Innovation & Job News

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NewFoundry makes Inc. 5000 list, mulls move out of Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor software firm NewFoundry has made the 2017 Inc. 5000, Inc. magazine's list of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S.

 

NewFoundry ranked 1,347, with a current revenue of $2.2 million and a three-year revenue growth of 302.9 percent. The company analyzes needs and then creates software and mobile apps for companies in a variety of industries. Clients include the University of Michigan and firms such as Club Car/Ingersoll Rand, Renesas Electronics Corporation, ROUSH Performance, and Sea Ray/Brunswick.

 

In a 2015 interview with Concentrate, NewFoundry CEO Richard Chang said the company's goal was to double its revenue each year, and as of 2017, Chang says that is "working out quite nicely."

 

Chang says that doesn't necessarily mean all the growth is in cash. Sometimes NewFoundry takes a "slice of ownership" in other companies in exchange for their services, he says.

 

While the Inc. 5000 list focuses purely on revenue, NewFoundry is also growing in other ways. NewFoundry's staff has increased from 15 to 19 over the past two years, and Chang says the company is currently trying to hire even more, as it needs more engineers on staff.

 

The company celebrates its fifth anniversary in September, and Chang says he's not sure what another five years will bring for the company, but it will have to be forward-thinking and open to change. He says he expects his company to become more deeply involved with providing software for autonomous vehicle technology and newer energy technology like wind power.

 

Currently located at 1950 Manchester Rd., Chang says he is worried NewFoundry will outgrow its space and be unable to stay in Ann Arbor.

 

"We've done quite a bit to try to stay in Ann Arbor and be a part of the community here," Chang says. In 2015, he considered moving the company to Ypsilanti, but then lucked into finding the current space.

 

"We really wanted to stay in Ann Arbor and support the town that allowed us to grow to the level we are at now, but the space problem in Ann Arbor really needs to be tackled," Chang says.

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.

 

Photo courtesy of Richard Chang.


Detroit entrepreneur brings 20 small business pop-ups to Briarwood Mall

A popular small business pop-up event that's attracted thousands of visitors in Detroit is making its way to Ann Arbor.

 

The All Things Detroit pop-up will take place Aug. 18-20 at Briarwood Mall, 100 Briarwood Circle in Ann Arbor. Jennyfer Crawford, a Detroit entrepreneur and owner of consulting firm Ask Jennyfer, is organizing the event. It will feature about 20 small businesses from around metro Detroit, showcasing everything from homemade ceramics to T-shirts. This will be Crawford's first such event outside the city of Detroit.

 

"Ann Arbor is a different bank of customers, and it'll help these small businesses build more brand awareness," Crawford says.

 

Crawford says she held her first All Things Detroit events about four years ago in her one-bedroom apartment, but they quickly grew too big for that venue. She moved into Detroit's Eastern Market, at first filling up one shed. After two years, she expanded to rent out the entire market with 250 vendors and more than 12,000 visitors.

 

Crawford says she thinks Ann Arbor, with its love of funky shops and art fairs, will be a good fit for the handmade products on sale at the event. It's also a trial run for expanding All Things Detroit into other areas, including Brooklyn, N.Y., later this year.

 

Visitors to the August event can use an "e-punch system" or a sort of virtual loyalty card through the All Things Detroit mobile app to win prizes and get discounts.

 

Crawford says she reached out to several small businesses in the Ann Arbor area but none had signed up to vend at the event as of early August. Small business owners from Washtenaw County interested in vending during the Briarwood event may reach Crawford at 877-873-5307 or through the Ask Jennyfer website.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
Photos courtesy of All Things Detroit.

Swedish software company aims to expand Ann Arbor presence

Modelon, a Swedish-based software company with an office in Ann Arbor, is finding success with a "bottom-up" approach that allows everyone to bring innovative ideas to the table.

 

Modelon was started about nine years ago, and today the company's global operations now employ about 75 people across Europe, Asia, and the U.S. The company creates software tools for "virtual engineering" for a variety of industries.

