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Action Wood 360 adds 6 staffers with help of new automotive work

When the automotive industry went down during the Great Recession, Action Wood 360 turned to a few other sectors to keep itself afloat. Now that the auto industry is rebounding, the Clinton Township-based company is reaping the benefits.

"Over the last year we have seen more automotive work coming," says Michael O'Connor, director of business development for Action Wood 360. "We had sustained ourselves on military contracts and we have even gotten a few more in. It's trending in the right direction."

Action Wood 360 manufactures wood-based packaging solutions for a variety of manufacturing industries, including automotive, aerospace and defense. The 30-year-old company has hired six people, expanding its staff to 25 to accommodate the increase in work. It has added 12 mostly automotive-based new customers in the last year.

One of its latest projects is helping LithFire-x, a fire-suppression company, to manufacture a specialty container designed to ship compromised lithium-ion batteries. LithFire is engineering the internal fire proofing, while Action Wood is responsible for the design of the dunnage and shipment hardware.

"We're going to be making the container for them since they're two guys in an office and we have 40,000 square feet of manufacturing space," O'Connor says.

Source: Michael O'Connor, director of business development for Action Wood 360
Writer: Jon Zemke

Joe Cornell Entertainment rides rebound in event business

Conventional wisdom says the economy is good. Good enough to throw a party and enjoy some success, and Joe Cornell Entertainment actually has the numbers to prove it.

"It's a time to pull out the stops and do it," says Steve Jasgur, president of Joe Cornell Entertainment. "People are more secure with their finances."

The Southfield-based event-planning firm's work has increased by 25 percent over the last year. However, the real number that demonstrates the strength of the market is how far booked out the firm is. At the height of the recession events were booked up six months beforehand. Booking times are 12-18 months in a normal economy; Joe Cornell Entertainment has hit that sweet spot.

"We have events through 2016," Jasgur says.

Joe Cornell Entertainment is looking to hire right now to accommodate that growth. The firm has hired 11 people over the last year, mostly entertainers like DJs. It is currently looking to hire 20 people and is holding auditions on August 18th. For information on the job openings and auditions, call (248) 356-6000.

Source: Steve Jasgur, president of Joe Cornell Entertainment
Writer: Jon Zemke

Eloquence Communications eyes Beta launch, partnerships

What was once Patient Provider Communications is now Eloquence Communications, and a number of new business options have come at the same time as the Ann Arbor-based firm’s new name.

The health-care startup has developed a nurse-call system through an innovative healthcare communication technology. This platform is called Eloquence, which prompted the 5-year-old company to change its name to match it. Eloquence Communications has raised more than $2 million to develop this platform. It has recently completed the product-development phase, received an issued patent and has filed for two more.

"We have a lot of options," says Lance Patak, CEO of Eloquence Communications. "And they are accumulating very quickly."

Patak points out that a competitor in Eloquence Communications’ space was recently acquired, prompting a lot of attention to his firm. It is now exploring a variety of options from acquisitions to strategic partnership to Beta test sites. Patak expects to secure a Beta test site or two before the end of the summer.

"We have two partners that are more than willing to provide a Beta site," Patak says.

Eloquence Communications has hired three replacement employees over the last year and is in the process of making a fourth hire.

Source: Lance Patak, CEO of Eloquence Communications
Writer: Jon Zemke

Franco PR adds 2 people, aims to hire 3 more in Ren Cen

Franco Public Relations Group turns 50 years old this year and is celebrating with a handful of new hires.

The downtown Detroit-based boutique agency has been in the Renaissance Center since the building opened in the late 70's. This year, the company has hired two people, bringing its staff to a total of 15 employees and one intern. It's also looking to hire three more people right now, including an administrative assistant, an account executive, and a manager.

Making that growth possible is a solid bump in clients. Franco Public Relations Group has added a dozen new clients over the last year, including Southfield-based intellectual property law firm Brooks Kushman and The Oakland, a bar in downtown Ferndale.

"It's been a really good mix of clients," says Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group.

A number of those new clients are automotive suppliers riding the bump in the economy and the resurgence of the automotive industry. The rest come from a wide variety of sectors and include nonprofits and accounting firms. The diversity of clientele is no accident.

"It keeps us balanced," Kozak says. "For a long time we have been very diverse."

Source: Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Venture for America Detroit fellows launch Castle, a startup for landlords

Venture for America came to Detroit two years ago, bringing about a dozen talented young people with entrepreneurial ambitions to work in startups in the city. This summer members of that first cohort of fellows are launching their own startup.

Castle is a software play that aims to make the lives of landlords easier by bringing the property management process into the 21st century. Three Venture for America fellows are launching the startup out of their Virginia Park house that helped serve as the inspiration for the company.

