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Velesco Pharma expands into Boston with new office

Velesco Pharma is expanding its physical presence, opening a new office in Boston to complement its existing facilities in Michigan.

The new Boston office is meant to bring the company closer to that region’s booming pharmaceutical industry. Velesco Pharma continues to grow its satellite office in Kalamazoo and headquarters in the Ann Arbor area. It recently hired three people, expanding its staff to 15 people.

"We continue to grow and have the bulk of our operations in southern Michigan," says Gerry Cox, COO of Velesco Pharma.

Velesco Pharma, which calls the Michigan Life Science Innovation Center home, specializes in pharmaceutical consulting and laboratory services. It also operates a plant in Kalamazoo that makes dosage forms for clinical trials.

It registered 30 percent revenue growth last year and is well on its way to repeat that. Cox also expects to hire another 2-3 people before the end of the year to keep up with revenue growth.

"We are continuing the same growth rate in the first quarter of 2014," Cox says. "We have been concentrating on what we’re good at and growing that."

Source: Gerry Cox, COO of Velesco Pharma
Writer: Jon Zemke

C/D/H moves from Royal Oak to downtown Detroit

Tech-consulting firm C/D/H’s Metro Detroit office has become increasingly urban in recent years, capping the journey with a move to downtown Detroit this spring.

The Grand Rapids-based company opened its Metro Detroit office in Southfield in 2005. Not long after that it made the move to downtown Royal Oak, and now it’s moving to the Wright Kay building in downtown Detroit. The reason: to be closer to more clients in the region’s emerging tech hub.

"We like being in the middle of the action," says Sarah Woodruff, sales and marketing manager with C/D/H.

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.

C/D/H's move to downtown Detroit puts it closer to about 40 percent of its clients, 20 percent of which are also based in the Motor City’s Central Business District. The move will bring 10 more employees to downtown Detroit. The firm employs 30 people and the occasional intern. It has hired two people for the downtown Detroit office in the last week and it currently has four open positions in sales, user interface, sharepoint, and infrastructure.

C/D/H will occupy 3,200 square feet on the fourth floor of the Wright Kay building, which is located at 1500 Woodward Ave. (a block south of Grand Circus Park). The six-story structure, built in 1891, was originally known as the Schwankovsky Temple of Music, but was renamed for the Wright-Kay jewelry company, which occupied it for most of the 20th century. The building exhibits both Queen Anne- and Romanesque-style architecture, typical of the late 19th century. Its corner turret overlooks Woodward and John R.

"People know where the Wright Kay building is," Woodruff says. "We do a lot of events, so it's nice to have a landmark building."

Source: Sarah Woodruff, sales & marketing manager with C/D/H
Writer: Jon Zemke

Electro-Matic Products executes move to employee ownership

Many employees dream of owning a significant chunk of the company they work for. The workers at Electro-Matic Products recently made that dream come true.

The Farmington Hills-based manufacturing technology company executed a move to an employee stock ownership plan, also known as an ESOP, last fall. About 170 people and the occasional intern work there today.

"ESOP is a pretty good thing for all of the employees and the company itself," says David Scaglione, vice president of sales & marketing for Electro-Matic Products. "It gives a solid path forward for ownership in the future."

The 42-year-old firm has handled that transition pretty expertly so far. Its revenue jumped 10 percent last year, allowing it to hire about 10 people. It now has in excess of $100 million in sales, and expectations that such growth will continue for the foreseeable future.

For instance, Electro-Matic Products' connectivity group is expanding into the machine tooling industry. It's also moving into the energy sector by selling LED light retrofits to its customers.

"It (LED light sales) is just getting started," Scaglione says. "The adoption rate in the U.S. is just under 5 percent."

Source: David Scaglione, vice president of sales & marketing for Electro-Matic Products
Writer: Jon Zemke

WIT hires 5, moves to bigger offices in Troy

WIT is hiring and recently moved into a bigger office in Troy to accommodate that growth.

The business intelligence consulting firm has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 25 employees. It is looking at adding interns this summer. It also has four open positions right now. WIT moved into a new office last July to accommodate the additional hires.

"It's a little bit bigger place, and nicer," says Quaid Saifee, president of WIT. "It fits our needs nicely."

WIT offers software and professional services focused on managing business intelligence systems. Among those services are data warehouseing, dashboard development, and predictive analytics, among other services. Some of its clients include Ford, Chrysler and Johnson Controls.

"People are relating more and more to big data," Saifee says. "We are doing a lot more work because of that as well."

This has allowed WIT to grow its revenue by 20 percent over the last year. The firm also launched the Great Lakes Business Intelligence and Big Data Summit in Troy last year. The second iteration of the event took place last month and helped bring WIT to the center of its industry.

