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School for tween and teen entrepreneurs opens locations in Wixom, Troy

Kidpreneur, the entrepreneurial education company for tweens and teens, is in the process of opening two new locations in Wixom and Troy.

The Wixom-based startup is opening its second location in Troy this month, a move that should help double its enrollment. The 1-year-old company helps teens learn the basics of starting a business and other new economy skills, such as software development.

"We want them to be able to compete for an internship with college students," says Thanh Tran, founder of Kidpreneur. "We also want them to be able to build with these skills. We want to them to take this education and do something with it."

Kidpreneur got its start in Northville a little more than year ago. It also opened a temporary location in downtown Detroit before settling down in Wixom. It now teaches classes on digital arts, coding, robotics, and video game design. It averages six kids per class and teaches about 75 kids per month.

"We shrunk the class size because we wanted to get more kids more personal time," Tran says.

He expects the number of teens and tweens leveraging his course to double over the next year as the second location in Troy gains traction.

"We have a model that works very well," Tran says.

Source: Thanh Tran, founder of Kidpreneur
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Billhighway focuses on employee career development to fuel growth

Billhighway is a tech company that knows it can't just hire its way to a steeper growth curve. It has to look inside, too.

The Troy-based firm, which provides software for member-based associations and nonprofits, is hiring, but not with just an eye for putting bodies behind desks. It's looking to find people who can grow their careers along with the company.

"We focus on career development for our entire organization," says Brenda Gallick, director of team member services for Billhighway. "It's a tough market out there, and we want to be engaged."

Billhighway got its start in 1999, providing software that helped people divvy up expenses, such as dues or dinner costs. Today it specializes in cloud-based automation software for nonprofits and other similar organizations. That software platform integrates payment processing, banking, and accounting with existing systems and provides a transparent, holistic view of an organization’s finances so it can work more efficiently.

Over the years, Billhighway has added more and more staff, and it is consistently hiring people today. Gallick says that the company's team now numbers in the "high double digits" and is growing. Billhighway now utilizes an employee career development program with a goal of promoting from within. Often people who are hired as a member of the client care team end up working in other areas of the business. Over the last year, five people working in client care transitioned to other parts of the business after receiving technical training and other opportunities to grow their skill set.

"When we recruit people we look for people with skill sets who would fit in other areas," Gallick says.

Software developers have become a hot commodity in today’s economy, a reality Billhighway is acknowledging by hiring more young developers fresh out of college or a few years removed. The hope is as these employees grow professionally they will help grow the company in a number of ways.

"As we bring in new talent we provide them with training and opportunities to grow into other parts of the business," Gallick says. "We want them to bring fresh perspective and ideas."

Source: Brenda Gallick, director of team member services for Billhighway
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Community Choice Credit Union executes second merger of year

Community Choice Credit Union has executed its second merger in four months, expanding its reach even farther across metro Detroit.

The Farmington Hills-based credit union absorbed the Eastside Family Federal Credit Union earlier this month. Community Choice Credit Union merged with NuPath Community Credit Union last April. All three of the newly merged entities will go forward as Community Choice Credit Union, but the credit union is working to retain all of the existing employees from the merger and maintain the familiarity of the old credit union.

"We want people to walk into the Eastside Family Federal Credit Union and see the same people that worked there before," says Dan Munro, executive vice president & COO of Community Choice Credit Union.

Eastside Family Federal Credit Union is a small credit union based in Eastpointe. It has $30 million in assets and 3,100 members across a couple of branches. The addition means Community Choice Credit Union now has 13 branches and 67,000 members. NuPath Community Credit Union brought in 11,500 members and $100 million in assets. Community Choice Credit Union now has 250 employees after hiring 55 people in the last year.

These mergers follow a recent trend of smaller credit unions merging with larger ones in the wake of the Great Recession. Many of those credit unions tapped their cash reserves to ride out the economic downturn and were left depleted of resources in a newly competitive banking environment.

"They will draw that capitol down as they try to compete in a very competitive financial services industry," Munro says.

Those that can’t compete have to choose between folding or merging with a larger credit union. Fast-growing credit unions like Community Choice Credit Union end up as desirable targets for a merger.

Source: Dan Munro, executive vice president & COO of Community Choice Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Passion for tech, manufacturing drives DELRAY Systems' success

Joe Rocca's career in automotive manufacturing started in the early 1980s, and it didn't take him long to combine his passion for technology with his work.

Most recently, Rocca was doing so at Fisher/Unitech. Today, however, he's launched his own firm, DELRAY Systems. The Rochester-based firm focuses on incorporating the latest in technology with manufacturing processes to create efficiencies.

