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Frog AGV Systems opens manufacturing facility

Frog AGV Systems has moved its offices from Auburn Hills to a new facility in Macomb Township that should allow it diversify its service offerings and set the stage for future growth.

"We can not only do sales and services but manufacturing of automated guided vehicles," says David Noble, vice president of business development for Frog AGV Systems.

The 30-year-old company describes itself as a "global material handling company that develops, implements and markets Automated Guided Vehicle Systems (AGVs), navigation hardware, and software" used in manufacturing and warehousing industries. In short, it specializes in self-driving forklift technology, similar to Google’s self-driving car.

It previously specialized in sales and service at its former location. The move to Macomb Township in April provided the company with a manufacturing facility that it hopes to attract more customers over the next year.

"If we can do the engineering and manufacturing ourselves we don’t have to outsource it," Noble says. "It allows us more flexibility in what we can do."

Frog AGV Systems has hired three people over the last year, including a project engineer, a software engineer and an executive. The company now employs 80 people globally with a dozen of those employees being based in Detroit. Noble expects its Metro Detroit staff to grow over the next year as the new manufacturing facility opens up more opportunities to do more business.

"The move will allow us to secure more projects," Noble says.

Source: David Noble, vice president of business development for Frog AGV Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Snapshot Design's growth in mobile leads to more hires

Some businesses grow. Some businesses evolve. Snapshot Design is doing both.

"We have evolved more than anything," says Tom Veselenak, partner with Snapshot Design.

The St. Clair Shores-based company specializes in building e-commerce avenues for direct marketing firms and other website-design functions. It has a core customer base of about 40 clients with revenues that range between $20 million and $150 million.

Those customers have engaged Snapshot Design to help redesign their websites to accommodate users from a broad range of mobile devices. Snapshot Design has launched eight of these sites so far this year. That is the most it has ever done in a year and there are still more in the pipeline.

"The amount of people using mobile devices to shop is growing dramatically," Veselenak says. "For many of our customers it is very necessary."

That has allowed the 12-year-old company to expand its staff to 15 employees and the occasional intern. It has hired three people over the last year, creating jobs for software programers and project managers. The company gets most of its talent from local universities.

"We are very proud of that," Veselenak says.

Source: Tom Veselenak, partner with Snapshot Design
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ford acquires Internet radio startup Livio

Ford has acquired Livio, the tech startup based in Ferndale. The terms of the deal were not released.

Livio, formerly Livio Radio, got its start making Internet radios. It has since evolved to make software that enhances in-car connectivity between the vehicle and the electronics its passengers use. Ford plans to allow the startup to keep traveling down its current path, leaving its staff intact at its home in Ferndale.

"It's a win not just for our staff but for entrepreneurs all over southeast Michigan," says Jake Sigal, CEO of Livio.

He adds that his startup's "plans haven't changed" after the acquisition, which includes continuing its hiring. It currently has four positions open for software developers (more info on those positions here) on top of its staff of 11 employees, four independent contractors and a few interns.

Livio also plans to continue working to set the bar in its sector by developing new intellectual property and products. "I can guarantee we will always come out with new stuff," Sigal says.

Source: Jake Sigal, CEO of Livio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Bill Proctor and Assoc. focuses on finding truth in justice system

Searching out the truth might sound a tad cliché when it's used in the mission statement of a business, but these are words that mean a lot to Bill Proctor.

The recently retired TV news reporter has launched Bill Proctor and Associates in Farmington Hills. Proctor describes himself as "an activist for truth," and his company will focus on providing communications, investigative and legal services to individuals and businesses tangled in the U.S. legal system.

"I have found that the criminal justice system makes mistakes," Proctor says. "I am being kind. These mistakes ruin the lives of people, so for me the truth is very important."

Proctor worked for nearly 40 years in broadcast journalism before retiring in May. A majority of his career was spent at WXYZ Channel 7 in Detroit. He also served as a police officer in the Federal Protective Service while attending the University of Maryland.

Bill Proctor and Associates is composed of two employees and 24 independent contractors. It is looking at adding interns in the not-too-distant future. That staff will provide communications services, such as marketing, public relations, media training, crisis management, and multimedia production. It will also provide investigative and legal services, which includes investigations, subject/video surveillance, witness location, vendor theft, and background checks.

"I literally have a courtroom under my umbrella for mock trials and trial prep," Proctor says.

Source: Bill Proctor, president & CEO of Bill Proctor and Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Blue Force Services expands into security sector, hires veterans

Blue Force Services is expanding into the security sector, diversifying its customer base and hiring a few veterans to meet its new product needs.

