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Warren-based Madison Electric Co. reaches 100-year milestone

Most businesses don't last more than a year or two. Only a small percentage make it a decade or more. The Madison Electric Co. is one of the rare ones that can claim a century of longevity.

The Warren-based firm is one of Michigan’s largest wholesale distributors of electrical, automation, HVAC, PVF, plumbing, water management and network communication systems and components. The family business is still run by the children of the two brothers who founded it in 1914.

"We understand we have a responsibility to maintain this," says Brett Schneider, president of Madison Electric Co. and the great-grandson of one of the founding partners.

Eight members of the family currently work at Madison Electric Co., including a fifth-generation member who recently graduated from Western Michigan University. The rest break down to three members of the third generation and four members of the fourth generation.

"The biggest thing is if you're not a working part of the company (as a family member) then you don’t have a say," Schneider says. He adds, "All of us who have been here started at the ground floor and learned every aspect of the business. However long it takes us to learn it is how long it takes us to learn it."

Madison Electric Co. currently employs 115 people after hiring seven new staff. The new hires include two inside sales professionals and five warehouse workers. The company is currently expanding into the pipe-valve-fitting market and is in the midst of upgrading its software system.

"It should give us the capacity to grow and give faster service to our existing customers," Schneider says.

Source: Brett Schneider, president of Madison Electric Co.
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Michigan Corps cultivates socially conscious "Impact Investors"

Local leaders are working to establish a new type of angel investor in Michigan, the impact investor.

An impact investor is a high-net-worth individual (read wealthy) who wants to invest in fledgling small businesses that are both socially entrepreneurial and with the potential of sizable returns.

"They want to make a capital investment that will have some sort of social return while also getting their money back," says Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps.

Impact investors will be a significant part of the upcoming Social Entrepreneurship Showcase, a half-day conference that will highlight the participants of the Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. The June 20th event will help grow the local socially-focused entrepreneurial community. This year, 280 entrepreneurs and companies are participating from across the state. Most of them hail from Metro Detroit.

Michigan Corps is organizing the event and challenge. It's not only looking to cultivate socially conscious entrepreneurs, but investors who want to diversify their portfolio. That's where the idea of impact investors comes in.

"That is the theme of the showcase, to step into the shoes of an impact investor," Garlow says.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ruma Organics brings natural spin on deodorant

Today Sylvia Ruma finds herself as the founder and president of her own business, Ruma Organics. A year ago she didn't think she would be building her own organic deodorant company.

"I never intended to start the business at the time," Ruma says. "I have always loved making my own organic products. It's just what I love to do."

The Macomb Township resident started blending deodorant in her kitchen for personal and family-member use. At the time she couldn't find an effective deodorant made of natural products so she started making her own. She gave a few samples out to family and friends, which prompted a grass-roots demand for it.

"I couldn't believe it worked," Ruma says. "It worked better than I ever imagined. The more I passed it out the more people liked it."

Ruma attended entrepreneurial courses at the Blackstone LaunchPad program at Walsh College in Troy. That gave her the foundation to begin selling Ruma Organics online and then in retail stores. She and one of her team members (a relative) have acquired production equipment that should help Ruma's team keep up with demand.

"Now we can make 18-24 jars at a time," Ruma says.

Source: Sylvia Ruma, founder & president of Ruma Organics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Electronics manufacturer EDP Co. makes 3 hires in Livonia

Launching EDP Co. was an easy decision for Richard Bezerko. The electrical engineer has spent his career working in electronics. He also aspired to be his own boss, so when the opportunity to start his own electronics manufacturing company presented itself, "It was a natural thing for me to do," Bezerko says.

That was 32 years ago. Today the Livonia-based business employs 17 people after making three replacement hires over the last year. It has also landed a handful of new customers in that time. Those new customers include companies in the after-market electronics and medical technologies industries.

