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Automation Alley and Oakland U launch business incubator

A training center designed to improve the talent pool for small- to medium-sized manufacturers in Michigan is opening at Oakland University's business incubator.

The Automation Alley Product Lifecycle Management Center is a partnership between Automation Alley, Michigan's largest technology business association; Siemens;  the Michigan Economic Development Corp.; Geometric Solutions; solidThinking Inc.; and Oakland U's School of Engineering and Computer Science.

The Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Center will offer affordable training and PLM certification and training using traditional, mainstream and new technologies in computer aided design, engineering, manufacturing and other PLM skills such as digital factory simulation and 3-D scanning and printing.

Product Lifecycle Management is the process of seeing a product through from concept and design to manufacture, service and disposal. Knowledge and technologies in PLM can bring a company's processes up to date and prepare them for the future as well as increase efficiency, quality and profits by bringing products to market faster.

Besides training and certification, the new management center will help companies move from traditional design and manufacturing methods to the latest digital processes.

The center is located at One Golfview Lane in Rochester.

"In recent years, we've received a lot of feedback from the local manufacturing industry that they are desperately in need of employees trained in PLM. In many cases, they've had to look outside of Michigan to find these employees. Now, with the creation of this center, they will be able to find these employees right here in Southeast Michigan. So what we are creating is a talent pipeline that will ultimately lead to the creation of new jobs, but we can't say exactly how many jobs will be created or at what time," says Erin Sommerville, spokesperson for Automation Alley. "Ultimately, our hope is that Southeast Michigan will become known as a center of excellence for PLM, which would attract both companies and talent."

Source: Erin Sommerville, spokesperson, Automation Alley
Writer: Kim North Shine

Basso Design Group doubles work space in Troy

Basso Design Group is moving on up in the world, or at least in Troy.

The 11-year-old digital marketing agency is moving into a new office this week. The 3,000-square-foot space is twice the size of its previous office, which will help accommodate the firm's growing staff.

Basso Design Group has hired three people over the last year: a website developer, sales professional and a creative director. It now employs a staff of 15 people. The agency is looking for summer interns. It is also looking to hire two people now for website development and website design.

"We have landed some pretty significant clients over the last year," says Dan Santonocito, managing partner with Basso Design Group. "Everyone from Michigan State University to Wayne State University to Michigan First Credit Union to Hansons."

The Troy-based firm handles a wide variety of digital marketing services, including website building, social media, search engine optimization and mobile app development. It is looking to get into developing mobile apps and responsive web design this year as it looks to continue growing its revenue at a double-digit clip.

"We steadily grow between 20-30 percent a year," Santonocito says. "Every year has been our best year so far."

Source: Dan Santonocito, managing partner with Basso Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M startup takes top prize at Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize

GENOMENON, a startup founded by University of Michigan students, walked away with the top prize at the Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize last week. The win allows the healthcare software startup to pocket $40,000 in seed capital.

GENOMENON's technology is the product of three U-M pathologists. The trio is developing software focused on improving cancer diagnosis and treatment. The company won the top prize at the event and the competition’s health category.

This is the fifth year for the competition, which has changed names and pivoted its focus a couple of times. The Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize is a three-month program that helps innovators find the market for their products. It is organized by U-M's Center for Entrepreneurship and offers $100,000 in seed capital for student-led startups.

Startups from across Michigan’s colleges are eligible to compete. This year it fielded 81 student teams from 16 colleges. Twenty three of those teams made the semifinals and five of those teams walked away with seed capital prizes.

"It's about talent retention through Michigan-based ventures," says Amy Klinke, associate director at University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship. "For us it's a win that these students stay in the state to lead these ventures."

The Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize got its start as a business plan competition at the University of Michigan. It then pivoted to become the Michigan Clean Energy Competition and expanded its reach to include participants from across the Great Lakes State. This year it opened up the competition even further to invite participants from a number of different new economy sectors, such as software.

Source: Amy Klinke, associate director at University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

New hires and promotions at Kraemer Design Group, Strategic Staffing Solutions

Two Detroit-based companies have made personnel changes that each hopes will carry their 2013 fortunes into 2014.

Kraemer Design Group, the architecture, interior design, and creative firm involved in such high profile Detroit projects as the Broderick Tower and David Whitney Building, have hired four new employees. The company has added two project architects, a senior interior designer, and an architectural designer to their roster.

Laurie Frey Borer and Nicole Eisenmann have been hired as project architects. Frey Borer is a member of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Eisenmann possesses a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation. Both attended the University of Michigan.

