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Expetec grows for 5th straight year, adds data-sharing product

Expetec is growing the old fashioned way, through improved services to its customers and client recommendations.

The Rochester Hills-based IT company has been hiring more staff, including a position in network administration support work, and is in the process of hiring a sales person. It now has 10 employees, with an eye for adding more at its current pace of expansion.

"We're on pace to grow for the fifth straight year at 20 percent," says Michael St. John, vice president of marketing and sales for Expetec. "We have been adding new clients and looking into new products in the market place."

Expetec offers network-managed services, telecommunication systems, servers, firewalls, computers, and a 24/7 help desk. It recently added a new product called E-Lockr. Think of it as a more secure version of Dropbox that enables businesses to share and sync important data anywhere on any device with continuous, real-time backup and comprehensive usage reports. More importantly, St. John believes it’s a more secure option than rival products.

"It allows us to control what's going on with our clients in regards to the user," St. John says, adding their clients can determine who can see what documents, when, and for how long with E-Lockr.

St. John is optimistic that Expetec's current growth streak will continue, and not just because the economy is picking up speed.

"We have been consistently getting a lot of referrals from our clients," St. John says. "They trust us and the work we do."

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

U-M Tech Transfer accelerates invention production

The University of Michigan has set another round of records this year when it comes to inventions and innovations.

The university's Office of Technology Transfer reported 439 new inventions for the last fiscal year, which us up from 421 the previous year. U-M also recorded 148 option and license agreements (up from 108 a year ago) and launched 14 startups.

"It has been a steady (upward) trend for the last five years," says Ken Nisbet, associate vice president for research and tech transfer at the University of Michigan.

Now each invention doesn't equate a new startup. Oftentimes a startup developing a new technology platform will be based on a handful of patents. Nisbet estimates that about 25 percent of new inventions are robust enough to become their own startups.

"These inventions are a whole range of ideas," Nisbet says. "It could be a platform technology that is big and broad or a smaller piece of technology that a company can enhance."

He adds that each newly created startup spun out of the university requires much more complex technology than say a software developer coming up with a new mobile app. Because of the complexity of it means that more than a dozen new startups launched each year puts U-M toward the more prolific end of research university technology transfer programs. For instance, MIT normally leads the way and it routinely notches about 20 new startup launches each year.

"Fourteen is a pretty robust number when you consider the type of startup it is," Nisbet says.

The University of Michigan has 22 startups currently housed in its Venture Accelerator on the North Campus Research Complex. Each of those startups employs a couple of people. For instance, Exo Dynamics is a U-M spinout that is developing a back brace for the 21st Century. It currently has a team of five people working on the venture.

Check out a video promoting U-M’s Tech Transfer program here.

Source: Ken Nisbet, associate vice president for research and tech transfer at the University of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Warmilu finds economic soft spot with warming blankets for seniors

The team at Warmilu has discovered that nothing is as easy as it seems, especially when you're trying to create a new product from scratch.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup has been working to bring its warming blanket technology to market for the last year but has run into snags along the way, such as getting labeling and packaging right. However, the 3-year-old company is still looking to launch sales of its blanket later this fall, perhaps as soon as November.

"That's our goal, but we know it’s an ambitious goal," says Grace Hsia, CEO of Warmilu.

Warmilu represents its blanket as a non-electric heating wrap that acts instantly, is reusable, and microwave safe. Hsia and her two co-founders (all University of Michigan graduate students) developed the blanket with the idea of keeping newborns warm. It has since grown the idea to include using it for the elderly and people dealing with pain or soreness from ailments like arthritis.

"There is a robust home-heat-care market," Hsia says. "It's mainly men and women over the age of 50."

Warmilu and its team of five people (it recently hired a marketing and creative director) are hoping to use the revenues from its initial sales to help fund the further development of the blanket for neonatal care. The startup is also working to raise a seed capital round of $250,000 to fund the development of the technology, but Hsia and her partners would prefer to continue bootstrapping the venture by growing its sales beyond Michigan.

"We want to reach out and build that Warmilu presence not only in Ann Arbor but globally," Hsia says. "We would like to self-finance our growth."

Source: Grace Hsia, CEO of Warmilu
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Brogan & Partners adds 5 jobs in downtown Birmingham

New jobs and promotions have been cropping up at Brogan & Partners this year.

The advertising and digital marketing agency recently promoted three account managers (Kristin Morris, Katie Rehrauer and Morgan Eberle) to account directors. It has also hired five people over the last year, including another account director. The company currently employs 42 people, including 27 employees at its downtown Birmingham headquarters.

