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Entrepreneurial engineers score $5K in #hack4detroit

Lots of people like to bike through Detroit, taking in everything from the city's historic neighborhoods to its vast expanses of urban prairie. Now a mobile app exists to aid cyclists discover new routes through the city.

That app came to fruition last weekend during Automation Alley's #hack4detroit hackathon at Grand Circus in downtown Detroit. A couple of tech engineers won $5,000 for creating Ride4Detroit, a mobile app that helps people discover, create, and share bike routes in the city.

Hackathons are usually 1-to-2-day events where techies gather to create new technology from scratch. The #hack4detroit hackathon challenged participants to build a mobile application using the city of Detroit’s new Open Data Portal.

"It was a fun and intense 24 hours that really got our brains working to come up with a solution that would help the city of Detroit," says Abdul Miah, co-founder and principal engineer at rankedHiRe.

Miah and Imran Raja, senior software engineers at MB Financial, created the app that integrates information on existing bike paths in Detroit.

Second place winners included PishPosh.TV founders Ben Duell Fraser and Michael Evans, who is also a senior developer at Loveland Technologies. The third place winner was Jonathan Werber, a developer at Nexient.

Source: Automation Alley
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

S.E.T. Products turns Detroit blight into thriving board-up business

Scott Millman and Justin Comstock both worked in the steel industry until their employer went belly up in 2012. The next logical step for the friends? Start a business that boards up abandoned buildings. They call it S.E.T. Products.

"We saw a need and developed the S.E.T. system," Millman says.

S.E.T. stands for Simple, Effective, Tough. The Farmington Hills-based company makes specialized systems for securing vacant properties that utilize specially made sheets of galvanized steel that fit over windows and doors and are stronger than plywood. The 3-year-old company and its staff of three (it's looking to hire a sales person now) has deployed more than 200 of these systems on vacant properties, primarily in the city of Detroit.

"We can cover any home you can find in the city of Detroit, or anywhere for that matter," Millman says.

The normal S.E.T. system costs between $800 and $1,000 to secure the average bungalow in Detroit. Each project in individually quoted for free. S.E.T. systems are sold to the user, where most comparable systems rent them out.

"It allows the customer to spend less money and put those funds elsewhere," Millman says. "It's also cost competitive with plywood and stronger."

Source: Scott Millman, CEO of S.E.T. Products
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Bmax USA preps to launch new facility in Pontiac

Bmax USA, a subsidiary of a French tech company called I-Pulse, is setting up its North American presence in Pontiac this year.

The global corporation specializes in technology for metal processing that can be utilized by a variety of industries, such as automotive, energy, aerospace, and packaging. It plans to invest $4.3 million into creating a new facility in Pontiac.

"We considered a number of sites, including Columbus, but decided to go with metro Detroit as we have a potential customer base in the region as well as a large catchment area for the engineering, business, and technical staff we will need," says Paul Lester, director of business development for Bmax USA. "We looked at Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties and decided upon Oakland County, which has been incredibly supportive and given us many resources to help our start up and continues to do so."

The investment, which comes with a $250,000 grant from the state of Michigan, is expected to create 26 jobs. The firm expects to create those jobs, and probably more, over the next three years.

"I expect to get to that number very much quicker," Lester says.

Work on the next facility at 777 Enterprise Dr. is about to begin. Lester expects the work to wrap up later this year and the firm to begin moving into its new home by late July.

"We will be finalizing the legal paperwork in the next couple of weeks and some remodeling will take place immediately," Lester says.

Source: Paul Lester, director of business development for Bmax USA
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Vision Institute of Michigan opens second location in Macomb

The Vision Institute of Michigan recently opened its second location in metro Detroit, adding about a dozen new jobs.

The eye-and-ear medical practice has called Sterling Heights home for its first 30 years. It recently opened a new location in Macomb Township at 21932 23 Mile Rd.

"It (the new office) has every piece of technology and equipment that we offer in Sterling Heights," says Mark Berkowitz, partner with the Vision Institute of Michigan. "It was placed there to be more convenient to the people in the area and farther north."

The Vision Institute of Michigan provides eye care, hearing, and cosmetic services. It offers the latest advancements in technology in cataracts, laser, glaucoma, lasik, retina care, hearing instruments and cosmetic services.

