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Livio Radio co-founders launch new tech venture, Tome

Fresh off a successful exit of tech startup Livio, co-founders Jake Sigal and Massimo Baldini are at it again, launching a new venture called Tome out of Ferndale.

"People like to say we're like an old married couple when it comes to business," Sigal says.

Sigal is shy to describe Tome in too much detail but would say its technology is focused on the "Internet of things," a newer term used to describe the movement to connect the power of the Internet with tangible objects. Specifically, Sigal says Tome’s principal product aims to merge mobile apps, devices and services.

"We're looking at the larger issues in the tech industry," Sigal says.

Sigal and Baldini launched Livio Radio in Ferndale, making physical radios that could play Internet radio stations in the late 2000s. The startup evolved to creating software that connected mobile devices with automobiles. Ford acquired the startup, later rebranded as just Livio, last year. Sigal and Baldini left the company soon after but stay connected with its staff and progress.

"We're excited about what Ford is doing with it now," Sigal says.

Tome now has a staff of three people after launching in April. Sigal says it's in "stealth mode" but he did describe it as a non-automotive play that focuses on software. The pair raised a $250,000 angel round that closed in June.

"Our mission right now is to build the right team and the right product," Sigal says.

Source: Jake Sigal, co-founder & CEO of Tome
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Canine To Five looks for larger Ferndale space

Canine To Five is starting its second year at its new location in Ferndale and is looking for a bigger space to help accommodate its success.

The dog daycare business, which got its start in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood, opened its second location in Ferndale last year. It now takes care of 60 dogs a day there. It took the company several years to reach that number at its Detroit location.

Canine To Five currently employs 15 people at its Ferndale digs and is looking for a bigger location to accommodate its growing pack of customers. "When I find the perfect building, I'll know," says Liz Blondy, owner of Canine To Five.

The business got its start on Cass Avenue just south of Martin Luther King Boulevard in Detroit in 2005. Back then the rebranding of the old Cass Corridor as Midtown was just beginning and dog boarding was a relatively new idea to the market. Today it employs 45 people, mostly in Detroit, and expects to hire another four or five this year.

Blondy says her business has proven popular in the suburbs, especially with people who don't often frequent the inner city. She is considering opening another location in the suburbs in the not-too-distant future to take advantage of that demand but isn’t actively moving toward doing that this year.

"At this time it's not a serious consideration but if a great opportunity comes up I will consider it," Blondy says.

Source: Liz Blondy, owner of Canine To Five
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ePrize becomes HelloWorld, hires 50 people

What was once ePrize is now HelloWorld. It's the same tech firm based in Pleasant Ridge, just bigger and looking to grow more.

"It's a culmination of the last few years," says Matt Wise, CEO of HelloWorld. "We started to pivot the business three years ago; ePrize was a great name when it was just a promotions company."
 
Catterton Partners, a private-equity firm, acquired what is now HelloWorld three years ago. The acquisition was the culmination to what became the poster child of local startup success stories. The firm's founder, Josh Linkner, went on to co-found the high-profile Detroit Venture Partners with Dan Gilbert while the now 15-year-old firm continued to grow.

Wise explains that HelloWorld is a more fitting name for the company as it currently stands. The firm got its start as a digital promotions firm. Today its software platform is more comprehensive and focuses on enabling brands to connect with consumers through a variety of different experiences. Among those new avenues are mobile marketing, live-event activation, in-store activation and loyalty programs.

"We build software applications that help people connect with the brand," Wise says.

HelloWorld has also been growing rapidly. The firm has hired 50 people over the last year, mostly software developers, operations and sales personnel. It now employs 440 people and is looking to hire another 12 people in sales, operations and software development.

Source: Matt Wise, CEO of HelloWorld
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ford acquires Internet radio startup Livio

Ford has acquired Livio, the tech startup based in Ferndale. The terms of the deal were not released.

Livio, formerly Livio Radio, got its start making Internet radios. It has since evolved to make software that enhances in-car connectivity between the vehicle and the electronics its passengers use. Ford plans to allow the startup to keep traveling down its current path, leaving its staff intact at its home in Ferndale.

"It's a win not just for our staff but for entrepreneurs all over southeast Michigan," says Jake Sigal, CEO of Livio.

He adds that his startup's "plans haven't changed" after the acquisition, which includes continuing its hiring. It currently has four positions open for software developers (more info on those positions here) on top of its staff of 11 employees, four independent contractors and a few interns.

