Innovation & Job News

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IT sales pros launch own firm, Prime-IT-Solutions

Pete Kaczmarek worked for someone else for 20 years. He did sales in technology and IT, and it did it well. So well that he decided he could do it better on his own and launched his own company.

"I felt like I was on a remote island, and I am doing everything anyway," Kaczmarek says.

So he started Prime-IT-Solutions. The Troy-based company is value-added reseller of technology. Kaczmarek and his team of eight people are selling equipment for the likes of data centers and other IT applications.

Prime-IT-Solutions is targeting small businesses at first, primarily those with fewer than 50 employees. Kaczmarek sees that section as underserved and have significant growth potential. He is also selling to a few larger businesses, mainly because of his history in that area.

"I knew the people," Kaczmarek says. "It was a smooth transition."

Source: Pete Kaczmarek, president of Prime-IT-Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Southfield-based Onu preps to launch 3-D mobile app

A Southfield-based startup is getting ready to launch a new mobile app that specializes in showing off products in 3-D.

Onu's principal product will target sales professionals looking to show off product demos and catalogues. The patent-pending technology is a subscription-based platform that utilizes 3D technology for that allows sales professionals to make their pitch on a mobile device.

"Anyone who sells consumer goods in a business-to-business scene," says Sam Sesti, president of Onu.

The four-person team has been working on the product since last August. It is gearing up to launch the app this winter. It is targeting sales forces in automotive aftermarket, sporting gods, medical devices, audio-and-visual equipment, and household devices.

"Some of it was because of the proximity in the area," Sesti says. "Some of it was the size of the items that are difficulty to show in real life."

Source: Sam Sesti, president of Onu
Writer: Jon Zemke

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365 Retail Markets hires 20 in Troy, looks to add 10 more

365 Retail Markets has acquired AirVend, a Utah-based vending machine technology company

365 Retail Markets is working to reinvent the vending machine industry with its MicroMarket technology, a platform that streamlines the remote food purchasing process. AirVend designs, develops, and distributes interactive touchscreen devices that can be retrofitted to nearly any vending machine.

"We are always looking to grow in this space," says Joe Hessling, CEO of 365 Retail Markets. "It's not often technology becomes available in the food service space, but when it does we look at every opportunity."

The Troy-based company's MicroMarket platform serves the vending, foodservice and hospitality industries with a 24/7 unmanned self-checkout system. That way employee break rooms can continuously serve fresh food and beverages. It pulls this off by harnessing new technologies, like touch screens and electronic payment methods.

"We are a technology company that plays in the vending space," Hessling says.

And 365 Retail Markets is proving to be a growing one. It’s revenue is up 75 percent last year and Hessling expects to hit 50 percent revenue growth this year.

The company has been hiring at a steady clip to keep with that growth. It has added 20 people over the last year, including software developers, technicians, and support staff. It is also looking to hire another 10 people right now, including data architects, software developers and project managers. Check out those job openings here.

"We are always hiring for different positions," Hessling says.

Source: Joe Hessling, CEO of 365 Retail Markets
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Genisys, Tri-Pointe Community credit unions kick off year with merger

Genisys Credit Union and Tri-Pointe Community Credit Union are merging into one financial institution which will continue on under the Genisys Credit Union banner.

Auburn Hills-based Genisys Credit Union is the larger of the two financial institutions, a factor that played into Fenton-based Tri-Pointe Community Credit Union decision to join up.

"Tri-Pointe Community was seeking another strong, larger credit union to combine with so that they could be sure that sufficient resources would be devoted to meeting the ever changing needs of its members," says Tom Alter, chief marketing officer of Genisys Credit Union. "Genisys was interested in expanding into Genesee County and a merger with a credit union as successful and strong as Tri-Pointe makes great sense for the members of both organizations."

TriPointe Community Credit Union has five branches clustered in and around Flint. Those branches, along with the credit union's 63 employees, will be integrated into Genisys Credit Union’s operations. Combined, the credit union will have 29 branches, assets totaling more than $1.8 billion, and nearly 175,000 members.

"The merger becomes official on April 1," Alter says.

Genisys Credit Union has been growing steadily in recent years. It has hired 69 people in 2014 and is looking to add another four right now. Alter expects that hiring to slow a little bit this year as the credit union works to consolidate the merger.

"It's going to be all hands on deck to get our systems combined," Alter says.

Source: Tom Alter, chief marketing officer of Genisys Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke

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LJPR expands staff by 6 on double-digit revenue gains

LJPR is not one of those financial adviser firms that sits idly by and waits for things to turn its way. It goes out and gets what it wants. At least that is what it has done with hiring lately.

The Troy-based firm has hired six people over the last year, including five in the last 100 days. Those new hires include tax professionals, financial advisers, support staff, and marketing professionals. It now has a staff of 23 employees and a handful of interns. It’s also looking to hire a financial adviser or two.

