Entrepreneurship :Innovation & Job News

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Clothing company sports Lansing pride

Designer makes Lansing home and shows his Lansing pride through newly launched clothing line.
 

Chamber recognizes established business leaders through new initiative

A new initiative acknowledges the contributions of the boomer generation to the ongoing growth and development of Greater Lansing.

Online marketplace of gently used clothing a perfect fit for tall community

Two entrepreneurs take fashion and clothing business to new heights through an innovative, online marketplace for the tall community.
 

New business accelerator launched through LEAP

As part of its charge to support entrepreneurial and startup activity, the Lansing Area Economic Partnership launched a business acceleration program in December to help companies move products from the concept phase to the marketplace.

Tax resolution service moves headquarters and staff of three to downtown Lansing

As the vice president of ALG Tax Solutions, Mark Hampton and founding partner A.J. Gross focus on providing clients with tax resolution, tax audit and litigation services, and tax preparation during the tax season. He's here, he says, to help you fight the IRS so you can focus on business.

Long-time restaurant manager opts for scraps

Todd Powell has always found the value in things meant for the scrap heap.
 
Got an old washing machine, baby swing, furniture, or even a furnace? He'll take it. Worn-out file cabinets jammed with office paper? He'll take that, too. Any yard waste, old lumber or firewood? Give him a call. He'll be there to haul it away for free.
 
Powell founded Scrap King in late December after eight years of scavenging scrap metal, junk, and the assorted things people pitch and toss aside in modern life. He collects junk curbside, from people's homes and basements, and from an occasional dumpster. He picks up and hauls daily, making the rounds in Eaton, Ingham and Clinton counties, in search of aluminum, steel, copper and other items and materials he can exchange for cash at scrap yards, recyclers and second hand stores.
 
"The best thing is I'm on the road," says Powell. "It's a different situation every day—a different job, a different location. You meet a lot of different people. That's another nice thing about it."
 
Powell swapped a full-time job managing a Panera franchise for life as a scrapper. It was a leap of faith, he says, but it was more than a fair exchange, giving him the time and flexibility to spend with his wife, Kelly, and two baseball-playing kids.
 
The Charlotte-dad says he draws daily on his 25 years of experience in customer service-related businesses to bring a personal, professional tone to his new enterprise. For the naturally-friendly Powell, that comes easy, even on the most demanding days.  And it's paid off, with referrals and word traveling fast among friends, neighbors and businesses looking to clean house.
 
Powell recently brought on two part-time staff to help with heavy lifting. His two sons sometimes ride along, providing a keen eye for the overlooked and unwanted.
 
"They think it's a treasure hunt," says Powell. "They absolutely love it."
 
Source: Todd Powell, Owner, Scrap King
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Lansing Bike Co-op offers a shared space to keep cyclists rolling

Building on the bones of an old mechanics garage, a group of innovative bike enthusiasts are providing a space where Lansing residents can rebuild, repair and tune-up their bikes with a little help from their new-found friends.
 
In the works for about a year, the Lansing Bike Co-op opened for spring and summer hours, offering tools, space and knowledge for anyone wanting to learn the mechanics of their non-motorized two-wheelers.
 
"There are a lot of people who need to know how to fix their bikes, or have a bike that isn't worth taking to shop," says co-op president Aaron Fields. "Whatever the case, they rely on their bike for transportation. We saw that need and in the community and wanted to provide the resources."
 
The idea, Fields says, is for people to come to the co-op, get a diagnosis on what needs fixing, and then receive guidance on the tools and steps to follow to keep their bike rolling.
 
"We provide the guidance, you do the fixing," says Fields. "We're an educational resource."
 
The Lansing Bike Co-op received a $3,000 grant this spring from the Tri-County Bicycle Association and matching funds from the Ingham County Land Bank to renovate and equip the garage with plumbing and heat. 
 
"After we get those things installed we can go year round," says Fields. "For now we can only store stuff here and work in the parking lot."
 
