Innovation & Job News

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Rockstar Digital expands staff, work into LED signs

Ever want to use your big-screen TV as a tablet computer? Surf for information with a touch of a fingertip on a screen with plenty of space for information? A Sterling Heights-based company is making that happen.

Rockstar Digital is turning large, flatscreen TVs into interactive displays. That includes everything from use one to help customers navigate the car-buying maze in an automotive dealership or finding their favorite store in their mall.

"We're creating a 70-inch, 3-D map of the mall," says Robby Dhillon, president of Rockstar Digital.

Dhillon is a recent graduate of Kettering University in electrical and computer engineering. He saw the rise of LED technology in 2007 and worked to created a software point of sale platform for Lady Jane. A little more than a year ago he launched Rockstar Digital with the idea of combing different sectors of cutting-edge technology.

"I wanted to do something that wasn't just software but software and hardware," Dhillon says.

Today the company has a staff of 12 employees and an intern. That team is working on turning 70-inch flatscreen panel into way-finding machines for everything from businesses to city streetscapes. Check out a video of how it works here.

Source: Robby Dhillon, president of Rockstar Digital
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LOC Performance Products hires 25, preps to add 95 more

LOC Performance Products is working on expanding its home in Plymouth, hiring a couple dozen people last year and planning to hire dozens more this year and the next.

The 44-year-old company specializes in manufacturing, getting its start as an automotive supplier. Not it works in driveline and suspension systems for heavy-truck, heavy-equipment, agriculture, rail, and oil-and-gas industries. However, it’s biggest gains are coming from its defense work.

"We have won a lot of new business," says Wayne Dula, director of business development for LOC Performance Products. "The largest contract to date is the Bradley ECP1. That is a $161 million contract over four years. We’re working on the first delivery order now."

LOC Performance Products' defense contract is working to restore lost mobility to the U.S. Army’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle, specifically Engineering Change Proposal (ECP-1) vehicle modifications. LOC Performance Products is installing track kits, vehicle suspension support system kits, shock absorber kits, and heavy weight torsion bar kits.

The Plymouth-based company is expanding its facility to meet the demands of that contract, investing $12.1 million in new equipment and machinery. The state of Michigan is giving it a $600,000 grant to make the investment here. LOC Performance Products plans to hire 95 people as part of that expansion. It currently employs 205 after hiring 25 over the last year. Dula expects that hiring to continue over this year as it works to fill up those 95 positions and attract more business.

"We're always working on new business opportunities," Dula says.

Source: Wayne Dula, director of business development for LOC Performance Products
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Level One Bank aims for big 2015 after acquiring Lotus Bank

Level One Bank made headlines last fall after acquiring fellow Oakland County-based Lotus Bank. Look for the newly merged banks (the acquisition should be completed in March) to make more news as they integrate together this year.

"This will be our third transaction," says Patrick Fehring, president & CEO of Level One Bank, referring to his bank's acquisitions of Paramount Bank in 2010 and Michigan Heritage Bank in 2009. "We're focused on completing the acquisition of Lotus Bank and folding it into Level One Bank."

The Farmington Hills-based bank got its start seven years ago. It has since grown to $825 million in assets, including the $110 million it added with the Lotus Bank acquisition. The bank has grown organically, too, locking down 18 percent growth in 2014 and projecting another 15 percent gain this year.

Level One Bank has hired 15 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 150 people. It’s also looking to hire another five people now. While those new jobs are largely across the board many of them are in the bank's newly beefed-up commercial banking and residential lending departments.

"We're pretty bullish on the local economy," Fehring says. "It seems southeast Michigan is fairing pretty well right now."

Source: Patrick Fehring, president & CEO of Level One Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Rochester's Trent Design rebrands to Trent Creative, grows

Trent Design is in the final stages of rebranding itself as Trent Creative, a move the boutique branding firm will execute later this month.

"We do more than design," says Marilyn Trent, principal of Trent Creative. "Our current clients know that but when we talk to new prospects it can be limiting."

The Rochester-based company, it also has an office in Midtown Detroit, has hired two people in design and client services over the last year. It currently employs six people and the occasional intern. It is also looking to hire two more people in software development and marketing.

Trent launched what will soon become Trent Creative 23 years ago. It has focused on design work for most of its life but recently moved into offering more comprehensive branding services.

