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Veggie Pails delivers fresh veggies in Oakland County

Melissa Tabalno and Nicole Converse spent a lot of time in Alaska in recent years, working in the fishing industry.

The partners are back home in Metro Detroit now after getting their new business, Veggie Pails, off the ground. The Highland-based business delivers buckets (or pails) of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other locally produced foods to customers across Oakland County.

"This is a business to get us back on land," Tabalno says.

She and Converse turned Veggie Pails into their full-time jobs earlier this year. The company has now grown to the point where it is looking for its own commercial space to operate out of. Tabalno and Converse are specifically looking for a storefront/warehouse combo where they can build their core business and a retail presence.

In the meantime Veggie Pails is growing through word of mouth and on the strength of its pails full of nutritious food.

"Our pails are really pretty," Tabalno says, saying how the company is continuing to focus on the presentation of its product.

Source: Melissa Tabalno, co-owner of Veggie Pails
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

PublicCity PR leverages PRConsultantsGroup for future growth

PublicCity PR recently scored membership in an organization the boutique public relations agency expects will lead to growth beyond its normal metro Detroit stomping grounds.

PRConsultantsGroup recently choose the Southfield-based firm as its Michigan representative after its previous rep folded up shop. The 14-year-old organization is composed of senior-level public relations and marketing consultants in every major market in the U.S. Members often work together on projects with each member acting as the expert for their region.

"You don't always have the time to learn a new city," says Jason Brown, co-founder of PublicCity PR. "Who are the people to speak to in St. Louis or Chicago? Now we have the resources on the ground in those places."

PRConsultantsGroup members have worked with some big corporate names, including 7-Eleven, Procter & Gamble, and Wal-Mart. PublicCity PR has grown steadily since it was launched in 2008. It now employs four people and Brown expects the firm to grow even more in the next few years as PRConsultantsGroup members look to do more work with his firm.

"The business has grown as it always has, through word of mouth," Brown says.

Now it looks like those words can travel much further and faster than ever before.

Source: Jason Brown, co-founder of PublicCity PR
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Technology Solutions hires 4 employees, looks to add 2 more

If people can get by with a little help from their friends, then Technology Solutions is getting ahead with a lot of help from its clients. The Livonia-based IT firm has grown 350 percent since 2009.

"It's another record-setting year," says Steve Futrell, CEO of Technology Solutions. "We have some great projects all around the year. We have a lot of those here."

The 19-year-old company specializes in VOIP work in the voice and data industry. It deals with a broad variety of clients ranging from global companies to local institutional organizations, like school districts.

"We have great clients," Futrell says. "Our clients have had a lot of great growth over the years."
 
Which has equated to more work for Technology Solutions. And that has meant adding more staff. Technology Solutions has hired four people over the last year, including three engineers and one customer advocate. It now has a staff of 15 employees and is looking to add two interns, along with other workers.

"We're interviewing for two more positions (a sales manager and a network engineer) right now," Futrell says.

Source: Steve Futrell, CEO of Technology Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Brogan & Partners adds 5 jobs in downtown Birmingham

New jobs and promotions have been cropping up at Brogan & Partners this year.

The advertising and digital marketing agency recently promoted three account managers (Kristin Morris, Katie Rehrauer and Morgan Eberle) to account directors. It has also hired five people over the last year, including another account director. The company currently employs 42 people, including 27 employees at its downtown Birmingham headquarters.

"We're hoping to get a really good intern that can become a permanent position," says Ellyn Davidson, managing partner of Brogan & Partners.

The 30-year-old firm has enjoyed 12-percent revenue growth over the last year. That makes for its best year since 2008. It’s also looking to increase revenue by 20 percent in 2014. The firm has more work with existing clients like HoneyBaked Ham and has attracted new clients, like ComForcare, Frankenmuth Insurance, and Michigan First Credit Union.

Brogan & Partners hopes to turn each of those new clients into a long-term business relationship. Davidson is optimistic that will happen thanks to the company’s track record of staying ahead of what’s coming up in the digital marketing world.

"We're heavily invested in research in what's new in marketing and what's next," Davidson says. "We stay on top of how communications are changing."

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

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

Dynamic Robotic Solutions aims to double in size

KMT Robotic Solutions is rebranding itself as Dynamic Robotic Solutions, and the Auburn Hills-based company has some big plans for growth over the next few years.

"Our goal is to double in size over the next 3-5 years," says Dick Johnson, director of business development and marketing for Dynamic Robotic Solutions.

