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Varnum targets Metro Detroit with 12 newer hires for Novi office

The Varnum law firm has been around a long time. One hundred and twenty-five years, to be exact. And the Grand Rapids-based firm sees a big part of its future in Metro Detroit.

Varnum offers a broad range of legal services, ranging from technology development to employee litigation. It opened an office in Novi 12 years ago, and it has grown significantly in the last year.

"Our firm has concluded that the Metro Detroit area is a place where we have many current clients and many opportunities with clients," says Rich Hewlett, partner at Varnum. "We see a lot of really good attorneys here as well."

Varnum has hired eight attorneys and four paralegals at its Novi office over the last 18 months. It currently has a staff of 29 attorneys, eight paralegals and 18 support staff in Novi. Hewlett expects the Novi office to continue growing for the foreseeable future.

"We have a lot of really good things going on here," Hewlett says. "We see this area as a place that is very favorable to us."

Source: Rich Hewlett, partner at Varnum
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Telegration expands cloud computing services offerings

Cloud services are becoming an increasingly important part of Telegration's bottom line and its growth prospects for tomorrow.

The Clawson-based firm specializes in technology consulting. It services a broad range of organizations, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to local government agencies. The 24-year-old company’s products include local, long-distance and Internet services, and it's expanding into cloud computing this year.

"We are adding more products and services to our portfolio," says Rayon Treadwell, marketing administrator for Telegration. "Our customers are clamoring for cloud services."

Telegration is still in the process of fleshing out its cloud computing experiences, which it expects to complete this year. The company is also ramping up its marketing.

"We're starting to increase the visibility of our cloud services," Treadwell says.

Telegration has continued to grow its company as it expands the services it offers. It has hired five people over the last year and now has a staff of 50 employees and two interns. Among its recent hires are a channel support manager, sales engineer, finance specialist and customer service professionals.

Source: Rayon Treadwell, marketing administrator for Telegration
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Cirrus Group leverages spike in school district customers

Schools are becoming an increasingly important part of Cirrus Group's future.

The Rochester Hills-based company specializes in back-end software for school districts and after-school programs. It has expanded significantly into school districts in the Phoenix area, where it represents six school districts.

"We have grown quite a bit in the school district space," says Michael Garret, COO of Cirrus Group. "We have also experienced growth in all of our segments."

The 11-year-old firm’s software handles operational, financial and customer management functions for child-care facilities, community centers and school districts. The platform manages enrollment, participant payments and communications, scheduling and government compliancy requirements including state and local subsidy payments and food care programs. The subsidy part has proven to be a distinct competitive advantage in recent months.

"We are one of the few companies that offers a subsidy management tool," Garret says.

That has allowed Cirrus Group to hire two people in software development and customer service over the last year. It currently has a staff of 14 employees and three additional openings for software developers.

Source: Michael Garret, COO of Cirrus Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Class Appraisal hires 13 in downtown Birmingham

Class Appraisal is employing a new software platform and a bigger staff in downtown Birmingham this spring.

The 5-year-old company has hired 13 people since October, including professionals in quality control, sales, reception, and customer service. It is also looking to hire another four people in customer service and quality control. The company currently employs 60 and is looking to add interns this summer.

"We anticipate the company growing quite a bit over the next quarter," says Kimberly Morrison-Schop, president of Class Appraisal.

Class Appraisal rolled out a new software platform for its operation in January, which focuses on streamlining the appraisal process. The company is also focusing on training its staff to make the appraisal process as efficient as possible.

"We have noticed the time for appraisals has decreased by a full day," Morrison-Schop says. "It's a huge gain for us."

Morrison-Schop is optimistic that the new streamlined business practices will allow the company to double its sales over the next year. She expects more hires at the company will follow.

"As we grow our staff is going to grow," Morrison-Schop says.

Source: Kimberly Morrison-Schop, president of Class Appraisal
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

PR firm merger creates new, bigger company called Alchemy

A couple of friends/former coworkers with their own public relations firms merged them together last fall, a move that allowed them to add more clients and double their staff.