 

"Back in the day, you'd build a prototype and test it, and then go back and build a new prototype, and that got to be pretty costly and time-consuming," says David Higbie, Modelon's chief commercial officer. "Using technology like ours, engineers can test out lots of different ideas virtually on a desktop computer, then fine-tune design decisions before they even go to prototyping."

 

Modelon expanded its footprint into the U.S. with an Ann Arbor office about four years ago. Currently, Modelon's office at 24 Frank Lloyd Wright Dr. in Domino's Farms has five on staff, but Higbie says he hopes to add three more Ann Arbor staffers within a year or two.

 

He says Ann Arbor made sense as the U.S. hub for Modelon in part because it's a great place to live but also because it's in an automotive technology hub, and the automotive industry is a big part of Modelon's customer base.

 

"The types of employees we're looking for are hard to find," Higbie says. "They have to have the right technology, engineering, and software development background, and Ann Arbor is a great place to find those people."

 

The company recently wrapped up a summer event called One Modelon that brings employees from all over the globe to Sweden, a tradition that dates back to when Modelon was founded.

 

"Back when everyone was in Sweden, you could just talk to someone across the hall, but as the company has grown, they have maintained the commitment to bringing the entire company together as a way to get face-to-face time and building company culture and trust," Higbie says.

 

That is just one facet of Modelon's "bottom-up" corporate culture.

 

"Our culture is one where people are really encouraged to test new ideas on their own," Higbie says. "You have an opportunity to do a ton of different things based on your own personal interests and where you can make a contribution."

 

While employees have flexibility in how they work, the company still keeps a "pretty tight control" on its objectives with a focus on "over-delivering" to the customer, Higbie says.

 

"It's exciting to be in this industry bringing something unique in terms of both the culture and the technology we've developed," Higbie says.

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 Modelon.


Summer internship program pairs students with local startups, expert mentors

A digital marketing summer internship program that connects students with both local startups and expert marketing mentors will graduate its latest class of interns today.

 

Now in its third year, the Digital Summer Clinic Internship Program is a partnership between Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) Center for Digital Engagement and Ann Arbor SPARK. This year's program gave paid internships to 24 student interns out of an applicant pool of 79. The program runs for nine weeks each summer, pairing students with startups that need help with digital marketing.

 

Origins of the internship program

 

Bud Gibson, director for the Center for Digital Engagement, runs the summer clinic program and says it grew out of an earlier partnership with Google and local nonprofits, started in 2008.

 

"We started training students in digital marketing and then we'd pair the students with nonprofit organizations, and they'd help those organizations build out Google AdWords accounts," Gibson says.

 

Gibson says the program "evolved substantially," and in 2015 organizers decided to put together the Center for Digital Engagement. They brought SPARK into the partnership, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation funded the first two years of the internship program through a grant.

 

Kimberly Brown, senior marketing manager at Ann Arbor's Duo Security, was involved in the earlier iteration of the program and came back this summer to serve as a mentor in residence.

 

Teachers and advisors reach out to recruit students, and there is a social media campaign to encourage applications as well. SPARK contributes by recruiting the startups who participate.

 

Win-win for startups and students

 

Gibson says the interns "are bringing value directly to the company," and the students, in turn, get hands-on experience applying the lessons they learned in their college courses.

 

Students primarily come from EMU and Washtenaw Community College, but the social media campaign brings in participants from Michigan State University and the University of Michigan as well.

 

Students who apply for the program aren't just marketing majors. They come into the program with majors ranging from computer science to public relations to digital art. They use their skills to help startups with everything from creating blog posts to updating Facebook or Instagram accounts to revamping company websites.

 

"They are not only bringing tangible skills, like building a landing page for the company's website, but they're also developing networking skills and refining their own online presence to increase the chances of landing a job after this," Brown says.

 

Weekly coaching sessions

 

An important component of the program is a weekly "clinic," in which the students must talk about what projects they've been working on and get suggestions and advice. Industry experts are also brought in to give talks or do panel discussions.

 

"The interns get the sort of coaching most people don't get in their day-to-day work at their jobs," Brown says.

 

Nicole Raymond interned in the program and managed the program's PR and digital media efforts this summer.

 

She was paired up with Ann Arbor startup TrueJob, which has created a new approach to job hunting. Raymond's internship involved producing blog posts and updating the company's social media accounts.

