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ACS opens office in Troy to leverage growing auto sector

The three letters that announce ACS imay not be well known in Metro Detroit but the company hopes to become increasingly visible over the next year or two.

The testing company opened a new office in Troy, ACS Michigan, to attract more clientele from the automotive industry. The two-person office has already landed some work with Tier 1 automotive suppliers and is looking to expand on that.

ACS services the engine- and vehicle-testing markets, making its mark in the heavy industrial and diesel markets. It specializes in the design, construction management, integration, and commissioning of development and production test facilities for engine, vehicle manufacturers. Some of its primary customers are Caterpillar, Cummins, John Deere, and MTU America.

"That space has given us enough space for some significant growth," says Chris Arnold, managing director of ACS Michigan.

ACS Michigan hopes to replicate that success with the automotive industry. It is currently doing work with the likes of Daimler, MAHLE and Umicore.

"We want to take the same delivery methods we used for diesel and use it with automotive," Arnold says.

Source: Chris Arnold, managing director of ACS Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Delphinus expands staff as it preps to commercialize tech

Delphinus Medical Technologies is aiming to hit a trifecta of growth for a bio-tech startup this year. The Plymouth-based firm has added a new board member, hired a few new employees and is making preparations to raise more venture capital as it closes in on commercializing its technology.

The Wayne State University spin-out’s principal technology is being branded as SoftVue, a platform that helps detect breast cancer by submerging the patient in a tub so as to get a more complete picture of the breast. Delphinus Medical Technologies refers to it as a "whole breast ultrasound tomography system." The company received its first FDA clearance last December is is aiming to come to market in the first quarter of next year.

"We're in the final stages," says Mark Morsefield, CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies.

To help get it there, the company has hired four people over the last year. It now has a staff of 30 employees and five interns. It's currently looking to hire seven more people, primarily technicians and clinical managers.

Delphinus Medical Technologies is also starting to prepare to raise a Series C round of venture capital. The exact amount hasn't been determined but Morsefield did indicate it would be in the millions of dollars. Delphinus Medical Technologies raised $11 million in a Series B last year and $12 million in a Series A round in 2010.

Delphinus Medical Technologies has also added Ronald Ho to its board of advisors. Ho served as president and CEO of U-Systems, developer of the somo•V automated whole breast ultrasound system. U-Systems achieved the first and only FDA approval for a breast ultrasound screening indication and was subsequently acquired by GE Healthcare. Ho will play an active advisory and consulting role in the company.

Source: Mark Morsefield, CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Clark Hill expands Birmingham office with 4 new hires

About a year ago, New Republic magazine ran an issue entitled "The End of Big Law" that basically said the days of huge corporate law offices were numbered in an industry that had too many lawyers. One could forgive the partners at Clark Hill if they didn’t bother to read it.

The Detroit-based law firm has grown its practice exponentially in the last decade. It went from 100 attorneys to 300 today. It recently added 16 new attorneys in Metro Detroit over the last year, including four in its Birmingham office. All of that new talent is helping facilitate a growing practice.

"We have been able to grow our client work because we have been able to add more expertise to the services we offer," says Don Lee, chief marketing officer of Clark Hill.

Clark Hill has been in Michigan since its founding in the late 19th Century. It grew up serving the rapid ascent of manufacturing in the Midwest in the 20th Century. Its recent growth has come from added work in the manufacturing sector, along with more clients in the finance and banking sectors.

That allowed it to add staff not only in Birmingham, which has 47 attorneys, but also downtown Detroit. It’s Motor City location has added 12 attorneys, expanding its staff there to 120 people.

Source: Don Lee, chief marketing officer of Clark Hill
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Prime Office Innovations grows helping firms go digital

Moving the paper trail to the digital age seems like a job that should be been completed over the last decade. That turns out not to be the case as is evidenced by Prime Office Innovations' growth.

The Macomb Township-based company has been helping business digitize their paper trail for 12 years. Prime Office Innovations likes to say that it "helps companies move from print to possibility" when it comes to digitization. It’s a harder sell at times than one would think.

"You still have diehards who want to have paper in their hands," says Kevin Macklem, co-owner of Prime Office Innovations.

Converting those die-hards has turned into an increasingly profitable business model for Macklem and his team. The company has hired three people over the last year, including two new technicians and one new sales professional. The company now has a staff of 14 employees and two interns and is looking to hire a new business development manager.

