Entrepreneurship :Innovation & Job News

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Tactical Allocation Group to add 3 jobs, reaches $1.4 billion under management and advisement

There are a lot of fours in Tactical Allocation Group's statistics these days. The downtown Birmingham-based investment firm has added four people, brought another $224 million under management, and now has $1.4 billion under management and advisement since it was founded in 2004.

James F. Peters, Jr.,
and Paul J. Simon co-founded Tactical Allocation Group with the idea of investing money in a proactive style. A crash in the financial markets and the biggest economic downturn in generations suddenly made the company's new strategy very popular among the moneyed set.

"Our investment style is very much in demand," says Peters, CEO of Tactical Allocation Group. "It's a very proactive form of management, which means you change your portfolio in anticipation of changes in the economy."

When we last checked in with the money manager in December of 2009, the company had 14 employees and was striving to cross the $1 billion in assets mark. Today it has 18
employees and four independent contractors at its office between the Birmingham 8 Theater and the Briggs Building on South Old Woodward. Peters expects to add another three jobs this year, including a couple of salespeople.

Source: James F. Peters, Jr., CEO of Tactical Allocation Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Lakeside Software puts $6.1M into Metro Detroit; to create 198 jobs

Lakeside Software started out as a small company with designs to stay small. Michael Schumacher intended to keep the software firm a one-man shop in 1997 when he launched from his home overlooking a lake in Keego Harbor. Today the Bloomfield Hills-based business just signed a six-figure tax incentive deal to create 198 jobs over the next five years.

"This is positioning us for growth," says Dan Salinas, vice president of business development for Lakeside Software.

Lakeside Software creates management software called SysTrack for the Windows operating system. SysTrack monitors and analyzes applications for businesses. The company remained a small operation until the early 2000s, when it began to hit its stride. Now it employs 20 people in Michigan and had designs to move to Palo Alto, California, the heart of Silicon Valley, before a cold call from a Michigan Economic Development Corp officials helped persuade them to stay here.

The firm now has 1,000 customers and the
SysTrack system has about 1 million users, up more than 50 percent over the last year. As a result the firm is investing $6.1 million into its Metro Detroit operations. That includes an expansion of its Bloomfield Hills office and the creation of a 73-person satellite office in downtown Ann Arbor.

Lakeside Software currently has 10 open positions in Bloomfield Hills. It expects to begin staffing its new Ann Arbor office and further expanding its Bloomfield Hills base later this year. It expects to create a total of 20 new jobs within the next year. "And there will be more," Salinas says.

Source: Dan Salinas, vice president of business development for Lakeside Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Former execs strike out on their own with Strait & Associates consultancy

Most of America's workforce aims to work for someone else, and climb the corporate ladder. Cheryl Strait and her new partners, no slouches at ladder climbing, recently jumped off and began building their own biz, Strait & Associates.

Strait, a former partner at Ernst & Young, recently started a new consulting firm focused on records and information management in Bloomfield Hills. She is joined by John Ferguson, Ann Sachs, and Kassi Turner, all people who have left corporate boardrooms for a new small business.

"We are enjoying it," says Strait, president & CEO of Strait & Associates. "The nice thing is we are all seasoned executives so we all have experience running companies."

Strait & Associates recently landed its first contract to conduct a market research study with a Chicago-based technology firm. It expects to expand its client list by 6-10 businesses within the next year while establishing a brand. She expects her team to grow to 10 people within the next few years.

But why go to all this trouble if they already had good jobs climbing corporate ladders in long-established companies? One word: freedom. Strait & Associates allows the partners the freedom to do their job their way while reaping all the benefits of their labor.

"You really can't be a maverick (working for someone else)," Strait says. "You have to stay in line with what the organization wants to do."

Source: Cheryl Strait, president & CEO of Strait & Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Securely Yours IT security firm plans tripling of sales this year

Since it launched in 2009, Securely Yours has grown exponentially, allowing the IT firm to expand its reach outside of Michigan and across the U.S.

The then two-person team clocked sales of about $50,000 and revenue of less than $20,000. That grew to $800,000 in sales and nearly $400,000 in revenue last year. This year the nine-person team is on pace to have $2.5 million in sales and $1.5 million in revenue. The company hopes to continue to add to its staff in 2011 as it continues on its path.

"We'll have to double in size or we wouldn't be able to do it," says Sajay Rai, founder & CEO of Securely Yours.

