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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.

Billhighway adds dozens of staff, hundreds of clients

If there is one thing that is growing faster than Billhighway's staffing, it's the start-up's client list.

"We're growing," says Jeff Jorge, vice president of business development for Billhighway. "We have been adding people very quickly to support our growing list of clients. We have been adding clients on an almost weekly basis."

Billhighway's technology helps organizations figure out who owes what for items such as dues or dinner costs or any other miscellaneous expense. This has historically been for small organizations, but the 11-year-old company has added some larger entities as well as hundreds of other clients. It recently signed the American Medical Association Alliance.

That has allowed the Troy-based company to double revenue and hire 17 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 40 employees and a few interns. It expects to continue growing its headcount this year and has several job openings now. Jorge credits Billhighway's message of creating new revenue streams as the reason it has been able to defy the recession and continue to grow.

"The more challenged organizations become, the more they need a service like ours," says Jorge. "More money comes in when they use our systems." Customers' revenues go up between 50-250 percent in the first year, he claims.

Source: Jeff Jorge, vice president of business development for Billhighway
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.

BTO Solutions launches "Social Media is a Party!"

Sola Obayan didn't plan on staying in Detroit when the Wayne State University graduate returned home from Washington, D.C., last year. That move turned one more member of Generation Y back into a Metro Detroiter and created one more new company, BTO Solutions.

"I really missed being home," says Obayan, principal of BTO Solutions. "I wanted to reconnect with family and friends, and when I connected with them I decided to stay."

BTO Solutions focuses on online marketing, websites and social media. It has two employees and two interns in West Bloomfield. Obayan is also using it as the launch pad of Social Media is a Party!, a new platform to teach people about social media.

Social Media is a Party! combines an educational session about the ins and outs of social media, with a mixer at the end. Obayan says the idea is unique because there is a dearth of good mixers out there for business professionals who want to connect both on- and offline.

"What really brings people together is the connection they make at the mixer," Obayan says.

BTO Solutions is working with PeopleMovers, Pain & Rehab Pain Specialists, and Cabresto Tequila to get the idea off the ground. Obayan also hopes to hire a new local college graduate this year when Social Media is a Party! begins to gain some traction.

Source: Sola Obayan, principal of BTO Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Big tech names launch Detroit Venture Partners

A few of Metro Detroit's biggest names in tech are getting together to launch a new venture capital firm, Detroit Venture Partners.

Josh Linkner of ePrize, Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, and Brian Hermelin of Rockbridge Growth Equity started the VC firm in downtown Detroit with the idea of putting Metro Detroit's tech sector growth on steroids. Detroit Venture Partners plans to invest in early-stage companies in internet, digital media, marketing, and direct-to-consumer technologies, sports and entertainment, social media, e-commerce, and software.

"Your bio-tech or advanced manufacturing idea may be groundbreaking, but that's not our focus," says Detroit Venture Partners' website. "We'd just screw it up if we got involved."

Linkner (the short and sarcastic one, according to the website) will serve as the firm's CEO and managing partner. Gilbert (the comic sans font and hair product fan) and Hermelin (the bald brains of the trio) will serve as general partners. The five-person VC firm plans to make 6-8 investments in 2011 and up to 10-20 the next year. Its long-term plan is to make a difference in Metro Detroit by creating economic opportunity.

"We really want to become a significant venture firm in town, similar to what you see in Silicon Valley," Linkner says.

Source: Josh Linkner, CEO & managing partner with Detroit Venture Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Royal Oak's Visual IMPACT! reinvents customer base

Visual IMPACT! used to do a lot of marketing work for advertising agencies, so much so that all that work for a few agencies turned into the bread and butter of the downtown Royal Oak-based firm. That is until the recession hit and that work largely evaporated.

Today Visual IMPACT! still does a lot of marketing work, but for more customers (mostly small businesses) working on small projects. Those projects now include production studio work, Internet marketing and creating mobile applications.

"In 1991 we were one of the first 1,000 websites on the Internet," says Mark Besh, president of Visual IMPACT!. "But we're a multi-media company. We do all media, even a little print."

Reinventing Visual IMPACT!'s customer base allowed it to hold its own during the economic downturn, maintaining a staff of six employees, an intern and 12 independent contractors. The company expects to hire another 2-5 people and 6-12 independent contractors in 2011 on the strength of tripling its customer base or better.