 

She says she appreciated getting hands-on experience with the digital side of marketing since that wasn't covered in any depth in her public relations courses in college. She also is glad that the job taught her more about analytics.

 

"The biggest benefit wasn't a certain skill, but more confidence in myself and my abilities," Raymond says. "In PR, you're not going to get this kind of experience anywhere else, and I've learned skills that other people [coming into their first jobs] won't have."

 

Gibson says confidence-building is a big part of why the weekly clinic is part of the program. He adds that industry experts' involvement as speakers and mentors makes the internship stronger and more robust than other internship programs, where students are thrown into a company to sink or swim.

 

"Kim leads the panel discussion and sources our speakers, and we could not do this without the dedication of skilled executives," Gibson says. "At the Center for Digital Engagement, we're a bunch of professors trying to help students, but we couldn't do it without the rest of the community."

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of Anastasia Bebeshko.


Electric bike company moves from basement operation to Ypsi storefront

H.E.H. Human Electric Hybrids' electric bicycle shop opened just weeks ago in Ypsilanti, but it's already attracted customers from as far as Toronto.

 

The store's owner, Ypsi Township resident Jim Summers, opened his first brick-and-mortar store in mid-July at 25 S. Huron St. after running the business from his basement and garage for several years.
All electric bikes, or e-bikes, can run for at least 10 to 15 miles on a single charge and most of them are capped at 20 mph. Riders don't have to pedal on an e-bike, but pedaling while running the motor helps save the battery.

 

Most of the e-bikes sold at H.E.H. Human Electric Hybrids are factory bikes made by about a dozen other companies, but Summers also builds some of the bikes himself. The shop offers virtually any service relating to both e-bikes and traditional bikes, including conversion, customization, modification, assembly, repairs, tuneups, delivery, and shipment of lithium batteries.

 

Summers has enjoyed riding bikes since he was a kid with a newspaper route. His interest in e-bikes started later in life when he sought out the best way to commute to work after moving into a new home in Ann Arbor, about 20 miles away from his office in Canton. He didn't want to risk sitting in rush hour traffic if he drove a vehicle and he discovered the round trip on a regular bike was too exhausting after a 10-hour work day.

 

Summers bought a small motor to put on his bike, but it didn't work at first and he didn't receive much help with troubleshooting, so he used his background as a control engineer to fix it himself. That's what caused him to begin building e-bikes in the summer of 2012, starting with one for himself, one for his wife, and a third for visitors. He realized there was a demand for e-bikes when people kept asking if they could buy one from him, and he ended up continuously selling his spare bike and building a new one.

 

Summers officially registered his business in early 2013. He and his wife, Kim Mayes, decided to sell their vehicles and buy a company van so they had a way to move bikes around when the business was about a year old. They both try to ride their e-bikes as often as they can instead of driving the van.

 

"For the number of miles we used to drive and the number of miles we've put on the van in three years, we think we've saved 25,000 to 35,000 miles' worth of driving a vehicle by using bikes," Summers says.

 

Summers initially liked e-bikes because they allowed him to get some exercise while commuting to work, but after about a year of building and selling e-bikes, he realized their numerous other benefits, including saving money on gas and reducing the use of fossil fuels. E-bikes also make it possible for people with physical disabilities or impairments to get back on a bike and start riding again.

 

"We've had some people tell us that it's changed their life because they used to love biking so much, but got to a certain age [and] couldn't do it anymore because of an injury or whatever," he says. "But then, once they found e-bikes, they can get back out with their spouse or with their family and do the biking they used to do."

Brianna Kelly is the embedded reporter 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.

 

Duo Security partners with VMware to improve cybersecurity for employees working remotely

"Bring your own device" is all the rage these days, as employees use their own laptops and tablets in a variety of locations in and outside their actual workplaces. But that can also be a big headache for IT departments.

 

"Employees want to work on vacation or from their mother's house or Starbucks, and that's great from a productivity perspective," says Ash Devata, vice president of products for Ann Arbor-based Duo Security. "On the other hand, the IT team wants control, and they need to make sure everyone is complying with regulations related to collecting credit cards or sensitive HR information."

