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Expetec Technology Services eyes adding new locations

IT firm Expetec Technology Services suffered a hit to its bottom line when businesses put off technology upgrades during the down economy.

Now that it's back up, the Troy-based firm is experiencing a spike in sales. Expetect Technology Services has watched its sales increase 27.5 percent in the last year thanks to organic growth from companies looking to upgrade their IT systems. Think everyday businesses looking to upgrade from a Windows XP platform.

"We're getting a lot of calls for that," says Michael St. John, vice president of sales & marketing for Expetec Technology Services.

The 19-year-old firm has hired three people in tech support and sales in the last year. It now has a staff of nine employees. The firm is also looking at adding another location in the Livonia/Ann Arbor area so it can be closer to its customers when their IT infrastructure starts to go down. It is also considering an expansion into Grand Rapids and Lansing to be closer to its clientele.

"It gives us a quicker response time for our customers," St. John says.

Source: Michael St. John, vice president of sales & marketing for Expetec Technology Services
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Highway Media transitions to more web video work

Video production has made a dramatic change in recent years and Highway Media has been there to reap some of those rewards.

The Canton-based video-production firm has enjoyed a 10-percent bump in its revenue over the last two years as it transitions from doing video work for DVDs to online videos. Mark Salloum, producer/director for Highway Media points out that online videos play a significant role in helping websites reach the top of Internet searches and keeping surfers engaged for longer.

"The power of video has become the most impactful medium in the world," Salloum says.

Most of Highway Media’s clients fall into two categories, Salloum explains. A lot of industrial shops are looking for short videos explaining what sets them apart. There are also many medical professionals in need of videos that explain the niche of their practices, such as fertilization clinics. He adds that they want a professional look that tells a compelling story.

"That's why they're hiring us," Salloum says.

The increase in business has allowed Highway Media to add two employees to its core team of 12. The firm is also planning to bring on an intern this spring. 

"We're projecting a dramatic growth, 30-40 percent, in the next two years," Salloum says.

Source: Mark Salloum, producer/director of Highway Media
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tanner Friedman PR firm grows on recurring client work

Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications is one of those companies that doesn't measure its success by the number of new clients it attracts, but by the clients it keeps in its fold.

The Farmington Hills-based public relations agency has enjoyed double-digit revenue growth over the last year thanks primarily to increased work from existing clients.

"That's where we prefer growth to come from," says Matt Friedman, partner at Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications. "We like new clients and are happy to add them. But it’s the best testament to our work and our growth when a client says, 'We want you to do more work for us.'"

The agency enjoyed a small spike in its crisis communications work in the fourth quarter of last year, but its bread and butter came down to three core industries: privately owned businesses, professional services and non-profits. Those three areas have allowed the firm to triple in size since its launch seven years ago.

"These are the types of clients that really need us," Friedman says. "We are closer to a need-to-have than a nice-to-have with them."

Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications has added another person to its staff, rounding it out to eight employees. The hire, a former intern, is an account coordinator. The firm also has six independent contractors and plans to bring on two interns this summer.

"We grow when it makes sense," Friedman says. "We want to add people when we have the work to justify it."

Source: Matt Friedman, partner at Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

IT firm Red Level Networks grows sales 30%, adds 9 jobs in Novi

Last year was one of those years the folks at Red Level Networks will remember for a while, and for all the right reasons.

"We had a great year in 2013," says David King, president of Red Level Networks. "It was one of our biggest growth years in a while."

The Novi-based IT firm grew its revenue by 30 percent and added 48 new clients. Those new customers are in the manufacturing, finance and healthcare industries, among others.

"They're across all industries," King says. "Word gets around when you're good."

Red Level Networks has hired nine people in sales and marketing over the last year. It now has a staff of 32 employees. It is looking to add a few summer interns and hire four more people for data center engineering, help desk and administrative staff.

"We expect to expand our service offerings and staff," King says. "We want to have a staff of 40-50 people within the next 1-2 years."

Source: David King, president of Red Level Networks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Oakland Energy & Water Ventures fund launches in Farmington Hills

A new second-stage investment fund is launching in Farmington Hills. Oakland Energy & Water Ventures will specialize in making investments in the clean energy and water spaces.

