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Rochester College launches social entrepreneurship center

Rochester College is launching a Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and is drawing from the local talent pool to lead it.

The small liberal arts college will house the center in its School of Business, offering a social entrepreneurship degree that emphasizes both profit and the public good. The degree is expected to dovetail well with the institution for higher learning's ethos.

"I was impressed with the campus's mission, which is to work on solving a lot of the world's problems," says Jaymes Vettraino, director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Rochester College. "It spoke to me in a way that I felt pretty passionate about."

Vettraino worked as the city manager of Rochester until this week, stepping down to take the job at Rochester College. He worked as an adjunct professor at Rochester College over the last year and has an MBA from Lehigh University.

Rochester College students studying in the Center for Social Entrepreneurship will work on both solving societal problems through commerce and contributing to their communities. Internships emphasizing servant leadership and social justice will be a focus of the Center. They will partner with local businesses, other educational institutions, non-profits, and government entities.

"My first six months is really about relationship building," Vettraino says.

Source: Jaymes Vettraino, director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Rochester College
Writer: Jon Zemke

Lovio George adds staff as it grows with local PR work

Lovio George Communications + Design has been around Midtown for a long time -- 33 years to be exact, long before the brand Midtown was ever dreamed up. And in that time, the boutique communications and design agency has made it mark with local work.

That is as true now as it was 33 years ago. Last year, Lovio George Communications + Design grew its staff and its bottom line by helping longtime staples like the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and National Coney Island, along with newer big names like Shinola.

"We're working on Shinola Ann Arbor, which should open by the end of June," says Christina Lovio-George, CEO of Lovio George Communications + Design.

Lovio George Communications + Design also helped Shinola open its Chicago store and is doing work with the newly renovated Cobo Center.

Local work like that has allowed Lovio George Communications + Design to grow its revenue over the last year. It has also hired two people, including an agency coordinator. The company currently has a staff of 13 employees and an intern.

Source: Christina Lovio-George, CEO of Lovio George
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit retailers to host pop-up market at Mackinac Policy Conference

A handful of Detroit-based entrepreneurs will make their pitch for the importance of small business in the future of the city's economy at this week's Mackinac Policy Conference.

"The Mackinaw Policy Conference is always about big things -- big politicians, big lobbying firms, big issues," says Rachel Lutz, owner of The Peacock Room in Midtown's Park Shelton building. "If we're going to have a conversation about the state's economy, we should also speak about small business."

Lutz and a few of her peers (all women who are owners of Detroit-based small businesses) will facilitate that conversation through a small business pop-up market on Mackinac Island during the conference. The other three business participating are Cyberoptix Tie Lab (a scarves and tie maker), Sweet Potato Sensations (a second-generation family-owned bakery), and Rebel Nell (a jewelry company with a social mission).

"You go with who you know," Lutz says. "These are women I have great admiration for. They know how to build a business."

Cynthia J Pasky, CEO of Downtown Detroit-based Strategic Staffing Solutions, also played a critical role in making the pop-up market a reality at this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

The "Building Bridges to Small Business" pop-up market will take place on Thursday, May 28, from 3-7 p.m. at Mackinac Island’s Mission Point Resort.

"We want participants to acknowledge small business as an important driver of Michigan's economic growth, while learning about four of the many businesses that are growing globally from Detroit," Lutz says.

Source: Rachel Lutz, owner of The Peacock Room
Writer: Jon Zemke

The Floyd Leg expands furniture offerings, sharpens brand

The Floyd Leg made a name for itself last year when it raised six figures in a crowdfunding campaign to produce its invention, a versatile furniture leg. In 2015, the Corktown-based startup is expanding its product line and sharpening its brand.

The Floyd Leg's namesake product consists of four steel table legs with clamps that can attach to just about any flat surface, for instance a door, transforming it into light-to-medium-use table. The Floyd Leg raised $256,000 in a crowdfunding campaign last year that allowed the company to make 2,000 sets of legs.