The co-op is typically opened Wednesday nights until nightfall, with other hours posted on Facebook. The co-op also holds a "judgment free zone" Ladies Night on the first and third Sundays of the month.
 
"I learned how to fix bikes here," says Fields. "Taking a bike apart demystifies things pretty quickly. There's not as much to them as you think, and once you start messing around with them, you find out that they're pretty straight forward."
 
The co-op shares the two-bay building with Go Green Trikes—Greater Lansing's trike courier service. The Lansing Bike Co-op is all volunteer-based, with board members including Fields, Mike Tostoh, Emily Petz and Carrie Nelson. About 15 to 20 people on average stop in during open nights, with a donation of $10 per hour of stand time suggested but not required.
 
Source: Aaron Fields, President, Lansing Bike Co-op
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Franchise junk hauler and soon-to-be mover cleans up dirty job

There's a new business in town that's cornering the market on "hunkiness."
 
Beginning in July, College Hunks Hauling Junk will dispatch well-trained, personable, and well-groomed staff to whisk away those piles of debris, useless furnishings, old appliances and electronics, and other unsightly items and scraps that invade the space of any household or commercial office.
 
"Will 'hunks' really show up at your door?" says Clark Burkle, owner of the new franchise. "We say yes. That's because each and every staff member represents the acronym of what 'hunks' stands for."
 
Hunks, Burkle explains, stands for Honest, Uniformed, Nice, Knowledgeable Service. While being a student isn't a qualifier for being on the College Hunks team, image, customer service, and reliability are when it comes to serving clients.
 
"We're very solid about setting and keeping appointment times," says Bill Willbrandt, Burkle's business partner. "We don't just give you a window or time range. We're working hard to bring professionalism to what's sometimes considered a 'dirty job.'"
 
The College Hunks franchise will be the first in Greater Lansing for the national company. With headquarters in Tampa, Fla., the franchise offers home movers, officer movers, junk removal, donation pick ups and moving labor services across the United States and Canada. Burkle's operation is one of a handful in Michigan, and among about 50 nationwide.
 
The East Lansing-Okemos based College Hunks will focus on the junk removal side of the franchise for starters, then expand into local moving services come fall. Burkle says he and Willbrandt decided the franchise would be a good fit for the area—both based on the availability of a labor pool, a mobile university community, and the growing population of downsizing seniors.
 
"One man's junk is another man's treasure," says Burkle. "A lot of what we remove we'll recycle. We'll be working very hard to minimize what goes into a landfill and to find a home for every piece we collect."
 
Burkle plans to hire eight part-time employees. The franchise will have two trucks—one for junk hauling, the other for moving come fall.
 
Source: Clark Burkle, Owner, College Hunks Hauling Junk and College Hunks Moving
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Computer engineer connects patients and caregivers through remote system

Nevin Brittain started his career in engineering technologies helping large corporations securely share data and collaborate. Two years ago, he began applying his expertise to help caregivers securely and safely monitor patients and loved ones living at home.
 
Brittain says he wasn't necessarily looking to change the arc of his career when he launched Health Numeric, but rather to address a problem he had seen first-hand.
 
Shortly before graduating from college, his great-grandmother died from complications of diabetes. Her health, Brittain says, had been affected by the absence of common and collaborative communication among caregivers, as well as the lack of an effective system for monitoring her in-home care.
 
"I knew one day that I wanted to pursue and solve that problem," says Brittain. "After graduating and working for a while, I had the knowledge to provide a solution."
 
Brittain went on to develop a HIPAA compliant cloud platform and support service that aids physicians, nurses, family members, and others involved in a patient's care. Comprehensive information obtained through a remote monitoring system allows caregivers to monitor a patient's daily health vitals, generate progress reports, and receive notifications when measurements go beyond a set range.
 
Health Numeric works by pairing medical devices a patient uses to check weight, glucose blood pressure or other conditions with Bluetooth technology. The technology then transmits real-time data to a cloud-based platform that can be accessed by caregivers.
 