"I want to make an impact on the industry and then turn it over to some folks who have the same passion," Rocca says.

The 1-year-old firm works to integrate process improvement solutions for automating manufacturing, utilizing techniques like reverse engineering and product development processes. This includes 3D printing, 3D scanning, and 3D modeling solutions.
"We want to provide the technology that will help automate manufacturing," Rocca says.

DELRAY Systems recently opened a training and technology center at Oakland University. The firm recently struck a partnership with ANSYS, a company traded on the NASDAQ. DELRAY Systems will sell its software, ANSYS SpaceClaim, to 3D printer users in the Midwest.

Source: Joe Rocca, president of DELRAY Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Gerry Weinberg & Associates consolidates growing staff into larger office

Gerry Weinberg & Associates is consolidating its home office in Southfield, going from two suites in the office building at 29201 Telegraph Rd. to one larger one.

"Now we are all in one suite," says Alana Nicol, president of Gerry Weinberg & Associates. "It's a much better layout for our offices."

Gerry Weinberg & Associates, a Sandler Training Business company, provides executive sales, management, and leadership training. The 22-year-old firm employs a staff of five an intern. It is looking to hire a sales associate right now.

The company moved to the larger office because it offered a better layout without making a major move to a new home. It was also a time to refresh its surroundings by investing in its home environment.

"We are positioned for growth over the next few years," Nicol says. "Sometimes you need to make investments like this to make it work."

The company hopes to add to its growth curve over the next few years, expanding its bottom line and adding staff.

"I would like to see us grow 15 percent over the next two years," Nicol says.

Source: Alana Nicol, president of Gerry Weinberg & Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Triune Specialty Trailers grows through client diversity

Triune Speciality Trailers relied on a select number of clients for revenue during most of its first decade in business. More recently, the Madison Heights-based firm made a conscious effort to expand its clientele, which has resulted in it tripling in size over the last three years.
"We have a much more diverse client base that we used to have," says Harry Kurtz, president & CEO of Triune Specialty Trailers. "We also have a lot of business in Canada, which is exciting to us."

The 10-year-old company specializes in making state-of-the-art specialty trailers. It products now include designing and building trailers for mobile marketing, educational outreach, and custom trailers.

Triune Specialty Trailers' growth has allowed it to hire three people over the last year, expanding its staff to 15 employees and an intern. Its new hires include a couple of office administration workers and a welder.

"We would hire more if we could find more welders," Kurtz says.

One of Triune Specialty Trailers’ biggest successes over the last year is its Fab Lab mobile education and training vehicle. The Fab Lab is a mobile training classroom for training students in high-tech machining careers, such as computer numerical controlled programmers. Triune Specialty Trailers designed and created the Fab Lab for the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance and North Central Michigan College to help create more skilled professionals to fill openings for skilled machinist positions.

"It's a big issue, especially in Michigan," Kurtz says.

Source: Harry Kurtz, president & CEO of Triune Specialty Trailers
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Media Genesis grows thanks to focus on startups with high growth potential

Media Genesis isn't growing because it's signing bigger and bigger clients. It's growing because it's doing business with more companies that are showing high potential for growth.

That's not to say the Troy-based digital marketing agency doesn't have any big-name clients. It does work with Chrysler, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and city of Detroit. The latter project is with Motor City Match, an initiative that connects new and growing businesses with quality real estate opportunities.

"It's becoming a great initiative," says Antoine Dubeauclard, president of Media Genesis. "We're pretty excited about it."

And then there are the smaller clients for Media Genesis, such as Secure Beginnings. The Detroit-based firm makes a breathable mattress for infants with the intention of helping prevent newborns from suffocating when they roll over onto their stomachs while sleeping. It's a newer, smaller business. But, according to Dubeauclard, it won't be small for long.

"These are the things we are excited about," Dubeauclard says. "These are not big names, but they're important in our book. They could one day change a whole industry."

Which could mean a lot more business for Media Genesis. So far, the company has notched double-digit revenue gains and rounded its staff out to 40 employees and three interns. It has hired six people (graphic designers, project managers, and software programmers) over the last year and is looking to hire two now.

Source: Antoine Dubeauclard, president of Media Genesis
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Boutique PR firm, Identity, grows thanks to creative vision and streamline operations

Identity, a boutique public relations firm, has always prided itself on its grand creative visions for clients. Now the Bingham Farms-based company can brag about streamline operations that help transform those visions into reality.

"We have put processes in place that help us to be the best agency we can be," says Mark Winter, founder & partner of Identity. "We call it the identity way. It has created a framework that will allow us to get to the next level."