The 29-year-old company has made a name for itself in robotic trimming with more than 1,500 of its systems installed around the world. Dynamic Robotic Solutions more specifically works with water jet cutting. So while the water coming out of a faucet may clock in at 20-25 psi, the water Dynamic Robotic Solutions's robots use spits out at 65,000 psi. That’s strong enough to take the flesh off your finger.

"If you add in a little bit of sand into the stream you can cut two-inch steel," Johnson says.

Robotic cutting is often used in manufacturing, such as cutting the roof liners in cars, carpet for automotive floor mats, and plastic in instrument panels.

The company had its best year in 2012 in regard to revenue growth and is on track to have another strong year. It has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 60 employees. It’s also looking to hire a handful of people in software engineering and sales.

Source: Dick Johnson, director of business development and marketing for Dynamic Robotic Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Sisters launch organic deodorant company, Rustic Maka

A pair of sisters in White Lake have turned making organic deodorant into their own company, Rustic Maka.

Kasia Rothe and Monica Stakvel started down this road a few years ago when Rothe was pregnant and developed a body odor she didn't like. She couldn’t do much about it with options available on store shelves.

"Nothing seemed to be working for me," Rothe says.

So she started making her own deodorant. Rothe is also a stickler for living a healthy lifestyle so she made sure she only used natural ingredients, leaving out the likes of parabens and aluminum that are often found in deodorants.

"We realized deodorant, among other things, has a ton of bad ingredients," Rothe says.

That home-made deodorant turned into the answer Rothe needed, working for her for 12-24 hours. She and Stakvel turned it into Pachy, the new odor-fighting deodorant for Rustic Maka. They launched the company in February and have been selling Pachy online and in 12 stores (primarily natural foods shops) across the state.

"We're hoping we can get some national exposure and take this to the next level," Rothe says.

Source: Kasia Rothe, co-founder of Rustic Maka
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Father & son launch car-mechanic software startup, Optus Software

Martin Waldo played around with an idea for a startup that would help create trust between automotive mechanics and motorists a few years ago.

The idea went sideways at the time, and he put it to the side. Then his son, Austin Waldo, graduated from the University of Michigan early this year, and the father-son duo became inspired.

"We decided to relaunch and try again," Austin Waldo says.

That's how Optus Software began early this year. The Northville-based startup is creating a software platform that enables mechanics to utilize visual media to help gain the trust of their clients. So when a motorist comes in to get a car fixed, the mechanic can show them pictures or video of the problem and any other problems that arise during the inspection.

"It's a whole 360 transparency experiment so the customer can feel like they can trust the dealership," Austin Waldo says.

Optus Software's team of three people is currently testing the system with a large car dealership group at two of its dealerships in Canton and Plymouth. They plan to sell it to the dealerships as software as a service.

"We're close to having a finalized product," Austin Waldo says.

Source: Austin Waldo, co-founder of Optus Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Expetec grows for 5th straight year, adds data-sharing product

Expetec is growing the old fashioned way, through improved services to its customers and client recommendations.

The Rochester Hills-based IT company has been hiring more staff, including a position in network administration support work, and is in the process of hiring a sales person. It now has 10 employees, with an eye for adding more at its current pace of expansion.

"We're on pace to grow for the fifth straight year at 20 percent," says Michael St. John, vice president of marketing and sales for Expetec. "We have been adding new clients and looking into new products in the market place."

Expetec offers network-managed services, telecommunication systems, servers, firewalls, computers, and a 24/7 help desk. It recently added a new product called E-Lockr. Think of it as a more secure version of Dropbox that enables businesses to share and sync important data anywhere on any device with continuous, real-time backup and comprehensive usage reports. More importantly, St. John believes it’s a more secure option than rival products.

"It allows us to control what's going on with our clients in regards to the user," St. John says, adding their clients can determine who can see what documents, when, and for how long with E-Lockr.

St. John is optimistic that Expetec's current growth streak will continue, and not just because the economy is picking up speed.

"We have been consistently getting a lot of referrals from our clients," St. John says. "They trust us and the work we do."

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

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

Delphinus Medical Technologies brings on new CEO to ramp up growth

One of Metro Detroit’s most promising startups has a new leader who comes with a history of shepherding biotech companies through to acquisition.