"That brought the whole business intelligence community into one place," Saifee says.

Source: Quaid Saifee, president of WIT
Writer: Jon Zemke

Lawrence Tech breaks ground on residence hall at Southfield campus

An $11.6-million residence hall with room for 160 Lawrence Technological University students is expected to be ready for move-in by fall of 2015.

An April 7 groundbreaking marks the start of construction on a 47,545-square-foot, two-story building near the university's largest parking lot along the Northwestern Highway Service Drive.

The dorm will increase on-campus residential capacity by about one-third. Currently there are about 600 students living on campus. As the school's athletic programs and student activities grow, so too does the demand for housing on campus.

The new residence hall will be designed in a pod-style of five pods that sleep 32 students in 16 double-occupancy units. Each pod will have its own common lounge with fireplace and kitchen. All pods will share a cafe and retail space, laundry room, game room, multi-purpose and meeting rooms on the first floor.

“The building is designed to encourage students to be out of their rooms with plenty of space for interaction and collaboration," says LTU President Virinder Moudgil. "One of the goals is to get new students involved in campus life by fostering collegiality."

Source: Eric Pope, spokesperson, Lawrence Technological University
Writer: Kim North Shine

Avegant raises $1.9M in investment, $1.5M in crowdfunding

Most startups are excited to have seven figures worth of seed capital coming in. Avegant has managed to score two in its first year.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup has raised $1.9 million in a Seed Round. It also raised $1.5 million from a crowdfunding campaign earlier this year. And all of these people willing to throw money at the company can’t wait to see its night-vision technology.

"We smashed our (crowdfunding) goal (of $250,000) in a matter of three hours," says Edward Tang, CEO of Avegant.

Avegant co-founders Tang and Allan Evans met at the University of Michigan. They were approached by military contractors about creating better night-vision equipment for military drivers during wartime. Soldiers were experiencing better results using thermal night vision while driving. The problem was the display was in their vehicle’s dash instead of over their eyes.

Tang and Evans found that the computer screen and eye fatigue often downgraded the viewing quality. In response they created a night-vision goggle that projected the image directly on the users eye, providing a big step forward in picture quality.

"It was a higher picture quality that I had ever seen before," Tang says.

Avegant's team of 11 employees and one intern has created three different evolutions of the prototype since landing the $1.9 million in a Seed Round last August. The Michigan Angel Fund, an angel investment group, led that investment round. Tang expects to ship the first commercial units of the night-vision goggles before the end of the year.

"We're considering doing pre-orders on the website," Tang says. "It's going really well."

Source: Edward Tang, CEO of Avegant
Writer: Jon Zemke

Current Motor Co reaching for profitability in 2014

Current Motor Co is turning into the little electric scoot company that could as it continues to expand its sales domestically and overseas.

"We're a little company but we're growing and exporting," says Lauren Flanagan, executive chair of Current Motor Co.

The Ann Arbor-based company makes electric scooter that can do everything that regular gas-powered scooters can do without the air pollution. Current Motor Co is aiming to sell its scooters in South America, think Brazil, where congestion is heavy and smog is thick because of it.

Current Motor Co continues to aggressively pursue this market and Flanagan expects to hit profitability this year thanks to increasing sales. "We came into this year with some additional contracts," Flanagan says. "We know we're going to have great growth this year."

Current Motor Co has expanded its staff to 10 full-time employees and half a dozen part-timers. It is also hiring interns this summer. The company has hired four people over the last year, including a new vice president of fleet sales.

Bob Mossing previously serves as business and fleet manager for Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office where he oversaw a $50 million budget. Mossing was also nominated as 2011 Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year, and Received Honorable Mentions as one of 2011 100 Top Fleets of North America, and in 2013 as one of the Top Government Green Fleets.

"He's a great guy," Flanagan says.

Source: Lauren Flanagan, executive chair of Current Motor Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

XanEdu aims to hire 50 in Ann Arbor, invest $1M

XanEdu is consolidating its operations in Michigan and Kentucky into its Ann Arbor facility, a move that is expected to bring another 50 hires in the next five years.

"Ann Arbor is such a great place to live and work," says Dianne Michalek, vice president of marketing for XanEdu. "With the University of Michigan in our backyard we have great access to top talent."

XanEdu got its start as a traditionally publishing company in 1999 making educational materials for schools, such as course packs for colleges. It has expanded into digital realm in recent years, bringing those educational materials to mobvile devices, such as iPads, with an app. It currently employs 30 people in Ann Arbor.