"We consider that a pilot program of a larger piece of work," says Kyle Hoff, co-founder of The Floyd Leg.

The Floyd Leg now has a handful of different table leg products, ranging from small legs for end tables to large legs for dining room tables. It also has a a shelf kit. Hoff plans to release more products later this year.

"We're working with some different manufacturers around Detroit to make more styles of pieces," Hoff says.

The Floyd Leg is also getting ready to rebrand itself as simply "Floyd" later this year. The new brand is expected to play off the simplicity and adaptability of the original product, which targets young people living in big cities where small living spaces and the ability to move quickly are realities of their lives.

"Cities are becoming more and more dense," Hoff says. "People are living in smaller spaces these days."

The 1-year-old company currently employs six people at the Ponyride co-working space in Corktown. It is also looking to hire two more.

Source: Kyle Hoff, co-founder of The Floyd Leg
Writer: Jon Zemke

NEXTEP SYSTEMS scores patent for food service tech, adds staff in Troy

NEXTEP SYSTEMS recently received a patent for a foodservice technology that the company's leadership likes to say makes the user feel smarter when they use it.

"Most point-of-sale systems made me feel stupid," says Tommy Woycik, president of NEXTEP SYSTEMS. "I thought, 'Why can't an employee with a little training load a complex order into the system?'"

The 10-year-old company received a patent for its point-of-sale platform that utilizes what the firm is calling a wizard approach. Its menu flow and display only puts the options a user needs on the screen, streamlining the process and simplifying the menu flow so as to minimize the training necessary to use it.

NEXTEP SYSTEMS also makes self-ordering kiosks that allow customers to order their own food or coffee, grab a ticket, and wait for it to come up. It is used everywhere from restaurants to airports to casinos.

Sales of NEXTEP SYSTEMS platforms have steadily increased in recent years, resulting in a three-year, compound-annual growth rate of 36 percent.

"Every year we grow 30-40 percent," Woycik says.

That has enabled the Troy-based firm to continually add employees. It has a staff of 40 and four interns, hiring four people over the last year as software developers, sales professionals, and customer service representatives. NEXTEP is also looking to hire another four people.

With 1,500 installations in the U.S. and adding 150 over the next year, Woycik is optimistic that NEXTEP SYSTEMS will continue to hire and grow at its current rate.

"We're going after larger and larger customers," Woycik says. "We want to go after the largest clients with more than 100 locations."

Source: Tommy Woycik, president of NEXTEP SYSTEMS
Writer: Jon Zemke

Sunscreen Mist adds convenience to sunscreen application

Tony Fayne turned an unfortunate turn of events into a growing business.

The metro Detroit resident had a friend develop skin cancer at age 30, catching him and his circle friends and family off guard.

"It was shocking," Fayne says. "I had no idea you could get cancer that early in life."

That played a significant role in Fayne's inspiration to launch Sunscreen Mist, a startup that makes applying sunscreen quick and easy. The Commerce Township-based company created a sunscreen application system that is part sunscreen spray and part booth.

The users can either step into the booth and be sprayed with a mist of sunscreen or use a spray gun to spritz themselves with sunscreen. Sunscreen Mist’s stations are designed for placement in theme parks, beaches, and poolside at hotels.

"I wanted to bring this to the market to make it so people could easily access sunscreen," Fayne says. "Melanoma is so preventable."

Fayne and Sunscreen Mist’s CEO, Josh Kaplan, recently appeared on the entrepreneur show TV show "Shark Tank" to pitch its product. The 1-year-old company and its staff of six people is just getting started deploying its stations, with 25 being used around the world right now.

Source: Tony Fayne, founder & president of Sunscreen Mist; and Josh Kaplan, CEO of Sunscreen Mist
Writer: Jon Zemke

Bromberg & Associates finds the right words for growth in Hamtramck

Bromberg & Associates has figured out a smart way to talk its way into more work, more clients, and more growth. The language services firm has all three and more these days.

