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Michigan First Credit Union expands to supermarkets with first Kroger branch

Michigan First Credit Union is in the process of expanding across Michigan, and it's using Kroger as a vehicle on that journey.

The Lathrup Village-based credit union opened its first in-store branch in a Kroger supermarket in Macomb Township at the corner of 26 Mile and Romeo Plank. It plans to open four more branches in Kroger supermarkets in St. Clair Shores, Southgate, Brownstown Twp., and Roseville before the end of the year.

"We are in constant growth mode," says Michael Poulos, president & CEO of Michigan First Credit Union. "Within two years we should have a minimum of eight Kroger branches."

Michigan First Credit Union signed a multi-year contract with Kroger to open in-store branches across Michigan. These in-store Kroger branches replace the handful of branches Michigan First Credit Union had in Meijer stores.

The in-store branch measures 500 square feet and can facilitate savings, loan, and investment support services. They also feature MoneyWorks ATMs that allow users to select bills in multiple denominations (from $50s to $1s) and allow members to make loan or credit card payments.

"We like the in-store model," Poulos says. "We get the opportunity to talk to people who aren't members of Michigan First Credit Union. We get to offer extended hours."

Michigan First Credit Union was founded in 1926 by a group of Detroit teachers. It has since grown to 110,000 members across Michigan, adding about 10,000 new members over the last year. The credit union has about $750 million in assets (up $50 million from last year) and a $390 million loan portfolio (up $30 million over the last year).

The credit union also employs 300 people and a handful of interns. It has hired 40 people over the last year and is looking to fill six open positions. You can check out the job openings here. Poulos expects those numbers to continue to climb as the credit union focuses on growing its presence across the Great Lakes State.

"Now we can serve the entire state of Michigan," Poulos says. "We are looking for more opportunities across the state."

Source: Michael Poulos, president & CEO of Michigan First Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AlphaTherm brings heated windshield wiper fluid to vehicles

AlphaTherm got its start as a winter product, a logical niche for a heated windshield wiper fluid technology. However, the Farmington Hills-based company soon realized its product had broader applications.

AlphaTherm makes electrical heating, cooling, and heat exchange devices. Its patented Heated Wash windshield washer fluid heating system using a minimal amount of energy produced by the vehicle’s electrical system to produce a warm washer fluid.

The product was originally developed to remove frost, ice, and snow during inclement weather. Truck drivers who began trips in Canada and finished them in Florida learned it was also useful to remove bugs, road grime, and other debris.

"They said the warm fluid cut through it without a problem," says Joe Trubak, general manager of AlphaTherm.

The Heated Wash system has been applied to more than 1.5 million vehicles through OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). AlphaTherm and its core team of five people are now targeting the heavy truck and after-market industries.

AlphaTherm recently joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program to help grow its market reach. The 7Cs program provides assistance and guidance in advanced manufacturing to small firms with the ability to scale their production with the idea of accelerating their growth. Automation Alley's entrepreneurship team also helps its clients make connections with other potential partners.

"They have a number of companies that we can network with," Trubak says. "A number of those companies have a fleet of vehicles or know other companies that do."

Source: Joe Trubak, general manager of AlphaTherm
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Endeavor report calls for focus on gazelle startups to spur job growth

Two things are evident after reading Endeavor’s Detroit office's assessment report of metro Detroit's entrepreneurial ecosystem: the region has lost a lot of jobs since the Great Recession and metro Detroit's best chance to get them back come from gazelles, i.e. young, fast-growing companies.

Gazelles, also known as scaleups, are small businesses with tremendous growth potential. They traditionally grow from a couple of employees to a staff of a few dozen people in a matter of months. These are the companies that attract large sums of venture capital investment and make headlines as the new darlings of the local business world.

"Scaleups are a really important part of creating new jobs," says Mike Goodwin, project leader with Endeavor Insight. "They have the most potential for creating new jobs."

However, the "Scaling Up In The Motor City" report, supported by the New Economy Initiative, points out that gazelle growth declined by more than 50 percent between 2007 and 2012, going from 674 to 323. That is the same time Michigan's unemployment rate went from 7.6 percent to 10.1 percent. Michigan needs to create 6,000 more jobs to get back to its 2007 employment levels.

Endeavor opened an office in Detroit with three direct employees and seven members of its board of directors earlier this year with the idea of helping reverse those job-loss numbers. The New York City-based nonprofit helps build regional entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world by helping gazelles grow even faster, introducing them to talent, mentors, and, eventually, investors.

The office in downtown Detroit is currently evaluating a broad range of local gazelles with the idea of picking half a dozen to enter into Endeavor's network by the end of the year. Endeavor's Detroit office will start taking on up to eight gazelles each year after that with an eye on supercharging metro Detroit's economic engine.