Livio also plans to continue working to set the bar in its sector by developing new intellectual property and products. "I can guarantee we will always come out with new stuff," Sigal says.

Source: Jake Sigal, CEO of Livio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Livio hires 4 in Ferndale, looks to hire 4 more

Livio is looking for a few good entrepreneurs to come to work in Ferndale.

The tech start-up has four job openings for software engineers, and it's looking for people with an entrepreneurial mindset to fill those positions. Why would someone with entrepreneurial ambitions want to go work for someone else? Jake Sigal, Livio's CEO, explains that his company is looking more for someone with "an entrepreneurial attitude about software engineering."

"We look for problem-solving skills rather than expertise," Sigal says. He adds that other qualities Livio is looking for are software developers who are so passionate about coding that they do it in their free time. The company also wants people who can thrive on finding innovative solutions and can work without a lot of direction.

Livio has already hired four software engineers over the last year, expanding its staff to 15 employees and two interns.

Sigal started the company in 2008 as Livio Radio, making radios that could play Internet music websites like Pandora. It has evolved since then to include Livio Connect, which helps stream Internet radio, and other apps, from smart phones to an automobile's sound system. The company is currently working on a new platform called Livio Car Keys that Sigal describes as a platform serving as a marketplace for automobiles and mobile apps.

Livio has continued to grow over the last year, thanks mainly to what Sigal describes as the company's ability to pivot and turn around products quickly. That sort of nimbleness is thanks to the start-up's entrepreneurial culture, which is what Sigal wants to maintain with this latest round of new hires.

Source: Jake Sigal, CEO & founder of Livio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ZeroBase cuts ribbon to new HQ in Ferndale

ZeroBase is cutting the ribbon to its new headquarters in Ferndale today, a move that is helping accommodate the alternative energy start-up's rapid growth.

ZeroBase, formerly ZeroBase Energy, makes solar-powered off-grid systems designed to be used in remote areas. The 4-year-old company landed a large contract with the U.S. Army, which allowed it to begin making its products in earnest late last year.

The company has since expanded its team from three employees to 14 employees and three interns to meet the demand for its products. That growth prompted the company to move from its 500 square feet of space in TechTown to 3,000 square feet in Ferndale.

"We didn't have a lot of space," says Michelle Klassen, power product specialist for ZeroBase. "We were piled on top of each other."

The new space in Ferndale gives the ZeroBase team some elbow room to continue its work. The company is focusing on pilot projects for commercial customers for the rest of this year, such as providing its mobile alternative energy products to rural areas in African countries.

The new headquarters, which includes space for offices and lab work, will help accelerate the time to develop a successful pilot to half a year or less. Plus, the new space will provide close proximity to local companies and organizations that might be interested in doing business with ZeroBase in one way or another.

"It (the new location) is mainly about community development," Klassen says. "We want to be in a location where we can reach out to local businesses."

Source: Michelle Klassen, power product specialist for ZeroBase
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LithFire-X finds niche with energy storage fire suppression technology

LithFire-X is an example of a start-up that didn't flourish, but needed to evolve before flourishing.

The Ferndale-based company got its start creating fire-suppression technology for electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries. The founding partners took the prototypes of its technology to automotive dealerships and automakers and got nowhere. The 1-year-old company then landed a contract from the EPA to develop a fire-suppression system so it could test lithium-ion batteries.

"That gave us enough to continue," says Gerald Ford, parter at LithFire-X.

Today LithFire-X, which is also a client of TechTown and Automation Alley, is creating fire suppression projects for energy storage devices. The two-person firm has patents pending for its technology. Energy storage devices are becoming increasingly popular because they allow firms to store energy created during off-peak hours, such as the middle of the night, to be used during peak energy-use times during the work day.

LithFire-X now has a number of local clients and is gearing up to hit seven figures' worth of revenue within the next year.

"We believe we are at a break-out stage," Ford says.


Source: Gerald Ford, parter at LithFire-X
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Wallpaper Co puts avant-garde spin on wallpaper

First came Great Wall Custom Coverings. Next came the Detroit Wallpaper Co, which has accelerated the growth of the Ferndale-based company.

