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TM3 Systems scores Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund cash

TM3 Systems is raising seed capital to start scaling its microgrid technology. It's off to a good start, landing six figures' worth of funding from the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund. The 1-year-old firm is currently looking to close on the seed capital by the end of the first quarter this year.

The Royal Oak-based company is designing microgrid technology (think generators) that can be used in remote locations by both military and commercial customers. The idea is to create power sources that help meet the power and logistical needs of the personnel using them.

"We feel the way it's done today ends up wasting a lot of fuel and downtime," says Nate Lowery, CEO of TM3 Systems. "We're looking to solve these problems."

TM3 Systems microgrid products, developed in partnership with Detroit-based NextEnergy, are designed to meter, control and condition power in remote locations. The technology provides users with grid monitoring and automatic generation and demand control with an eye for optimizing off-grid power assets. Currently, most of these users need to haul diesel generators to remote locations, with the generators often not meeting the needs for the situations.

"You end up with generators that are too large or too small for the application," Lowery says. "If it's too large it wastes fuel. If it's too small it doesn’t provide enough electricity."

TM3 Systems and its team of three people recently started selling its three units. The company is aiming at both military customers and commercial clients, such as remote mining interests.

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

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

Liberty Center One adds staff, expands data center

Liberty Center One is moving forward in a number of different ways. The Royal Oak-based data center operator has grown its staff, facility and revenue over the last year.

"We're getting both organic growth from our existing customers and from new customers who like the model we have," says Tim Mullahy, managing director of Liberty Center One.

Liberty Center One provides network, voice, and cloud services from its data center. It recently doubled the size of its capacity, bringing another 4,000 square feet of floor space online in the last year.

The 15-year-old company has also hired two people over the last year, in network engineering and financial management. It currently has a staff of 25 employees and two interns. Mullahy expects to add a couple more employees and interns over the next year.

Liberty Center One has enjoyed double-digit gains in revenue in each of the last five years. It’s a streak Mullahy expects to continue for the foreseeable future.

"Double digits seems like it’s achievable," Mullahy says.

Source: Tim Mullahy, managing director of Liberty Center One
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Vectorform sets sights on new HQ in downtown Royal Oak

Vectorform is preparing to make a big investment in downtown Royal Oak, moving the software firm's headquarters to the city’s center and hiring another 75 people to fill out the new space.

Vectorform specializes in creating software for a number of different platforms, ranging from mobile to experimenting with Google Glass. It employs about 65 people at its current space in Royal Oak after hiring 25 new employees over the last year. It currently has 14 open positions.

The company expects to keep growing rapidly and is looking for a new headquarters that can accommodate that growth and help attract talent. It plans to take the second floor of what is now the Barnes & Noble in downtown Royal Oak sometime next year. That move will allow the firm to hire another 75 people, such as designers, software programers and project managers.

Vectorform took a survey of its current staff to find the best options for its new space. The results pointed straight at downtown Royal Oak.

"It appeared to be the best option from the survey," says Jason Vazzano, CEO of Vectorform. "It has a vibrant and diverse downtown area."

Source: Jason Vazzano, CEO of Vectorform
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Mitten Crate helps locals discover Michigan-made foods

Andrew Chmielewski is a foodpreneur, running a small toffee company called Dave's Sweet Tooth. Cory Wright is a restaurateur who ran his own restaurant in New York City before recently moving back to Metro Detroit.

The two friends came together to start a new venture called Mitten Crate. The Royal Oak-based firm sends a package of Michigan-made food products once a month to people who subscribe to the service.

"It is a great way to be introduced to Michigan-made products," Chmielewski says. "They might not be able to pick them up at a store otherwise."

Chmielewski and Wright noticed that while Michigan-made food products are quite popular with their local audience, that sphere of influence is often limited to about a 30-mile radius of where the company is based. Mitten Crate helps Michiganders overcome that barrier by introducing them to a handful of new products each month.

"There is a wide range of products," Chmielewski says. Some of those products include McClary Bros. Old Timey Drinking Vinegar (Ferndale) and Al Dente Pasta Co (Whitmore Lake).

The company got its start in August. It sold 70 boxes in its first month and 144 last month. Chmielewski expects to see those numbers to continue to grow exponentially in the near future.

"We hope to have triple-digit growth going into the holidays," Chmielewski says.

Source: Andrew Chmielewski, co-founder of Mitten Crate
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Estoreify aims to create comprehensive e-commerce platform

Last year Michael Mikhjian launched My eStore App, an e-commerce platform focused on helping small businesses facilitate online sales. Now the Royal Oak-based startup is beefing up that platform and rebranding it as Estoreify.

The e-commerce software works directly on client sites so customers aren't redirected to other support sites. Mikhjian wants to make it simple to install and maintain for small business owners who would rather spend their time focusing on their core business. Now Estoreify aims to offer a more comprehensive system that maintains its user-friendliness.

"I feel like our systems are simpler and easier to use," Mikhjian says. "You can manage it from your mobile phone."