"We're hoping to get a really good intern that can become a permanent position," says Ellyn Davidson, managing partner of Brogan & Partners.

The 30-year-old firm has enjoyed 12-percent revenue growth over the last year. That makes for its best year since 2008. It’s also looking to increase revenue by 20 percent in 2014. The firm has more work with existing clients like HoneyBaked Ham and has attracted new clients, like ComForcare, Frankenmuth Insurance, and Michigan First Credit Union.

Brogan & Partners hopes to turn each of those new clients into a long-term business relationship. Davidson is optimistic that will happen thanks to the company’s track record of staying ahead of what’s coming up in the digital marketing world.

"We're heavily invested in research in what's new in marketing and what's next," Davidson says. "We stay on top of how communications are changing."

Source: Ellyn Davidson, managing partner of Brogan & Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M student-led VCs look for a few good startup investments

Opportunities for finding seed capital for local startups are anything but in short supply this fall. A broad range of financial sources are looking to invest tens of thousands of dollars in promising ventures, such as the University of Michigan’s Social Venture Fund and the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

Three student-led venture capital funds at the University of Michigan are putting out calls for applications. The VCs are looking to sink $50,000 to $100,000 per investment, and they are looking for a broad range of startups to evaluate.

"We invest in 1-2 companies per year," says Joanna Herrmann, director of investments for the University of Michigan’s Social Venture Fund. "Last year we invested in two companies."

The other two student-led funds (the Wolverine Venture Fund and the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund) are looking to make investments of similar sizes in a wide variety of ventures.

This is the fifth year for the university's Social Venture Fund. It has made five investments in that time, including an investment in downtown Detroit-based software mapping startup Loveland Technologies, which has hired three people in recent months. The Social Venture Fund looks for companies that are for-profit and aim to make a social or environmental impact.

"We try to cast a really wide net," Herrmann says.

Bigger money is at stake at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition this fall. The annual business plan competition offers prizes that are often worth $10,000 or more. Top prize is $500,000. Startups from Washtenaw County, and the U-M specifically, have historically fared quite well, often taking the top spot and walking away with six figures in seed capital. For information this year’s Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition click here.

Source: Joanna Herrmann, director of investments for the University of Michigan’s Social Venture Fund
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Coherix growth continues on strength of global work

Talk to Dwight Carlson about manufacturing for any length of time and he will tell you about how it has become a global venture. The founder & CEO of Coherix, which makes software for advanced manufacturing, knows because so much of the revenue for his Ann Arbor-based business comes from well-outside of its hometown's borders.

"We are truly global," Carlson says. "More than 75 percent of our advanced manufacturing technology is shipped outside of the U.S., and that is only going to increase."

Coherix's principal technology provides high-speed, high-definition 3D measurement and inspection services to manufacturers. The software is designed to streamline a manufacturer’s production capability by finding efficiencies through high-tech, optical-based measurement and inspection of the manufacturers assembly processes.

The 10-year-old company has operations in China and Japan. It also has subsidiaries in Singapore and Europe, all of which have consistently grown in recent years.

"Europe is starting to take off with sales to Opel and Ford," Carlson says.

Coherix has hired five people in the U.S. over the last year. It currently has a staff of 40 employees and the occasional intern in Ann Arbor. To Carlson, there is no better place to do the white collar side of the business.

"It's an excellent place to do high-tech R&D," Carlson says. "There is a reason why Toyota has $100 million invested in R&D here."

Source: Dwight Carlson, founder, chairman & CEO of Coherix
Writer: Jon Zemke

Beezy's Cafe to expand downtown Ypsilanti operations into dinnertime

People just can't get enough of Beezy's Cafe in downtown Ypsilanti. The nearly six-year-old restaurant has both customers who want access to their meals a later hours, and employees looking for a new challenge. To accommodate both, owner Bee Roll has decided to expand her hours on Fridays and Saturdays and add a dinner menu. 

"The Beezy's focus of simple, honest food remains the cornerstone of the menu philosophy," says Roll. "Big bonus for a lot of folks will be the ability to get breakfast for dinner too. We currently only serve breakfast entrees until 2 pm daily. On Friday and Saturday, breakfast will be nonstop. Late risers, rejoice!"

For those without a hankering for breakfast at dinnertime, the new hours will include such hearty dinner dishes as pot pies, tuna noodle casserole and lasagna. Despite new hours and new foods, however, the cafe will remain the same physically, retaining its cozy, eclectic seating arrangement and self-service areas. 

