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Sterling Heights mom turns art into a biz, A'peeling Fruit

Pam Pfropper's path through adulthood took a number of fairly typical turns. The Sterling Heights woman worked as a technical illustrator in the automotive industry for a decade before becoming a stay-at-home-mom to raise her two children.

Not long after that is when Pfropper started to take a road less traveled. She started a business, a fruit-carving business. A'peeling Fruit carves small pieces of art out of large pieces of produce, such as watermelon or carrots, and sells them to event organizers and other businesses looking to bring a bit of artistic flair to the table.

"I have always had an interest in food and gardening," Pfropper says. "It kind of progressed from there."

Pfropper noticed not many people were doing fruit carving, so she entered a couple of contests. One was a national competition that earned her an invitation to take her carving skills to the White House.

"I thought I might have something here," Pfropper says.

Not long after, Pfropper turned A’peeling Fruit into her full-time job. Her business allows her to work from home creating her pieces of art while her children are away at school.

"It fits in well with my lifestyle," Pfropper says.

Source: Pam Pfropper, owner & artist of A'peeling Fruit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Code ReConnect graduates first class of new IT pros

The first crop of graduates have been harvested from Automation Alley's newest IT development program, Code ReConnect.

Code ReConnect is a training program that helps people transition into careers in the IT and software sectors. The program, held at Oakland Community College's M-TEC building in Auburn Hills, includes courses on computer programming and web and app development. Graduates receive Microsoft Certified Professional certification after 120 hours of classroom instruction and 64 hours of hands-on lab time.

The first class graduated eight people. So far two of them have landed positions and the other six are interviewing for jobs. Automation Alley is working with Kelly Services to provide participants with access to employment opportunities with local tech companies through a six-month paid mentorship program. Among the participating companies are Digerati, CDH and Altair Engineering.

"It allows them to try out an employee before committing to permanent employment," says Alysia Green, director of talent development at Automation Alley.

The costs for the program are paid for by Automation Alley from funds received from a $5 million workforce development grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. Automation Alley is looking at launching its second class for the Code ReConnect program in October. For information on it, contact Automation Alley Talent Development Specialist Karol Friedman at friedmank@automationalley.com.

Source: Alysia Green, director of talent development at Automation Alley
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Brooks Kushman expands office, staff in Southfield

Hiring is becoming an increasingly important word at Brooks Kushman this year. The boutique intellectual property law firm has hired 20 people so far this year, filling out new office space it acquired last year.

"We've been getting more work and hiring more people," says Mark Cantor, president of Brooks Kushman. "We need space for all the extra people."

The Southfield-based law practice currently employs 175 people and a handful of interns from a variety of local organizations, such as Challenge Detroit and Detroit's Cristo Rey High School. The 31-year-old firm took on an extra 8,000 square feet to its main office in Southfield last year, It now occupies more than 50,000 square feet.

"We took a whole second floor," Cantor says. "We have two continuous floors in the building."

Brooks Kushman specializes in intellectual property law, such as filing for patents that cover new technology. Cantor says the company is projecting a revenue spike of as much as 20 percent this year. That's up from 3 percent revenue growth the year before. Work from a number of different sectors, ranging from software to automotive, is prompting the current spate of growth.

"We have had growth in many areas," Cantor says.

Source: Mark Cantor, president of Brooks Kushman
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Bean & Tea Co opens third location in Clarkston

For 20 years Raymond Christopher Enterprises has made its way by running franchise eateries, such as Cinnabon and Mrs. Fields Cookies. This year it’s launching its own franchise, Bean & Tea Co.

The Plymouth-based coffee shop specializes in providing locally produced coffee, tea and snacks. It offers a handful of coffee options and offers 25 varieties of loose leaf tea selections including black, oolong, green, white, herbal and fruit infusions.

"This is the first time where it’s our concept from the ground up," says Jill Crawford, manager of the Michigan region for Bean & Tea Co.

Bean & Tea Co has taken over three locations that were once Caribou Coffee stores. It now employs 23 people at the stores. The franchises in Troy and Madison Heights opened earlier this year. A new one in Clarkston is opening this week, bringing another nine jobs into the fold with it.

"The Troy location is our hub location," Crawford says.

