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Troy's blueRock Technologies makes 5 hires on 30% sales growth

Troy-based blueRock Technologies has earned a couple of nice spikes over the last year.

The first comes from an additional five hires in technical and project management positions, expanding the company’s staff to 19 employees. It is also looking to hire another two technical staff right now.

The second is in its revenue. The IT company enjoyed a 30-percent bump over the last year. Most of those new sales have come from the hospitality industry. The 14-year-old firm has a number of clients that are nightclubs, restaurants, and hotels on the east coast.

"We have really increased our footprint in those areas," says Peter Marsack, vice president of consulting for blueRock Technologies. "We have a lot of clients in this area as well."

The IT firm also provides consulting and cloud-based services for its clients. One of its aims is to help pair clients with the best technology for their business model. The strategy is paying off, and blueRock Technologies is optimistic about its near-future prospects.

"We're going to continue growing the business in the hospitality market," Marsack says. "We're definitely going to be bringing on more people."

Source: Peter Marsack, vice president of consulting for blueRock Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Building Hugger finds opportunity in the historic preservation of Detroit structures

When Amy Swift moved back to Michigan in 2011, the newly minted Ivy Leaguer had a master's degree in historic preservation from Columbia University, but not much else.

"I wasn't sure what was next at that point," Swift says. But it didn't take long for the architect to fall in love with Detroit, so she launched her own business: Building Hugger.

"I was really inspired by the opportunities that were here," Swift says.

Building Hugger specializes in historic preservation. If that seems broad, then know that such a wide focus wasn’t accidental. Today the company specializes in everything from design to renovating distressed properties to refurbishing historic windows.

"I founded Building Hugger before I knew what the focus would be," Swift says. "I found a lot of different projects. Some have been successes. Some have been failures. Some have been both. It’s to the point where I now know exactly what Building Hugger is."

The Detroit resident has participated in a recent auction of tax foreclosed properties and is working on rehabbing a couple of single family homes -- one at the front and the other at the rear of the same lot -- near Clark Park in southwest Detroit. You can check out the business plan for the project here.

Swift also is working in a number of construction trades, taking a special interest in window restoration. She has recently been working on restoring the windows of the Venture For America house in Virginia Park, and is taking on more similar projects.

"There is a lot of room for growth in this area," Swift says.

Source: Amy Swift, founder & principal of Building Hugger
Writer: Jon Zemke

Climate Technologies develops new way of cutting pollution emissions

Climate Technologies has reinvented itself in recent years as a company that works in both the automotive and green-tech sectors.

Today the Farmington Hills-based company is growing at a healthy clip while it continues to develop both ends of its business. Its revenue is up 15 percent in the last year, enabling it to hire another engineer in that time. It now employs six people.

"It's the rebounding of the automotive industry primarily," says Walt Zimmerman, CEO of Climate Technologies.

The 44-year-old company got its start providing temperature and humidity-control services for the automotive suppliers. The rebounding automotive industry has helped beef up that business. It has also gotten work from larger organizations, such as hospitals and universities.

Climate Technologies has also been developing a new way of cutting pollution emissions. The climate-control technology captures toxic gases and concentrates them so they can be used in things like fuel cells. It's now working on a next-generation version that integrates natural gas into the mix to make it more efficient.

"It's a large step forward," Zimmerman says. "It makes the technology appealing to people with pollution-control issues."

Source: Walt Zimmerman, CEO of Climate Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Dragonmead Brewery expands with new brewing system

Dragonmead Microbrewery has expanded its brewing system, filling up the entire 11,000-square foot facility where it brews award-winning beers -- and ales and mead -- in Warren.

The facility at 14600 E. 11 Mile Road includes a 1,000-square-foot tap room that sells dozens of beers on tap and serves food from nearby Lazybones Smokehouse.

By installing a smaller batch brewing system, the expansion allows the brewery to not only keep up with overall demand but to offer the variety Dragonmead faithfuls expect, says Larry Channel, a founding member of the microbrewery, which began in 1997.

“Having the variety system in place and producing again will allow us to once again offer over 40 different styles of beer on tap at our taproom here in Warren,” says Jennifer Locher, pub manager for Dragonmead. “The variety will be in place in time for the holidays.”

The latest expansion follows the addition last year of a 20-barrel brew house. This year the company is introducing a seasonal line of products in both bottles and draught: Oktoberfest, Devil’s Knight Pumpkin Ale, Jul Øl, a Norwegian Spiced Christmas Ale and St. Nicole’s Weizenbock. Sin Eater, a high-gravity Dark Belgian Ale, is soon to be released in bottles as a year-round product. Sin Eater is currently available in the Tap Room in Warren.

Source: Larry Channel, founding member of Dragonmead Microbrewery
Writer: Kim North Shine

MagicBook creates app that makes paper books come alive

Enjoying paper books and participating in the digital revolution doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. That's what the team behind MagicBook is thinking.

