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Video games, smartphone apps approved for digital media incentives

Southeast Michigan continues its run on the video game and mobile app playing field with the latest round of incentives from the Michigan Film Office.


"Scrap Yard is a 2D multiplayer combat video game that is being developed for Windows, and potentially other platforms. The game is being developed at Quantum Signal LLC (QS) in Saline, Michigan...

Health Games for Kids is a mobile video game designed to entertain and engage young children with fun, active play...The mobile video game is being developed by Southfield-based PIXO Group and will be distributed through the Apple App store and the Google PLAY Mobile App marketplace...

Santa & His Elves is a mobile smartphone and tablet application geared toward families with small children to enhance the enchantment of traditional folklore. Work on the app is being done at BELIEVE in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan by 15 new hires and a full time equivalent of two jobs."

More here

Oakland University receives $500,000 gift of robotics equipment

The emerging field of robotics is a wave of the future for the Great Lakes State.


"FANUC America Corporation recently presented Oakland with a gift-in-kind donation of robots, software and 2D iRVision equipment representing an industry value of $474,398. The gift promises to enhance the university's academic offerings and boost its impact on the regional economy...

The gift will support development of an Industrial Robotics and Automation program within OU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, which will train engineers for high-demand jobs in the field. Many of those jobs are located in Metro Detroit as the area is home to world-class robotics and automation companies."

More here

Indratech turns green fiber padding into thriving biz

If you're sitting on a cushioned surface, chances are you're sitting on foam. Indratech wants to change that, and the Troy-based business is off to a good start.

The 10-year-old firm makes the Indura Performance Fiber. The patented fiber padding is marketed as "green, non-toxic, recycled and perfect for use in any bedding and furniture application."

"Anything you can sit or sleep on," says Surendra Khambete, president of Indratech.

The company currently employs about 100 people, including 10 at its headquarters. It has hired two people in Troy (a R&D engineer and an accountant) over the last year to help it keep up with its growth. Revenue has spiked by 15 percent over the last year. The company sees its product as the replacement for foam.

"The good thing about foam is it's really tough," Khambete says. "If you sit on it, it will come right back up when you get up. The bad thing about foam is it's really toxic to produce."

Indratech boasts that Indura Performance Fiber has all of the attributes of foam but without any of the environmental costs.

"We are trying to get our foothold in the crib market, the mattress market, the automotive market," Khambete says.

It is also working with appliance makers to provide Indura Performance Fiber as an insulating material.

"We can make it quieter and warmer," Khambete says.

Source: Surendra Khambete, president of Indratech
Writer: Jon Zemke

Gongos growth curve continues with 23 new hires

Gongos is one of those companies that always seems to be growing. 

The Auburn Hills-based market research firm routinely clocks revenue growth, often adding double-digit gains for most of its 20-plus years. Its revenue is up 12.9 percent since 2012. Its non-U.S. revenues are also up 6.9 percent. Gongos has achieved this by increasing its workload with some major companies like Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Chase and Fiat Chrysler.

"We're really growing a lot," says Katherine Ephlin, COO of Gongos. She adds, "there are a lot of new faces around."

The firm has hired 23 people over the last year. It now employs about 135 people and Ephlin expects to keep growing. She recently made the jump from vice president of operations to COO.

Gongos was also recently named a Gold Top 50 U.S. market research organization by Marketing News. Based on its 2013 gross revenues, Gongos ranks as the 43rd organization in the U.S., which is up one spot from the previous year. This is the seventh straight year Gongos has made the list.

"It's by continuing to serve our clients really well," Ephlin says. "Our people are really great at thinking about the business’s problem. ... Our clients really trust us and give us some of their most strategic problems."

Source: Katherine Ephlin, COO of Gongos
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Aircraft grows to 12 people, eyes acquisition

There was once a time when Detroit was the center of not only the automotive world, but the aviation world, too. Back in the early 20th century, the Detroit Aircraft Corp produced more aircraft than any other company and owned a number of subsidiaries, including the company that is now Lockheed Martin. The Detroit Aircraft Corp didn’t survive the Great Depression.

"It struck me that if it had survived that time we would have an automotive industry and an aerospace industry," says Jon Rimanelli.

That inspired Rimanelli to launch Detroit Aircraft Corp, the 21st century version of its namesake company specializing in unmanned aircraft (drone) technology and operating out of Detroit City Airport. Rimanelli first started playing with the idea when speaking to NASA officials about how the U.S. aviation and radar systems need to be reformed to accommodate to 21st century technology. Rimanelli believes that such reforms could open up the vast majority of U.S. airports to most of the populace, which currently doesn't have access to them because its members can’t facilitate commercial flights.

