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Professional Pours capitalizes on beer/wine sampling in grocery stores

Every job created isn't equal. Some pay more, others require certain skills, some are full-time and others are not quite that. Professional Pours has been creating a lot of the latter sort of jobs lately.

The Oak Park-based business provides staff for the wine/beer tasting tables now found in grocery stores. The company provides the staffers with background information on the product and others like it. They work as independent contractors a few hours a week, making $15-$18 per hour.

"This is a great part-time gig for parents, retirees, and students," says Sharlan Douglas, marketing director & co-owner of Professional Pours.

The company was founded four years ago about the same time the state legislature changed the law allowing for free beer, wine and liquor sampling in off-premise (package) establishments. It started out doing these offerings in Kroger stores on weekends between 1-4 p.m. Professional Pours did 900 events in 2012. That went up to 1,100 events last year, and it’s now on track to do 1,400 events.

"Now we're seeing more events on Thursday evening or Friday afternoon," Douglas says.

A vast majority of those are in Kroger, which Douglas points out has been leading the way in pushing the law change and leveraging it to help drive up its sales of craft and high-end alcohol. That has meant more part-time hires. Professional Pours now has a staff of four co-owners and 60 independent contractors, which is six more 1099s than a year ago.

Douglas says the company finds most of its staff through Craigslist ads and referrals. She and her husband (also a co-owner) are active in local theater circles and have brought on a number of local actors to work these tables. She says they pay a higher wage for the part-time work because they need people who will serve as educators about the product and present it in the best light possible. So far the business model is catching on.

"Other retailers are doing this," Douglas says. "Kroger is expanding this into stores that hadn't done sampling before and providing more time for events."

Source: Sharlan Douglas, marketing director & co-owner of Professional Pours
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ka-Ching! develops new easy-to-use instruction technology

Inspiration hit Bill Crose when he was trying to come up with a better way to train hotel workers. At the time he was working as the eLearning development manager for Intercontinental Hotels Group, figuring out the best way to train housekeepers, cooks, and bartenders to do their jobs.

"Really anybody who is doing a step-by-step procedure," Crose says.

That's when the idea for Ka-Ching! popped into his head. He left his job and started working on the Rochester Hills-based startup, a client of the Macomb-OU INCubator. Ka-Ching! is developing Pythia, a training system that audibly streams step-by-step directions through a mobile-headset audio device. It comes with completion-time reports for each step and a patent-pending interface between voice response, text-to-speech, and Wi-Fi technologies to link custom databases to the device.

"Anything that is a task that you don't know how to do can be delivered to you in a step-by-step process," Crose says.

Which means it could be used by businesses and large organizations looking to train employees. It could also be used by consumers who are trying to learn how to cook with certain recipes or people at the gym following a trainer’s routine.

Ka-Ching is currently in the early stages of developing its prototype. Crose expects to work on perfecting the prototype over the next year and have it ready for commercialization in time for the 2015 holiday shopping season.

Source: Bill Crose, CEO of Ka-Ching!
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

CureLauncher secures $500K Series B, signs 4 big clients

CureLauncher has closed on a Series B round of funding worth $500,000.

The Bloomfield Hills-based startup that likes to refer to itself as the Wikipedia of clinical trials also closed on a half-million-dollar Series A last year. The Series B was led by Birmingham-based early stage venture capital firm InkWell.

"It will help us grow fast," says Steve Goldner, chairman & CEO of CureLauncher. "It will add more talent to the team."

CureLauncher's software is a one-stop shop for people looking to participate in clinical trials. Tens of thousands of clinical trials are held in the U.S. each year but they are routinely delayed because of enrollment issues. CureLauncher's database cuts out the delay by connecting sick people with cutting-edge treatments.

"In the last year we have signed worldwide master service agreements with four of the largest pharmaceutical companies and clinical research organizations around the world," Goldner says.

That has allowed CureLauncher to hire five people over the last year, and it's currently looking to hire three more. The relationship managers help prospective patients calling into CureLauncher's offices to find the best clinical trials. The two-year-old startup now has a staff of 14 employees and two summer interns.

Source: Steve Goldner, chairman & CEO of CureLauncher
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Nexlink hires in Auburn Hills on strength of mobile industry

Mobile technology is creeping into more and more parts of the everyday economy and Nexlink Communications is one of the players making that happen sooner rather than later.