Bean & Tea Co is looking at adding more locations before the end of the year, but it's doesn't have definite plans as of right now. Crawford says the company takes advantage of opportunities as they present themselves and moves quickly when it does.

Source: Jill Crawford, manager of the Michigan region for Bean & Tea Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Resident Reach creates service that checks in on seniors

James Abraham and Steven Pikor are launching their third business together this summer, Resident Reach.

The serial entrepreneurs started and sold a marketing company and Christian social network. Resident Reach is a senior-oriented business that periodically checks in with senior citizens on behalf of family to make sure they are fine. The idea is to help busy young people close the gaps so the health of their older loved ones doesn’t fall through the cracks.

"I saw a lot of gaps with the people I worked with," says James Abraham, managing partner of Resident Reach. "Steven and I both grew up with grandparents living with us."

The two person operation is based in Sterling Heights and got its start at the Blackstone LaunchPad at Walsh College. It is looking to build up its clientele in Metro Detroit this year to establish itself. Abraham and Pikor expect Resident Reach will take hold as more and more families have to deal with aging loved ones who want to grow old in place.

"Our services are designed to create independence," Abraham says. "Hopefully, the longer we serve them the longer they can stay in their homes."

Source: James Abraham, managing partner of Resident Reach
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ACS opens office in Troy to leverage growing auto sector

The three letters that announce ACS imay not be well known in Metro Detroit but the company hopes to become increasingly visible over the next year or two.

The testing company opened a new office in Troy, ACS Michigan, to attract more clientele from the automotive industry. The two-person office has already landed some work with Tier 1 automotive suppliers and is looking to expand on that.

ACS services the engine- and vehicle-testing markets, making its mark in the heavy industrial and diesel markets. It specializes in the design, construction management, integration, and commissioning of development and production test facilities for engine, vehicle manufacturers. Some of its primary customers are Caterpillar, Cummins, John Deere, and MTU America.

"That space has given us enough space for some significant growth," says Chris Arnold, managing director of ACS Michigan.

ACS Michigan hopes to replicate that success with the automotive industry. It is currently doing work with the likes of Daimler, MAHLE and Umicore.

"We want to take the same delivery methods we used for diesel and use it with automotive," Arnold says.

Source: Chris Arnold, managing director of ACS Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Delphinus expands staff as it preps to commercialize tech

Delphinus Medical Technologies is aiming to hit a trifecta of growth for a bio-tech startup this year. The Plymouth-based firm has added a new board member, hired a few new employees and is making preparations to raise more venture capital as it closes in on commercializing its technology.

The Wayne State University spin-out’s principal technology is being branded as SoftVue, a platform that helps detect breast cancer by submerging the patient in a tub so as to get a more complete picture of the breast. Delphinus Medical Technologies refers to it as a "whole breast ultrasound tomography system." The company received its first FDA clearance last December is is aiming to come to market in the first quarter of next year.

"We're in the final stages," says Mark Morsefield, CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies.

To help get it there, the company has hired four people over the last year. It now has a staff of 30 employees and five interns. It's currently looking to hire seven more people, primarily technicians and clinical managers.

Delphinus Medical Technologies is also starting to prepare to raise a Series C round of venture capital. The exact amount hasn't been determined but Morsefield did indicate it would be in the millions of dollars. Delphinus Medical Technologies raised $11 million in a Series B last year and $12 million in a Series A round in 2010.

Delphinus Medical Technologies has also added Ronald Ho to its board of advisors. Ho served as president and CEO of U-Systems, developer of the somo•V automated whole breast ultrasound system. U-Systems achieved the first and only FDA approval for a breast ultrasound screening indication and was subsequently acquired by GE Healthcare. Ho will play an active advisory and consulting role in the company.

Source: Mark Morsefield, CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Clark Hill expands Birmingham office with 4 new hires

About a year ago, New Republic magazine ran an issue entitled "The End of Big Law" that basically said the days of huge corporate law offices were numbered in an industry that had too many lawyers. One could forgive the partners at Clark Hill if they didn’t bother to read it.

The Detroit-based law firm has grown its practice exponentially in the last decade. It went from 100 attorneys to 300 today. It recently added 16 new attorneys in Metro Detroit over the last year, including four in its Birmingham office. All of that new talent is helping facilitate a growing practice.

