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Synergy System Solutions brings alternative energy to Michigan

Jerry Eden has worded in the energy industry for 20-plus years, including more than a dozen in an electricians union. In that time he has noticed Michigan seems to be lacking when it comes to keeping up with technological improvements.

"We seem to lag behind a little bit as far as technology advancement in Michigan," Eden says. "Sometimes a lot."

So he started to do something about it six months ago by starting Synergy System Solutions. The Royal Oak-based startup specializes in integrating new technology into everyday uses. More times than not that has to do with adding alternative energy to the mix.

That could mean adding solar arrays to light poles to help keep streetlights on more cost-effectively. Or adding alternative energy generators to machines that work in remote places, such as the blinking arrows that steer construction traffic in the right direction far away from the nearest electrical plug.

Eden has been working with a number of different alternative energy players in Metro Detroit, including the Green Team Coalition at the NextEnergy campus in Detroit's New Center neighborhood. He hopes these projects help create more jobs in Michigan. It has already led to the creation of a three-person staff at Synergy System Solutions.

"I want us to be at the forefront of Michigan’s disruptive technology," Eden says. "Doing things differently, but innovative."

Source: Jerry Eden, president of Synergy System Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Breast cancer survivor launches bio-tech startup, re-Contour

Julie Hyde-Edwards is a breast cancer survivor and an entrepreneur, and those two things are joined at the hip for her.

The Royal Oak resident was working as a graphic designer for a financial services firm when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She lost her job midway through fighting her illness, and ended up going through a double mastectomy, which required removing large amounts of tissue from each breast.

But she survived. She innovated a new technology. And now she is working on commercializing it with her own startup, re-Contour.

"I was learning that there were stages of this that were problematic, so I tried to fix it myself," Hyde-Edwards says.

Re-Contour's technology is a type of surgical dressing that improves the aesthetic look of the breast and nipple, helping it avoid flattening and encourages healing after a mastectomy. The re-Contour dressing cover the breast mound, with no contact on the nipple area – providing a safe space around the newly created nipple and preventing clothes from applying pressure to it.

Mastectomies routinely leave large scars on the survivor, and nipple loss after the procedure is not uncommon. Many women struggle with the physical changes that occur after a mastectomy.

"It looks like someone took a machete and tried to cut you in half," Hyde-Edwards says. "It's pretty hard to look at."

Hyde-Edwards is currently working with Dr. Kenneth Shaheen, section head of plastic surgery at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, on commercializing the technology. Re-Contour received a patent for its dressing in April and it recently took first place in the Growth category (worth $13,900) at the Entrepreneur-YOU business and pitch plan competition at Walsh College in Troy.

Re-Contour has been working with a variety of local economic accelerators, such as TechTown in Detroit and the Macomb-OU INCubator in Sterling Heights, but isn't directly enrolled in any specific incubator program.

"We're hoping to produce this product within a year," Hyde-Edwards says.

Source: Julie Hyde-Edwards, founder & CEO of re-Contour
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Siren PR doubles staffing on record revenue increase

Siren PR, the little public relations firm that could, is doing exactly that these days. And by that we mean adding staff.

The Royal Oak-based PR agency is looking to hire an account executive. More info on the opening here. That hire will mean the boutique public relations agency will have doubled the size of its staff over the last year with two new hires.

"We feel that this is the time for us to grow," says Adela Piper, co-founder of Siren PR. "We are growing. We have clients in the pipeline and we need more personnel to better serve them."

Piper and Lindsey Walenga launched Siren PR two years ago from their homes in Oakland County. Their first clients consisted mainly of nonprofits, such as OLSHA. Today the firm handles work for a broader range of organizations, businesses like Detroit Bikes, and schools like Pontiac Academy for Excellence. The company is projecting 36-percent revenue growth this year.

"We have already made more (revenue) this year than we did last year," Piper says. "We're right on track."

Source: Adela Piper, co-founder of Siren PR
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Farmington Hills-based ReapSo launches 2.0 version of app

Mobile startup ReapSo is launching the 2.0 version of its brand-advocacy app this fall.

The Farmington Hills-based company’s platform connects fans with the brands. It encourages its users to "WIN. VOTE. SAVE." so they can win prizes, voice their opinion and save money. Check out a video on it here.

The new version is focused on making those connections on broadcast mediums.