The Hamtramck-based company has grown its revenue by 25 percent, bringing in more work from existing clients and adding new customers. It has also hired six people, expanding its staff to 15 employees and four interns. Those new jobs include a interpreting project manager, a cultural awareness coordinator, a business development specialists, and language experts. It’s also looking to hire two more people to keep up with demand for it services.

"We're rapidly growing," says Catherine Radloff, director of operations for Bromberg & Associates. "We have a couple more huge clients in the pipeline."

Bromberg & Associates offers technologically advanced language services to corporations and government institutions. Its services include onsite telephonic and video remote interpreting, document translation, website localization, language training, relocation services, and bilingual staffing for more than 150 languages.

However, the 16-year-old firm’s recent growth has more to do with its business philosophy than its services or new technology offerings. Radloff credits Bromberg & Associates customer-oriented approach to doing business with its ability to add more clients like the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and Mountain Park Health Center.

"Being consistent, reliable, and dedicated means so much," Radloff says. She adds, "The team of people we have in place is the best Bromberg has ever seen. All of the arrows are pointed in the right direction."

Source: Catherine Radloff, director of operations for Bromberg & Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

Corbe Company moves to Detroit from island off Washington coast

One of the newest tenants in the Russell Industrial Center traveled a great distance to set up shop in Detroit.

Originally located on an island off the coast of Washington state, Corbe Company is a ceramics design studio specializing in making housewares and custom products. Ryan and Kaitlyn Lawless (partners in business and life) started the studio three years ago, not long after graduating college. Kaitlyn has family in metro Detroit and the pull of the Motor City was too much to resist for them and their growing company.

"We outgrew our old space," Kaitlyn says. "A better opportunity presented itself here. The Russell Industrial Center has a lot of space so we seized it."

"Everything is happening in Detroit these days," Ryan says. "Artists and creatives are moving here, so we wanted to be a part of that."

Corbe Company now employs a staff of three people in the Russell Industrial Center. That team works on several projects, including its flagship line of products 50 United Plates. Each plate is made in the shape of one of the 50 states. Check out a video featuring the plates here.

Corbe Company's products can currently be found online, at its studio, and in some local retailers like City Bird in Midtown. The Lawlesses plan to get their products into more retailers this year and expand its sales across the country.

Source: Ryan and Kaitlyn Lawless, co-founders of Corbe Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

Endeavor report calls for focus on gazelle startups to spur job growth

Two things are evident after reading Endeavor’s Detroit office's assessment report of metro Detroit's entrepreneurial ecosystem: the region has lost a lot of jobs since the Great Recession and metro Detroit's best chance to get them back come from gazelles, i.e. young, fast-growing companies.

Gazelles, also known as scaleups, are small businesses that with tremendous growth potential. They traditionally grow from a couple of employees to a staff of a few dozen people in a matter of months. These are the companies that attract large sums of venture capital investment and make headlines as the new darlings of the local business world.

"Scaleups are a really important part of creating new jobs," says Mike Goodwin, project leader with Endeavor Insight. "They have the most potential for creating new jobs."

However, the "Scaling Up In The Motor City" report, supported by the New Economy Initiative, points out that gazelle growth declined by more than 50 percent between 2007 and 2012, going from 674 to 323. That is the same time Michigan's unemployment rate went from 7.6 percent to 10.1 percent. Michigan needs to create 6,000 more jobs to get back to its 2007 employment levels.

Endeavor opened an office in Detroit with three direct employees and seven members of its board of directors earlier this year with the idea of helping reverse those job-loss numbers. The New York City-based nonprofit helps build regional entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world by helping gazelles grow even faster, introducing them to talent, mentors, and, eventually, investors.

The office in downtown Detroit is currently evaluating a broad range of local gazelles with the idea of picking half a dozen to enter into Endeavor's network by the end of the year. Endeavor's Detroit office will start taking on up to eight gazelles each year after that with an eye on supercharging metro Detroit's economic engine.

