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Dearborn's PeopleGro helps businesses play better, more effectively

Nicole Lemieux-Rever suffered a head injury in the early 1990s. That unfortunate mishap turned into an inspiration for a successful business, PeopleGro.

The accident sparked Lemieux-Rever's interest in the human brain, how it functions and how it impacts the effectiveness of people. That turned into PeopleGro, a company that focuses on organizational development and executive coaching for other businesses and entrepreneurs.

"We help you play better with the other people in the sandbox," says Lemieux-Rever, founder and catalyst for PeopleGro.

The Dearborn-based business now has three employees after adding one position. The 10-year-old company is also looking at bringing on an intern or two this summer. Making that growth possible are new clients, including Michigan State University and Zingerman's, along with some old faces.

"Clients who were on board five years ago have come back," says Lemieux-Rever.

Source: Nicole Lemieux-Rever, founder and catalyst for PeopleGro
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Dearborn's LoanMod.com capitalizes on loan modification sector

Moose Scheib was working at a law firm when he saw the first signs of the housing crisis begin to materialize in Michigan. It didn't take him too long to try and do something about it when he started LoanMod.com in 2006.

The Dearborn-based company helps people modify their mortgages, along with providing other services to help them avoid or deal with foreclosure. The way Scheib tells it, mainstream America was only familiar with paying mortgages before the housing crisis. The lack of knowledge of foreclosures made the situation multiple times worse.

"The thing about this is people are living in so much fear," says Scheib, chairman & CEO of LoanMod.com. "That fear goes away when people have knowledge of it."

Scheib has grown his company to a staff of 20 people and five summer interns. They have helped 10,000 families get out of the fear cycle and either deal or avoid foreclosure. He hopes to streamline his company so it can reach more people; potentially another 10,000 families in 2011.

"So much good comes out of it when you save a home," Scheib says. "It's not just the family. It's the community, property values and other things."

Source: Moose Scheib, chairman & CEO of LoanMod.com
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Arab Detroit website strives for national readership

Arab Detroit readership is growing, along with its reach, staff, and maybe even its name.

The Dearborn-based website reports on news relevant to the Arab world for a readership that includes not only North America's growing Middle Eastern population and other Arabs around the world, but people who are interested in those areas.

The 4-year-old website is about to cross the 40,000-subscriber mark and hopes to go well beyond that as it continues to assert itself as a national publication. A name change to "Arab America" is also being considered. A little more than a quarter of the website's readership consists of non-Arabs interested in Middle Eastern-centric news, such as teachers and members of the media.

"Our goal is to have 100,000 subscribers," says Warren David, founder & publisher of Arab Detroit. "It's going to take us a year, but we're going to be at 100,000."

The site has hired three people over the last year, expanding its staff to seven. The new positions are on the technical and sales sides, as well as a content editor. David hopes to add another couple of sales reps over the next year as it grows its readership, especially as the U.S. Arab population now numbers four million.

"I think we have the potential to reach 500,000," David says. "I don't think that is that far out there."

Source: Warren David, founder & publisher of Arab Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Crowdsourcing SOUP event now serves Dearborn

The crowd in crowdsource funding is growing in Metro Detroit. Dearborn SOUP plans to hold its second gathering next week as a way to help provide significant funding for emerging projects from small donations.

Dearborn SOUP is a spin-off of the popular Detroit SOUP. The monthly event features a community soup meal where those attending make a small donation. That money (usually a few hundred dollars) is given to the favorite project presented to those in attendance. The projects can be either non-profit or for-profit ventures.

"I absolutely fell in love with the concept," says Dee Hamka, the organizer of Dearborn SOUP and an employee of the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority. "It's absolutely perfect for Dearborn."

The first event, held in March, awarded $650 to D-Yes, a program of WARM Training Center, that empowers and trains high school students and adult AmeriCorps crew leaders to promote energy conservation and perform basic home energy retrofits.

The next Dearborn SOUP will be held between 5-8 p.m. Sunday, April 3, at the Fairlane Ford Showroom, 14510 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn's east downtown. Organizers will move the cars out of the showroom to make room for the 200-plus people expected to attend. Children are also welcome. For information, call Hamka at (313) 801-4444.

Source: Dee Hamka, the organizer of Dearborn SOUP
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Health Business Solutions will invest $2.6M for Dearborn office; 206 new jobs

Health Business Solutions plans to open a new office in Dearborn, a $2.6 million investment that is expected to create up to 206 jobs over the next five years.