"It's very simple to use," Brittain says. "It connects to devices that are familiar to the patient and doesn't require the patient to have Internet access. Once we install the system in the home, it feels no different to patients than what they've been doing in the past. Now there's simply someone at the other end, providing another level of comfort."
 
Brittain says the goal of Health Numeric is to help patients be more successful in staying in their homes by reducing the probability of medical complications and hospital readmissions.
 
Health Numeric is headquartered in the East Lansing Technology and Innovation Center. Brittain works with four onsite personnel and about 10 developers and contractors. A frequent blogger and information provider, Brittain is also engaged in a pilot study through Wayne State University that examines the efficacy of monitoring patient care from home.
 
Source: Nevin Brittain, Founder, Health Numeric
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Ma Ma C's sauces it up with new deli in Lansing City Market

For Carol Davis, the secret has always been in her sauces.
 
But recently, the food entrepreneur from Laingsburg has ventured into serving deli-styled sandwiches for the lunch crowd through the Lansing City Market.
 
Ma Ma C's  offers daily combo specials that range from specialty hot dogs to tacos to pita sandwiches. Open since March, Davis also provides yogurt and fruit cups, bottled water, and gourmet popcorn for the diner looking for a lunch or snack on the lighter side.
 
"We're completely homemade, and everything we have is primarily made with Michigan products," says Davis. "We try to keep our prices around $6 for lunch. That's a good deal."
 
Davis says her son and co-owner John Buono persuaded her to start the deli based on the success of her popular line of Ma Ma C's sauces and other core products. Since 2008, Davis has been concocting and canning flavorful gourmet finishing sauces, glazes, marinaras, guacamole and pickled vegetables like asparagus.  Davis says she's perfected her line of 12 core products made with tomatoes, onions, celery, green and red sweet peppers, salt, vinegar, sugar and spices that can be paired with meats, pastas, chips, and added to recipes and sauces.
 
Deli customers can sample sauces and core products on particular lunch selections, as well as purchase them through the City Market site. Sauces and core products are also found at area stores including Merindorf Meats, up north around Houghton Lake and Harrison, at the Flint City Market, and at occasional craft shows.
 
"The location here is a good start to see if we want to do a deli," Davis says. "I just like meeting new people and having a good time making food."
 
Ma Ma C's is located near the south door of the Lansing City Market in a 16-by-12 foot vendor space. Davis runs the deli with her son, and hopes to move to a brick-and-mortar location depending on customer response.
 
Source: Carol Davis, Owner, Ma Ma C's
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Molly & Oliver's pop-up fundraiser to benefit the Aitch Foundation

When Amy Mills and her husband Chris set out to adopt the infant they were fostering, they knew their life would be filled with joy and challenges. They just didn't know one of the challenges would be cancer.
 
Mid-way into the adoption process, Mills learned she had Stage 3 breast cancer. The diagnosis set her on a path to push fearlessly ahead and do what she always wanted to do in life. Within a year, she was cancer-free, a new mom, and CEO of her own business—a web-based consignment shop that curates and sells children's clothing for newborns through tweens.
 
Mills launched Molly & Oliver's in March 2014. Since then, she's grown the business from web-only to one with retail space within Mother and Earth Baby Boutique in Old Town. She's added two interns and is planning to bring a photographer on board this summer. She's also known to do occasional "pop-up" events, with her most recent being an upcoming fundraiser to benefit cancer research through the Aitch Foundation.
 
"It's difficult enough to go through having cancer as an adult, let alone being a kid," says Mills. "This fundraiser is a way to reach out and raise money and awareness about childhood cancer."
 
Molly & Oliver's pop-up fundraiser will take place June 20 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Mother and Earth Baby Boutique. Coordinated by Molly & Oliver's intern Ashley Mugnolo, the event coincides with Old Town's annual Festival of the Sun, and will feature kids activities like face painting, balloon making, and Italian ice and gelato from Iorio's Gelateria. Shoppers will find an assortment of casual-dressy summer attire for infants through 4T sizes, with 20 percent of the sales going to support the Aitch Foundation.
 
