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Level One Bank opens up $100M for local small biz loans

Level One Bank is making a pool of $100 million worth of loans available to local small businesses.

The Farmington Hills-based bank will consider working capital loans and owner-occupied real estate mortgages of up to $10 million. Real-estate investment loans are not included. It considers businesses with less than $50 million in revenues to be small businesses and eligible for this new pool of money.

"The lending will be focused on the businesses in our area," says Patrick Fehring, president & CEO of Level One Bank.

The three-year-old bank has been growing at an exponential rate in its first few years. It now has branches in Ferndale, Birmingham, Northville, Clinton Township, and two in Farmington Hills. It employs 86 people after adding 32 positions year-to-date.

"We're hiring fast and furious," Fehring says.

For information on the loans, please contact Jeff Taliscka at (248) 737-3154 or jtalicska@levelonebank.com.

Source: Patrick Fehring, president & CEO of Level One Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Vision Computer Solutions revenue jumps 60%, 5 more hires planned

Vision Computer Solutions' new business model is gaining traction on the uphill growth chart.

The 16-year-old company has watched its revenue increase 60 percent over the last year and added four positions. It has one open job for an advanced network engineer. The company also just opened an office in downtown Ann Arbor to take advantage of the business opportunities in that emerging technology area. It hopes to find another 30-35 clients over the next year and add five more jobs.

"It's been very consistent and steady growth for us," says Peter Marsack, vice president of business development for Vision Computer Solutions. "That has allowed us to maintain a high level of growth for our clients. I see that continuing."

Vision Computer Solutions has a new business model, switching from a per-item/hourly rate for IT work to a flat fee for complete support services almost three years ago. The company initially lost a few customers when it made that switch but has since found numerous others to take their place.

"It brings these news businesses a way to fix their IT budgets," Marsack says. "They are much more appreciative of that model."

Source: Peter Marsack, vice president of business development for Vision Computer Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Oakland County Medical Main Street now $61M program; 45,000 jobs to come

A now 3-year-old Anderson Economic Group study called for the health-care and life science sector to be the fastest-growing in Oakland County, prompting it to create the Medical Main Street program to encourage investment. That prediction is beginning to ring true today.

The Oakland County Medical Main Street program scored investments
totaling $34.8 million from five companies either moving or expanding in the county in the first quarter of this year. This contributed to the creation or retention of more than 1,000 jobs. Fifteen companies have put $61 million into Medical Main Street since it was founded in 2008, a trend Oakland County officials expect to continue as the economy rebounds.

"We're seeing this accelerating," says David Schreiber, chief strategist for Oakland County Economic Development. "This is trending upward."

Among the recent investments are $3.7 million (162 new jobs) from Ascendant MDx for a new clinical laboratory for diagnostic tests in Farmington Hills and $28 million (640 new jobs) from health-care info tech provider CareTech Solutions to complete the second phase of its expansion project.

Oakland County already had a strong base in the health-care and life sciences industries. The 2008 study shows approximately 93,000 jobs at about 4,300 life science and medical facilities there. About 45,000 more positions are expected over the next 10 years.

Source: David Schreiber, chief strategist for Oakland County Economic Development
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Prime Studios focuses on mobile, web apps; looks for first hire

Prime Studios is now just Prime, a reflection of the start-up's efforts to refocus on mobile and Internet applications.

The downtown Northville-based firm got its start three years ago when a couple of 20-somethings (Kettering University graduates Matt Gaidica and Brad Birdsall) wanted to open an all-purpose creative studio that did everything from software applications to digital media work. After doing a plethora of apps for smart phones and websites, the partners knew they were onto something.

"We want to get into a heavy niche and focus on that," Gaidica says. "These are the things we're really into and good at."

Prime has watched the demand for its services jump in the last year, as it created apps for Adrian College and a mobile website for Kettering University. The studio has taken on more custom work since then and is getting ready to add its first employee.

"We have always had room for 1-2 more people," Gaidica says. "We just need to find the right person."

Source: Matt Gaidica, co-owner of Prime
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Oakland County announces cloud computing, Wi-Fi initiatives

Oakland County is making more and more of its IT and tech services wireless, according to County Executive L Brooks Patterson in his State of the County speech on Tuesday.