"We are always looking for good people," says Leon LaBrecque, founder & chief strategist of LJPR. "Always. We will warehouse a good person if we can find them."

The 26-year-old firm is centered around independent wealth management and is 100 percent employee owned. It specializes in individual retirement planning, investment management, executive financial counseling, nonprofit investment services, estate planning, and tax planning. The firm is currently managing $691 million in assets.

"A lot of the time when there is turmoil in the market some financial advisers stick their heads in the sand," LaBrecque says. "We look for opportunities."

Which would explain its most recent growth streak. LJPR's revenue is up 14 percent over the last year. It was also up 20 percent the year before that. This year it is shooting for a 15 percent gain.

"We have had record earnings seven years in a row," LaBrecque says.

Source: Leon LaBrecque, founder & chief strategist of LJPR
Writer: Jon Zemke

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PublicCity PR adds to clientele as company grows

PublicCity PR has come a long ways in its first six years. The boutique public relations firm has literally gone from kitchen table to some of the larger boardrooms in Metro Detroit.

The Southfield-based company has recently expanded its client list with some big names, including the likes of Gardner White, Belle Tire, Affinity Tool, InstaBOOST, Michigan Women’s Foundation, and

"I never imagined six years ago that we would be in this position to win business from such big establishments," says Jason Brown, founder & principal of PublicCity PR. "It's all from a lot of hard work."

PublicCity PR started on Brown's kitchen table in Oakland County. At the time he was just a former reporter who had been working in PR for a decade, looking to scratch out a living in the communications world. Now he oversees a growing staff of four employees and an intern in the company's own office.

Part of those gains have come from PublicCity PR joining the PRConsultantsGroup as the new Michigan representative. The nationwide organization is composed of senior-level public relations and marketing consultants in every major market in the U.S. Members often work together on projects with each member acting as the expert for their region. PublicCity PR recently work as part of that conglomerate on campaign for Travelocity where the company’s mascot (a gnome) made appearances across Metro Detroit.

"That was an easy project but there is more work to come," Brown says.

Source: Jason Brown, founder & principal of PublicCity PR
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Reliance One hires 15 as it expands across Midwest

Reliance One has become a staple in the staffing business in Michigan over its 16 years.

The Auburn Hills-based company is now working toward expanding that reputation, opening a new office in Chicago this winter.

"We have clients in that market and clients we currently have locally have offices in Chicago," says Jim Beath, co-founder & chairman of Reliance One. "We need to continue that relationship with our clients."

The company has grown significantly over the last few years, notching a double-digit revenue gain in 2014. It’s on pace to do it again this year. That growth has allowed the company to hire 15 people over the last year, including recruiters, administrative, and back office support staff. It now has a staff of 65 employees and an intern. It is also looking to hire four more recruiters and promote more people internally.

"We added a lot of great people that have learned a lot about our company and our industry," Beath says.

Source: Jim Beath, co-founder & chairman of Reliance One
Writer: Jon Zemke

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App firm jacapps adds voice-recognition technology to arsenal

Bingham Farm-based jacapps recently signed a deal to partner XAPPmedia to bring new voice recognition technology to its line of mobile apps.

Radio stations have been leveraging jacapps mobile apps for years, giving the company enough credibility to expand its client base into other industries, such as automotive. XAPPmedia provides an interactive audio advertising service, utilizing voice recognition technology. That way people listening to an ad on the radio can respond to a cue on the advertisement to make an order with just their voice. No buttons needed.

"We think this is a huge leap forward," says Bob Kernen, COO of jacapps. "You can see how it can be a big driver with ads."

The 6-year-old company also recently launched a new product platform that allows it to streamline the creation of its apps.

"It allows us to work in a much more efficient way," Kernen says. "We don't need to build each app from scratch. We can configure them to our clients needs."

Which has allowed the company to grow its revenue by 20 percent over the last year. That in turn has prompted jacapps to hire two people (software developers), rounding its staff out to 10 employees and an intern.

"We have had really strong revenue growth over the last few years," Kernen says.

Source: Bob Kernen, COO of jacapps
Writer: Jon Zemke

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IPS Technology Services adds 5 new staffers, looks to hire 3 more

Revenue increases have become par for the course for IPS Technology Services since its launch in 2009.

Back then the Troy-based tech firm had revenues in the five figures. Those have risen sharply each year since. Revenues crossed into six figures within three years and into seven figures within four years.
"Now the challenge is to maintain it," says Pradip Sengupta, president of IPS Technology Services.

IPS Technology Services works primarily in technology spaces, such as software, IT and staffing. It has made significant gains in sending new employees to other companies in the IT and engineering fields. That has allowed the company to hire five people over the last year in IT, business analysts, and software development. It currently has a staff of 30 employees and is looking to hire three more in software development right now.

"We try to hire the best," Sengupta says.

Sengupta credits the company's rise to its ability to deliver on its services and please its customers. He expects that philosophy to carry the company's growth trajection this year.