"The workforce appears to be tremendous," says Ray Berry, CEO of Health Business Solutions. "We hope to capitalize on that."

Health Business Solutions specializes in denied-claims resolution and performance-improvement consulting for the health-care industry. In plain English, that means the 9-year-old company based in Florida helps find root causes for denied health-insurance claims and comes up with answers to prevent future ones. The company has offices in New Jersey, New York, Texas, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C.

The firm expects to hire 61 people within the first year and hit 200 hires by the end of next year. It also received a tax incentive from the Michigan Economic Development Corp to set up shop in Dearborn.

Source: Ray Berry, CEO of Health Business Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Farmington Hills' CSquared Innovations wins Clean Energy Prize

Many of the most promising start-ups spinning out of the Great Lakes State have two things in common. They're based in Ann Arbor and come from the University of Michigan. CSquared Innovations has one of those traits -- sort of.

The Farmington Hills-based start-up first discovered its lithium-ion battery technology at the University of Michiagan-Dearborn and is utilizing the services of the Office of Technology Transfer at U-M in Ann Arbor to commercialize the research. This was instrumental in helping the start-up to win the top $50,000 award at last weekend's Clean Energy Prize, and will enable it to really come into its own in 2011.

"We plan to scale up our staff and create 10 new positions this year," says Nick Moroz, vice president of engineering & development for CSquared Innovations.

CSquared Innovations is developing a faster, cheaper, laser-based method of making nano-structured materials and coatings for lithium-ion battery electrodes, solar cells, and industrial coatings. The technology could make the manufacturing process much less expensive. The 1-year-old firm currently has four employees and hopes to land a Small Business Innovation Research grant this year so it can begin selling its technology in 2012.

"The ultimate goal of our business is to supply flexible and capable manufacturing equipment for the lithium-ion battery industry," Moroz says.

Source: Nick Moroz, vice president of engineering & development for CSquared Innovations
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

U-M Dearborn begins new sustainability initiative with iPads

Sustainability at the college level is no longer just about building retrofits and walkability. To wit: the University of Michigan-Dearborn recently received a $15,000 grant to initiate a pilot program that puts iPads into the hands of its School of Education students. The tablet computers are far more energy efficient than their laptop counterparts. For instance, a laptop battery will last an hour or two while an iPad battery is good for 10 hours or more.

The grant pays for 15 iPads, apps and software training at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The students and professors working on the fledgling initiative are also evaluating other new technologies that could help cut energy use.

"We have identified some technologies to integrate into classes," says Stein Brunvand, assistant professor of educational technology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. "Our ultimate goal is to promote this sort of technology integration across all curriculums."

Brunvand's team is currently working on landing more grant money to expand the program later this year.

Source: Stein Brunvand, assistant professor of educational technology at the University of Michigan Dearborn
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Sphinx Technology Solutions doubles client base, plans first hire

Ryan O'Hara had that safe job. The kind that is rooted in the new economy and paid for by the big corporation. But after a few years of working in IT and other computer-related fields for SBC and Quicken Loans, O'Hara knew there was more out there for him.

O'Hara started Sphinx Technology Solutions in Dearborn two years ago, working his day job while helping customers choose the best technology. Demand for his company's expertise soon outstripped the time he could put toward it while working for someone else, so he made that leap of faith into self-employment.

"More people were leaving these so-called safe jobs to do their own thing," O'Hara says. "For me it was equal parts fear and excitement."

Sphinx Technology Solutions
, a Mac and PC support specialist, has grown exponentially over the last 6-8 months, growing from 10 clients to 20 in that time. O'Hara is expecting that growth to continue and is planning to bring on his first intern and hire this year to keep up.

Source: Ryan O'Hara, owner of Sphinx Technology Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ford plans hundreds of Metro Detroit hires in 2011-12

Ford has big plans for this year and next after executing one of the greatest business turnarounds ever. These plans call for 7,000 new hires over the next two years.

Ford officials haven't tipped their hands as to where most of those hires will take place, but there are set to be 750 salaried engineering positions. Think engineers who are working on Ford's new fuel-efficient vehicles, handling everything from battery technology to IT.

"It's fair to say a majority of these would be in Metro Detroit," says Marcey Evans, a spokeswoman for Ford.

Ford has reinvented itself as an automaker over the last five years with the arrival of Allan Mullaly as CEO. It has focused on developing environmentally friendly technologies, such as the Eco-Boost engine and hybrid vehicles. It has also been a pioneer in hands-free technology through its partnership with Microsoft that produced the Synch technology. These efforts and more allowed the Dearborn-based automaker to avoid bankruptcy in 2009.