The West Bloomfield-based firm specializes in IT security for a variety of industries, such as governments and higher education. Rai is a former IBM executive and Ernst & Young partner who has spent three decades in IT and most of that time specializing on the security aspect of it.

Rai has found fertile ground to grow his business in Michigan. He points out that he has found the cost of high-tech talent in the Great Lakes State to be more cost effective than other places across the nation. He has since deployed Michiganders across the U.S. to accommodate Securely Yours' growing presence.

"We started to market nationally," Rai says. "We have clients based in Michigan but we knew the recovery would take a little longer here so we reached out nationally."

Source: Sajay Rai, founder & CEO of Securely Yours
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MyInsuranceExpert expands into life insurance, adds 10 jobs

MyInsuranceExpert.com was cruising along in its first year, employing 90 people who helped individuals find health-insurance plans. Then the health-care reform laws took place, cutting in half the Troy-based firm's average compensation per policy.

Faced with shrinking revenue streams, MyInsuranceExpert reinvented itself as the life-insurance version of its former self. That forced it to shrink to 40 people, but allowed it to regroup for future growth.

"It was a defining moment for us," says Lorne Zalesin, CEO of MyInsuranceExpert. "It was clear that it was a must have, not a maybe. It was either change or go out of business in the next 18 months."

The change quickly turned into new jobs. MyInsuranceExpert has hired 10 people over the last few months and hopes to hire another 100 people over the next year. The company sold 900 term life insurance policies in its first month and now ranks in the Top 20 in its industry.

"Our goal is to be the second-biggest company in the next 18 months," Zalesin says.

Source: Lorne Zalesin, CEO of MyInsuranceExpert
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DASI Solutions grows with rapid prototyping machines, adding staff

DASI Solutions got its start with engineering software work for automotive companies 15 years ago.

Today the Pontiac-based company has diversified not only its own client base in that area, but also its offerings. It recently began selling a rapid prototyping machine from Israel-based Objet that creates 3-D prototypes in a matter of hours instead of the standard weeks-long timeline. The new offering allowed DASI Solutions to take on a number of new clients, such as Stryker and Rousch Racing.

"The flood gates opened at the end of this last year," says David Darbyshire, engineer and partner of DASI Solutions. "We sold $2 million of these machines. We normally do $6 million in business."
The machines retail for between $20,000 and $250,000 apiece.

The company now has 28 employees, two independent contractors, and an intern after hiring four people in the last year. It expects to add two more jobs by this summer to keep up with demand for its services. Expanding into the prototyping field has the added advantage of finding new customers in different sectors it wouldn't normally come into contact with.

"It's fun," Darbyshire says. "It makes me feel like an entrepreneur again."

Source: David Darbyshire, engineer and partner of DASI Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ferndale's Paper Street Motors fills with 14 tenants, looks to open more spaces

Metro Detroit's new economy can often be found in aged shells of the old economy. Case in point: Paper Street Motors.

Paper Street Motors began when Andy Didorosi stumbled upon an old, empty warehouse a year ago in Ferndale, just southeast of its downtown. The 20-something didn't see the tattered relic of an old automotive industry, but a place for small businesses to take root and grow,
where they'd have the flexibility to get their feet under them financially without breaking the bank.

The Russell Industrial Center-style small business incubator at 1151 Jarvis filled up with a number of emerging businesses almost immediately. The 14 tenants in the 22,000-square-foot space include Green Light Go Music Publicity, a national band promoter. A year later, Didorosi is sprucing the place up both through its aesthetics and service offerings.

"Basically this place was a depressing battleship grey," Didorosi says. "Now we're completely redoing it."

Part of the Paper Street Motors (Paper Street is a reference to Fight Club) redesign is the installation of cubicles and a dynamic office environment. He is also looking at setting up additional locations in downtown Ferndale, Royal Oak, and Detroit, where members could utilize all of the spaces like a gym membership.

"So if you're a member of one then you're a member of all of them," he says.

Source: Andy Didorosi, president of Paper Street Motors
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Luna Tech Designs digitizes cities, enters travel, tourism markets

Luna Tech Designs got its start three years ago, digitizing downtown Plymouth into a Google Earth-style world where people could experience the city center online as if they were walking through it themselves.

Today the start-up is utilizing partnerships outside of its backyard to augment its staff to three employees and six independent contractors. It plans to hire a few more people this spring to keep up with work in new markets, such as Charlotte, N.C., and Branson, Mo.