Prompting that hiring spike is double-digit gains for the company. Both its revenue and its profits are up by more than 10 percent in the last year.

"The challenges (of the recent recession) are behind us now," Macklem says. "I'm seeing more spending in the manufacturing sector, automotive supplier spending specifically."

Source: Kevin Macklem, co-owner of Prime Office Innovations
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Aqaba Technologies moves growing client base toward mobile

Aqaba Technologies isn't just a company. It's its clientele.

The 10-year-old firm has grown its client base to 200 organizations, including the addition of 40 new customers over the last year. That enabled the Sterling Height-based business to add a new digital marketing professional, expanding its staff to six employees and an intern.

"We're still going strong," says Ramsey Sweis, CEO of Aqaba Technologies. "We had our bumps along the way because of the economy but we’re still strong because of our client base. We’re in growth mode now."

Aqaba Technologies is moving those customers toward mobile. Today about the two thirds of the digital marketing firm’s work revolves around mobile app, mobile web apps, and mobile marketing.

"The mobile part has just taken off," Sweis says.

Aqaba Technologies became a Google Certified Partner about two years ago. That training opened the door for it to perfect its mobile strategies for its clients across the spectrum, ranging from experience mobile users to mobile novices.

Source: Ramsey Sweis, CEO of Aqaba Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tebis America hires in Troy, moves to smaller office

Tebis America did something most growing companies don't do. It moved to a smaller office.

The North American arm of German-based Tebis specializes in providing 3D CAD/CAM software systems for manufacturers the automotive and aerospace industries. Its software organizes CAD/CAM process chains for manufacturers.

The 30-year-old parent company set up shop in Troy in 1995. Today it employs 15 people after hiring three new staffers over the last year. The new hires include a sales manager and technical staff. It's also looking to hire a new sales professional and someone in software support.

Despite this growth, Tebis America's thoughts its old home in Troy (which was attached to a light industrial building) was too large. A change in ownership there prompted it to scoot on over to 400 E Big Beaver, which is a bit smaller in square footage.

"The new location is just an office (with no adjacent industrial buildings)," says Gerardo Mueller, president of Tebis America. "It's a more attractive location on Big Beaver."

Source: Gerardo Mueller, president of Tebis America
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Local startups score at Social Entrepreneurship Challenge

Sixty thousand dollars in prizes went to nearly a dozen socially entrepreneurial startups competing in the Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. Most of that money went to companies and entrepreneurs from Metro Detroit addressing chronic unemployment and at-risk youth unemployment.

The prize money went out in four-figure chunks to the start-ups, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. Often that sort of cash injection can mean the difference between mission focus and chaos for a fledgling startup.

"It helps the entrepreneur take their mind off the short-term cash-flow issues and onto longterm planning," says Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps, which organized the business plan competition.

Among the Metro Detroit-based winners were City Girls Soap, which won the Women Rock prize. City Girls Soap makes hand-crafted body soap, lotion and laundry flakes from goats milk, taking advantage of the urban farming communities in Detroit and Pontiac. City Girls Soap plans to provide jobs for young people in Pontiac, starting off with summer employment.

The two-person operation is currently moving its production from Berkley to Pontiac. The company plans to hire 1-2 people (primarily youth in urban communities) before the end of this year. It plans to invest the $2,500 it won at the Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge in equipment to increase production.

"We're going to use it to build out our production facility, like buy a freezer," says Amy McIntire, co-founder of City Girls Soap.

The Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge aims to help foster social entrepreneurship across Michigan. It culminated with the Social Entrepreneurship Showcase last week, which went out of its way to help cultivate impact investors. Impact investors are high-net-worth individuals who make investments with the idea of creating a social impact and a profit.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps and Amy McIntire, co-founder of City Girls Soap
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

HBR Labs launches VeriShow online collaboration tool

HBR Labs is promoting its new VeriShow technology this summer, positioning its online collaboration software to become a fixture with high-end retailers.

The Farmington Hills-based tech company's platform is designed to connect companies and customers online quickly and painlessly. VeriShow provides spontaneous video conferencing, chat, and assistance by simply clicking on the “Live Help” button between customers and customer service representatives.

"It's designed to allow any company that needs to engage customers to do so instantly," says Yuval Moed, CEO of HBR Labs.

The 7-year-old company is focusing on selling to high-end retailers in the car dealership, real-estate, fashion and banking industries. HBR Labs created the multimedia software platform 18 months ago but is ramping up its marketing of the product now that it has worked the bugs out of it.