Venture for America pairs recent college grads from across the U.S. with startups in economically challenged cities like Detroit. The idea is modeled off of Teach for America, which brings talented young college graduates to teaching positions in inner city schools. Participants, or fellows, of both programs agree to work the jobs for two years. Where Teach for America works to bring talent to the teaching profession, Venture for America paves a way into entrepreneurship for 20-somethings.

A couple of members of VFA's first Detroit cohort started Rebirth Realty, which is taking an abandoned, tax-foreclosed house on Virginia Park in New Center and renovating it into a home for future Venture for America fellows, the first of whom are are moving in this summer. The experience inspired the renovators to build a better landlording system.

"We didn't like the way things are being done," says Max Nussenbaum, CEO of Castle. "We didn't see anything out there that worked."

Nussenbaum and two other VFA fellows began working on the startup six months ago as they neared the end of their two-year fellowship. They interview landlords to find the best pain points on which to capitalize. They have since left their jobs, or are in the process of doing so, to build out the software platform. They are aiming to launch a closed Beta in early September with 10-15 landlords. They are doing it all in the house they bought for a few thousand dollars last fall.

"That's one of the great things about being in Detroit -- it's super cheap,” Nussenbaum says. "We're all in out early 20s, so we don’t need a lot."

Source: Max Nussenbaum, CEO of Castle
Writer: Jon Zemke

Southfield-based Clayton & McKervey adds 10 jobs

Clayton & McKervey's recent growth has a bit of a foreign flavor to it.

The Southfield-based accounting and business advisory firm has grown its revenue by about 5 percent over the last year and is on target to do it again in 2014. That has allowed it to hire 10 people over the last year, including accountants, tax experts, and support staff. The firm currently employs 60 people.

Fueling that growth is rising demand for bigger companies to buy smaller ones.

"A lot more companies are looking at mergers and acquisitions these days," says Kevin McKervey, president of Clayton & McKervey. "A lot of clients are buying companies."

In many case those companies are foreign-owned corporations looking to establish a foothold in the North American market. Often the easier way to do that is to buy a locally-owned company in its space and turn it into the U.S. subsidiary for the multi-national corporation.

"There is a big interest in foreign companies establishing a presence in the U.S.," McKervey says.

Source: Kevin McKervey, president of Clayton & McKervey
Writer: Jon Zemke

Gentry Partnership opens office in Berkley

Chicago-based Gentry Partnership is opening an office in Berkley to service the Metro Detroit market.

Gentry Partnership is a self-described independent third-party provider of cost savings solutions. For instance, it pools the buying power of several businesses and organizations to leverage lower prices for things like health-care plans or temporary labor.

"We help the companies negotiate these deals with the providers," says John Syvernson, managing partner with Gentry Partnership. "Our clients come to us and buy off of these programs and instantly get savings from what they buy."

The company is targeting local automakers and their tier one suppliers. The idea is to not only help them with combined purchasing but also to look at their internal business practices to see where efficiencies can be achieved.

"We bring a fresher, more up-to-date print of the labor market," says Mike Wehby, associate partner with Gentry Partnership.

Source: John Syvernson, managing partner with Gentry Partnership, and Mike Wehby, associate partner with Gentry Partnership
Writer: Jon Zemke

Motawi Tileworks to expand into downtown retail at Ann Arbor Art Center

Retail is nothing new for Motawi Tileworks. The art tile company has been selling their tiles online at at their Enterprise Dr. location in Ann Arbor for some time, in addition to their wholesale work. But owner Nawal Motawi decided it was time to investigate retail in a more visible location. 

"Every once in a while it dawns on me how hard to find our place on Enterprise really is," Motawi says. "But looking at the parts of our business that are most successful, our retail has been quite successful." 

Opening a dedicated retail location in downtown Ann Arbor can be expensive, however, so Motawi is partnering with the Ann Arbor Art Center to ease into the downtown retail game. Beginning in late August, about 500 square feet of the Center will be dedicated to Motawi Tileworks, which will be merchandized by the tile company. 

Though the tile will be sold on consignment like any other art sold at the center, Motawi will share the cost of staffing with the Ann Arbor Art Center and the dedicated space and control over their inventory will help Motawi experiment with downtown retail location. 

"They're feeling really great about it because it's a different way of helping a local artist, so it's still true to their mission," Motawi says. "And really, I want to learn by doing. It would be a great thing to see it grow into own space, and to see if the concept is strong, and if it can be started in other locales."

Motawi Tileworks enthusiasts will find extra incentive to visit the downtown location, as Motawi says she'll market test new tiles there, as well as host periodic events during which visitors can watch tiles being created. 

Motawi hopes to begin operations in the Ann Arbor Art Center space on Aug. 20 and celebrate a grand opening Sept. 5. 

Source: Nawal Motawi, Motawi Tileworks
Writer: Natalie Burg

Hines Industries hires 5 engineers on 30% growth

The last two years have been pretty kind to Hines Industries.