Most of the new work for EDP Co. has come from traditional sources, like word-of-mouth referrals, and newer ones, like search engine hits on the company’s website. Bezerko expects to add more customers over the next year.

"We're on a steady growth path," Bezerko says. "We're not trying to grow too fast."

Source: Richard Bezerko, president of EDP Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Rockbridge Growth Equity acquires Gas Station TV

Rockbridge Growth Equity has acquired GSTV, aka Gas Station TV, in a deal aimed at growing the downtown Birmingham-based startup rapidly.

GSTV got its start in 2006 by putting TVs on top of gas pumps showing news and advertisements. The idea is to catch drivers at a natural pause in the person’s day where their attention can easily be captured. It now has a network across North America with a monthly viewership of 50 million people.

"David (Leider, GSTV’s CEO) and his team developed a new industry that is growing very, very quickly," says Kevin Prokop, managing director of Rockbridge Growth Equity. "It's a very nascent industry. It has really developed over the last eight years."

The downtown Detroit-based private equity firm (part of the Quicken Loans family of companies) plans to keep GSTV at its home in downtown Birmingham while it focuses on growing the business. Prokop says a decision on a permanent home could be made within the next year, (many Quicken Loans-related businesses have moved to downtown Detroit in recent years) but he knows it will stay in Metro Detroit.

"We have a lease here," Leider says. "We're focused on working with Rockbridge on the business now."

GSTV employs a staff of 65 people, the bulk of which are based in downtown Birmingham. It has hired 10 people over the last year and has four open positions right now. More information on those here.

Source: David Leider, CEO of GSTV, and Kevin Prokop, managing director of Rockbridge Growth Equity
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Level One Bank hires 18, grows assets 25 percent

Level One Bank is well on its way to the next level, thanks to a spike in its asset size and staff.

The Farmington Hills-based bank’s assets have grown 25 percent over the last year, topping out at $630 million. Its deposits also stand at $545 million. That has allowed the company to grow its staff to 145 people at its seven branches across the region. It has hired 18 people over the last year, mostly in lending. The bank currently has four open positions.

"Our primary businesses are focused on commercial loans," says Patrick Fehring, president & CEO of Level One Bank. "We're seeing a lot of action in our loans to entrepreneurs. We're also seeing an increase in our residential mortgage loans."

Fehring expects his bank to grow another 15 percent this year. He sees Level One Bank's status as a local bank as a key ingredient to its success at a time when an increasing number of people don’t trust large financial institutions.

"We think that gives us a distinct competitive advantage," Fehring says. "It's easier to connect with a decision maker at Level One Bank."

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

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

AltaFlux adds 12 staff on demand for cloud computing services

Cloud computing is taking tech firms like AltaFlux to higher places these days.

The Troy-based firm has hired 12 people over the last year, thanks largely to the increasing demand for its cloud computing services. The company now employs 30 people with most of its new hires consisting of IT consultants.

"We have been growing steadily," says Vijay Nachimuthu, CEO of AltaFlux. "Quarter over quarter we have seen double-digit growth."

AltaFlux specializes in technology consulting services. It offers cloud applications and data and integration technology services. Many of AltaFlux’s customers have been leveraging its cloud computing services, specifically to get on board with the latest trend in tech, and also to create cost savings by optimizing existing operations and talent.

"Businesses are warming up to a lot of things they have ignored over the last five years," Nachimuthu says.

Source: Vijay Nachimuthu, CEO of AltaFlux
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Varnum targets Metro Detroit with 12 newer hires for Novi office

The Varnum law firm has been around a long time. One hundred and twenty-five years, to be exact. And the Grand Rapids-based firm sees a big part of its future in Metro Detroit.

Varnum offers a broad range of legal services, ranging from technology development to employee litigation. It opened an office in Novi 12 years ago, and it has grown significantly in the last year.

"Our firm has concluded that the Metro Detroit area is a place where we have many current clients and many opportunities with clients," says Rich Hewlett, partner at Varnum. "We see a lot of really good attorneys here as well."