"We look at opportunities up to $100 million," says Chris Brower, managing director of Oakland Energy & Water Ventures.

Brower adds that the fund, which is made up of three partners, is flexible when it comes to what type of deals it is looking to do. Among them are joint ventures, partnerships, license agreements, and collaborations. The main things Oakland Energy & Water Ventures is looking for are patented technologies that are ready to scale.

"We're a bit more simplistic," Brower says. "We're looking for proof-of-concept technologies. That is our focus."

Brower says there are a couple of potential deals in the works but the firm isn’t ready to make an announcement yet. He adds that the company is focusing on clean energy and water plays because of global macro trends that are spiking demand for both clean energy and water to accommodate the growing world population.

Source: Chris Brower, managing director of Oakland Energy & Water Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Dart Appraisal sets stage for growth with 14 new hires

Dart Appraisal began to see some of its business pick up in the last few months. Last month new business for the real-estate appraisal firm consisted of 27 percent of its revenue.

"These were in the works for some time," says Darton Case, president of Dart Appraisal. "These were some big deals." He says those deals were made up primarily of five large clients.

The Troy-based company handles appraisal work for real-estate foreclosures, purchases and refinancing. It employs 43 people and is looking to add summer interns. The firm hired 14 people in the last year (some of whom were replacement hires) and currently has openings for seven positions in operations and sales.

Dart Appraisal, formerly DartAppraisal.com, moved into a larger office in Troy a little more than a year to accommodate its growth. The firm's new space is twice as large as its previous office. It is currently aiming to continue growing in 2014 as it keeps doing large amounts of work with a variety of customers, including homebuilders, modular home companies, wholesale mortgage firms and HUD housing.

"We are in the core business of about a dozen strategic platforms," Case says.

Source: Darton Case, president of Dart Appraisal
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Innovative Learning Group celebrates 10 years this month

Most businesses don't live to see three years. Many more don't make it to five years. Innovative Learning Group is celebrating birthday No. 10 this month.

The downtown Royal Oak-based firm doesn’t dwell on what has changed over the last decade. Its team of 13 people focus on what has stayed the same in that time: "Our great culture and focus on clients," says Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group. "What happened over the last 10 years is we managed to keep pace with technology as it changed."

Innovative Learning Group is a business consultancy that specializes in training and human performance improvement for businesses. It develops learning strategies, curriculum architectures, and implements/evaluates these learning solutions. The firm has done this primarily with digital solutions and it is pivoting its services more toward the mobile realm in 2014.

"What we always care about is steady, profitable growth," Toenniges says. "We aim for 15 percent year over year."

That has allowed Innovative Learning Group to hire two people in January. Those new jobs are in performance consulting and media development.

"Over the coming year we will probably hire several people," 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.

Startgrid online portal to foster entrepreneurial collaboration

Local leaders often talk about the strengths of Metro Detroit's entrepreneurial ecosystem. Everything from local business accelerators to university programs are talking points they love to tick off in speeches. Meet Startgrid, the Detroit Regional Chamber's latest effort to connect those entrepreneurial dots.

Startgrid was announced at last week’s Detroit Policy Conference and is funded in part by the New Economy Initiative. It is an online portal with the purpose of helping local entrepreneurs connect with a wide variety of people who want to work with startups. The platform allows users to create a collaboration page that features their latest venture. Entrepreneurs can flesh out their page over time, growing their social media circle of friends, mentors and industry experts.

"It's a community dedicated toward the entrepreneurial journey," says Peter Gardner, founder & CEO of Startgrid.

The idea is to fill in the gaps of Metro Detroit’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The portal plans to complement local resources by working with the likes of Bizdom, TechTown, Detroit Venture Partners, Insyght, Ann Arbor SPARK and Automation Alley, among others. To watch a video about what Startgrid is about, click here.

"Just watch," says Sandy Baraugh, president & CEO of Detroit Regional Chamber. "We're going to do amazing things with this."

Source: Sandy Baraugh, president & CEO of Detroit Regional Chamber and Peter Gardner, founder & CEO of Startgrid
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

CoFoundersLab aims to connect Metro Detroit entrepreneurs

CoFoundersLab is coming to Metro Detroit, hosting a match party at Grand Circus in downtown Detroit and partnering with the University of Michigan.