The 10-year-old tech firm has doubled its revenue each year. That has allowed it to grow to 200 employees spread between two manufacturing facilities in Minnesota, three offices in Asia, and its headquarters in Auburn Hills. Thirty of its positions are in Auburn Hills, where the company has hired five people in purchasing and sales over the last year.

Today's growth is coming primarily from its business in the mobile sector. That includes supplying new and used mobile devices, software provisioning, carrier services, back-end service and product support.

"We have a bundled solution for companies that are getting into mobile," says Peter Schmidt, director of sales and marketing for Nexlink Communications. "The big areas are healthcare, transportation and hospitality."

For instance, Nexlink Communications will help truck drivers switch their record keeping from hand-written records to elecrtronic records entered on a tablet in the vehicle. Or providing a tablet at a table in a restaurant so patrons can pay without needing the server. In both cases Nexlink Communications supplies a preloaded tablet that can be mounted and used by the workforce or customer.

Source: Peter Schmidt, director of sales & marketing for Nexlink Communications
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Technical Problem Solutions adds staff on growth in work abroad

Paul Rosko has one of those storybook careers in the automotive industry that starts on the factory floor and ends in a management office. However, Rosko's story isn't over yet now that he has his own company, Technical Problem Solutions.

Rosko worked as a machinist in a tool-and-dye shop for 20 years before he worked his way into the management at General Motors. That worked for a little while as Rosko solved technical problems in the corporation. But it didn’t take too long to see the writing on the wall.

"When you get to a certain age at a big company your career aspirations can become limited," Rosko says. "I was 50 and had gone about as far as I could at General Motors."

So he left and started his own consulting company, Technical Problem Solutions, in 2007. The Troy-based firm helps larger companies, primarily in the automotive industry, figure out better ways of doing business. Rosko says he named the company Technical Problem Solutions because that is what he is good at. He didn't realize at the time that the acronym for the firm would be synonymous with the hated reports from the movie Office Space.

"I didn't think about Toyota Production System either," Rosko says. "I wanted to name it something that I could sell in 10-15 years."

Prospects for a sale are looking up these days. Technical Problem Solutions doubled its revenue in 2013 and is on track for 25-50 percent revenue growth this year, thanks to increasing workload abroad.

"We've been doing a lot of work in Russia over the last two years," Rosko says. "That has helped us a great deal as we expand globally."

Technical Problem Solutions now serves markets in Europe and Asia. That has allowed it to hire two people over the last year, expanding its staff to seven employees and about 40 independent contractors.

Source: Paul Rosko, CEO of Technical Problem Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Beet Analytics Technology doubles staffing in Plymouth

Beet Analytics Technology software for manufacturers is gaining traction. The Plymouth-based startup has doubled in size over the last year as its software platform has established itself in the market, and the firm is on target to continue that growth streak.

"If things go as planned we should double our size in the next 6-12 months," says David Wang, CEO of Beet Analytics Technology.

The firm provides diagnostic and analytical tools that accelerate problem solving in complex manufacturing and automation operations. Its software improves problem identification and reduces production downtime so the user can optimize productivity gains.

"The market we are looking at is hidden from everyone," Wang says. "The potential is very, very large. Probably billions of dollars."

The 3-year-old company has landed a couple of contracts with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) from around the world. Beet Analytics Technology now claims to have landed contracts or is in talks to sign with half of the 10 largest OEMs in the world.

"We are on the verge of winning a contract for another large OEM," Wang says.

That has allowed Beet Analytics to more than double its staff over the last year. The firm has hired seven people in senior automotive engineering and intellectual property professionals, expanding its staff to a dozen employees and one intern.

Source: David Wang, CEO of Beet Analytics Technology
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.

RedViking's engineers score awards as firm adds staff

RedViking likes to think of itself as the home to some of the top engineering talent in Metro Detroit. Now it has some hardware to back it up.

Three of the Plymouth-based testing company’s employees (Chris Lake, Greg Giles, and Jason Stefanski) recently were recognized in Plant Engineering's "Engineering Leaders Under 40" class for 2014. The awards recognize up-and-coming talent in the engineering sector of manufacturing.

"Each of those guys has a strong background in engineering," says Randy Brodzik, president & CEO of RedViking. "As we have grown they have grown with us and helped us grow."

The 31-year-old company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Superior Controls, builds testing systems for manufacturers in the automotive, defense, and aerospace industries. The testing systems, which often focus on power train systems, are quite precise and require extensive engineering. RedViking has experienced a significant bump in growth in recent years on the strength of manufacturers, including automotive. Aerospace work has supplied its biggest gains over the last year.