Delphinus Medical Technologies has hired Mark Forchette as its president and CEO. Forchette served as OptiMedica Corp’s president and CEO before taking the job. The company specialized in ophthalmic medical devices. He led OptiMedica Corp. through commercialization, successfully completed multiple rounds of financing, and oversaw the company’s acquisition by Abbott Laboratories last year. He says he sees the same sort of potential with Delphinus Medical Technologies.

"I see an incredible technology that can improve women's health," Forchette says.

Delphinus Medical Technologies makes SoftVue, a "whole breast ultrasound tomography system" that helps diagnose breast cancer more effectively than traditional mammograms. The technology spun out of Wayne State University and the Karmanos Cancer Institute in 2009. It has raised a $12 million Series A round in 2010 and a $11 million Series B last year. It has since hired 15 people, expanding its staff to 35 employees.

"We're in position now where we have on-boarded a lot of talent," Forchette says. "We're really excited about that."

That team will work to gain technical credibility with doctors and health systems, enabling them to thoroughly adopt the SoftVue technology.

"We have to do that clinically," Forchette says. "It's a process of incorporating physicians deeply within the company."

Source: Mark Forchette, president & CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Computing Source hires 120, moves to bigger office

Computing Source is growing so fast the firm’s founder is having a hard time describing it. He knows it has grown by a multiple of six over the last 18 months, but can't figure out how to express it succinctly.

He can tell you the company has hired 120 people since early last year, and it now employs a staff of 140. That prompted it to move from a 9,000-square-foot office in Southfield to a just under 40,000-square-foot space in Madison Heights this week.

"We were squished," says Mark St. Peter, managing director & CEO of Computing Source.

Computing Source specializes in offering all-in-one digital evidence solutions for legal professionals. It can provide electronic discovery, computer forensics, copy/scan/print services, hosted document review, contract attorney staffing, expert testimony, trial technology services, demonstrative evidence and trial boards, and paralegal on-call support.

"It's less hassle and more cost-effective to have it under one roof," St. Peter says. "We can't think of anyone else who is doing what we do as effectively under one roof."

The recent hires include electronic evidence techs, forensic examiners, trial presentation professionals, attorneys, and court reporters. The company has a number of open positions right now, so many that St. Peter can’t put his finger on the exact number.

"If you're a nerd, please call us," St. Peter says.

Computing Source just finished opening an office in Indianapolis to go with its offices in Chicago and Metro Detroit. St. Peter is considering keeping the former Southfield headquarters as a satellite office. He expects to open more offices across the Midwest over the next three years.

"Cleveland is next," St. Peter says. "Then Milwaukee and Pittsburgh."

Source: Mark St. Peter, managing director & CEO of Computing Source
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AcuMax creates new survey to match employees & employers

Many employee assessment programs judge a subject by his/her past behavior. A new company in Dearborn, AcuMax, thinks there is a lot more to people than that.

"We don't try to predict based on past behavior or personalities," says Ed Fisher, consultant with AcuMax. "Behavior and personalities change over time."

The one-year-old company provides management tools and useful information to its customers so they can improve hiring, employee placement, and engagement. Its team of five people has developed the AcuMax Index that bases its results on a statistically valid, EEOC-compliant employee assessment that measures how an individual is naturally wired in the course of a five-minute survey. The survey measures four areas, including autonomy and idea flow; communication skills; work-style preference; and how information is processed to make decisions.

"We have an over 90-percent retention rate with our clients," Fisher says.

He says that nearly 70 companies are using the AcuMax Index now, including Wayne State University and Liberty Title Co.

"We're excited about our growth rate," Fisher says. "We're at about 50 percent a year, and I don't see why it would decline."

Source: Ed Fisher, consultant with AcuMax
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LogiCoul Solutions makes semifinals of Accelerate Michigan

If it's the little things that add up in life, then LogiCoul Solutions is well on its way to collecting more than its fair share this year.

The Sterling Heights-based startup that calls the Macomb-OU INCubator home has made a number of base hits in 2014, putting it into position to make a significant score before the end of the year. The battery-enhancement technology startup was one of the 20 presenters at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium last summer and recently made the semifinals of this fall's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. It also received the patent for its technology last July.

"That's very exciting for us," says David Stout, executive vice president of LogiCoul Solutions.

The 6-year-old company is developing technology that sends electromagnetic waves to a battery, which lowers resistance and creates more useful energy. The bottom line is a longer-lasting and more energy-efficient battery. The company started out with the idea of using it on lithium-ion batteries but switched to a lead-acid battery focus to take advantage of a much bigger market.