The Maryland-based firm specializes in making online portals that help entrepreneurs connect with a variety of people that can help them build their startup. Each portal specializes in a specific metropolitan area or a university community. A Metro Detroit version is being launched.

"We build an online matching platform," says Michael Hughes, vice president of community development for CoFoundersLab. Think of it as a dating site for entrepreneurs looking for co-founders.

The firm has already built one of these portals for the Zell-Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies in the U-M Ross School of Business. The Michigan Founder Finder helps students, staff and the overall university community connect to help grow new companies coming out of the University of Michigan.

The matchup event is set for downtown Detroit at 6:30 p.m. on Mar 19 in the Grand Circus space in Broderick Tower. For information, click here.

Source: Michael Hughes, vice president of community development for CoFoundersLab
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Woodward Asset Capital acquires Homesource Realtors

Woodward Asset Capital has acquired Homesource Realtors with the idea of growing not as a real-estate brokerage, but as a technology firm.

The Southfield-based firm has developed a software platform called OfferSubmission that aims to sell properties faster and for maximum value. The seven-year-old company sees Homesource Realtors as the outlet for that platform.

"As the default market has changed we see an opportunity to disrupt the market with our technology," says Ron Jasgur, president of Woodward Asset Capital.

The first step was acquiring the real-estate brokerage. The second was rebranding it as SellerNation. The third, rebuilding the rebranded brokerage around the software platform that focuses on the seller experience.

Seller Nation’s OfferSubmission platform focuses on the seller side of the transaction. The idea is to bring in as many offers as quickly as possible. "It allows us to receive multiple offers and negotiate with them instead of waiting for offers to come in one at a time," Jasgur says.

Homesource made a name for itself as a discount brokerage. Jasgur is moving SellerNation away from that. "It really doesn’t fit into what we do," Jasgur says. He expects to roll out SellerNation across the country over the next 24 months.

Woodward Asset Capital currently employs 11 people. It has hired two more in customer service in the last year, and he sees more job postings in the company’s near future.

"With this acquisition we expect to hire another 6-8 in the next few months," Jasgur says.

Source: Ron Jasgur, president of Woodward Asset Capital
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Evans Distribution Systems adds 60 hires in Michigan

Evans Distribution Systems is growing the size of its workforce in Michigan as the logistics firm continues to move toward a more diversified clientele.

"We will continue to grow in other industries outside of automotive, like wine-and-spirits and electronics," says Derek Byrd, marketing & inside sales manager for Evans Distribution Systems.

The Melvindale-based firm specializes in full service third-party logistics. Among the services it offers are warehousing, transportation and staffing. It is celebrating its 85 birthday this year, and has grown its business to include 30 operations in 10 different states. It employs about 500 people, including about 60 new employees over the last year.

Evans Distribution Systems has watched its warehousing and transportation divisions lead the charge for growth. It recently expanded its Romulus warehouse facility to 200,000 square feet.

The firm has seen its biggest bump from transportation services. That division now makes up 40 percent of the company's bottom line, up from 20 percent in recent years. The firm has achieved that by expanding the number of industries it services, adding more business from the likes of automotive, electronics, recycling and food & beverage industries.

"We will put more emphasis on transportation management," Byrd says. "We really want to grow the transportation side."

Source: Derek Byrd, marketing & inside sales manager for Evans Distribution Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

jacAPPS expands under new COO's leadership

Bob Kernen landed as the new COO of jacAPPS last summer, and has worked to grow the mobile app company since then. But getting him to join the Bingham Farms-based firm didn't happen as quickly.

"I had been talking to Paul and Fred for a year and a half," Kernen says. "What they're doing is really exciting. Their reputations are platinum and they’re great to work with."

So it wasn't that tough of a decision when they approached Kernen, a Metro Detroit native, about coming back to the region to run jacAPPS. Kernen had lived on both coasts and saw the growing tech economy that was changing Metro Detroit and wanted to be part of it.

The 4-year-old company specializes in making mobile apps for a variety of big players in different industries. It makes apps for radio stations, Ford and McLaren Hospitals. That work has allowed jacAPPS to hire three people over the last year, including a software developer, a client services manager and Kernen.