Brent Eastman and Tom Nixon both worked at Identity (a public relations firm based in Bingham Farms) before setting out on their own a few years ago. Eastman started Alchemy Group and Nixon launched LV8 Communications. Last September they merged the two companies and rebranded the new firm as Alchemy.

"Tom and I have known each other for a number of years and have worked on a number of projects," Eastman says. "We looked at the future and thought it would be a good idea to team up and merge companies."

At the time of the merger, the two companies employed three people. Today they employ six people at a 1,500-square-foot office in Troy.

"We have complementary skill sets and distinct skill sets," Nixon says. "Brent is from a creative background. I have a more traditional marketing and PR background."

Alchemy has added 18 new clients since the merger, mainly charities and manufacturers.

"We are on track to more than double our business," Nixon says.

Source: Brent Eastman and Tom Nixon, partners at Alchemy
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Billhighway anticipates growth surge with new tech hires

Billhighway has some big expectations for its future growth, and it's already adding staff in anticipation of it.

The Troy-based firm, which describes itself as a “provider of cloud-based automation solutions for nonprofits” has hired five people over the last year, including positions in sales, business development and software development. It also has three open positions for software developers.

"The company is the product. We write everything (software code) ourselves," says Bob Anzivino, director of IT & security for Billhighway. "There is a lot of R&D work going on here so we need the help."

Billhighway got its start in 1999 as software that helps people divvy up expenses, such as dues or dinner costs. Today it helps non-profits and other organizations deal with their finances.

The company currently employs just under 50 people. Anzivino, who was recently promoted to his job, explains that it can be hard to pin down an exact number of staff because new hires mean staffing levels change fairly quickly. The reason why is to keep up with revenue growth and projected growth over the next year.

"We expect fairly meteoric growth in the next 12 months," Anzivino says. "That's good for us and our clients. We are preparing for that."

Source: Bob Anzivino, director of IT & security for Billhighway
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Brogan & Partners adds 4 jobs as it locks down more long-term clients

A little more than a year ago, the leadership at Brogan & Partners sat down and figured out what types of clients it worked best with, what sort of projects it excelled at, and what its strengths and weaknesses were. This was all in the name of refining its business model and building a better business.

That led to the downtown Birmingham-based digital marketing firm to make a transition. The 30-year-old firm characterizes itself as a company that “creates and converges advertising, social media and mobile media with an emphasis on brand engagement and a specialty in marketing to women.” It moved to taking on more long-term clients instead of short-term projects. That prompted a significant sales spurt over the last year.

"Between this time last year and now we have about seven additional ongoing accounts," says Ellyn Davidson, managing partner with Brogan & Partners. "Last year we had more projects. Now we have more long-term accounts."

Some of those new clients include Frankenmuth Insurance and Michigan First Credit Union. The company's revenue jumped by double digits last year, and it's aiming for 13-14 percent revenue increases this year, much of it thanks to its new focus.

"It was a very deliberate new business strategy," Davidson says.

Brogan & Partners has added new employees over the last year, including four new hires in the last month alone. Those new jobs include writers, media buyers and metrics specialists. The company currently has a staff of about 40 employees and an intern.

Source: Ellyn Davidson, managing partner with Brogan & Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DornerWorks expands new South Lyon office to 3 people

DornerWorks reinvigorated its Metro Detroit office about two years ago, bringing in a new staff, moving it to South Lyon, and going after a bigger clientele.

DornerWorks is a provider of electronic engineering services for the aerospace, medical, automotive, and industrial sectors. The Grand Rapids-based firm’s biggest clients include General Electric and Stryker.

The 14-year-old company’s Metro Detroit customer base was comprised of smaller firms until about 1-2 years ago when a reorganization brought in more, bigger clients.

"We have done some work for Ford, Visteon, and Magna," says Bob Gerber, regional sales director of DornerWorks. "These are all larger automotive companies that are long-term investments."

DornerWorks' South Lyon office, which now has three people, is trying to bring on more Tier One automotive suppliers as customers. It is also looking to hire more engineers to keep up with the new work from large automotive firms.