Amanda Knight is the new architectural designer for the group, having received a Master of Architecture from Lawrence Technological University. Kimberly Sansone has been hired as senior interior designer. She has over ten years of experience in the field.

The IT and business services company Strategic Staffing Solutions has announced a number of leadership changes. Each promotion has been made from within company ranks.

Among the promotions are Allen Coleman and April Donaldson both being named executive vice presidents. Carl Bentley will also move into a full-time executive vice president role. Shalini Lawson succeeds Bentley as Detroit branch manager and Bob Zhang is now director of Customer Care and Contact Services.

Strategic Staffing Solutions grew from $208 to $238 million in sales in 2013. President and CEO Cynthia J. Pasky expects that the leadership changes will keep the company competitive and growing in 2014, saying, "We can't assume that what was offered (in 2013) will stay the same. We have to act to keep up our services."

Sources: Kraemer Design Group press release and Cynthia J. Pasky, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Qstride expands across U.S. with new Ann Arbor, VA offices

Qstride is growing across the eastern half of the U.S. The Troy-based tech firm is opening new offices in downtown Ann Arbor and Virginia. It is also expanding its office in downtown Detroit.

Qstride provides analytics and business intelligence services for a broad range of clients. It now has clients across the country, from New York to California and several states in between. That has allowed the 20-month-old firm to grow its revenue by 135 percent. It now employs 20 people, including eight in Detroit.

"It will probably grow to 15 people," says Shane Gianino, CEO of Qstride. "We don't want to grow too fast."

The Ann Arbor and Virginia offices are still small. Gianino expects them to grow significantly over the next year as they draw from their respective local tech talent pools.

Qstride does a lot of work in data warehousing and business intelligence, such as providing big data services and predictive analytics. It has landed 10 new clients over the last year, including three last week. The clientele includes healthcare, retail, education and financial services businesses.

Source: Shane Gianino, CEO of Qstride
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M students create new mobile startup, Tag Contacts

What do you do when you want to launch a new economy startup? Find a new economy pain in the butt and begin working on a solution. It also helps if you can have a tech titan give you a shout out to get things started.

That's what's going on with Tag Contacts. The startup is the brainchild of two University of Michigan undergrads who want to build a better contacts apps for smartphones. The startup also managed to get a bump in interest when Twitter CEO Dick Costolo took notice of Tag Contacts and told the world.

"We're trying to go back to basics," says Chris O'Neil, co-founder of Tag Contacts. "Tag is for play tag on the playground. We’re trying to make it as simple as possible."

O'Neil, who is also president of MPowered, and Billy Irwin are juniors at U-M studying computer science. They became frustrated with a million and one annoyances with traditional contact lists on their smartphones, so they started reinventing the technology. That meant launching Tag Contacts, which is now composed of a team of five people, last October.

Tag Contacts technology, which is in private Beta, aims to make using the contacts list on a smartphone simpler and more intuitive. For instance, it allows users to sort contacts by which ones were recently entered. It also differentiates between contacts found on social media and in real life.

"The people you call and text aren’t necessarily the people you interact with on social media," O'Neil says. "We want to get you through to the people you want to call."

Tag Contacts caught Costolo's eye last week. The Twitter CEO, also a U-M alum, began following Tag Contacts and tweeted the startup, which brought about a world of attention. The startup is now pulling allnighters to get its technology into Apple's App Store by March.

Source: Chris O'Neil, co-founder of Tag Contacts
Writer: Jon Zemke

Seelio continues to expand software platform across U.S.

Seelio is starting to grow beyond its humble beginnings in Ann Arbor. The software startup's digital portfolio platform for college students is appearing at more and more universities across the U.S.

Seelio is developing a software platform that allows college students to showcase their portfolio of work. The software enables the students to document how college projects came to fruition and use that to get a start in the professional world, such as for job interviews. Seelio’s software is actively being used at seven universities across the U.S., including the universities of Michigan, Toledo and Texas, among others.

"We have a very strong pipeline of universities," says Moses Lee, CEO of Seelio.

That growth has allowed Seelio to grow in a number of different ways. It raised a $1.5 million seed round last year. It also hired six people (mostly in sales and customer service), expanding its staff to 12 employees. It also moved to new space at Ann Arbor SPARK’s Central Business Incubator in downtown Ann Arbor.

Seelio is looking to continue to grow its product use in more universities across North America. It currently has string footholds in the Midwest, East Coast and South, but would like to partner with more institutions of higher learning in other regions of the country in 2014.

