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Innovative Learning Group signs 7 big clients, hires 3

Innovative Learning Group watched its revenue jump 35 percent in 2011 and the downtown Royal Oak-based company is on track for similar gains this year.

That growth for the education company is coming on the heels of it signing seven new clients in a number of new industries, including the financial and manufacturing sectors. "They are all very large," says Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group. "Fortune 500 companies."

That growth has allowed Innovative Learning Group to hire three new people over the last year, expanding its staff to 14 people. Toenniges expects to hire more people over the next year on continued growth prospects. That would prompt her to look for a newer, bigger space in the area.

She attributes this growth to her 8-year-old company cementing its reputation with larger firms in recent years by allowing them to use and test her company's products.

"They can see firsthand that they're top-notch," Toenniges says. "They can see our reputation growing."

Source: Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Royal Oaker goes from corporate to start-up with BuyMichLocal

Michael Sacha spent the start of his career working in corporatelandia, learning the ropes of big business marketing over four years. He saw a lot of customers needs go unmet and knew he had to do something about it, launch BuyMichLocal.

"I left the corporate word to start doing this full-time and promoting Michigan brands," Sacha says.

The downtown Royal Oak-based business specializes in Internet marketing solutions for Michigan-based companies. His company's website serves as a platform for connecting businesses from the Great Lakes State with local customers who want to patronize local businesses.

The BuyMichLocal website features a comprehensive real time news feed and numerous daily articles targeting Michigan's small- to medium-sized business class. It also offers a value-added loyalty card that can be found on the CardStar app through your mobile device. This allows consumers to redeem active deals on the go at their favorite businesses, while offering businesses to engage with their customers.

"There is a lot of opportunity to establish a business now," Sacha says. "There is a lot of opportunity here and to grow a company in Michigan."

Source: Michael Sacha, founder & CEO of BuyMichLocal
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Formcode Design Group adds 4 jobs as it diversifies client base

Formcode Design Group got its start in 2000 like so many other businesses in Metro Detroit, working primarily in the automotive sector. The Royal Oak-based web-design firm did a lot of work with General Motors and its Saturn brand.

Then the automotive industry began to falter a few years later and Formcode Design Group's co-founders, Jim and Nicole Worth, moved into doing more work for homebuilders. Then the real-estate market collapsed and the husband-and-wife duo decided they needed a broader range of clients for stability.

"After that we diversified a lot," Nicole Worth says. "We still work with homebuilders and medical and automotive and retail. We have our hands in a bunch of different things."

It has also taken on work from non-profits, like Challenge Detroit. That diversified customer-base philosophy has allowed Formcode Design Group to enjoy two straight years of growth. It has expanded to eight employees and an intern after making four hires over the last year. Those new jobs include a graphic designer and web developers.

Formcode Design Group plans to continue diversifying its client list and continue expanding into new areas, such as mobile media development and social media marketing.

"We would love to continue to grow and add a few more people," Nicole Worth says.

Source: Jim and Nicole Worth, co-founders of Formcode Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Royal Oak-based app firm Coil Group goes after mid-size biz

The people at the Coil Group see a unique opportunity in the market when it comes to mobile app development.

The six-month-old firm sees its niche in providing both mobile apps and traditional marketing services to mid-size businesses, which are often flush enough to pay for both services but not familiar enough with the mobile app market. The Coil Group thinks it sets itself apart from the competition because many small mobile app firms are run by people who have more expertise in technology than marketing.

"It's kids who don't understand strategy but they know how to build an app," says Jonathan Pielak, co-founder and vice president of strategy for the Coil Group.

The Rochester-based firm is offering both. So far it has three people and a few dozen independent contractors to draw upon. The company, which is looking to move to either Royal Oak or Detroit, is looking to hire people in software development, design and marketing strategy.

The goal is to be in a permanent home with a staff of 20-25 people within the next two years.

"We want to keep it small," Pielak says "We want to keep it nimble."

Source: Jonathan Pielak, co-founder & vice president of strategy for the Coil Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Marketing firm Growth Works Ventures launches out of Royal Oak

During his career Jon Moises has gone smaller in order to grow his bottom line. That path led him to start his own company recently, Growth Works Ventures.

"I was progressively moving from a large company to smaller and smaller companies," says Moises, managing partner of Growth Works Ventures. "I said, 'It's great working for a start-up but it's better to work for yourself.'"

So he and a friend, Chris Meerschaert, started Growth Works Ventures a little more than a year ago. The digital marketing company now employs three people and is based out of Royal Oak. It specializes in everything from creating websites to search-engine-optimization to social media. It is also looking to create its own software platforms to diversity the company's offerings to services and products.

Growth Works Ventures is also open to partnering with other entrepreneurs that are looking to capitalize on new ideas but might be short on actual capital. It has already partnered with one of it customers trading marketing and software services for a share of the company.

"We found that a lot of start-ups had a hard time generating revenue or coming up with capital," Moises says.