The Ann Arbor-based startup is developing a mobile app that helps make reading physical books fun for kids.

"We were thinking of things we could do to connect technology with physical books," says Marjie Knepp, co-founder of MagicBook. "All of us grew up enjoying physical books. That really spoke to us."

The four-person team found that kids are reading less and less for fun, a practice that could potentially negatively impact intellectual development. To counter that, MagicBook is combing 21st Century technology with traditional books. Kids using MagicBook can hold a mobile device using the app to a book they are reading. The app will play music, animations, and even interactive characters to engage the user.

MagicBook won the People's Choice at the most recent Detroit Startup Weekend. The team is currently working on taking off the rough edges of the app so it can be ready for the general public.

"We're hoping to have it ready within the next six months," Knepp says.

Source: Marjie Knepp, co-founder of MagicBook
Writer: Jon Zemke

ShareSpace Rochester revives downtown co-working spot

Plans for a co-working space in downtown Rochester are back on after the investor/owner's decision to return to full-time living in Rochester.

Doug Van Slembrouck, founder of ShareSpace Rochester and owner of digital strategy company Red Pawn Creative, plans to open the shared work space, which would be outfitted with desks, WIFI, conference tables, and other office amenities, at 150 S. Elizabeth St., just a few feet away from the Clinton River Trail and directly behind Rochester Play, an indoor activity center for children and families.

For a fee, ShareSpace will give independents, freelancers, and office-less employees all the perks of an office, including meeting space, people to talk to, and no coffee shop or home office distractions.

"It's perfect for access to downtown, a brief stretch of the legs or bike ride, and great if you need to parent and work at the same time. We're now accepting memberships and visitors," Van Slembrouck says.

The plan was put on hold after Van Slembrouck's work had him commuting to Chicago throughout the week, and "I quickly realized that ShareSpace would require significantly much more attention."

In addition, a Kickstarter fundraising campaign for ShareSpace fell short. Projects that fail to meet their fundraising goal get no money.

"We did learn the community of freelance and mobile professionals in the greater-Rochester area is quite large," he says. "The supporters of our campaign were so interested in bringing co-working to the area that they still offered their original donations, essentially prepaid two-month memberships, regardless of the overall Kickstarter results. In the end however, I didn't feel comfortable accepting funds if I couldn't be there full-time to be involved in the day-to-day operations."

He says he's excited to make it work this time. His own company, Red Pawn Creative, will have its office at ShareSpace.

"I believe Oakland County needs a place for people with the flexibility to work anywhere, anytime to call home."

Source: Doug Van Slembrouck, founder, ShareSpace Rochester
Writer: Kim North Shine

Blaze Medical Devices adds staff, scores $200K SBIR grant

Blaze Medical Devices recently scored a nice boost in funding, adding a Small Business Innovation Research grant to its bottom line. The Phase 1 SBIR grant is worth $200,000 and will be used to pay for a pre-clinical study of 50 patients. The company hopes to go for a Phase 2 grant worth $175,000 next year.

Blaze Medical Devices is developing blood transfusion technology that enables medical professionals to better control and optimize blood banking and transfusions. Its clinical tests assess the quality of stored blood and its laboratory instruments help facilitate blood research.

"We anticipate to get our first revenue from this service before the end of the year," says Michael Tarasev, COO of Blaze Medical Devices.

Blaze Medical Devices currently employs a staff of five people after adding a researcher over the last year. The company hopes to keep expanding its team as it generates its first revenues next year and pushes its core technology closer to commercialization.

Source: Michael Tarasev, COO of Blaze Medical Devices
Writer: Jon Zemke

C/D/H grows Detroit office after executing two mergers

C/D/H has been busy since moving its Metro Detroit office to downtown Detroit last spring. The software firm has executed two mergers and, as a result, has expanded its staff.

The Grand Rapids-based company specializes in technology consulting. It moved its metro Detroit office from downtown Royal Oak to downtown Detroit’s Wright Kay Building to be closer to its customers and the region's emerging urban core. Since then, C/D/H has merged with Grand Rapids-based Blue Sphere Solutions and Rochester-based Coil Group.

Jim Brown, partner & director of sales & marketing for C/D/H and the former owner of Coil Group, says the merger made sense because C/D/H provides stability and strength that only comes with experience, which in C/D/H's case totals nearly 25 years.

"It allowed my firm to reach into that base of customers," Brown says. "More importantly, it allows us to leverage the strength and stability of a firm that has been around for 24 years."

He adds that the recent mergers make sense for C/D/H, too, because it allows the larger, more established company to reinvigorate itself with new talent, ideas, and energy.

"You don't last 24 years in technology without constantly reinvigorating yourself and even reinventing yourself," Brown says.

