Entrepreneurship :Innovation & Job News

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Macomb-OU INCubator joins forces with Sterling Heights economic dev dept.

The Macomb-OU INCubator is combining forces with the economic development-oriented agencies of the city of Sterling Heights and Macomb County for a new initiative called Velocity.

The Macomb-OU INCubator, the business accelerator for Oakland University, will share its office space in Sterling Heights with the city's economic development department and its workers. The idea is to create synergies between the local agencies.

"It's a collaborative center with all of the economic development agencies coming together to serve as a hub for business incubation and economic development," says Denise Gerstenberg, business development manager for Sterling Heights. "It really promotes a collaborative work environment. It promotes a sharing of infrastructure and resource and avoids duplication of services."

Velocity will hold a launch party at the Macomb-OU INCubator, 6633 18 Mile Road in Sterling Heights. The event will be held on Oct. 17. For information, call (586) 884-9320 or send an email to tjarzab@sterling-heights.net.

Source: Denise Gerstenberg, business development manager for Sterling Heights
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Former marketing VP goes rogue with Web Savvy Marketing firm

Rebecca Gill spent 18 years in the workforce before she became one of the people the workforce depends on -- the boss.

Gill worked for eight years as a vice president of marketing at a local software firm until two years ago. She then decided it was time for a change and started Web Savvy Marketing out of her home in Commerce Township. Taking the leap from employee to self-employed is normally a difficult one, especially mid-career. Gill didn't see it that way.

"Rather than find a job at another company in a down economy, I started to go rogue," Gill says. "I started my own company."

Gill built up Web Savvy Marketing through professional contacts she built up over her career. Being on her own made it a do or die situation. Gill did it. Today the firm employs five people and she is looking to add a few interns in the near future.

Web Savvy Marketing specializes in all aspects of online marketing, such as social media and search engine optimization. Gill uses a combination of her professional Rolodex and Internet marketing skills to continue to expand her client list.

"If I blog, I get business," Gill says. "The more I blog, the bigger numbers of clients I get."

Source: Rebecca Gill, president and founder of Web Savvy Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ignite Pages start-up aims to become Facebook for real-estate listings

Trevor Fitzgerald recently left his job as a computer programmer for Business Internet Solutions to start his own firm, Ignite Pages.

The downtown Royal Oak-based start-up has just launched a real-estate-oriented app that allows realtors and other property professionals to stand out in an Internet world dominated by Craigslist. Think of it as a Facebook for real-estate listings.

"It's a tool for real-estate agents to create their web pages for their own individual property," Fitzgerald says. "It allows them to stand out with their online presence."

Fitzgerald, 24, interned for a real-estate firm a few years ago and knows that professionals often have a hard time managing their online presence. Ignite Pages hopes to make that online presence more noticeable while making it simpler for real-estate agents to use the software.

So far Fitzgerald has signed up a number of local real-estate agents and a used-car dealership. "The pages are generic enough that they can use them for multiple projects," Fitzgerald says. He hopes to take this product national within the next year and hire an employee or two to accommodate that growth.

Source: Trevor Fitzgerald, founder of Ignite Pages
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Eco-friendly clothier The Otter Company launches out of Birmingham

The Otter Company sees a gap in the outerwear market, a gap the Birmingham-based retailer has been working to fill for its first 18 months.

The Otter Company makes ecologically sound outerwear that can be found at select men's stores, golf course shops and online. Think running fleeces made with sustainable materials, such as natural fibers. It also goes the distance to make sure its clothing is up to par for outdoor athletics, allowing for maximum movement and wicking protection in the outdoors.

"There was a lot of room for improvement on existing products," says Martin Stebbins, president of The Otter Company. "What we were looking for wasn't available to us."

The retailer has put together a sales team and its new staff of four employees and stable of independent contractors are gearing up for a national launch. They hope to have their products in 250 stores and grow the product line within the next year. And more jobs are on the horizon.

"We think we'll double our sales every year for the next few years," Stebbins says.