XanEdu, with help from Ann Arbor SPARK, is investing $1 million toward expanding its operations in Ann Arbor. The new hires will be primarily in management, sales and IT positions. Michalek expects the new jobs will be created steadily over the next five years as the company grows.

"We are trying to expand our technology operations into new markets," Michalek says.

Source: Dianne Michalek, vice president of marketing for XanEdu
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wheels for Workers creates car-repair career paths

Greg Szczesny knows what it's like to be without a vehicle when you absolutely need one. The Allen Park resident lost his job in 2009 and car trouble didn't do anything but help him in his search for employment.

"I realized how important it was was to have reliable transportation and how difficult it was to maintain it," Szczesny says.

That experience helped inspire him to start Wheels for Workers, a new non-profit focused on helping at-risk youth find careers through car repair. The non-profit, which Szczesny hopes to move to Detroit later this year, teaches teens how to become automotive mechanics while providing hands-on experience in auto repair. Check out a video about the non-profit here.

Szczesny first pitched the idea at last year's Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, an event focused on triple-bottom-line business creation and growth, and received warm reviews from the judges. He has since worked with Michigan Corps to refine the idea. He also recently finished the BUILD program at downtown Detroit-based D:hive to create a strategic plan.

Wheels for Workers has also received a $2,400 grant from State Farm Insurance. Szczesny plans to re-enter the non-profit in this year’s Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge as a new venture and then in Hatch Detroit to help raise more seed capital, along with other grant money.

"There is a lot of grant money out there for job training," Szczesny says.

Source: Greg Szczesny, managing director & founder of Wheels for Workers
Writer: Jon Zemke

Downtown-based Exxodus Pictures premiers new film, Jinn

Exxodus Pictures is releasing its first full-length feature film April 4, and the downtown Detroit-based film plans to use it launch its business model that will generate multiple revenue streams.

Jinn is a adventure film about an elite class of warriors/monsters (Jinn) who are ancient, supernatural and made of fire. Set in present day Metro Detroit, the Jinn are hunting an automotive designer and his wife who are unknowlingly part of a bigger struggle between men and Jinn. Check out the trailer for the film here.

Exxodus Pictures shot the movie in southeast Michigan and produced it in its offices in the M@dison Building. The movie will be released in theaters across North America in all major markets.

"Everyone is excited to work for movies when we have them here," says Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, co-founder of Exxodus Pictures. "When Batman and Superman come here everybody wants to work on them. I tell these people its better to own Batman and Superman than just work on them."

Ahmad and his partners chose Jinn as the firm's first movie because the storyline (famous is Islamic folklore) is widely known around the world, except in North America. That serves the dual purpose of being easily accepted to billions of people around world and a fresh storyline for American audiences at time when Hollywood increasingly recycles movies with sequel after sequel.

"This is the right idea for our company at this stage," Ahmad says.

Exxodus Pictures is also planning to merchandise its film in a non-traditional way. People will be able to buy replicas of the car in the movie, a specially designed Camaro called FireBreather, at car dealerships across the country for $95,000. Ahmad says 16 have been sold so far. Ahmad hopes the success of Jinn and car sales will help build up enough buzz for a sequel and eventually a trilogy of films.

"We have a bunch of movies in development," Ahmad says. "Even if we have a modest success with Jinn we hope to start making Jinn 2 soon."

Exxodus Pictures is five years old and employs 20 people. It has hired 14 people over the last year.

Source: Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, co-founder of Exxodus Pictures
Writer: Jon Zemke

Pinoccio ships first orders of microcontroller technology

There is a saying about electronic startups that deal more in hardware than software and the difficulty of the task. One Ann Arbor-based venture is learning about that right now.

"The cliche is hardware is hard," says Sally Carson, co-founder & CEO of Pinoccio. "That's definitely true."

But it's far from impossible. That's something that Pinoccio is proving right now. The startup is shipping the first units of its wireless, web-ready microcontroller, which is about the size of your thumb. The technology comes equiped with WiFi, a LiPo battery and a built-in radio, which allows users to send commands to the microcontroller over the Internet from their laptop. Check out a video about it here.

Carson and Eric Jennings began developing this technology a little more than a year ago. They launched a crowdfunding campaign with a goal to raise $60,000. They raised $105,000, which allowed them to ship 2,500 microcontrollers to 700 funders. The recepeints are mostly makers and hobbyists, but with a few other notable exceptions.

"We are also finding interest in other product designers and people who want to use Pinoccio in their hardware," Carson says.

That success has allowed Pinoccio to expand its staff to eight people after adding six in the last year. The company, which uses the tagline "Building the Internet of things," plans to take more orders for its microcontroller this spring and ship them later this summer.