"99 percent of the population gets access to one percent of the airports while one percent of then population gets access to the whole system," Rimanelli says.

He launched Detroit Aircraft Corp in 2011 with the idea of enabling that access through unmanned aircraft. He sharpened that vision earlier this year when Detroit Aircraft Corp won a contract with Lockheed Martin to manufacture battery charger stations in Detroit. It is currently looking to lock down another contract with Lockheed Martin to make drones.

That work has allowed Detroit Aircraft Corp to hire seven people over the last year, expanding its staff to 12 people. It is currently looking to acquire A3 Electronics in Livonia as it prepares to begin building hundreds of units and employ several dozen people.

"We'd like to lead the world in aircraft manufacturing not once, not twice, but three times," Rimanelli says.

Source: Jon Rimanelli, founder & CEO of Detroit Aircraft Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor startup lands on CNN's list of "game changing gadgets"

Ever want to be Jordi from Star Trek? Or Lobot from Star Wars? Have no idea what those references are? Don't worry, not being a geek doesn't mean you can't think these 3D goggles aren't cool.


"From Michigan-based Avegant, the Glyph headset looks like a chunky set of headphones with a pop-down, "Star Trek"-style visor. (They promise a sleeker look for the final product).

It hooks up to a smartphone, TV, gaming device or laptop and uses a system of 2 million microscopic mirrors to beam the images directly into your retinas."

Read the rest here.

365 Retail Markets hits 1,500-percent sales growth in 3 years

Most companies like to brag about their double-digit revenue growth. Some can even talk about triple-digits; 365 Retail Markets wants to tell you about its quadruple-digit revenue increase.

The Troy-based tech company has grown 1,500 percent in the last three years. In that time it has expanded its staff to 50 people after hiring 15 in the last year, and has become a multi-million-dollar firm.

"We work in an industry that really hasn't innovated much in the last 20 years," says Matthew Caston, chief strategy officer at 365 Retail Markets.

365 Retail Markets describes its platform as "MicroMarket technology" that serves the vending, foodservice and hospitality industries with a goal of fundamentally transforming the way employees view their break room. The company offers a 24/7 unmanned self-checkout system that serves fresh food and beverage alternatives at workplaces across the U.S.

"Higher-end customers want higher-end solutions," Caston says. "Employers want to give their employees more options. The trend of snacking healthily also adds to that."

Caston estimates that 365 Retail Markets has captured less than 1 percent of the market, giving the company a huge ceiling to strive for.

"We're on the tip of the sword here," Caston says. "We are very early in penetrating the entire market."

Source: Matthew Caston, chief strategy officer at 365 Retail Markets
Writer: Jon Zemke

M-1 Rail construction comes alive, Duggan calls for expansion

Doubt clouded the prospects of bringing streetcars back to Detroit for years. Starting yesterday, however, work crews are actively erasing that doubt as they start construction on the M-1 Rail project in Detroit's central business district.

M-1 Rail is leveraging $140 million in both public and private money to build a streetcar line along Woodward Avenue between Larned Street downtown and Grand Boulevard in New Center. The 3.3-mile-long line will have a dozen stops when it opens in the fall of 2016. The build out of the line between Larned Street and Adams Street is scheduled for the next 120 days.

M-1 Rail will be the first streetcar to operate in Detroit since 1956 when the city uprooted the last of its light rail lines in favor of bus system. Proponents of the streetcar line (a conglomeration of local business executives, elected officials, and foundation leaders) claim it will streamline mass transit along Woodward Avenue, "Michigan’s Main Street," and accelerate economic development along the lower Woodward corridor. M-1 Rail is projecting that the streetcar will catalyze 10,000 new housing units and more than $3 billion in economic development along its route, attracting thousands of new residents and jobs to the Motor City in the process.

"We are seeing a time in our country where people want to move back to urban areas," says Mayor Mike Duggan. "They want to be connected."

M-1 Rail is a key piece of Detroit’s formula for capitalizing on that trend, yet the project's fate was uncertain when former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing declared the proposed Woodward Light Rail line between 8 Mile Road and Jefferson Avenue dead just a few years ago. But the M-1 Rail group was resolute and brought the project back from the dead, scrapping the longer configuration favored by the Bing administration and returning to the group's original proposal of a streetcar connecting downtown Detroit, Midtown, and New Center.

While M-1 Rail leaders remain focused on the greater downtown portion of the line, Mayor Duggan reignited the idea of extending the streetcar further up Woodward during the ground breaking press conference.

"Ultimately, we want to build this rail to 8 Mile and then to Pontiac," Duggan says.

Source: M-1 Rail, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan
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

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

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

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
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