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Single mom builds crime scene cleanup biz, Pure Decontamination

The real-life version of Sunshine Cleaning is playing out in Detroit's Cody Rouge neighborhood.

For those who haven't seen the 2008 comedy-drama, the gist is a young single-mom (Amy Adams) starts a crime-scene cleanup business to support her family. Check out the trailer here. In the real-world Detroit-version, Shena Penn is the entrepreneurial hero who helps people during the most profound and often saddest experiences of their lives.

Penn graduated from Wayne State University with a journalism degree in 2010 and landed a job with a medical research firm in Ann Arbor. She had to get up at 3 a.m. to be at work by 5 a.m. each day. Raising a young child by herself, Penn lasted about eight months on the job before she knew she had to find a different way.

"The hours really weren’t conducive to family life," Penn says. "I wanted to find a way to make money and spend more time with my family."

That's when she started Pure Decontamination, a crime scene cleanup company, from her home in Cody Rouge in 2012. Penn enjoyed cleaning and the barriers of entry to the business were low. It was a good fit for an ambitious young woman who didn’t have an overabundance of family resources to rally.

Pure Decontamination started as a side gig while Penn got a new day job working at Quicken Loans. She also leveraged the entrepreneurial training resources at ProsperUS Detroit to help build her fledgling business. Penn quit her Quicken Loans job a month ago to pursue building Pure Decontamination on a full-time basis.

"You have to choose either (your day job or building your own business) or get no sleep," Penn says.

Today Penn is working toward her MBA and has a staff of 10 independent contractors working under her. She is focused on building Pure Decontamination in the tri-county area, securing contracts with local municipalities, and getting the word out about her business.

"We would really like to push ourselves at this point to make sure people know we are available," Penn says.

Source: Shena Penn, owner of Pure Decontamination
Writer: Jon Zemke

MSquared brings finance, accounting tools to startups

Marcus Perez and Maxim Ermakov both went into consulting after graduating from Notre Dame and Wayne State Universities. Working with small businesses and helping them figure out how to best do their books inspired them to start their own company, MSquared.

"At the end of the day, a lot of their basic financial services and processes were subpar at best," Perez says.

The 1-year-old startup and its staff of three people help outfit small businesses with tools to balance their books and figure out the general nuts and bolts of running a company. For instance, MSquared helps client firms appreciate the importance of real revenues, expenses, comprehensive financial analysis, and accurate accounting.

The company got its start when Ermakov was recruited to be the chief financial officer at a Florida company. He and Perez helped get that firm off the ground and developed a platform to do the same for other companies, which is now the core competency of MSquared.

"If we can launch this down in Florida, we can do this in Detroit," Perez says. "There is a great startup community in Detroit and we want to concentrate on this area."

MSquared has been working with Wayne State University's Blackstone LaunchPad program, which helps everyday students chase their entrepreneurial dreams by teaching them the basics of launching a business. MSquared also landed a few thousand dollars in seed capital from the program's Warrior Fund.

"It has been pretty instrumental at helping us get organized," Perez says.

Source: Marcus Perez, co-founder of MSquared
Writer: Jon Zemke

Brogan & Partners adds 4 jobs as it locks down more long-term clients

A little more than a year ago, the leadership at Brogan & Partners sat down and figured out what types of clients it worked best with, what sort of projects it excelled at, and what its strengths and weaknesses were. This was all in the name of refining its business model and building a better business.

That led to the downtown Birmingham-based digital marketing firm to make a transition. The 30-year-old firm characterizes itself as a company that “creates and converges advertising, social media and mobile media with an emphasis on brand engagement and a specialty in marketing to women.” It moved to taking on more long-term clients instead of short-term projects. That prompted a significant sales spurt over the last year.

"Between this time last year and now we have about seven additional ongoing accounts," says Ellyn Davidson, managing partner with Brogan & Partners. "Last year we had more projects. Now we have more long-term accounts."

Some of those new clients include Frankenmuth Insurance and Michigan First Credit Union. The company's revenue jumped by double digits last year, and it's aiming for 13-14 percent revenue increases this year, much of it thanks to its new focus.

"It was a very deliberate new business strategy," Davidson says.

Brogan & Partners has added new employees over the last year, including four new hires in the last month alone. Those new jobs include writers, media buyers and metrics specialists. The company currently has a staff of about 40 employees and an intern.

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

Online Tech acquires new data center, renovates 2 more

Online Tech's data management empire took a big step forward this spring when the Ann Arbor-based company added its first data center outside of Michigan.