Source: Mark Besh, president of Visual IMPACT!
Writer: Jon Zemke

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


ArtfulVision links art sales to non-profit funding

Maxine Gardner is an artist, one who couldn't work a few years ago because of an injury. That prompted the Huntington Woods resident to add "entrepreneur" to her resume this year, creating an Internet startup that connects local artist sales to fundraising for non-profits.

ArtfulVision sells the work of artists all across the U.S., including dozens from Michigan, over the Internet. A 20 percent cut of each sale goes to one of a dozen non-profits participating in the program, and Artful Vision keeps a small slice for itself. The idea is to expose art to more people, putting money into the pockets of artists and non-profits.

"As we become better known I can provide the artists an audience that isn't looking at the same 15 pieces," Gardner says.

ArtfulVision launched in August and has 75 artists from across the U.S. participating. She hopes to bump that number to 500 by the end of 2011, along with attracting more non-profits.

Source: Maxine Gardner, founder artist of ArtfulVision
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MatchRX creates online market for indie pharmacists

MatchRX is one of those start-ups that proves new technologies shouldn't just be aimed at big corporate behemoths looking for both sales and acquisitions.

The Troy-based firm has created a Web marketplace for pharmacists to sell and buy overstocked medications. Think of it as an eBay for independent pharmacists. The company now operates in 28 states and has 600 members across the U.S. It plans to go international in 2011 and expand to 1,500-2,000 customers.

The company launched in February with three people and now employs nine and a handful of independent contractors. It has a couple of job openings right now and expects more in 2011.

"I expect we will be adding people in the foreseeable future," says John Kello, CEO of MatchRX. "They will be in IT, marketing, and compliance."

MatchRX recently made the semi-finals of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition in Ann Arbor. The $1 million contest among startups will announce the finalists just before the event takes place on the weekend of Dec. 11 during the Big Chill hockey game at Michigan Stadium.

Source: John Kello, CEO of MatchRX
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

HBR Labs scores $2M in capital, expands Farmington Hills office

HBR Labs is using its millions in newly found seed capital to ready a product launch and expand its Farmington Hills office.

The 3-year-old Internet company raised $2 million from private equity investors. That money will mostly go toward the commercialization of its two new multi-media products: ShowDocument and VeriShow. Both are set to launch next year.

ShowDocument is designed for individual users and small businesses to share documents and use whiteboards on the Internet. VeriShow's tool kit aims to improve web-based sales, service, and training, including integrated text, voice, video, document sharing and co-editing, joint form completion and electronic signature, interactive white boards, and more. For example, a sales representative can use the technology to show off a 3-dimensional model of a product to potential customers.

The launch of these two products should allow the 10-person company to expand its Metro Detroit office. It conducts research and development at its Israel office and handles sales and marketing in Farmington Hills.

Yuval Moed, CEO and president of HBR Labs, plans to hire a few more people next year. The former MBA student at the University of Michigan is married to a Huntington Woods native.

"I felt there was an opportunity here," Moed says. "There is a lot of manpower and brainpower here."

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

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

W Bloomfield man capitalizes on Internet clips with videoburst

For David Mayer, the sign that an Internet video company was viable came with the debut of YouTube. He knew it was time to start such a company, videoburst, when YouTube's popularity shot through the roof.

"Broadband reached enough people that most people watch video on the Internet now," Mayer says. "YouTube has 30 billion views per month. There wasn't even a YouTube five years ago."

That sort of success has allowed the 2-year-old videoburst to go from Mayer alone to a staff of three employees and four independent contractors. He expects to have a staff of 15 people within the next year as websites demand ever more video material.

The West Bloomfield-based company continues to fill that need, making videos for doctors, cosmetic dentists, plastic surgeons, and industrial companies. Mayer plans to hire an in-house acting troupe to create funnier, improv-style material for its clients who want to attract more traffic to their sights.

"Businesses are recognizing how video can help them enable growth," Mayer says. "It's not just cool to have a video on your website. You can use video to draw people to your website. Video is a huge distinguishing feature for a website. It increases the chances people will stay longer."

Source: David Mayer, owner of videoburst
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Fanaroo allows fans to put their mark on stadiums

Ever wanted to see your name in lights at a major athletic venue? Fanaroo plans to make that happen for the Joe Sixpack sports fan soon.

Steve Chapman, Giri Gondi, and Jack Nissley plan to launch the website for the 1-year-old startup in December. That website will enable people to put their name or a message into the background of a stadium, such as in the ice at Joe Louis Arena or the end zone at Spartan Stadium.

