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Brogan & Partners hires 3 in downtown Birmingham

The onset of the Great Recession was half a decade ago, but Brogan & Partners has its eyes on making up the last of the lost ground from the economic downturn.

The downtown Birmingham-based company is on track this year to have its best year since 2008. That has allowed it to make three hires over the last year, including a new art director and account managers.

"If we continue to grow at this same rate I expect we will hire more people," says Ellyn Davidson, managing partner of Brogan & Partners. She thinks those hires could number between three and five people, including two positions in the first quarter of next year. The firm currently employs 40 people, including 25 in Birmingham and the rest in North Carolina.

The 29-year-old firm specializes in Internet advertising, social media and mobile marketing. It works on brand engagement and has a knack for marketing toward women. Brogan & Partners has landed eight new accounts since April. Those clients range from business-to-business firms, tech companies and business-to-customer businesses.

"Our clients are a real hybrid of types of companies," Davidson says.

Source: Ellyn Davidson, managing partner of Brogan & Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Wave Aircraft develops new amphibian aircraft technology

Perry DiClemente has been working in the aerospace industry for years, helping design new aircraft. That lifetime's worth of work inspired him to start his own company, Wave Aircraft.

"We saw a need that wasn’t being filled," DiClemente says. "It is the next evolution in amphibian aircraft."

The West Bloomfield-based startup is developing a go-everywhere aircraft that can comfortably land on a runway or on water. Its hull technology can be used on either light jets or turbo-prop airplanes. The hull allows for smoother landings and takeoffs on water and also necessitates a shorter space to land or take off. The company is targeting the business-aircraft class.

Wave Aircraft's team of eight people recently won the NextEnergy Transport & New Mobility award at last month's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition in Detroit. The $25,000 cash prize will go toward building the startup’s drone prototype, which should take off early next year.

DiClemente says his team was surprised at its win but took a lot away from the competition, including how best to pitch the startup and tighten up its business plan, valuable expertise for a new firm developing cutting-edge technology.

"We're a clean-sheet startup project," DiClemente says.

Source: Perry DiClemente, founder & CEO of Wave Aircraft
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

IMET technology cleans diesel exhaust, improves MPG

IMET is racking up more recognition and gearing up to start selling its clean-diesel technology next year.

The Northville-based startup's GreenPower Muffler system reduces diesel fuel emissions and helps improve MPG for heavy-duty trucks. It made the semifinals of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition in Detroit last month and won a $750,000 matching grant from the Port of Los Angeles before that.

The startup's team of six people is leveraging that recognition and money to get its technology to market. It needs approval from the state of California to make that happen, and it expects to receive that early next year.

"Once we have that we can go into full production," says Nick Cherasaro, director of marketing for IMET.

IMET's technology was developed by Julius J Rim, an engineer who worked at the GM Tech Center for decades. He launched IMET after retiring and now serves as the company’s president.

"We have room to improve (diesel fuel technology)," Rim says. "That's why we're doing it."

The GreenPower Muffler System is different from traditional mufflers because it doesn’t use precious metals, like palladium and platinum, and instead uses water and carbon-silicon composite filters. It recovers muffler-waste heat to generate water vapor to be re-combusted in cylinder combustion chamber at low combustion temperature for nitrous oxide reduction without Urea-SCR.

This allows the technology to reduce particulate matter by 95 percent and cut nitrous oxide emissions by half. It is also half the cost of a regular muffler because it doesn’t use precious materials like traditional mufflers.

"It can pay for itself on an average truck within 18 months," Cherasaro says.

Source: Julius J Rim, founder & president of IMET and Nick Cherasaro, director of marketing for IMET
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Best Homes Title expands across Michigan with new offices

Best Homes Title is expanding across Michigan. The Farmington Hills-based business has expanded into west Michigan through an acquisition and opened a new office in Bay City.

Not bad for a firm that got its start as a side business for a real-estate law firm in 2006.

"Our growth curve has gone from four people to more than 60 and nine offices," says Neil Sherman, president of Best Homes Title.

The 7-year-old company has a staff of 60 employees and is looking to add interns this spring. It has hired eight people over the last year and is currently looking to fill five positions for jobs like title processing and sales. It also added another 15 positions this year when it acquired Grand Rapids-based Closing Office.

That acquisition gave Best Homes Title six offices on the west side of the Great Lakes State. It also opened a new office in Bay City to complement its Saginaw office.

"(Opening a Bay City office) provided a really good opportunity for us so we can strengthen our northern location," Sherman says.

Best Homes Title has been working to aggressively increase its market share in Michigan in recent years. Now all nine of its offices are housed across Michigan. It is aiming to start handling title work in other nearby Midwestern states in 2014, which Sherman expects will lead to more hiring.

"Our goal is to continue to expand our operation," Sherman says. "We're looking for talent on all levels."

