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Wireless Ypsi plans to double customer base, expand nationally

Ypsilanti's wireless co-op is becoming the city's wireless startup now that Wireless Ypsi is spreading its wings and picking up customers across Metro Detroit and even the U.S.

Wireless Ypsi started out two years ago when local community activists Steve Pierce and Brian Robb wanted to bring free Wi-Fi to downtown Ypsilanti. The startup now has 100 customers and the service covers large swaths of the city, including downtown, Depot Town, parks along the Huron River, and some neighborhoods. It's also in the process of setting up a wireless network in downtown Clawson and is receiving similar requests from communities, apartment complexes, and businesses across the metro area.

"This is the growth phase," Pierce says. "We're trying to turn it into a full business."

That can be a tricky transition, going from community project to for-profit venture. Wireless Ypsi still provides its services for free to the city of Ypsilanti, including heavily used service at its public housing projects. So far 85,000 unique devices have logged onto the Wireless Ypsi's Meraki-based Wi-Fi network. An average of 1,000 unique devices use it every day, creating another perk that raises the city's quality of life.

"It's a wonderful extra when you can carry your notebook around anywhere and surf the net," says Eric Maurer, a developer and landlord with 100 apartments in Ypsilanti, including 25 downtown. Mark Maynard (Ypsilanti's blogger, puppet debator, and local art baron) calls it "a nice thing to have" that helps showcase the freedom to do new things and turn them into businesses that Ypsilanti offers.

The venture is keeping Pierce, Robb, and a few independent contractors busy right now. They hope to double their customer base within the next year and spread it not only across Metro Detroit but the continent, too, in an effort to make the venture profitable. However, the duo still plans to keep offering Wireless Ypsi free to its hometown.

"We'll give back to our community that we live and work in because we love this place," Pierce says.

Source: Steve Pierce, co-founder of Wireless Ypsi; Eric Maurer, co-owner of Maurer Management; and Mark Maynard, creator of
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

Ypsilanti's RealKidz sells online, plans to hire

RealKidz is changing up its game and getting some points on the board with its new business plan.

The 3-year-old firm, based in Ypsilanti's Depot Town, makes clothing that fits larger children, mainly girls. It started out selling these garments with direct sales,
a la Mary Kay. It has since moved to a primary e-commerce platform after upgrading its website with a proven Internet retailing platform in August.

"We're starting to see some growth from that," says Merrill Guerra, founder and CEO of RealKidz. "We have doubled our website traffic and conversion rate over the last couple of months. It's moving exactly in the direction we were hoping."

The two-person startup, also a former Ann Arbor SPARK East Incubator tenant, is now looking to raise a round of seed capital so it can flesh out its staff and business infrastructure. RealKidz hopes to hires a COO and webmaster, among other positions over the next year, with this capital.

Source: Merrill Guerra, founder and CEO of RealKidz
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

Orange Egg Advertising focuses on quality growth

Amy Grambeau's business, Orange Egg Advertising, is virtual yet real, without a home but run from Ann Arbor.

The advertising solutions company keeps about half a dozen people working; most are independent contractors. T
Six-year-old Orange Egg is run from home computers, which means clients are often greeted by Grambeau's rottweilers when they visit her "office."

"That's why people hire us in this day and age," Grambeau says. "We're lean and mean and virtual. Our customers don't have to pay for a lot of overhead."

Orange Egg Advertising handles efforts ranging from website design to billboards to whole marketing packages. Grambeau was a sales media manager at WDIV in Detroit for 14 years before striking out on her own with a boutique firm. She plans to keep it small for the foreseeable future, maybe adding another 1099 contractor or two in the next year so she can keep tabs on her quality.

"I firmly believe the growth has to be quality and cautious," Grambeau says. "Our growth has to be managed."

Source: Amy Grambeau, director of Orange Egg Advertising
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

First Page Listed goes after search engine optimization business

Casey Stanton is still figuring out exactly what he wants to do with his career, but he knows this much: He wants to be his own boss.

