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ePrize becomes HelloWorld, hires 50 people

What was once ePrize is now HelloWorld. It's the same tech firm based in Pleasant Ridge, just bigger and looking to grow more.

"It's a culmination of the last few years," says Matt Wise, CEO of HelloWorld. "We started to pivot the business three years ago; ePrize was a great name when it was just a promotions company."
 
Catterton Partners, a private-equity firm, acquired what is now HelloWorld three years ago. The acquisition was the culmination to what became the poster child of local startup success stories. The firm's founder, Josh Linkner, went on to co-found the high-profile Detroit Venture Partners with Dan Gilbert while the now 15-year-old firm continued to grow.

Wise explains that HelloWorld is a more fitting name for the company as it currently stands. The firm got its start as a digital promotions firm. Today its software platform is more comprehensive and focuses on enabling brands to connect with consumers through a variety of different experiences. Among those new avenues are mobile marketing, live-event activation, in-store activation and loyalty programs.

"We build software applications that help people connect with the brand," Wise says.

HelloWorld has also been growing rapidly. The firm has hired 50 people over the last year, mostly software developers, operations and sales personnel. It now employs 440 people and is looking to hire another 12 people in sales, operations and software development.

Source: Matt Wise, CEO of HelloWorld
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Company Folders recalibrates biz model, aims to add 5 jobs

Company Folders is one of those Internet firms that lives and dies by Google searches. The Keego Harbor-based company recently had a near-death experience but came back stronger than ever.

The 10-year-old company creates software that helps make presentation folder selection easier to understand and use. You can check out its folder design gallery here and the freebies it offers here. Company Folders enjoyed a lot of success because it leveraged good search engine optimization, often appearing at the top of a number of Google searches.

Then Google, which accounts for a vast majority of Internet searches, changed its algorithm in 2012. The new algorithm penalized firms that raised their ranking by linking to websites that Google deemed as low-quality, a practice Company Folders used often.

"When they rolled out this new algorithm all of the websites took a hit," says Vladimir Gendelman, founder & CEO of Company Folders. "Company Folders was one of those websites."

That meant the Company Folders' revenue plunged. Gendelman retooled its business model to restore its SEO that included getting rid of the bad links, adding a blog, writing stories for other publications, and instituting a loyalty marketing program. He then jumped through the hoops Google put up to get back in its good graces. The end product was a higher conversion rate from searches, more tools available to its customers and a stronger overall business.

"For the whole year we are up about 15 percent," Gendelman says.

The company has also grown its staff to a dozen people. It is currently looking to hire five people for jobs like account manager, UIX design, social media manager and SEO manager.

Source: Vladimir Gendelman, founder & CEO of Company Folders
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Trent Design grows staff thanks to manufacturing website work

There is no denying that Trent Design is a new economy company. The marketing firm specializes in design, specifically website design. So it’s a little amusing that the biggest driver of its recent growth is an old economy sector, manufacturing.

Trent Design has handled the website designs/redesigns of a number of big-name manufacturers over the last year, including Brasco International. Trent Design is currently working on new websites for Pennsylvania Steel and Jac Products. The trend started when Eaton Steel first reached out to Trent Design to redesign its website a couple of years ago. That led to a number of Eaton Steel's sister firms and manufacturers it works with following suit.

"We have done several manufacturing sites, which has helped us get even more manufacturing website work," says Marilyn Trent, principal of Trent Design. "I feel manufacturing can use our help."

That has allowed the Rochester-based company to hire a new brand strategist over the last year. It now employs five full-time employees, three part-timers and the occasional intern. Many of these employees have stayed with the firm for many years after they hired in. "When I hire them, they stay with me," Trent says.

Trent Design also opened an office in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood a couple of years ago. Trent thinks she could add another person or two to her staff in the next year but still wants to keep her company small.

"I want to keep a boutique-size agency that does great work and provides great customer service," Trent says.

Source: Marilyn Trent, principal of Trent Design
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

SmartFinds Internet Marketing moves to bigger Birmingham office

Last year was a bit of a transition year for SmartFinds Internet Marketing.

The 27-year-old firm has moved to a new home, hired a handful of people and started to sharpen its aim on the services it provides.

"We have been focusing our message to our clients that we are marketeers more than a technology company," says Melih Oztalay, CEO of SmartFinds Internet Marketing. He further explains that in his experience that tech companies are more "order takers" while marketing firms work more collaboratively with their clients to shape messages in digital worlds.