"We are aiming to accelerate and support the growth of high-impact entrepreneurs and in being successful we expect to contribute to the growth of the the region," says Antonio Luck, managing director of Endeavor’s Detroit office.

Source: Antonio Luck, managing director of Endeavor’s Detroit office and Mike Goodwin, project leader with Endeavor Insight
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

PSI Repair Services hires 5, completes 20,000th wind turbine repair

PSI Repair Services got its start well before wind turbines became fashionable generators of electricity. Today the Livonia-based is hitting a major milestone: repairing its 20,000th wind turbine.

The 48-year-old firm, a subsidiary of Phillips Service Industries, specializes in repair and engineering services for everything from electronics to hydraulics. Wind turbine repair has become a fast-growing part of the company's bottom line since 2009 when it started doing work for some large wind farms.

That work has allowed the PSI Repair Services to grow its staff. It has hired five people over the last year, expanding its team to 120 employees. The new jobs include electronic technicians, engineers, and shipping and receiving personnel. It’s also looking to hire electronic techs who can perform circuit card repairs down to the component level.

"Our strategic goal is to grow 10 percent year over year," John Greulich, sales director at PSI Repair Services, wrote in an email.

Wind turbine work isn't the only growing part of PSI Repair Services revenue stream. It's also growing in the automotive, semi-conductor, and defense industries.

Source: John Greulich, sales director at PSI Repair Services
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

(EO)2 Fastener creates streamlined car-top transport system

Richard Rayos had a stroke of inspiration the fall of 2009. The metro Detroit resident worked in robotics and the automotive industries, but his true passion was for the outdoors.

Rayos was heading out on a trip with one of those large carriers full of gear strapped to the top of his car. They carrier was convenient as far as size and staying attached to his car, but not much else.

"You don't want to take it on or off because it’s a pain in the ass," says Rayos, president & CEO of (EO)2 Fastener. "I thought there had to be a better way."

That led to the creation of (EO)2 Fastener, a snaptop rail and carrier made to securely attach to your car and easily come off when you want it. The carriers come in both large sizes and sizes small enough to use as a backpack on a hiking trip. Check out a video on (EO)2 Fasteners here.

(EO)2 Fastener has been working with automakers and automotive suppliers, selling 120,000 units last year. It's looking to increase sales this year as it targets both regular consumers and commercial uses, such as military customers looking to use the system to better attach equipment to vehicles.

"It can be used for everything from camping gear to putting a battery on a tank," Rayos says. "As you need it you can snap it on the vehicle and travel 100 mph in the rain and it won't come off."

The Sterling Heights-based firm currently calls the Velocity Incubator home. It employs a staff two people and Rayos is currently looking to hire an administrative assistant.

Source: Richard Rayos, president & CEO of (EO)2 Fastener
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Highway Mediaís online video work spurs firmís growth

In recent years, online video work has become an essential part of Highway Media's revenue stream.

The video-production firm got its start making videos for commercial users and recently did work for DVDs before transitioning to online videos. Last year, Highway Media reached a major milestone in its online video work, producing more than 100 online videos. It’s on pace to do more than 150 this year and aiming for 200 in 2016.

"Most companies are realizing the necessity of having a video on their website," says Mark Salloum, president & owner of Highway Media. "It does so many things for a website."

The Canton-based firm is also trying out more innovative ways to create those videos. It's experimenting with drones to bring a broader variety of camera angles to its videos.

"They're becoming a great tool for us to use when we're filming, say, an industrial video, and you want to see a birds-eye view," Salloum says.

Highway Media currently employs a core team of seven people and a large stable of freelancers. It has hired two people over the last year (an editor and a business development manager) and expects to add more in the future as demand for its online videos continues to rise.

Source: Mark Salloum, president & owner of Highway Media
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

APAG Elektronik, Promac open U.S. offices in Oakland County

Oakland County is now the destination for two global manufacturers looking to land in the U.S. this year.

APAG Elektronik AG and Promac plan to establish offices in Oakland County, according to county officials. Leadership from the companies met with county officials at the recent SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington D.C., which prompted both firms to look as Troy as a new home for their new offices.

"These companies have seen what a thousand others who came before them saw – that Oakland County is the best market for international investment," Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said in a press release.

Italian-based Promac is an automotive supplier that produces parts for many industries, including aviation, aerospace, energy, precision prototypes, and complex machining. It plans to open its first North American facility in Troy.

Switzerland-based APAG Elektronik AG is an electronics design and manufacturing firm. It plans to open a sales office in Troy this summer. It's also looking at opening an electronics manufacturing facility in 2016. It is currently using space in the Automation Alley International Business Center.

