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Clarkston State Bank grows off increased commercial lending

The financial crisis wasn't a crisis for everyone. For Clarkston State Bank it was an opportunity.

The Clarkston-based bank filled in the vacuum of commercial lending in recent years while larger banks ran scared from the sector. That has allowed the local bank to grow its bottom line and a few other things.

"We've been a very active lender, specifically commercial lending," says Grant Smith, president & CEO of Clarkston State Bank. "It's why we have been hiring a few people this year."

The 15-year-old community bank has hired three people over the last year, including a vice president of credit administration and a treasurer. It now employs a staff of 44 people among four branches in Clarkston, Waterford, and Independence Township. It is currently building a replacement branch near McLaren Hospital.

Clarkston State Bank has watched its revenue grow by 20-30 percent for each of the last few years. Its net income is up 20 percent while retail deposits are up $15 million. The bank also booked $30 million in new lending last year while it reviewed nearly $60 million in deals during that time. It hopes to add a few million more in lending this year.

"That's quite a bit for a small bank," Smith says.

Source: Grant Smith, president & CEO of Clarkston State Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M's struggle to adopt data-driven learning

Transitioning from traditional educational methods to our technology-aided, data-driven culture is a much more complicated and unwieldy than you might think.

Excerpt:

"But things were beginning to change. That same year, Michigan created a central data warehouse that has become a giant digital filing cabinet for all of the data collected by the university’s 19 schools and colleges. And soon universitywide management software vastly increased the amount of data flowing into that central warehouse.

More recently, Michigan has piped in data from its learning-management system that not only identify students and the courses they are taking, but also indicate how frequently they log in to the system, download digital course materials, and submit online assignments."

Read the rest here.

Detroit Barre brings ballet barre fitness studio to riverfront

Ballet barre classes have made their way to Detroit with the opening of Detroit Barre on the Motor City’s East Riverfront neighborhood.

The 1-month-old fitness studio opened in a refurbished carriage house at 2217 Franklin St. near Chene Park, Atwater Brewery, and the Dequindre Cut. The space is 1,500 square feet, half of which is a dedicated workout area. Three instructors teach barre fitness, which is designed to work out the muscles of a dancer with low impact, isometric exercises that combine ideas from ballet, pilates, and yoga.

"It's accessible to people of all ages and ability levels," says Laura Davis, a teacher at Detroit Barre. "It provides a space where people of all walks of life can come together and improve their fitness level."

Detroit Barre currently welcomes a couple dozen regulars to its class. Davis and her partners would like to grow that clientele over the next year as they establish the business.

"We'd like to have a regular 50 students come in on a weekly basis," Davis says.

Source: Laura Davis, teacher at Detroit Barre
Writer: Jon Zemke

TorranceLearning grows revenue, profitability in Chelsea

TorranceLearning grew its revenue last year (by 20 percent) but the story that makes the 8-year-old business’s leadership smile is how net income spiked.

"Profitability went way up last year," says Megan Torrance, CEO of TorranceLearning.

That is due to a couple of different factors for the education company that got its start providing e-learning solutions. It won an award for an employee education project is did with Denso last year and has been pushing its boundaries by helping create a STEM education exhibit for elementary school students at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

"We're making interactive, personalized exhibits that track the education of students for teachers," Torrance says.

TorranceLearning is also renting out part of its workspace in the Clocktower in downtown Chelsea. The company created a brainstorming space that measures out to about 2,300 square feet. It has been renting it out to local corporations, like Johnson & Johnson and Trinity Health.

"We realized this space was too awesome to keep to ourselves," Torrance says.

That extra income has allowed the company to expand its staff. It has hired two people over the last year (e-learning developers) and now has a staff of 11 employees and one intern.

Source: Megan Torrance, CEO of TorranceLearning
Writer: Jon Zemke

Coupon Wallet racks up customers as it emerges from Beta stage

Lots of software startups make it into Beta, one of the early stages where they get to test out their new idea in the real world. Few make it out.

Coupon Wallet appears to be one of those making it out of Beta and into the world of paying customers. The Sterling Heights-based startup that calls the Macomb-OU INCubator home converted its first users (a couple of bars) into customers earlier this summer.

"We have a couple other businesses in the pilot we’re trying to convert into customers as well," says Christopher Papa, CMO of Coupon Wallet.