The Ann Arbor-based manufacturing tech firm’s revenue has spiked 30 percent in each of the last two years. That has enabled it to hire five new people (engineers) over the last year, expanding its staff to about 40 people.

"We have had an increase in the automotive section," says Dawn Hines, CEO of Hines Industries. "That is because the automotive sector was ordering less in 2010 and 2011."

Hines Industries makes balancing equipment for manufacturers. Its standard dynamic balancing machine models and specialized balanced configurations for the automotive industry that improves manufacturing process efficiency.

Hines points out that her company has invested in its own operations, including a new IT system, an improved website, and a better customer communication systems. She credits the rebounding economy and surging auto industry with the recent growth spike, but expects it to level out to low-double-digit growth in the next couple of years.

"We think we will be growing something like 15 percent per year," Hines says. "We expected to do more business with existing customers and more business internationally."

Source: Dawn Hines, CEO of Hines Industries
Writer: Jon Zemke

Plymouth Ventures closes on 3rd investment fund worth $61M

Plymouth Ventures doesn't typically add partners to its team, and it's not for lack of qualified candidates. That changed this year for the Ann Arbor-based venture capital firm as it added a new partner and chief financial officer to go with its new $61 million investment vehicle.

"We get about 10 resumes a year from people who grew up in Michigan, went to Washington, D.C, or San Francisco, got married, had children, and want to come home," says Jeff Barry, partner with Plymouth Ventures. "We get 10 really good resumes each year. We usually send them along (to other investment firms) to get placed. This time we happened to be looking for someone."

Two new someones to be exact. Plymouth Ventures brought on Chris Frick as its CFO and Evan Ufer (grandson of University of Michigan broadcasting legend Bob Ufer) as a partner. Both are Michigan returnees from the coasts. Ufer, who is in his mid 30s with a young family, worked in private equity in New York City before coming back to Ann Arbor. Barry points out that Ufer and Frick's resumes stood out so much that the firm knew it had to hire both to help maintain the company's growth.

"We knew we were going to need some added horse power to deploy more capital," Barry says.

Plymouth Ventures closed on its third investment vehicle worth $61 million earlier this month. That’s up from its second fund from a few years ago that totaled $41 million. Plymouth Ventures invests in scalable tech companies in the Midwest and has $100 million under management today. The firm's average investment ranges between $2 million and $6 million.

The 11-year-old firm invested two thirds of its last investment fund in Michigan-based startups. Plymouth Ventures expects to invest about half of its new fund in Michigan-based companies. It has already made its first investment for the new fund earlier this year (Ohio-based Certified Security Solutions) and is on target to make a couple more before the end of the year.

"We're looking at a handful of great companies in the Great Lakes region," Barry says. "We expect to do 2 more (investments) before the end of the year."

Source: Jeff Barry, partner with Plymouth Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rebuild Nation moves to New Center with 10 employees

Rebuild Nation is a young company getting started in a new home in Detroit's New Center neighborhood this summer.

The full-service advertising agency moved its 10 employees from Royal Oak to the Boulevard West building on West Grand Boulevard (across the street from the Fisher Building) last month. The reason: Detroit's greater downtown area has momentum and a competitive edge over the surrounding suburbs.

"The whole company, everyone here, believes in Detroit and wants to be a part of it," says Josh Gershonowicz, owner of Rebuild Nation. "There is a certain energy here you can’t find in the suburbs."

Gershonowicz worked in advertising for a few years, collecting side projects along the way and looking for the right opportunity to strike out on his own. The right opportunity turned out to be Bright Side Dental. The dental practice has nine locations across Metro Detroit and recently decided to turn its marketing efforts over to Gershonowicz, who in turn launched Rebuild Nation.

"It allowed me to merge other small projects I had into an agency," Gershonowicz says. "We started in Royal Oak but moved to New Center six weeks ago."

Today Rebuild Nation has several dozen clients, including The Masonic Temple and Michigan Dental Assisting School. The company has carved out a niche serving the marketing needs of health-care clients. That has allowed Rebuild Nation to grow its staff to 10 employees, about a dozen independent contractors, and two interns. The company recently hired four employees in social media, design, operations, and account management.

Gershonowicz choose to move to New Center specifically because he felt the Midtown/New Center neighborhoods offered the best place for the company to carve out a niche for itself. Gershonowicz believes a boutique firm like his could easily get lost in the mix of big creative firms downtown. Midtown and New Center offer the central city vibrancy with a chance to mix with a growing number of small businesses, while also providing a dynamic place to attract talent.

Source: Josh Gershonowicz, owner of Rebuild Nation
Writer: Jon Zemke

Lotus Bank eyes 20% growth, plans to open new branch

Lotus Bank has its eyes on opening a new branch in Metro Detroit over the next year as it works to keep up with its recent growth.