The Aitch Foundation was founded five years ago by former Michigan State University women's basketball player Lauren Aitch. The foundation raises money for research into the early detection of hidden cancers, and will also be holding the annual Hidden Key Fashion Show fundraiser and fashion show on Monday, June 22.
 
"Our goal is to attract a large crowd," says Mills of her support for the local cause with a national scope. "We would love to be able to hit the 'grand' mark fundraising-wise."
 
Source: Amy Mills, Owner, Molly & Oliver's
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.
 

Food entrepreneur chills out with new farm to table concept

Danielle Welke put the idea of farm to table on ice when she launched her own business based on a chilly trend she noticed on the east and west coasts.
 
Beginning in early spring, Welke ramped up her production of handcrafted ice pops from Michigan ingredients—and began her quest to freeze the season at its best. MI Pops debuted at the Allen Street Farmer's Market in late May, quenching thirsts and satisfying cravings with flavors like hibiscus rhubarb, rhubarb elderflower, strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, Thai ice tea and coffee.
 
"I think we're ready for this in Michigan," says Welke of the artisan ice pop experience. "We have fresh fruit here, the combinations will be good, and there's nothing like it here in the Lansing area."
 
Earlier this year, Welke invested in an ice pop machine, molds and got licensed to produce her icy treats at a shared commercial kitchen in Webberville. She says she came upon the idea after months of soul-searching and realizing that her path to career happiness resided in the food business.
 
"Plus, I love Michigan," she says. "I'm a Michigan girl all the way—grew up in Detroit, went to school in Marquette, lived in Traverse City, and now live here in Mason, traveling around the state and picking fruits to make pops."
 
Welke says the flavors of her artisan pops will parallel Michigan's growing season. Currently rooted in rhubarb, she'll begin crafting cool flavors based on what she can pick: from strawberries, to blueberries, to melons, to apples and peaches. She'll also venture into creative combinations of fruits and herbs, sourcing many of her ingredients from local farms. Her goal, she says, is to have at least 75 percent of her flavors derived from Michigan—with no preservatives, colorings and dyes.
 
"It's all trial and error," she says. "I'll be spending my days picking and processing and freezing, and then getting them out for packaging and out to customers."
 
Welke says she'll be doing a farmer's market circuit that started with Allen Street, and will extend to South Lansing. She'll be vending at events in REO Town, and is available to create and provide pops for children's parties, bridal showers, and other private gatherings. She's also investigating the possibility of partnering with other farmers in community supported agriculture ventures over the winter months.
 
Source: Danielle Welke, Owner, MI Pops
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

MSU startup TheraB receives funding from medical investment firm

A new medical device that will change the way families treat infant jaundice is one step closer to market thanks to a partnership between a Michigan State University startup company and a medical investment firm based in Michigan.
 
Conceived by MSU students and nurtured through the MSU Innovation Center, TheraB Medical Products, Inc., received $150,000 this spring in pre-seed stage funding from Quantum Medical Concepts. The funding, says CEO Ryan Jankovic, will be applied toward product development, further strengthening TheraB's ability to provide a product that offers an intimate and cost-effective method of treating jaundice in newborns.
 
Jaundice is caused by bilburin—a high level of pigment in the blood that causes the skin to look yellow. In newborns, the still-developing liver may not be able to remove bilburin from the blood, resulting in infant jaundice. Traditional treatments for newborns may involve therapies that separate mothers and babies, including light therapies and bulky non-portable blankets.
 
The SnugLit Portable Phototherapy Blanket treats infant jaundice by providing the blue light needed to help the newborn break down bilburin molecules. The wearable swaddle also facilitates skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, and other essential elements of mother-baby bonding.
 
"We've worked to make SnugLit easy to use so parents can have the treatment they need for their infant and also be able to conduct their daily activities," says Jankovic. "The blanket can be used both at home and in the home for mild cases."
 
The idea for the SnugLit blanket resulted from a student research project, and was developed with extensive feedback from healthcare professionals. TheraB was founded in 2014 through the MSU Innovations Center, won several pitch and startup business competitions, and has been featured on a variety of local, regional and national media. Jankovic says the coming year will involve final fundraising and product development, with the first products expected to be available in 2016.
 