The 17-year-old company has grow its revenue by 20 percent over the last year and is aiming to hit 30 percent growth this year. That has allowed it to hired five people in graphic design, media relations, and social media community management. Identity currently has a staff of 25 employees and an intern.

"We're always looking," Winter says. "We're opportunistic with our hiring."

That growth is coming from a diverse set of revenue streams. About a third of its growth comes from increased work from existing business, a third comes from referrals, and a third from request for proposals. Its clients span a wide variety of industries and region, and no one client supplies a large percentage of the firm’s revenue.

"We are extremely diversified in terms of clients," Winter says.

Source: Mark Winter, founder & partner of Identity
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Great Lakes Angels elects new president to lead investment group

Great Lakes Angels, a metro Detroit angel investor group, has new president in Pietro Sarcina.

David Weaver founded Great Lakes Angels and served as its president for years. He is stepping aside to serve as chairman and founder of the organization. Sarcina has made a career as an international banker and is looking forward to the challenge of running Great Lakes Angels.

"I have always been interested in entrepreneurs and startups,' says Sarcina. "I was a CFO at a fast-growing startup 20 years ago."

Great Lakes Angels is a organization made up of angel investors, high-net-worth individuals who make investments in small businesses that can scale. Often times that means investing tens of thousands of dollars into early stage tech startups with hopes of locking in a exponential return.

Great Lakes Angels looks to do this by recruiting new people with deep pockets into the local investing community. It will offer them training in how to make angel investments, recognize which ones would work best for them, and evaluate real value in these startups. The organization is also looking to make more inroads with local research universities with the idea of helping turn the research they produce into new economy businesses.

"We like to say we’re building Great Lakes Angels 2.0," Sarcina says.

Source: Pietro Sarcina, president of Great Lakes Angels
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

WorkForce Software hires nearly 100 people

WorkForce Software, a Livonia-based software firm, has added 86 new jobs in 2015, expanding its staff to 520 people, most of whom are based in southeast Michigan.
"We've been on a multi-year growth streak," says Jonathan Corke, director of communications for WorkForce Software. "In addition to expanding our Ann Arbor office, we have been acquiring more real-estate at our home office."

WorkForce Software has grown its downtown Ann Arbor office to 20 people in just three years. More than half of its employee base calls the Livonia headquarters home, which has gone from occupying one floor of its building to three. WorkForce's logo serves as the building's marquee signage on the structure overlooking I-275 and 7 Mile Road.

WorkForce Software makes management software for large-scale employers. Often that software helps them make sure they are conforming to whatever federal, state, or local regulation they need to abide by.

"There is a lot more for large employers to deal with," Corke says. "In short, we get compliance right."

It's proven to be a profitable endeavor. The company consistently has grown its revenue by double-digits in recent years, including a 21 percent bump last year.

"The prior year we grew significantly more than that," Corke says.

He expects that growth to continue as more and more big companies figure out they need help to conform to new laws and streamline their operations.

"We are in a very good position," Corke says.

Source: Jonathan Corke, director of communications for WorkForce Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ZF North America to expand Northville tech center

ZF North America plans on making a big investment in its Northville facility, an expansion that is expected to bring a few hundred jobs and a few hundred thousand square feet of commercial space.

The automotive supplier, a subsidiary of German-headquartered ZF Friedrichshafen AG, specializes in driveline and chassis technology. It has a technical center in Northville where it plans to make the bulk of its investment. The expansion will allow for additional research and development services to design, develop, and test new vehicle components and systems.

"Michigan has been home to ZF's North American headquarters for more than 15 years and we are excited to continue our growth in the state and in the industries we serve," says Julio Caspari, president of ZF North America.

The firm plans to invest up to $71.2 million to add almost 210,000 square feet at its Northville tech center, an investment that is expected to create 571 jobs. There currently 53 positions open in Northville, which can be found here.

To ensure that investment happens, the state of Michigan is offering ZF North America a performance-based grant worth up to $4 million through the Michigan Strategic Fund. Northville Township is also offering a property tax abatement to the project.

Source: Julio Caspari, president of ZF North America
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Lighthouse Molding, Civionics land Automation Alley pre-seed funding

Automation Alley’s Pre-Seed Fund has made two more investments in local startups, Civionics and Lighthouse Molding.

The two companies, based in Ann Arbor and Sterling Heights respectively, received a total of $75,000 in seed capital. The investments are intended to spur expansions in the companies and bring about more job growth.

"We want the jobs," says Tom Kelly, COO of Automation Alley.

The Automation Alley Pre-Seed Fund is worth nearly $9 million. It has made investments in 47 different companies in a little more than a decade. It plans to invest another $100,000 to $200,000 before the end of this year.