"We have never met a battery our process didn't like," Stout says.

The three-person startup is currently looking to hire a vice president of engineering. It also hopes to lock down a seed capital round later this year or early next year to continue the push toward developing its technology.

Source: David Stout, executive vice president of LogiCoul Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Professional Pours capitalizes on beer/wine sampling in grocery stores

Every job created isn't equal. Some pay more, others require certain skills, some are full-time and others are not quite that. Professional Pours has been creating a lot of the latter sort of jobs lately.

The Oak Park-based business provides staff for the wine/beer tasting tables now found in grocery stores. The company provides the staffers with background information on the product and others like it. They work as independent contractors a few hours a week, making $15-$18 per hour.

"This is a great part-time gig for parents, retirees, and students," says Sharlan Douglas, marketing director & co-owner of Professional Pours.

The company was founded four years ago about the same time the state legislature changed the law allowing for free beer, wine and liquor sampling in off-premise (package) establishments. It started out doing these offerings in Kroger stores on weekends between 1-4 p.m. Professional Pours did 900 events in 2012. That went up to 1,100 events last year, and it’s now on track to do 1,400 events.

"Now we're seeing more events on Thursday evening or Friday afternoon," Douglas says.

A vast majority of those are in Kroger, which Douglas points out has been leading the way in pushing the law change and leveraging it to help drive up its sales of craft and high-end alcohol. That has meant more part-time hires. Professional Pours now has a staff of four co-owners and 60 independent contractors, which is six more 1099s than a year ago.

Douglas says the company finds most of its staff through Craigslist ads and referrals. She and her husband (also a co-owner) are active in local theater circles and have brought on a number of local actors to work these tables. She says they pay a higher wage for the part-time work because they need people who will serve as educators about the product and present it in the best light possible. So far the business model is catching on.

"Other retailers are doing this," Douglas says. "Kroger is expanding this into stores that hadn't done sampling before and providing more time for events."

Source: Sharlan Douglas, marketing director & co-owner of Professional Pours
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ka-Ching! develops new easy-to-use instruction technology

Inspiration hit Bill Crose when he was trying to come up with a better way to train hotel workers. At the time he was working as the eLearning development manager for Intercontinental Hotels Group, figuring out the best way to train housekeepers, cooks, and bartenders to do their jobs.

"Really anybody who is doing a step-by-step procedure," Crose says.

That's when the idea for Ka-Ching! popped into his head. He left his job and started working on the Rochester Hills-based startup, a client of the Macomb-OU INCubator. Ka-Ching! is developing Pythia, a training system that audibly streams step-by-step directions through a mobile-headset audio device. It comes with completion-time reports for each step and a patent-pending interface between voice response, text-to-speech, and Wi-Fi technologies to link custom databases to the device.

"Anything that is a task that you don't know how to do can be delivered to you in a step-by-step process," Crose says.

Which means it could be used by businesses and large organizations looking to train employees. It could also be used by consumers who are trying to learn how to cook with certain recipes or people at the gym following a trainer’s routine.

Ka-Ching is currently in the early stages of developing its prototype. Crose expects to work on perfecting the prototype over the next year and have it ready for commercialization in time for the 2015 holiday shopping season.

Source: Bill Crose, CEO of Ka-Ching!
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

CureLauncher secures $500K Series B, signs 4 big clients

CureLauncher has closed on a Series B round of funding worth $500,000.

The Bloomfield Hills-based startup that likes to refer to itself as the Wikipedia of clinical trials also closed on a half-million-dollar Series A last year. The Series B was led by Birmingham-based early stage venture capital firm InkWell.

"It will help us grow fast," says Steve Goldner, chairman & CEO of CureLauncher. "It will add more talent to the team."

CureLauncher's software is a one-stop shop for people looking to participate in clinical trials. Tens of thousands of clinical trials are held in the U.S. each year but they are routinely delayed because of enrollment issues. CureLauncher's database cuts out the delay by connecting sick people with cutting-edge treatments.

"In the last year we have signed worldwide master service agreements with four of the largest pharmaceutical companies and clinical research organizations around the world," Goldner says.

That has allowed CureLauncher to hire five people over the last year, and it's currently looking to hire three more. The relationship managers help prospective patients calling into CureLauncher's offices to find the best clinical trials. The two-year-old startup now has a staff of 14 employees and two summer interns.

Source: Steve Goldner, chairman & CEO of CureLauncher
Writer: Jon Zemke

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