The 20-year-old company acquired a data center in Indianapolis, and is in the process of refurbishing two of its data centers in Flint and Westland. Online Tech got its start building out four data centers in Michigan, and has been targeting other Midwestern markets in recent years.

"We wanted to have a commanding presence in Michigan first, which was not easy to do," says Yan Ness, co-CEO of Online Tech.

The new Indianapolis data center is a purpose-built corporate facility that will deliver secure, compliant cloud and colocation services for healthcare, financial services, retail, and other companies in the region. Online Tech plans to make a total investment of $10 million in the facility and the surrounding Indianapolis metro area.

"It's a great business community," Ness says. "We love the people down there. There are a lot of healthcare and financial firms down there. We think what we have to offer is well-suited for them."

Online Tech is also renovating two of its data centers in Michigan, including a former Nextel data center is acquired in Westland. Both are set to come online by the end of the summer or early in the fall.

The expansion comes after Online Tech has gone on a bit of a hiring binge. The company has added 22 people over the last 18 months, expanding its staff to 52 employees. It also has four open positions in sales, marketing, and client services. Ness expects the hiring to continue as the company targets more Midwestern markets.

"We have about a dozen or so markets on our radar," Ness says. "We don't talk about what they are because lots of people are looking at the Midwestern white space."

Source: Yan Ness, co-CEO of Online Tech
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ingenex Digital Marketing fills out new office above Arbor Brewing Co

Ingenex Digital Marketing moved into a bigger office in downtown Ann Arbor last summer, bringing a couple of local startups with it.

The digital marketing firm took over the second floor of the Arbor Brewing Co in July. The dramatically bigger office (about 4,000 square feet) was more than enough for its growing staff and a couple of local tech companies subleasing office space, including HealPay and 3.7 Designs.

"It allows us to have a really nice space and have people nearby we can collaborate with," says Derek Mehraban, CEO of Ingenex Digital Marketing.

The 8-year-old company now employes six employees and five summer interns from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. It has hired a content manager (a U-M grad) and a web designer over the last year.

Ingenex Digital Marketing specializes in inbound marketing, doing work for the likes of the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan and helping launch and market a mobile app for Campus Commandos, a college-focused marketing firm. That has allowed Ingenex Digital Marketing to continue to grow its revenue, and Mehraban expects to push $1 million in sales.

"Our revenue is trending up, for sure," Mehraban says.

Source: Derek Mehraban, CEO of Ingenex Digital Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

Language Link Institute helps improve English listening skills

Caroline Wojan has worked in the corporate language training sector for 20 years, and believes her business, Language Link Institute, has developed a way to help improve the listening skills of people who use English as a second language.

For years Wojan believed the ability for foreign nationals to learn to listen effectively to English speakers happened organically overtime. That often meant communications SNAFUs and embarrassed foreign business executives trying to keep up with what is said at important meetings.

"It [being able to listen and understand English] empowers them to feel more confident," Wojan says. "It also saves them time."

The Language Link Institute helps people either learn foreign languages or master English. Think executives from foreign companies for whom English is their second language. The Language Link Institute also offers tutoring services for students, and cultural and language training for foreign nationals in local businesses.

Wojan recently had an idea on how to help these foreign executives struggling to effectively understand English comprehend faster and more effectively. Wojan declines to elaborate on it, saying its a trade secret for her business, but says it has been effective for a broad number of her clients.

"This strategy has been effective even if it’s only practiced 1-2 hours a week," Wojan says. "It's kind of a process."

That has helped Wojan continue to grow the Language Link Institute. She has hired three language instructors in the last year and employs a staff of about a dozen people.

Source: Caroline Wojan, director of Language Link Institute
Writer: Jon Zemke

Huron Capital Partners invest $20M in Valentus Specialty Chemicals

Valentus Specialty Chemicals isn’t the first specialty chemicals business Huron Capital Partners has backed in the last decade. It's not the second, third, or fourth. The new specialty coatings platform, led by industry veteran Ray Chlodney, is the ninth in 10 years.

Huron Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in downtown Detroit, got its start in the specialty chemicals industry with a company called Quest Specialty Chemicals, which specialized in coatings, films, and adhesives. Huron Capital Partners sold its principal position in Quest in 2011, but still retains a piece of the successful investment.

"We founded Valentus to do something like what we did with Quest," says Mike Beauregard, senior partner with Huron Capital Partners.

Valentus Specialty Chemicals plans to spend about $20 million acquiring regional specialty coatings producers to build a company with technically advanced and environmentally friendly reactive coating solutions. Huron Capital Partners expects it will take a significant bite out of an $18 billion industry by serving a variety of end markets and geographies.

