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Michigan First Credit Union expands to supermarkets with first Kroger branch

Michigan First Credit Union is in the process of expanding across Michigan, and it's using Kroger as a vehicle on that journey.

The Lathrup Village-based credit union opened its first in-store branch in a Kroger supermarket in Macomb Township at the corner of 26 Mile and Romeo Plank. It plans to open four more branches in Kroger supermarkets in St. Clair Shores, Southgate, Brownstown Twp., and Roseville before the end of the year.

"We are in constant growth mode," says Michael Poulos, president & CEO of Michigan First Credit Union. "Within two years we should have a minimum of eight Kroger branches."

Michigan First Credit Union signed a multi-year contract with Kroger to open in-store branches across Michigan. These in-store Kroger branches replace the handful of branches Michigan First Credit Union had in Meijer stores.

The in-store branch measures 500 square feet and can facilitate savings, loan, and investment support services. They also feature MoneyWorks ATMs that allow users to select bills in multiple denominations (from $50s to $1s) and allow members to make loan or credit card payments.

"We like the in-store model," Poulos says. "We get the opportunity to talk to people who aren't members of Michigan First Credit Union. We get to offer extended hours."

Michigan First Credit Union was founded in 1926 by a group of Detroit teachers. It has since grown to 110,000 members across Michigan, adding about 10,000 new members over the last year. The credit union has about $750 million in assets (up $50 million from last year) and a $390 million loan portfolio (up $30 million over the last year).

The credit union also employs 300 people and a handful of interns. It has hired 40 people over the last year and is looking to fill six open positions. You can check out the job openings here. Poulos expects those numbers to continue to climb as the credit union focuses on growing its presence across the Great Lakes State.

"Now we can serve the entire state of Michigan," Poulos says. "We are looking for more opportunities across the state."

Source: Michael Poulos, president & CEO of Michigan First Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke

PSI Repair Services hires 5, completes 20,000th wind turbine repair

PSI Repair Services got its start well before wind turbines became fashionable generators of electricity. Today the Livonia-based is hitting a major milestone: repairing its 20,000th wind turbine.

The 48-year-old firm, a subsidiary of Phillips Service Industries, specializes in repair and engineering services for everything from electronics to hydraulics. Wind turbine repair has become a fast-growing part of the company's bottom line since 2009 when it started doing work for some large wind farms.

That work has allowed the PSI Repair Services to grow its staff. It has hired five people over the last year, expanding its team to 120 employees. The new jobs include electronic technicians, engineers, and shipping and receiving personnel. It’s also looking to hire electronic techs who can perform circuit card repairs down to the component level.

"Our strategic goal is to grow 10 percent year over year," John Greulich, sales director at PSI Repair Services, wrote in an email.

Wind turbine work isn't the only growing part of PSI Repair Services revenue stream. It's also growing in the automotive, semi-conductor, and defense industries.

Source: John Greulich, sales director at PSI Repair Services
Writer: Jon Zemke

(EO)2 Fastener creates streamlined car-top transport system

Richard Rayos had a stroke of inspiration the fall of 2009. The metro Detroit resident worked in robotics and the automotive industries, but his true passion was for the outdoors.

Rayos was heading out on a trip with one of those large carriers full of gear strapped to the top of his car. They carrier was convenient as far as size and staying attached to his car, but not much else.

"You don't want to take it on or off because it’s a pain in the ass," says Rayos, president & CEO of (EO)2 Fastener. "I thought there had to be a better way."

That led to the creation of (EO)2 Fastener, a snaptop rail and carrier made to securely attach to your car and easily come off when you want it. The carriers come in both large sizes and sizes small enough to use as a backpack on a hiking trip. Check out a video on (EO)2 Fasteners here.

(EO)2 Fastener has been working with automakers and automotive suppliers, selling 120,000 units last year. It's looking to increase sales this year as it targets both regular consumers and commercial uses, such as military customers looking to use the system to better attach equipment to vehicles.

"It can be used for everything from camping gear to putting a battery on a tank," Rayos says. "As you need it you can snap it on the vehicle and travel 100 mph in the rain and it won't come off."

The Sterling Heights-based firm currently calls the Velocity Incubator home. It employs a staff two people and Rayos is currently looking to hire an administrative assistant.

Source: Richard Rayos, president & CEO of (EO)2 Fastener
Writer: Jon Zemke

APAG Elektronik, Promac open U.S. offices in Oakland County

Oakland County is now the destination for two global manufacturers looking to land in the U.S. this year.

APAG Elektronik AG and Promac plan to establish offices in Oakland County, according to county officials. Leadership from the companies met with county officials at the recent SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington D.C., which prompted both firms to look as Troy as a new home for their new offices.