 

That's where a new partnership between Duo and VMware comes in. At the beginning of August Duo released its Trusted Endpoints feature for mobile devices, integrating VMware's digital workspace platform, VMware Workspace ONE.

 

Devata says the technology allows an IT team to set up a policy that allows access to a website menu or database with the employee's personal device, but employees must use their company-issued devices if they want access to a critical application that has HR or credit card data.

 

"It's becoming a trend in how people run a company to give employees freedom to work from wherever they want, but with freedom comes responsibility," Devata says.

 

Devata says Duo started hearing about VMware from their established clients about 18 months ago.

 

"They were telling us they used VMware to manage their devices and use Duo products to inspect anything coming into their applications to see if it was a trusted user or device," Devata says.

 

The clients suggested that Duo and VMware talk to each other about integrating the two platforms. After a few engineering conversations with VMware's team, Duo Security did just that, and they already have several customers using the integrated product just one week after launch.

 

Devata says that while the new product can help with cybersecurity, employees shouldn't neglect basic security measures. Simple steps like creating secure passwords and updating software with security patches are still the first line of defense, he says.

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of Duo Security.


Military members can now converse with their bank accounts, thanks to Ann Arbor company

United Services Automobile Association (USAA) members are now able to converse with their bank accounts, thanks to a 90-day pilot program with Ann Arbor-based artificial intelligence (AI) company Clinc.

 

Clinc was founded in 2015 by Jason Mars and Lingjia Tang, both University of Michigan professors specializing in AI and systems research. The company revealed its AI financial assistant, Finie, last fall.

 

USAA is a major institution offering a variety of financial services, but many people aren't aware of it since it serves military members, says Clinc CEO Mars. Mars says working with USAA is a great fit because the financial institution is consistently ranked No. 1 in customer service and satisfaction.

 

"That's going to give us a lot of credibility when it comes to having a great customer experience in the industry," Mars says.

 

As part of the pilot program, Clinc's technology has been integrated with Amazon's Alexa, a virtual personal assistant.

 

"The Alexa device is translating speech to text, and then that text goes to our AI brain," says Mars. "Our A.I. does the work from there, and the natural language understanding and reasoning happens in our stack, and then sends the response out to Alexa."

 

Clinc's technology is like no previous chatbot or virtual assistant because it is able to process natural human language. Existing chatbots follow a script, asking what you want to do, then what account you want to change and other iterative steps. In contrast, Clinc's AI understands natural human language, so you can give multiple commands in one sentence, such as: "Change the withdrawal limit in my checking account to $500 and have that end after two months."

 

Mars says that just a few days after launching the pilot program, many users have signed up and report being "delighted" about the experience so far. Clinc will use the pilot program to learn more about how customers want to use it so the company can tweak its product before a wider launch to all USAA members, Mars says.

 

Mars adds that Clinc expects to announce more partnerships in a few months, including institutions that are likely to be more familiar household names than USAA.
Interested in learning more about Clinc? Join Concentrate for a High Growth Happy Hour featuring Jason Mars and fellow Ann Arbor entrepreneur Christina York on Aug. 23 at Ann Arbor SPARK. For more details and to RSVP, click here.

 

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


Jason Mars photo by Doug Coombe. Finie screenshots courtesy of Clinc.

New craft brewery and tasting room opens on Ann Arbor's south side

A new craft brewery and tasting room run by two local teachers, Pileated Brewing Co., has opened at 2290 Industrial Highway in Ann Arbor.

 

Andrew Collins and Jay Howe were shooting for an early June opening, but red tape held them up for several weeks. The two opened their doors to the public on Thursday, Aug. 3.

 

Both co-owners had experience with home brewing before they met at Huron High School. They started attending Ann Arbor Brewers Guild meetings and hatched an idea to create a very small microbrewery. They named it Pileated Brewing, after the woodpeckers of the same name, because the two owners are both redheads like the birds.

 

Because the two are keeping their teaching jobs as well as doing all the work from brewing to pouring at the tasting room, their hours are limited: 5-10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

 

"We'll probably expand the hours as we go," Howe says. "We might start by having later hours on Saturday and see how that goes." The co-owners say they will also tweak their hours to accommodate pre-game sales for tailgating when University of Michigan games are on.