Josh Young and Andi Kubacki started Great Wall Custom Coverings nearly a decade ago, providing custom wall paper projects that were as eclectic as their imaginations and those of their customers. They began scaling that sort of creativity last fall with the Detroit Wallpaper Co, which sells the pair's popular avant-garde wallpaper designs utilizing non-toxic and environmentally friendly supplies.

Some of those designs include patterns they are labeling as "Botanicals" (think flowers and plant patterns), "Wallgazer" (self-described as a "marriage between high concept and functional design") and "Wander Walls" (images that bring far-away locales to mind). All 63 different designs are colorful, contemporary and probably like nothing you have seen on a wall before.

"It's really a commentary on our society," Young says. "What we're really interested in is technology, music. We have a lot of pop-culture references in our designs."

The two companies employ eight people between them after hiring one person over the last year. The rising demand for Detroit Wallpaper Co's products are driving the growth in the company right now.

"It's quickly growing," Young says. "It's beginning to eclipse Great Wall already."

Source: Josh Young, co-owner of Detroit Wallpaper Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Search Optics hires 30-plus workers in Ferndale

When Search Optics went looking for a place to set up shop in the eastern half of the U.S. to take advantage of the automotive Internet marketing space, no place made as much sense as Metro Detroit.

"The people in Detroit are intrinsically tuned to what's going on in the automotive industry," says Christian Fuller, executive vice president of Search Optics. "Everybody bleeds a little oil here."

The San Diego-based company now has more workers in its growing downtown Ferndale office than its west coast home and Toronto satellite office. Search Optics opened its office in downtown Ferndale two years ago and it now has 55 employees and a couple of interns there.

It has hired more than 30 people over the last year, prompting it to expand its space. It currently operates out of the first floor of a loft-style office and is building out the second floor of the building to accommodate its growing staff. Fuller expects the Detroit office to grow to 100 people within the next year.

"In the last year we have almost doubled our business," Fuller says. "We have been absolutely elated with the quality of people who have filled positions here in Detroit."

Source: Christian Fuller, executive vice president of Search Optics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Boutique advertising agency Driven Ferndale adds 4 jobs

Four friends worked in the marketing world of Metro Detroit's automotive sector for years and years and then decided they wanted something more. So they started Driven Ferndale eight years ago and haven't looked back.

"We saw the need to break off and build a better mouse trap," says Kevin Woods, one of the co-founders and COO of Driven Ferndale.

The Ferndale-based business prides itself on being a boutique marketing agency with the capability of doing the big things that the major players do. Its secret sauce is its nimbleness and creativity, which has allowed it to grow its bottom line by 20 percent this year. The company has also hired four people over the last 12 months, expanding its staff to 20 employees and three interns.

"We have been taking on bigger agencies more effectively," Woods says, comparing his small business to a local credit union taking on a national bank.

Driven Ferndale has done that well in 2012, signing a few national accounts, including Super Stroke, a putter grip for golfers. Woods expects his company to continue to sign more clients with a national reach this year, which should help his firm double its business.

Source: Kevin Woods, COO of Driven Ferndale
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Allied Printing to improve technology, change ownership

Allied Printing is shifting its growing business in Ferndale from its longtime owners to a small group of longtime employees, including the transfer from father to daughter.

Paul Zimmer and Robert Straub are transitioning the 60-year-old business' ownership to Dave Bader, Margaret Fitzgerald, Elly Chichester, Tony Pelc, Jill Straub and Greg Balan over the rest of this decade. For Jill Straub, daughter of Robert Straub, taking over ownership fulfills a longtime goal of hers since joining the company after she graduated from Michigan State University in 2002.

"This is pretty much all I have known and what I wanted to do," says Jill Straub, sales executive for Allied Printing.

Allied Printing
has grown from 12 employees and one building in 1971 to 95 employees and the occasional intern in four buildings that cover 100,000 square feet of warehouse, production and corporate office space. It has hired a handful of people over the last year, mainly in its digital department.

Allied Printing
is a full-service printing company that specializes in digital printing, packaging, direct mail, program management, fulfillment, and web-based marketing services. The company has experience 11-percent revenue growth in 2012, thanks to investments it has made in technology for its printing and e-commerce services.

"We'd like to see the next few years follow that growth pattern," Jill Straub says. "We'd like to improve our technology to increase the demand so that people will want to come to us."

Source: Jill Straub, sales executive for Allied Printing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tech firm ePrize acquires Silicon Valley start-up, hires 60

Pleasant Ridge-based ePrize has acquired Mozes, a Silicon Valley-based start-up that specializes in mobile technology. The acquisition is the third in 18 months for ePrize, and more are on the horizon for the digital engagement software firm.