Coupon Wallet’s software helps small businesses create digital coupons that in turn aid them in reaching a larger audience. The technology includes managed marketing services and point-of-sale integration. The firm is also looking to marry digital coupons and data analytics as part of its service package.

"Hopefully that will give the customer a rounded offering," Papa says.

Coupon Wallet was spun out of PocketCents Network a year ago. It currently has a team of four employees and two interns.

Source: Christopher Papa, CMO of Coupon Wallet
Writer: Jon Zemke

Banza turns chick peas into next big thing in pasta

Brian Rudolph ran into a something of a conundrum early in his adult life. The Detroiter is gluten free and loves to eat healthy, but he also loves to eat pasta. He reconciled these contradictions by creating his own gluten-free pasta and bulding a business, Banza, around it.

"I stopped buying pasta and started making my own," says Rudolph, a Venture for America fellow who co-founded Banza with his brother, Scott Rudolph. "The more I worked on it the more I realized this could be a $1 billion company."

Banza's pasta is made from chickpeas, so it is more akin to hummus and falafel than traditional pasta. It is gluten, grain, and soy free. While normal pasta lacks in providing nutritional value, Banza contains a load of nutrients. It has seven grams of fiber and 13 grams of protein in a serving.

"It's more (protein) than you get in a protein bar," Rudolph says.

The 8-month-old company and its team of three people are currently working to get their pasta-replacement food to market. It is currently in the Eatly fine food stores in the U.S. and should be on the shelves of the 200 Meijer stores by September. The Rudolphs also just participated in a taping of Restaurant Startup, a Shark Tank-style show for entrepreneurs on CNBC.

"Our goal is to do to pasta what Chobani did to yogurt," Rudolph says.

Source: Brian Rudolph, co-founder of Banza
Writer: Jon Zemke

Dynamic Edge adds 11 new IT hires in Ann Arbor

Dynamic Edge growth has spiked over the last year. The Ann Arbor-based IT firm's revenue is up about 35 percent and it has hired 11 new people over the last 12 months, expanding the company’s staff to 49 employees and one intern.

Prompting that growth is the popularity of its Fixed IT program, which helps head off IT problems before they crash the system or even before they begin. Dynamic Edge has attracted a number of new customers, particularly in the healthcare sector.

"We see a number of opportunities coming from regulatory pressure and new HIPPA laws," says Bruce McCully, CEO of Dynamic Edge. "People are thinking twice about running that in-house."

Accounting firms are also flocking to Dynamic Edge's Fixed IT program. The regulatory pressure isn't as intense in that industry. In fact, McCully is not exactly sure what is driving CPAs to use his company’s platform.

"I'm not really sure why," McCully says. "It might be because the software they use is becoming more and more complicated."

Dynamic Edge has been on a growth streak like this for the last few years, but McCully wants to throttle back on some of that expansion this year and next. He would like to put more focus on refining the basics of Dynamic Edge’s business plan and execution of it.

"This year our theme has been sharpening the edge," McCully says. "We have put a lot of resources into improving delivery of our services to our customers."

Source: Bruce McCully, CEO of Dynamic Edge
Writer: Jon Zemke

The Inovo Group sees 30-50% revenue spike in each of last 3 years

The Inovo Group's growth rate is something to take notice of. The downtown Ann Arbor-based consulting firm has watched its revenue jump 30 percent to 50 percent in each of the last three years.

This last year the firm added four new clients. That work has enabled the innovation-consulting office to hire two people (analysts), expanding its staff to 13 employees and one intern.

"We are on a steady growth path," says Larry Schmitt, CEO of The Inovo Group.

The Inovo Group has made its way helping large corporations find new, more-efficient ways of doing things. That could range from finding new opportunities to discovering new technology for it to harness. The bottomline is The Inovo Group's clientele recognize that innovation is critical to their growth.

"When we get involved with a company we do it when they want to do something big," Schmitt says. "It's when they want to push their own boundaries."

The Inovo Group also made the moved to new office in January next to the Downtown Home & Garden. The 5-year-old company has now smoothly moved into the new space and used it to help grow its talent base.

"It has energized our environment," Schmitt says. "It's an attractive place for the people we want to recruit."

