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Former entrepreneur joins SPARK to assist new startups

Though it meant a pay cut, entrepreneur Bill Mayer has settled in as the vice president of entrepreneur services at Ann Arbor SPARK. The Freep chatted with him about his job.


Q: OK. Let's say, I'm just a guy who just got laid off from the line, and I decide I have the next best product, next great idea — and I want to start my own business. How do I build my network and surround myself with smart people?
A: Well, so that's why places like SPARK, TechTown and Automation Alley exist. They tend to be hubs for entrepreneurial activity. If you are an entrepreneur, like entrepreneurship, you are kind-of a tech junkie, you work for a start-up, you just want to see what this entrepreneurship is all about, come to a SPARK event. There are like-minded people here. If we have have 100 people at an event, and you don't walk away with 15 business cards, it's bad on you. We try to make it easy. And in the Midwest, we tend to be a pretty friendly bunch. One person will introduce you to three, each of those people will introduce you to three more.

Read the rest here.

Aras Corp grows new Metro Detroit office to 4 people

Aras Corp opened its first Metro Detroit office in Troy last spring with an idea of leveraging more automotive industry work. Why here instead of anywhere else in the world?

"If you want to be in automotive you need an office in Detroit," says Bill Bone, CTO of Automotive Solutions for Aras Corp. "It's that simple."

The Maryland-based tech firm makes product lifecycle management software. Its Troy office now employs four people and is looking to hire three more right now. Those new job openings include a consultant and marketing manager.

"We're actually in an expansion mode right now," Bone says. "We're integrating the adjoining suite with us."

Aras Corp is also working to host its first industry conference at the Renaissance Center early this spring. The company plans to use it to help integrate it further into the region and with its customers.

"It's focused on our products, our services, and what our customers are doing," Bone says. "It's a community-based event. We are an open-sourced company."

Source: Bill Bone, CTO of Automotive Solutions for Aras Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

Furniture maker continues growth in Russell Industrial Center

Alan Kaniarz started working out of the Russell Industrial Center before it was cool...before it was even a destination for artisans and small businesses.

Kaniarz moved into the Russell Industrial Center in 1988. He and a handful of other woodworkers took over a few thousand square feet of the industrial space and created a wood shop. A few years later he took over his own space (6,000 square feet) and started to build his two business (AK Services and Mobel Link Modern Furniture) from there.

"I never thought I would be there this long," Kaniarz says. "When we moved in here the Russell Center was largely utilized by people in the printing business. Everything that had anything to do with printing was done there."

That ended in the early 2000s as many of the printing businesses left. A series of new owners came and went until Greektown-based real-estate investor Dennis Kefallinos bought the Russell in 2003. He saw a couple of local artisans like Kaniarz making a go of it in a few thousand square feet of cheap commercial space and used that as inspiration to make the Russell Industrial Center the entrepreneurial hub it is today.

"The Russell Center has way more of a neighborhood feel than it used to," Kaniarz says.

AK Services has been working in the Russell Industrial Center since the first day Kaniarz moved in, making custom doors, fixing stain-glass windows, and restoring vintage lights. Kaniarz launched Mobel Link Modern Furniture a few years ago and started selling custom furniture, too.

"The introduction of the furniture line has definitely added to the bottom line," Kaniarz says.

Revenues are up about five percent over the last year, and Kaniarz expects that number to keep growing. Today his two businesses have grown to employ three people and Kaniarz is optimistic that number will grow, too.

Source: Alan Kaniarz, president for life of AK Services and Mobel Link Modern Furniture
Writer: Jon Zemke

3D Biomatrix lands key patent for core technology

3D Biomatrix recently received a key patent for its research technology, a milestone that is setting the company up for more growth in 2015.

The patent is for the company's hangar system, which scientists use for life sciences research. The patent helps the company validate the uniqueness of its products and prevents knock offs from competitors.

"It's an important patent for us because it covers our core technology," says Laura Schrader, president & CEO of 3D Biomatrix.

The University of Michigan spin-out, it calls the Venture Accelerator home, makes 3D cell culture hanging drop plates for lab research in cancer treatments or stem cells. The plates allow cells to grow in 3 dimensions like they do in the body. Most current methods offer only flat surfaces.