"We have been able to grow our client work because we have been able to add more expertise to the services we offer," says Don Lee, chief marketing officer of Clark Hill.

Clark Hill has been in Michigan since its founding in the late 19th Century. It grew up serving the rapid ascent of manufacturing in the Midwest in the 20th Century. Its recent growth has come from added work in the manufacturing sector, along with more clients in the finance and banking sectors.

That allowed it to add staff not only in Birmingham, which has 47 attorneys, but also downtown Detroit. It’s Motor City location has added 12 attorneys, expanding its staff there to 120 people.

Source: Don Lee, chief marketing officer of Clark Hill
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Prime Office Innovations grows helping firms go digital

Moving the paper trail to the digital age seems like a job that should be been completed over the last decade. That turns out not to be the case as is evidenced by Prime Office Innovations' growth.

The Macomb Township-based company has been helping business digitize their paper trail for 12 years. Prime Office Innovations likes to say that it "helps companies move from print to possibility" when it comes to digitization. It’s a harder sell at times than one would think.

"You still have diehards who want to have paper in their hands," says Kevin Macklem, co-owner of Prime Office Innovations.

Converting those die-hards has turned into an increasingly profitable business model for Macklem and his team. The company has hired three people over the last year, including two new technicians and one new sales professional. The company now has a staff of 14 employees and two interns and is looking to hire a new business development manager.

Prompting that hiring spike is double-digit gains for the company. Both its revenue and its profits are up by more than 10 percent in the last year.

"The challenges (of the recent recession) are behind us now," Macklem says. "I'm seeing more spending in the manufacturing sector, automotive supplier spending specifically."

Source: Kevin Macklem, co-owner of Prime Office Innovations
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Aqaba Technologies moves growing client base toward mobile

Aqaba Technologies isn't just a company. It's its clientele.

The 10-year-old firm has grown its client base to 200 organizations, including the addition of 40 new customers over the last year. That enabled the Sterling Height-based business to add a new digital marketing professional, expanding its staff to six employees and an intern.

"We're still going strong," says Ramsey Sweis, CEO of Aqaba Technologies. "We had our bumps along the way because of the economy but we’re still strong because of our client base. We’re in growth mode now."

Aqaba Technologies is moving those customers toward mobile. Today about the two thirds of the digital marketing firm’s work revolves around mobile app, mobile web apps, and mobile marketing.

"The mobile part has just taken off," Sweis says.

Aqaba Technologies became a Google Certified Partner about two years ago. That training opened the door for it to perfect its mobile strategies for its clients across the spectrum, ranging from experience mobile users to mobile novices.

Source: Ramsey Sweis, CEO of Aqaba Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tebis America hires in Troy, moves to smaller office

Tebis America did something most growing companies don't do. It moved to a smaller office.

The North American arm of German-based Tebis specializes in providing 3D CAD/CAM software systems for manufacturers the automotive and aerospace industries. Its software organizes CAD/CAM process chains for manufacturers.

The 30-year-old parent company set up shop in Troy in 1995. Today it employs 15 people after hiring three new staffers over the last year. The new hires include a sales manager and technical staff. It's also looking to hire a new sales professional and someone in software support.

Despite this growth, Tebis America's thoughts its old home in Troy (which was attached to a light industrial building) was too large. A change in ownership there prompted it to scoot on over to 400 E Big Beaver, which is a bit smaller in square footage.

"The new location is just an office (with no adjacent industrial buildings)," says Gerardo Mueller, president of Tebis America. "It's a more attractive location on Big Beaver."

Source: Gerardo Mueller, president of Tebis America
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Local startups score at Social Entrepreneurship Challenge

Sixty thousand dollars in prizes went to nearly a dozen socially entrepreneurial startups competing in the Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. Most of that money went to companies and entrepreneurs from Metro Detroit addressing chronic unemployment and at-risk youth unemployment.

The prize money went out in four-figure chunks to the start-ups, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. Often that sort of cash injection can mean the difference between mission focus and chaos for a fledgling startup.

"It helps the entrepreneur take their mind off the short-term cash-flow issues and onto longterm planning," says Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps, which organized the business plan competition.

