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123.net hires 5 as it builds out new space in Southfield

123.net continues to build out its data-storage capabilities in Southfield. The 17-year-old company began working out of its 130,000-square-foot structure at 24700 Northwestern Highway last year. Its offices occupy the top floor of the seven-story building. It expects to wrap up work on Phase 1 of the project early next year, which will bring 15,000 square feet of data center space online.

"We are expanding our data center facility in the building," says Dave Curran, channel sales manager for 123.net. "We expect to have 100,000 square feet of data center space." He adds that his company is working to turn the building into a tier 4 data facility.

123.net employs 30 people. It hired five over the last year and had three openings for marketing, engineering and sales professionals. The company expects to hire 12 people in 2014 to support its projected revenue growth of 25 percent.

"We're always looking for good people with solid backgrounds," Curran says.

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

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

Mitten Crate helps locals discover Michigan-made foods

Andrew Chmielewski is a foodpreneur, running a small toffee company called Dave's Sweet Tooth. Cory Wright is a restaurateur who ran his own restaurant in New York City before recently moving back to Metro Detroit.

The two friends came together to start a new venture called Mitten Crate. The Royal Oak-based firm sends a package of Michigan-made food products once a month to people who subscribe to the service.

"It is a great way to be introduced to Michigan-made products," Chmielewski says. "They might not be able to pick them up at a store otherwise."

Chmielewski and Wright noticed that while Michigan-made food products are quite popular with their local audience, that sphere of influence is often limited to about a 30-mile radius of where the company is based. Mitten Crate helps Michiganders overcome that barrier by introducing them to a handful of new products each month.

"There is a wide range of products," Chmielewski says. Some of those products include McClary Bros. Old Timey Drinking Vinegar (Ferndale) and Al Dente Pasta Co (Whitmore Lake).

The company got its start in August. It sold 70 boxes in its first month and 144 last month. Chmielewski expects to see those numbers to continue to grow exponentially in the near future.

"We hope to have triple-digit growth going into the holidays," Chmielewski says.

Source: Andrew Chmielewski, co-founder of Mitten Crate
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AutoBike sales hit six figures in first summer season

AutoBike began selling its first bicycles this year, and it has hit some significant milestones in that time.

The Troy-based startup manufactures a bicycle with an automatic shifter meant to make a ride smoother for recreational and casual bike riders. It moved into a 7,000-square-foot warehouse and production facility last spring and began making sales in time for the summer riding season.

"We topped $100,000 in revenue in our first six months," says Sean Simpson, CEO of AutoBike.

The 2-year-old company was launched by a group of automotive industry veterans who applied their expertise to creating AutoBike's automatic shifter. The idea is the shifter will automatically change the bike’s gear to the optimal one for its rider.

AutoBike is composed of a team of eight people, which is up one person from the company's staff in 2012. It has raised $610,000 in seed capital, including the $25,000 prize from winning the Next Generation Manufacturing category at last week’s Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

Source: Sean Simpson, CEO of AutoBike
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ECRS finds niche in cleaning up small disasters

Christian Fahoome had his own disaster restoration company when he noticed a hole in the market. Specifically, he didn’t see a company that helps everyday people clean up when, for instance, a kitchen fire badly damages a house.

"A lot of this market is what I call Mrs. Jones' home fire," Fahoome says. "The small fires for individual owners."

That prompted him to start ECRS (an acronym for Electronic Cleaning Restoration Services), which specializes in helping home owners and small businesses people clean up disasters that are small on the grand scale of things but are overwhelming when it comes to that individual person. The industry is largely aimed at handling large disasters that happen to big companies or organizations and are facilitated by insurance companies.

The Troy-based firm got its start 2.5 years ago. It has doubled its staff to four people over the last year, hiring two technicians. Fahoome expects to bring on one more employee before the year is out to meeting the growing demand for his company.

"It has been very well received," Fahoome says. "We're getting more and more momentum."

Source: Christian Fahoome, owner of ECRS
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Metro Detroit startups score big at Accelerate Michigan

A number of Metro Detroit-based companies came away with prizes at last week's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

The annual business plan competition awards $1 million in prizes, including a $500,000 cash prize for first place, to promising tech startups either based in Michigan or looking to move to the Great Lakes State. Metro Detroit-based firms, particularly those from Ann Arbor, have done quite well in the downtown Detroit-based competition’s first four iterations.