The 96-well plates sell well for users using manual lab methods. The 384-well plates are growing in use as they work well with automated lab equipment. The company also makes transfer tools and assay kits.

Schrader says sales for 3D Biomatrix were up in 2014 but declined to say how much. It currently has 30 distributors and is looking to expand into new markets this year.

Source: Laura Schrader, president & CEO of 3D Biomatrix
Writer: Jon Zemke

American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute opens in Corktown

The American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute opened the doors of its new facility in Corktown last week, a move that promises to bring the 21st century manufacturing jobs to a city long famous for the things it builds.

The innovation acceleration center is partnering with major corporations and institutions of higher education to help bring new manufacturing technologies utilizing lightweight materials to market through its "Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow" program.

"This is industry-driven," says Lawrence Brown, executive director of the American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute. "They help identify the gaps and we as a team will come together and develop solutions for these gaps."

The new 100,000 square-foot facility required $148 million in investment so it could bring new manufacturing technology from the research lab to the production floor. It is partnering with the likes of the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, General Electric, Boeing, and Eaton Corp to push the envelope of advanced manufacturing.

The American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute currently employs three people and is looking to hire a couple more, all administrative positions. Brown expects to expand the staff to nearly 30 people over the next 18 months with the addition of engineering and R&D staff.

"We're trying to ramp up now," Brown says.

Source: Lawrence Brown, executive director of the American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute
Writer: Jon Zemke

Michigan needs more millennials

For any who reads this publication, statements like these should come as no surprise. We've been saying this since we started more than five years ago. But it's nice to see local editorialists catch up.


Of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country, only Cleveland has a smaller percentage of millennials than Detroit, said Kurt Metzger, a demographics expert who retired last year as head of Data Driven Detroit.

Meanwhile metro Detroit has the third-highest percentage of baby boomers to total population among the largest metro areas, he said.

Read the rest here.

Franco Public Relations Group grows staff to 20 as it celebrates 50th anniversary

Franco Public Relations Group is celebrating its 50th anniversary with its biggest growth spurt in a long time. The downtown Detroit-based firm hired four people in 2014 thanks to 20 percent revenue growth.

"It was better than we have done in year-over-year growth than we have done in about a decade," says Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group.

The boutique public relations firm has been a staple in downtown Detroit for decades. It moved its office to the Renaissance Center when the building opened in 1977 and has been there ever since. The company now has a staff of 20 employees and two interns. Its newest hires include an assistant account executive, a manager, and a director.

The newly expanded staff is now offering more than the traditional public relations services. It has expanded to include content generation, social media, and integrated marketing. Franco Public Relations Group has also expanded clientele, adding high-profile firms like Punch Bowl Social, which just opened a new location in downtown Detroit.

Kozak is optimistic her company will continue to grow at a similar rate this year, though she points out that Franco Public Relations Group is focusing on doing good business, not just more business. The current economic climate, however, is making growth easier today than it was just a few years ago.

"There is more work out there now," Kozak says. "Businesses we are working with now are loosening up their budgets a little bit."

Source: Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Fidelis SecureCare hires dozens as it expands in Detroit market

In the age of Obamacare, healthcare company Fidelis SecureCare is streamlining operations, creating efficiencies, and ensuring better care of its customers. The company is also growing its business in Detroit by taking a slow-food approach to providing healthcare.

The California-based company's business plan focuses on providing high-quality healthcare to low-income and chronically ill Detroiters (and suburbanites) through a concierge model instead of the traditional mass production model of healthcare.

"A traditional medical practice has 3,000 patients," says Greg Bellware, chief marketing officer of Fidelis SecureCare. "A concierge office has 600 patients."

That sort of focused service (think everything from more time spent on solving patient problems to home doctor visits) enables healthcare providers to give better care to patients, helping turn chronic illnesses into manageable ones and savng money across the board. The extensive yet centralized nature of Metro Detroit's healthcare system allows Fidelis SeniorCare to maximize its efficiency in this regard.

"We grew quickly in Detroit," Bellware says. "Its urban setting is ideal for our model."

Fidelis SecureCare has grown quickly in Michigan over the last two years. The 15-year-old firm now employs a staff of 60 people in Michigan, about two thirds of which have been hired over the last year. The company's Michigan headquarters is in New Center.