 

Howe and Collins say they aren't overly concerned about setting themselves apart in the microbrew scene.

 

"Craft beer is still very strong," Howe says. "Everybody always wants new beer."

 

The menu currently consists of a couple of IPAs, a porter, a stout, and a red beer. They say they like to create recipes based on "the drinking experience" rather than trying to imitate certain popular styles of beer. For instance, "The Morrigan" is a smoky red beer that defies categories.

 

"It's not a Scotch ale, and it's not red ale, but more of a hybrid," Collins says. "It's one of our most talked-about beers, and we're selling a lot of it. People are feeling us."

 

Pileated Brewing's tasting room can only accommodate 35 people, but that's because Collins and Howe's focus is on having their beers distributed at local markets, rather than running a full-scale tap room. No food is served aside from a few packaged foods like popcorn, though patrons are invited to bring in their own takeout.

 

Collins says he and Howe have talked to local Whole Foods and Plum Market stores about carrying Pileated brews, and Lucky's market and some local party stores have shown an interest in carrying the brand.

 

The two say that in the future they are hoping to get a license for outdoor seating and to run some educational events, such as having an outside caterer bring in food and teaching customers how to pair beer with food.

 

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

 

Photos by Sarah Rigg.


U-M student named to national list of innovative young people in manufacturing

A 19-year-old University of Michigan (U-M) student is the youngest person named to Manufacturing Engineering magazine's 2017 list of notable young people in the manufacturing field.

 

The magazine's annual "30 Under 30" list honors young people in the manufacturing field who show initiative and innovation, set high goals and meet them, have experience working the shop floor, and give back by encouraging young people to pursue STEM education and manufacturing as a viable career choice.

 

Joshua Cukier, who was the recipient of an SME Education Foundation Scholarship, already had experience with his high school's robotics team before arriving at U-M. Once at U-M, he picked up hands-on experience with computer-aided design programs as a member of the Human-Machine Interface subdivision of the Michigan Formula One Hybrid Racing Team (MHybrid).

 

Cukier says he is interested in both reforming the old-fashioned image that manufacturing has and in pushing the boundaries of conventional manufacturing processes.

 

"I'd like to see more younger people getting into manufacturing and being innovative," Cukier says.

 

He says that technologies like autonomous vehicles or artificial intelligence get a lot of press, but what many don't realize is that manufacturing techniques have to be updated to support these new technologies.

 

"As those evolve, the mechanical components that make that a reality must be created new as well," Cukier says.

 

Cukier is currently in his second summer as a manufacturing engineering intern at Falcon Lakeside Manufacturing in Stevensville, Mich., a supplier of die-cast parts. Cukier says that, as an intern, he's been given latitude to experiment and come up with new models and layouts, study industrial robotics, and develop a plan for automating work sequences (called "machining cells") usually done by hand.

 

Cukier says he is interested in how both robotics and additive manufacturing (also known as 3-D printing) technologies can be pushed even further in manufacturing.

 

"In the past 3-D printing has been a bit of a novelty, but it's getting to the point now that it's more feasible to use it with fewer defects," he says.

 

Robotics in manufacturing is nothing new, but Cukier says he thinks more flexible robots that can be easily and quickly reprogrammed and moved around factory floors will revolutionize the industry.

 

Cukier says one of the best things about a career in manufacturing is seeing components or processes you designed being used out in the real world.

 

"The biggest thing is seeing the impact of what you've made in everyday life," he says. "At Falcon, we're making little pieces for electric car batteries, and when I see a Volt go by, I can say, 'I helped with that.'"

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of Joshua Cukier.


U-M invests $600,000 in advanced transportation technologies

A radar system for autonomous cars and a 3-D printer that prints electrical wires are among seven projects that recently received a total $600,000 in investment from the University of Michigan (U-M).

 

The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Innovation Hub for Advanced Transportation (MTRAC) awarded $100,000 grants to five technologies, and two more received $50,000 each. That's up from a total of four projects that received MTRAC funding last year.