The Vision Institute of Michigan opened the Macomb office four months ago. Since then its revenue has jumped 20 percent. It now has 10 of its 80 employees working there with more hires expected to keep up with the growth.

"I think it's going to grow quite significantly over the next 1-2 years," Berkowitz says.

Source: Mark Berkowitz, partner with the Vision Institute of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Troy-based iDashboards hires 30 on heels of global expansion

Troy-based tech firm iDashboards is enjoying rapid growth as the firm's global expansion gains traction.

IDashboards creates business intelligence dashboard software with real-time results. The interactive computer dashboards for businesses analyze, track, and organize data into easily useable parts that help streamline a company and enable it to grow faster.
 
The 12-year-old firm spent its first decade establishing its product in North America. In recent years, it has expanded internationally, adding customers in dozens of countries and a recently opening an office in Germany. iDashboards is planning to open another office in the United Kingdom later this year.

"It's a big world out there," says Shadan Malik, president & CEO of iDashboards. "We have software that is pretty unique. We have customers in 40 countries. That speaks for itself."

IDashboards' revenue grew 18 percent last year, and the company is aiming to spike it by as much as 50 percent this year. That's possible because of its diversified customer base and its efforts to grow globally have gone quite well so far this year.

iDashboards has hired 30 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 90 employees and three interns. It is also looking to hire four more people.

"We just hired five people yesterday," Malik says.

Source: Shadan Malik, president & CEO of iDashboards
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ElimiTix makes fighting traffic tickets easier, cheaper

Ever get a traffic ticket that you know you could beat, but never got around to fighting? A new law firm thinks it can make regrets like that a thing of the past.

ElimiTix is a law firm dedicated to traffic defense representation in metro Detroit. The Southfield-based firm specializes in everything from speeding to suspended licenses to drunken driving.

"We want to simplify the process for people who want to handle their tickets but don’t have the time," says Steven Mamat, who co-founded ElmiTix with Matthew Satovsky.

They also want to help lower the cost of hiring representation in traffic court. It’s not unusual for attorneys to charge a couple hundred bucks to take a speeding ticket case. ElimiTix will handle it for as little as $99. That representation also comes with a mobile app that allows the user to track the progress of their case in court on their smartphone. The firm is also offering a no-points guarantee with its representation.

"Once you hire us you will get your money back if you receive any points," Mamat says.

ElimiTix launched a year ago and now employs four people. The firm currently covers Metro Detroit, but its founders are looking to expand into adjacent areas like Livingston and Washtenaw counties.

Source: Steven Mamat, co-founder of ElmiTix
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Littlite aims for South America for international expansion

Littlite is know for its small, adjustable lights that are used for everything from sound mixers at concerts to first responders in emergencies. Though its products are small, the Hamburg Township-based company is working to significantly grow its footprint this year.

Littlite offers more than 300 types of task lamps that can be used for permanent mounting or temporary purposes. They have long, adjustable arms and small lights that offer bright illumination for specific spaces.

"It started with a console light," says Rhonda Fackert, general manager of Littlite. "That is what it is at its core."

The company's core business has been in the entertainment industry, such as people handling music equipment at concerts and needing small but strong lights to work. Littilite has since expanded its clientele to include public safety workers and healthcare facilities. Its products have become ubiquitous across North America.

The 19-person firm makes the products in America but is now looking to expand its sales abroad. The company recently went on a trade mission to Chile and Colombia with Automation Alley to help facilitate business connections abroad.

"We're trying to get into South America," Fackert says.

Littilite has grown steadily since the recession, notching a few percentage points of revenue growth here and there. Fackert is aiming for 5 percent growth this year as she and her team work to export more of its products.

Source: Rhonda Fackert, general manager of Littlite
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Applied Technology Systems diversifies clientele to grow

Paul Agosta didn't build his business from scratch, but he has worked long and hard for years to build it into what it is today.

Applied Technology Systems was originally called Lab Corp when Agosta started working there more than two decade ago. At the time it made training programs for K-12 schools. Agosta helped expand it to do the same for more customers, such as industrial firms.

"That created enough work for me to buy it from my predecessor (in 2001)," Agosta says.

The Franklin-based firm and its four employees generate revenue from a variety of of sources. Fifteen percent of the firm's revenue comes from industrial firms, 25 percent from K-12 education, and 60 percent from post-secondary education.