"We perfected the technology so it's now a pleasure for everyone to use," Moed says.

HBR Labs employs a staff of eight people after hiring one new person (a quality control professional) over the last year. It currently has open positions for two sales professionals to help market and sell VeriShow.

Source: Yuval Moed, CEO of HBR Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Immigration law firm Fragomen adds to Troy office staff

The Metro Detroit office for Fragomen is growing nicely along with the national economy and local automotive industry rebound.

The immigration law firm (formally known as Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy) is based in New York City but has a growing satellite office in Troy. It now stands at 15 people after making two hires over the last year. It is now looking for a senior paralegal.

"We are probably going to add more (staff)," says Alexandra LaCombe, managing partner of the Troy office for Fragomen. LaCombe was recently named the managing partner of the Troy office. She started as a senior attorney at the office 14 years ago.

Fragomen handles immigration law for a broad range of clients in the Metro Detroit office. Those include a number of automotive firms (two of the Big 3 are represented by the Troy office), local institutions of higher education, and financial firms.

"A lot of our clients are bringing a lot of work in-house while before they would use contractors," LaCombe says. "As they grow, we grow."

LaCombe plans to cement Fragomen’s position as a leader in immigration law during her tenure as managing partner of the Troy office.

"We want to make sure that if anybody needs any immigration expertise, they come to us first," LaCombe says.

Source: Alexandra LaCombe, managing partner of Fragomen's Troy office
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Katz Law Firm opens small biz practice in downtown Birmingham

Donald Katz has been practicing business law for a long time. He recently worked as tax counsel for the combat systems group at General Dynamics and held a similar position at Miller Canfield before that. Today he is celebrating the first anniversary of his own practice, The Katz Law Firm.

"I wanted to do it on my own," Katz says. "I got sick of working for other people."

The downtown Birmingham-based practice focuses on providing law services and counsel for small businesses. Think legal and tax issues arising from the ownership and operation of small- and medium-size businesses, specifically in family-owned and closely-held businesses. It was a natural fit for an attorney who spent 14 years helping other people build their businesses.

"This has always been my focus," Katz says.

The Katz Law Firm recently launched a program to provide legal services to socially-conscious business ventures. The program waives the legal fees for investors and entrepreneurs setting up a low-profit limited liability company, commonly known as an L3C.

"It's a new type of entity in the corporate landscape," Katz says. "It's supposed to get socially-conscious entrepreneurs interested in forming their own entity." He adds, "It's the perfect avenue for certain type of entrepreneurial ventures."

Katz hopes to help about half a dozen L3Cs form and get established over the next year.

Source: Donald Katz, managing member of The Katz Law Firm
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MMS Holdings launches science internship at Wayne State

MMS Holdings is helping beef up the talent pipeline in Metro Detroit with the creation of a science internship program at Wayne State University.

The Canton-based clinical research organization specializes in regulatory submission support in the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device industries. For the company, filling the local talent pipeline with more STEM graduates does nothing but help its bottom line.

"It's a good way to collaborate with the university so we have a healthy pipeline of college graduates," says Prasad Koppolu, vice president of MMS Holdings.

The Broadening Experience in Scientific Training program will focus on providing workplace opportunities at MMS Holdings for graduate students in the scientific fields from Wayne State University. These paid positions will focus on the areas of regulatory operations, medical writing, data management, clinical programming, and pharmacovigilance. The hope is these internships will open doors to a growing number of opportunities in the scientific research realm.

MMS Holdings has a staff of 500 people globally (including 80 in Metro Detroit) that primarily work on regulatory submissions for drug development. It has completed 45 new drug development applications in its seven years. The company has hired about 15 people over the last year, including positions in medical writing and clinical programing. It currently has two summer interns from the Broadening Experience in Scientific Training program, and is looking at adding co-op students to the program.

"Each year we could have around six people," Koppolu says.

Source: Prasad Koppolu, vice president of MMS Holdings
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Northville's Kona Running Co. plans to expand in Canton

The Kona Running Co. is expanding across Wayne County over the next few years. The Northville-based racing company is in the process of opening a specialty running store in Canton. The opening date is set for this October.

"I have been thinking about this for two years," says Alan Whitehead, president & owner of Kona Running Co. "It's a natural step for us."

Whitehead opened the Kona Running Co. in 2004. Back then he was working as an executive director of sales for an automotive supplier while running remained one of his primary hobbies. He started the Solstice Run in Northville and used it as the springboard to launch Kona Running Co.