Source: Martin Stebbins, president of The Otter Company
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Future Help Designs sets up shop in downtown Pontiac

Future Help Designs' bottom line is more creative than two basic colors, like red and black. The smartphone app start-up is moving to downtown Pontiac because its profitability is more dependent on the inspiration derived from a historic and eclectic city center than a vanilla office complex in the middle of nowhere.

"We operate in a very creative space," says Christian Marcillo, director of creative design at Future Help Designs. "Cubicles are not our style. They don't work for us. We found a big, open space in downtown Pontiac that works for us. It's easy to walk out and get inspiration from the other artists that are down there as well."

Marcillo started the company with Glen Konopaske a little more than two years ago, after the two Mac fanatics were downsized from their corporate jobs. The pair began making iPhone apps and have since expanded into other mobile applications. The company also hosts training classes for iPhone and iPad apps.

The growth has been so significant that they decided to move their fledgling business out of Dearborn Heights to downtown Pontiac, taking advantage of the Rise of the Phoenix program's free year of rent for firms that move to the city's central business district. Marcillo adds that the strong sense of community among Pontiac's downtown businesses and creative class workers also helped seal the deal.

Future Help Designs hands out paychecks to 20 people, split between four traditional employees and 16 independent contractors. The company has gone through three rounds of hiring over the last year, adding 1-3 people to its staff each time. Marcillo expects his start-up to add another 10 jobs over the next year.

Source: Christian Marcillo, director of creative design at Future Help Designs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

EPIC Translations moves to bigger office, grows staff

EPIC Translations' growth curve is best summed up by looking where the translation company has called home.

The Farmington Hills-based business started in Mostansar Virk's home as a part-time project focused on transcription while he worked on his full-time IT job five years ago. A few years later, Virk took the company full-time and moved to a one-room office in Novi. Today the firm has 1,200 square feet of office space for its six employees and an intern.

"For its first few years it was managed on a part-time basis," Virk says. "In June of 2008, I resigned from my IT job to run EPIC Translations."

EPIC Translations
specializes in document translations, handling paperwork in the technical, legal and medical sectors, among others. The company's revenues are up 35 percent so far this last year, allowing it to hire one person. Virk plans to add one or two more jobs later this year.

Source: Mostansar Virk, EPIC Translations
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

iRule app turns iPhones into universal remotes

Wish your remote control was as easy to find as your cell phone? Farmington Hills-based iRule solved that problem by turning smartphones into part-time remote controls for TVs and entertainment systems.

Three-year-old iRule has created a smartphone app and support system that allows people to control their entertainment systems with a click of a mobile device. The idea is the creation of a couple of techies having fun with technology on the side.

"The whole business started as a hobby in our spare time," says Itai Bengal, CEO of iRule. "In a few months, without any marketing, we were doing more business than we ever imagined."

Today the company employs four people and five independent contractors. All of its personnel growth (two employees and the independent contractors) came over the last year. The company now sells thousands of its remote control apps and support systems in 17 countries with dozens of installers who know how to bring life to the system.

"We're seeing a tremendous level of growth right now," Bengal says. "We're planning to expand into the Android platform, too."

Source: Itai Bengal, CEO of iRule
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ELM Analytics aims to become auto supplier data bank

Tor Hough, Robert Justin and Gary Morin are building a start-up, ELM Analytics, based partly on the region's old economy (automotive suppliers) and mixing it with the new economy (information gathering and management).

The Rochester-based company is gathering and organizing pertinent information on more than 20,000 automotive supplier plants. That information includes everything from part processes and material lists for individual factories to which ones are corporate-owned and which are independent. The idea is to offer an information service so automotive executives can make more informed business decisions.

"Decisions in the automotive industry tend to get made from a strategy standpoint using more intuition than facts," says Hough. "We want to be the go-to resources for supplier data in the automotive industry."

ELM Analytics' founder have years of experience in supply chain data management, prompting them to buy the useful assets of ELM International last December. Since then they have been overhauling the back-end technology and gathering more data with an eye for launching their service this summer.

Source: Tor Hough and Gary Morin, co-founders of ELM Analytics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

$100M Stage 2 Innovations fund launches out of Automation Alley

A new $100 million fund has launched out of Automation Alley, promising to help fund the growth of second-stage businesses in Metro Detroit and Michigan.