"Now we're moving into other areas, like travel and tourism, creating technology for hotels and way-finding systems," says Doug Willett, president of Luna Tech Designs.

Luna Tech Designs began to hit its stride when it formed a partnership with multi-touch system developer Innovative Computers. The Belleville-based firm was working with Luna Tech Designs to digitize Central Michigan University's campus for Google Earth. The firm hopes to create at least four more similar partnerships.

"It's about creating relationships with other entities in other markets," Willett says. "We're not going to set up brick-and-mortar operations in Charlotte. We're going to find a partner down there."

Source: Doug Willett, president of Luna Tech Designs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ePrize CEO Josh Linkner's creativity book hits top of Amazon, Barnes & Noble sales

Say the word creative around Josh Linkner and you'll probably repeat what he just said. The chairman of ePrize and CEO of Detroit Venture Partners has had creativity in the workplace on the mind for a while and now has it on paper with his new book, Disciplined Dreaming.

The self-proclaimed "proven system for driving breakthrough creativity" focuses on helping entrepreneurs and their companies become more imaginative and thus more effective in the 21st Century workplace. The book was released on Sunday and climbed to the top of the sales charts for both Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites Monday and Tuesday.

"Creativity is the most important skill that individuals and companies should be nurturing," Linkner says. "It's the one thing that can't be outsourced."

One of Linkner's favorite mantras is that entrepreneurs should be trying to invent the next Groupon instead of copying the idea. He points out that pioneers in certain new economy segments are often outdone by late-coming rivals (Friendster by Facebook and AltaVista by Google) and Linkner will counter that continued innovation is what made the latecomers first.

"They were able to outcreate their competitors even though they were late out the gate," Linkner says.

He offers local start-up hireMYway as an example of a building force in Metro Detroit's emerging new economy. The website for hiredMYway features technology that uses a dating-service model on the Web to help people find jobs. It basically pairs employers and job seekers with matching needs and skills in the same way a dating service would.

"They used creativity to fundamentally displace the complacent incumbents," Linkner says.

Source: Josh Linkner, chairman of ePrize, CEO of Detroit Venture Partners and author of Disciplined Dreaming
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

B. Nektar Meadery doubles production, expands to 9 states

It's hard not to see B. Nektar Meadery's blue bottles on grocery store shelves in Metro Detroit, but the craft brewer has expanded way beyond Michigan to the eastern half of the U.S. and it has plans to go even further this year.

The Ferndale-based maker of fine honey wines doubled its production in 2010 and expects to do so again this year. That allowed the company to hire two people last year, and it's looking to add one more now and a few others later this year.

"We have been expanding outward into other states," says Brad Dahlhofer, co-founder of B. Nektar Meadery. "Last year was a big expansion year for us. We're in nine states right now, including Michigan."

They include Wisconsin, Maine, and Florida, and a number of other East Coast states. The company also plans to keep that North American expansion going, along with going international. Plans are in the works to open markets in Asia, Africa, and Europe.

That's a big leap for a company that seriously began production in August of 2008. Dahlhofer and his wife Keri, longtime home brewers of meade, began making their version of the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man in 1,500 square feet on Jarvis Street.

"We knew this was what we wanted to do," Dahlhofer says. "It's nice that people responded so well. It makes the job of expanding easier."

Source: Brad Dahlhofer, co-founder of B. Nektar Meadery
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Enginer grows to 15 people in first two years of hybrid vehicle retrofit business

When oil prices started to spike a few years ago and $4-a-gallon gas was seen as a big problem, Jack Chen came up with a solution.

That solution
turned into Enginer, a Troy-based start-up developing technology that improves the fuel efficiency of hybrid vehicles. The company went from just Chen, a former automotive engineering consultant, to 15 people today. It shipped 200-300 of its retrofit units last year and is aiming to break the 1,000 barrier in 2011.

"We'd like to be a leader in the automotive conversion market," Chen says. "We're second to A123 Systems right now."

Chen and a small group of colleagues first developed the technology at the X PRIZE competition a few years ago. Now their automotive retrofits make hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius 40 percent more fuel efficient. The company sells these conversion kits for $3,500 apiece, which compares quite favorably to competing products that often demand five figures.

"A lot of people can afford our product," Chen says.

Source: Jack Chen, president & chief engineer of Enginer
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Wi-Fi firm RF Connect doubles revenue, opens offices in Texas, Ohio, and Florida

RF Connect is clocking big growth gains today, but that's not the way it started for the Wi-Fi firm from Farmington Hills. Six years ago it was just four people trying to make their small business go.