Source: Larry Schmitt, CEO of The Inovo Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Troy-based Seco Tools hires 20 for tech engineering group

Seco Tools is on a bit of a hiring spree as it works to fill out a new custom manufacturing space in Troy.

The Troy-based company specializes in metalcutting work in manufacturing. It recently consolidated an out-of-state facility with a new location in Troy that specializes in specialty manufacturing and testing. The firm has been staffing up the facility for the last year, making 20 hires in its technical engineering group.

"It's really just a skeleton crew. We need to add two more people to bring us up to where we need to be here," says Bob Goulding, tech engineering manager for Seco Tools. "We hope to add another shift next year."

The 35,000-square-foot space near the Automation Alley offices is the result of the company moving some work from a former location in Tennessee last fall. The new facility will do custom manufacturing and testing work when it’s all done.

"We're really just finishing it now," Goulding says.

Source: Bob Goulding, tech engineering manager for Seco Tools
Writer: Jon Zemke

300 Decisions fills out Ann Arbor office with new employees

Last year 300 Decision spent a lot of its time opening up a new office in Chicago. This year the Ann Arbor-based relocation-service firm has spent most of its time filling out its two offices.

"We have stayed about as busy as you can be at those two locations," Helen Dennis, president of 300 Decisions.

The 2-year-old company has hired three people (project managers) over the last year. It now employs a staff of seven people, which serves the likes of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Rossetti (an architecture firm), the city of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools, and U.S. Cellular

"We are really busy and having a lot of fun helping our clients make difficult transitions," Dennis says.

That includes everything from internal communications at the client business to streamline the move to helping facilitate change management for the move. Dennis named the business 300 Decisions as a reference to her guesstimate of how many questions a company must ask itself when executing an office move.

This is Dennis's second relocation services business. Her first was acquired in 2006. This time she is taking a more measured approach to growth.

"I want to grow within reason," Dennis says. "By reason I mean growth that makes sense. I also want to stay involved in the culture of the company."

Source: Helen Dennis, president of 300 Decisions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Global LT lands private equity investment, adds 15 jobs

Global LT is making a big change as it positions itself to grow exponentially over the next few years.

The Troy-based firm specializes in language services, cultural training, expatriate destination services, and workforce training courses for international locales. It recently accepted a significant investment from Growth Equity Fund, an affiliate of the private-equity firm Vicente Capital Partners.

Hortensia Albertini started the company from her kitchen table in Metro Detroit in 1979. Albertini built Global LT into a multi-million-dollar company and eventually handed over control to her daughter, Lisette Poletes, who worked out the deal with Growth Equity Fund.

"It was a necessary step to in our path to get capital resources and technology to help us scale," says Tom Hanson, president of Global LT.

Between 2010 and 2013, Global LT clocked a 31-percent compound growth rate. It is aiming to grow 15 percent annually for the next few years. To accomplish that, Global LT's leadership is looking to expand its work with its existing customer base, land more contracts with the U.S. Dept of Defense, and penetrate the Asia-Pacific markets.

To do that, Global LT has hired 15 people over the last year, creating jobs in sales, operations, recruiters, and project managers. It’s also looking to add another six people to its existing staff of 103 employees, an intern, and several thousand independent contractors.

Source: Tom Hanson, president of Global LT
Writer: Jon Zemke

Shelving ponders acquisition, more hiring

Long-term is an important word at Shelving.

The Auburn Hills-based company is a family owned business that aims for strong single-digit revenue growth and steady employee growth. It recently hired an e-commerce/Internet sales professional, expanding its staff to 24 employees.
 
"We have a lot of long-term employees here," says Mike Schodowski, co-owner of Shelving.

Jack Schodowski started Shelving in 1960. The company offers storage products, along with design-build and after-the-sale support services. Among its 15,000 products are wire shelving, rivet shelving, pallet racks, lockers, mezzanines, in-plant offices and security fences.

Shelving grew its revenue by 8 percent over the last year, in line with the family's aim.  Much of that came from extra work from existing clients.

"Slow and steady is our motto," Schodowski says. "You don't want to grow too fast."

With that said, the slow part might not be as slow in the next year or two as Shelving looks to keep expanding.

"We are looking at acquiring another company down the road or hiring some additional sales people," Schodowski says.