It will be the third branch for the Novi-based bank, which also has branches in Novi and Farmington Hills. The location hasn’t been selected yet but is expected to become a reality in 2015. That would allow the 7-year-old financial institution to keep up with the growth it's been experiencing in recent years.

"2013 was an exceptional year for the bank," says Neal Searle, president & CEO of Lotus Bank. "We grew about 20 percent. We also surpassed $100 million in assets in April."

Lotus Bank is 80-percent owned by Indian-Americans and primarily serves that community in Metro Detroit. It grew by about 20 percent over the last year and is on track to repeat that number in 2014. Accordingly,  the bank has hired three people, including a credit administrator and client service professionals. It has a staff of 20 employees and one intern, and is looking to hire a commercial lender right now.

Searle points out that Lotus Bank's growth is entirely organic. He credits traditional community banking practices that stress customer service as the fuel for the bank's growth. It's why he is bullish on the bank’s expansion plans and hiring prospects.

"We intend to continue to grow our staff as the market demands," Searle says.

Source: Neal Searle, president & CEO of Lotus Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

OST grows Ann Arbor office, targets bigger growth in A2

OST went through a big growth spurt over the last year, and the Grand Rapids-based tech firm expects its Ann Arbor and Detroit offices to benefit from that growth over the next year.

OST, AKA Open Systems Technologies, hired 50 people over the last 12 months, including two sales professionals in Ann Arbor. The local office staff, which also splits time at the Detroit office, now stands at 13 employees.

"We have had a tremendous amount of growth across the entire organization," says Rob Kellner, principal of application development practice for OST.

OST specializes in IT services, database security, and mobile application development for a number of large companies with a big presence in Michigan, such as ProQuest and Thomson Reuters

"We have seen a 40-50 percent growth especially in application development and managed services," Kellner says. "Both of these particular areas have exploded."

That's good news for the Tree Town and Motown offices. Although a vast majority of OST's new hires have been in Grand Rapids, Kellner expects the staffs in Ann Arbor and Detroit office to grow exponentially this year to keep up with the spiking demand for mobile apps and managed services. He also says OST is aggressively going after new business in southeast Michigan in 2014.

"That's definitely an area that will see a big push for growth," Kellner says.

Source: Rob Kellner, principal of application development practice for OST
Writer: Jon Zemke

Primetime Testing Laboratory expands facility, staff

It's a good time to be Primetime Testing Laboratory. The Clinton Township-based automotive-interior testing company is experiencing double-digit growth, is hiring a handful of people, and is about to finish a facility expansion.
The 16-year-old business specializes in mechanical and physical testing of automotive interiors.  Its services test the durability, fatigue, load and vibration of interior parts of cars and trucks. The company has experienced an uptick in demand for its services, including landing 27 new customers over the last year.

"We're becoming much more busy and growing a lot from it," says Jim Flachsmann, director of business development for Primetime Testing Laboratory.

Primetime Testing Laboratory is on pace to grow between 25 percent and 30 percent this year. Flachsmann credits that growth to the resurgence of the automotive industry, stricter regulations on the interiors of cars and trucks, and the integration of new technology.

"I think the technology came a lot faster than anyone was prepared for," Flachsmann says.

The company has hired three people over the last year, including Flachsmann and two technicians. It is also looking to hire two more technicians. The firm's staff currently stands at 20 employees and one intern.

Primetime Testing Laboratory is also in the process of expanding its facility. It is adding 1,200 square feet of storage space and is remodeling its front office and lobby.

"We hope to wrap it up by the end of the month," Flachsmann says.

Source: Jim Flachsmann, director of business development for Primetime Testing Laboratory
Writer: Jon Zemke

Blue Heron Talent expands with international work

Blue Heron Talent has doubled its revenue over the last year and a major part of that growth is due to new business abroad.

The Ann Arbor-based company specializes in c-suite level coaching, and all of its client had been domestic until this last year. That's when a longtime global client referred the firm to a few international colleagues. Today about 12 percent of the company’s revenue comes from foriegn-based clients.

"That has been very exciting working with different cultures around the globe," says Barbara Allushuski, president & CEO of Blue Heron Talent.

Blue Heron Talent helps executives maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses through coaching. The idea is to help these companies grow by helping their leadership teams grow as professionals. It services both executives in large corporations and entrepreneurs in new startups.

"It's very in-demand because companies are growing again and companies what to be all they can be," Allushuski says.

Blue Heron Talent has added a handful of coaches over the last year to help keep up with demand. Allushuski points out that finding the right fit for her company has become a challenge in the last year, specifically finding coaches with both academic and business backgrounds.

"That continues to be the challenge," Allushuski says. "I can't find enough c-suite-level coaches with the right background."

Source: Barbara Allushuski, president & CEO of Blue Heron Talent
Writer: Jon Zemke
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