"It's intentionally designed for people to literally bump into each and promote interaction and conversation, community," Roll says. 

There are more growth opportunities for Beezy's on the horizon as well. Roll hopes to soon launch a "plate club," in which customers would have their own vintage plate that lives at the restaurant, and she also plans to expand both her catering services and retail offerings. 

Source: Bee Roll, Beezy's Cafe
Writer: Natalie Burg

Technology Solutions hires 4 employees, looks to add 2 more

If people can get by with a little help from their friends, then Technology Solutions is getting ahead with a lot of help from its clients. The Livonia-based IT firm has grown 350 percent since 2009.

"It's another record-setting year," says Steve Futrell, CEO of Technology Solutions. "We have some great projects all around the year. We have a lot of those here."

The 19-year-old company specializes in VOIP work in the voice and data industry. It deals with a broad variety of clients ranging from global companies to local institutional organizations, like school districts.

"We have great clients," Futrell says. "Our clients have had a lot of great growth over the years."
 
Which has equated to more work for Technology Solutions. And that has meant adding more staff. Technology Solutions has hired four people over the last year, including three engineers and one customer advocate. It now has a staff of 15 employees and is looking to add two interns, along with other workers.

"We're interviewing for two more positions (a sales manager and a network engineer) right now," Futrell says.

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

Dynamic Robotic Solutions aims to double in size

KMT Robotic Solutions is rebranding itself as Dynamic Robotic Solutions, and the Auburn Hills-based company has some big plans for growth over the next few years.

"Our goal is to double in size over the next 3-5 years," says Dick Johnson, director of business development and marketing for Dynamic Robotic Solutions.

The 29-year-old company has made a name for itself in robotic trimming with more than 1,500 of its systems installed around the world. Dynamic Robotic Solutions more specifically works with water jet cutting. So while the water coming out of a faucet may clock in at 20-25 psi, the water Dynamic Robotic Solutions's robots use spits out at 65,000 psi. That’s strong enough to take the flesh off your finger.

"If you add in a little bit of sand into the stream you can cut two-inch steel," Johnson says.

Robotic cutting is often used in manufacturing, such as cutting the roof liners in cars, carpet for automotive floor mats, and plastic in instrument panels.

The company had its best year in 2012 in regard to revenue growth and is on track to have another strong year. It has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 60 employees. It’s also looking to hire a handful of people in software engineering and sales.

Source: Dick Johnson, director of business development and marketing for Dynamic Robotic Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Social media startup Social2Step gears up for national stage

Social2Step is starting to land clients locally and across the U.S.

The downtown Detroit-based social media startup recently completed a pilot with Quicken Loans and has a longstanding relationship with a Lake Tahoe-based concert promotion company.

"They're using my platform to get the word out on social media when an act comes into Lake Tahoe," says Susan Burke, founder & CEO of Social2Step. "They have been a fun client."

Burke launched Social2Step early last year when she joined Bizdom. Her startup empowers employees to become ambassadors for their company's products online. The hope is that more sales makes a healthier business and in turn makes the jobs of the employees advocating for the products and services more secure.

Social2Step and its team of three people is currently closing in on $50,000 in annual revenue for this year. Next year Burke hopes to hit $150,000 as she works to grow the company's customer base.

"We're in client acquisition mode," Burke says.

Source: Susan Burke, founder & CEO of Social2Step
Writer: Jon Zemke

Liberty Title adds jobs as real-estate market rebounds

This last winter with its polar vortexes forced real-estate companies like Liberty Title to go into hibernation for a few months to deal with what became a literally frozen real-estate market. Things were so slow during December, January, and February that it was almost like the company took the quarter off.

"We had a big hole in the first quarter to dig out of," says Tom Richardson, general counsel of Liberty Title.

That hasn't stopped the Ann Arbor-based company from realizing some solid gains this year. It helps that the local real-estate market has heated up and property values have risen with it. Richardson points out that houses that sold for $60,000 a year or two ago are not selling for $100,000, and he sees price gains continuing.

"I don't see any slowdown," Richardson says. "Interest rates seem like they will stay flat in 2015 and the economy in southeast Michigan is strong."

That has allowed Liberty Title to consolidate some gains across Metro Detroit and add staff. The company has moved its Brighton office into a new building near the heart of the city's downtown. It has hired six people, expanding its staff to 98 employees. Those new hires include new office managers in Birmingham and Novi.

"We picked up some highly experienced people," Richardson says.