"We have expanded the 2.0 version to go after TV and radio channels with enhanced digital strategies," says Bill Wildern, co-founder & CEO of ReapSo. He adds, "You can get audience pulse with immediate feedback. They can send that out via social media."

ReapSo has grown its staff to seven employees. It is focusing on establishing the 2.0 version of its app across the U.S. this year and next.

"We want to grow the value proposition," Wildern says.

Source: Bill Wildern, co-founder & CEO of ReapSo
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Douglas Communications Group exemplifies new age in local media

Sharlan Douglas has become a prime example of what it often means to be working in media in the 21st century.

The Royal Oak resident has a career in local media that includes stints at WKBD TV as a promotion coordinator and a vice president of marketing & development for Metropolitan Center for High TechnologyTechTown's predecessor from the 1980s/90s. Today she is the owner of her own boutique public relations firm, Douglas Communications Group, a partner in a wine-tasting staffing company, and a recently elected member of the Royal Oak City Commission.

"I enjoy having the ability to control my work," Douglas says.

That means working from home with her one-woman PR firm. Today she handles a number of local clients, her largest being Carlisle/Wortman Associates. She handles a lot of the owned media for the Ann Arbor-based planning firm, such as producing content for blogs, newsletters, and trade show materials. One of the current projects is helping create awareness of how populations in local communities are aging and what that means to their areas. She is doing similar work for the LGBT Older Adult Coalition, which has partners like Affirmations in Ferndale and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

"How do you respond to that shifting?" Douglas says.

Douglas was recently elected to a seat on the Royal Oak City Commission. She had served on the city's planning commission for nine years prior and is an active member of the Michigan Association of Planning.

She is also a partner in Professional Pours, a staffing agency for wine sampling in grocery stores. Think of the people with a small table that ask shoppers if they would like to try a taste of a new wine. Professional Pours finds the people making the pitch.

"I am doing more and more work for Professional Pours," Douglas says.

Source: Sharlan Douglas, owner of Douglas Communications Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Brazilian immigrants launch pastry biz, Doce Brigadeiro

A couple of Brazilian immigrants are making a go of it in entrepreneurship, launching their own pastry business with the help of the Blackstone LaunchPad at Walsh College.

Doce Brigadeiro specializes in Brazilian handmade gourmet sweets. The main pastry is the popular treat called a brigadeiro. The main ingredients consist of condensed milk, cream and chocolate. Twenty-one flavors are on offer, including mint, toffee, lemon zest and sea salt caramel, as well as milk, dark and white chocolate.

"I love to do Brazilian desserts," says Danielle Cecconi, co-founder of Doce Brigadeiro. "It's something I would do every month."

Cecconi recently received her MBA from Walsh College where she leveraged the services of the Blackstone LaunchPad program, which teaches the basics of business to aspiring entrepreneurs. Cecconi and her friend, Marina Kapordelis, started selling brigadeiros to friends and family under the Doce Brigadeiro brand this spring.

The Royal Oak-based business is now looking for its own kitchen space to make its sweets, and eventually wants to open up a storefront in a local downtown like Ann Arbor or Birmingham in the not-too-distant future.

"We're hoping to get a lot of Christmas orders this year," Cecconi says.

Source: Danielle Cecconi, co-founder of Doce Brigadeiro
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Siren PR adds to staff as revenue more than doubles

Every year is a growth year at Siren PR, or at least so far for the young public relations firm.

The Royal Oak-based company launched a little more than two years ago handling work for Metro Detroit non-profits, such as OLHSA. The company has gone from revenues of $75,000 in 2012 to nearly $200,000 last year. It is on pace to easily surpass $200,000 in revenue this year.

"We have grown every month since we started," says Lindsey Walenga, co-founder of Siren PR.

That has meant the need for more woman power. The two co-founders hired their first employee last September. That person took another job this month but not before Siren PR made another hire. The company probably isn't done adding to its head count this year.

"We will probably be expanding to four in the near future," Walenga says.

Siren PR has made its mark so far taking on clients with a social purpose, or as Walenga put it, "A mission they can believe in." For OLHSA that’s helping local people find the help and social services they need to succeed. A recent addition is Detroit Bikes, which is working to bring manufacturing back to Detroit by becoming the largest bicycle manufacturer in the U.S.