Source: Jon Moises, managing partner of Growth Works Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

SmallOfficeSearch.com carves out niche in local real-estate

Finding 100,000 square feet of office space to lease in Metro Detroit is no problem. There is no shortage of commercial real-estate agents who would show that sort of square footage to a large company interested in moving. Finding 1,000 square feet for a small business carving out its niche in the marketplace, not so easy.

That's why Guy Scavone II created SmallOfficeSearch.com a year ago. The Royal Oak-based start-up specializes in helping pair small offices spaces between 100 square feet and 3,000 square feet with people who only want a little work area away from home and their favorite coffee shop.

The website launched six months ago and has helped sign at least 50 leases so far, according to Scavone. "We're signing up new people to 200 square feet to 2,900 square feet," he says. "Not a day goes by when we don't find someone new."

He adds that the people signing these leases run the gamut of small business, start-ups, attorneys, artists, and a wide variety of professionals looking to get out of their home office and local coffee shop. All of these leases have been in Oakland County, but Scavone and his team of three people are working to spread the small office love to the rest of Metro Detroit.

"We're pushing Washtenaw and Wayne counties, too, but everything has been in Oakland County so far," Scavone says. He adds that he is aiming to make SmallOfficeSearch.com a household name in real-estate circles across the state within the next year.

Scavone has also convinced one of his landlord clients to offer free office space on a short-term basis. The idea is to help spread the word about both the website and the commercial space. "This is going to help us, the building and the people in the buildng," Scavone says. "Maybe in six months this person's business makes it to the next level and he can pay now."

Source: Guy Scavone II, founder & CEO of SmallOfficeSearch.com
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Healthy-living firm Wellco creates 5 new jobs in Royal Oak

Overnight success stories are the sort of things entrepreneurs snicker at when they hear the term. One in particular, Scott Foster of healthy-living firm Wellco, knowns building a healthy business is a lot like maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Both are something that take years to do.

"Wellco is a 15 year overnight success story," says Foster, tongue planted firmly in his cheek.

The Royal Oak-based business develops software and programs for companies to document and track the health of their employees. The idea is to create a healthier, more productive workforce that ultimately saves significant sums of money in medical costs, both in the short- and long-term.

That business model has allowed Wellco to grow its revenue by 20-25 percent in each of the last three years and its on track to notch another 25-percent growth year in 2012. That has allowed it to add three people over the last year, expanding its staff to 15. It also has a job opening for a software developer and another position for health educator.

Driving a lot of that growth are small-to-medium sized business that are struggling with health-insurance premium costs and slackening productivity. "Just under 70 percent of our clients are in Michigan," Foster says. "The remainder are spread across the country."

Source: Scott Foster, president of Wellco
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Liberty Center One preps for big expansion thanks to continued growth

Liberty Center One made a large investment in its data processing facility four years ago in Royal Oak and is starting to see a significant return on that investment.

"Business has grown exponentially over the last 2-3 years," says Tim Mullahy, managing director of Liberty Center One. "The last 18 months to two years have been very strong."

The 15-year-old company is close to filling up the first of its 4,000-square-foot data floor and expects to expand into another 4,000 square foot floor soon. The tier 3 public data center offers a full range of technology solutions, including colocation, managed,  virtual, dedicated and shared hosting services.  It can deliver more than 15kW of power to customer racks and the redundant infrastructure is designed to keep computing equipment running without interruption.

Mullahy says there has been a steadily increasing demand for these sorts of data processing services and that demand is expected to continue to grow as more aspects of business become electronically based.

"We think that trend will continue and more and more companies will look for our type of facilities," Mullahy says.

That growth has allowed Liberty Center One to reach a staff of 25 people. It is current looking to add interns.

Source: Tim Mullahy, managing director of Liberty Center One
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tall United carves out online clothing retail niche for tall people

Finding clothes as a tall person isn't the easiest thing to do, and it's often not as cheap as shopping for average-sized clothes. It's a staple of being tall that has inspired Justin Thompson to launch his own Internet start-up, Tall United.

"When people ask tall people where they get their clothing, that is a tough question for them to answer," says Thompson, who is 6 feet 8 inches tall.

Tall United is an online platform for retailers to sell clothing. Thompson is reaching out to both well-known and specialty retailers so the Royal Oak-based start-up can offer a variety of clothing for tall people at competitive prices.

"Ultimately we want to be a group-buying platform so retailers can recognize the power of our market and offer more clothing at lower prices," Thompson says.

The one-person start-up got its start last September and launched its website earlier this month.

Source: Justin Thompson, founder of Tall United
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Unique Solutions of Advanced Tech doubles in size in Royal Oak

Conventional wisdom dictates that business people and techies clash, often because of a lack of quality communication. Unique Solutions of Advanced Technologies is growing its business rapidly by remedying that dynamic.

The Royal Oak-based business specializes in providing IT solutions to businesses. It's niche is finding ways to bridge the communication divide between its customers (businesses) and its staff (techies).