Source: Tom Richardson, general counsel of Liberty Title
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit firm Quikly seeks to disrupt online marketing industry

Quikly is casting a wide net to find its niche in the digital world.

The downtown Detroit-based startup (it calls fourth floor of 1528 Woodward home) has been expanding into a number of new verticals, such as casino gaming, professional sports, and retail.

"It's been a large-scale effort to reach into these verticals," says Shawn Geller, CEO of Quikly. "We're really trying to figure out where we fit best at this point."

Quikly helps brands attract new customers with online deals. It delivers randomly released promotions which reward customers who act quickly to seize the opportunity. It moved to Detroit a little more than a year ago and became one of the portfolio companies of Detroit Venture Partners after raising a $900,000 seed round.

It has since gone to work for a number of different companies in the Quicken Loans family of companies and other large corporations including Domino's Pizza, Moose Jaw, Pet Supplies Plus, and Greektown Casino.

"That industry (casino gaming) is ready for disruption," Geller says.

Quikly has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 14 employees and three interns. The startup is set to clock $500,000 in revenue this year and is aiming to hit $3 million to $5 million and 20-30 employees in revenue in 2015.

Source: Shawn Geller, CEO of Quikly
Writer: Jon Zemke

Eastern Market lands $250K grant for strategic planning

A quarter of a million dollars will help fund strategic planning efforts for Eastern Market that will help grow businesses in the district.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded the $250,000 grant to Eastern Market Corporation to pay for an update of the district’s development plan. Much of the plan from six years ago has already been implemented by the non-profit that manages the market and surrounding business district, such as renovating the farmers market sheds and protecting the character of the historic district.

"We want to make sure we engage our broad range of stakeholders in a more robust way," says Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corp.

That includes fostering more entrepreneurship in the community. The farmers market now operates both Saturday and Tuesday and includes more space for a broader variety of vendors. Now there is more room for food entrepreneurs trying to get lifestyle businesses off the ground.

One of those challenges is modernizing the built infrastructure in the market. Many of the buildings are over a century old and were not constructed to accommodate 21st century businesses. Eastern Market's leaders wants to find a way to maintain the authenticity that plays a critical part in attracting 2 million visitors annually while also providing a solid foundation for young businesses to grow.

Eastern Market Corporation expects the new strategic plan to encompass the central market itself, along with the Gratiot commercial corridor and adjacent light industrial area. The new report is set to be released in late spring of next year.

Source: Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

Logic Solutions adds to team on eCommerce growth

New work in eCommerce is helping drive some growth at Logic Solutions office in Ann Arbor. The tech firm is has watched a significant uptick in demand for its eCommerce services, allowing it to more than double its eCommerce team from six to 14 people. The firm currently employs about 50 people in Ann Arbor out of 250 worldwide.

"What we're seeing in the market place is a much bigger uptick for eCommerce technology in general and for Magento in particular," says Angela Kujava, director of innovation for Logic Solutions.

Logic Solutions primarily focuses on Magento and WooComerce eCommerce platforms. Magento holds a 26 percent market share of the top one million websites using eCommerce, while WooCommerce is one of the most popular eCommerce plugin for Wordpress websites.

While eCommerce work focused on normal websites is still king in the space for Logic Solutions, it has watched a big growth in mobile as of late. More and more customers are looking to make their eCommerce platforms accessible to mobile users.

"We're having many more conversations about mobile," Kujava says.

Source: Angela Kujava, director of innovation for Logic Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

WCCCD scores $2.5M grant for cyber security education


Wayne County Community College District has won a multi-million-dollar federal grant to help train unemployed veterans for jobs in cyber security.

The U.S. Dept. of Labor awarded the community college $2.5 million for its Wayne County Generation Cyber Project with additional assistance coming from the state of Michigan and the office of Gov. Rick Snyder. The program will train and provide career guidance for veterans looking to gain a beachhead in the cyber security workforce.

"There are a lot of people who have a lot of skills already but not the most current skills," says Dave Murray, deputy press secretary for Gov. Rick Snyder. "They're looking for a way to elevate the skills to meet the jobs of today."

The Wayne County Generation Cyber Project is part of the nearly $2 billion Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative. The federal initiative is aiming to help make the country's community college system provide more comprehensive offerings for worker training.

Wayne County Community College District will focus on developing the local cyber security workforce. It will hire and train more instructors, expand online education options, develop new curriculum, and purchase new equipment to help more veterans transition into the cyber security workforce.

Source: Dave Murray, deputy press secretary for Gov. Rick Snyder
Writer: Jon Zemke
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