To that end, the Ann Arbor resident, along with fellow recent college grad Benjamin Jenks, has started a search engine optimization company, First Page Listed, this year. The 1-year-old start-up focuses on helping local small businesses make the most of
their customers' Internet searches. First Page Listed guarantees that its clients will make the first page of a Google search or the services are free.

"More and more there is a need for companies to dominate searches to bring in quality traffic," Stanton says.

Stanton, a Michigan State University graduate, got his start in another company's salesforce during the day and bartending at night. It didn't take the 20-something long to figure out that he didn't want to sling cocktails forever, so he started to focus on selling his product online. That led to a focus on Internet marketing over the last three years and the partnership with Jenks. The duo now hope to continue to grow First Page Listed's staff to 3-4 people over the next year and even open up a call center.

Source: Casey Stanton, co-owner of First Page Listed
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

Second to None moves to Kerrytown, plans to hire

Downtown Ann Arbor is becoming increasingly in demand for tech growth companies, with Second to None the latest to make the move to the city's center.

The customer feedback firm is taking over the former Sweet Lorraine's basement location on Detroit Street in Kerrytown, transforming the restaurant space into a raw office workplace with open space and exposed infrastructure. The idea is to have a city center office with a character that can stimulate creativity.

"We have a vision that this will be more than a typical office build out," says Jeff Hall, president of Second to None. "It's going to have more of a loft feel."

The 60-employee company has
a large stable of independent contractors, which has allowed it to move to a smaller space about half the size of its former location. That doesn't mean the 21-year-old firm is downsizing or finished growing. Many of its employees work from home offices and Hall expects to add 3-4 people over the next year with more Internet customer feedback and survey business.

"It’s a new and quickly growing area for us," Hall says.

Source: Jeff Hall, president of Second to None
Writer: Jon Zemke

Dataspace to grow its 1099 workforce

Local companies aren't just growing from hiring employees. Some are making moves by adding independent contractors (commonly called 1099 for their IRS code), such as Ann Arbor's Dataspace.

The downtown-based tech firm, founded in 1994, still has a staff of about 10 people. However, it has augmented its headcount by bringing on a couple of 1099 contractors over the last year. The firm expects to add another 2-5 independent contractors within the next year to help maintain its flexibility for new projects and revenue growth.

"I don't think 20 percent growth this year is out of the question," says Ben Taub, CEO of Dataspace.

Dataspace focuses on tabulating and interpretation of sales numbers and coming up with ways to take advantage of them. It's also working on business intelligence consulting, which is sees as a growing sector in tight economic times.

Source: Ben Taub, CEO of Dataspace
Writer: Jon Zemke

uRefer forecasts 100% revenue and staff growth

It takes three numbers to measure uRefer's year-over-year revenue growth, with double digit staffing increases expected next year.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up is on pace for 100 percent growth in 2010 and expects to double that in 2011. It has added four people this year; staffing levels now stand at 10 employees, four independent contractors, and two interns. It expects to add 10 more positions in 2011. Founder Richard Beedon expects to fuel the company both internally and with new seed capital.

"We will probably close a venture round in 2011," says Beedon.

The 3-year-old uRefer specializes in referrals. It originally helped companies to either set up referral programs or maximize existing ones. Today it has evolved its business model to what Beedon calls "advocate relationship management." The idea is to turn the customers, partners, and overall circles for uRefer's clients into their biggest advocates.

"Our approach is to convert these people into sales and marketing representatives for them," Beedon says.

Source: Richard Beedon, founder of uRefer
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ingenex Digital Marketing grows nationally, plans 50% staff increase

Ingenex Digital Marketing is keeping people busy these days, and it's harnessing Google to help make that happen.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based firm had been more of an Internet advertising and web development pure play in its first few years. In the last year or so, the 5-year-old firm has been basing its growth on search engine optimization and Google Adwords.

"We have been working closely with Google Ann Arbor," says Derek Mehraban, CEO of Ingenex Digital Marketing. "We're looking to grow as a national digital marketing firm."

Ingenex Digital Marketing employs six, plus three interns and three independent contractors. It has hired three people over the last year and expects to add another five more over the next 12 months. It is basing that growth on its increasingly national client roster.

