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Royal Oak's SmallOfficeSearch targets mini office market

Entrepreneurs and small businesses looking for small office spaces in Metro Detroit traditionally have received the short end of the stick from commercial realtors. A start-up out of downtown Royal Oak, SmallOfficeSearch.com, believes it can change that dynamic.

"These are the people who typically get no service because we would spend the same amount of time with them as we did with people who were looking for 10,000 or 30,000 square feet," says Guy Scavone, commercial real-estate broker and president and founder of SmallOfficeSearch.com.

SmallOfficeSearch.com allows landlords with small office spaces or businesses looking to sublease a small section of their office to professionally list them on the Internet in a manner more professional than the simplicity of Craigslist. Landlords pay a $29 per month fee to list their properties on the site, knowing the audience is targeted for the niche of small spaces.

The firm lists office space, executive suites and flex space under 3,000 square feet in Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, Flint and Grand Rapids. It plans to launch into more markets across the U.S. over the next year. The four-person firm has signed half a dozen leases since it launched three months ago.

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

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

Pleasant Ridge's Gravy Network launches mobile billboard app MOBIBO

Brothers Zachary and Josh Ball have a vision for changing the mobile advertising game, and they're working to make that happen with their new mobile app, MOBIBO.

The brothers started Gravy Network in January, with the idea of launching MOBIBO later this year. The Pleasant Ridge-based company is made up of the Ball duo and draws upon the half-dozen employees of Zachary's other firm, web developer Mercury Studio.

MOBIBO is a free, downloadable smartphone app that serves as a mobile billboard that advertisers can rent for a small fee. Advertisers only pay for the ads consumers see. The consumer is paid 25 cents through PayPal for viewing each ad. The app alerts/ads come up when the consumer is near the advertiser's place of business, telling them to view a special discount or promotional offer at a store close-by.

"I'd like to see MOBIBO being used throughout the nation," says Zachary, president and co-owner of Gravy Network. "We think we can shift the advertising paradigm to this model."

The Ball brothers are working to establish the MOBIBO brand this year, with an aim of broad adoption within the next year. They expect to significantly add to Gravy Network's staff when that happens.

"We'd like to keep the team as lean as possible," Zachary says. "What does that mean? Hopefully, less than 25 people."

Source: Zachary Ball, president and co-owner of MOBIBO
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ignite Pages start-up aims to become Facebook for real-estate listings

Trevor Fitzgerald recently left his job as a computer programmer for Business Internet Solutions to start his own firm, Ignite Pages.

The downtown Royal Oak-based start-up has just launched a real-estate-oriented app that allows realtors and other property professionals to stand out in an Internet world dominated by Craigslist. Think of it as a Facebook for real-estate listings.

"It's a tool for real-estate agents to create their web pages for their own individual property," Fitzgerald says. "It allows them to stand out with their online presence."

Fitzgerald, 24, interned for a real-estate firm a few years ago and knows that professionals often have a hard time managing their online presence. Ignite Pages hopes to make that online presence more noticeable while making it simpler for real-estate agents to use the software.

So far Fitzgerald has signed up a number of local real-estate agents and a used-car dealership. "The pages are generic enough that they can use them for multiple projects," Fitzgerald says. He hopes to take this product national within the next year and hire an employee or two to accommodate that growth.

Source: Trevor Fitzgerald, founder of Ignite Pages
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

RTT USA adds 16 jobs in downtown Royal Oak

RTT USA is responding to the rising demand for computer graphics by creating more jobs in Metro Detroit.

The 5-year-old firm (its U.S. office is in downtown Royal Oak) has grown about 20 percent over the last year. That has allowed it to add 16 positions in areas like data management, CAD management and digital artists. It now employs 82 people in downtown Royal Oak, along with five independent contractors and five interns. The company opened the office four years ago with a staff of eight.

"We have had very, very strong growth over the last few years," says Peter Stevenson, CEO of RTT USA.

RTT USA specializes in high-end visualization technology. Three-dimensional visualization software and services are utilized in the automotive, aviation, and consumer goods industries. For instance, it allows a designer to make a virtual prototype of a vehicle, which takes much less money and time than making a physical prototype. The company is also doing this with marketing materials.