"Silicon Valley is supposed to have all the answers," says Tony Scott, CIO of VMware and the keynote speaker at this year’s Accelerate Michigan. "It doesn't. And there are a lot of great ideas here in Michigan."

Among the winners from Metro Detroit are:

- Troy-based AutoBike, which won the Next Generation Manufacturing category and the $25,000 in seed capital that came with it. The company is making a bicycle with an automatic gear shifter and began making sales this year. "(That prize money) is going to go toward OEMs for production," says Sean Simpson, CEO of AutoBike.

- CureLauncher, which calls Bloomfield Hills home, won the Life Sciences category ($25,000) for its website that is working to become the Wikipedia of clinical trials for new drugs and treatments.

- ENT Biotech Solutions (Detroit) won the $25,000 that comes with taking first in the Medical Device category for its surgical tool.

- West Bloomfield-based WaveCraft is creating an amphibious aircraft that won the NextEnergy Transport & New Mobility and its $25,000 cash prize.

Among the Ann Arbor-based winners are:

- Covaron Advanced Materials, which took second place ($100,000) for its low temperature cure advanced ceramics technology.

- TurtleCell won the People's Choice award for $10,000 for its smartphone case that come with retractable earbuds.

- PlanReaction's building floor plans and furniture layouts software won the IT category and its $25,000 prize.

- Inmatech won the DTE Energy Alternative Energy category ($25,000) for its technology that incorporates supercapacitors to make batteries more energy efficient.

Source: Tony Scott, CIO of VMware and Sean Simpson, CEO of AutoBike
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AccessPoint adds 12 jobs in Novi

AccessPoint keeps growing as the Metro Detroit company sticks to its knitting in the human resources field and makes an acquisition.

The Novi-based company has hired a dozen people over the last year, growing its staff to 60 employees and one intern. Those new hires are primarily made up of human resources and accounting personnel.

The 13-year-old company is a professional employer organization that helps other companies handle human resources. The firm has more than 400 customers across the U.S. in a broad range of industries.

"Our business is to help the business owner shed the burden of employee administration," says John Gillis, executive vice president of AccessPoint. "AccessPoint takes human resources to a whole new level."

The firm does that by helping companies maximize the benefits they offer to employees and helping those workers feel like valued members of the organization. "HR is about doing the right thing for the company and the employee," Gillis says.

AccessPoint has grown its revenue by 40 percent in 2012 and expects to repeat that number this year. It has expanded into the Washington, D.C., market this year and acquired a company in Florida, Veritas Employer Services, which is now known as AP Veritas. Although another acquisition is not predetermined right now, Gillis says the company is keeping its options open.

"We're always looking for opportunities," Gillis says.

Source: John Gillis, executive vice president of AccessPoint
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Group Associates hires 13, set to add 6 more

Hiring is fast becoming the norm at Group Associates this year.

The Bingham Farms-based firm has hired 13 people over the last year and is looking to fill six more positions by year-end. Those new hires include computer programmers, along with professionals who specialize in tech, accounting and human resources. The employee benefits management firm now employs 100 people and is looking at adding interns.

Group Associates specializes in helping large- and mid-sized companies manage complex employee benefits programs by utilizing technology. The 27-year-old firm does a lot of work helping these businesses digitize their human resources needs.

"The Affordable Care Act is in large part pushing our clients toward outside consulting services to make sure they are handling their healthcare coverage properly," says David Zick, president of Group Associates. "Companies are looking more and more for somebody to manage these things electronically."

Which means more business for Group Associates. The company has experienced significant growth in recent years and Zick is optimistic that demand for his firm's services will also grow.

"I expect it to continue, and also to grow," Zick says. "I think it's an increasing trend."

Source: David Zick, president of Group Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Troy-based OpTech increases staff at HQ, in field

OpTech is growing not just its business, but its reach.

The Troy-based IT staffing firm has diversified its client base so it now serves the finance, government, insurance and manufacturing sectors. It is also now servicing clients outside of Michigan as it expands its offerings to include cyber security, business intelligence and mobile app development/maintenance.

"Our clients have asked us to do a lot of things outside of our niche area," says Ronia Kruse, CEO of OpTech. "That has caused a lot of our growth."