"These companies have seen what a thousand others who came before them saw – that Oakland County is the best market for international investment," Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said in a press release.

Italian-based Promac is an automotive supplier that produces parts for many industries, including aviation, aerospace, energy, precision prototypes, and complex machining. It plans to open its first North American facility in Troy.

Switzerland-based APAG Elektronik AG is an electronics design and manufacturing firm. It plans to open a sales office in Troy this summer. It's also looking at opening an electronics manufacturing facility in 2016. It is currently using space in the Automation Alley International Business Center.

Source: Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Highway Mediaís online video work spurs firmís growth

In recent years, online video work has become an essential part of Highway Media's revenue stream.

The video-production firm got its start making videos for commercial users and recently did work for DVDs before transitioning to online videos. Last year, Highway Media reached a major milestone in its online video work, producing more than 100 online videos. It’s on pace to do more than 150 this year and aiming for 200 in 2016.

"Most companies are realizing the necessity of having a video on their website," says Mark Salloum, president & owner of Highway Media. "It does so many things for a website."

The Canton-based firm is also trying out more innovative ways to create those videos. It's experimenting with drones to bring a broader variety of camera angles to its videos.

"They're becoming a great tool for us to use when we're filming, say, an industrial video, and you want to see a birds-eye view," Salloum says.

Highway Media currently employs a core team of seven people and a large stable of freelancers. It has hired two people over the last year (an editor and a business development manager) and expects to add more in the future as demand for its online videos continues to rise.

Source: Mark Salloum, president & owner of Highway Media
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor-made Stratos card put to the test

Wired takes the all-cards-in-one Stratos credit card out for a spin… and is impressed with what it can do. 


"There are a thousand upsides to a card like Stratos, even beyond finally ditching your gigantic George Costanza wallet. It can make sure you actually use your gift cards, or make getting a loyalty card totally automatic. It’s much more secure than a standard credit card, for a variety of reasons. If you lose it, just shut it off—you don’t need to cancel the individual cards themselves. It even uses Bluetooth to warn you if you left it in the check-holder, and will shut off if you get too far away."

Read the rest here.

Artist space Ypsi Alloy Studios aims to open in June

A trio of women artists is pooling their resources to launch a new artists collective space in Ypsilanti, Ypsi Alloy Studios.

Ilana Houten, Elize Jekabson and Jessica Tenbusch are in the final stages of opening the new space on Carpenter Road. The 3,600-square-foot space is in a light industrial building that previously was occupied by a print shop.

"It's a shared studio space," says Houten, a sculptor. "It's going to be 99 percent community artists who work in a variety of mediums. Each artist will have their own private space and there will be a communal space."

The three women are active in Ypsilanti's growing artist scene. They wanted to create a space for more artists in their little corner of Washtenaw County, especially now that SPUR Studios is closing.

There will be space for 15 artists and Ypsi Alloy Studios already has commitments from 14 artists in the community. The venture is still looking for a couple more artist tenants. Send an email to ypsi.alloy@gmail.com for more information.

"We hope to be able to move in on June 1st," Tenbusch says.

The trio believes there is a pent-up demand for this sort of space in Ypsilanti, especially now that the economy is picking up and commercial space is becoming harder to come by.

"We hope to get more interest so we can expand into a bigger space," Jekabson says.

Source: Ilana Houten, Elize Jekabson and Jessica Tenbusch, co-founder of Ypsi Alloy Studios
Writer: Jon Zemke

Huron River Ventures raises second fund worth $5M, local firms targeted for investment

Huron River Ventures is nearly done raising its second investment vehicle, a multi-million dollar fund the Ann Arbor-based venture capital firm plans to use to further invest in its portfolio of tech startups.

The 5-year-old firm raised a $11 million fund at its onset, which it used to make early stage investments into 15 startups like FarmLogs and cribspot. Many of them are based in Ann Arbor, including a few that it shares shares office space with in Kerrytown.

The second fund, the Huron River Venture Opportunity Fund, will focus on making follow-on investments into the best of the best of the firm’s portfolio of startups. It has already made a follow-on investment into FarmLogs.

"It's all for follow-on investment in our portfolio," says Ryan Waddington, partner with Huron River Ventures. "But only for companies that reach a certain size or hit certain milestones."

Huron River Ventures has executed a first close worth $3.5 million and expects to do a final close worth a combined $5 million by July.

"This is all private capital in the Opportunity Fund," Waddington says. "It's all individuals and family offices."

Huron River Ventures expects to make one more follow-on investment later this year and a handful more after that. The firm has also hired a new venture partner over the last year, expanding its staff to three people.

Source: Ryan Waddington, partner with Huron River Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

Isabel Healthcare takes technology international, doubles clientele

Isabel Healthcare has doubled its clientele over the last year thanks, in large part, to the healthcare tech firm marketing its product to an international audience. The Ann Arbor-based firm now has clients beyond North America, including China, India, South America and Australia.