Stage 2 Innovations will target growing firms in need of significant amounts of capital to fund commercialization of products or large-scale expansion of existing product lines. The fund will look for an equity stake in its investments.

"There is an opportunity for the private sector to step up to the plate and play a role," says Ken Rogers, executive director of Automation Alley. "Stage 2 Innovations is doing just that."

Stage 2 Innovations is being funded by an anonymous wealthy individual and is led by former Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda. Simon Boag will serve as CEO and will oversee a team of roughly a dozen people working out of Troy.

The fund is not bound to invest only in Metro Detroit or Michigan-based companies, nor does it have a goal for a number of local companies it wants to make an investment in. However, LaSorda and Rogers were confident a lot of the deals would turn out to be local because of Stage 2 Innovations' partnership with Automation Alley and its plans to utilize the business accelerator's connections.

"The bottom line is we want to help companies in Michigan," LaSorda says. "We want to help commercialize ideas here."

Source: Ken Rogers, executive director of Automation Alley and Tom LaSorda, co-founder of Stage 2 Innovations
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

One dating service start-up leads to another, Infused Public Relations

Tatiana Grant didn't mean to get into public relations. When she left the Detroit Pistons public relations team a few years ago she planned to create a web-based dating start-up called Your Date Your Way.

While she was working to make that happen, she began to get inquiries to handle public relations work. Then a chance profile on CNN as part of Time magazine's Detroit project really brought in the PR work, prompting Grant to start Infused Public Relations & Events.

"It got to the point I had to create an LLC because I had so much work," says Tatiana Grant, president of Infused Public Relations & Events. "I didn't have a card or a website. It was purely word of mouth."

The Farmington Hills-based business now does work for NFL wide receiver Braylon Edwards and the Hob Nobble Gobble event for the Parade Company. Grant now employs two people and an intern or two. She plans to go after larger corporate and out-of-state accounts this year, with the idea of growing to staff of 10 people within the next five years.

And Grant is still working on the online dating service. She is preparing for a soft launch in October around Sweetest Day and a hard launch in February for Valentine's Day.

Source: Tatiana Grant, president of Infused Public Relations & Events
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition re-ups for 2011

The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is back for the first time this year, bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars in seed capital to local start-ups.

Last year the competition showcased the best of the best start-ups in Michigan, along with attracting other out-of-state companies to move to the state. It awarded more than $1 million in cash and prizes last fall, including $500,000 to University of Michigan spin-off Armune Biosciences and $150,000 to Ann Arbor-based Arbor Photonics.

The prize pool remains the same this year, and organizers are working to bring in more start-ups and investors from out of state. They plan to utilize Automation Alley's international connections, the region's border with Canada and connections from the Business Leaders for Michigan. The goal is to have one-third of the money and people participating or attending to come from the coasts or elsewhere around the world.

"We're looking to bring in folks regionally, nationally and internationally," says Lauren Bigelow, executive director of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

Contestants also receive valuable feedback from business experts and make connections with other business people from around the world.

The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition will be held on Nov. 16-17 at the Eagle Crest Conference Center in Ypsilanti. The gala awards and dinner will be held at Henry Ford Museum on Nov. 17. Interested start-ups can submit applications starting on June 6, with a deadline of Aug. 10. The deadline for student-led start-ups is Sept. 21. For information, click here.

Source: Lauren Bigelow, executive director of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

McClure's Pickles doubles production space, aims at national market

McClure's Pickles didn't really start out as a business five years ago. More like a profitable hobby for Joe McClure and his family.

It became real when the craft pickle producer hired its first employee in the summer of 2007 to keep up with demand. Today the company has offices in Metro Detroit and New York City, with 15 employees in Troy and another five in Brooklyn.

"We thought it would be fun," says Joe, who co-founded McClure's Pickles with his brother Bob and his parents, Mike and Jenny. "We have been making them for a long time so we thought it would be a fun little venture. We weren't doing it for the money."