"They don't talk to each other in the same language," says Sreedhar Kaluva, president of Unique Solutions of Advanced Technologies, who has more than 20 years experience working as an IT consultant. "I serve as the catalyst between the two entities."

That business model has allowed the 6-year-old company to double, not only its revenue but workforce, over the last year. The increases are due to a growing customer base that includes companies from a broad range of industries, including publishing, transportation and manufacturing.

Unique Solutions of Advanced Technologies now employs 10 people and is looking at adding interns this year. Kaluva expects to keep hiring this yea to make sure his company can keep up with the demand for its services.

"I am very optimistic that 2012 is going to be much more positive than even 2011," Kaluva says.

Source: Sreedhar Kaluva, president of Unique Solutions of Advanced Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Entrepreneurial trio create marketing biz with Half Human Studios

Three friends are working toward their entrepreneurial dreams with their own company, Half Human Studios.

The three young men work in the property management, food-service and printing industries for their day jobs but have been growing their Royal Oak-based creative agency for the last 18 months.

"We decided to start something creative in marketing and use it to help small businesses use marketing tools," says Brandon Nalband, principal of Half Human Studios.

That usually means helping small businesses build websites or teaching them how best to utilize social media platforms. Half Human Studios has grown beyond its first few customers and has attracted enough word-of-mouth business to bring on a College of Creative Studies graphic design graduate to the team. Nalband and his co-founder aspire to turn this into their full-time jobs within the next year.

"There is a very high demand," Nalband says. "There are a lot of new companies that need websites and social media."

Source: Brandon Nalband, principal of Half Human Studios
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

RTT USA adds 28 to payroll in Royal Oak as it expands client list

RTT USA has expanded the scope of its work while expanding the amount of business and the size of its workforce in downtown Royal Oak.

The 13-year-old company has traditionally focused on creating high-end 3-D visualization for the automotive industry. It now includes work in the transportation and manufacturing industries, along with some forays into consumer markets.

It has allowed the company to increase its sales sharply and grow its staff (99 employees and few independent contractors and intern) with 28 new hires so far this year. That's an increase from just 25 people four years ago.

"We have grown tremendously," says Erik Kornmiller, director of content creation for RTT USA. "It's a matter of increasing our business by getting more and more projects and expanding projects we already have."

Kornmiller believes that sort of strategy will allow RTT USA to continue its growth spurt for the rest of this year.

"We continue to find ways to make things better and easier for our clients," says Erik Kornmiller, director of content creation for RTT USA. "That allows us to expand our project scope."

Source: Erik Kornmiller, director of content creation for RTT USA
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Gamer Saloon hires 3 as it moves to downtown Royal Oak

Gamer Saloon recently moved its headquarters from Southfield to downtown Royal Oak, a move that should facilitate significant growth for the video-game networking company.

The six-year-old firm recently hired three people, expanding its staff to eight employees and four interns. Its new office has plenty of square footage to accommodate more new employees to meet its needs.

"We just finished our first full year of being cash-flow positive," says Ari Dolgin, chief marketing officer for Gamer Saloon. "Last year we had a net revenue of $3 million."

Gamer Saloon organizes and host online video game tournaments where participants have an opportunity to win cash prizes. It has more than 440,000 members and has hosted more than 63,000 tournaments. The company is now looking to expand its cash-prize business model to fantasy sports and even incorporating professional athletes into the gaming experience.

"You could be playing a certain athlete in Madden via webcam for a cash prize," Dolgin says.

Source: Ari Dolgin, chief marketing officer for Gamer Saloon
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Metro Detroit start-ups turn smartphones into biz apportunities

The app economy is here and growing in Metro Detroit. A broad range of start-ups and businesses are finding creative ways to boost their bottom lines by developing custom and original apps. Some are even basing their entire business plan around it and growing like crazy.

Texts From Last Night: A Q&A with Ben and Phillip Bator

Mobiata adds 10 jobs, moves to bigger space in Ann Arbor's Nickels Arcade

Future Help Designs sets up shop in downtown Pontiac

Metro Detroit start-ups dominate Accelerate Michigan

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

Innovative Learning Group snags new clients, hires

The Innovative Learning Group growth machine continues to chug along at a steady pace. The downtown Royal Oak-based company has hired two people over the last year, expanding its staff to a dozen employees and a handful of independent contractors. It expects to hire another 2-3 people in 2012.

"As we continues to grow I would be real happy with 10-15 percent growth each year,"  says Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group.

What's driving growth? The addition of new clients. The company, which creates a curriculum for firms to teach employees to be more productive and efficient, has recently added three new clients, such as Wolverine Worldwide.

Innovative Learning Group is on pace to hits its revenue growth goal of 20 percent this year. The firm has consistently hit double-digit growth goals and expects that continue as it does it again this year.

"We'll easily hit that target if not exceed it," 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.
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