C/D/H provides consulting services that specialize in collaboration, infrastructure, unified communications, mobility, and project management in the software sector. It is a Microsoft-certified Gold Partner, a VMware Professional Partner, and has earned top certification with Novell, Citrix, and Cisco Systems.

The company employs 31 people, including 10 employees at its downtown Detroit post. The firm has added three people at its metro Detroit office over the last six months. Those new jobs are all centered on software development. Brown says the company expects to continue to expand in 2015 but is not eyeing any more acquisitions for at least another year.

"We are open to opportunities beyond that," Brown says. "We don't have anything in our sights at the moment, but it’s certainly on our radar."

Source: Jim Brown, partner & director of sales & marketing for C/D/H
Writer: Jon Zemke

LevelEleven doubles staff as it debuts new software

LevelEleven is expanding its technology offerings and expanding its staff in downtown Detroit.

The 2-year-old startup has nearly doubled its staff since January, growing from 16 employees at the beginning of 2014 to 28 staff members today. Currently, the company has eight positions open in sales, software developers, customer service, and business development. Those hires and openings are inline with the tech startup's growing revenue.

"We have been growing at a very rapid pace," says Bob Marsh, CEO of LevelEleven. "We have been growing at a rate of 200 to 300 percent and we plan to continue that."

LevelEleven spun out of HelloWorld to sell an enterprise gamification app (native to the salesforce platform) that helps motivate sales professionals and tracks their progress. The company just 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.

So where LevelEleven’s technology was primarily based on leaderboards to spark competition, Scorecard allows its users to dig into their performance so they can better compete.

"It will give them a simple snapshot on their mobile device," Marsh says. "The individual employee can monitor their performance day to day."

LevelEleven has raised $5.6 million in seed capital since its launch, including an investment from downtown-based Detroit Venture Partners. It recently landed a $2 million convertible note that will be rolled into its coming Series A raise.

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

Brinks Gilson & Lione expands Ann Arbor office with new hires

When the name Brinks Gilson & Lione comes up the word Chicago is not far behind. Which makes sense because that is where the intellectual property law firm is headquartered.

What isn't widely known is the firm's Ann Arbor office is its biggest satellite office, and it's growing. Brinks Gilson & Lione recently added another attorney to its Ann Arbor office, bring its number of lawyers to 18 and total staff to 28. All of them are working to keep up with the growing amount of work in the southeast Michigan area.

"There just seems to be a lot of entrepreneurial energy in Ann Arbor," says Steven Oberholtzer, managing partner of the Ann Arbor office for Brinks Gilson & Lione. "We expect that to continue."

Much of the office's work comes from technology spinning out of the University of Michigan. Everything from software to material sciences need patents, trademarks and other intellectual property protection as they grown into startups or parts of larger businesses.

Brinks Gilson & Lione also does a lot of work in the automotive industry, working with new technologies in automotive connectivity to increasing fuel efficiency. The total amount of work from the auto industry is up 20 percent in the last five years. The law firm also does a lot of bio-technology and life sciences work even though Pfizer pulled up stakes years ago.

"The professionals who left Pfizer are now starting their own companies," Oberholtzer says.

Source: Steven Oberholtzer, managing partner of the Ann Arbor office for Brinks Gilson & Lione
Writer: Jon Zemke

Pontiac's Mobile Comply adds 4 jobs, clears way for mobile certification

Mobile Comply grew up quite a bit in 2014, mostly by living up to its name.

"We have completely exploded in a great way," says Eliana Farnsworth, CEO of Mobile Comply.

The downtown Pontiac-based company helps educate businesses and institutions (think higher education) on how best to leverage mobile technology. Last year it provided training and wrote the textbook for CompTIA, a Chicago-based non-profit that developed the A+ certification. That bit of work led to Mobile Comply creating the certification for mobile technology.

"We became the only company in the world that provided mobile certification," Farnsworth says.

That led to a 35-percent jump in revenue over the last year. The company has hired four people over the last year, expanding its staff to 20 employees and 100 independent contractors. It is also looking to hire another two people in the first quarter of next year. In 2015 Mobile Comply is looking to expand its mobile certification activities to the automotive market.

"We would like to expand to not only certifying individuals but also supporting the growth of connected vehicles," Farnsworth says.

Source: Eliana Farnsworth, CEO of Mobile Comply
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wisely brings personal touch to customer loyalty programs, jobs to Ann Arbor

Loyalty to businesses isn't always about the money. Often its about the personal attachment or special connection to that company. An Ann Arbor startup is trying to capitalize on the latter with a new mobile app.

Wisely launched its customer loyalty platform in Ann Arbor earlier this fall. Most customer loyalty programs track who buys what which business how often and giving a certain percentage of discount based on patronage. Wisely offers a tiered system of personal rewards for steady customers.
 
"When you have memories of going to a place you go back because of this emotion," says Mike Vichich, CEO of Wisely.