The firm's work for Art X Detroit was also recently chosen as one of the 350 best designs in the U.S. in the 2014 Regional Design Annual representing the best in the Midwest. While awards like that may not directly translate into more business it is another feather the company can put in its cap when pitching new clients.

"It gives us credibility and respect," Trent says.

Trent Creative also plans to become more engaged in work in the greater downtown Detroit area. It is currently working with Midtown Detroit Inc and M-1 Rail to help encourage people to continue to do business in the neighborhood while construction of the trolley line is going over the next 18 months.

"We want to continue to help people keep shopping and doing business on Woodward as we keep building this wonderful rail," Trent says.

Source: Marilyn Trent, principal of Trent Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Assets International sharpens focus to expand company

Assets International isn’t just about doing more work. The Southfield-based firm is about taking on the most profitable work it can do.

"We're just a little bit more picky about the work we’re doing," says Michael Zwick, president of Assets International. "Let's be a leaner, stronger company."

The 14-year-old company got its start helping regular people find and claim property that rightly belongs to them, such as inheritances. It has recently expanded into the oil-and-gas industry, helping property owners capture idle royalties from oil drilling and exploration. Assets International has only been doing that for a few years but today that line of work now makes up 25 percent of its bottom line, and that percentage is growing.

"There is a lot of money that is sitting there waiting for people to claim it," Zwick says.

Assets International currently employs 17 people. It has hired two people (a paralegal and office administrator) over the last year. That staff is also working to help create more revenue streams, such as helping corporations find money owed to them and create efficiencies in their workplace.

Source: Michael Zwick, president of Assets International
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Merged firms become FireBolt Group, move to Wixom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carbon Media Group adds 15 jobs, signs bull riding partnership

Carbon Media Group has inked a new partnership with the Professional Bull Riders, a deal that the online media startup hopes will bring its viewership together.

The Bingham Farms-based company helps coordinate advertising and content creation for more than 600 websites for fans of the outdoors, agriculture and action sports/events/activities. It has an extensive network of outdoor-related YouTube channels and its own CarbonTV outlet for online videos about the outdoors. The startup’s two primary audiences consist of fans of outdoors and rural activities along with fans of action sports like hunting, fishing, and skiing.

"The Professional Bull Riders is a very elegant bridge between the two types of content we have," says Hyaat Chaudhry, CEO of Carbon Media Group.

YouTube made the introduction between the two organizations because Carbon Media Group is the second largest global sports network on YouTube. The Professional Bull Riders, which has roughly 20 million fans, was in the process of figuring out how best to develop its digital audience.

Carbon Media Group is on track to grow 35 percent in 2014, and Chaudhry expects to do that again next year. "That's roughly on track with our annual growth rate," he says.

The 7-year-old company has hired 15 people over the last year, including professionals in design, sales, account management, and executive leadership. It now has a staff of 62 employees and plans to bring on two interns this summer. It is looking to hire five people now, including staff accountants and marketers.

"We're always looking for good digital media sales people," Chaudhry says.

Source: Hyaat Chaudhry, CEO of Carbon Media Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Genisys Credit Union expands into Royal Oak with downtown branch

Genisys Credit Union is opening its 24-hour branch in downtown Royal Oak this week, bringing the Auburn Hills-based financial institutional closer to another part of its membership.

"We have wanted to be in Royal Oak for quite some time," says Tom Alter, CMO of Genisys Credit Union. "We have a lot of members who live in Royal Oak and the surrounding communities. We feel it is a thriving community."

The new branch is located at 530 N Main on the northern edge of downtown. Six new people will work at the branch.

The credit union has hired 78 people in 2014 and is currently looking to fill six open positions. It has just under 149,000 members, which is up 3.9 percent over the last year. It has made $300 million in consumer loans in 2014, which is also up 14 percent. The organization’s total assets are up 6 percent to $1.651 billion.

Genisys Credit Union doesn’t plan to open any new branches next year but is in the process of revamping some of its existing ones. It is upgrading its Oxford branch from a storefront to a free-standing building set to open in late January. It is also improving its Waterford branch.

"It's a small branch for us that we need to expand for our members and staff," Alter says.

Source: Tom Alter, CMO of Genisys Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We're always looking," Barnowski says.

Source: Ray Barnowske, vice president & manager of operations for Stuart Mechanical
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Macomb-OU INCubator awards $23K at pitch contest

The Macomb-OU INCubator just handed out $23,000 in seed capital and services at its first elevator pitch competition earlier this month.