For instance, Kruse says OpTech has recently landed a large homeland security contract for providing IT and engineering staffing services. She expects that sort of work to propel her company as it evolves.

"We can't ignore the fact that change is inevitable," Kruse says. "We have to offer expanded services to our clients."

Which also means a lot of hiring. OpTech has increased its internal staff by 38 percent and now employs close to 40 employees and four interns. It also has nearly 200 people working in the field with its clients. OpTech has hired dozens of tech professionals to work with its clients over the last year.

"We provide talent to our customers so we hire a lot of people," Kruse says.

Source: Ronia Kruse, CEO of OpTech
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Loc Performance Products grows through diversification

The more industries it looks to enter into, Loc Performance Products is finding more work.

The Plymouth-based firm has built up its business with defense contracts since its start in 1971, manufacturing large CNC machined components and assemblies for military and industrial applications. The cutbacks in defense spending in recent years have forced Loc Performance Products to find more business in new places.

"We're building up our business with more commercial projects," says Wayne Dula, director of business development for Loc Performance Products. "We have a lot of new business in the mining and rail industries. We also have new business with hybrid municipal bus systems."

The work in those industries has allowed Loc Performance Products to maintain its size, hiring five people over the last year. It now has a staff of 185 employees and the occasional intern.

Dula points out it took a lot of work to branch out. In 2009, military contracts made up 90 percent of Loc Performance Products' bottom line. This year it’s 50 percent. Next year it is expected to be 40 percent, but the company would like to keep military work a major part of its core business while continuing to grow its commercial prospects.

"We would like to double our revenue over the next six years," Dula says.

Source: Wayne Dula, director of business development for Loc Performance Products
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Estoreify aims to create comprehensive e-commerce platform

Last year Michael Mikhjian launched My eStore App, an e-commerce platform focused on helping small businesses facilitate online sales. Now the Royal Oak-based startup is beefing up that platform and rebranding it as Estoreify.

The e-commerce software works directly on client sites so customers aren't redirected to other support sites. Mikhjian wants to make it simple to install and maintain for small business owners who would rather spend their time focusing on their core business. Now Estoreify aims to offer a more comprehensive system that maintains its user-friendliness.

"I feel like our systems are simpler and easier to use," Mikhjian says. "You can manage it from your mobile phone."

The three-person team has gotten to the product to a public beta-testing stage with a few dozen shops using it. Mikhjian wants to expand that number to 100 shops within the next year and focus on giving each one a personal experience so they feel the software is tailored to their store’s needs.

"Any industry should be able to use this," Mikhjian says. "It's open to multiple products."

Source: Michael Mikhjian, founder of Estoreify
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Mystic Kettle becomes FT biz for Huntington Woods couple

Randy and Larry Lipman always enjoyed kettle corn while at farmer's markets and other community events. They often noticed the person making it couldn't keep up the demand at those events. Then one of the kettle corn makers went out of business because of a divorce, the CFL over the Huntington Woods couple’s heads went off, and Mystic Kettle was born.

"It started as a part-time weekend thing," Randy Lipman says.

That was 2010. At the time, Larry Lipman had a home preservation business maintaining foreclosed homes for banks before they were sold. The demand for Mystic Kettle's product prompted Larry Lipman to dissolve his business earlier this year and pursue kettle corn making on a full-time basis.

"We became so popular so quick we got a second kettle," Randy Lipman says. "We couldn't keep up with the demand with just one kettle. My husband and I now do this full-time."

They also hired two more people to work for them on a part-time basis. Part of what drives that demand is the higher-quality product the Lipmans strive to make with all local ingredients, such as non-GMO corn. All of those ingredients are made by Michigan companies, which is a large point of pride for the Lipmans.

Source: Randy Lipman, co-owner & operator of Mystic Kettle
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Lawrence Tech scores $150K for entrepreneurship education

Students who aspire to be their own boss at Lawrence Technological University got a six-figure boost this fall.

The Southfield-based university won a $150,000 grant from the Chicago-based Coleman Foundation to promote and facilitate entrepreneurial education. The grant will be doled out over two years and it will make Lawrence Tech’s entrepreneurial education program available to students pursuing degrees in the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Architecture and Design, and Management.

"We have so many students that have the skill sets and opportunities to pursue self-employment after graduation," says Karen Evans, senior lecturer in the College of Management for Lawrence Technological University. "They might not feel empowered to do that. We want to fill those gaps for them."