The 1-year-old company and its team of just under 10 people (it's looking to hire three people now) have signed up 30 local businesses in Ann Arbor to take part. They are mostly made up of bars and restaurants, such as Mani Osteria & Bar, the Raven’s Club, Slurping Turtle, and Ashley’s.

Each user of the Wisely app that qualifies for a certain level or reward with their patronage receives a special incentive to come back, such as the ability to make a reservation for two when the normal reservation threshold is six people. In the case of Raven’s Club, silver level Wisely users can receive a bottle of homemade hot sauce.

"It's a great way to create an emotion attachment in a customer," Vichich says.

The Wisely app tracks all of these purchases through the user's debit and credit cards. There is no other loyalty card to carry around and swipe or scan when making the purchase. Wisely is perfecting the app in Ann Arbor this fall and winter with the hopes of taking it national next year.

Source: Mike Vichich, CEO of Wisely
Writer: Jon Zemke

Synergy System Solutions brings alternative energy to Michigan

Jerry Eden has worded in the energy industry for 20-plus years, including more than a dozen in an electricians union. In that time he has noticed Michigan seems to be lacking when it comes to keeping up with technological improvements.

"We seem to lag behind a little bit as far as technology advancement in Michigan," Eden says. "Sometimes a lot."

So he started to do something about it six months ago by starting Synergy System Solutions. The Royal Oak-based startup specializes in integrating new technology into everyday uses. More times than not that has to do with adding alternative energy to the mix.

That could mean adding solar arrays to light poles to help keep streetlights on more cost-effectively. Or adding alternative energy generators to machines that work in remote places, such as the blinking arrows that steer construction traffic in the right direction far away from the nearest electrical plug.

Eden has been working with a number of different alternative energy players in Metro Detroit, including the Green Team Coalition at the NextEnergy campus in Detroit's New Center neighborhood. He hopes these projects help create more jobs in Michigan. It has already led to the creation of a three-person staff at Synergy System Solutions.

"I want us to be at the forefront of Michigan’s disruptive technology," Eden says. "Doing things differently, but innovative."

Source: Jerry Eden, president of Synergy System Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Southfield's Ayar Law Group takes off with tax law work, adds 5 jobs

When Venar Ayar launched his own tax law practice, Ayar Law Group, two years ago he quickly realized he had a growing problem. But it was a good problem.

The Southfield-based firm's legal services were so in demand that Ayar had to move out of the 10-foot by 12-foot office within three months because he hired his first employee. Three months later he had to move to a bigger office after he hired two more people. Three months later, Ayar Law Group moved to its current offices to accommodate its growth.
 
"This office is almost to the point where I am at capacity," Ayar says. "I have grown so fast."

Ayar Law Group offers legal services in tax law, including audit defense, tax-debt relief, negotiating tax settlements, criminal tax fraud defense, and unfiled tax returns. It services individuals, families, and small businesses.

Today Ayar Law Group has a staff of eight employees and three interns, including five hires over the last year. It is currently looking for another attorney to hire and a law student for an internship.

"I am always looking for more law students and lawyers," Ayar says. "I don't plan to stop hiring anytime soon."

Ayar has a Master of Laws in Taxation (the highest degree available in tax law practice) from the University of San Diego School of Law. He also worked as an IRS defense lawyer for five years. He started Ayar Law Group two years ago because he saw a huge uptick in tax troubles thanks to the Great Recession and the economy was finally improving to the point that people were becoming optimistic.

"It was sort of the perfect time for this," Ayar says.

Source: Venar Ayar, principal of Ayar Law Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

The state of Detroit's startup scene

Ann Arbor likes to think that it exists in a magical economic and political bubble. But the truth is, we are part of the Detroit metro region and its fortunes impact our fortunes. And so as our community's entrepreneurial ecosystem strengthens it only makes sense that we should pay better attention to Motown's situation... especially as more and more U-M grads choose to move there.

Excerpt:

"Detroit has lost more than 20 percent of its population 25 years and over in the last decade, according to U.S. Census Data. But a more shocking statistic indicates a different narrative: the population of college-educated residents under 39 year-olds increased by 59 percent in the 7.1 square mile area of Greater Downtown from 2000 to 2010, according to a Forbes report from 2011.

“There is a certain demographic that comes to Detroit that is well-educated, affluent and white and wants to do something,” said Associate Prof. Nick Tobier, who teaches topics like social entrepreneurship in the University’s School of Art & Design. “I mean that in good and bad ways.”

Now, Detroit is building an ecosystem of entrepreneurship, including venture capitalists — those who provide early-stage funding to promising startups — entrepreneurship-focused non-profits; lawyers; a tech-savvy Chamber of Commerce; office hubs, the vibrant urban areas that innovators crave and months-long programs that provide funding and mentorship to innovators."

Read the rest here.
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