 

Eric Petersen, U-M MTRAC program director, says the program's oversight committee of industry experts make funding decisions based on the perceived risk and value of each project. Sometimes project leaders are asked to address the committee's concerns before being awarded an additional amount. The two technologies that received the lesser amounts will have the chance to get an additional $50,000 after reaching specific milestones set for them by the committee.

 

A high-frequency radar technology for autonomous vehicles was one of the projects receiving $100,000. Radar is able to see through rain and bad weather, Petersen says, and at highway speeds this technology would give an autonomous car more time to see and react to obstacles.

 

Another technology receiving $100,000 deposits diamond-like coatings onto cylinder bores to reduce friction in engines and, as a result, reduce fuel consumption. While the six other technologies came from U-M, this project came from Michigan State University's Fraunhofer Center for Coatings and Diamond Technologies, a collaboration between the university and the German government.

 

A third technology involves building complex electrical assemblies with 3-D printing. The technology can print wires made of conducting material on the same printing head as plastic parts.

 

"This is going to change the way that parts are designed," Petersen says.

 

A fourth technology makes wireless power transfer in electric vehicles more efficient and flexible, Petersen says. Technology already exists to charge electric cars wirelessly, but these chargers can be fussy if the car isn't positioned just right.

 

"This technology can allow for different distances from the charging base to the bottom of the car, and different alignments," Petersen says. "It allows for lots of variability while still getting high efficiency."

 

The final technology receiving $100,000 is Your Own Planner, a travel planning search engine that is more flexible and provides lower-cost and more efficient itineraries.

 

"Instead of defining dates and locations, the technology asks for motivations, intentions, and constraints, and then develops a few different options for the user," Petersen says.

 

One of the projects receiving $50,000 is technology related to enhanced object recognition in robotics. Some robots use a laser to make a cloud of all the objects around their sensors, Petersen says.

 

"This proposal is an improvement on this method, so you get more information from the laser about what it bounces off of and back to," he says.

 

The second project receiving $50,000 is a system that improves the ability of autonomous vehicles to sense and interpret large amounts of data in real time while also consuming less power. The new technology compares and consolidates information from several different types of sensors, which reduces the computing load.

 

"There might be a bike that the radar sees, and a camera sees, and a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sees. This technology compares that information quickly, and when the sensors all agree, the computer tracks it as a bike rather than as three different sets of data," Petersen says.

 

More information about the program and past awardees is available at the MTRAC website.

 

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


Eric Petersen photo courtesy of Eric Petersen. Mcity photo by Doug Coombe.

DROUGHT juice opens Ann Arbor location after years of planning

The founders of DROUGHT, a Royal Oak-based cold-pressed raw juice company, always meant to open a location in Ann Arbor, but it wasn't until this July that they finally felt the time was right.

 

"We've always been quite interested in the Ann Arbor market," says Julie James, one of four sisters who founded DROUGHT a little over five years ago. "It's always been on our radar because the Ann Arbor crowd really embraces wellness."

 

The juice company now has two locations in Royal Oak, one in Plymouth, one in Detroit, one in Bloomfield Hills, and now a sixth location at 204 E. Washington in Ann Arbor, which opened for business July 14.

 

Ann Arbor's Wednesday night farmers market was one of the first places the sisters tried out their juices before launching into full-scale production.

 

DROUGHT's first retail location was in Plymouth, and the James sisters expected to expand into Ann Arbor next. However, because they decided to use a space in Ferndale for production, James says it made more sense to expand into the Detroit suburbs first, especially since the sisters were initially transporting juices using cooler packs.

 

"Since we got refrigerator trucks, it's now easier to expand further away from our production space," James says.

 

In addition to cold, bottled juices now available at the Ann Arbor store, this autumn the sisters will add a line of curated wellness products, such as supplements and hand and body lotions, James says.

 

James says she expects DROUGHT to catch on quickly in Ann Arbor, because Ann Arbor area residents are "already very educated about the benefits of raw juicing."

 

James says the co-founders do little formal advertising and tend to thrive on word of mouth.

 

"True customer testimonials are our best resource," she says. "It can be an emotional purchase to spend that much on yourself, $10 for a bottle of juice, but that's because it takes three to five pounds of organic produce to make one bottle. We're not out there trying to convince anyone, but they'll often hear about it from a friend who recommends us."