"We expect to accelerate that growth in a huge way," Bellware says. "The company is expected to grow fivefold in the next year."

Source: Greg Bellware, chief marketing officer of Fidelis SecureCare
Writer: Jon Zemke

Merged firms become FireBolt Group, move to Wixom

Estrakon plus Tecart equals FireBolt Group and more jobs in Wixom.

Estrakon is an LED sign manufacturer. The Ann Arbor-based company made a name for itself making signs for businesses using more energy-efficient LED lights. It has been recognized as a FastTrack growth firm by Ann Arbor SPARK for three years running, and for clocking 20-percent revenue growth or more each year.

Estrakon acquired TecArt last March with the idea of expanding its product line to a number of new items, such as floor mats, counter stools, and neon clocks. The newly merged companies moved to a larger facility in Wixom last September and now have a new name.

"The companies are being merged into one as FireBolt Group," says Philip Ochtman, president & CEO of FireBolt Group.

The newly created FireBolt Group has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 34 employees. It is also looking to hire two sales people and an engineer right now.

"We expect that number (staff) to go up by more than 10 people this year, primarily by focusing on the production side of things," Ochtman says.

He adds the newly formed company expects to add more and bigger customers in 2015 thanks to its recent acquisition. He also wouldn’t be surprised if FireBolt Group makes another acquisition before the end of the year.

"We are aiming for it," Ochtman says. "We feel we have a good story to tell and we have proven we can do it."

Source: Philip Ochtman, president & CEO of FireBolt Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

IT firms Expetec Technology Services, BCL Computing merge into Expetec of Michigan

A couple of IT firms are merging together to form a bigger company with services that complement one another.

Expetec Technology Services of Rochester Hills and BCL Computing are combining to become of Expetec of Michigan. The new company will remain an Expetec franchise, expanding staff to 12 people and hiring six over the last year.

"We're probably going to add 2-3 more in the next 1-2 months," says Michael St. John, vice president of sales & marketing for Expetec of Michigan.

The newly formed company will offer a larger variety of IT services, such as managed IT, network development, , IT hardware, telecommunications, and IT security. St. John says the the companies focused on different areas, such as BCL Computing in IT hardware work and Expetec more in IT services. He adds that the new company is looking to launch a training program later this winter.

"We're going to kick off a new (military) veterans training program for IT and business management," St. John says.

Source: Michael St. John, vice president of sales & marketing for Expetec of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Experience Factory to move to Monroe Avenue, Build Institute to Bagley Street

Over 12,000 people took one of D:hive's Detroit tours this year. That's up from 10,000 in 2013 and 8,000 in 2012. Since D:hive launched its Build Institute in 2012, over 400 people representing every Detroit ZIP code have graduated from the popular small business incubator, and many of those have gone on to start their own small businesses in the city.

Given these successes, it might come as a surprise to some that D:hive is disbanding this year, celebrating with a farewell party Dec. 18. at the D:hive storefront on Woodward Avenue. And actually, the end of D:hive is a good thing, a result of its success. The organization has so excelled at being a booster for Detroit tourism and small business that it is splitting into two separate entities.

The Build Institute is moving to the Repair the World office at 2701 Bagley St. in Mexicantown, where it will continue to offer its small business programming and classes. D:hive tours have been re-branded as the Detroit Experience Factory, or DXF, which will soon operate out of 123 Monroe Ave. That opening is Jan. 12.

Jeanette Pierce has been championing Detroit, at least in an official capacity, since 2006, when she started her first tour group, Inside Detroit. In 2008, that group moved into the now-familiar home of 1253 Woodward Ave., where it became the city's first ever brick-and-mortar welcome center. In 2012, it became a part of D:Hive. What was supposed to be a pop-up has lasted nearly seven years.

For Pierce, this whole experience has been about experimenting to find what works and what doesn't. No one knew what to expect when they started the Build Institute program and now it's become so successful that D:hive is splitting apart so each faction can concentrate on their own goals.

"We'll still work together," says Pierce. "We're like siblings moving out and on our own."

Source: Jeanette Pierce, Director of Community Relations at Detroit Experience Factory
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Coliant merges with Macomb Pitch winner LayStich

The winner of the Macomb Pitch: A Competition for Small Businesses at the Macomb-OU INCubator is off to a fast start in the aftermath.