Source: Sally Carson, co-founder & CEO of Pinoccio
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rose-A-Lee Technologies spins out of Elmhirst Industries

Rose-A-Lee Technologies isn't your normal spin-out of another firm.

The Sterling Heights-based firm was spun out of Elmhirst Industries last year because Rose-A-Lee Technologies' founder, Patty Lopez, is part of the family that runs Elmhirst Industries, an automotive-manufacturing firm that specializes in everything from design to laser cutting.

Lopez is an engineer and had ambitions of being her own boss when she started Rose-A-Lee Technologies. The company specializes in engineering services and prototype manufacturing, primarily in the automotive and defense sectors. Lopez has built the firm’s staff up to three people as it gained traction.

"Over the last month or so we have been having steady work orders come in," Lopez says. "That's exciting because our customers are passing our information around."

Now that work is becoming a little more steady for Rose-A-Lee Technologies, Lopez would like to continue building on the engineering and prototyping services by diversifying the company's clientele. She would like to add more customers in not only automotive and defense, but also in the appliance and aerospace industries.

Source: Patty Lopez, president of Rose-A-Lee Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Warner Norcross & Judd staffs up IP practice in Southfield

Intellectual property work is becoming a bigger part of Warner Norcross & Judd's law practice in Southfield.

The Grand Rapids-based law firm, the third-largest in the state, has had a sizable office in Southfield for the last decade. That office has handled mostly business law work, such as contract work.

It is growing the Southfield office with the addition of a handful of new intellectual property attorneys. It has hired three over the last eight months, bringing the Southfield office’s number of attorneys to 35.

"It looks like we will bring two more on board in the next month or so," says Greg DeGrazia, intellectual property attorney for Warner Norcross & Judd. He adds, "We are ramping up our IP services on this side of the state."

Warner Norcross & Judd has a total of 220 attorneys on its payroll, including 25 in its intellectual property practice. Its new hires are taking on more technology work not only in the local automotive industry, but also for companies in other fields, such as Dow-Corning and the band KISS.

"We do all industries," DeGrazia says. "We have a lot of east coast companies."

Source: Greg DeGrazia, intellectual property attorney for Warner Norcross & Judd
Writer: Jon Zemke

Whiplash expands footprint in Ann Arbor, San Francisco

Whiplash is growing its headcount in Ann Arbor and its footprint across America.

Whiplash is the merchandising arm of VGKids, handling logistics for its e-commerce activity. The 3-year-old company, which got its start in Ypsilanti but is now located in Ann Arbor, recently opened a new facility in San Francisco.

"That was a pretty big win for us," says James Marks, co-founder of Whiplash.

Whiplash pulled off the new facility last August by landing an anchor customer (BetaBrand) and then finding a building twice the square footage it would need to accommodate that client. The extra space is then taken up by business that is grown organically from within Whiplash. The facility now employs four people and Whiplash is looking at opening another in Los Angeles, New Jersey or Berlin.

Whiplash is also in the process of expanding its Ann Arbor location. The company has hired two people here, growing its Tree Town location to half a dozen employees. It is now building out that building to handle its growing workload.

"Originally we had half of the building we are in and then took all of the space," Marks says. "Now we're getting the building next door." He expects to complete the expansion by the end of this summer.

Source: James Marks, co-founder of Whiplash
Writer: Jon Zemke

ALC Hosted Telecommunications adapts to stay competitive

Making a go of it in the telecommunications field is not an easy play these days, which is what’s keeping the team at ALC Hosted Telecommunications on its toes.

"It's a competitive market," says Bettyanne Molitor, president & co-owner of ALC Hosted Telecommunications. "You are competing against services that are free so you have to be clever about what you're offering."

The Chesterfield Township-based company specializes in providing hosted telecommunication services for businesses. Think audio, video, and web conferencing, hosted auto-dialing, and marketing-on-hold services. ALC Hosted Telecommunications recently added a conference call interface with the ability to dial out and invite participants into a conference call.

Molitor started the business with her husband after being a stay-at-home mom for a number of years. She thought about the idea of re-entering the workforce as someone else’s employee but soon talked herself into re-entering as someone’s boss.

"The idea of going to work for someone else after not doing that for years wasn't appealing to me," Molitor says. "So I decided to go into business for myself."

It proved to be a good choice. Molitor and her husband have built ALC Hosted Telecommunications’ team up to four people and have continued to grow the firm's revenue despite the tough competition through client retention.

Source: Bettyanne Molitor, president & co-owner of ALC Hosted Telecommunications
Writer: Jon Zemke
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