"I'd love to be representing more for-profit companies that have a community purpose," Walenga says.

Source: Lindsey Walenga, co-founder of Siren PR
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Realtime Technologies moves to bigger office in Royal Oak

Realtime Technologies has a new home in downtown Royal Oak. The company ended up there a little faster than expected for an unlikely reason: fire.

The simulation firm was planning to move to new offices last year, and then a fire hit its offices late last summer. That accelerated the company’s plans, prompting it to move early that fall to a bigger, nicer facility.

The company, a subsidiary of Ann Arbor-based AroTech, now employs a dozen people in Royal Oak after adding a new software developer. It is also looking to make another hire or two this spring if the right candidate comes around.

"We're always looking for good talent," says Clayne Woodbury, national sales director for Realtime Technologies. The company also hired another person outside of Michigan that was a former employee, he says. "We have added some significant talent in the last year."

Realtime Technologies makes simulation technology and offers custom software design and engineering services. The technical description involves real-time, multi-body vehicle dynamics, and graphical simulation and modeling. Among its projects are a simulation technology for autonomous vehicles, railroads and hospitals.

"One of the things we're doing more and more of as we become more involved with the commercial side of the business is rail," Woodbury says. "We're building a simulator for a light-rail system in Toronto."

Source: Clayne Woodbury, national sales director for Realtime Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LevelSet Solutions adds 4 jobs, maximizes existing customer base

LevelSet Solutions is growing its bottom line not by focusing on new clients, but making the most of the work it does with its existing clientele.

The downtown Royal Oak-based firm, which specializes in digital marketing and tech consulting, has grown its revenue and staff significantly in the last year by solidly executing for its customers and helping them complete a deep dive to streamline and maximize their own businesses.

"We find clients who are looking for complete solutions instead of one-off projects," says Steve Swanson, president of LevelSet Solutions.

That has allowed the 5-year-old company to hire four people over the past year, expanding its staff to 17 employees, a handful of consultants and one summer intern. The newly created jobs include positions in Internet marketing, software development and business analysis.

"We're always looking (to hire)," Swanson says. "We never stop looking because it takes us a while to find the right candidate with the right skill set."

Source: Steve Swanson, president of LevelSet Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Innovative Learning Group celebrates 10 years this month

Most businesses don't live to see three years. Many more don't make it to five years. Innovative Learning Group is celebrating birthday No. 10 this month.

The downtown Royal Oak-based firm doesn’t dwell on what has changed over the last decade. Its team of 13 people focus on what has stayed the same in that time: "Our great culture and focus on clients," says Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group. "What happened over the last 10 years is we managed to keep pace with technology as it changed."

Innovative Learning Group is a business consultancy that specializes in training and human performance improvement for businesses. It develops learning strategies, curriculum architectures, and implements/evaluates these learning solutions. The firm has done this primarily with digital solutions and it is pivoting its services more toward the mobile realm in 2014.

"What we always care about is steady, profitable growth," Toenniges says. "We aim for 15 percent year over year."

That has allowed Innovative Learning Group to hire two people in January. Those new jobs are in performance consulting and media development.

"Over the coming year we will probably hire several people," Toenniges says.

Source: Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TM3 Systems scores Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund cash

TM3 Systems is raising seed capital to start scaling its microgrid technology. It's off to a good start, landing six figures' worth of funding from the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund. The 1-year-old firm is currently looking to close on the seed capital by the end of the first quarter this year.

The Royal Oak-based company is designing microgrid technology (think generators) that can be used in remote locations by both military and commercial customers. The idea is to create power sources that help meet the power and logistical needs of the personnel using them.

"We feel the way it's done today ends up wasting a lot of fuel and downtime," says Nate Lowery, CEO of TM3 Systems. "We're looking to solve these problems."

TM3 Systems microgrid products, developed in partnership with Detroit-based NextEnergy, are designed to meter, control and condition power in remote locations. The technology provides users with grid monitoring and automatic generation and demand control with an eye for optimizing off-grid power assets. Currently, most of these users need to haul diesel generators to remote locations, with the generators often not meeting the needs for the situations.

"You end up with generators that are too large or too small for the application," Lowery says. "If it's too large it wastes fuel. If it's too small it doesn’t provide enough electricity."