"We are aiming to accelerate and support the growth of high-impact entrepreneurs and in being successful we expect to contribute to the growth of the the region," says Antonio Luck, managing director of Endeavor’s Detroit office.

Source: Antonio Luck, managing director of Endeavor’s Detroit office and Mike Goodwin, project leader with Endeavor Insight
Writer: Jon Zemke

Blaze Medical Devices earns first revenues, new investment and hires up next

Blaze Medical Device accomplished a big milestone many other bio-tech startups never even get close to.

"For the first time we are generating revenues," says David Weaver, CEO of Blaze Medical Devices.

The Ann Arbor-based startup made its first sale of its blood analysis services earlier this year. Blaze Medical Devices' platform enables medical researchers and product developers to better understand blood damage from all causes.

"They didn't want to wait," Weaver says. "It has a huge upside for us. It shows that the market is real."

Blaze Medical Devices is now working on adding more clients by the end of the year. The 9-year-old firm is also in the midst of raising a $2 million angel found. Late last year it landed a $200,000 SBIR grant and has since landed more angel investor capital. So far the company has raised $1.3 million toward its $2 million goal, which it expects to close on by the end of the year.

Blaze Medical Devices employs a staff of six employees and is looking to add some summer interns. It has hired one lab technician earlier this year. Weaver expects his staff to continue to grow as it generates more revenues and closes out on its angel round.

Source: David Weaver, CEO of Blaze Medical Devices
Writer: Jon Zemke

DeepField plans to move to bigger space to accommodate growth

DeepField is moving to a bigger office in downtown Ann Arbor, making room for more staff. The extra people are needed to keep up with the demand for the company's IT infrastructure platform. The Ann Arbor-based firm will be moving from its current office above the Michigan Theatre to the second floor of 111 N Ashley, taking over 5,200 square feet of office space.

"It's three times the size of where we are right now," says Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField.

The 4-year-old startup makes software that helps big companies keep up with the constant changes that come with Internet's back-end IT infrastructure. The platform leverages big-data analytics that correlates telemetry from routers, switches, DNS, and more, decoding that morass of information. The user ends up with a better view of their IT network.

DeepField launched its platform a little more than a year ago with a handful of customers. It had grown that clientele list to nine firms by the end of last year and is now servicing 15 customers today. Groe aims to have 20 big corporations using DeepField's technology by the end of this year.

"We have a number of companies who are testing it right now," Groe says. "Our pipeline is really strong."

DeepField has been hiring quickly to keep up with that demand. It has added 12 people over the last year, including software developers, sales and marketing professionals, and executives. It is also looking to hire another five people right now to add to its staff of 29 employees and four interns.

"We are certainly looking to hire and grow," Groe says. "Our goal is to be at 45 people by the end of the year."

Source: Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField
Writer: Jon Zemke

HiveLend creates web platform to connect beekeepers, farmers

Bees and farmers make a natural combination. A new startup launching out of Ann Arbor aims to make it profitable one for all involved. HiveLend is developing a web-platform that connects local farmers with hobbyists beekeepers with a matching algorithm. The idea is to connect the two groups to help better pollinate crops while putting some extra cash into the pockets of beekeepers.

This sort of transaction isn't a new one. There are commercial beekeepers who own hundreds if not thousands of hives. Each growing season they sell the placement of those hives to commercial farmers. Prices for a bee hive range from $60-$80 per hive in Michigan to $150-$200 per hive for almond farms in California. HiveLend's founder, Nicholas Zajciw, is a hobbyist beekeeper who wanted to work a similar deal on a small scale with local farmers.

"I realized there was no tool for that online and (making that match between farmer and beekeeper) required a lot of research," Zajciw says.