"We have a number of acquisitions targeted," says Matt Wise, CEO of ePrize.

Mozes' technology engages live audiences at concerts, sporting events and in television broadcast through social and location-based experiences, making it an attractive target for ePrize's efforts to expand its mobile capabilities. The 14-year-old firm (ePrize) plans to retain Mozes' staff and offices in Palo Alto and Nashville but will absorb the Mozes brand into its own operations.

Catterton Partners, a private-equity firm, acquired ePrize last year. That allowed the tech company to hire 60 people in the last year, expanding its staff to more than 400 employes and about 20 interns.

"It's been a great success story and we look forward to continuing that in the future," Wise says.

Source: Matt Wise, CEO of ePrize
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ferndale couple preps to launch Don Lucho Taco Truck

Luis and Sara Mendez once lived in Mexico until they saw opportunity in Detroit. That's when they moved to Ferndale and are now getting ready to launch their own food-truck business, Don Lucho Taco Truck and Salsa.

The couple had already been selling their own salsa when they decided they wanted to take it a step further this year. They recently graduated from D:hive's BUILD program, an initiative that teaches aspiring entrepreneurs the basics of launching a business. They are now looking to launch the food truck this spring to give their food business a foothold.

"Spring is the time because it's warm and everybody wants to be outside," Luis Mendez says.

The Mendez family was originally looking at opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Ferndale but decided to go the food truck route because it offers a better entry point for their business. They plan to cook authentic Mexican food with vegan and vegetarian options.

"We found a taco truck is more versatile than an actual restaurant," Luis Mendez says.

Source: Luis Mendez, co-owner of Don Lucho Taco Truck and Salsa
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ePrize hires 140 people, mostly at Pleasant Ridge HQ

Pleasant Ridge-based ePrize has added 140 new jobs over the last year, the lion's share of which are in its Oakland County headquarters. The tech firm also has 25 open positions that it's looking to fill at an open house today.

The technology meet and greet will feature the latest in what the digital engagement software firm has to offer. It's also looking to attract people to become the newest members of the company's team, including professionals who specialize in software engineering, quality assurance, front-end web development, technical project management and systems support.

"We're expecting to do a lot more hiring in this area in 2013," says Sarah Sheffer, a corporate recruiter for ePrize. "We're hoping to find a few good employees."

The 13-year-old company was founded by Josh Linkner, the current CEO of Detroit Venture Partners, in 1999. It has since grown to 425 people and 20 summer interns. Of those employees, 320 work in Pleasant Ridge. Catterton Partners, a Connecticut-based private-equity firm, acquired ePrize earlier this year.

Shortly after that ePrize spun out LevelEleven, a tech start-up that creates a sales force mobile app. The venture-backed start-up now calls the M@dison Building home and is hiring. The executives behind ePrize are looking to do more of that and are hoping attractive more software talent will help push that along in 2013. The company expects to hire another 50-100 people next year.

"The lion's share of these hires would be in Pleasant Ridge," says Mark Schell, senior director of talent for ePrize.

Source: Mark Schell, senior director of talent for ePrize and Sarah Sheffer, a corporate recruiter for ePrize
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Livio Radio win at Automation Alley showcases region's innovative side

To Jake Sigal, his company's win at the Automation Alley's 12th Annual Awards Gala didn't speak to his start-up's strengths as much as what's possible in the region.

Sigal, founder & CEO of Livio Radio, was named Entrepreneur of the Year. Sigal started the Internet radio start-up n 2008 with a $10,000 loan from his parents. He turned that fledgling start-up into a venture-backed company based in Ferndale and one of the leaders in the automotive Internet radio sector.
 
"That's a message for the entire southeast Michigan area that innovation can come from anywhere," Sigal says. "We're proud of that."

Among the other winners at the gala were:

Automation Alley Member of the Year: Laura Oliveto, senior vice president for business development at Troy-based Basso Design Group

Technology Company of the Year: GalaxE.Solutions in downtown Detroit
 
Global Trader of the Year: Dan Kocks, CEO of Grand Blanc-based Global Impact Group
 
Educational Program of the Year: Fifth Core World Language & Culture Program at Oxford Community Schools

Source: Jake Sigal, founder & CEO of Livio Radio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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