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Innovative Learning Group leverages diverse client base for growth

Innovative Learning Group has added 12 new clients over the last year, but the value in that news comes from when you take a deep look at the list of customers.

The new customers include the likes of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan and Ford. The business consultancy’s client list spans a number of different industries, ranging from IT to medical devices to healthcare to pharmaceutical.

“We have always had quite a mix,” says Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group. “It’s great from a diversification standpoint. It’s also interesting for our consultants. It’s also nice to share things across industries and it’s not a competitive problem.”

That growth has allowed Innovative Learning Group to hire one person over the last year, a business development executive. It now employs 13 people. The 10-year-old company, which is based in downtown Royal Oak, has been doing more work in mobile strategic projects, such as how best to streamline mobile apps into the everyday work routine of a sales professional.

“How does it integrate into the way they do their jobs?” Toenniges says.

Source: Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TruReview fights negative SEO with verified online reviews

Dwight Zahringer has owned a web development agency for the last decade, specializing in search engine optimization. He got so deep into SEO that he encountered negative SEO, a practice where businesses will work to lower the SEO of their competitors to gain an advantage, such as posting anonymous bad reviews online.

A year ago Zahringer launched a start-up to combat negative SEO. TruReview specializes in providing a platform that enables real reviews to be posted by real customers. The start-up wants to provide a validation tool that gets rid of nefarious Internet anonymity so businesses can maximize online customer feedback.

"It's helping the business know how it's impacting the customers," Zahringer says.

TruReview's team of four people launched the platform last spring and is currently focusing on signing up local businesses in Metro Detroit as its first customers. Zahringer hopes it becomes a 21st-century version of the Better Business Bureau.

"Let's get back to the point of basic business principles where you could talk to the business owners and give real feedback," Zahringer says.

Source: Dwight Zahringer, CEO of TruReview
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TM3 Systems scores Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund investment

TM3 Systems is spinning out technology developed at NextEnergy that is expected to make energy use in remote locations much more efficient.

The Royal Oak-based start-up's product meters, controls and conditions power usage in remote locations. The technology's grid monitoring and automatic generation and demand control optimizes off-grid power use.

"We see an incredible opportunity to increase the efficiency of power distribution in off-grid power applications that saves fuel and increases the effectiveness of those systems," says Nate Lowery, CEO of TM3 Systems.

The 8-month-old start-up and its team of three people have raised $750,000 in seed capital, including $250,000 from the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund. It is aiming to raise more than $1 million in a seed capital round later this year. That money has allowed the company to build its prototypes, of which it has already sold six units.

"We are in the process of signing contracts as we speak," Lowery says.

Source: Nate Lowery, CEO of TM3 Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Realtime Technologies continues steady expansion in Royal Oak

Growth is one of those words that is becoming synonymous with Realtime Technologies. The simulation technology firm's Royal Oak office has watched both its workload and staff increase over the last year.

"We're always growing," says Clayne Woodbury, national sales director for Realtime Technologies.

Realtime Technologies has hired two people at its Royal Oak office over the last year. It now employs 11 people and an intern there.

The company, which was acquired by Ann Arbor-based AroTech Corp five years ago, specializes in real-time, multi-body vehicle dynamics, and graphical simulation and modeling. It offers simulation software applications, consulting, custom engineering, software, and hardware development.

It has done work with a number of big-name clients, including Ohio State University, Honda, Stanford University and a VA Hospital in New Jersey. It is currently putting the finishing touches on a rail simulator program for the Toronto Transportation Commission.

"We think we are the company of choice for people doing research and want to integrate innovation solutions," Woodbury says.

Source: Clayne Woodbury, national sales director for Realtime Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

U-M Dearborn grad launches Traffic, grows it to 13 people

Jacob Zuppke is not only one of the first graduates from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with a bachelors degree in digital marketing, but he graduated last year with employment options.