 

James says DROUGHT is currently in the process of building out a 15,000-square-foot production facility in Berkley, which will allow the company to expand both its retail operations and its wholesale market. About 30 markets around the Midwest carry DROUGHT juices, but James says the company will be able to expand into many more markets when the production facility remodel is done.


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

Ziggy's hybrid cafe, bar, and music venue set for soft opening in Ypsi

A chalkboard reading, "I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring," has been sitting in the window of the downtown Ypsilanti storefront at 206 W. Michigan Ave. for months as its owners have worked to set up their hybrid cafe, bar, and performance venue.

 

The David Bowie quote is an apt sentiment for Ziggy's ahead of its soft opening on Aug. 4 to coincide with First Fridays Ypsilanti. Some behind-the-scenes work still needs to be done on the business' bar and venue side, but Ziggy's doors will be open Friday evening so visitors can see how the space has transformed and get a taste of what the cafe portion will be like.

 

Ziggy's owners David and Jo Jeffries and cafe manager Kristina Ouellette are eager to finally be able to offer a new space for people to hang out while listening to live music and enjoying a caffeinated or alcoholic beverage and a bite to eat. The trio is still working on getting a liquor license and finalizing the menu, so for now Ziggy's will only offer light food and coffee drinks made with Hyperion Coffee Company beans, but it will still stay open later than a traditional cafe.

 

"I want [it to be] a cute place where you can take your friends, or take a date, or take your parents even," Ouellette says. "Just a new, cool place to go."

 

The driving force behind Ziggy's was David Jeffries' longtime dream of owning a venue where he could regularly host concerts in an effort to support local musicians, especially those who have an alternative sound. He hopes to eventually book about five performances per week once Ziggy's has its liquor license.

 

David Jeffries says he chose to name his business Ziggy's in honor of David Bowie because Bowie has always been his "gateway drug into the avant-garde and more left field of music."

 

Ziggy's interior vibe screams video game culture, with its colorful decor, comic book-inspired artwork, and arcade games – including Pachinko machines from David Jeffries' personal collection – on display throughout the space. The games won't be the focus of Ziggy's, but they'll be "part of the fun," says Jo Jeffries.

 

The trio plans to host a proper grand opening in the coming weeks.

 

"It takes a lot of organization to rock 'n' roll," David Jeffries says.


Brianna Kelly is the embedded reporter 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.

Ypsi business owners team up to host networking events for fellow entrepreneurs

Two young Ypsilanti entrepreneurs are teaming up to host community business mixers in an effort to create and strengthen relationships between current and aspiring entrepreneurs in Ypsi.

 

Deonta Doss, owner of Friends Closet, and Olisa Thompson, owner of MAX Marie, will host their second community business mixer at Friends Closet, 731 W. Cross St., on July 27 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Those who attend the event will have the chance to mingle with other local entrepreneurs, introduce themselves and their businesses, and receive advice from Ylondia Portis, owner of BrandHrt Consulting, Digital Insights, and Strategy.

 

Doss says the goal of the event is to "bridge the gap" between existing business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, and "to bring everyone together in Ypsilanti."

 

Thompson says one of her favorite parts of the community business mixers is getting to meet "the person behind the business."

 

"As an entrepreneur from around here, I want to meet new people who are likeminded and are interested in entrepreneurship, getting advice, connecting, and networking," she says.

 

At the first community business mixer at Friends Closet on March 30, about 30 attendees had the chance to meet and exchange contact information with local officials and entrepreneurs, including the owners of Cultivate Coffee and Tap House, Maiz Mexican Cantina, and the Jamerican Grill food truck. Doss says many of those who attended the inaugural mixer were friends of his.

 

"They came out to support me and in return, they met a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs," Doss says.

 

Doss and Thompson plan to host a community business mixer every few months. They eventually hope to bring the event to other local businesses.

 

Friends Closet also hosts many other events, including art shows, concerts, independent movie screenings, listening parties, open mics, and brand launches.

 

"Friends Closet has definitely provided a space and a vibe where people can come and express their art, whether it’s clothing, fashion, poetry, food, [or] music," Thompson says.