Source: Marcey Evans, a spokeswoman for Ford
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Accelerate Michigan showcases state's new economy future

One phrase came to mind when summing up the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition -- the future.

The new event showed off start-ups that organizers hope will be the future long-term leaders in Michigan's new economy to what they hope will be future near-term investors. The event was held in the University of Michigan's new North Campus Research Complex and featured Michigan's future governor as its keynote speaker. Future Michigan Economic Development Corp head Michael Finney even hinted at bigger prizes for the next Accelerate Michigan competition in the not-too-distant future.

"We're looking forward," Finney said during his remarks at the event. "We're looking at where we're going to go in the next 3-4 years in this state."

The potential of those next few years looked pretty good on stage last Saturday when the 10 finalists made their pitches. Metro Detroit had a healthy contingent among them, including Southfield's Innovating Surgical Solutions, Madison Heights/Ann Arbor's Gravikor, and a number of firms from Ann Arbor. Bloomfield Hills-based ENRG Power Systems, Troy-based MatchRX, and Farmington Hills-based CSquared Innovations each won $25,000 in the Advanced Transportation, Information Technology, and Next Gen Manufacturing categories, respectively.

Kalamazoo-based Armune BioScience (a U-M spin-off) and Arbor Photonics of Ann Arbor took first ($500,000) and second ($150,000) places. Four start-ups from U-M students swept the student competition and its $60,000 in prizes.
In addition to the prize money, most of the entrants raved about the exposure to potential investors that the Accelerate Michigan competition provided. To many of them it was an opportunity to expect a brighter future for their start-ups.

"We have a very bright future," Gov.-elect Snyder said during his speech. "We just need to execute now."

Sources: Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition; Michael Finney, former CEO & president of Ann Arbor SPARK and current head of the Michigan Economic Development Corp; and Rick Snyder, governor-elect of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Big 3 announce investments worth $2 billion to Metro Detroit

The Big 3 are back to investing in Metro Detroit, announcing more than $2 billion worth of new investments that will help retain tens of thousands of jobs in everything from bending metal at factories to developing the newest lithium ion batteries.

Ford announced plans to spend $850 million on its Michigan facilities, a move that will help retain 28,000 jobs over the next five years. Chrysler also plans to invest $1 billion in its Sterling Heights and Dundee plants, which will keep about 20,000 jobs here. Ford and Chrysler received $909 million and $1.3 billion in state tax breaks over 20 years, respectively.

Perhaps the most encouraging to Metro Detroit's new economy are the investments planned by General Motors. The downtown Detroit-based automaker is investing about $150 million into the development and production of lithium ion batteries, the power source for new hybrid-electric cars like the Chevrolet Volt.

"It's one of our core areas now," says Kevin Kelly, manager of battery electric vehicle and hybrid communications for GM. "Vehicle electrification will play an important role in the company. We view it as important as the internal combustion engine."

General Motors is investing an additional $112 million into the Warren Tech Center's $2.5 billion project to further develop its battery development center. The new investment will add a hybrid electric vehicle battery and vehicle engineering and development operation, which is expected to create 900 new jobs. GM's Subsystems Manufacturing subsidiary is also expanding its battery module and pack assembly at its Brownstown facility. The $39.7 million investment is expected to retain an additional 150 jobs.

Source: Michigan Economic Development Corp and
Kevin Kelly, manager of battery electric vehicle and hybrid communications for General Motors
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

U-M Dearborn names Livonia, Wixom top biz cities

University of Michigan-Dearborn's Center for Innovation Research, commonly known as iLabs, has named Livonia and Wixom as two of the seven top-performing communities at fostering entrepreneurial growth and economic development in its eCities 2010 study.

These top performers were recognized for their ability to communicate with businesses and capitalize on that ability to listen with their entrepreneurial programs. For instance, 94 percent of the businesses surveyed by iLabs said they wanted to be contacted by their local government. However, local officials have not reached out to a third of them.

"We approached it as the cities as businesses and the businesses as their customers," says Tim Davis, director of iLabs. "That left a lot of cities scratching their heads."

That wasn't the case with Livonia and Wixom. The two suburbs both had business programs that focused on communications. Livonia's Business Ambassador program leveraged the city's mid-sized firms to find smaller companies and reach out to them so it could create a more hospitable entrepreneurial ecosystem. Wixom created an online networking hub that created a number of synergies and lines of communications between both businesses and the local government.