"The end product is a poster or a picture or a calendar or a personalized notebook for kids," says Chapman, vice president of sales for Fanaroo.

The Beverly Hills-based company recently became one of the 50 semifinalists in the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. Fanaroo has worked out licensing deals with 52 sports organizations, including a number of minor league hockey leagues and Michigan State University. Fanaroo now employs four people and expects to hire another six by this time next year, when it hits $1 million in sales.

Source: Steve Chapman, co-founder and vice president of sales for Fanaroo
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Search Ad Marketing adds clients, to add jobs

Meaghan McCann worked in advertising for a big company until she decided to start a family. Then the soon-to-be-mother decided to take over AdWords and social media responsibilities for the company on a part-time basis, a move that led to the creation of her own company, Search Ad Marketing.

That was four years ago. About the same time, McCann's husband was laid off from his automotive job. Luckily, Search Ad Marketing's services were rising in demand to help offset the hardship.

"It just made more sense to put more time into this to make it a full-time thing instead of looking for a job," McCann says.

Today the downtown Plymouth-based company employs McCann, an intern, and a few independent contractors who handle search engine optimization, Internet marketing, and social media. McCann just signed three new clients and hopes to continue growing, adding up to five people over the next year.

She also recently started the PayPerClick Club, which serves as a primer for people and companies that are just dipping their toes into Internet marketing and AdWords. McCann expects to turn that into a pipeline for new business down the road.

Source: Meaghan McCann, owner of Search Ad Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

123.net's Wi-Fi sales propel growth

A dozen years ago, a handful of engineers got together and created a company to provide the latest fad in communication - dial-up Internet connections. Today that company, 123.net, is still providing the latest in connectivity services.

"We offer everything from T1 on our fiber networks to Wi-Fi services," says Dave Curran, channel sales manager for 123.net. The latest of these offerings is a blanket of 4G Wimax in downtown Ann Arbor.

The Southfield-based business has parlayed sales of services like this into a staff of a dozen employees, a couple of summer interns, and dozens of independent contractors who handle sales. It has hired three people over the last year and expects to add another 3-5 jobs in 2011 as it continues its trend of growing 10-30 percent each year, even in the recent downturn.

"Wireless is a very fast-growing product for us," Curran says. "It will bring in a lot of revenue for us over the next year."

Source: Dave Curran, channel sales manager for 123.net
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Vision Fuel Media lands partnership with Ticket Master, grows

Jason T. Ryan likes to refer to himself as a serial entrepreneur and Vision Fuel Media is his latest startup offering after working nearly 20 years in corporate and technology sales.

The Rochester-based Internet marketing firm has managed to get its feet underneath it and find some firm footing in its first two years. Ryan's expertise in social media and entrepreneurship has helped him grow his team to a handful of independent contractors and interns.

"It's been great," Ryan says. "We have clients of all shapes and sizes."

Among Vision Fuel Media's clients are law practices and other small businesses. The company's business has doubled in recent months and its biggest coup de client is a partnership with Ticket Master to do social media for the new NFL Ticket Exchange for this season and Super Bowl XLV. Ryan expects Vision Fuel Media to increase its manpower in 2011 as it continues to move toward bigger social media campaigns for small- and medium-sized businesses.

"I see more social media public speaking and boot camp opportunities coming up," Ryan says. "A lot of organizations are hungry to teach their members why these things are important."

Source: Jason T. Ryan, president & CEO of Vision Fuel Media
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Auto engineer's hobby morphs into job-creating business

Kevin VanDette's new career started as a hobby earlier this decade. The automotive engineer liked to build websites and started doing it for his son's sports teams and his band. The demand for his services began peaking about the same time the automotive engineering field started faltering, allowing him to start Affordable Website Specialists.

"I kept getting more and more requests," says VanDette. "I thought I might as well make it a business."

That was four yeas ago. Today the Rochester-based firm employs three people, an intern, and an independent contractor after adding another position this year. The company's consistent growth, doubling in size each year, has occurred despite the trials and tribulations of the local economy and automotive firms.

"We're on a pretty steady growth pattern even in a bad economy," VanDette says.

Most of Affordable Website Specialists' clients come from referrals and are local small- to medium-sized businesses. The company's roots are in website building but it has spread to search engine optimization. VanDetter expects his business to double its revenue next year and hopes to add 1-2 more positions as well.

Source: Kevin VanDette, owner of Affordable Website Specialists
Writer: Jon Zemke

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