"Everything is skill development," Agosta says. "Everything is developing skills for tomorrow’s workforce. There is a renewed focus on career development."

Agosta expects that trend to continue in the near-term, especially now that major local leaders, such as Gov. Rick Snyder, are emphasizing it.

"We want to be the prominent service provider for skills development," Agosta says. "We're getting there. Our name is pretty well-known, but we still need to go further."

Source: Paul Agosta, owner of Applied Technology Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Rochester College launches social entrepreneurship center

Rochester College is launching a Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and is drawing from the local talent pool to lead it.

The small liberal arts college will house the center in its School of Business, offering a social entrepreneurship degree that emphasizes both profit and the public good. The degree is expected to dovetail well with the institution for higher learning's ethos.

"I was impressed with the campus's mission, which is to work on solving a lot of the world's problems," says Jaymes Vettraino, director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Rochester College. "It spoke to me in a way that I felt pretty passionate about."

Vettraino worked as the city manager of Rochester until this week, stepping down to take the job at Rochester College. He worked as an adjunct professor at Rochester College over the last year and has an MBA from Lehigh University.

Rochester College students studying in the Center for Social Entrepreneurship will work on both solving societal problems through commerce and contributing to their communities. Internships emphasizing servant leadership and social justice will be a focus of the Center. They will partner with local businesses, other educational institutions, non-profits, and government entities.

"My first six months is really about relationship building," Vettraino says.

Source: Jaymes Vettraino, director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Rochester College
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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.

Sunscreen Mist adds convenience to sunscreen application

Tony Fayne turned an unfortunate turn of events into a growing business.

The metro Detroit resident had a friend develop skin cancer at age 30, catching him and his circle friends and family off guard.

"It was shocking," Fayne says. "I had no idea you could get cancer that early in life."

That played a significant role in Fayne's inspiration to launch Sunscreen Mist, a startup that makes applying sunscreen quick and easy. The Commerce Township-based company created a sunscreen application system that is part sunscreen spray and part booth.

The users can either step into the booth and be sprayed with a mist of sunscreen or use a spray gun to spritz themselves with sunscreen. Sunscreen Mist’s stations are designed for placement in theme parks, beaches, and poolside at hotels.

"I wanted to bring this to the market to make it so people could easily access sunscreen," Fayne says. "Melanoma is so preventable."

Fayne and Sunscreen Mist’s CEO, Josh Kaplan, recently appeared on the entrepreneur show TV show "Shark Tank" to pitch its product. The 1-year-old company and its staff of six people is just getting started deploying its stations, with 25 being used around the world right now.

Source: Tony Fayne, founder & president of Sunscreen Mist; and Josh Kaplan, CEO of Sunscreen Mist
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

NEXTEP SYSTEMS scores patent for food service tech, adds staff in Troy

NEXTEP SYSTEMS recently received a patent for a foodservice technology that the company's leadership likes to say makes the user feel smarter when they use it.

"Most point-of-sale systems made me feel stupid," says Tommy Woycik, president of NEXTEP SYSTEMS. "I thought, 'Why can't an employee with a little training load a complex order into the system?'"

The 10-year-old company received a patent for its point-of-sale platform that utilizes what the firm is calling a wizard approach. Its menu flow and display only puts the options a user needs on the screen, streamlining the process and simplifying the menu flow so as to minimize the training necessary to use it.

NEXTEP SYSTEMS also makes self-ordering kiosks that allow customers to order their own food or coffee, grab a ticket, and wait for it to come up. It is used everywhere from restaurants to airports to casinos.

Sales of NEXTEP SYSTEMS platforms have steadily increased in recent years, resulting in a three-year, compound-annual growth rate of 36 percent.

"Every year we grow 30-40 percent," Woycik says.

That has enabled the Troy-based firm to continually add employees. It has a staff of 40 and four interns, hiring four people over the last year as software developers, sales professionals, and customer service representatives. NEXTEP is also looking to hire another four people.

With 1,500 installations in the U.S. and adding 150 over the next year, Woycik is optimistic that NEXTEP SYSTEMS will continue to hire and grow at its current rate.

"We're going after larger and larger customers," Woycik says. "We want to go after the largest clients with more than 100 locations."

Source: Tommy Woycik, president of NEXTEP SYSTEMS
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.
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