"There are lots of applications," Beauregard says.

Huron Capital Partners launched in 1999 and has raised more than $1.1 billion in investment capital through four funds since then. Its portfolio companies have employed over 7,500 people throughout North America. Its current roster of portfolio firms employs 2,000 people in North America.

Huron Capital Partners currently employs a staff of 23 employees and a handful of interns from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. It has hired five people over the last year, including a vice president of business development, a controller, a transactions vice president, and two analysts.

"We plan to hire as many as 4-5 people over the next 12 months," Beauregard says.

Source: Mike Beauregard, senior partner with Huron Capital Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

Seller Nation building on its auction approach to home sales

Since SellerNation's launch in January, its auction style, seller-side-focused approach to home sales has caught on and led to plans to expand beyond its Southfield office.

SellerNation, which is the real estate division of Woodward Asset Capital, uses its own OfferSubmission platform to generate multiple offers in a shorter period of time than traditional real estate sales. And unlike typical home auctions that sell distressed or foreclosed homes, SellerNation works mostly with families needing to move property more quickly due to life-changing situations such as death or divorce.

“Using an auction-style approach, we are finding that our sellers attract multiple bidders, higher prices, faster sales and have an easier process than traditional methods for selling a home,” says Ron Jasgur, president of SellerNation. “Auctions are great for sellers in those situations, but they work even better when it’s a great home. Whenever we hear of an auction that yields a record sale of antiques, artwork, classic autos or comic books, they’re always a result of a well-run auction.”

The success so far has Jasgur adding staff and considering expansion in Metro Detroit and possibly outside the state.

SellerNation reps will be spreading the word about how SellerNation works and giving free home evaluations without the need for an in-person tours this month and next at:

Tonight, May 22, Panera Bread, 6399 Orchard Lake Road, West Bloomfield
Tuesday, June 3, Panera Bread, 37611 Twelve Mile Road, Farmington Hills
Thursday, June 19, Panera Bread, 39450 W. 14 Mile Road, Commerce.
All meetings are 10 - 11 a.m.

Source: Lynne Meredith Golodner, owner, Your People LLC; and Ron Jasgur, president, SellerNation
Writer: Kim North Shine

EMU, U-M chosen for Google Community Leaders Program

EMU joins Wayne State University, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and the University of Michigan for a Google-sponsored program that teaches search optimization and digital marketing experience to students in order to help them support local businesses.


"Five Eastern Michigan University students have been accepted into Google's Community Leader's Program, a volunteer operation in which students help equip local small businesses and non-profits to compete in the digital age. The five EMU students, Mahdi Alkadib, Patrick Cotter, Joseph Wendl, Robert Larson, and Sean Tseng, will work with various local businesses and organizations throughout southeastern Michigan, introducing them to tactical Google tools like Google+, Google Apps, Google Analytics and Google AdWords."

Read the rest here.

Billhighway anticipates growth surge with new tech hires

Billhighway has some big expectations for its future growth, and it's already adding staff in anticipation of it.

The Troy-based firm, which describes itself as a “provider of cloud-based automation solutions for nonprofits” has hired five people over the last year, including positions in sales, business development and software development. It also has three open positions for software developers.

"The company is the product. We write everything (software code) ourselves," says Bob Anzivino, director of IT & security for Billhighway. "There is a lot of R&D work going on here so we need the help."

Billhighway got its start in 1999 as software that helps people divvy up expenses, such as dues or dinner costs. Today it helps non-profits and other organizations deal with their finances.

The company currently employs just under 50 people. Anzivino, who was recently promoted to his job, explains that it can be hard to pin down an exact number of staff because new hires mean staffing levels change fairly quickly. The reason why is to keep up with revenue growth and projected growth over the next year.

"We expect fairly meteoric growth in the next 12 months," Anzivino says. "That's good for us and our clients. We are preparing for that."

Source: Bob Anzivino, director of IT & security for Billhighway
Writer: Jon Zemke

LevelEleven doubles client base, triples revenue, hires 13

LevelEleven is 18 months old and starting to do what so many tech startups should concentrate on, generating revenue.

The downtown Detroit-based startup, a HelloWorld (formerly ePrize) spinoff, is hawking an enterprise gamification app that is native to the salesforce platform. The mobile app helps motivate sales professionals and track their progress. LevelEleven has doubled its customer base over the last year, taking on big-name clients like PayPal, Tifany & Co, and Quantcast.

"It's a combination of continually evolving the product (and some hiring)," says Bob Marsh, founder & CEO of LevelEleven. "The product is strong and solves a need. We also hired some strong sales people."