"We have been quite active over the years," Kelly says.

Civionics is a University of Michigan spinout commercializing wireless sensor technology primarily used to measure the strength of large-scale manufacturing equipment. Lighthouse Molding is a small electronics manufacturer for automotive firms, specifically low-pressure overmolding to encapsulate and protect electronic assemblies.

Both firms have recently joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program, which is focused on helping local companies integrate more advanced manufacturing methods to their business model. The idea is to help them accelerate their growth and create more jobs.

Source: Tom Kelly, COO of Automation Alley
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

JVS launches eCycle Opportunities to create low-barrier jobs

JVS is launching a electronic recycling department called eCycle Opportunities. The new operation will focus on harvesting recyclable materials from everyday electronics and employing people facing numerous challenges when it comes to entering the everyday workforce.

"These jobs will be filled by people with significant disabilities or face barriers to employment," says Stacey Lareau, director of new business development for JVS.

The Southfield-based nonprofit provides services for workforce development, youth services, affordable housing, and financial education. It will celebrate its 75th birthday next year and currently employs about 300 people.

The eCycle Opportunities department already employs three people and Lareau expects that number to hit 10 by the end of the year. Those workers will be harvesting precious metals and other raw materials from pieces of electronics like mobile devices and laptops. JVS is already talking to 10 different local companies that would supply them with old electronics in need of recycling.

JVS also has a pipeline of people Lareau and her team see as prime candidates for jobs with eCycle Opportunities.

"We want to have a diverse workforce," Lareau says. "JVS has programming that supports these people. We work with this demographic a lot."

Source: Stacey Lareau, director of new business development for JVS
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Booming craft beer industry means growth for Lake Orion's Craftwerk Brewing Systems

Craftwerk Brewing Systems got its start four years ago with the idea of supplying the equipment for the rapidly growing craft brewing movement in Michigan. Since then, the Lake Orion-based business has grown into a national brand.

"We have equipment in something like 20 states," says Tark Heine, managing director of Craftwerk Brewing Systems.

Heine got his start in craft brewing in mid-Michigan in 1989 when he began working for the Frankenmuth Brewery. He worked in management there until 2006 and struck out on his own in the industry a few years later.

"What really got me into fabrication was building the Frankenmuth Brewery," Heine says.

Craftwerk Brewing Systems manufactures high-quality, Michigan-made brewing equipment that now can be found in breweries throughout the state, including Motor City Brewing Works, Short's Brewing Co, and Founders Brewing Co., as well around the country. The company offers design, engineering, fabrication, and installation services for brewers from coast to coast.

"We can do a turn-key brewery for you," Heine says. Locally, Craftwerk built Birmingham's Griffin Claw Brewing Co. from the ground up.

The company has doubled its revenue over the last year, allowing it to grow its team to 95 people, including eight hires over the last year. Of its current staff, 88 are fabricators.

"The biggest problem we have is finding and training the fabricators," Heine says.

The rapid expansion of craft breweries and similar outfits (distillers and meade makers), both in Michigan and across the U.S., has left Heine bullish about his company’s prospects.

"The market is not slowing down," Heine says.

Source: Tark Heine, managing director of Craftwerk Brewing Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

G2 Consulting Group executes first acquisition, Schleede-Hampton

G2 Consulting Group acquired Schleede-Hampton Associates, a fellow construction engineering firm it has worked with for a few decades.

"I have known Schleede-Hampton forever," says Noel Hargrave-Thomas, principal of G2 Consulting Group. "Jim Berry, who runs the Birmingham office that we purchased, I met him 30 years ago...I am very familiar with that firm."

Troy-based G2 Consulting Group specializes in construction engineering, including environmental and geotechnical engineering services. That work, such as soil testing or tracking vibration next to freeways, usually takes place below the ground. Schleede-Hampton Associates, which is based in Birmingham, provides similar geotechnical engineering services to the construction industry.

G2 Consulting Group has been focusing on integrating more and more technology into its everyday work, such as outfitting its workers with mobile devices. Hargrave-Thomas sees bringing Schleede-Hampton Associates up to speed with its own technology use as a good opportunity for growth.

"It (the merger) is a nice fit," Hargrave-Thomas says.

G2 Consulting Group has been growing rapidly in recent years, hiring 19 people over the last year alone, growing its staff to 63. Schleede-Hampton Associates' staff of eight people will be integrated into G2 Consulting Group's staff this summer.

"We are continuously adding people," Hargrave-Thomas says.

Source: Noel Hargrave-Thomas, principal of G2 Consulting Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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