Source: Mike Schodowski, co-owner of Shelving
Writer: Jon Zemke

STEM aims to reinvent science-based education

Andrew B. Raupp launched a company six years ago looking to reinvent STEM education by creating synergies between science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. He rebranded the company as STEM last fall after he was able to acquire the URL www.STEM.org.

"Because we got that it made a lot of sense to update the site and the logo," Raupp says.

The Southfield-based company is working to improve STEM education in the school curriculum through better intermingling of the subjects. He points out that subjects like math and science are taught in silos and don't bring things like engineering and technology into the curriculum enough, even though all four things are interdependent. Check out a video of it here.

"Very simply, we help schools, districts, and organizations do STEM better," Raupp says.

The company employs nine employees after making two hires (an education director and a partnerships director) over the last year. It also has a stable of 150 independent contractors.

STEM is also working to open a satellite office in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood this year. The firm is currently in the process of raising $700,000 to build out the space that will help local schools, teachers and students integrate STEM materials into their everyday lives.

"We want to create an incubator where schools can learn to set up AP programs, career technical education programs, and STEM programs," Raupp says.

Source: Andrew B Raupp, executive director of STEM
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wallace Detroit Guitars turns reclaimed wood into guitars

Reclaimed wood from disassembled houses in Detroit is popping up everywhere these days. It can be found in trendy coffee houses, in table tops, even in the frames of sunglasses. And it's about to be found in guitars.

Wallace Detroit Guitars is making electric guitar bodies from wood reclaimed from Detroit’s abandoned houses. The Corktown-based company is working to create high-end guitars with recycled materials meant to inspire memories of the Motor City's heritage and musical legacy. Mark Wallace, owner of Wallace Detroit Guitars, was inspired to launch the venture early this year when he started noticing reclaimed materials becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the local creative community.

"I got interested in seeing how far we could push that," Wallace says. "What can we build with reclaimed materials from Detroit?"

An instrument from Wallace Detroit Guitars is meant to emphasize that the quality of the wood (taken from Michigan's virgin forests a century ago) and the advanced skill set of Wallace’s team of eight craftsman. Each guitar will feature high-quality hardware and hand-wound pickups. All of the wood is from reclaimed material, except for the neck of the guitar, which Wallace is sourcing from maple trees harvested in Michigan.

"I'm in the process of finishing the first prototypes," Wallace says. "They're working out great."

The first guitars are expected to come to market later this month. Each will retail for $2,000. Wallace acknowledges that the starting price point means they won't be someone's first guitar, but he eventually wants to make them accessible to a broad range of people -- not just folks who appreciate quality guitars with cool backstories and end up hanging them on a wall, but to musicians and others who will bring the instrument to life in a variety of places.

"I'd like to sell these to everybody," Wallace says. "I'd like to sell them to people who love Detroit and love making music."

Source: Mark Wallace, owner of Wallace Detroit Guitars
Writer: Jon Zemke
Photos: Jesse David Green, MammothReach

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

Park n Party's tailgating services start to go mainstream

Park n Party launched a couple of year’s ago with a novel idea, enabling tailgaters to reserve a parking spot online for University of Michigan home football games. The business has really started to gain traction since then.

"Last year what we saw is people definitely told their friends," says Jason Kapica, partner with Park n Party. "The pinnacle was last year’s Winter Classic hockey game. We sold 3,000 reservations. We sold every spot we had access to."

The big one-off events have proven as popular as the home football games. Park n Party has done well with annual events like Ann Arbor Art Fair and the Manchester United soccer game at Michigan Stadium. Park n Party has also been able to expand into South Bend, Indiana, for Notre Dame home football games and is eyeing Madison, Wisconsin, for University of Wisconsin football games.

"I'd really like to get to Columbus for Ohio State," Kapica says. "Madison is definitely something we're looking at for football."

Park n Party’s software allows people attending big events to reserve parking spots online, saving them the trouble of driving around searching for a place to park their car. The four-person team has refined the system so it covers more than 3,000 parking spots around Michigan Stadium. Those have proven popular with large groups of friends attending Michigan football games and corporate events.

"We get a lot of calls for large tailgate parties," Kapica says.

Source: Jason Kapica, partner of Park n Party
Writer: Jon Zemke
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