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Code ReConnect graduates first class of new IT pros

The first crop of graduates have been harvested from Automation Alley's newest IT development program, Code ReConnect.

Code ReConnect is a training program that helps people transition into careers in the IT and software sectors. The program, held at Oakland Community College's M-TEC building in Auburn Hills, includes courses on computer programming and web and app development. Graduates receive Microsoft Certified Professional certification after 120 hours of classroom instruction and 64 hours of hands-on lab time.

The first class graduated eight people. So far two of them have landed positions and the other six are interviewing for jobs. Automation Alley is working with Kelly Services to provide participants with access to employment opportunities with local tech companies through a six-month paid mentorship program. Among the participating companies are Digerati, CDH and Altair Engineering.

"It allows them to try out an employee before committing to permanent employment," says Alysia Green, director of talent development at Automation Alley.

The costs for the program are paid for by Automation Alley from funds received from a $5 million workforce development grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. Automation Alley is looking at launching its second class for the Code ReConnect program in October. For information on it, contact Automation Alley Talent Development Specialist Karol Friedman at friedmank@automationalley.com.

Source: Alysia Green, director of talent development at Automation Alley
Writer: Jon Zemke

HIROTEC AMERICA plans to expand Auburn Hills facility, add 140 jobs

HIROTEC AMERICA is making a sizable bet on Metro Detroit, investing $26 million into an expansion of its Auburn Hills facility. It’s a move the automotive supplier expects will create 140 new jobs.

"We added 37 jobs in 2013," says Jim Toeniskoetter, president & COO of HIROTEC AMERICA. "So far this year we have added 22 jobs. We will continue to add jobs as we continue to expand."

HIROTEC AMERICA is the North American arm of HIROTEC Group. The global automotive supplier manufacturers everything from body-in-white closures to exhaust systems. It has operations in Auburn Hills, New Haven, and two facilities in Chesterfield Township. The company employs 285 people between all four facilities.

Its current facility in Auburn Hills measures out to 170,000 square feet, which includes 20,000 square feet of office space and 150,000 square feet of manufacturing space. Toeniskoetter points out his firm is expanding in Auburn Hills because of its longstanding relationship with the city (it goes back to 1992), its central location in the region with easy access to I-75 and M-59, and close proximity to its existing employee base.

The first step in HIROTEC AMERICA's expansion plans in Auburn Hills included the purchase of 20 acres of land in the Oakland Technology Industrial Park earlier this month. It plans to construct a new building with 42,000 square feet of office space and 174,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The facility will also have room to expand its operations by another 125,000 square feet in the future.

"They will start moving dirt in August when we get our building permits," Toeniskoetter says.

HIROTEC AMERICA plans to keep its current facility when the new one is finished. It will have close to 400,000 square feet of commercial space when the project is completed in August of 2015. The 140 new hires are expected to take place over the next 2-3 years and will be on top of the current workforce of 285 people.

Source: Jim Toeniskoetter, president & COO of HIROTEC AMERICA
Writer: Jon Zemke

Livio Radio co-founders launch new tech venture, Tome

Fresh off a successful exit of tech startup Livio, co-founders Jake Sigal and Massimo Baldini are at it again, launching a new venture called Tome out of Ferndale.

"People like to say we're like an old married couple when it comes to business," Sigal says.

Sigal is shy to describe Tome in too much detail but would say its technology is focused on the "Internet of things," a newer term used to describe the movement to connect the power of the Internet with tangible objects. Specifically, Sigal says Tome’s principal product aims to merge mobile apps, devices and services.

"We're looking at the larger issues in the tech industry," Sigal says.

Sigal and Baldini launched Livio Radio in Ferndale, making physical radios that could play Internet radio stations in the late 2000s. The startup evolved to creating software that connected mobile devices with automobiles. Ford acquired the startup, later rebranded as just Livio, last year. Sigal and Baldini left the company soon after but stay connected with its staff and progress.

"We're excited about what Ford is doing with it now," Sigal says.

Tome now has a staff of three people after launching in April. Sigal says it's in "stealth mode" but he did describe it as a non-automotive play that focuses on software. The pair raised a $250,000 angel round that closed in June.

"Our mission right now is to build the right team and the right product," Sigal says.

Source: Jake Sigal, co-founder & CEO of Tome
Writer: Jon Zemke

Peteet's Famous Cheesecakes opens new store in West Bloomfield

Peteet's Famous Cheese Cakes has baked its way to a customer following that required the family-run business to open a second location.