"It's all about growth," Lee says. "We want to provide stellar outcomes and services to university students."

Source: Moses Lee, CEO of Seelio
Writer: Jon Zemke

G2 Consulting Group plans to open up office in Ann Arbor

G2 Consulting Group is opening up a new office in Ann Arbor, which is bringing a handful of new hires to Tree Town.

The Troy-based firm provides environmental and geotechnical engineering services in the construction industry. It has an office in Chicago and is opening up the new office in Ann Arbor to accommodate its double-digit revenue growth. The new office has a staff of six people and ambitions to grow further.

"We are going to hire a couple more people for that office," says Noel Hargrave, co-founder & principal of G2 Consulting Group. He adds there are two engineering jobs currently open.

The 20-year-old firm has experienced significant growth in the last two year, spiking its revenues by 20 percent in 2012 and 31 percent last year. Part of that expanded work comes from the University of Michigan and Washtenaw County. G2 Consulting Group is opening a lab for soils and materials work in its Ann Arbor office to accommodate that work.

G2 Consulting Group does work across the U.S., operating in 29 states. Hargrave says the business has grown with the upswing in economy because it’s true to its word when it’s time to deliver.

"We do what we say we're going to do and we do it on a timely basis," Hargrave says. "In construction you can't be the person holding up the project."

Source: Noel Hargrave, co-founder & principal of G2 Consulting Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

My Graffiti Removal Guy targets SW Detroit

Robert Sheppard worked for a masonry restoration company for 10 years before he moved to Detroit. He and his wife made the move to the Motor City about a year ago after she took a nursing job at the Ann Arbor VA Hospital. That was about the same time Sheppard started My Graffiti Removal Guy.

"There wasn't a lot of graffiti removal in Detroit, so I got the ball rolling for myself," Sheppard says. He adds that "it's a skill I acquired in masonry restoration. When I got to Detroit I noticed a lot of graffiti. It was an opportunity and I ran with it."

My Graffiti Removal Guy has done most of it work in Southwest Detroit, mostly in the area of Springwells and West Vernor for the Southwest Detroit Business Association.

The firm takes graffiti and tags off the sides of businesses and homes in the area, along with other places throughout the city. It is enough work for Sheppard to employ himself. He is looking to really establish the company in 2014.

"I want my business to continue to make people happy and provide a quality service," Sheppard says. "I would like to hire a guy within the next year and have my name known across Detroit."

Source: Robert Sheppard, owner & operator of My Graffiti Removal Guy
Writer: Jon Zemke

Technology Solutions aims for 50% revenue increase

Technology Solutions has experienced years of double-digit growth and is preparing for another one in 2014.

The Livonia-based tech firm has grown its revenues by 300 percent since 2009. It is looking forward to another year of 50-percent revenue growth this year.

"We have grown somewhat dramatically," says Steve Futrell, president of Technology Solutions.

Technology Solutions specializes in VOIP work in the voice and data industry. The 19-year-old company rebranded itself as Technology Solutions in 1999. It does business with a number of large companies around the world. It is also expanding into some institutional customers, such as school districts.

"Our solution is ideal for the school-district workplace," Futrell says. "We are giving them a full-blown, feature-rich system on their own campus."

That new bit of business has allowed Technology Solutions to hire two people over the last year, including an engineer and customer advocate. It is also looking to hire another engineer right now. The firm currently employs a staff of a dozen employees and an intern.

Source: Steve Futrell, president of Technology Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Paper Street expands its co-working space in Ferndale

Paper Street, a work and meeting space for Do It Yourselfers, artists and entrepreneurs, is reopened after renovations and expansion.

The office at 840 E. Lewiston originally opened in 2010 and added to its co-working space in late 2013.

Owner Andy Didorosi says Paper Street's mission is to make it easier to grow and start a business.

New co-working and private offices have opened and for are for rent, which includes 24-hour access, wi-fi, coffee, printing and networking to "a community of doers, builders, thinkers and makers," says Didorosi.

Paper Street also has industrial spaces for rent as well as a studio for photo shoots, and offers classes on design, tech entrepreneurship and art.

Source: Andy Didorosi, owner, Paper Street
Writer: Kim North Shine

G2 Consulting grows revenue 31%, opens Ann Arbor office

G2 Consulting Group's work hasn't changed, but the way it does it most certainly has. As a result, the Troy-based construction firm has grown in recent years.