Now they are. McClure's Pickles ships about 100 cases of pickles a day, almost double what it was shipping a year ago. It recently doubled its equipment and manufacturing space so it can meet growing demand in 10 states and major metro areas, including Detroit, New York City, Cleveland, Chicago, New Jersey and San Francisco. The next target market is Texas.

McClure's Pickles is aiming to continue its market expansion. Joe wants to enlarge his production space in Michigan to 10,000 square feet and increase his staff in Michigan to 20 people. "Demand keeps going up," Joe says. "We have some great distribution channels and a good food following."

Source: Joe McClure, co-founder of McClure's Pickles
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TGM Skateboards moves to larger HQ, doubles staff

Steve Kynaston opened TGM Skateboards a decade ago as a skateboarding supply shop and quickly realized he also had the makings of an Internet retailer.

TGM Skateboards also did some product design work in the beginning. That evolved into the creation of its own brand and product sales on eBay. Today, the downtown Mt. Clemens-based business sells 99 percent of its products outside of Michigan and employs 22 people.

"We're selling hundreds of skateboards a day now," says Kynaston, general manager of TGM Skateboards. "We just want to give them a high-quality option over the garbage that is sold in big-box stores."

TGM Skateboards recently acquired a competitor and now has a wholesale distribution channel, Keystone Skate Supply. The retailer also moved into a much bigger facility last year, the 32,000-square-foot Dopp Furniture Building. That allowed the company to double its staff and push its sales up 20 percent. Kynaston believes his shop is now the largest skateboard shop in the Midwest.

Source: Steve Kynaston, general manager of TGM Skateboards
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

XFX Studio brings mobile, web work to downtown Mt. Clemens

XFX Studio Web Development's specialty is a bit of a conundrum. The downtown Mt. Clemens-based firm's focus is on graphically rich websites and applications, but its secret sauce is making these websites functional and interactive.

"That way it becomes a functional part of the business instead of just an informational piece," says Dan Wimpari, president of XFX Studio Web Development. He co-founded the company with Jeremy Giannosa. "The functionality has become our bread and butter."

The 10-year-old firm has grown to four employees and a few independent contractors, primarily working on software for the Internet. It merged with Web Solutions in 2008, another Web development firm. Today XFX Studio Web Development is working on a lot of custom mobile applications for other businesses.

One of its largest projects is creating an iPad app for a large heating-and-cooling company. The app would digitize the paperwork for the firm, making information more readily accessible and eliminating the triplicate of paperwork that it normally produces on calls today.

"It's not just the glamorous public side," Wimpari says. "We help companies do what they need to do on the Web."

Source: Dan Wimpari, president of XFX Studio Web Development
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Valentine Vodka adds 4 jobs, preps to expand in U.S., Canada

Rifino Valentine has turned his fondness for craft alcohol into a fast-growth business in Ferndale, Valentine Vodka.

The 3-year-old craft distillery has watched its revenue spike 65 percent over the last year and is on track to hit 130 percent growth in 2011. That expansion has allowed Valentine Vodka to add four jobs over the last year, rounding out its staff to six people and a summer intern. It now has its sights set on expansion outside of Michigan, and even the U.S., this year.

"We're looking to grow this thing big," says Valentine, president & founder of Valentine Distillery Co., which manufactures Valentine Vodka.

Valentine became interested in craft distilling while going through what he calls "a dirty martini kick," noticing all of the high-end vodka was foreign-made. He decided to do something about it by creating a local high-end vodka that is almost entirely made in Michigan. The labels are made in Grand Rapids, boxes are from Detroit, and printing from Ferndale.

"Everything except the glass bottle," Valentine says. "I'm switching right now. I was getting my glass from Europe and I am switching to a company from Missouri."

Valentine figures that if 10 percent of the vodka sold in Michigan were local, it would mean $100 million stays in-state. He thinks that's possible with the growing popularity of craft beer, mead, and liquor in the state. Plus, he's looking at moving into the Illinois, Tennessee, and Ontario markets this year.

"My mission is Michigan is to never have another bottle of Grey Goose sold," Valentine says.

Source: Rifino Valentine, president & founder of Valentine Distillery Co. and Valentine Vodka
Writer: Jon Zemke

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