He had job offers from a number of large local creative agencies, and he turned them all down. Instead he started his own company with the director of U-M Dearborn's Digital Marketing program. Traffic Digital Agency started out with one customer last spring. Today it has 38 clients, ranging from Cottage Inn Pizza to 1-800-LAW-FIRM, 13 employees and eight interns in downtown Royal Oak.

"It (the initial growth) is significantly faster (than what I expected)," Zuppke says. "We didn't anticipate to have this many members on our team by now." He adds that at the current rate of growth, his business will have a staff of 35 people by next year.

Traffic Digital Agency works out of Venture Park, a new co-working space on the outskirts of downtown Royal Oak. Zuppke and his partner, Jeremy Sutton, built it as not only the home for their company but as a hub for other creatives and entrepreneurs that will help grow everybody's business.

"We want creative people that are willing to inspire each other every single day," Zuppke says.

Source: Jacob Zuppke, co-founder of Traffic Digital Agency
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Howard & Howard Attorneys hires 20 in downtown Royal Oak

Howard & Howard Attorneys is expanding its practice, adding about 20 people to its staff over the last year.

The 150-year-old law firm has offices in Chicago, Ann Arbor, Peoria, and Las Vegas, but its headquarters in downtown Royal Oak is the main beneficiary of its growth. Its office at Fourth and Lafayette streets now houses 140 of the practice's 250 employees.

"We like downtown Royal Oak because of all of its amenities, its cost structure, its central location," says Mark Davis, president & CEO of Howard & Howard Attorneys. He adds the location also helps the firm with its recruiting efforts of fresh law school graduates.

Howard & Howard Attorneys focuses primarily on business law, such as business-to-business dealings and business ownership. It serves a global clientele that occupies a wide variety of sectors ranging from automotive to medical devices.

The law practice has doubled in size (both revenue and head count) over the last five years. It has accomplished that with about 15 percent year-over-year annual growth. Over the last year, Howard & Howard Attorneys has focused on expanding the legal skill sets it can offer. For example, it recently brought on a tax specialist that can help manufacturers best manage tax credits.

"Our goal is to provide all of the legal services a business would require," Davis says.

Source: Mark Davis, president & CEO of Howard & Howard Attorneys
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Vectorform hires 20 in Royal Oak, stays ahead of tech curve

Vectorform is recovering nicely from the worst of the economic downturn, expanding its staff and experimenting with new technologies.

The Royal Oak-based tech firm has hired 20 people over the last year, expanding its employee count to 100. Those hires were made possible by 20-percent revenue growth in the last year and similar gains since 2009. It now services 20 Fortune 500 companies, among its growing clientele.

"We have doubled our staff since 2009," says Trevor Anulewicz, director of creative & content strategy for Vectorform.

Vectorform also has a half dozen interns. The company has made a habit of turning its interns into employees. An average of 80 percent of its interns are promoted to full-time employees. "That's a great opportunity," Anulewicz says. "We try to have these folks come in and make an impact and stay."

The 14-year-old company's leaders attribute the company's current growth trend to staying ahead of the tech curve. It has carved out a nice niche creating mobile apps and mastering new software platforms, such as Windows 8. It is also one of the early tech firms to get its hands on Google Glass.

"We will be procuring the device in the coming weeks and we have six great ideas we will be employing with it," says Kevin Foreman, director of product vision for Vectorform.

Source: Trevor Anulewicz, director of creative & content strategy for Vectorform and Kevin Foreman, director of product vision for Vectorform
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Wellco keeps up healthy hiring habit in Royal Oak

The challenge for Wellco these days isn't convincing companies to adopt a health-and-wellness program. It's making the ones that exist work. That makes the Royal Oak-based business more a fixer of these programs instead of an establisher of them.

"The three biggest pitfalls include a lack of employees participating, a lack of leadership support and a lack of return on investment," says Scott Foster, president of Wellco.  "Wellco achieves all three of them."