Source: Neil Sherman, president of Best Homes Title
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

123.net hires 5 as it builds out new space in Southfield

123.net continues to build out its data-storage capabilities in Southfield. The 17-year-old company began working out of its 130,000-square-foot structure at 24700 Northwestern Highway last year. Its offices occupy the top floor of the seven-story building. It expects to wrap up work on Phase 1 of the project early next year, which will bring 15,000 square feet of data center space online.

"We are expanding our data center facility in the building," says Dave Curran, channel sales manager for 123.net. "We expect to have 100,000 square feet of data center space." He adds that his company is working to turn the building into a tier 4 data facility.

123.net employs 30 people. It hired five over the last year and had three openings for marketing, engineering and sales professionals. The company expects to hire 12 people in 2014 to support its projected revenue growth of 25 percent.

"We're always looking for good people with solid backgrounds," Curran says.

Source: Dave Curran, channel sales manager for 123.net
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.

AutoBike sales hit six figures in first summer season

AutoBike began selling its first bicycles this year, and it has hit some significant milestones in that time.

The Troy-based startup manufactures a bicycle with an automatic shifter meant to make a ride smoother for recreational and casual bike riders. It moved into a 7,000-square-foot warehouse and production facility last spring and began making sales in time for the summer riding season.

"We topped $100,000 in revenue in our first six months," says Sean Simpson, CEO of AutoBike.

The 2-year-old company was launched by a group of automotive industry veterans who applied their expertise to creating AutoBike's automatic shifter. The idea is the shifter will automatically change the bike’s gear to the optimal one for its rider.

AutoBike is composed of a team of eight people, which is up one person from the company's staff in 2012. It has raised $610,000 in seed capital, including the $25,000 prize from winning the Next Generation Manufacturing category at last week’s Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

Source: Sean Simpson, CEO of AutoBike
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ECRS finds niche in cleaning up small disasters

Christian Fahoome had his own disaster restoration company when he noticed a hole in the market. Specifically, he didn’t see a company that helps everyday people clean up when, for instance, a kitchen fire badly damages a house.

"A lot of this market is what I call Mrs. Jones' home fire," Fahoome says. "The small fires for individual owners."

That prompted him to start ECRS (an acronym for Electronic Cleaning Restoration Services), which specializes in helping home owners and small businesses people clean up disasters that are small on the grand scale of things but are overwhelming when it comes to that individual person. The industry is largely aimed at handling large disasters that happen to big companies or organizations and are facilitated by insurance companies.

The Troy-based firm got its start 2.5 years ago. It has doubled its staff to four people over the last year, hiring two technicians. Fahoome expects to bring on one more employee before the year is out to meeting the growing demand for his company.

"It has been very well received," Fahoome says. "We're getting more and more momentum."

Source: Christian Fahoome, owner of ECRS
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Metro Detroit startups score big at Accelerate Michigan

A number of Metro Detroit-based companies came away with prizes at last week's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

The annual business plan competition awards $1 million in prizes, including a $500,000 cash prize for first place, to promising tech startups either based in Michigan or looking to move to the Great Lakes State. Metro Detroit-based firms, particularly those from Ann Arbor, have done quite well in the downtown Detroit-based competition’s first four iterations.

"Silicon Valley is supposed to have all the answers," says Tony Scott, CIO of VMware and the keynote speaker at this year’s Accelerate Michigan. "It doesn't. And there are a lot of great ideas here in Michigan."

Among the winners from Metro Detroit are:

- Troy-based AutoBike, which won the Next Generation Manufacturing category and the $25,000 in seed capital that came with it. The company is making a bicycle with an automatic gear shifter and began making sales this year. "(That prize money) is going to go toward OEMs for production," says Sean Simpson, CEO of AutoBike.

- CureLauncher, which calls Bloomfield Hills home, won the Life Sciences category ($25,000) for its website that is working to become the Wikipedia of clinical trials for new drugs and treatments.

- ENT Biotech Solutions (Detroit) won the $25,000 that comes with taking first in the Medical Device category for its surgical tool.

- West Bloomfield-based WaveCraft is creating an amphibious aircraft that won the NextEnergy Transport & New Mobility and its $25,000 cash prize.

Among the Ann Arbor-based winners are:

- Covaron Advanced Materials, which took second place ($100,000) for its low temperature cure advanced ceramics technology.

- TurtleCell won the People's Choice award for $10,000 for its smartphone case that come with retractable earbuds.

- PlanReaction's building floor plans and furniture layouts software won the IT category and its $25,000 prize.

- Inmatech won the DTE Energy Alternative Energy category ($25,000) for its technology that incorporates supercapacitors to make batteries more energy efficient.

Source: Tony Scott, CIO of VMware and Sean Simpson, CEO of AutoBike
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AccessPoint adds 12 jobs in Novi

AccessPoint keeps growing as the Metro Detroit company sticks to its knitting in the human resources field and makes an acquisition.

The Novi-based company has hired a dozen people over the last year, growing its staff to 60 employees and one intern. Those new hires are primarily made up of human resources and accounting personnel.

The 13-year-old company is a professional employer organization that helps other companies handle human resources. The firm has more than 400 customers across the U.S. in a broad range of industries.