The three-person team has gotten to the product to a public beta-testing stage with a few dozen shops using it. Mikhjian wants to expand that number to 100 shops within the next year and focus on giving each one a personal experience so they feel the software is tailored to their store’s needs.

"Any industry should be able to use this," Mikhjian says. "It's open to multiple products."

Source: Michael Mikhjian, founder of Estoreify
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Retrofit Studio doubles business, looks for bigger space

To say Brad Goodstein is passionate about exercise might be an understatement. The personal trainer has been in the industry for 10 years and recently started his own workout business called Retrofit Studio.

The downtown Royal Oak-based business specializes in personal training because it's what Goodstein believes is the best way to help people live healthy lives by making small, manageable changes.

"I know it works," Goodstein says. "I have had clients who have lost 100 pounds. I had a guy lost 160 pounds."

It's not all about weight loss. Retrodfit Studio's clients also include people who are overcoming injuries or looking to strengthen joints so they can do everyday things with ease, such as climb stairs or get out of bed.

"It's not always about losing weight," Goodstein says. "It’s about feeling better and having more energy."

Retrofit Studio has grown to a staff of five people. It has doubled its customer base over the last year, which has led Goodstein to look for a bigger space to accommodate its new clientele, expand its service offerings and add more staff.

"I surround myself with really good people," Goodstein says. "People who are passionate about fitness."

Source: Brad Goodstein, owner of Retrofit Studio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Unique Solutions of Advanced Technologies' revenue jumps 30%

Sreedhar Kaluva started his business, Unique Solutions of Advanced Technologies, because he wanted to destroy a myth or two about small businesses and the technology they can employ.

"I want to help remove the myth that they need deep pockets to have help with IT technology," Kaluva says.

Unique Solutions of Advanced Technologies has made a name for itself as an IT and software firm that services small businesses, creating customer software for them in a few cases, since its launch in 2006. Its business is up 30 percent, which has allowed the company to hire a new employee, a project coordinator. It now employs a staff of four people in Royal Oak.

"There has been a wave of customers that came on board through word-of-mouth references from our customers," Kaluva says.

Unique Solutions of Advanced Technologies is also working on a new IT process/software program called Grad Sourcing. The idea is to better organize the IT services paradigm so it can better serve companies while creating more jobs in the U.S. He hopes to launch the service later this year.

"We're trying to bridge the gap between the supply and demand with an innovative new resource," Kaluva says.

Source: Sreedhar Kaluva, founder & CEO of Unique Solutions of Advanced Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Engineer leaves cubicle to start Mercury Studio tech firm

Zachary Ball isn't the sort of person who works well in a cubicle for a big company. It's a big reason why he now runs his own software company, Mercury Studio.

The mechanical engineer took a job at a major local automaker out of college in the late 1990s. After a few months he helped the company create some significant savings. The thanks he received was a piece of paper expressing the automaker's gratitude. It wasn’t a check.

"The cubicle life wasn't for me," Ball says. "I wanted to create an environment for my employees that will reward them for going above and beyond."

A few months later he started his own company. That evolved into the creation of Mercury Studio, a mobile app firm that recently moved to a bigger office in downtown Royal Oak. The 4-year-old firm has worked extensively in digital advertising and is now making custom apps for advertising agencies working in the automotive industry. That client list includes the likes of Jackson Dawson Communications in Dearborn. However, Ball would like to add some variety to his company’s client list.

"We want to expand all of our relationships with more marketing agencies out there," Ball says. "We would like to focus on non-automotive to show Metro Detroit isn't all about automotive."

Mercury Studio currently employs eight people and is looking for an intern. It has hired two people over the last year and is currently looking to hire a software developer.

Source: Zachary Ball, president & owner of Mercury Studio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ex-auto worker transitions to app economy with Marvel Apps

Michael Antaran has succeeded where so many local leaders would like former auto workers to succeed -- at moving on from working for the Big 3 and setting up his own tech firm, Marvel Apps.

Antaran worked for Chrysler and started experimenting with making mobile apps on the side in 2007. He took a buyout in 2008 and then took a year off, launching Marvel Apps as a side project. He then worked for GM for three years before making the downtown Royal Oak-based start-up his full-time job last year.

“I have always had a passion for Apple products,” Antaran says. “That’s why the mobile app movement encapsulated me.”

Marvel Apps does both custom app work for other businesses and makes its own apps for sale in the Apple App Store. Among its customers are Coleman (think lanterns and camping gear) and a few of the major local automakers.

It also makes its own apps, including those for fantasy football. One of them has even made the Top 5 in downloads for fantasy football apps in the App Store. Selling to consumers has become a growing part of the business, which now brings in 15 percent of the company’s revenue. Marvel Apps’ revenue is now up by 25 percent overall.

The company now has a staff of four employees. It is looking to add two interns this fall and hire one full-time graphic artist.

Source: Michael Antaran, founder of Marvel Apps
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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.
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