"I have always ran to stay in shape," Whitehead says. "I have run 22 marathons."

He retired from his automotive career three years ago and has since focused on growing Kona Running Co. It now organizes five races across Metro Detroit, including the Novi Half Marathon and Wicked Halloween Run in Plymouth. It has become his full-time job and he staffs up with 24 part-time employees during race days.

The Kona Running Co. signed a lease for a 2,900-square-foot location on Ford Road in Canton. It’s currently looking to hire two full-time people with specialty running store experience.

"We're looking at two or three other stores besides that one," Whitehead says. "We're looking at West Bloomfield and Troy. We want to open one per year."

Each store will employ 12-15 people. Whitehead expects Kona Running Co. to have a staff of 15 people by the time it opens its first store this fall. The firm is also looking to add two or three more races over the next year.

Source: Alan Whitehead, president & owner of Kona Running Co.
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Fooke USA sets up shop in Pontiac

Fooke USA is opening an office in Pontiac as the base for its parent company's North American operations.

Fooke is a family-owned business that develops milling machines for a number of industries including aerospace, automotive, railway, and mold and die. Fooke USA is the German-based firm’s North American arm.

"Pontiac has the potential and the space so we can expand our facility," says Matthias Hofmann, CEO of Fooke USA.

Hofmann expects Fooke USA to employ as many as 25 people, primarily specialized technicians, in Pontiac within the next three to four years. The company currently employs Hofmann and he expects to hire a handful of people by the end of the year.

Fooke USA made the leap into Pontiac thanks to the help of Automation Alley. The business accelerator's International Business Center hosts foreign companies looking at establishing an office in Metro Detroit. It provides a temporary home base and professional services that help these companies make a soft landing into the Metro Detroit area.

A dozen foreign companies have made this transition at Automation Alley since it opened the program in 2011. Those companies now have operations in the region that have created 433 new jobs.

Source: Matthias Hofmann, CEO of Fooke USA
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Plex scores $50M in private-equity funding

Plex finds itself $50 million richer this summer after landing big financing investments from T. Rowe Price and Accel Partners.

The Troy-based company makes cloud-based ERP software for manufacturers. Plex describes its software platform as built from the plant floor up, enabling users to increase productivity and profitability at existing facilities by streamlining the manufacturing process.

The 19-year-old tech company was acquired in 2012 by Francisco Partners, a private-equity firm based in Silicon Valley. Plex also received a $30 million investment in 2012 from Accel Partners, a venture capital firm also located in Silicon Valley. The new $50 million capital infusion is considered an equity investment.

Plex plans to use its new round of seed capital to grow the sales and marketing efforts of its software platform. It is also planning to put some of that money into research and development of new technology.

"We have been working on a new user-interface over the last year," says Katy Teer, a corporate communications manager for Plex.

Plex has a staff of close to 400 employees and 20 interns. It has hired 156 people since January of last year. It also has 27 openings for everything from sales to senior technical writers right now. More information on those jobs is here.

"We're in an aggressive hiring plan right now," Teer says, adding she was employee No. 220 when she started at Plex two years ago. The firm expects to cross the 400-employee threshold later this year. "We're a really fast-growing tech company here in Metro Detroit."

Source: Katy Teer, corporate communications manager for Plex
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

123.net hires 10 people as it grows wireless business

123.net is hiring in Southfield, and with good reason.

The Internet/data center company has hired 10 people over the last year, including six people for its wireless Internet division. It’s in the process of adding summer interns right now, and the firm plans to hire more staff later this year. The reason?

"Demand," says Jim Hart, director of wireless operations for 123.net. "We don't add head count because it's speculative. We add people because there is a need."

The 17-year-old company has been hard at work expanding its tech center at its headquarters in Southfield. The 130,000-square-foot structure at 24700 Northwestern Highway just brought an extra 15,000 square feet of data center space online.

123.net wireless Internet product has led the company's recent growth spike. Hart explains the speed of that product's deployment has been second to none.

"There is a demand for it," Hart says. "People just want it."

123.net also has two interns on top of its staff of 40 employees. It is currently looking to add three more summer interns. The company plans to use its internship program as a talent pipeline for future employees.

"We're hoping to convert a couple of them as soon as their internships are complete," Hart says.

Source: Jim Hart, director of wireless operations for 123.net
Writer: Jon Zemke

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