The Farmington Hills-based company, a subsidiary of ASG Renaissance, specializes in providing services in the defense industry, such as helping firms recruit and place technical personnel, providing engineering services, integrated logistics, and maintenance support, and development of technical publications/documentation.

But with the recent contraction of government spending in the defense industry, Blue Force Services has been expanding into security services, such as security evaluation, threat assessments, emergency action plans, surveillance detection, security training and event security.

"We have moved our focus to fill the gaps," says Richard Simon, vice president of sales & operations for Blue Force Services.

That diversification has allowed Blue Force Security to grow its revenue about 7 percent over the last year. Security services now makes up 30 percent of the company’s bottom line. The company has also hired two people over the last year, both of whom are veterans.

"We see a tremendous amount of talent coming out of the military as they come back from Iraq and Afghanistan," Simon says.

Source: Richard Simon, vice president of sales & operations for Blue Force Services
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tech firm Godlan continues growth streak in Clinton Township

Getting through the recession was a tall order for a number of manufacturers and the companies that service them. But many of those that survived have enjoyed significant growth since 2009.

Godlan is one of those companies.

"The companies that survived and emerged figured out they had to do more with less," says Ed Lanko, president & owner of Godlan.

The Clinton Township-based tech firm sells Infor's Product Configuration Management software, which helps manufacturers streamline the production and sales of their products. It also provides consulting services to manage that software. Its client roster consists of about 250 manufacturers from a variety of industries, such as aerospace, metal fabrication and automotive, among others.

Godlan has enjoyed double-digit gains each year since the end of the recession while responding to the demands of its industry. That has allowed Godlan to increase its staff to 35 people after making seven hires over the last year. It's a growth streak Lanko expects to continue well into next year.

"We are forecasting 20-percent growth year over year in our core business," Lanko says. "That translates roughly to personnel as well."

Source: Ed Lanko, president & owner of Godlan
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.

Level One Bank expands mortgage team with 4 new hires

Level One Bank is expanding its mortgage team in Oakland County as the Farmington Hills-based bank looks to capture more of the local housing rebound.

The bank has added four new mortgage bankers to its Consumer Division. Those new hires will be stationed in both Bloomfield Township and in the bank’s Farmington Hills headquarters.

"We feel there is ample opportunity in Metro Detroit," says Tim Mckay, senior vice president of Level One Bank. "The economy feels good and people are starting to buy homes again."

Level One Bank has been growing steadily over the last few years, becoming one of the larger banks based in Oakland County. It now has $580 million in assets and seven branches that stretch from Ferndale to Bloomfield Township. The bank was working to execute a merger with Oxford Bank last year, but that didn't reach fruition.

Level One Bank has also grown its staff. The bank now employs 135 employees and nearly half a dozen interns after hiring 20 new staffers over the last year.

"We have hired a number of people over the last year," Mckay says.

Source: Tim Mckay, senior vice president of retail & mortgage banking
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.

Side-job mobile app startup 3lb Games goes full-time

The married-couple team of Robin Moulder-McComb and Colin McComb named their mobile app firm 3lb Games because three pounds is the average weight of the human brain.

"We have always found that when playing a game you are using your brain," Moulder-McComb says. "You are not just sitting there passively taking in information."

3lb Games makes mobile app video games. The Grosse Pointe-based couple started the company in 2008 as a part-time gig because they have backgrounds in video game design and development.

"We have all these skills so we thought this would be a way to bring all of those skills together," Moulder-McComb says.

One of the company's biggest hits is its Numenera game, which it describes as: "If you want to explore the Earth a billion years in the future in Monte Cook’s Numenera, you’ll need to be prepared. That’s where this app comes in handy! Designed to guide you through character creation for this science-fantasy RPG, the Numenera Character Creator app also allows you to track your progress in real-time while you play!"

The couple quit their day jobs early this year to take on projects like this and they quickly realized they had made the right decision. "In March I said, 'it's a really good thing I quit my full-time job,'" Moulder-McComb says. "We have just been working, working, working."

And doing it with more and more help. Even though 3lb Games just employs Moulder-McComb and McComb, it is giving work to an increasing number of independent contractors and interns.

Source: Robin Moulder-McComb, CEO, developer & producer of 3lb Games
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Lakeside Software expands team on sales uptick

Lakeside Software is growing, both at its home in Bloomfield Hills and its satellite office in Ann Arbor.

The 16-year-old company specializes in IT and software work. Its SysTrack software monitors and analyzes applications for a company's IT infrastructure. Its sales of the product have steadily increased as more of its customers are looking to minimize IT problems.

"Productivity is really important for our clients," says Dan Salinas, vice president of business development for Lakeside Software.