SmartFinds Internet Marketing has been based in downtown Birmingham for most of its existence. Last year it moved into a bigger space, which measures about 1,000 square feet in more elbow room, on the other side of Old Woodward Avenue above Jos A Bank.

SmartFinds Internet Marketing has also hired four people in the last year, mostly account managers. Those were replacement hires for the company that currently employs 15 people but is aiming to grow that number in 2014.

To do that, Oztalay is turning the firm so it can provide more responsive web design. It is also looking to better keep up with Google searches.

"It's no longer about keyword searches," Oztalay says. "It's going to be about optimizing conversation."

Source: Melih Oztalay, CEO of  SmartFinds Internet Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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.

Biznet Internet Solutions transitions to mobile apps

Biznet Internet Solutions has been in the website-building business for years, but now the Southfield-based company is making the steady transition to mobile apps.

"In the product cycle curve, websites are in decline and mobile apps are on the upswing," says Kevin Krason, founder & chief visionary officer of Biznet Internet Solutions.

In response to this trend, Biznet Internet Solutions is creating a new product line called DocApps. The new platform will allow doctor practices to create and deploy customizable apps to help run their practices. The idea is to help them streamline everything from patient referrals to lowering the number of patient no-shows to improving patient care.

"It (DocApps) is actually going to be a new company," Krason says.

Biznet Internet Solutions has grown to a staff of 10 people over its 19 years. Krason is optimistic the company will begin hiring even more people over the next year as DocApps begins to gain traction and Biznet Internet Solutions completes the transition to more mobile work.

Source: Kevin Krason, founder & chief visionary officer of Biznet Internet Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Snapshot Design's growth in mobile leads to more hires

Some businesses grow. Some businesses evolve. Snapshot Design is doing both.

"We have evolved more than anything," says Tom Veselenak, partner with Snapshot Design.

The St. Clair Shores-based company specializes in building e-commerce avenues for direct marketing firms and other website-design functions. It has a core customer base of about 40 clients with revenues that range between $20 million and $150 million.

Those customers have engaged Snapshot Design to help redesign their websites to accommodate users from a broad range of mobile devices. Snapshot Design has launched eight of these sites so far this year. That is the most it has ever done in a year and there are still more in the pipeline.

"The amount of people using mobile devices to shop is growing dramatically," Veselenak says. "For many of our customers it is very necessary."

That has allowed the 12-year-old company to expand its staff to 15 employees and the occasional intern. It has hired three people over the last year, creating jobs for software programers and project managers. The company gets most of its talent from local universities.

"We are very proud of that," Veselenak says.

Source: Tom Veselenak, partner with Snapshot Design
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Computing Source expands rapidly with 23 new hires

Computing Source has experienced some exponential growth in the last year, tripling its staff in the last year and acquiring a local company.

The Southfield-based legal-support firm just acquired Evidence Express, a demonstrative evidence and trial graphics company based in Metro Detroit. Computing Source has also hired 23 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 35 employees. It is also adding some interns.

"I would like to see us continuing on this aggressive growth streak," says Mark St. Peter, managing director & CEO of Computing Source.

Computing Source refers to itself as an "all-in-one digital evidence solution for legal professionals." It specializes in providing electronic discovery, computer forensics, copy/scan/print services, hosted document review, contract attorney staffing, expert testimony, trial technology services, demonstrative evidence and trial boards and paralegal on-call support.

It currently has offices in downtown Detroit, Birmingham and Chicago. It is also looking at opening offices in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids later this year to serve the legal communities there.

"Our 3-5 year goal is to be a dominant player in the Great Lakes region," St. Peter says.

Source: Mark St. Peter, managing director & CEO of Computing Source
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Coupon Wallet helps biz coupons transition to digital

A new start-up at the Macomb-OU INCubator aims to help businesses make the leap from paper to digital when it comes to the savings they offier.

Coupon Wallet is developing a software platform that help small businesses create digital coupons, helping them reach a larger audience. The technology includes managed marketing services and point-of-sale integration.

"It's meant to help brands transition out of the paper world and into the digital world," says Christopher Papa, chief marketing officer & partner of Coupon Wallet.

The Sterling Heights-based company was spun out of PocketCents Network, which has been advertising online for several years. The Coupon Wallet will focus on enhancing creating digital coupon but also aggregating information that will help users make more constructive business decisions.