TM3 Systems and its team of three people recently started selling its three units. The company is aiming at both military customers and commercial clients, such as remote mining interests.

Source: Nate Lowery, CEO of TM3 Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Liberty Center One adds staff, expands data center

Liberty Center One is moving forward in a number of different ways. The Royal Oak-based data center operator has grown its staff, facility and revenue over the last year.

"We're getting both organic growth from our existing customers and from new customers who like the model we have," says Tim Mullahy, managing director of Liberty Center One.

Liberty Center One provides network, voice, and cloud services from its data center. It recently doubled the size of its capacity, bringing another 4,000 square feet of floor space online in the last year.

The 15-year-old company has also hired two people over the last year, in network engineering and financial management. It currently has a staff of 25 employees and two interns. Mullahy expects to add a couple more employees and interns over the next year.

Liberty Center One has enjoyed double-digit gains in revenue in each of the last five years. It’s a streak Mullahy expects to continue for the foreseeable future.

"Double digits seems like it’s achievable," Mullahy says.

Source: Tim Mullahy, managing director of Liberty Center One
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Vectorform sets sights on new HQ in downtown Royal Oak

Vectorform is preparing to make a big investment in downtown Royal Oak, moving the software firm's headquarters to the city’s center and hiring another 75 people to fill out the new space.

Vectorform specializes in creating software for a number of different platforms, ranging from mobile to experimenting with Google Glass. It employs about 65 people at its current space in Royal Oak after hiring 25 new employees over the last year. It currently has 14 open positions.

The company expects to keep growing rapidly and is looking for a new headquarters that can accommodate that growth and help attract talent. It plans to take the second floor of what is now the Barnes & Noble in downtown Royal Oak sometime next year. That move will allow the firm to hire another 75 people, such as designers, software programers and project managers.

Vectorform took a survey of its current staff to find the best options for its new space. The results pointed straight at downtown Royal Oak.

"It appeared to be the best option from the survey," says Jason Vazzano, CEO of Vectorform. "It has a vibrant and diverse downtown area."

Source: Jason Vazzano, CEO of Vectorform
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Mitten Crate helps locals discover Michigan-made foods

Andrew Chmielewski is a foodpreneur, running a small toffee company called Dave's Sweet Tooth. Cory Wright is a restaurateur who ran his own restaurant in New York City before recently moving back to Metro Detroit.

The two friends came together to start a new venture called Mitten Crate. The Royal Oak-based firm sends a package of Michigan-made food products once a month to people who subscribe to the service.

"It is a great way to be introduced to Michigan-made products," Chmielewski says. "They might not be able to pick them up at a store otherwise."

Chmielewski and Wright noticed that while Michigan-made food products are quite popular with their local audience, that sphere of influence is often limited to about a 30-mile radius of where the company is based. Mitten Crate helps Michiganders overcome that barrier by introducing them to a handful of new products each month.

"There is a wide range of products," Chmielewski says. Some of those products include McClary Bros. Old Timey Drinking Vinegar (Ferndale) and Al Dente Pasta Co (Whitmore Lake).

The company got its start in August. It sold 70 boxes in its first month and 144 last month. Chmielewski expects to see those numbers to continue to grow exponentially in the near future.

"We hope to have triple-digit growth going into the holidays," Chmielewski says.

Source: Andrew Chmielewski, co-founder of Mitten Crate
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Estoreify aims to create comprehensive e-commerce platform

Last year Michael Mikhjian launched My eStore App, an e-commerce platform focused on helping small businesses facilitate online sales. Now the Royal Oak-based startup is beefing up that platform and rebranding it as Estoreify.

The e-commerce software works directly on client sites so customers aren't redirected to other support sites. Mikhjian wants to make it simple to install and maintain for small business owners who would rather spend their time focusing on their core business. Now Estoreify aims to offer a more comprehensive system that maintains its user-friendliness.

"I feel like our systems are simpler and easier to use," Mikhjian says. "You can manage it from your mobile phone."

The three-person team has gotten to the product to a public beta-testing stage with a few dozen shops using it. Mikhjian wants to expand that number to 100 shops within the next year and focus on giving each one a personal experience so they feel the software is tailored to their store’s needs.

"Any industry should be able to use this," Mikhjian says. "It's open to multiple products."

Source: Michael Mikhjian, founder of Estoreify
Writer: Jon Zemke

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