The new store at 6548 Orchard Lake Road in West Bloomfield takes Peteet's to another, busier part of Oakland County than the original Oak Park location, which opened in 2010.

Peteet's cakes, which come in 90 flavors, including gluten-free and kosher options, are also sold in restaurants and bakeries in metro Detroit.

The new store is the latest chapter in a family story centered around the use of cheesecake to rebuild the Peteet family's livelihood after the death of a father and loss of the family real estate business. Son Patrick Peteet, founder of Peteet's Famous Cheese Cakes, helped the family avoid financial devastation and pull through grief by using his cheesecake recipe to start a business. He envisions selling Peteet's from multiple locations and possibly franchising.

In the meantime, he is celebrating the excitement and warm reception for his new location. Read the Metromode story, "How Cheesecake Saved a Family's Future."

Source: Peteet's Famous Cheese Cakes
Writer: Kim North Shine

Big Air Software racks up hackathon wins, prize money

Sam Harrell is becoming a brand name in local hackathons and beyond, recently winning several and taking home enough prize money to supplement a comfortable middle class lifestyle.

The Ann Arbor-based computer programer and founder of Big Air Software works on mostly consulting contract work in the private sector and developing his own apps. He won the New York City Kaltura Video Experience Hackathon earlier this summer, which included a $50,000 purse. He took $20,000 home when he won the Code Michigan hackathon last fall. He also won hackathons hosted by Ann Arbor SPARK and Maker Faire Detroit, which included some nice tech swag.

Hackathons are usually one-day events where software developers, and sometime tech makers in general, collaborate to come up with innovative new technologies in a short, intense time period. Harrell likes them because they help him keep his edge when it comes to staying on top of what’s next in technology.

"I just like to move fast and be agile," Harrell says. "Keeping up with tech trends and staying on top of them is a risky business. Not everyone has the stomach for it."

When a tech startup goes on a competition tear like Harrell has been on lately that usually means some sort of angel investment isn't far behind the prize money. That's not the same situation with solo operators like Harrell because investors tend to gravitate toward teams with products as opposed to individuals with ideas. That means Big Air Software will probably remain a one-man operation until investors or entrepreneurs figure out a workaround. And that’s fine by Harrell. He is already planning on what to do at his next hackathon.

Source: Sam Harrell, founder of Big Air Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

TECAT Performance Systems triples revenue since 2012

There is a lot of new over at TECAT Performance Systems. The Ann Arbor-based startup has some new staff, new markets for its principal product to explore, and a new name.

The 2-year-old firm, which spun out of TECAT Engineering, changed its name to TECAT Performance Systems this summer. It also hired some new staff, including a new marketing person and CEO. The team of less than 10 people has been focused on growing the company’s revenue. It has added to its customer base and has tripled its revenue since 2012.

"This year we have already exceeded last year's revenue," says Don Keating, vice president of business development for TECAT Performance Systems. "We have some exciting things in the pipeline for the rest of the year."

TECAT Performance Systems is commercializing wireless sensor technology that collect environmental, motion and mechanical information and stream it wirelessly to a central control unit. These sensors, designed to be used in confined spaces, monitor and record live torque data from any rotating shaft. The company is now exploring options on using the technology to measure other things in other industries, such as defense.

"The product itself has evolved so it can do multiple functions besides just measure torque," Keating says.

In the meantime, TECAT Performance Systems is continuing to refine its sensor technologies with an eye for mass producing them on a much larger scale. However, such a increase in productivity is still a year or two away.

"We're in the very early stages of those discussions," Keating says.

Source: Don Keating, vice president of business development for TECAT Performance Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

Former Compuware tech unit rebrands as Lochbridge

A former business unit in Compuware has a new name and brand related to its relatively new ownership.

The former Professional Services Division of Compuware is now known as Lochbridge, a stand-alone full tech-service integration firm. Los Angeles-based Marlin Equity Partners purchased the division from Compuware in February, spinning it out as its own company. It was briefly known as CW Professional Services before becoming Lochbridge.

"It [the transition to a stand alone company] has been going quite well," says Bob Kennedy, vice president of strategic services for Lochbridge. "Our customers have taken very positively to it."

Lochbridge serves as a full-service systems integrator in the IT and software sectors. It builds custom tech platforms for large businesses and organizations. Those range from big-data platforms to mobile apps. About 1,000 employees work for the company (mostly former Compuware staffers), with about 200 of them toiling away at the Compuware Building in downtown Detroit.

