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Detroit Home magazine expands thanks to increase in home building

Detroit Home magazine is expanding in size and staff as the glossy publication begins printing for 2015.

"More and more people are reading it," says Megan Swoyer, editor of Detroit Home. "I also think that home building industry is growing as the economy gets stronger."

Detroit Home, part of the Hour Media family of publications, specializes in giving an up-close look at the inside of metro Detroit's most interesting homes, covering the latest trends in Detroit-area home design, construction, décor and landscaping. It will increase from four issues annually to six.

The 15-year-old publication has added two people over the last year, including a new art director. That expanded team will flesh out the magazine’s bulletin board, design, and other sections. It will also add more special sections.

"We will be expanding those departments," Swoyer says.

Source: Megan Swoyer, editor of Detroit Home
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Innovative Learning Group set to move to bigger office in Troy

Innovative Learning Group has been a staple of downtown Royal Oak for years, and now it’s going to become a staple of Troy.

The 10-year-old business consultancy purchased a new building in Troy last December with plans to execute a move later this year. The new office is more than twice as large coming in at 10,100 square feet.

"We will be spending the year remodeling the building and moving just before the end of this calendar year," says Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group.

Innovation Learning Group specializes in training and human performance improvement for businesses. It has grown 40 percent over the last year and is looking to add another 15 percent this year. Most of that growth comes from its mobile work.

"Using your tablet or smartphone for learning or doing your job better," Toenniges says.

That increase in work has led to more hiring at Innovative Learning Group. It has hired six people over the last year, including project managers, graphic designers and office managers. It is also looking to hire another three (a consultant, project manager, and sales professional) to add to its current staff of 17 employees.

"We are full up (on space for employees) here in Royal Oak," 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.

Ink Detroit aims to take t-shirt/garment business national

T-shirt companies are a dime a dozen when it comes new business starts. There are low-barriers of entry and lots of people with ideas for clever garment designs.

Ink Detroit is the exception to that rule. The 10-year-old company has its t-shirt designs, such as its trademark "I Love Detroit" brand, in a stores across Michigan. It employs four people after hiring a sales manager last year. And now the company plans to hire a few more people later this year as it looks to take its business national.

So what's the secret to success in such a competitive industry? Experience, according to Ink Detroit's president & owner Steve Mansour. He and his partner have years of experience in fashion and garment industries, and Manour's family has been in the business for a long time. It's the type of inside track that often leaves newcomers in the dust.

"They don't have the network capabilities to get their product into distribution," Mansour says.

So the Royal Oak-based company has grown. Its revenue is up 30 percent over the last year after adding a few new retailers in 2014.

"We're curated in 25 stores locally," Mansour says.

One of those new stores is one in Metro Airport. Its parent company has 145 locations across the country. Mansour hopes to leverage those connections to launch his new Ink City brand later this year in major metro areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Miami. The new brand will be locally specific much like I Love Detroit is today.

"It's pretty much city themed merchandise geared toward those cities," Mansour says.

Ink Detroit is also looking at expanding locally, too. The company is aiming to open a retail location in downtown Detroit later this year.

"We'd like to have a full-time operation there," Mansour says.

Source: Steve Mansour, president & owner of Ink Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Reach Influence scores $5M in VC, aims to add staff

Reach Influence has scored $5 million in seed capital to start off the new year, scoring investments from Detroit Venture Partners and Vineyard Capital Group to lead the round.

The downtown Royal Oak-based startup specializes in helping retailers maximize their sales through analytics gathered from its software. It had previously received an investment from Vineyard Capital Group in 2012, and plans to spend much of 2015 using its newfound seed capital to build on that initial investment's foundation.

"We are leveraging that mainly in people and technology," says Susan Dettloff, marketing director of Reach Influence. "We plan to grow our team this year."

The 5-year-old startup has hired four people over the last year, including analysts and program managers. It currently has a staff of 22 employees and the occasional intern.

Reach Influence provides technical and design services, such as data capture and analysis, to retailers and wholesalers. The startup’s software platform helps its clients measure marketing efficacy, engage shoppers, and provide an outlet to deliver digital offers by collecting daily transaction data.

After Vineyard Capital Group made its initial investment in 2012, Reach Influence’s team spend its time improving its software platform and installing better processes in the business. It rebranded to Reach Influence in 2013 and has been growing the company ever since.

"We have grown our sales quite a bit," Dettloff says. "Every year has been a building year in one way or another."

Source: Susan Dettloff, marketing director of Reach Influence
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Genisys Credit Union expands into Royal Oak with downtown branch

Genisys Credit Union is opening its 24-hour branch in downtown Royal Oak this week, bringing the Auburn Hills-based financial institutional closer to another part of its membership.

"We have wanted to be in Royal Oak for quite some time," says Tom Alter, CMO of Genisys Credit Union. "We have a lot of members who live in Royal Oak and the surrounding communities. We feel it is a thriving community."

The new branch is located at 530 N Main on the northern edge of downtown. Six new people will work at the branch.

The credit union has hired 78 people in 2014 and is currently looking to fill six open positions. It has just under 149,000 members, which is up 3.9 percent over the last year. It has made $300 million in consumer loans in 2014, which is also up 14 percent. The organization’s total assets are up 6 percent to $1.651 billion.

Genisys Credit Union doesn’t plan to open any new branches next year but is in the process of revamping some of its existing ones. It is upgrading its Oxford branch from a storefront to a free-standing building set to open in late January. It is also improving its Waterford branch.

"It's a small branch for us that we need to expand for our members and staff," Alter says.

Source: Tom Alter, CMO of Genisys Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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.
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