Source: Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

123Net acquires Holland-based Internet firm, T2 Communications

Southfield-based 123Net is expanding across Michigan, acquiring another telecommunications company in Holland, T2 Communications.

"It will give us better and more robust connectivity throughout Holland," says Steve Hazel, agent manager for 123Net. "It will also give us a more robust customer support system."

The 20-year-old firm is one of Michigan’s largest telecommunications and Internet service providers. It has been active in West Michigan since 2000 and has partnered with T2 Communications for years. 123Net has also invested significantly in its Grand Rapids fiber ring, wireless PoP sites, and its Grand Rapids/Byron Center data center.

123Net serves thousands of businesses across Michigan with a network that includes over 2,500 route miles of fiber, more than 70 high speed fixed wireless towers, and four world-class data centers. It has grown significantly over the last six months, hiring five people in positions like marketing and project management. It currently employs a staff of 43 and is looking to hire three more.

The T2 Communications acquisition is 123Net's third merger over the last year. Although there aren't any more acquisition candidates in 123Net's pipeline right now, that doesn't mean there won’t be another one before the end of the year.

"There is always the possibility," Hazel says. "We seem to acquire firms at a steady pace of a couple at a time."

Source: Steve Hazel, agent manager for 123Net
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

UV Angel closes on 7-figure seed round for infection-fighting tech

UV Angel has just closed on a angel round of seed capital worth at least $1 million to help further develop its infection-fighting technology.

The Livonia-based firm makes an innovative disinfection technology for hospitals and clinics. The idea is to prevent healthcare-associated infections, which can include nasty superbugs like H1N1 and MRSA. Such infections kill more than 75,000 people each year.

"We have had more healthcare-associated infection fatalities in the last year than there were deaths in Vietnam and the War on Terror combined," says Michael Armstrong, vice president of UV Angel.

UV Angel's platform continuously monitors device interactions and employs an automated disinfection process to create a safe working environment in medical centers. Each interaction between a medical professional and a piece of equipment (think computer keyboard or mice) initiates or pauses a cleaning cycle.

"We go after the high-touch surfaces and kill whatever is there," Armstrong says.

"Everything we do we record," he adds. "Nobody else does that."

UV Angel currently has pilot studies of its technology underway, which have shown that they consistently eliminate superbugs. Today a team of about 10 people at UV Angel are working on the technology and commercializing it. The firm recently hired three sales reps.

Source: Michael Armstrong, vice president of UV Angel
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MagWerks LED develops cutting edge light technology

LED lights have a reputation as being lean, mean, and ultra-energy-efficient. The reality is, however, that the less energy they use, the heavier they become. It's a challenge that's keeping LED lights from reaching their full potential.

"It's a largely unknown subject but an important one," says Michael Pickholz, CEO of MagWerks LED.

The Oxford-based startup believes it has an answer for that dilemma. The LED lighting design and engineering firm’s technology aims to make high-powered LED lights smaller, lighter, and cooler. The first target market is automotive lights. MagWerks technology leverages the structural properties of magnesium, which is 20 times stronger than plastics.

"It brings a vast improvement in performance," Pickholz says. "It makes it lighter and brighter."

The 3-person firm has recently joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program, which helps new companies leverage advanced manufacturing practices to grow their business.

"There is a need," Pickholz says. "How can you grow a company fast enough to satisfy that need?"

Source: Michael Pickholz, CEO of MagWerks LED
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Transitions Legal partners with Vezina Law in downtown Birmingham

Working together is often the sort of business strategy that not only brings firms together but helps them become more successful. Those benefits are why two small law firms in downtown Birmingham are collaborating.

Transitions Legal and its principal attorney, Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, are now of counsel with Vezina Law. The idea is that each firm’s expertise will help complement the other’s strengths.

"We each have something that adds to our respective firms," Peskin-Shepherd says.

Transitions Legal specializes in family law and mediation. Peskin-Shepherd has grown to a staff of two people. Vezina Law focuses on business, healthcare, and employment law. It has offices in Michigan and Louisiana.

"They have been referring cases to us for two years," Peskin-Shepherd says. "We wanted to formalize that relationship."

Source: Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, principal of Transitions Legal
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

CulturecliQ's software helps employers make the right hires via company culture

Hiring people isn't as easy as it sounds. Companies spends lots of time, money, and resources finding the right people that will fit into their operation. CulturecliQ thinks it has found a more efficient way to help them make the right hires.

The Livonia-based startup has developed a software platform (with the help of eyeWyre Software Studios in downtown Mt. Clemens) that matches companies and candidates based on whether the candidate would fit in with the company's culture.