"We're hiring people every day," Kennedy says. "We have new people coming into the organization every week."

Source: Bob Kennedy, vice president of strategic services for Lochbridge
Writer: Jon Zemke

Kimberly LED Lighting set to move into bigger facility in Clarkston

The LED lighting industry has been on an upward trajectory for years now as it becomes the go-to brand for energy-efficient lighting in the 21st century. Kimberly LED Lighting is riding that wave, expanding its sales and moving to a bigger facility this summer.

The 8-year-old company is putting the finishing touches on a new facility in Clarkston. A move-in is set for August. The new facility will be exponentially larger than its current office in Auburn Hills.

"We're going from 5,000 square feet to 25,000 square feet," says Doug Jenkins, managing partner of Kimberly LED Lighting. "It's a pretty big jump."

Kimberly LED Lighting specializes in changing out traditional incandescent bulbs for LED lighting in residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Often LED lighting is up to 70-80 percent more energy efficient than traditional options.

The switch to LEDs has allowed Kimberly LED Lighting to double its sales each year, and nearly triple them in the last year. The company has also hired three people over the last year, expanding its staff to a dozen full-time employees handling everything from LED switches in houses to factories.

"The bread and butter of LEDs right now is in the commercial and industrial side," Jenkins says. "Businesses are getting payback on them within two years."

Source: Doug Jenkins, managing partner of Kimberly LED Lighting
Writer: Jon Zemke

The Brinery doubles production as it grows across Midwest

Even though The Brinery can be described as a slow-food startup, fast would be a better word to describe the Ann Arbor-based firm's growth.

The 4-year-old company’s sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles and tempeh can be found in close to 100 stores in Michigan and Chicago. The Brinery has taken on two outside distributors over the last year after relying on self-distribution at local businesses and farmers markets.

"We have pretty much doubled sales since last year," says David Klingenberger, founder of The Brinery. "Every year we have come close to doubling our sales."

Helping make that possible is moving to a bigger production facility. Klingenberger started The Brinery by making sauerkraut in his home. This February he moved his business to the Washtenaw Food Hub, a new facility that helps provide support to local farmers and food companies to become economically and environmentally sustainable.

"We're the anchor tenant there," Klingenberger says.

And it's filling out that space quickly. The Brinery's team now stands at a dozen people, which is up from four a year ago. Klingenberger expects the numbers for his business (sales and staff) to keep growing as he aims to open up in markets in Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois over the next year.

Source: David Klingenberger, founder of The Brinery
Writer: Jon Zemke

140 Proof expands team in Elevator Building on riverfront

140 Proof is growing its presence in Detroit. The social media advertising startup has grown its Motor City staff to three people after making a couple of hires this year.

"It's been a huge year for us because social media and big data are big parts of our business," says John Manoogian III, founder & CTO of 140 Proof.

The 4-year-old company is based in San Francisco. One of its big claims to fame is serving as one of the early development partners with Twitter. It currently employs 30 people, including a handful in the Elevator Building.

140 Proof was one of the first tenants in the Elevator Building, a century-old warehouse turned loft-style office building overlooking the intersection of the Detroit RiverWalk and the Dequindre Cut. It has recently hired two sales professionals for its office here. It also has served as a sponsor of the Detroit City Football Club this year.

"We love being in the Elevator Building," Manoogian says. "We have great neighbors here. It's nice being in a creative space down there on the waterfront by the Detroit River."

Source: John Manoogian III, founder & CTO of 140 Proof
Writer: Jon Zemke

NextEnergy scores $745K grant for clean-tech startups

NextEnergy is receiving several hundred thousand dollars in federal grant money to help it further entrepreneurial outreach and develop clean-tech startups.

The New Center-based nonprofit is splitting a large grant with Clean Energy Trust. The $745,000 grant comes from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It will fund the creation of The Bridge, which will offer a suite of services for early-stage technology companies in Michigan, Illinois and the Midwest region.

"It will be predominately based here at NextEnergy," says Jean Redfield, NextEnergy's president & CEO.

The Bridge will offer incubation services for startups and entrepreneurs specializing in transportation, the grid, and the built environment. The program will offer entrepreneurial training, access to technology partnerships, and demonstration platforms. The idea is to work with local entrepreneurial communities to help accelerate the process of turning more research into viable commercial ventures for the region’s existing manufacturing base.