"It takes a while to get some momentum going with a start-up," says Jeff Hipchen, one of the co-founders of RF Connect. "You cast a big net at the beginning and refine your business from there."

Today RF Connect employs about 30 people, plus another 10-20 independent contractors and interns. Staffing climbed by 50 percent in 2010 and Hipchen expects his company's employment numbers to go up at a similar rate this year. The company has watched its revenue increase by triple digits over the last couple of years, landing some marquee customers such as the Nationwide Insurance and The Cleveland Clinic. That has allowed it to open new offices in Texas, Ohio, and Florida.

RF Connect is mainly selling its wireless network expertise, which ranges from Wi-Fi to helping increase cell phone reception. One of its rapidly growing segments is a distributed antenna system that improves cell phone reception.  

"For a small business in 5,000 square feet or less, it's a great solution," Hipchen says.

Source: Jeff Hipchen, one of the co-founders of RF Connect
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TextsFromLastNight's new offerings include apps, TV show

Ben Bator never intended his website hobby to become his full-time job, but that's what happened to the founding partner of TextsFromLastNight.

Bator and Lauren Leto started the website showcasing funny text messages a little over two years ago when they were attending law school at Wayne State University. TextsFromLastNight's popularity quickly took off and before the pair knew it, they had a full-blown business on their hands.

"The moment we realized we weren't going back to law school was in May of 2009 when we received five unsolicited book deal offers," says Bator.

TextsFromLastNight now employs four people. The practically virtual company calls downtown Royal Oak home because that's where Bator and his little brother (the website's editor) live. Leto is now based in Brooklyn, New York.

The company released its book last year, streamlined the site and devised its social media strategy of one feature text post per day. It receives 5,000-7,000 text submissions each day and profiles 30 of them. Bator and company have more planned for this year, including a smartphone application and a couple of potential hires.

"We're close to finding out when our TV show will be scheduled," Bator says. "We expect to hear on that in the next few weeks."

Source: Ben Bator, founding partner of TextsFromLastNight
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Sphinx Technology Solutions doubles client base, plans first hire

Ryan O'Hara had that safe job. The kind that is rooted in the new economy and paid for by the big corporation. But after a few years of working in IT and other computer-related fields for SBC and Quicken Loans, O'Hara knew there was more out there for him.

O'Hara started Sphinx Technology Solutions in Dearborn two years ago, working his day job while helping customers choose the best technology. Demand for his company's expertise soon outstripped the time he could put toward it while working for someone else, so he made that leap of faith into self-employment.

"More people were leaving these so-called safe jobs to do their own thing," O'Hara says. "For me it was equal parts fear and excitement."

Sphinx Technology Solutions
, a Mac and PC support specialist, has grown exponentially over the last 6-8 months, growing from 10 clients to 20 in that time. O'Hara is expecting that growth to continue and is planning to bring on his first intern and hire this year to keep up.

Source: Ryan O'Hara, owner of Sphinx Technology Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AutoHarvest to connect local IP with auto industry

Metro Detroit is sometimes referred to as its own worst enemy when it comes to building businesses and creating jobs. A new non-profit called AutoHarvest is ready to make the region its own best asset by capitalizing on its plethora of intellectual property.

"We think of the auto industry as low-tech and behind," says David Cole, chairman and co-founder of AutoHarvest. "It's not that at all. This is the most complicated industry in the world."

AutoHarvest plans to help connect the automotive industry and Metro Detroit's entrepreneurial ecosystem with the immense amount of intellectual property in the region. The idea is that making these connections will accelerate the deal flow and job creation in both the local auto industry and other emerging sectors.

Cole points out that there are six major automakers with operations in the region and another 350 auto suppliers. Pair those with its two research universities, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, and its handful of business accelerators and there are not only enough sources of intellectual property but players who can use it. It's only a matter of connecting one to the other.

"This is a marketplace to facilitating collaboration around intellectual property," Cole says. "We think it's going to work."

AutoHarvest is working with each of the Big 3, the Michigan Economic Development Corp, local foundations and business accelerators, and creating a peer group of 50 organizations to draw support from. The non-profit is headquartered in Ann Arbor SPARK's central offices but is also keeping offices in Detroit's TechTown and the University of Michigan's North Campus Research Complex.

Source: David Cole, chairman and co-founder of AutoHarvest
Writer: Jon Zemke

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