Source: Ryan Jankovic, TheraB Medical Products, Inc.
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Entrepreneur returns home to grow social media company

When Courtney Maki was ready to graduate college and start her career, it was as if the stars aligned when she landed a job in social media.
 
"I fell in love with social media," says the now business owner of a growing social media company in Lansing. "I've always been social, so to have the opportunity to connect with people world-wide is just an amazing feeling."
 
Maki has transformed a passion that started with Disney and an Atlanta-based TV network into a small business focused on social media strategy. She founded Glow Social Media in Atlanta in 2012, then leveraged the virtual qualities of the business to move back to Lansing in November 2013. Since her homecoming, Maki has remained true to her nature, renewing old acquaintances and cultivating social media networks for a variety of businesses and organizations in mid-Michigan.
 
"Atlanta was a good place to start a company," says Maki. "But Lansing is a good place to grow one. There are not a lot of other firms here that offer exactly what we do."
 
Glow specializes in developing brand awareness, generating inbound traffic, and encouraging product and brand adoption through the use of social media. Maki's company also provides marketing and public relations services that support a company's mission, and ensure consistency in voice while building a social media network.
 
Maki says that Glow doesn't just post to blogs or websites or to social media platforms. Her staff, she says, essentially function as the social media leg of a company's marketing department, coming up with content and strategy that reflects the products, services, community work, and other key features of the business.
 
"We have a team of specialists with niche expertise," says Maki. "You might not get that if you hire a social media specialist right out of college."
 
Glow works within a variety of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Google Plus. The company also specializes in LinkedIn, providing optimization services for clients.
 
"We're here to help the community," says Maki. "And one of the best ways to help as a social media specialist is to help individuals in the community find jobs and be successful."
 
Glow recently began inhabiting a brick-and-mortar residence on the second floor of the Co:Space in REO Town. The 15- by 15-foot office at 1146 S. Washington provides just enough seating for Maki and her three employees, plus access to shared conference and meeting spaces. 
 
Source: Courtney Maki, Owner, Glow Social Media
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

ASK continues growth curve, solidifies focus on IT services

Mike Maddox's story of entrepreneurship started when he assumed leadership of a 10-year-old IT company in 2004. Since then, he has overseen the transformation of ASK, leading the Lansing-based company toward a path of growth and expansion that coincides with the rebirth of the Capitol City.
 
In 2013, ASK marked its 20th anniversary by adding 1,700-square feet onto their Lansing office on Sovereign Drive. Today, 27 people work in the 6,000-square foot facility, with six being new hires as of 2014.
 
In the past 11 years, ASK has evolved from a reseller of large mainframe systems to a provider of managed IT services. Sales revenue has increased 340 percent, while the number of staff has grown by 300 percent. Those numbers reflect the company's broadened focus beyond Mid-Michigan to one that serves customers statewide. And since many ASK customers have national and international operations, ASK's reach stretches overseas, providing service and expertise on several continents.
 
"Today's business looks completely different," says Maddox, ASK president and CEO.  "Our business is based on services and consulting, with very little based on hardware."
 
In the last year or two, ASK has strengthened its focus on managing, remediating and keeping IT infrastructures running for clients. ASK also boasts a fully-staffed engineering department dedicated to cyber security solutions and to reducing and managing risk.
 
Maddox attributes his company's success to letting the client's best interests guide every decision. That approach, he says, has led to a client retention rate of more than 95 percent, something he says is nearly unheard of in the IT business.
 
"Culturally, our people want to be part of building something that will last forever," says Maddox. "That motivates them more than anything, and makes ASK a really fun place to work."
 
Mike Maddox recently received an entrepreneurial award from the Greater Lansing Business Monthly for his ability to build camaraderie, take innovative risks, and foster growth in a Lansing-based business.  
 
Sources: Mike Maddox, President and CEO, ASK
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.
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