G2 Consulting Group specializes in environmental and geotechnical engineering services. Think of it as doing the construction work that takes place below the ground, like soil testing. This has meant generations of paperwork.

When the recession came about in 2008, the 20-year-old company used it as an opportunity to upgrade its technology, turning everything digital. Its field workers now use iPads to input information. There is an in-house project management database. All of the new technology helps streamline the firm’s workflow.

"The workflow is seamless," says Noel Hargrave-Thomas, co-founder & principal of G2 Consulting Group. “Our work hasn’t changed but the way we do it has."

That set the stage for a couple of big years for the firm. G2 Consulting Group watched its revenue spike by 20 percent in 2012 and 31 percent last year. It has hired four people in the last year, including a couple of former interns. It now has 35 employees and is looking to add some more interns this summer.

G2 Consulting Group has also opened up an office in Ann Arbor, which will complement the one it already has in Chicago. The new Ann Arbor office currently employs six people and the firm is looking to add another two engineers there.

Source: Noel Hargrave-Thomas, co-founder & principal of G2 Consulting Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Car crash into Perkins Picklesí store helps biz regroup

Fate and an errant driver nearly closed the doors of Perkins Pickles last year.

Tom Perkins, owner of Perkins Pickles, grew his slow food business since he left Chicago for Detroit at the end of the last decade. He opened up his own retail location in Hamtramck, 2635 Caniff, early last year. A few months later, a driver suffering from a medical condition crashed into the front of his pickling facility, Perkins says.

That forced Perkins to temporarily shut down his business a few months last year and reorganize. At the time he was working full-time hours as a freelance reporter for The Ann Arbor News covering Ypsilanti and working another full-time job growing Perkins Pickles. The accident and subsequent temporary closure gave Perkins the opportunity to restructure the way he did business that didn’t involve him working 80-100 hour weeks.

"It was good to have a little break and restructure the company," Perkins says.

He moved his retail sales to The Rust Belt Market in downtown Ferndale. Perkins is now working with Henrietta Haus Coffee to renovate a vacant space on Jos Campau on the south end of the city the two businesses will share.

"We hope to be moving in down there in April," Perkins says.

Perkins Pickles currently employs a staff of three people. Perkins choose to stay in Hamtramck because he lives there and it’s more cost-effective to grow a young business from the inner-city suburb.

"Rent is a lot cheaper here than in Midtown," Perkins says. "You get a lot more bank for your buck in Hamtramck."

Source: Tom Perkins, owner of Perkins Pickles
Writer: Jon Zemke

Grow Michigan issues $20M in loans to 12 businesses in last year

Grow Michigan is wrapping up its first year of loans, dispersing $20.1 million to a dozen different growing companies in Michigan.

"Both the size and the speed of our loans is accelerating now that more and more people are becoming more aware of it," says Russell Youngdahl, Jr., CEO of Grow Michigan.

Grow Michigan got its start when a number of members of Michigan's banking community and the Michigan Strategic Fund put the $35.7 million fund together. It provides mezzanine loans that are made in conjunction with senior loans from other established lenders. Those loans range in size from $500,000 to $3 million.

"We're speculating that we will do $4 million a quarter (in loans)," Youngdahl says.

Among the recipients of the first round of loans are tier one and tier two automotive suppliers, aerospace manufacturers and hospitality firms.  

The $20.1 million in loans from Grow Michigan were part of a total debt package valued at $141 million. Those businesses employ more than 1,000 workers in the Great Lakes State.

Source: Russell Youngdahl, Jr., CEO of Grow Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Fred Astaire Dance Studio expands staff in Bloomfield Hills

The Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Bloomfield Hills is on a bit of a hiring binge.

The dance-instruction business has hired four teachers in the last year. It is currently looking to hire another two right now, along with an administrative professional. All of these hires are so the eight-year-old business can keep up with the increasing demand for its services.

"The momentum of ballroom dancing is part of it," says Evan Mountain, co-owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studio. "People want to be more comfortable dancing. Plus, it's probably part of the improving economy."

Evan Mountain owns the business with his wife, Lada Mountain. They oversee a staff of 10 people. The business’ revenue has spiked by 60 percent over the last year and it's seeing even more encouraging results so far this year. Seven weeks into 2014, the company's revenues are up 58 percent compared to the same period last year.

"People are flooding in," Evan Mountain says. "It's incredible to me. We have always led the country in business (the Bloomfield Hills location is part of a national franchise) from this studio but I have never seen students flood in like this."

Source: Evan Mountain, co-owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studio
Writer: Jon Zemke
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