Part of filling those gaps will be showcasing the university's entrepreneurial endeavors to the metro area for the next two years. It will also work to increase awareness between students and staff working on entrepreneurial projects and encourage them to collaborate more.

"We want to show students what other students are doing," Evans says.

The Coleman Foundation is a private, independent grant-making organization that funds educational institutions that offer entrepreneurship training and support. Lawrence Tech's College of Engineering has an entrepreneurial education program for engineering students supported by a grant from the Kern Family Foundation. The university is an active member of the Kern Entrepreneurial Education Network.

Source: Karen Evans, senior lecturer in the college of management for Lawrence Technological University
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Shift Digital hires 50, moves HQ to downtown Birmingham

Shift Digital finally found a permanent place to call home when it moved to downtown Birmingham this fall.

The automotive marketing agency has spent the past two years at temporary offices in Bloomfield Hills. It struggled to find an office space in an urban setting where it could become a part of the community, until it found a space on East Maple Road less than a block from the heart of downtown Birmingham, at the intersection of Maple Road and Old Woodward Avenue.

"We have been looking for offices for two years and couldn't find anything," says Ashley Cox, vice president of internal operations at Shift Digital. "We're growing so rapidly that as soon as we found a space we liked we quickly outgrew it."

Shift Digital got its start with five people in 2008. It has grown its staff to 140 employees and two interns over the last five years, including 50 new hires in the last 12 months. It currently has five job openings.

Cox says Shift Digital now represents about 50 percent of the automotive manufacturing community. It has offices in California, Toronto and some sales team members spread across the U.S. It has also expanded its market reach to Mexico, Canada and recently into Europe, taking on a variety of new customers.

"We have also expanded into banking, finance, home building and real-estate," Cox says.

Source: Ashley Cox, vice president of internal operations at Shift Digital
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Mobile Comply adds 5 staff in downtown Pontiac

The app economy isn't just a boom for software developers and the companies that use their technology. It's also a growth opportunity for educators aiming to teach the world the advantages of mobile.

That has been the case with Mobile Comply, a downtown Pontiac-based company that helps educate businesses and institutions (think higher education) on how best to leverage mobile technology.

"We have doubled in size every year since we started in 2010," says Elaina Farnsworth, CEO of Mobile Comply.

That means Mobile Comply now employs a growing staff of employees and a large number of independent contractors. It has hired five people over the last year, including curriculum writers, trainers and mobile developers.

Farnsworth credits the rapid adoption of mobile technology since the launch of the iPhone six years ago as the driving force behind her company's growth. The serial entrepreneur sold her education technology company in 2006 and started Mobile Comply a few years later after seeing the change that would sweep the technology industry. She thinks that growth momentum will continue to build as mobile technology continues to become more ingrained in mainstream America and abroad.

"I expect to triple in size over the next three years," Farnsworth says. "I also expect to be recognized on an international level."

Source: Elaina Farnsworth, CEO of Mobile Comply
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Amtech Electrocircuits launches Vapor Phase Reflow technology

Amtech Electrocircuits, a high-tech manufacturing services firm, is launching a new product earlier this year called Vapor Phase Reflow that it expects to help drive its sales for the rest of this year and next.

The Troy-based company is reintroducing reflow technology originally developed in the 1980s. Negative environmental impact shelved its commercialization until Amtech Electrocircuits tweaked its chemistry to make it more environmentally friendly.

Amtech Electrocircuits describes the basic concept behind its Vapor Phase Reflow like this: "A liquid is boiled. The vapor is heavier than air so it sits in a bath. The assemblies are brought into the bath and the vapor condenses onto the assembly, transferring heat to cooler parts. The transfer of heat stops when the part comes to temperature so lower mass parts do not overheat." The company also produced a short video describing the technology which can be seen here.

"We have been landing a lot of customers," says Dev Patel, vice president of Amtech Electrocircuits. "We have been making a big marketing push."

That has allowed the 18-year-old company to expand its staff with three new hires. It now employs 25 people. Patel expects that number to grow over the next year as the firm continues to gain traction with its Vapor Phase Reflow and other 3-D optimal inspection products.

Source: Dev Patel, vice president of Amtech Electrocircuits
Writer: Jon Zemke

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