Detroit Startups and UpTo Raise Key Financing Rounds

Detroit’s nascent tech scene got another boost with the announcement today that, an online business referral platform that relocated to the Motor City from San Francisco last year, has closed a fundraising round worth $2.3 million.

Nathan Labenz, Stik’s co-founder, says that the round was led by Detroit Venture Partners (DVP) with a host of other funds and angel investors participating, including North Coast Technology Investors, Automation Alley, the First Step Fund, and Tim Draper, managing director of the San Francisco firm DFJ.

“We had a view that [the financing round] was going to happen when we moved here,” Labenz says. “DVP was committed, but they still had to work to go after other investors. Fundraising has been a big effort, and we’re glad to have that chapter closed. Now we’re focused on building the best possible product and the best possible team.”

Labenz says Stik, which will be up to 11 employees in a matter of weeks, also relaunched its product a few days ago. It now works on laptops, desktops, tablets, and phones, and Labenz says it has a new design that combines the company’s “historically left-brain,” data-heavy approach with an attractive layout. “People wanted something that was easy to use on the go, and we’ve met that demand,” he explains.

Stik is now completely integrated with Facebook’s timeline view, and the company has eliminated features that weren’t working, such as an industry-specific breaking news feed. “Nobody used that portion of the site, so we killed that,” Labenz notes. “We’re not a news site; that’s not what people come to us for.”

What Stik has continued to refine, Labenz explains, is the ability to tell a story persuasively. Stik offers its users a way to leverage their Facebook networks to ask for and give recommendations for local professional services like lawyers, realtors, or insurance agents. It’s free for both consumers and service providers, though there is a premium version available to service providers for a fee, which is where most of Stik’s revenue comes from. “It’s the online version of the time-tested way of asking friends which local professional they recommend,” Labenz told Xconomy in September, shortly after the company moved to Detroit. “Before Stik, that hadn’t come online in any meaningful way. Because we use the Facebook platform, it makes the process much easier and faster.”

Labenz is thrilled so far with the reception Stik has gotten from the local startup community. He admits that he was perhaps a bit less confident about the move than his quotes at the time suggested. He was worried that he and his co-founder, Jay Gierak, might be seen as carpet-baggers—Silicon Valley hot shots who expected to parachute into town and dominate the scene. “We’re really, really excited about Detroit,” he adds. “Everybody has been really helpful. There’s a sense that there’s enough air for everybody to breathe, and the community support is much stronger. In San Francisco, the level of competition is such that people are usually only watching out for themselves.”

In fact, it was Labenz who clued me in to the recent fundraising milestone achieved by UpTo, another startup based in the Dan Gilbert-owned Madison Building (pictured above) in downtown Detroit. Greg Schwartz, UpTo’s founder and CEO, confirms that the company recently completed a Series A round worth $1.5 million. DVP led the round and Ludlow Ventures, which also calls the Madison Building home, participated. Schwartz says the round will be kept open for another 60 days to accommodate an additonal investor who is interested in coming aboard.

UpTo, which aims to eliminate the “future void” in mobile calendars by making them shareable on social networks, says the company’s growth since launching last year has exceeded expectations. The team now has nine full-time employees, with another four expected to be added throughout the year.

After successfully incorporating an events stream feature through a partnership with the British shopping center Westfield during the Olympics, Schwartz says UpTo is focused on expanding that offering. Companies now have the ability to create a shareable events stream in UpTo that fans can join and track. “We’re doubling down on streams,” he adds. “We’re really going deeper with our [business to business] strategy.”

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