The 17-year-old business sells software and programs it has developed that allows companies to document and track the health of their employees. That has allowed it to grow to 16 employees and the occasional intern. It has hired two people over the last year and plans to add another five employees over the next 12 months.

Driving this growth is acceptance and employment of health-and-wellness programs to help lower the overall bottom line by trimming health-care costs and improving productivity. The institutions of things like Obamacare have helped make them more popular in recent years.

Wellco has watched its revenue jump by 30 percent over the last year. Foster says a majority of that business is from companies that are looking to maximize near-dormant health-and-wellness program to help improve their overall profit margins.

"We're finding a tremendous need from employers to provide dependable results," Foster says.

Source: Scott Foster, president of Wellco
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LevelSet Solutions' staffing jumps 50% in Royal Oak

LevelSet Solutions has watched its revenue jump 30 percent over the last year, allowing the Internet marketing firm to expand its staff to 14 people and a few interns.

The 4-year-old firm based in Royal Oak has hired two people (a technical business analyst and a project manager) in recent weeks. The company has hired four people over the last year and has an opening for a software engineer right now.

LevelSet Solutions has seen its workload with existing clients grow as it has added more work from new clients. One of its biggest recent projects has been the reworking of Crittenton Hospital's website.

"We rebuilt the whole website," says Steve Swanson, president of LevelSet Solutions. "We slimmed it down from 500 pages to 250-300 pages and put it in a traditional content management system."

LevelSet Solutions won an "Outstanding Website" award for that project from the Interactive Advertising Competition. Those awards are produced by the Web Marketing Association to "honor excellence in online advertising as well as recognize the individuals and organizations responsible."

Source: Steve Swanson, president of LevelSet Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MIT grad returns home to launch Vitamin start-up, SunDaily

When local leaders talk about retaining talent, they probably have someone like Adam Leeb in mind.

The Metro Detroit native graduated from MIT with a degree in mechanical engineering and went to work for a private equity firm in New York City in the late 2000s. After watching a number of his colleagues lose their jobs in the economic downturn and a few other not-so-flattering things about the finance industry, he decided he wanted to move back home.

"I knew it wasn't something I wanted to make my career," Leeb says.

That was last year, roughly the same time he started working on his own company, SunDaily. The Royal Oak-based start-up is working to create a premium brand of vitamins and supplements. It's a hole in what Leeb sees as a crowded market.

"I saw a lot of different formulas and a lot of confusion on the consumers' end," Leeb says.

SunDaily and its team of four people began its soft Beta launch earlier this month and plans to go public with it this week. The new brand of vitamins offers traditional staples like a multi-vitamin, Vitamin D and a fish oil supplement. As many as a dozen different products are expected to be launched this year. Leeb plans to create some market separation with high-quality products that are easy to understand and come in aesthetically pleasing packaging.

Source: Adam Leeb, founder of SunDaily
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Cosmetology school L'esprit Academy adds Royal Oak location

L’esprit Academy, a cosmetology school, is opening a second education center in downtown Royal Oak, a move that helped the company double its workforce over the last year.

The 9-year-old business now employs 20 people after hiring 10 over the last year. It also has about half a dozen open positions now, mostly for administrative areas. It currently has six people working in downtown Royal Oak and expects to double that staff there by the end of the year.

The Livonia-based business choose downtown Royal Oak because of its location in Oakland County and because its urban setting is a nice contrast to its suburban-style headquarters. Plus, downtown Royal Oak is attractive because it has lots of energy, is a trendsetter and is home to a large concentration of creatives.

"It seemed like a natural fit on an aesthetic level," says Stacy Wells, CEO of L’esprit Academy.

L'espirit Academy has enjoyed high growth in recent years because of the staying power of the industry (hair stylist jobs can't be outsourced to India) and the flexibility it provides to its workforce (working moms can do this part-time on their schedule). Wells also points out cosmetology can be a more cost-effective career compared to getting a professional degree at a traditional university.