"We would love to cross the $2 million mark," Sengupta says. "Our goal is $2.5 million. We want to hit $20 million in 2020."

Source: Pradip Sengupta, president of IPS Technology Services
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Clicktivated Video turns watching videos into revenue events

Chris Roebuck started a company out of frustration while trying to relax. The founder & CEO of Clicktivated Video wanted more when he was watching a video on a small, mobile screen, so his Metro Detroit-based company is tackling it.

"There was no way of satisfying the urge to dive deeper into the online video while you’re watching it," Roebuck says.

Clicktivated Video, which has offices in Birmingham and downtown Detroit, has developed a software platform that allows viewers to click on items in a video. The click creates a small bookmark that allows the viewer to make an online purchase or find out more information on it. The company's team of six people is still working on enhancing the technology.

The 1-year-old startup launched its service midway through las year. It has signed on a couple of mid-sized players in video, such as the Home Shopping Networking.

"We are starting to work with a few major networks," Roebuck says.

Source: Chris Roebuck, founder & CEO of Clicktivated Video and Ben Hatala, director of operations for Clicktivated Video
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Innovative Learning Group set to move to bigger office in Troy

Innovative Learning Group has been a staple of downtown Royal Oak for years, and now it’s going to become a staple of Troy.

The 10-year-old business consultancy purchased a new building in Troy last December with plans to execute a move later this year. The new office is more than twice as large coming in at 10,100 square feet.

"We will be spending the year remodeling the building and moving just before the end of this calendar year," says Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group.

Innovation Learning Group specializes in training and human performance improvement for businesses. It has grown 40 percent over the last year and is looking to add another 15 percent this year. Most of that growth comes from its mobile work.

"Using your tablet or smartphone for learning or doing your job better," Toenniges says.

That increase in work has led to more hiring at Innovative Learning Group. It has hired six people over the last year, including project managers, graphic designers and office managers. It is also looking to hire another three (a consultant, project manager, and sales professional) to add to its current staff of 17 employees.

"We are full up (on space for employees) here in Royal Oak," Toenniges says.

Source: Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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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

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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

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Ink Detroit aims to take t-shirt/garment business national

T-shirt companies are a dime a dozen when it comes new business starts. There are low-barriers of entry and lots of people with ideas for clever garment designs.

Ink Detroit is the exception to that rule. The 10-year-old company has its t-shirt designs, such as its trademark "I Love Detroit" brand, in a stores across Michigan. It employs four people after hiring a sales manager last year. And now the company plans to hire a few more people later this year as it looks to take its business national.

So what's the secret to success in such a competitive industry? Experience, according to Ink Detroit's president & owner Steve Mansour. He and his partner have years of experience in fashion and garment industries, and Manour's family has been in the business for a long time. It's the type of inside track that often leaves newcomers in the dust.

"They don't have the network capabilities to get their product into distribution," Mansour says.

So the Royal Oak-based company has grown. Its revenue is up 30 percent over the last year after adding a few new retailers in 2014.

"We're curated in 25 stores locally," Mansour says.

One of those new stores is one in Metro Airport. Its parent company has 145 locations across the country. Mansour hopes to leverage those connections to launch his new Ink City brand later this year in major metro areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Miami. The new brand will be locally specific much like I Love Detroit is today.

"It's pretty much city themed merchandise geared toward those cities," Mansour says.

Ink Detroit is also looking at expanding locally, too. The company is aiming to open a retail location in downtown Detroit later this year.

"We'd like to have a full-time operation there," Mansour says.

Source: Steve Mansour, president & owner of Ink Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Reach Influence scores $5M in VC, aims to add staff

Reach Influence has scored $5 million in seed capital to start off the new year, scoring investments from Detroit Venture Partners and Vineyard Capital Group to lead the round.

The downtown Royal Oak-based startup specializes in helping retailers maximize their sales through analytics gathered from its software. It had previously received an investment from Vineyard Capital Group in 2012, and plans to spend much of 2015 using its newfound seed capital to build on that initial investment's foundation.

"We are leveraging that mainly in people and technology," says Susan Dettloff, marketing director of Reach Influence. "We plan to grow our team this year."

The 5-year-old startup has hired four people over the last year, including analysts and program managers. It currently has a staff of 22 employees and the occasional intern.

Reach Influence provides technical and design services, such as data capture and analysis, to retailers and wholesalers. The startup’s software platform helps its clients measure marketing efficacy, engage shoppers, and provide an outlet to deliver digital offers by collecting daily transaction data.

After Vineyard Capital Group made its initial investment in 2012, Reach Influence’s team spend its time improving its software platform and installing better processes in the business. It rebranded to Reach Influence in 2013 and has been growing the company ever since.

"We have grown our sales quite a bit," Dettloff says. "Every year has been a building year in one way or another."

Source: Susan Dettloff, marketing director of Reach Influence
Writer: Jon Zemke

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