"We're growing like crazy," Kernen says. "It's very exciting."

The company now has a staff of eight employees and one intern. It is looking to add another intern or two soon. The staff recently moved from Southfield to a a 5,000-square-foot office in Bingham Farms.

Source: Bob Kernen, COO of jacAPPS
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Total Quality Logistics opens 13-person office in Troy

Total Quality Logistics opened up its 23rd office in the U.S. earlier this month, adding 13 new jobs in Troy.

The Cincinnati-based firm is one of the largest freight brokerage firms in the country. It employs 2,500 people in 12 states across the U.S. Last year it helped move 815,000 loads of freight and posted sales of more than $1.6 billion. It sees a significant opportunity in Metro Detroit.

"The work we do we can do anywhere," says Kerry Byrne, executive vice president of Total Quality Logistics. "The location is important so we can attract quality talent. It's really the region that attracted us."

Total Quality Logistics doesn’t have a goal for how big it wants to grow the office, but Byrne provides some encouraging examples. Its first office in Chicago opened five years ago and employs more than 100 people today. Its Tampa Bay office opened four years ago and also has over 100 employees.

"It really depends on our ability to attract talented individuals," Byrne says, adding that Total Quality Logistics is looking for driven, competitive sales people. For information on its open positions, click here.

Source: Kerry Byrne, executive vice president of Total Quality Logistics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Grand Angels sinks seed capital into ProNAi Therapeutics

Grand Angels is reaching across the Great Lakes State to plunk down some serious seed capital for one of Metro Detroit’s promising startups.

The Grand Rapids-based angel investor group has invested in ProNAi Therapeutics. The Plymouth-based biotech startup is developing a novel and proprietary DNAi drug technology platform to help fight cancer. It has enjoyed recent success with safely treating Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma patients in clinical trials.

The group has also invested in Ann Arbor-based Local Orbit, which is developing software that helps connect food producers (think farmers, co-ops and farmers markets) with grocers, restaurants and other eateries.

"Our applicants are roughly split between each side of the state," says Jody Vanderwel, president of Grand Angels. "We even have some from the northern part of the state."

Grand Angels launched a decade ago with the idea of focusing its investment on startups in the Grand Rapids area. Within a few years it expanded that focus to include the entire state of Michigan to enhance its deal flow. It started adding more members after making that decision, and now adds 3-4 new angel investors each year. The current membership stands at 48 high-net-worth individuals.

Source: Jody Vanderwel, president of Grand Angels
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Benzinga adds financial products, 5 new employees

Benzinga is growing in more than just a few ways these days. The Southfield-based startup is adding more products to diversify its revenue, hiring staff and possibly looking for a new home later this year.

Benzinga, which will turn four years-old in May, got its start providing financial news with a twist, adding ideas that stock market day traders and other investors can use to profit from the day's headlines. It quickly locked down $2 million worth of seed capital from Lightbank, the venture capital firm founded by Groupon’s co-founders. That enabled Benzinga to grow its staff and services. It’s not just a publication anymore. Think of it more as a technology company.

"We're a very flat organization," says Jason Raznick, CEO of Benzinga. "I gave a TEDx speech about a madeup word called Doarchy."

Combine the word "do" and "hierarchy" and you’ll have an idea about what Raznick is talking about. Benzinga empowers its employees to turn their passions into businesses and revenue streams. That means today Benzinga's main three revenue streams come from subscriptions to its news service, licensing the software it creates and Marketfy, which is a financial education platform.

"What we're really great at is creating something from nothing," Raznick says. "Marketfy didn’t exist a year ago. Now it’s generating crazy revenue."

Those sorts of innovations come from Benzinga’s staff of 27 employees and five interns. It has hired five people in the last year, including a new COO and software developers. There are four openings for software developers, marketing professionals and UIX designers.

Raznick is also looking to bring in more talent with roots in Michigan who are looking to move back to the Great Lakes State. To help accomplish that he is considering moving his company when the lease to its current home is up this summer. He is thinking about downtown Detroit or downtown Ann Arbor to help make it easier to attract young, technology-inclined talent.

"We're not sure what we’re going to do," Raznick says. "We need a cool environment."

Source: Jason Raznick, CEO of Benzinga
Writer: Jon Zemke

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