"We have expanded our footprint pretty significantly," says Don Bauman, CEO of Isabel Healthcare.

The 15-year-old firm developed a diagnosis checklist tool that helps clinicians broaden their differential diagnosis and recognize a disease faster in order to treat it more effectively. The web-based Isabel tool uses the patient's demographics and clinical features to produce a list of possible diagnoses, including time-sensitive "Don't Miss Diagnoses."

"How do we deliver information to physicians so they can make the best diagnosis?" Bauman says.

Isabel Healthcare also markets a symptom checklist for patients. The idea is to help better educate them about their health and how best to maintain it.

"It empowers them to have a more engaging conversation with the physician" Bauman says.

The 7-person firm has hired one person in client services over the last year.

Source: Don Bauman, CEO of Isabel Healthcare
Writer: Jon Zemke

Lavin Lift Strap targets commercial medical facilities for growth

Lavin Lift Strap has made a name for itself by selling a product that makes home healthcare easier for caregivers and family members. Now the downtown Ypsilanti-based firm is aiming for much more rapid growth by targeting bulk sales to acute healthcare providers, big commercial players in the healthcare industry (think hospitals, nursing homes and other large institutions).

"It (our orders) will significantly increase," says Manuel Lavin, president of Lavin Lift Strap. "The home healthcare market is a onsey and twosey. With acute healthcare you're talking boxes, pallets."

The 5-year-old firm got its start when Lavin and his wife, Donna Gilkey-Lavin, had to find a way to help take care of his father who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and obesity. They created a strap and pulley system that made it easy for one person to lift and clean the patient where previously it took multiple people.

The technology acts as a mini crane that helps raise the patient's legs or entire lower half off the bed. The family turned the invention into a product and began selling it to people and companies specializing in elder care through word-of-mouth and the firm's website. It leveraged Ann Arbor SPARK's services to further commercialize the product and set up its first office in the SPARK East Business Incubator in downtown Ypsilanti.

Lavin Lift Strap now has three patents and another one pending on its products. It is also planning to file a few more patents later this year. The company has hired a few sales pros to expand its team to 13 people and sales of the Lift Strap are up 25 percent over the last year. The company expects those sales figures to spike over the next year as it starts to fill some large  orders that have been years in the making.

"It's a tough slog," Gilkey-Lavin says. "Hospitals are not as quick to adapt to new technology as you would think. It can take years."

Source: Manuel Lavin, president of Lavin Lift Strap; and Donna Gilkey-Lavin, vice president of sales & marketing for Lavin Lift Strap
Writer: Jon Zemke

Mountain Pass Solutions streamlines faculty hiring process

Managing a major research institution is in no easy task. Too much of the time, it's maddeningly inefficient. A University of Michigan spin-out believes it has a way to simplify and streamline at least one aspect of an institution's responsibilities.

Mountain Pass Solutions has created a web-based platform that manages the hiring, credentialing and on-boarding of university faculty. It also helps manage faculty workflow so the user can optimize things like document creation and the size of their support staff.

The U-M Venture Accelerator-based startup got its start when Deb Komorowski, a director of faculty affairs administration & finance for U-M Medical School, saw the inefficiency of bringing on new staff and faculty. She created the platform and got it noticed by the University of Michigan Office of Technology Transfer.

"It was pretty obvious that what Deb built was satisfying a big need on the market," says Dave Morin, interim CEO of Mountain Pass Solutions.

The 1-year-old startup now employs five people and is further developing its platform with early customers, such as Central Michigan University. The bootstrapped startup plans to start scaling up its client base later this year.

"We will be looking at some rapid U.S. expansion this year," Morin says.

Source: Chris King, Deb Komorowski and Dave Morin, co-founder of Mountain Pass Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

CCS grads return to Detroit to launch boutique creative firm, Space Camp

Scott Waraniak and Marcus Mullins followed a fairly typical path when the graduated from the College of Creative Studies a few years ago. They took their graphic designs degrees and headed for creative class jobs on the coasts.

Waraniak spent a couple of years in Los Angeles and spent more time thinking about where he came from instead of where he had moved to.

"The entire time we were out there Marcus and I talked about starting our own studio in Detroit,"  Waraniak says.

Words turned into ideas which turned into action. Waraniak and Mullins came back to the Motor City a year ago and launched Space Camp. The fledgling boutique firm specializes in design, branding, and animation work for video productions. Check out Space Camp's demo reel:

Some of Space Camp's initial projects include the creation of videos on behalf of Team Detroit for the launch of the new Ford Explorer. It has also done other automotive work, but the company is looking to diversify its client base this year.