"They can virtualize their designs and save a lot of money," Stevenson says. He expects the demand for this work to continue to rise, which should allow the firm to continue its current rate of expansion over the next year.

Source: Peter Stevenson, CEO of RTT USA
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Royal Oak's PixoFactor Entertainment hires 10 smartphone app developers

PixoFactor Entertainment continues on its steady, accelerated growth plan in downtown Royal Oak, hiring 10 new people to develop smartphone applications over the last year.

"We feel mobile has enormous potential in Michigan in the near future," Hurwitz says.

The 3-year-old start-up has 30 employees, two interns and a few independent contractors. It develops digital content for both video games, mobile apps and special effects for the film industry, and has benefited handsomely from Michigan's film incentives.

PixoFactor Entertainment recently received a $78,000 digital media incentive from the state for production of the Ben Hogan Lessons Mobile Application. The project adapts the classic book, Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,  by golf icon Ben Hogan, into an instructional and interactive app for smartphones.

"We could see phases of the book coming to life in the next 60-90 days," says Sean Hurwitz, CEO of PixoFactor Entertainment. "We could have a multi-phase launch."

PixoFactor Entertainment has also been working on the Nintendo Wii and Internet adaptation of that book.

Source: Sean Hurwitz, CEO of PixoFactor Entertainment
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

323 East art print web start-up 1xRUN.com takes off in Royal Oak

The guys behind downtown Royal Oak's 323 East and the OHM Creative Group have created a start-up website that sells limited editions of art prints and is growing rapidly.

1xRUN.com got its start last November selling about 50 prints of select contemporary art to collectors. Think the same type of avant-garde work that graces the walls of the 323 East. These prints sell for $50 a pop and are coveted by collectors.

"They are signed and dated by the artist as a limited edition," says Jesse Cory, co-founder of 323 East, OHM Creative Group and 1xRUN. "They appreciate in value."

Cory, Dan Armand, and Ryan Brogran started the company and now have five employees. The original art usually sells quickly but the prints are also snapped up at art shows and similar events by people in the know. 1xRUN makes it more widely available to more consumers.

"Basically what this does is democratizing art to a certain extent," Cory says. "Now we're embarking on becoming a national art company. We're attending all of the comic cons."

Source: Jesse Cory, co-founder of 323 East, OHM Creative Group and 1xRUN
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Skidmore Studio adds 4 jobs on strength of interactive and design work

Skidmore Studio sees the economy turning, and it's going in the right direction for once. The downtown Royal Oak-based marketing agency is riding this wave nicely, expanding its staff to 22 people, with four hires over the last year.

"The uptick in the economy has helped," says Tim Smith, president & CEO of Skidmore Studio. "There are a lot of things people wanted to do and we're starting to see some of that free up."

Skidmore Studio employs a growing number of creatives, ranging from graphic designers to illustrators to interactive designers to copywriters to motion artists. The agency has specialized in design and illustration in Metro Detroit since the 1950s. Smith has noticed the company's revenue climb by a small percentage over the recent months, but he is preparing for more in the near future.

"We're on a nice comfortable trend where we are seeing business grow," Smith says. "A 10-15 percent growth in revenue is a fair expectation of what we want to do."

He says the firm expects to hire two more people over the next year to help meet the demand for interactive and design work.

Source: Tim Smith, president & CEO of Skidmore Studio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Innovative Learning Group adds 8 new clients on 10 percent growth

Innovative Learning Group is basing this year's growth on last year's, generating a 10-percent revenue spike in 2010 and preparing for a 20-percent jump in 2011.

The business education firm added eight new clients over the last year. The downtown Royal Oak-based firm expects to leverage that additional work for a few more hires over the next year, adding to its existing staff of 10 employees and 20-30 independent contractors.

"We pretty proud of (those new clients)," says Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group. "These new clients become opportunities for return clients. That makes for more than 50 Fortune 1000 clients. That means more stability and sustainability in the long-term."

Innovative Learning Group creates a curriculum for firms to teach employees to be more productive and efficient. It has been profitable in each of its seven years. Toenniges plans to point the company more toward mobile technology development this year. The idea is the new technology will allow its clients to more easily focus on learning and performance support.