He launched HiveLend shortly after realizing that earlier this year. The three-person HiveLend team is developing the early versions of the platform now with a public launch date set for July. HiveLend recently won Ann Arbor SPARK's Boot Camp, a crash course in business building that helps entrepreneurs quickly and effectively validates and better focus their business idea.

HiveLend will initially focus on connecting hobbyist beekeepers and local farmers in Michigan this year. Zajciw expects a growing season of working with small customers will enable them to perfect the platform for use by commercial users later on. It's also the easy path for HiveLend to follow for now.

"I have a good network I have built with beekeepers in Michigan," Zajciw says.

Source: Nicholas Zajciw, founder of HiveLend
Writer: Jon Zemke

RightThereWare’s software improves auto navigation tech

Ever been in your car and end up getting to your destination long after your navigation system said you would? John Heed has, and it inspired him to solve that problem by launching his own startup, RightThereWare.

The Ann Arbor-based company is creating a software platform that gives motorists more reliable and realistic estimated time of arrivals. The idea is to dissect the trip into smaller sections, giving firmer travel time estimates for each leg of the journey.

"Our technology chops the geography into equal surface areas," Heed says. "You can get more reliable ETAs that way."

And create more efficiency for the users, potentially creating double-digit performance improvements. Those gains played a significant role in RightThereWare winning the Global Automotive Innovation Challenge at NextEnergy in Detroit last month.

RightThereWare's team of four people plans to take that win and use it to help it push for a public release of its platform early this fall. It is targeting companies with large fleets of vehicles, such as trucking companies.

"We can optimize in these platforms," Heed says. "We are in discussions with a number of fleet companies."

Source: John Heed, president of RightThereWare
Writer: Jon Zemke

Zingerman's now available at Detroit airport

Travelers cannot (and should not) eat by fast food alone. It's about time that DTW got something a little better than bags of processed food dropped into a multinational franchisee's fryer.

Enter Ann Arbor foodie stalwart Zingerman's! Hopefully sales will be good enough to inspire an actual Zing's cafe. Until then...


"Hungry guests passing through the McNamara terminal will be able to enjoy Zingerman's foods and coffee at an HBF-operated kiosk near terminal gates 70-78. Visitors to the kiosk will be able to purchase such classic Zingerman's staples as packaged pastries from Zingerman's Bakehouse, savory cheese plates and packaged cheese spreads from Zingerman's Creamery, delicious Cold Brew from the Zingerman's Coffee Company, sandwiches made using Zingerman's Deli meats, cheeses, and condiments, as well as fresh-baked bread from the Bakehouse. To top it off, guests can enjoy handmade, fresh candy from the Zingerman's Candy Manufactory. "

Read the rest here.

AlphaTherm brings heated windshield wiper fluid to vehicles

AlphaTherm got its start as a winter product, a logical niche for a heated windshield wiper fluid technology. However, the Farmington Hills-based company soon realized its product had broader applications.

AlphaTherm makes electrical heating, cooling, and heat exchange devices. Its patented Heated Wash windshield washer fluid heating system using a minimal amount of energy produced by the vehicle’s electrical system to produce a warm washer fluid.

The product was originally developed to remove frost, ice, and snow during inclement weather. Truck drivers who began trips in Canada and finished them in Florida learned it was also useful to remove bugs, road grime, and other debris.

"They said the warm fluid cut through it without a problem," says Joe Trubak, general manager of AlphaTherm.

The Heated Wash system has been applied to more than 1.5 million vehicles through OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). AlphaTherm and its core team of five people are now targeting the heavy truck and after-market industries.

AlphaTherm recently joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program to help grow its market reach. The 7Cs program provides assistance and guidance in advanced manufacturing to small firms with the ability to scale their production with the idea of accelerating their growth. Automation Alley's entrepreneurship team also helps its clients make connections with other potential partners.

"They have a number of companies that we can network with," Trubak says. "A number of those companies have a fleet of vehicles or know other companies that do."

Source: Joe Trubak, general manager of AlphaTherm
Writer: Jon Zemke
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