The eCities research surveyed more than 100 communities in the state of Michigan that are home to 128,242 entrepreneurs earning $3.4 billion in annual income. These communities also had commercial development projects valued at
$1.2 billion last year and account for nearly half the state's commercial property.

Source: Tim Davis, director of iLabs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ford partners with Georgia Tech on water sustainability

Ford is expanding its 7-year-old partnership with Georgia Tech to study and develop new ways to reduce water usage and make the most of the water it consumes.

"We're looking to do something different than just mandate efficiencies," says David Berdish, manager of social sustainability for Ford. "We're looking at different strategies for water-scarce regions."

Not that Ford hasn't done well with mandating such efficiencies. Between 2000 and 2008, the Dearborn-based automaker reduced its global water use by 56 percent (9.5 billion gallons) as part of its goal to minimize the environmental impact of its facilities. The difference with this new program is its focus on tailoring the policy for the region.

Researchers from both Ford and Georgia Tech will study different programs and benchmarks for water sustainability practices. Those programs will encompass climates where the resource is both plentiful and scare. The idea is to find the best practices to not only minimize water usage but also make sure the supply is not polluted.

The collaboration with Georgia Tech's Sustainable Design and Manufacturing program will help Ford determine the right manufacturing processes as the automaker's base expands into water-scarce areas like China, South Africa, and Mexico.

Source: David Berdish, manager of social sustainability for Ford
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

C Squared Innovations develops cheaper way to produce lithium ion batteries

Not all tech transfer comes from Michigan's research universities. For example, take C Squared Innovations, a startup founded from innovations created at University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Pravansu Mohanty, a mechanical engineering professor at U-M Dearborn, developed a way to cut down the manufacturing costs of lithium ion batteries. "We have an innovative process that bypasses the manufacturing process the industry is developing right now," Mohanty says.

The technology, recently on display at U-M's Celebrate Innovation event, is currently undergoing prototype development by the company's three-person team, which includes an intern. Mohanty is looking for a commercial partner to help develop its niche manufacturing. He expects to land that partner within the next year, which should allow him to hire a few engineers with advanced degrees. Think PhDs.

"We plan to expand to 10 people," Mohanty says.

Source: Pravansu Mohanty, founder of C Squared Innovations
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Metro Detroit auto firms and manufacturers to invest $55.6M, hire 605 workers

Automotive, manufacturing, and automotive manufacturing were all big winners in the latest round of job-creating tax breaks from the state of Michigan.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp doled out $89.4 million in tax breaks to nine companies and two brownfield developments that promise to create up to 1,085 jobs over the next decade. Five Metro Detroit automotive and manufacturing firms received $55.6 million in tax abatements that are expected to create 605 jobs.

One of the more prominent projects is a consolidation at Link Engineering that will create jobs in a new Dearborn location. The transportation engineering, testing, and manufacturing firm plans to invest $9.8 million over the next seven years while creating 59 new jobs. It was also looking at a site in Ohio, but chose to stay in Michigan with the help of a $789,787 state tax break and another one under consideration from the city of Dearborn.

The 75-year-old family owned business plans to execute this consolidation and expansion by the end of the year. It employs 200 people and a handful of interns and independent contractors.

"We do a fair amount of work with Ford, so Dearborn is attractive," says Tim Duncan, vice president of global test operations for Link Engineering. "Plus its location. It's close to the airport."

Among the other local projects:

- Hallite Seals Americas plans to spend $7.4 million to expand its Wixom operations, which will retain 152 jobs and create another 60 over the next five years. The manufacturer of sealing devices received a $475,445 tax break. It was also considering another site in Texas.

- KOSTAL Kontakt Systeme, an electric components manufacturing firm, will drop $27.1 million to relocate the existing production of its solar connector systems from Germany to Rochester Hills. It's a move that will create 247 new jobs, thanks to a $3.9 million state tax abatement over seven years.

- Commercial-vehicle supplier Metalsa Structural Products received a $1.9 million tax break over seven years in exchange for a $1.9 million investment in Novi. The company will relocate its global commercial and research and development operations, creating 65 new jobs here.

- Wolverine Assemblies will invest $8.4 million to set up a new office in Wixom that will perform value-added assemblies, sub-assemblies, testing, sequencing, and warehousing for various products. The investment, which has garnered a
$785,166 state tax credit, is expected to create 174 jobs over five years.

Source: Michigan Economic Development Corp and Tim Duncan, vice president of global test operations for Link Engineering
Writer: Jon Zemke
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