Varnum has hired eight attorneys and four paralegals at its Novi office over the last 18 months. It currently has a staff of 29 attorneys, eight paralegals and 18 support staff in Novi. Hewlett expects the Novi office to continue growing for the foreseeable future.

"We have a lot of really good things going on here," Hewlett says. "We see this area as a place that is very favorable to us."

Source: Rich Hewlett, partner at Varnum
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Telegration expands cloud computing services offerings

Cloud services are becoming an increasingly important part of Telegration's bottom line and its growth prospects for tomorrow.

The Clawson-based firm specializes in technology consulting. It services a broad range of organizations, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to local government agencies. The 24-year-old company’s products include local, long-distance and Internet services, and it's expanding into cloud computing this year.

"We are adding more products and services to our portfolio," says Rayon Treadwell, marketing administrator for Telegration. "Our customers are clamoring for cloud services."

Telegration is still in the process of fleshing out its cloud computing experiences, which it expects to complete this year. The company is also ramping up its marketing.

"We're starting to increase the visibility of our cloud services," Treadwell says.

Telegration has continued to grow its company as it expands the services it offers. It has hired five people over the last year and now has a staff of 50 employees and two interns. Among its recent hires are a channel support manager, sales engineer, finance specialist and customer service professionals.

Source: Rayon Treadwell, marketing administrator for Telegration
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Cirrus Group leverages spike in school district customers

Schools are becoming an increasingly important part of Cirrus Group's future.

The Rochester Hills-based company specializes in back-end software for school districts and after-school programs. It has expanded significantly into school districts in the Phoenix area, where it represents six school districts.

"We have grown quite a bit in the school district space," says Michael Garret, COO of Cirrus Group. "We have also experienced growth in all of our segments."

The 11-year-old firm’s software handles operational, financial and customer management functions for child-care facilities, community centers and school districts. The platform manages enrollment, participant payments and communications, scheduling and government compliancy requirements including state and local subsidy payments and food care programs. The subsidy part has proven to be a distinct competitive advantage in recent months.

"We are one of the few companies that offers a subsidy management tool," Garret says.

That has allowed Cirrus Group to hire two people in software development and customer service over the last year. It currently has a staff of 14 employees and three additional openings for software developers.

Source: Michael Garret, COO of Cirrus Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Class Appraisal hires 13 in downtown Birmingham

Class Appraisal is employing a new software platform and a bigger staff in downtown Birmingham this spring.

The 5-year-old company has hired 13 people since October, including professionals in quality control, sales, reception, and customer service. It is also looking to hire another four people in customer service and quality control. The company currently employs 60 and is looking to add interns this summer.

"We anticipate the company growing quite a bit over the next quarter," says Kimberly Morrison-Schop, president of Class Appraisal.

Class Appraisal rolled out a new software platform for its operation in January, which focuses on streamlining the appraisal process. The company is also focusing on training its staff to make the appraisal process as efficient as possible.

"We have noticed the time for appraisals has decreased by a full day," Morrison-Schop says. "It's a huge gain for us."

Morrison-Schop is optimistic that the new streamlined business practices will allow the company to double its sales over the next year. She expects more hires at the company will follow.

"As we grow our staff is going to grow," Morrison-Schop says.

Source: Kimberly Morrison-Schop, president of Class Appraisal
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

PR firm merger creates new, bigger company called Alchemy

A couple of friends/former coworkers with their own public relations firms merged them together last fall, a move that allowed them to add more clients and double their staff.

Brent Eastman and Tom Nixon both worked at Identity (a public relations firm based in Bingham Farms) before setting out on their own a few years ago. Eastman started Alchemy Group and Nixon launched LV8 Communications. Last September they merged the two companies and rebranded the new firm as Alchemy.