Brianna Kelly is the embedded reporter 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.

Deonta Doss and Olisa Thomspon photo by Brianna Kelly. Mixer photos courtesy of Nick Azzaro.

 

Ann Arbor's EyeSucceed partners with Google Glass on food industry application

Ann Arbor-based EyeSucceed, an NSF company, has formally partnered with Google to come up with new applications for Google Glass in the food safety industry.

 

NSF has been providing audits of food service operations on Google campuses across the country for several years, as it does for numerous other companies. Since February 2015, EyeSucceed has been working directly with the Glass team to pilot food-industry applications of Glass, including remote food safety and quality audits.

 

"At NSF, we do over 150,000 food safety audits around the globe every year," says Tom Chestnut, co-founder of EyeSucceed and senior vice president of food at NSF. "One thing we realized was that the food safety picture is one that hasn't changed much in the last 20 to 25 years."

 

Back in 2013 the buggy first iteration of Google's hands-free assisted reality Glass device raised privacy concerns, and the product launch is generally considered a public relations disaster for Google. But over the last few years, a prototype for the new Glass Enterprise Edition has been in the works at X, a subsidiary of Google's parent company, Alphabet. The new version of Glass and Google's partnership with EyeSucceed were announced the same week in mid-July.

 

EyeSucceed uses Glass as a platform to monitor food employees in real time as they follow step-by-step requirements to complete job tasks, alerting them when they make a mistake and displaying corrective action. Information from these sessions can be uploaded to the cloud, and analysis of the collected data can lead to improvements in the process.

 

Chestnut says that soon after starting the pilot food inspection project with Google, NSF realized the newly-revised technology had the potential for "great applications" both within NSF and across many types of industries. For instance, an employee in the U.S. can monitor the work going on in another country without having to send an employee to physically oversee operations in dangerous, war-torn areas.

 

Glass is already being used in manufacturing, and Chestnut says hardly any planes have been made in the last couple years without using this type of technology.

 

Chestnut says that with the U.S. food industry employing more than 20 million people, there is likely to be a "great benefit" from using the new technology.

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.
Photo courtesy of EyeSucceed.

Saline joins local autonomous vehicle industry with French automaker's arrival

Washtenaw County's reputation as a hub for autonomous vehicle research and development got another boost with the announcement that French company NAVYA will soon begin manufacturing its ARMA autonomous shuttle vehicles at a production plant in Saline.

 

NAVYA's electric ARMA shuttles seat up to 15 people. About 45 of them are in use around the world to date. Eventually, autonomous vehicles may operate on the open road, but currently most applications of the ARMA vehicles are focused on smaller, enclosed areas, such as providing shuttle service in an amusement park or around the campus of a large hospital complex. NAVYA expects the North American market for this type of vehicle to explode in the next three or four decades.

 

NAVYA first became interested in the southeast Michigan region after Ann Arbor SPARK hosted a French mobility delegation in 2015.

 

"They were interested in exploring the U.S. market and were exposed to the stuff happening in Mcity and the American Center for Mobility and generally automotive culture in southeast Michigan," says Phil Santer, senior vice president of business development at SPARK.

 

The city of Saline already has a core of international businesses, including a couple other French companies, and a solid tech business community. Santer says that created a "pretty welcoming atmosphere" for NAVYA.

 

"Places like Saline are hitting above their weight class," Santer says. "There's so much technology and innovation going on, and you don't find such really interesting things going on in another community of similar size somewhere else."

 

The French company wanted to settle somewhere in the greater Ann Arbor area, Santer says, in part because "we have a heritage of having a reliable supply chain for automotive vehicles." NAVYA officials decided that the 20,000-square-foot facility at 1406 E. Michigan Ave. in Saline, formerly warehouse space for American Soy, would best meet their needs.

 

NAVYA is expected to make about $1 million in capital improvements and create about 50 jobs. As a result, the company netted a $435,000 Michigan Business Development grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

 

"This certainly adds to Saline's technology cluster, and we hope this will be a driver and validation point for other international mobility startups to invest in the greater Ann Arbor area and around Michigan," Santer says.


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