and development facility in Pittsfield Township.
 
The facility is expected to create around 150 jobs. It will focus on product, powertrain, and new battery development in order to create the next generation of electric vehicles, according to Yong Yang, the company's VP for strategy, planning, and PR.
 
Yang cites the Ann Arbor area's reputation as a driver in automotive technology, and success with engineering and research and development centers, as key factors in the company's decision to move here. He is hopeful that proximity to the University of Michigan will give SF Motors access to the engineering talent the company will need to support its long-term goals of automotive innovation.
 
The company conducted a multi-state selection process that weighed such factors as business environment, incentives, location, talent pool, and resources. Yang says the "confluence of automotive and mobility experience and expertise" in Michigan ultimately proved the deciding factor in the company's plan to expand here.  
 
Additionally, the facility provided to the company by Pittsfield Township proved a perfect match for the company's growing needs.
 
"Advanced automotive technologies such as connected and automated vehicle research and implementation will be an important feature that our team will be working on," Yang says. "Our manufacturing team on site will be working on building a world-class manufacturing facility using best practices in the industry."
 
The SF Motors facility is only the most recent major development in next-generation automotive research in Washtenaw County. The 23-acre Mcity automated vehicle test facility has been in operation at the University of Michigan in operation since July of 2015, and another such site is set to open next year at the site of the former Willow Run bomber plant.

Jason Buchanan is a writer, father, and film fanatic living and working in Ann Arbor.
 

Acclaimed Espresso Bar changes hands, becomes Literati Coffee

Two years after the Espresso Bar moved from Kerrytown's Braun Court to Literati Bookstore in  downtown Ann Arbor, the much-lauded coffee shop is taking on a new name and ownership.
 
Jess Harmon will manage the renamed Literati Coffee under the supervision of Literati owners Mike and Hilary Gustafson, who now own the coffee shop. Sanford Bledsoe, who originally founded the Espresso Bar on the main floor of the Bar at 327 Braun Court, is no longer involved in the shop. Bledsoe could not be reached for comment.
 
On the surface, much will remain unchanged at the shop. Neither Harmon nor the Gustafsons seem eager to alter the shop's winning formula, which earned it a spot on "Cosmopolitan"'s list of America's best coffee shops earlier this year.
 
But watchful regulars may indeed notice improvements that the trio hopes will help integrate the once-separate spaces into a cohesive whole. Harmon says that having the same owner preside over both the coffee shop and the bookstore "opens up a world of possibilities."
 
"Everything just seems to be running a bit smoother now that we have the ability to pay attention where we should overlap," Harmon says.
 
Harmon notes that the shop's long-standing barista is now working with the bookstore itself in a building manager capacity, making it easier to smooth out labor issues and assist with the store's events team.
 
For now, the focus will be on making the shop's event space more inviting and establishing a more consistent means of quality control behind the scenes. In the months ahead, customers can anticipate more coffee-focused events like a latte throwdown – where baristas compete to create the best latte foam art – coming this January. Harmon will use coffee roasted by Stove Top Coffee owner and area newcomer Steve Holm for that event, aiming to foster a sense of community among the region's roasters, baristas, and coffee lovers.

Jason Buchanan is a writer, father, and film fanatic living and working in Ann Arbor.

Photo courtesy of Literati Coffee.
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