The Sterling Heights-based small business accelerator gave the money to three local startups that participated in the first Macomb Pitch: A Competition for Small Businesses. The Macomb-OU INCubator received 50 applications for the competition and narrowed the field down to eight finalists.

The winners include LayStitch taking first place, which is worth $8,500, a year-long service package from Mac-OU INC and seven-and-a-half hours of consultation with Butzel Long. Second place ($1,500) went to re-Contour, a developer of breast reconstruction dressings. Third place ($500) went to Warmilu, which is developing a non-electric, blanket-warming technology for the geriatric community.

Both re-Contour and Warmilu also received a one-year lease for a Mac-OU INC cubicle, five hours of consultation with Butzel Long, and a two-hour, strategic planning session with Advicoach of Michigan. The money and the services will go toward product development, customer research, and marketing efforts for the startups.

"Those are the main things people are using them for," says Julie Gustafson, executive director of the Macomb-OU INCubator. "It's meant to help them move their company forward and launch their product."

The Macomb-OU INCubator plans to turn the Macomb Pitch competition into an annual event with a few smaller pitch competitions sprinkled in between.

Source: Julie Gustafson, executive director of the Macomb-OU INCubator
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Coliant merges with Macomb Pitch winner LayStich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quinn Law Group diversifies clientele, adds 6 positions

Quinn Law Group has experienced a lot of growth in the last few years, attracting more customers and adding new employees at the intellectual property law firm. The reason why can be summed up in one sentence.

"It has been through diversification," says Chris Quinn, president of Quinn Law Group.

The Novi-based law firm got its start in 2002 with Chris handling work for one automotive industry firm. That work helped Quinn Law Group grow in its early years but Quinn knew it needed more.

Today it has grown to handle work for a number of companies around the world from a wide variety of industries. For instance, Quinn Law Group does intellectual property work for Nike’s golf line. It is also doing an increasing amount of work for tech firms, including automotive engineering firms. That has prompted Quinn Law Group to add to its staff and upgrade its software systems.

"We are continually positioning ourselves for growth because we seem to have a steady growth of clients," Quinn says.

Quinn Law Group has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 25 people. Its new hires include two attorneys and three support staff. It is also looking to hire another patent attorney right now. Quinn expects to hire 4-7 people in 2015 to keep up with demand for his firm’s services.

He attributes a big part of Quinn Law Firm's success to not relying on billable hours to get a job done. The firm deals instead with quality of work, a feature he believes sets it apart.

"Our only requirement of our staff is to do high-quality work," Quinn says.

Source: Chris Quinn, president of Quinn Law Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Spider9 creates 4 jobs, commercializes clean technology

Spider9 recently received a key certification that should help make installing its energy storage technology easier as it looks to ramp up sales in 2015.

The Northville-based startup recently received certification to UL 1741 standards for the company's advanced energy storage and controls technology. The certification, given by TÜV SÜD America, represents a first for a system featuring Spider9's technology.

"It's a great step forward," says Michelle Chitambar, chief technology featurist for Spider9. "Some people don't want to put systems in their building unless it’s certified."

The 3-year-old company is commercializing technology that helps make alternative energy generation and storage more efficient. Spider9 has deployed some of its first units over the last year and is setting the stage to do it much more often in 2015.

"We expect to ramp up considerably now that we have certification," Chitambar says.

Spider9 currently employs 14 people and is in the process of hiring another staffer specializing in sales and technology. It has hired three people over the last year.

Source: Michelle Chitambar, chief technology featurist for Spider9
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Results at Hand Software doubles in size on demand for event apps

Results at Hand Software has made a name for itself in event-focused mobile apps during its first four years.

The Waterford-based startup has found a significant amount of success with its ConferenceBeat app. The event app is used by businesses or associations throwing events, providing them with a direct line of communication to attendees that enables them to strengthen their relationship.

"Everyone has come back and said, 'We love the app,'" says Kim Harwood, president of Results at Hand Software, and "'oh, by the way, can you provide more features and functionality?'"

Sales at the 4-year-old company are up 100 percent over the last year. That has enabled it to hire three people (a software developer and sales professionals) over the last year. It now has a staff of seven employees and one intern. It plans to add two more interns in January.

Results at Hand Software is preparing to have another big year in 2015. Harwood expects to hit triple-digit revenue growth again as her company continues to attract more customers.

"Every customer tends to turn into a longterm customer," Harwood says.

Source: Kim Harwood, president of Results at Hand Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

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