That has resulted in some new hires for Lakeside Software. Salinas says that his department has hired two new people and the company's Ann Arbor office is in the area of 20 employees, which is up from a dozen a year ago.

"We are basically hiring as fast as we can find qualified people," Salinas says.

Brinton Baker, Lakeside Software’s chief marketing officer, declined to give a total employment number for the company or its Ann Arbor office. Lakeside Software made an agreement with the state of Michigan in 2011 to create 198 jobs over five years and invest in opening an R&D center in Ann Arbor. In exchange the state granted the company a Michigan Economic Growth Authority tax credit worth $731,244.

Source: Dan Salinas, vice president of business development for Lakeside Software and Brinton Baker, chief marketing officer for Lakeside Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Software vets find mobile app success with Five Lakes Studio

To say Ken Vadella and Tod Cunningham are veterans of the software industry might be a bit of an understatement. The pair have 50 years of experience in the industry between them, so it's little wonder they made a go with their own mobile firm and turned it into a success.

"As new things come online it’s always exciting to jump on the bandwagon and see how it works," Vadella says.

Five Lakes Studio makes mobile app video games. The New Hudson-based startup was also recently named one of the state’s largest mobile app firms by Crain's Detroit Business. One of its biggest successes is Picross HD, a picture-puzzle game similar to Sudoku.

"It was one of the first things we did," Vadella says. "It's also one of our most successful apps so far."

Five Lakes Studio focuses mainly on creating its own video game apps that are for sale directly to consumers. It only entertains the idea of doing custom app work for other companies if the price is right.

"We value our free time a lot," Vadella says. "When we do something, we want to do something that will create a constant stream of revenue."

Source: Ken Vadella, co-owner of Five Lakes Studio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

JVS social services non-profit continues growth streak in Southfield

JVS has been serving Metro Detroit for 72 years, getting its start by working with unemployment issues in Detroit. Today the Southfield-based not-for-profit has expanded its reach geographically and in the services it provides, covering the Metro Detroit region and helping a number of disadvantaged subsets of the region’s residents.

The not-for-profit now provides services for workforce development, youth services, affordable housing and financial education. It has also seen an uptick in demand for its foreclosure prevention services and elder care, specifically helping senior citizens age in place.

"The areas we are focused on are areas of great need in southeast Michigan," says Barbara Nurenberg, president & CEO of JVS.

The not-for-profit has watched its staff rise steadily in recent years. Nurenberg estimates that JVS has hired 25 new people in the last year, bringing its staff to 350 people. Those new hires are for everything from helping train people for tech jobs to helping developmentally disabled people work at its janitorial service, which recently landed the state of Michigan as a client.

"In the last 20 years we have gone from a $6.5-million (budget size) organization to a $20 million organization," Nurenberg says.

Source: Barbara Nurenberg, president & CEO of JVS
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Creative Breakthroughs, Inc. aims for 50 hires by end of year

Creative Breakthroughs, Inc. is looking for a few good techies, a few dozen good techies.

The Troy-based company will host a one-day career fair on Oct. 9 at its headquarters, 2075 W. Big Beaver Road, Suite 700. The 22-year-old company will be looking for dozens of new employees in project management, IT consulting and engineering, administration and sales.

“We are really looking to hire 50 new employees by the end of the year,” says Kristen Sarbu, human resources manager for Creative Breakthroughs, Inc. “To achieve our goal we have to be really aggressive in our hiring.”

The IT firm specializes in providing advisory services, network security, integration and infrastructure management strategies. It has hired 43 people over the last year, expanding its workforce to 67 employees. It had nine summer interns, four of which it has hired on this fall.

“We have been having career fairs quarterly this year,” Sarbu says. “We have been going to other career fairs. We have been going out aggressively to find the talent we need.”

Source: Kristen Sarbu, human resources manager for Creative Breakthroughs, Inc.
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Total Security Solutions adds 6 staffers as client base diversifies

Total Security Solutions has grown its business while adding to its client base over the last year.

The Fowlerville-based company makes bullet-proof glass installations for businesses, among other similar security systems. The company has hired six people over the last year, including sales professionals, engineers and manufacturing professionals. It’s currently looking to hire another sales representative.

“This past year we have seen a significant amount of growth,” says Jim Richards, vice president of Total Security Solutions.

The 9-year-old company has grown its business by 20 percent over the last year, thanks to streamlining its business processes by integrating more technology with the help of Ann Arbor-based The Whole Brain Group. Total Security Solutions has also increased the number of customers it serves in a variety of industries, including pharmacies, higher education, and retail outlets like gas stations.

“It’s just more people knowing about us,” Richards says. “We’re just touching more people right now. The more people we touch, the more people are buying from us.”

Source: Jim Richards, vice president of Total Security Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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