Oakland County will introduce a cloud computing initiative where it will conduct its own IT services through the cloud computing platform, and offer the services to local municipalities. The new program will eliminate the need for each local government entity to have its own servers and applications, instead accessing the county's for a nominal fee. The first offering will be Oakland County's eHealth software.

The county is also revamping its Wireless Oakland initiative with a new partnership with Frankenmuth-based Air Advantage. The 8-year-old Internet provider will provide Wi-Fi services to communities in northern Oakland County, utilizing the county's towers. In exchange for selling these services, Air Advantage will provide free wireless Internet in some downtowns, starting with Holly, Oxford and Clarkston. More communities will be announced later this year.

"Our philosophy is all people should have access to the Internet," says Scott Zimmer, president of Air Advantage. "The Internet is becoming a necessary utility like electricity or water."

Making this deal possible is a $64 million grant from the federal stimulus package. The grant is meant to help Air Advantage make Internet services available in underserved areas within a 13-county section of eastern Michigan. That section stretches from Bay County to the north, Shiawassee County to the west and Oakland County to the south.

Source: Oakland County and Scott Zimmer, president of Air Advantage
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Oakland Co Medical Main St hits $21M in investment

Oakland County's Medical Main Street notched a strong 2010, attracting $21 million in investment that retained or attracted about 600 jobs.

The Medical Main Street program began in 2008 as a tool to help diversify Oakland County's economy by growing the health-care and life-science industries. Those industries represent 93,000 jobs today and are expected to create 45,000 new jobs over the next decade. The program helped six companies relocate or expand their operations in Oakland County.

"In the next couple of months you'll hear about more companies moving into the area," says Irene Spanos, senior business development representative for the Oakland County Economic Development Team. "We have a lot of projects in the pipeline."

This year's totals are up from four deals worth $5.2 million in investment that took place in 2009. Spanos is expecting an even better 2011. She points to Oakland University's new medical school opening this year and its new stem cell center as reasons for optimism.

"This is going to be a good resource for us," Spanos says. "We can build on that."

Source: Irene Spanos, senior business development representative for the Oakland County Economic Development Team
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Vision Computer Solutions revamps biz model, finds new clients

Vision Computer Solutions revisited its business model a couple of years ago and is reaping the rewards of the changes with new clientele and a few more hires.

The downtown Northville-based firm originally focused on the traditional computer industry model of charging time and material for fixing IT problems. It then became a full-management service provider, offering its services at a fixed low cost to its clients. The change lost the company some of its customers but ended up bringing in more through its front door.

"Once we implemented the change, we saw a different sort of client come in," says Peter Marsack, vice president of Vision Computer Solutions. "Clients who recognized the value of their technology."

Vision Computer Solutions' client list of 70-80 firms now consists mainly of those with 20-30 employees. It expects to add another 30-40 clients, primarily in the Midwest, over the next year. This has allowed the 15-year-old company to add three jobs, which brings headcount to 12 people. It expects to add a couple more employees over the next year as it break into new markets in Ohio, along with western and northern Michigan.

Source: Peter Marsack, vice president of Vision Computer Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tera Networks doubles sales on growth in IT management

Tera Networks has its feet on firm ground and is moving forward, thanks to increased sales and more staff.

The Northville-based IT business specializes in IT management, Internet hosting, and disaster recovery for electronic files. Its sales doubled in 2010, with four new customers in a variety of sectors. That has allowed it to add two more people, growing its staff to an even dozen.

"We're positioned to continue that trend," says Paul Kapusky, sales director for Tera Networks.

The company is expecting to add another 3-4 new positions. Kapusky says Tera Networks, a division of Northville-based DataFactZ, should be bolstered by its expanding presence in remote monitoring and management of IT systems. It's offering this service model to small- and medium-sized businesses, basically giving 24/7 IT services and management for a low monthly fee. The 1-year-old company rolled out this new service last fall.

Source: Paul Kapusky, sales director for Tera Networks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Renaissance Venture Capital Fund raises $50M

The venture capital fund of all funds in Michigan is now fully operational, and it has ties all over Metro Detroit.

The Renaissance Venture Capital Fund closed a $50 million investment vehicle earlier this week from a number of local business institutions. The downtown Ann Arbor-based firm, which also has an office in downtown Detroit, plans to invest that money in both local venture capital firms and out-of-state venture capital firms with the intent to invest in local companies.