Among the Metro Detroit-based winners were City Girls Soap, which won the Women Rock prize. City Girls Soap makes hand-crafted body soap, lotion and laundry flakes from goats milk, taking advantage of the urban farming communities in Detroit and Pontiac. City Girls Soap plans to provide jobs for young people in Pontiac, starting off with summer employment.

The two-person operation is currently moving its production from Berkley to Pontiac. The company plans to hire 1-2 people (primarily youth in urban communities) before the end of this year. It plans to invest the $2,500 it won at the Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge in equipment to increase production.

"We're going to use it to build out our production facility, like buy a freezer," says Amy McIntire, co-founder of City Girls Soap.

The Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge aims to help foster social entrepreneurship across Michigan. It culminated with the Social Entrepreneurship Showcase last week, which went out of its way to help cultivate impact investors. Impact investors are high-net-worth individuals who make investments with the idea of creating a social impact and a profit.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps and Amy McIntire, co-founder of City Girls Soap
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

HBR Labs launches VeriShow online collaboration tool

HBR Labs is promoting its new VeriShow technology this summer, positioning its online collaboration software to become a fixture with high-end retailers.

The Farmington Hills-based tech company's platform is designed to connect companies and customers online quickly and painlessly. VeriShow provides spontaneous video conferencing, chat, and assistance by simply clicking on the “Live Help” button between customers and customer service representatives.

"It's designed to allow any company that needs to engage customers to do so instantly," says Yuval Moed, CEO of HBR Labs.

The 7-year-old company is focusing on selling to high-end retailers in the car dealership, real-estate, fashion and banking industries. HBR Labs created the multimedia software platform 18 months ago but is ramping up its marketing of the product now that it has worked the bugs out of it.

"We perfected the technology so it's now a pleasure for everyone to use," Moed says.

HBR Labs employs a staff of eight people after hiring one new person (a quality control professional) over the last year. It currently has open positions for two sales professionals to help market and sell VeriShow.

Source: Yuval Moed, CEO of HBR Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Immigration law firm Fragomen adds to Troy office staff

The Metro Detroit office for Fragomen is growing nicely along with the national economy and local automotive industry rebound.

The immigration law firm (formally known as Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy) is based in New York City but has a growing satellite office in Troy. It now stands at 15 people after making two hires over the last year. It is now looking for a senior paralegal.

"We are probably going to add more (staff)," says Alexandra LaCombe, managing partner of the Troy office for Fragomen. LaCombe was recently named the managing partner of the Troy office. She started as a senior attorney at the office 14 years ago.

Fragomen handles immigration law for a broad range of clients in the Metro Detroit office. Those include a number of automotive firms (two of the Big 3 are represented by the Troy office), local institutions of higher education, and financial firms.

"A lot of our clients are bringing a lot of work in-house while before they would use contractors," LaCombe says. "As they grow, we grow."

LaCombe plans to cement Fragomen’s position as a leader in immigration law during her tenure as managing partner of the Troy office.

"We want to make sure that if anybody needs any immigration expertise, they come to us first," LaCombe says.

Source: Alexandra LaCombe, managing partner of Fragomen's Troy office
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Katz Law Firm opens small biz practice in downtown Birmingham

Donald Katz has been practicing business law for a long time. He recently worked as tax counsel for the combat systems group at General Dynamics and held a similar position at Miller Canfield before that. Today he is celebrating the first anniversary of his own practice, The Katz Law Firm.

"I wanted to do it on my own," Katz says. "I got sick of working for other people."

The downtown Birmingham-based practice focuses on providing law services and counsel for small businesses. Think legal and tax issues arising from the ownership and operation of small- and medium-size businesses, specifically in family-owned and closely-held businesses. It was a natural fit for an attorney who spent 14 years helping other people build their businesses.

"This has always been my focus," Katz says.

The Katz Law Firm recently launched a program to provide legal services to socially-conscious business ventures. The program waives the legal fees for investors and entrepreneurs setting up a low-profit limited liability company, commonly known as an L3C.

"It's a new type of entity in the corporate landscape," Katz says. "It's supposed to get socially-conscious entrepreneurs interested in forming their own entity." He adds, "It's the perfect avenue for certain type of entrepreneurial ventures."

Katz hopes to help about half a dozen L3Cs form and get established over the next year.

Source: Donald Katz, managing member of The Katz Law Firm
Writer: Jon Zemke

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