"People are getting four-year degrees and $150,000 in debt and still don't have a job," Wells says. "We find a lot of people who have either done a year or two of college or have graduated and can't find a job."

Source: Stacy Wells, CEO of L’esprit Academy
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Promoshop hires 3 in Royal Oak, looks to add intern

Promoshop is expanding its presence in Metro Detroit and Windsor with new hires on both sides of the Detroit River.

The Los Angeles-based company specializes in merchandising and marketing services for small and large businesses. It opened its office in Royal Oak five years ago and has grown it to five people after making three hires over the last year. It is also looking for an intern. Its Windsor office also stands at five people.

"We're in pretty strong growth phases, not only in this area but across the country," says Jennifer Lindsey Cooper, account manager for Promoshop.

Promoshop has some well-known local name brands on its client list, including the likes of Chrysler and Faygo. Lindsey Cooper expects that sort of local representation to continue to expand in 2013 as customers look to leverage the firm's expertise and other assets.

"We're also a minority-owned company," Lindsey Cooper says. "There has been a lot of strong growth in that area, too."

Source: Jennifer Lindsey Cooper, account manager for Promoshop
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Siren PR keeps up with new business in Royal Oak

Adela Piper and Lindsey Walenda knew they were going to be choosy when they launched their public relations firm Siren PR. Those sorts of high standards are a cornerstone of their business plan.

The friend had worked for years in communications for OLHSA, one of Oakland County's largest non-profits. They struck out on their own last year and now OLSHA is one of their top clients. The core missions of their small business/non-profit clients motivate Piper and Walenda.

"We get exceptionally invested in our clients," Piper says. "We take care to make sure we work with clients that do very good work. What we choose to get behind is something we have been very careful when choosing."

The two person-company works virtually from the co-founders' homes in Royal Oak. Piper and Walenda are looking to grow their client base, carefully of course, this year and find the right live-work balance.

"We want to have clients that get us motivated to work everyday but still give us time to live our lives," Piper says.

Source: Adela Piper, co-founder of Siren PR
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Spencer Management quadruples staff in Royal Oak

Aimee Spencer spent a decade working in the radio industry. She held a number of different positions, ranging from marketing director to event organization to creative director.

A few years ago she noticed radio was heading in a different direction and knew she wanted to do something else. That led to the creation of Spencer Management Group, a downtown Royal Oak-based public relations agency. What sets the 2-year-old company apart is it leverages both traditional public relations and working that into events to help build client brands.

"I appreciate people who do traditional PR in Metro Detroit," Spencer says. "I am definitely not traditional."

That approach has allowed Spencer to expand her company from just herself to four people within the last year. That new team is helping Spencer Management Group do more public relations work that focuses on not only telling stories but doing so through visual, music and video experiences.

Source: Aimee Spencer, president of Spencer Management Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

App start-up Brilliant Chemistry tackles bullying, Twinkies

The folks behind Brilliant Chemistry are so creative that they not only came up with a clever name for their tech-based marketing agency but they came up with an original way of describing it.

"We don't like to be called an agency," says Carl Rundell, partner with Brilliant Chemistry. "We liked to be called an ideation studio."

The downtown Royal Oak-based firm more accurately bills itself as a "creative technology and ideation studio." And it has been living up to that billing it its first year of doing business. The company has been creating awareness for its crowdfunding app, eRaise, through a campaign to purchase the Hostess brands (think Twinkies and Ding Dongs) with crowd-funded capital called "Dough for Hostess."

It also recently created an anti-bullying app for Defeat the Label, which is non-profit organization with the mission to make an impact against bullying. The app will help students report bullying anonymously, engage the bullying through a national call center and analyze data collected from it.

"We wanted to create a ubiquitous application that can fit across any organization," Rundell says.

Brilliant Chemistry employs six people and the occasional intern.

Source: Carl Rundell, partner with Brilliant Chemistry
Writer: Jon Zemke

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