That growth in clientele has enabled LevelEleven to triple its revenue over the last year. That in turn prompted the company to hire 13 people (sales, marketing, engineering, and customer service professionals), expanding its staff to 20 employees and two interns. It currently has two open positions for an engineer and a sales professional.

LevelEleven is focused on further growing its client base and refining its business model to maximize revenue and profitability. It is also aiming to fundraise for a Series A later this year.

"We're just going to continue growing at the same pace," Marsh says.

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

HeatSpring expands office near Michigan Stadium

HeatSpring has grown its online educational business over the last year thanks to it forming some partnerships with other companies.

The Ann Arbor-based company, which is located next to Michigan Stadium, has signed partnerships with the likes of SolarPro Magazine to create classes oriented on their specialities. For instance, the class for SolarPro Magazine is on megawatt design.

"We went from having two to having 20," says Brian Hayden, president of HeatSpring.

That growth has allowed Heat Spring to hire a new employee, a student advocate, over the last year. It currently has a staff of four employees and is looking to hire a marketing manager.

Hayden wants to continue growing its online course offerings through similar partnerships. It is also aiming to raise an angel round of seed capital worth $1 million by October.

"We have some verbal commitments," Hayden says. "If we do all of that we will be winning."

Source: Brian Hayden, president of HeatSpring
Writer: Jon Zemke

Pop-up in Grandmont Rosedale: REVOLVE Detroit is seeking applications

REVOLVE Detroit is seeking applications for its pop-up retail program, this time in northwest Detroit's Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood. Over the last three years, REVOLVE has helped pop-ups open in vacant storefronts in Lafayette Park, West Village, Jefferson-Chalmers, and the Avenue of Fashion (Livernois at 7 Mile). Several of these businesses have made the transition from pop-up to permanent and several vacant storefronts that hosted pop-ups have taken on long-term tenants.

Now, REVOLVE Detroit is partnering with the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation and Charter One's “Growing Communities” initiative in seeking entrepreneurs to create two new pop-up shops on Grand River Avenue in Detroit’s distinguished Grandmont Rosedale community.

Applications are due June 15. For more information, visit REVOLVE's website.

Source: REVOLVE Detroit

Arotech hires 11 in Ann Arbor, looks to add another 5

Arotech's staff in Ann Arbor has been on the upswing in recent years and is continuing to trend skyward.

The Ann Arbor-based defense firm has grown its staff from 125 people at the end of 2012 to 136 employees a year later. Today it has a staff of 147 employees and a few interns, adding 11 jobs in engineering and technicians. It's also looking to hire another three engineers and two more technicians.

Arotech has enjoyed 20 percent year-over-year revenue growth since 2010, and the company's sales continue to spike. "We did hit a new high-water mark for revenues," says Kurt Flosky, executive vice president of Arotech's Training & Simulation Division.

Arotech provides simulation software to a number of defense and similar organizations, such as raining and use-of-force simulation for municipal law enforcement agencies. It has also completed 26 of the 28 sets of a suite of simulations for the U.S. Army that helps soldiers train to find and disarm improvised explosive devices. It also has started to deliver its first simulations products for a contract with the U.S. Air Force that trains soldiers how to operate mid-flight refueling booms.

"That is the first of 17 boom arm simulators to be delivered," Flosky says.

Source: Kurt Flosky, executive vice president of Arotech Training & Simulation Division
Writer: Jon Zemke

DornerWorks expands new South Lyon office to 3 people

DornerWorks reinvigorated its Metro Detroit office about two years ago, bringing in a new staff, moving it to South Lyon, and going after a bigger clientele.

DornerWorks is a provider of electronic engineering services for the aerospace, medical, automotive, and industrial sectors. The Grand Rapids-based firm’s biggest clients include General Electric and Stryker.

The 14-year-old company’s Metro Detroit customer base was comprised of smaller firms until about 1-2 years ago when a reorganization brought in more, bigger clients.

"We have done some work for Ford, Visteon, and Magna," says Bob Gerber, regional sales director of DornerWorks. "These are all larger automotive companies that are long-term investments."

DornerWorks' South Lyon office, which now has three people, is trying to bring on more Tier One automotive suppliers as customers. It is also looking to hire more engineers to keep up with the new work from large automotive firms.

"We'd like to double that by the end of the year, if not triple it," Gerber says. "We're constantly bidding on those jobs so it’s about hitting the right project."

Source: Bob Gerber, regional sales director of DornerWorks
Writer: Jon Zemke
2640 Articles | Page: | Show All
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