"We'd like to double that by the end of the year, if not triple it," Gerber says. "We're constantly bidding on those jobs so it’s about hitting the right project."

Source: Bob Gerber, regional sales director of DornerWorks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Grand Circus Media establishes itself in local music scene

Joe Choma found himself working in the financial investment sector after college, but not for too long. The long-time music fan decided to pursue his passion and ended up starting his own company, Grand Circus Media.

The Grosse Pointe-based business specializes in management, booking, and promotions of live music acts. Among its projects are the Dark Star Orchestra show at the Majestic and the Rag Birds show at the Magic Bag.

"We typically work with an electronic theme," Choma says. "We also work in folk, bluegrass, or jam-band indie rock."

Choma got his start interning for Paxahau, working with its street team promotion. He now does artist relations and marketing for Paxahau’s biggest events.

"I wear a couple of different hats," Choma says. "I like doing it. I started doing work at Movement five years ago doing artist check-in. My role has grown since then."

Choma plans to keep increasing the number of events Grand Circus Media puts on. He also wants to help grow the local bluegrass music scene.

"It's interesting because I work in one realm at a far end of the spectrum, and then on another form at the end of the music spectrum," Choma says.

Source: Joe Choma, owner of Grand Circus Media
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Plymouth-based Advaita lands nearly $2M in SBIR funding

Advaita scored nearly $2 million in seed capital this month after it landed the second phase of an SBIR grant to develop its bioinformatics software.

"It will allow us to continue development of our software tools and our products for personalized medicine," says Sorin Draghici, president & CEO of Advaita.

The Plymouth-based startup is commercializing gene pathway analysis technology developed at Wayne State University called Pathway Guide. The platform helps researchers trying to understand the data generated by high-throughput experiments, including next-generation sequencing. It aims to eliminate false positives in diagnosis, as well as correctly identify biologically meaningful pathways in a given disease.

Advaita's technology is being used by a number of large research universities, including Harvard, Columbia University Medical Center and the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

"We have a number of high-profile institutions that are using our tools," Draghici says. "We are also getting ready to release a new web application called iPathwayGuide."

Advaita employs a staff of 11 people, along with three summer interns. It has hired two people over the last year, including a project manager and PhD-level research scientists. It is currently looking to hire up to two software developers as the company aims to ramp up the commercialization of its technology over the rest of the year.

"We would like to expand our user base substantially," Draghici says. "We'd like to include some big pharmaceutical companies as customers."

Source: Sorin Draghici, president & CEO of Advaita
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Impact Management Services aims to fill 170 jobs

Looking for a new job? Blue collar? White collar? Impact Management Services probably has a position for you.

The Southfield-based staffing firm is looking to fill 170 positions right now. The new jobs include machine operators (115 jobs), welders (35), high-lo drivers (20), along with a smattering of positions for quality engineers, manufacturing engineers, controls engineers and industrial engineers.

"These are all long-term, permanent employment opportunities," says Jeff Lothian, executive vice president of Impact Management Services.

The 9-year-old company held three jobs fairs earlier this week, and plans to hold more later this month. For more information, click here.

Impact Management Services has helped about 2,000 people find employment over the last year. The firm currently has 700 people working for other companies on contract positions. It has an internal staff of 20 people along with a few summer interns. It has hired four recruiters over the last year to help it meed the demand of its clientele.

"The Detroit market is hotter than ever," Lothian says. "We see growth all over town. It’s growth at a rapid rate and we are seeing it across the board with our customers."

Source: Jeff Lothian, executive vice president of Impact Management Services
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Identity hires 4, adds 17 new clients in last year

Maturation is becoming an increasingly important word at Identity. It applies to the public relations firm’s client list, business model and staff.

The Bingham Farms-based firm has added 17 new clients over the last year. Those new clients include some larger-and-growing firms like Atlas Oil Company and Carbon Media Group. Taylor-based Atlas Oil Company (a national fuel supply, logistics and services firm) hired Identity for media relations, marketing and social media work. Bingham Farms-based Carbon Media Group (a digital content producer for outdoors enthusiasts) retained Identity for media relations and marketing services.