"There is a significant amount of supplier and OEM activity in these three areas (Michigan, Indiana and Illinois)," Redfield says.

Source: Jean Redfield, president & CEO of NextEnergy
Writer: Jon Zemke

Augment Ventures makes 2 investments in lighting startups

Augment Ventures is off to a fast start for 2014, making two investments in clean-tech startups and laying the groundwork to make a couple more before the end of the year.

"Our portfolio is up to five startups right now," says Sonali Vijayavargiya, founder & managing director of Augment Ventures.

Vijayavargiya launched the venture capital firm out of Ann Arbor nearly three years ago. Augment Ventures specializes in making early investments in startups in the clean-tech/sustainability sector. Its most notable investment so far is in downtown Ann Arbor-based logistics tech firm LLamasoft in 2012.

Augment Ventures has made two investments so far this year. Both firms, Revolights and Lumenetix, are based in California. Lumenetix designs, manufactures and sells UL recognized color tunable LED light engines for fixture manufacturers. It is currently working with one of the Big 3 (Vijayavargiya declined to say which one) to integrate its products in the automotive sector. Revolights is working to bring new lighting solutions to bicyclists.

"They're trying to bring 360-degree visibility to commuter bikers," Vijayavargiya says. She adds, "we are very excited about both (startups)."

Augment Ventures has also added a couple of people to its team this year, expanding it to five people. That staff is working to nail down a couple more investments before the end of this year.

"We are actively doing due diligence with five opportunities," Vijayavargiya says. "Two of those firms are Michigan-based."

Source: Sonali Vijayavargiya, founder & managing director of Augment Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit-based Shinola founder talks "American made" with Wall St. Journal

Cars aside, watches and bikes are the new big-ticket "Made in Detroit" items. 

Excerpt:

"Not many people would relish the chance to pack up a sunny Southern California life and move to Detroit. But Daniel Caudill, the creative director of Shinola—a manufacturer of watches, bicycles, leather goods and more—has so much in common with the upstart company that he did it gladly. Raised in rural Montana, Mr. Caudill likes a good heritage back-story, and Shinola, a once-iconic shoe-polish brand that became a punch line (as in "You don't know s—from…") in World War II, has one."

More here.

Ann Arbor SPARK scores $500K for Michigan Angel Fund

The Michigan Angel Fund has enjoyed so much success in its first year that organizers are coming out with a sequel in 2014.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp is giving Ann Arbor SPARK, which manages the Michigan Angel Fund, $500,000 for the continuation of the Michigan Angel Fund’s first investment vehicle and then some.

"This is allowing us to raise a second fund," says Skip Simms, manager of the Michigan Angel Fund and senior vice president of Ann Arbor SPARK. "The first fund is nearly all invested. It will allow us to continue investing in early stage technology companies across the state."

The Michigan Angel Fund is an angel-investment equity fund that specializes in early stage investments. It only invests in Michigan-based tech start-ups in the hopes of growing the Great Lakes State’s new economy.

It has 72 members and has made six investments in its first year. Those investments range from $100,000 to $250,000 and are part of seed rounds for startups looking to raise between $250,000 and $2 million. Its latest investment is in Larky, an Ann Arbor-based mobile app startup that just closed a $1.76 million Series A round.

"We will probably have a portfolio of 9-10 companies (by the end of the year)," Simms says.

Source: Skip Simms, manager of the Michigan Angel Fund and senior vice president of Ann Arbor SPARK
Writer: Jon Zemke

Director of UM Entrepreneur Institute talks future goals

Last fall, Stewart Thornhill stepped into the role of executive director of the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, which is part of the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business. His big idea is to intiate a Silicon Valley-style business accelerator.  

Excerpt:

"The accelerator will be modeled on Y Combinator, Techstars, Launchpad LA. The perfect company to enter an accelerator is the one that is quarter-baked. You want it to be half-baked before it's really in a position to get that early, seed or angel investor money. But if companies try to go for that early investor too early, they're going to fail or they're going to have to give up so much of their company because of the wildly risky nature of it that it's often not worth doing.

We often find that students who incubate ideas, whether in a formal incubator or just in their dorm room, often get to the point where they finish their degree, they'd love to be able to take it to that next stage, but they have to go get a job. They've got student loans, they have to pay rent, buy groceries."

Read the rest here.
 
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