"Tom and I have known each other for a number of years and have worked on a number of projects," Eastman says. "We looked at the future and thought it would be a good idea to team up and merge companies."

At the time of the merger, the two companies employed three people. Today they employ six people at a 1,500-square-foot office in Troy.

"We have complementary skill sets and distinct skill sets," Nixon says. "Brent is from a creative background. I have a more traditional marketing and PR background."

Alchemy has added 18 new clients since the merger, mainly charities and manufacturers.

"We are on track to more than double our business," Nixon says.

Source: Brent Eastman and Tom Nixon, partners at Alchemy
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Billhighway anticipates growth surge with new tech hires

Billhighway has some big expectations for its future growth, and it's already adding staff in anticipation of it.

The Troy-based firm, which describes itself as a “provider of cloud-based automation solutions for nonprofits” has hired five people over the last year, including positions in sales, business development and software development. It also has three open positions for software developers.

"The company is the product. We write everything (software code) ourselves," says Bob Anzivino, director of IT & security for Billhighway. "There is a lot of R&D work going on here so we need the help."

Billhighway got its start in 1999 as software that helps people divvy up expenses, such as dues or dinner costs. Today it helps non-profits and other organizations deal with their finances.

The company currently employs just under 50 people. Anzivino, who was recently promoted to his job, explains that it can be hard to pin down an exact number of staff because new hires mean staffing levels change fairly quickly. The reason why is to keep up with revenue growth and projected growth over the next year.

"We expect fairly meteoric growth in the next 12 months," Anzivino says. "That's good for us and our clients. We are preparing for that."

Source: Bob Anzivino, director of IT & security for Billhighway
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Brogan & Partners adds 4 jobs as it locks down more long-term clients

A little more than a year ago, the leadership at Brogan & Partners sat down and figured out what types of clients it worked best with, what sort of projects it excelled at, and what its strengths and weaknesses were. This was all in the name of refining its business model and building a better business.

That led to the downtown Birmingham-based digital marketing firm to make a transition. The 30-year-old firm characterizes itself as a company that “creates and converges advertising, social media and mobile media with an emphasis on brand engagement and a specialty in marketing to women.” It moved to taking on more long-term clients instead of short-term projects. That prompted a significant sales spurt over the last year.

"Between this time last year and now we have about seven additional ongoing accounts," says Ellyn Davidson, managing partner with Brogan & Partners. "Last year we had more projects. Now we have more long-term accounts."

Some of those new clients include Frankenmuth Insurance and Michigan First Credit Union. The company's revenue jumped by double digits last year, and it's aiming for 13-14 percent revenue increases this year, much of it thanks to its new focus.

"It was a very deliberate new business strategy," Davidson says.

Brogan & Partners has added new employees over the last year, including four new hires in the last month alone. Those new jobs include writers, media buyers and metrics specialists. The company currently has a staff of about 40 employees and an intern.

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

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

DornerWorks expands new South Lyon office to 3 people

DornerWorks reinvigorated its Metro Detroit office about two years ago, bringing in a new staff, moving it to South Lyon, and going after a bigger clientele.

DornerWorks is a provider of electronic engineering services for the aerospace, medical, automotive, and industrial sectors. The Grand Rapids-based firm’s biggest clients include General Electric and Stryker.

The 14-year-old company’s Metro Detroit customer base was comprised of smaller firms until about 1-2 years ago when a reorganization brought in more, bigger clients.

"We have done some work for Ford, Visteon, and Magna," says Bob Gerber, regional sales director of DornerWorks. "These are all larger automotive companies that are long-term investments."

DornerWorks' South Lyon office, which now has three people, is trying to bring on more Tier One automotive suppliers as customers. It is also looking to hire more engineers to keep up with the new work from large automotive firms.

"We'd like to double that by the end of the year, if not triple it," Gerber says. "We're constantly bidding on those jobs so it’s about hitting the right project."

Source: Bob Gerber, regional sales director of DornerWorks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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