Source: Derek Mehraban, CEO of Ingenex Digital Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

Merit Network scores $69.6M grant to expand broadband in UP

When Merit Network counts the money from the grants it receives, it takes six zeros off the end to make the math easier. The Ann Arbor-based non-profit recently received a $69.6 million federal grant on top of the $33 million federal stimulus grant it received earlier this year.

The latest federal grant (thanks, federal stimulus) will pay for spreading high-speed Internet across Michigan's Upper Peninsula and much of its northern Lower Peninsula. That should add up to 1,000 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure across 29 counties. The idea is to help create more economic opportunity in these rural areas by increasing access to the Internet.

"We're trying to push this economic development into rural areas," says Elwood Downing, vice president of member relations & communications for Merit Network. "We're trying to create that economic benefit across the whole state."

The Ann Arbor-based non-profit manages high-bandwidth communication lines between the major universities in the Midwest, in cities like Ann Arbor, Chicago and Detroit. It has a staff of about 77 people and five interns from the likes of the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. It has hired at least 10 people in the last year and has four positions that are either being filled or are about to be filled.

"We're looking at a minimum of at least six new staff," Downing says. "At least one of them will be a remote commuter from the northern part of the state."

Source: Elwood Downing, vice president of member relations & communications for Merit Network
Writer: Jon Zemke

Local Orbit gets microloan; from harvest to table in hours

Local Orbit is shortening and strengthening local food chain.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based start-up created online software that helps consumers order fresh food directly from local producers. The experience is similar to shopping on Amazon, where the farmer drives the food to a local hub so the buyer can pick up, say, produce within hours of its harvest.

"I saw a lot of fundamental problems and challenges in the food chain," says Erika Block, founder and CEO of Local Orbit. "I saw a way to use interactive technology to solve some of those problems."

Block began cultivating the idea two years ago and really began putting it into practice in 2009. Today, the firm employs three people and creates work for another three independent contractors. She expects to hire 5-7 additional staffers within the next year.

The hiring will take place after Local Orbit finishes proving its concept at pilot sites in Ann Arbor, Richmond, and Brooklyn. The start-up also recently received a microloan from the Michigan Microloan Fund Program to help finish its pilot projects and begin expanding its concept across Michigan. It expects to add a fourth site in Michigan later this year, as part of an expansion plan to tailors its operations to the communities it serves.

"Every community has different needs when it comes to local food systems," Block says. "One size doesn't fit all."

Source: Erika Block, CEO and founder of Local Orbit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Switchback to add positions in Kerrytown

Switchback is growing in Ann Arbor's Kerrytown, thanks to new projects with name-brand technology firms.

The company has partnered with HealthMedia (Yes, that HealthMedia) to launch a website. It's also working with Weather Underground (the weather website jokingly named after the 1960s fringe group) on a joint project handling the national firm's Drupal work.

"In college I did a lot of work for them," says Mike Monan, co-founder and problem solver at Switchback. "Now they're in the same building. It was like, 'Hey, guys. How are you doing?' in the halls. Now we are managing their Drupal system for them."

Switchback recently hired two engineers and is in the market for a salesperson. That leaves its workforce at about 11 people. Monan expects to add at least one more engineer in the next year as the company continues to expand its customer base. It utilizes a Drupal programming platform to create software that helps businesses better manage their websites without needing IT departments or in-house experts.  

"We have seen increasing demand for the product," Monan says. "It's been a nice surprise."

Monan and Stephen Colson started Switchback not long after meeting at a local Drupal Users Group meeting in 2007. Switchback utilized local programs, such as Ann Arbor SPARK's Entrepreneur's Boot Camp, to help grow the company from the two partners working on their kitchen tables to one of downtown Ann Arbor's promising start-ups.

Source: Mike Monan, co-founder and problem solver with Switchback
Writer: Jon Zemke

Netflix of babywear founder is finalist for College Entrepreneur of the Year

Bebaroo is a unique start-up that bills itself as the NetFlix of used baby clothes, with a not-so-unique driving force. One of its founders is about to become a father.