"It's an easy-to-use tool to find candidates without sifting through thousands of resumes," says Joe Walker, COO of CulturecliQ.

Walker started CulturecliQ with Colleen Albright about a year ago. The pair used to work at Plunkett & Cooney where he was a partner and she worked in human resources, and then worked together at R. L. Polk & Co. Albright had the idea for the company a couple of years ago and the two decided to leave the corporate world for the startup world.

The system uses specifically targeted questions for the companies and candidates. The idea is to help both parties learn more about each other by providing them with more information than would be in a resume or on a company's website. CulturecliQ's software then sorts the different data points about the people to find the best fit for the job.

"With today’s talent shortage, people are hiring on soft skills because the hard skills can be taught," Walker says.

CulturecliQ went live in January. It currently has 40 companies and 500 job candidates using it. The company plans to do a wider release this spring across southeast Michigan and then beyond.

"We're ready to do a hard launch by May 1st," Walker says.

Source: Joe Walker, COO of CulturecliQ
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Oakland University spins out first tech startup, Fulcrum Engineering

The first startup to spin out of Oakland University wants to make your vehicle safer by making its parts disengage during catastrophic accidents.

Fulcrum Engineering is developing technology that enables structural joints in a vehicles to decouple during big accidents. The idea is the force of the accident is displaced to better protect the motorists.

"We have shown we can reduce the force that is felt by the occupants of the vehicle by 60 percent," says Michael Latcha, president of Fulcrum Engineering.

Latcha is also an associate professor at Oakland University. He discovered the idea for the technology when trying to figure out ways to protect military vehicles from IED explosions. He found that if things like the engine or transmission were able to decouple during an explosion, then the force of the blast would also be displaced and better protect the people inside the vehicle.

"All your left with is the shell of the vehicle protecting the occupants," Latcha says.

Fulcrum Engineering is trying to commercialize that technology for use in everyday vehicles like sedans and work trucks. The idea is that only major accidents would enable the decoupling of the structural joints, not fender benders.

The Rochester-based startup launched last November. It made the finals of the Global Automotive Innovation Challenge and is currently working to license its technology to automotive suppliers.

Source: Michael Latcha, president of Fulcrum Engineering
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Crazy Diamond Performance aims to commercialize natural gas tech

Kevin Fern made a career as two things: a serial entrepreneur and a veteran of the alternative fuel vehicle industry. He is using both to build up his new firm, Crazy Diamond Performance.

The Shelby Township-based startup specializes in natural gas technology for automobiles. It is working to help transition more vehicles away from relying on gasoline for power to using compressed natural gas.

"We see a lot of merit in natural gas-powered vehicles," says Steven Bridson, business development manager of Crazy Diamond Performance. "It is beneficial to the U.S. because there is a lot of natural gas here."

The 3-year-old firm is utilizing compressed natural gas (a clear, odorless, and non-corrosive fuel) in its products. When combusted in a vehicle, it produces lower exhaust emissions, reducing carbon dioxide by 25 percent, and there are almost no evaporative emissions. With 120-octane and nearly the same energy content as gasoline, current generation compressed natural gas engines are just as powerful as their gasoline counterparts.

Crazy Diamond Performance currently has a team of four people working on its technology. It recently hired two people and is planning to hire more soon.

"We expect to bring on more people as the project we are working on are approved and funded," Bridson says.

Crazy Diamond Performance recently joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program, which helps small companies learn the basics of manufacturing and how to turn it to their advantage when growing their business.

"We think the 7Cs program will help us get the Crazy Diamond Performance message out to the industry," Bridson says.

Source: Steven Bridson, business development manager of Crazy Diamond Performance
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Insert Catchy Headlines marks 10 years as an independent, woman-owned business

Josephine Dries' life changed 10 years ago. That was the time she started her own public relations firm, Insert Catchy Headlines. In a way, it was her method for declaring her own independence.

Dries worked in a family business for years. It was a situation where the men of the family took leading roles. Dries felt limited. She wanted to be in a situation where she could excel and occupy an equal role to everyone else. That meant striking out on her own.

"I said, 'OK, that’s good for you. Why can't I do it?'" Dries says. "If I can’t do it under your umbrella, then I will stand on my own two feet and do it on my own."

She never looked back. Today her Rochester Hills-based business is not only her full-time job, but Dries has been so successful that she raised her firm's prices. She plans to hire her first employee over the next year, and even attract a major local corporation as a client. Today Insert Catchy Headlines serves primarily small and medium-sized businesses.

"I went from one monthly client (when the business launched) to four monthly clients," Dries says.

Source: Josephine Dries, founder of Insert Catchy Headlines
Writer: Jon Zemke

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