"We just want to keep growing," Waraniak says. "We want to find a way to bring new people on."

Local job creation was a significant factor in the inspiration for Space Camp. Waraniak and Mullins lament that many of the job opportunities for them and their peers were on the coasts and not closer to home. The company recently moved to Penobscot Building in downtown Detroit to make some room for its first employees.

"It was frustrating watching all of this talent being outsourced to Los Angeles and New York," Mullis says. "We want to create reasons for people to stay."

Source: Scott Waraniak and Marcus Mullins, partners, designers and animators of Space Camp
Writer: Jon Zemke

Diversity of projects leads to significant growth for Motor City Electric Co.

Motor City Electric Co. has been in Detroit for a long time. Since it formed in 1952, the company has seen several of the city's comebacks and renaissances start and founder. Despite those experiences, the commercial electrical company is more optimistic than ever before about growth in its hometown.

The firm, which is headquartered near City Airport, has secured work on a growing number of large projects throughout Detroit that have allowed it to hire 200-300 union electricians and another 25 office workers, bringing its administrative staff to at total of 145 people.

"It just seems like things are starting to click," says Thomas McGrail, executive vice president of Motor City Electric Co.

The company has scored work with the Detroit Public Lighting Authority’s street lamp project. It has also done lighting work at local Chrysler plants and the Detroit Medical Center. It's biggest score, however, is with Rock Ventures, the umbrella entity for Dan Gilbert's business and real estate portfolio.

"We do numerous projects for them and their remodels," McGrail says.

Motor City Electric Co.’s work isn't limited to Detroit. The firm has subsidiaries across the U.S. in seven states as far west as Nevada and as far south as Florida. It also has a subsidiary in Ontario. McGrail expects his firm’s workload to grow both here and across the country.

"We think the construction industry will continue to grow over the next year or two or three," McGrail says.

Source: Thomas McGrail, executive vice president of Motor City Electric Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

LevelEleven spins out of M@dison Building and into bigger downtown offices

LevelEleven is leaving the nest where it was formed, the M@dison Building, and moving into its own office a few doors down on Woodward Avenue.

The software startup is taking the third floor of 1520 Woodward, one of the recently renovated commercial buildings on the same block as the M@dison Building. The block of buildings is being branded as the M@dison Block. It is primarily owned by Rock Ventures, the umbrella entity for Dan Gilbert's business and real estate portfolio, and occupied mostly by Gilbert-affiliated startups.

"We want to stay in the tech community that is building here," says Bob Marsh, CEO of LevelEleven. "Detroit Labs (another early occupant of the M@dison Building) is on the floor above us."

The 2-year-old startup has hired 10 people over the last year, including two that started this week. The new positions include sales professional and client services people. LevelEleven is looking to hire another three people currently.

"We have about 25 people and this space will allow us to grow to about 50 people," Marsh says. "There is a lot of room to grow."

HelloWorld spun out LevelEleven to sell an enterprise gamification app (native to the salesforce platform) with the idea of motivating sales professionals and tracking their progress. It recently added the Scorecard feature, which offers personalized analytics and historical trends for salespeople that allow managers and teams to assess and respond to key pieces of data.

"It tells the sales person exactly what they should be spending their time on," Marsh says. "It's a huge evolution for us."

LevelEleven, a portfolio company of Detroit Venture Partners, is looking to close on a 7-figure Series A in the next 60 days. That money will help it scale its business. It is already growing at a 200 percent annual growth rate and has added a number of new clients, such as Staples, Pandora, and Ford.

"We work with companies that have 25 sales people to companies that have a couple thousand like Comcast," Marsh says.

Source: Bob Marsh, CEO of LevelEleven
Writer: Jon Zemke

Video production firm Detroit Lives! moves into Penobscot Building

Philip Lauri launched his creative agency, Detroit Lives!, just as the Great Recession was getting started in 2009. It turned out to be the right move despite the dour time.

The video production company has doubled its revenue every year since its launch. It recently moved into bigger offices in the Penobscot Building (the former offices of the Detroit Stock Exchange) to accommodate its growing staff.

Detroit Lives! has expanded to five people, including hiring an editor over the last year. Lauri is also looking to add another editor to help enhance his team and its story-telling abilities.

"We make sure we always do our best work," Lauri says. "Whether its a big project or a little project, we want to be the best."

Detroit Lives! has made videos for a variety of customers over the years. Some of its more recent work includes videos for the Kresge Foundation’s Innovation Project and the NEIdeas competition.

"We are currently working with Chrysler on some video content," Lauri says.

Lauri plans to expand Detroit Lives!'s clientele by doing more work with traditional advertising firms.

Source: Philip Lauri, founder & creative director for Detroit Lives!
Writer: Jon Zemke
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