That has allowed RedViking to hire a number of people. The company currently has a staff of about 200 employees and half a dozen interns. It has added 15 jobs (mostly engineers) in the last year and is looking to hire another 10 people right now. Those jobs include engineers, sales, and project managers. The company is holding a job fair at its headquarters (46247 Five Mile Road in Plymouth) between 4-8 p.m. on Oct. 23. More info here.

"One of the things we have been successful at is recruiting strong engineering talent," Brodzik says.

Source: Randy Brodzik, president & CEO of RedViking
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tata Technologies invests in STEM education in Metro Detroit

Tata Technologies is making a significant investment in local STEM education, and it’s not hard to see why after looking at the company’s recent hiring spree.

The Novi-based firm has hired dozens of people over the last year, expanding its staff to 450 people in Metro Detroit. It employs 650 people in the U.S. with a vast majority of them based in Metro Detroit. The company currently has several dozen open positions in Auburn Hills and Novi right now.

"We are currently adding almost a hundred people a year," says Warren Harris, CEO & managing director of Tata Technologies.

And those are mostly engineering positions. Tata Technologies (its parent company is based out of India) specializes in engineering and product development IT services for the manufacturing sector. It employs thousands of people around the world, and choose to set up shop in Metro Detroit in part because of the deep engineering talent pool here.

Which is part of the reason why Tata Technologies recently made a large donation to enrich STEM education in Detroit Public Schools. Tata Technologies, along with the Detroit Lions and the nonprofit group Athletes for Charity, are working to provide more opportunities for Detroit Public School students to learn more in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. The STEM Youth Literacy Program will take place at Clark Preparatory Academy and Dixon Educational Learning Academy.

The donation is part of Tata Technologies's goal of improving STEM education around the world, and to help build up its future engineering talent pool.

"One of the commitments we are making is to build up our engineering talent not only here but around the world," Harris says.

Source: Warren Harris, CEO & managing director of Tata Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Danlaw adds 30 engineering jobs in Novi

Danlaw has enjoyed a healthy sales increase since the end of the Great Recession, including a significant spike over the last year.

The Novi-based firm specializes in automotive-embedded electronics for network communications, infotainment, and telematics. Much of its recent growth has come from connected-vehicle technology work, which enables a car to communicate to other electronic devices around it.

"It has grown a lot in the last few months," says Tom Rzeznik, president of Danlaw. "Our connected-vehicle division has propelled our growth over the last five years."

That equates to an 80-percent revenue increase for the 30-year-old company between 2012 and 2013. It has hired 30 people in Metro Detroit over the last year, with a vast majority of those new hires being engineers. The firm now employs 150 people in the U.S. and 250 abroad in China and India.

Rzeznik says the company is on pace to do similar numbers in the 2013 to 2014 year, which is why it continues to hire.

"We're looking at significant growth this year as well," Rzeznik says.

Source: Tom Rzeznik, president of Danlaw
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Core3 Solutions adds 7 employees, looks to hire 5 more

Core3 Solutions is starting to find its fingers in a few more pies this year, but the digital marketing/IT company is accomplishing this by sticking to its knitting.

"We stick to our core focus," says Paul Chambers, CEO of Core3 Solutions. "There is digital marketing and managed IT. We stick to those two areas."

The Troy-based company recently announced a partnership with the Metro Detroit-based Custom Sock Shop to launch Random Socks, a sock-delivery service. Random Socks will ship random selected pairs of socks to its subscribers each month. The new venture prides itself on the randomness and affordability of the monthly service.

Core3 Solutions became a part of Random Socks by exchanging part of the cost of its services for a stake in the new venture. So the firm's focus on digital marketing and managed IT remains the same, but has led it to some new business opportunities.

"Our client base has continued to expand," Chambers says. "It's why we have added staff."

The 17-year-old business is also rebranding itself in a way. It has rebranded its IT division as Detroit IT and is gearing up to rebrand its digital marketing division. The company has hired seven people in the last year, including new positions in digital marketing and IT. It is also looking to hire another five people now. Its staff currently stands at 15 employees and an intern.

Source: Paul Chambers, CEO of Core3 Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Orion Test Systems hires 6 as it expands globally

Orion Test Systems crossed a major milestone in the last year. The 10-year-old automotive testing company watched its revenue spike 25 percent over the last year, hitting a new plateau.

"We went from $8 million to $10 million," says Bob Rogers, account manager for Orion Test Systems.