"Our business is to help the business owner shed the burden of employee administration," says John Gillis, executive vice president of AccessPoint. "AccessPoint takes human resources to a whole new level."

The firm does that by helping companies maximize the benefits they offer to employees and helping those workers feel like valued members of the organization. "HR is about doing the right thing for the company and the employee," Gillis says.

AccessPoint has grown its revenue by 40 percent in 2012 and expects to repeat that number this year. It has expanded into the Washington, D.C., market this year and acquired a company in Florida, Veritas Employer Services, which is now known as AP Veritas. Although another acquisition is not predetermined right now, Gillis says the company is keeping its options open.

"We're always looking for opportunities," Gillis says.

Source: John Gillis, executive vice president of AccessPoint
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Group Associates hires 13, set to add 6 more

Hiring is fast becoming the norm at Group Associates this year.

The Bingham Farms-based firm has hired 13 people over the last year and is looking to fill six more positions by year-end. Those new hires include computer programmers, along with professionals who specialize in tech, accounting and human resources. The employee benefits management firm now employs 100 people and is looking at adding interns.

Group Associates specializes in helping large- and mid-sized companies manage complex employee benefits programs by utilizing technology. The 27-year-old firm does a lot of work helping these businesses digitize their human resources needs.

"The Affordable Care Act is in large part pushing our clients toward outside consulting services to make sure they are handling their healthcare coverage properly," says David Zick, president of Group Associates. "Companies are looking more and more for somebody to manage these things electronically."

Which means more business for Group Associates. The company has experienced significant growth in recent years and Zick is optimistic that demand for his firm's services will also grow.

"I expect it to continue, and also to grow," Zick says. "I think it's an increasing trend."

Source: David Zick, president of Group Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Troy-based OpTech increases staff at HQ, in field

OpTech is growing not just its business, but its reach.

The Troy-based IT staffing firm has diversified its client base so it now serves the finance, government, insurance and manufacturing sectors. It is also now servicing clients outside of Michigan as it expands its offerings to include cyber security, business intelligence and mobile app development/maintenance.

"Our clients have asked us to do a lot of things outside of our niche area," says Ronia Kruse, CEO of OpTech. "That has caused a lot of our growth."

For instance, Kruse says OpTech has recently landed a large homeland security contract for providing IT and engineering staffing services. She expects that sort of work to propel her company as it evolves.

"We can't ignore the fact that change is inevitable," Kruse says. "We have to offer expanded services to our clients."

Which also means a lot of hiring. OpTech has increased its internal staff by 38 percent and now employs close to 40 employees and four interns. It also has nearly 200 people working in the field with its clients. OpTech has hired dozens of tech professionals to work with its clients over the last year.

"We provide talent to our customers so we hire a lot of people," Kruse says.

Source: Ronia Kruse, CEO of OpTech
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Loc Performance Products grows through diversification

The more industries it looks to enter into, Loc Performance Products is finding more work.

The Plymouth-based firm has built up its business with defense contracts since its start in 1971, manufacturing large CNC machined components and assemblies for military and industrial applications. The cutbacks in defense spending in recent years have forced Loc Performance Products to find more business in new places.

"We're building up our business with more commercial projects," says Wayne Dula, director of business development for Loc Performance Products. "We have a lot of new business in the mining and rail industries. We also have new business with hybrid municipal bus systems."

The work in those industries has allowed Loc Performance Products to maintain its size, hiring five people over the last year. It now has a staff of 185 employees and the occasional intern.

Dula points out it took a lot of work to branch out. In 2009, military contracts made up 90 percent of Loc Performance Products' bottom line. This year it’s 50 percent. Next year it is expected to be 40 percent, but the company would like to keep military work a major part of its core business while continuing to grow its commercial prospects.

"We would like to double our revenue over the next six years," Dula says.

Source: Wayne Dula, director of business development for Loc Performance Products
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.

Mystic Kettle becomes FT biz for Huntington Woods couple

Randy and Larry Lipman always enjoyed kettle corn while at farmer's markets and other community events. They often noticed the person making it couldn't keep up the demand at those events. Then one of the kettle corn makers went out of business because of a divorce, the CFL over the Huntington Woods couple’s heads went off, and Mystic Kettle was born.

"It started as a part-time weekend thing," Randy Lipman says.

That was 2010. At the time, Larry Lipman had a home preservation business maintaining foreclosed homes for banks before they were sold. The demand for Mystic Kettle's product prompted Larry Lipman to dissolve his business earlier this year and pursue kettle corn making on a full-time basis.

"We became so popular so quick we got a second kettle," Randy Lipman says. "We couldn't keep up with the demand with just one kettle. My husband and I now do this full-time."

They also hired two more people to work for them on a part-time basis. Part of what drives that demand is the higher-quality product the Lipmans strive to make with all local ingredients, such as non-GMO corn. All of those ingredients are made by Michigan companies, which is a large point of pride for the Lipmans.

Source: Randy Lipman, co-owner & operator of Mystic Kettle
Writer: Jon Zemke

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