"We are seeing more sophisticated and larger clients," says Mark Winter, partner at Identity. "I think it's a sign of the maturing of our agency. We’re growing up."

The larger customer base accompanies Identity's own recent efforts to refine and streamline its business model. "Our focus in the last year and a half has been on efficiency and profitability," Winter says.

This has allowed Identity to add to its staff. The 15-year-old company has hired four people over the last year, two for its creative department and two for its media relations department. It currently has a staff of 23 employees and an intern. It is currently looking to hire two people for assistant account executives, and expects to promote more people from within for higher-up positions.

"We grow from within," Winter says. "We are constantly working on growing our own leaders."

Source: Mark Winter, partner at Identity
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

CitrinGroup investment firm adds 4 new consultants

CitrinGroup made a name for itself in its early years as an investment firm with a track record for sizable returns.

The 10-year-old firm realized there was a sizable number of financial firms that could do the same thing. If it wanted to continued its growth streak it would need to find a way to separate itself from the pack.

"It's been an exciting year," says Jonathan Citrin, chairman of CitrinGroup. "We have intensified our focus as a portfolio manager."

CitrinGroup’s advantage is divorcing emotion from its decision-making process. Sounds simple, right, or just industry standard? Not necessarily. Citrin points out his firm relies solely on numbers and seizing opportunity. No gut calls. No more sticking only to what they feel comfortable with.

"We have been super focused on keeping emotion out of decisions," Citrin says.

That has allowed the downtown Birmingham-based firm to make its returns more consistent and increase its new business. CitrinGroup has also grown its staff, adding four consultants to its core team of four employees.

"We were just creating a way to give our clients some added value," Citrin says.

Source: Jonathan Citrin, chairman of CitrinGroup
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

CRESIT Energy expands alternative energy workload

Robert Kulick had a bit of a non-traditional introduction to alternative energy. The downriver resident first explored solar energy while serving in the military and looking for a quiet power source for forward units.

That led to his putzing around with solar panels after his service ended, and eventually to the creation of CRESIT Energy eight years ago.

"It started with me experimenting with batteries, inverters and cords," says Robert Kulick, president of CRESIT Energy. "My daughter said, 'Nobody lives like this.' But I saw energy costs going up so that is what got me started."

The Wyandotte-based business has established itself since then, helping put together alternative energy projects for local municipalities and residents. Among its portfolio of projects is installing a wind turbine at Heritage Park in Taylor and solar panels at police stations in Southgate. It now employs a staff of four people, including a recent hire handling marketing.

Kulick is proud of the foothold he has established in the local energy market. He and his team have helped put downriver on the map when it comes to sustainability and alternative energy, making it a leader in Metro Detroit. He is also trying to remain positive about the future of his business if the federal government doesn’t renew its renewable energy tax credits.

"It's grown but it's tougher," Kulick says. "It's already hard selling with a 30-percent tax credit. I wonder how hard it will be in two years when those tax credits run out."

Source: Robert Kulick, president of CRESIT Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Smart Lighting Solutions brings on new LED product lines

Ralph Petty was working in property management in 2009 when the economy was falling apart. He and a friend who worked at Ford looked at the job landscape and decided to make their own by starting Smart Lighting Solutions.

"Energy efficiency is something that intrigued both of us," Petty says.

The Shelby Township-based firm specializes in helping businesses improve their energy efficiencies, usually through replacing light with more efficient options.

"The big push is starting to go towards LED (lights)," Petty says. "We're installing at a bowling center on the east side of Detroit that will be all LED."

Smart Lighting Solutions is also bringing new products to its lineup by adding Juganu Lighting's LED lighting products. The LEDs allow for energy savings of up to 80 percent over traditional lighting, such as metal halide fixtures.
 
The company now has a staff of three people after hiring a sales professional in the last year. Petty expects his company to continue to grow as the firm focuses more of its efforts on outdoor facilities.

"Our biggest goal is to work with outdoor facilities like parking lots and parking structures," Petty says.

Source: Ralph Petty, principal of Smart Lighting Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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