The Auburn Hills-based company specializes in advanced engineering services. Specifically, it does life test and end-of-line test systems for electronic and mechatronic devices for customers in a wide range of industries, but a majority of its work is in the automotive sector.

Driving a large part of Orion Test Systems's new growth is its global expansion, finding new clients in Europe and Asia. The company now has 75 employees, 15 of which are based abroad. The firm has also hired six people for its executive team and also for account management, design, and electrical engineering. It also has a couple of job openings now.

"We're going to continue to grow this business," Rogers says. "We want to become a global leader in test equipment."

Source: Bob Rogers, account manager for Orion Test Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

New executive team positions Tegrit for growth in IT, software

There is a new leadership team in charge of Tegrit, and the company has its eyes set on some significant growth.

The Livonia-based firm had made a name for itself in software, specifically from software/IT services for the pension industry. Some of its marquee clients include the Municipal Employees Retirement System of Michigan, and the pension fund for Fresno County in California.

"We built ourselves up from $8 million from almost exclusively pension software," says Jeff Adair, COO of Tegrit.

Adair is part of a new trio of executives that has taken the reigns of the company this summer. He and Christian Curtis (the CTO) have worked at Tegrit for several years in leadership positions. They helped bring in Timothy McClure as the new CEO. He comes in with 10 new hires over the last year, all in IT positions. The firm now has a staff of 50 employees and four interns.

The new leadership team is aiming to grow the company's current tech focus. The firm is looking to expand its focus to other IT and software sectors to help diversify its customer base and grow its bottom line.

"We're looking to get a beachhead in new markets," Adair says. "Our objective is to become known as more than just pension software."

Source: Jeff Adair, COO of Tegrit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

State Champs Sports Network adds 12 new hires

State Champs Sports Network has come a long way in its first 10 years.

The Southfield-based company got its start when Lou Bitonti was working at Chrysler managing the Jeep brand. Shortly after he left he started the high-school sports-centric broadcast company as a way to highlight Michigan’s emerging highlights.

"I wanted a show that focuses on all of the sports," Bitonti says. "The kid that runs cross country or does swimming does as much as the kids that play football or basketball."

State Champs Sports Network broadcasts local sports and feature TV shows, series, programming, and radio shows. Among its offerings are the State Champs! High School Sports Show, a weekly, half-hour TV program providing a comprehensive look at the athletic events, lives and accomplishments of Michigan’s high school athletes.

Starting last month, State Champs Sports Network launched a radio program, called High School Football Report, that airs weekly on CBS Detroit’s WXYT-AM 1270 from 9 to 11 a.m. each Saturday. The company also expanded its audience when its four-time Emmy-award-winning High School Sports Show! began airing on FOX Sports Detroit each Sunday from 9 to 9:30 a.m. It is also debuting a new television program called Extra Point Football Show! on WXYZ-TV Channel 7. It will air weekly each Sunday during the area’s high school football season for 10 weeks.

"We just started growing and we have a lot of shows," Bitonti says.

All of this new programing has prompted a hiring spree at State Champs Sports Network. The company has hired a dozen people over the last year. It now has 14 full-time employees and another 15-20 independent contractors.

"We're spreading the word out there," Bitonti says. "We're trying to keep this on a positive note. There are a lot of positive things happening in Michigan."

Source: Lou Bitonti, founder of State Champs Sports Network
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Munetrix hits triple-digit growth as software distribution spreads

Munetrix is starting to hit some significant numbers when it comes to revenue.

The Auburn Hills-based firm, a client of the Macomb-OU INCubator, is running at 170-percent annual compound growth. That bump in sales comes from the 4-year-old firm's expansion of its municipal transparency software platform. It went from selling it just in Michigan to expanding into Pennsylvania and Florida. Munetrix plans to be in a dozen states by the end of next year.

"Now it's a matter of delivering and executing," says Bob Kittle, president & CEO of Munetrix.

Munetrix's software platform makes local municipalities more transparent and information from them more accessible. The platform incorporates social media, web-based financial tools and database management.

Munetrix hired one new person earlier this year, expanding its staff to four people, and is in the process of hiring another one. It also received $34,000 in seed capital from the state of Michigan's Business Accelerator Fund earlier this summer. The funding will help Munetrix conduct a brand and market analysis, develop an intellectual property plan and create a detailed, investor-focused presentation to support company goals.

"It's for help taking the company to the next level and to create jobs," Kittle says.

Source: Bob Kittle, president & CEO of Munetrix
Writer: Jon Zemke

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