"It's probably going to invest exclusively in other venture capital funds," says Chris Rizik, CEO of the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund and a Northville resident. "We feel we will have more leverage that way."

The fund of funds has already invested almost $6 million (for a total commitment of $20 million) in half-a-dozen venture capital firms. Those firms in turn have invested more than $23 million into 12 Michigan companies, creating about 200 new jobs. Those companies have leveraged that investment to receive over $146 million in further venture funding. Renaissance Venture Capital Fund expects its money will touch 100-150 companies, creating hundreds of new jobs rooted in the new economy. It has already disbursed its first profits to investors.

The fortunate six venture capital firms include Ann Arbor's Arboretum Ventures and RPM Ventures, along with Kalamazoo-based T-Gap Ventures. Out-of-state firms receiving an allocation include San Francisco-based 5AM Ventures, Houston's DFJ Mercury Ventures, Illinois-based MK Capital, and Florida's Arsenal Ventures. The last two are opening Michigan offices following Renaissance Venture Capital Fund's investment.

The Renaissance Venture Capital Fund was put together by the Business Leaders For Michigan and is funded by the likes of DTE Energy, AAA, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and Huntington Bank. Most other funds of funds are supported with public money. Michigan's private model makes it an industry leader and example of how Michigan is breaking new economic ground when it comes to reinventing its economy.

"That isn't happening anywhere else in the country," Rizik says.

He expects his 3-person firm, which is looking at adding interns next summer, to finish disbursing the money over the next year or two. Fundraising for the next investment vehicle, which might also make investments directly into companies, will begin in 2012.

Source: Chris Rizik, CEO of Renaissance Venture Capital Fund
Writer: Jon Zemke

Northville's Green Light Productions spotlights local films, Elmore Leonard adaptation

Green Light Productions is moving a couple of local movies into the starting blocks, beginning with an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard book, Freaky Deaky, this fall.

"It's going to be a Michigan book by a Michigan author filmed in Michigan," says Keith Simon, president of Green Light Productions. "We're not shooting California in Michigan. We're shooting Michigan in Michigan."

The downtown Northville-based firm is working on a couple of other productions for later this year and next. This isn't how the former banker saw the company, now nearly two years old, taking off. It was founded with the idea of connecting local filmmakers to funding sources, with the idea of finding another Kevin Smith, the Michigan-raised director of indie-film cult favorite Clerks.

However, that hasn't happened yet. The pair have gone through nearly 2,000 project pitches and have worked on getting a few of those off the ground, but to no avail as of yet. That hasn't stopped the seven-person firm from hiring over the last year. While Green Light Productions continues to pursue that business angle, it's focusing more on production work now.

"We've worked on funding several small budget films, but we haven't been able to make anything work," Simon says.

Source: Keith Simon, president of Green Light Productions and Kevin Weedmark, CEO of Green Light Productions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland County Medical Main St attracts $11M in investment, 275 jobs

Healthcare, an industry long taken for granted in Metro Detroit, is proving to be an increasingly strong job source in Oakland County.

The Oakland County Medical Main Street program has attracted $11 million in investment, creating 275 new positions, over the last two years. The latest round comes from Royal Oak Medical Devices. The company plans to spend $2.6 million to expand its medical device design, manufacturing, and distributing operations, a move that is expected to create 26 new jobs over the next few years.

"In the past we have taken these jobs a little for granted because they were part of our infrastructure," says Maureen Krauss, director of the Dept of Economic Development and Community Affairs at Oakland County.

No longer. Oakland County's life sciences industry employs 93,000 people and is projected to create another 45,000 jobs over the next decade, according to a study by the Anderson Economic Group. This industry also has deep roots in the research sectors. Just under 4,900 clinical trials are currently underway in Oakland County -- more than what is taking place in California, Florida, Texas, and New Jersey.

Oakland County started its Medical Main Street program in 2008 with the idea of helping fast-track growth in the life sciences industry. "It keeps the talent, assets, and people here," Krauss says. "It's a really strong part of our retention program."

Source: Maureen Krauss, director of the Dept of Economic Development and Community Affairs at Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland County's Emerging Sectors program hits $194M in investment

If Metro Detroit's economy is turning a corner, then chances are it's going to be first apparent in the numbers from its new economy programs, like Oakland County's Emerging Sectors. The signs are looking good.