Luis Calderon and Allen Kim became intrigued with the idea after Kim's aunt gave birth and bought a boatload of clothes and accessories that her baby outgrew in short order. The pair of University of Michigan students began researching the idea of selling these gently used baby clothes over the net. When Calderon's wife became pregnant, that lit a fire under the entrepreneurs to find an answer for the expensive proposition of raising a child.

"At first when you have the baby you get excited and buy all of this stuff," Calderon says. "Then you say, 'Holy crap! What am I doing?'"

The Ann Arbor-based firm is creating its pilot website and has 70 people who have already signed up to buy and sell baby clothes and other products on it. The 2-month-old start-up expects to grow to 2,000-3,000 users within a year and begin raising seed capital early next year. It expects to hire 10-20 people as it sets up a warehouse and logistical operations.

"We're off to the races," Calderon says.

Bebaroo is a catchy version of the word Bebary, which means 'To give nice things to children'. Kim is one of five finalists in the running to become Entrepreneur magazine's 2010 College Entrepreneur of the Year.

Source: Luis Calderon, co-founder of Bebaroo
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor's Buycentives enters auto incentive market

Conventional wisdom dictates that a company whose business model is based on automotive sales would not have done well over the last year or two. Buycentives is not that kind of firm.

"Even in the downturn we have gotten a lot of interest because our product allows them to spend their marketing dollars more effectively," says David Goldschmidt, co-founder of Buycentives.

The 1-year-old start-up housed in Ann Arbor SPARK's downtown incubator specializes in making sense of this big, bloated morass of incentives for both sellers and buyers. Its software lets automakers target small groups or even individual consumers with the right incentives, helping auto manufacturers eliminate inefficiencies in the buyer incentive pool.

Buycentives has spent the last year introducing its principal product to the market and is readying it for other types of Internet sales leads. The 3-person firm expects to hire a few sales people to facilitate its growth over the next year.

"We have made significant progress," Goldschmidt says. "We're gaining some traction with local car companies and dealership groups."

Source: David Goldschmidt, co-founder of Buycentives
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ypsilanti's LookInTheAttic hires 2, looking for interns

LookInTheAttic is a small miracle in downtown Ypsilanti. Small because it's a small-but-growing business in the city's center; miracle because it's a small-but-growing business that is firmly rooted in the housing sector.

The store specializes in selling antique reproduction hardware and housewares both at its storefront and online where most of its sales (about 85 percent) are made. It also owns and operates Silver & Gold, an online jewelry store.

"Our sales are solid," says John Coleman, president of LookInTheAttic. "This July will be our best July ever."

The 13-year-old company has been able to hire two people over the last year, expanding its staff to 11, with three independent contractors. It's also looking for a few good interns. LookInTheAttic achieved this growth by continuing to expand its product base and finding smarter, leaner ways to manufacture those products. For instance, it found that the same brass plate can be used to create four different products, such as a push plate or a door knob. Coleman credits this mass customization idea to the likes of Dell Computers.

"It works a lot of different ways," Coleman says. "By doing it smartly like that we can reduce our inventory and use that to grow."

LookInTheAttic expects to continue to experience 10 percent revenue growth over the next few years. That should allow it to add another employee or two within the next year.

Source: John Coleman, president of LookInTheAttic
Writer: Jon Zemke

ICON Creative Technologies Group plans for 20% growth

ICON Creative Technologies Group is literally growing into its new home on the outskirts of downtown Ann Arbor, hiring four new people over the last year.

The interactive marketing agency moved to the former second home of the Ann Arbor Art Center last year. It now has a staff of 25 people and a handful of independent contractors focusing on Internet marketing for firms in the bio-tech, automotive, and service industries.

"We're doing well," says Rob Cleveland, CEO of ICON Creative Technologies Group. "The year is going pretty much as planned."

The 15-year-old company is focusing on a hybrid of 20 percent organic growth and mergers/acquisitions to expand its business over the next year.

"Our top priority is people in the business development field," Cleveland says.

Source: Rob Cleveland, CEO of ICON Creative Technologies Group
Writer: Jon Zemke
185 Internet Articles | Page: | Show All