LayStitch, which won the elevator pitch competition, is merging with Coliant. The two Macomb County-based startups specialize in fabric technology that helps warm the wearers.

"Some of the technologies in LayStitch processes have value in the heated clothing technology for Coliant," says Mark Lundquist, executive vice president of LayStitch.

For instance, Coliant is developing personal climate-control technology, i.e. Smart Clothing system, that works to keep users warm while riding motorcycles and other similar vehicles, like ATVs. LayStitch is developing a process of making carbon-fiber composites at a reduced cost.

The 19 employees between both companies will now work together, even though LayStitch will retain its brand identity and operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Coliant. The two startups have offices in Sterling Heights and Warren.

Source: Mark Lundquist, executive vice president of LayStitch
Writer: Jon Zemke

IT pro turns biz owner with Erickson & Associates, GEEPS.US

Hans Erickson's career is going well and he has a great job, but he wants an even better one. That's why the Grosse Pointe resident is launching two new businesses Erickson & Associates and GEEPS.US.

Erickson is the current CIO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, but he plans to step down from that position in January to pursue his two new enterprises full-time. His day job ended up serving as the inspiration for his first venture, GEEPS.US.

"Anybody in the IT field ends up at one time or another with someone asking them for help," Erickson says.

GEEPS.US is memory stick that everyday people can use to rescue data from a failing computer or use it to erase the memory of a computer at the end of its life. Erickson has been working on the product for two years and now has a patent pending on it. He is launching it early next year and hopes to have it on the shelves of major retailers before the end of 2015.

Erickson is also launching Erickson & Associates, a technology consulting firm. He hopes to use the skills he's sharpened over a few decades to help local small businesses find the best pieces of 21st century technology to make them more useful.

"This is an opportunity for me to help small businesses in and around Detroit to take advantage of the technology out there," Erickson says. "It's a great equalizer."

Erickson plans to run both enterprises out of downtown Detroit in 2015 and is currently looking for office space in the city's central business district.

Source: Hans Erickson, president of Erickson & Associations and GEEPS.US
Writer: Jon Zemke

Troy-based Grid opens Denver, Hawaii offices, hires 8 people

Grid is wrapping up quite a year of growth in 2014.

The Troy-based technology consulting company has practically doubled in size, hiring eight people in software and strategy. It also opened up two more offices in Denver and Hawaii. It now has four offices across the U.S. after launching in 2008.

"We have been doubling every year so far," says Paul Tibbert, CEO of Grid. "We have seen steady growth even through the downturn."

Grid is a technology and design firm that specializes in integrating new innovations in the work space. Over the last year it has expanded its work with big multi-national corporations like Chrysler and smaller local firms, like Northville-based Institute for Multi-Sensory Education.

That has allowed it to hire eight people, expanding its staff to 30 employees and five interns. It is also looking to add a few more jobs now.

"We're always looking for software and graphic designers," Tibbert says. "There is always an open door to anyone with that talent."

Grid also runs an internship program with Kettering University. The program brings a handful of students into the company’s offices each year, and Grid is looking to expand that to include more local universities in 2015.

"Schools like Kettering are producing really talented people," Tibbert says.

Source: Paul Tibbert, CEO of Grid
Writer: Jon Zemke

Stuart Mechanical aims to hit $5.5M in revenue in 2015

Stuart Mechanical has made some big strides in revenue generation since its launch in 2011.

The Madison Heights-based HVAC firm has gone from zero revenue to in excess of $4 million in a few short years. It is now taking aim at crossing another big milestone.

"I'm going to be nipping at the heels of $5 million in 2014," says Ray Barnowske, vice president and manager of operations for Stuart Mechanical. "The growth has been tremendous."

He would like to see the company’s revenue hit between $5.5 million and $6 million in 2015. That seems possible since the firm has added a construction department and is taking on big projects like The Albert luxury apartment renovation in downtown Detroit.

Stuart Mechanical has also grown its staff significantly since its launch. The company started with 10 employees. Today it has 30 employees and the occasional intern. It has hired four people, such as service technicians, this year, and is looking to add a few more in early 2015.

"We're always looking," Barnowski says.

Source: Ray Barnowske, vice president & manager of operations for Stuart Mechanical
Writer: Jon Zemke
3099 Articles | Page: | Show All
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