The company has also won the Human Performance Intervention Award of Excellence from the International Society for Performance Improvement last year for a project that used performance modeling and impact mapping to drive consistent, strategic performance of Amway's distributors. It also won a Brandon Hall Silver Award for Excellence in the Best Use of Blended Learning category.

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

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

Local entrepreneurs turn Start-up Weekend idea into Bite to Meet

Four people met at Start-up Weekend in downtown Detroit last fall and turned the project they started into a business, Bite to Meet, that launched the Beta version of its product this week.

"We decided it was a good idea to keep working on," says Ramita Chawla, co-founder of Bite to Meet. "We have been moving forward on it ever since."

Bite to Meet is a virtual company (its founders live everywhere from downtown Royal Oak to Windsor) that is developing a web-based platform for professionals to expand their social networks over a meal. The idea, based on the Never Eat Alone book, is to help people maximize their networking time.

"You eat everyday," Chawla says. "You shouldn't waste that opportunity."

Bite to Meet also focuses on helping people make effective connections. That way people aren't asking what others can do for them while networking, but asking what they can do for others. The value of helping others lets it come to them.

Chawla and her partners plan to focus on Metro Detroit first. They hope to spread it across the Midwest in the company's first year. "We'd love to grow this and add more people," Chawla says. "We'd love to grow this as big as it can get."

Source: Ramita Chawla, co-founder of Bite to Meet
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Oakland County Medical Main Street now $61M program; 45,000 jobs to come

A now 3-year-old Anderson Economic Group study called for the health-care and life science sector to be the fastest-growing in Oakland County, prompting it to create the Medical Main Street program to encourage investment. That prediction is beginning to ring true today.

The Oakland County Medical Main Street program scored investments
totaling $34.8 million from five companies either moving or expanding in the county in the first quarter of this year. This contributed to the creation or retention of more than 1,000 jobs. Fifteen companies have put $61 million into Medical Main Street since it was founded in 2008, a trend Oakland County officials expect to continue as the economy rebounds.

"We're seeing this accelerating," says David Schreiber, chief strategist for Oakland County Economic Development. "This is trending upward."

Among the recent investments are $3.7 million (162 new jobs) from Ascendant MDx for a new clinical laboratory for diagnostic tests in Farmington Hills and $28 million (640 new jobs) from health-care info tech provider CareTech Solutions to complete the second phase of its expansion project.

Oakland County already had a strong base in the health-care and life sciences industries. The 2008 study shows approximately 93,000 jobs at about 4,300 life science and medical facilities there. About 45,000 more positions are expected over the next 10 years.

Source: David Schreiber, chief strategist for Oakland County Economic Development
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ferndale's Paper Street Motors fills with 14 tenants, looks to open more spaces

Metro Detroit's new economy can often be found in aged shells of the old economy. Case in point: Paper Street Motors.

Paper Street Motors began when Andy Didorosi stumbled upon an old, empty warehouse a year ago in Ferndale, just southeast of its downtown. The 20-something didn't see the tattered relic of an old automotive industry, but a place for small businesses to take root and grow,
where they'd have the flexibility to get their feet under them financially without breaking the bank.

The Russell Industrial Center-style small business incubator at 1151 Jarvis filled up with a number of emerging businesses almost immediately. The 14 tenants in the 22,000-square-foot space include Green Light Go Music Publicity, a national band promoter. A year later, Didorosi is sprucing the place up both through its aesthetics and service offerings.

"Basically this place was a depressing battleship grey," Didorosi says. "Now we're completely redoing it."

Part of the Paper Street Motors (Paper Street is a reference to Fight Club) redesign is the installation of cubicles and a dynamic office environment. He is also looking at setting up additional locations in downtown Ferndale, Royal Oak, and Detroit, where members could utilize all of the spaces like a gym membership.

"So if you're a member of one then you're a member of all of them," he says.

Source: Andy Didorosi, president of Paper Street Motors
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

More green buses, jobs for The Night Move

In The Night Move's little corner of the world, sustainability is king. It's also a profitable venture for the Ferndale-based shuttle service.