The business attraction and retention program for Oakland County has helped facilitate $194 million in new investment and create about 5,900 new jobs through June. That's enough to surpass total numbers in both categories for all of 2009. County officials expect similar growth for the rest of this year.

"It's certainly a great trend," says Maureen Krauss, director of economic development and community affairs for Oakland County. "So many projects that were on hold last year are back on track again."

The Emerging Sectors program began in 2004 with plans to diversify the county's economy and replace vanishing manufacturing jobs. It helps international companies looking to expand their North American operations and local firms based in the new economy.

Some of the recent investments include WABCO Reman Services of Rochester Hills investing $6 million and creating 228 new jobs; Southfield's Direct Sourcing spending $2 million to create 100 new jobs and retain 80 others; and EcoStore USA (Auburn Hills) putting $2.5 million towards the creation of 30 new jobs and the retention of three more. These and more made up the investment for June alone.

Source: Maureen Krauss, director of economic development and community affairs for Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland County's OakGov Challenge taps techies for apps

Oakland County is looking for a few good apps, or at least some for its OakGov Challenge.

The county teamed up with AT&T to offer $10,000 in cash prizes to software developers to come up with applications, or apps, for smart phones, or web-based software that will streamline local government, making it more efficient and cost-effective. The OakGov Challenge's organizers purposely haven't asked for any specific types of apps and haven't specified which problems they are to address.

"What happens over time is the general public's needs change," says Phil Bertolini, deputy county executive and CIO for Oakland County. "We don't claim to know everything they want."

First prize receives $6,500, second prize is $3,000, with $500 for third. The competition is open to anyone who lives, works or goes to school in Oakland, Genesee, St. Clair, Lapeer, and Livingston counties. Anyone who creates an app or comes up with an idea for one can submit it by June 11. The finalists will be chosen by July 8 and the winners will be announced on August 13.

For information on the contest, click here.

Source: Phil Bertolini, deputy county executive and CIO for Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland County set for big job gains next year

If it's always darkest before the dawn then the same sentiment rings true for job creation in Oakland County.

The fourth-wealthiest county in the U.S. took it on the chin in 2009, losing 60,000 jobs. It's set to lose another 9,900 jobs this year, but those numbers will start to reverse considerably in 2011 and 2012. Oakland County can expect to create 2,400 jobs next year and 8,000 the year after, according to economists George Fulton and Don Grimes of the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Labor.

A big part of this success is the county's efforts to diversify its economy away from over-reliance on the automotive and manufacturing industries. It's now capitalizing on other areas such as health-care and alternative energy.

"We  feel we're quite diverse already," says Maureen Krauss, director of economic development and community affairs for Oakland County. "We know we have the assets that not only help the auto-supplying industry, but the robotics and alternative energy industries."

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson likes to call this plan a way to help make his municipality recession resistant. It's an economic formula that has been employed with success in other Rust Belt metro areas such as Pittsburgh.

"We understand that we not only need to invest in diversifying our economy but that it's a long-term commitment," Krauss says.

Source: Maureen Krauss, director of economic development and community affairs for Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

OPS Solutions stands in innovation spotlight

Ever wish that when something breaks a spotlight would magically appear on the problem? Paul Ryznar's company has the answer.

OPS Solutions has developed a light-guided system that specializes in maximizing operational efficiency
for manufacturers. It basically helps workers to identify problem areas before and after they make themselves known.

"We designed the system to revolutionize manual (manufacturing) operations," says Ryznar, president of OPS Solutions.

Formerly a vice president for the likes of Detroit Diesel, Bosch, and United Solar Ovonic, Ryznar spent 25 years improving manufacturing operations efficiency. He conceived the OPS Solutions system in the basement of his home, making it simple enough for his teenage daughters to use.

"We have a very flexible and scalable system," Ryznar says.

Today his four-year-old start-up has two employees in Northville. This year he expects to really roll out his product, targeting the automotive, biotech, and military industries, among others. Goals are to sell 100 units, set up a demonstration facility, and make 4-5 more hires.

"It's going to get more and more popular," Ryznar says.

Source: Paul Ryznar, president of OPS Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke
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