The Night Move has grown to eight employees in its first two years of operating an express shuttle for party-goers between the downtowns of Royal Oak, Ferndale and Detroit. It also runs shuttles for special events, such as the recent Kid Rock concerts, and private functions.

"Our niche is doing it environmentally, consciously," says Chris Ramos, owner of The Night Move. "We still run a bio-diesel bus." The company also runs an extensive program for internal recycling and carbon offsets.

All of this new business has allowed The Night Move to expand its fleet to three buses and add a couple of drivers and a full-time sales person last year. It hopes to hire a few more people in 2011, along with adding a few more buses to its fleet.

"We really want to get some corporate services and some daily shuttle service with something like the DMC," Ramos says.

Source: Chris Ramos, owner of The Night Move
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LevelSet Solutions grows rapidly in Royal Oak

Two former Budd Co. colleagues, Steve Swanson and Mike Honner, struck out on their own in 2008, forming LevelSet Solutions, with one client for each man.

Today the downtown Royal Oak-based firm has 11 employees, two interns, and three independent contractors who oversee a client list in the double digits. The latest client score for the technology and social media firm is Crittenton Hospital Medical Center. It will handle the Internet strategy for the Rochester Hills-based health-care provider.

LevelSet Solutions has attracted all of its clients through referrals, and has done so through its customer service-heavy business model. When Swanson worked at Budd Co., he knew there was a lot of room for improvement in the services he provides now.

"I know how things were being delivered to me (as CIO of Budd Co.) and how I wanted them delivered," says Swanson, president and managing partner of LevelSet Solutions.

He expects the company's expansion to continue in 2011 because its business model will remain stable. As he puts it, "We don't want to change what's working so well for us."

Source: Steve Swanson, president and managing partner of LevelSet Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TextsFromLastNight's new offerings include apps, TV show

Ben Bator never intended his website hobby to become his full-time job, but that's what happened to the founding partner of TextsFromLastNight.

Bator and Lauren Leto started the website showcasing funny text messages a little over two years ago when they were attending law school at Wayne State University. TextsFromLastNight's popularity quickly took off and before the pair knew it, they had a full-blown business on their hands.

"The moment we realized we weren't going back to law school was in May of 2009 when we received five unsolicited book deal offers," says Bator.

TextsFromLastNight now employs four people. The practically virtual company calls downtown Royal Oak home because that's where Bator and his little brother (the website's editor) live. Leto is now based in Brooklyn, New York.

The company released its book last year, streamlined the site and devised its social media strategy of one feature text post per day. It receives 5,000-7,000 text submissions each day and profiles 30 of them. Bator and company have more planned for this year, including a smartphone application and a couple of potential hires.

"We're close to finding out when our TV show will be scheduled," Bator says. "We expect to hear on that in the next few weeks."

Source: Ben Bator, founding partner of TextsFromLastNight
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Oakland County announces cloud computing, Wi-Fi initiatives

Oakland County is making more and more of its IT and tech services wireless, according to County Executive L Brooks Patterson in his State of the County speech on Tuesday.

Oakland County will introduce a cloud computing initiative where it will conduct its own IT services through the cloud computing platform, and offer the services to local municipalities. The new program will eliminate the need for each local government entity to have its own servers and applications, instead accessing the county's for a nominal fee. The first offering will be Oakland County's eHealth software.

The county is also revamping its Wireless Oakland initiative with a new partnership with Frankenmuth-based Air Advantage. The 8-year-old Internet provider will provide Wi-Fi services to communities in northern Oakland County, utilizing the county's towers. In exchange for selling these services, Air Advantage will provide free wireless Internet in some downtowns, starting with Holly, Oxford and Clarkston. More communities will be announced later this year.

"Our philosophy is all people should have access to the Internet," says Scott Zimmer, president of Air Advantage. "The Internet is becoming a necessary utility like electricity or water."

Making this deal possible is a $64 million grant from the federal stimulus package. The grant is meant to help Air Advantage make Internet services available in underserved areas within a 13-county section of eastern Michigan. That section stretches from Bay County to the north, Shiawassee County to the west and Oakland County to the south.

Source: Oakland County and Scott Zimmer, president of Air Advantage
Writer: Jon Zemke

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