Coupon Wallet was launched last fall and has grown to team of five employees and three interns. It recently tok up residence at the Macomb-OU INCubator to help help grow the business and leverage the business accelerators numerous assets.

"The rent is very cheap and everything is included," Papa says. "There is also being surrounded by professionals."

Source: Christopher Papa, chief marketing officer & partner of Coupon Wallet
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Homegrown Bold Media continues growth streak in web development biz

Bold Media got its start from a local college grad looking to make his way in his hometown by starting his own web-development business.

That mission was accomplished within a few years of its founding in 2008. The Livonia-based firm's progression to a growing small business is cementing Bold Media as a local company with staying power. It has developed 250 websites in its five years and expanded its services offerings to a number of different areas, such as search engine optimization, digital marketing and site hosting.

"It (Bold Media's growth) was just word of mouth and excellent customer service," says Haitham Fakhouri, owner of Bold Media.

He launched the company right after graduating from Eastern Michigan University with a bachelors in computer science. The idea was to create his own job instead of trying to chase one in a down economy or moving away in search of one. Today he employs five people after hiring two new employees over the last year. Bold Media also has one job opening now.

"Instead of moving out of state, I decided to open a business in my community," Fakhouri says.

Today that local business is looking to begin making the jump to a medium-size business. Bold Media hopes to land larger clients in 2013 and to continue to grow into a bigger role in the local business world.

Source: Haitham Fakhouri, owner of Bold Media
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Partyline aims to bridge communication gap on dating sites

The creators of Partyline saw that dating sites were a bit dated and inefficient. Seeing the need, they decided to create a business to satisfy it that they hope will take social online interaction to the next level.

"We feel that social networking and dating sites have been pretty boring over the last decade," says Johny Thomas, co-founder of Partyline. "They are set up like a blog and with messaging. There isn't much interaction and it's time consuming to set up a profile."

Patryline focuses on enabling its users to set up an account within a few short minutes. It also allows users to speak to each other nearly instantaneously. The idea is the increased interaction and ability to glean more indirect information, such as a laugh, will help the process move along.

"You will know within a few minutes whether you can get along with the person or move on," Thomas says.

All from a mobile app that can be downloaded at the Apple Store. Partlyline launched the app in April and is currently in a public Beta. It hopes to hit in excess of 1 million users within a year.

"We have seen pretty healthy traction," Thomas says. "It's going pretty fast and we're excited about our growth."

Source: Johny Thomas, co-founder of Partyline
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AQABA Technologies leverages Google partnership for growth

AQABA Technologies is enjoying double-digit growth because of its growing relationship with one of the biggest names in tech, Google.

The Sterling Heights-based firm began working with the Google Engage Agency Program last year, which required months of training and flying back and forth between Detroit and Silicon Valley.

"We have been landing large contracts and more intricate work because of our relationship with Google," says Ramsey Sweis, president of AQABA Technologies.

The 9-year-old tech firm's revenue has been on a steady trajectory since the economic downturn. It went from clocking single-digit revenue gains in 2010 to 40-percent growth in 2011 and 62-percent growth last year. The firm has watched its client list expand to more than 200, which includes not only work from new clients but expanding existing work with old customers.

"The key to our longevity is the loyalty of our customers," says Ramsey Sweis, president of AQABA Technologies.

That allowed the company to hire three people, expanding its staff to nine employees and two interns. It is currently looking for an account executive and expects to make one more hire later this summer.

Source: Ramsey Sweis, president of AQABA Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Working mom finds traction for Dashing Elements site

Mary Miodowski knows the difficulties of juggling motherhood and a job at the same time. So much so that she decided to create a business out of it, Dashing Elements.

The Fraser resident works in accounts payable and has two young daughters. Between her normal 9-5 and doing everything she can to help her kids succeed, she came to realize "we're never home. We're always busy."

Dashing Elements helps make that juggling easier by providing an Internet platform to crowd source creative ways to save time, money and stress. It tries to serve as both a resource for parents looking to maximize their time and a digital gathering place to share ideas.

Miodowski launched this site a little more than a year ago but initially struggled to gain an audience. She enlisted the help of the Blackstone LaunchPad entrepreneurial program at Walsh College in Troy, which helped her boost her website traffic and social media following through better search engine optimization.

"It has been great," Miodowski says. "It has been really helpful to me."

Miodowski is currently working the equivalent of two full-time positions now between her day job and running Dashing Elements. She would like to turn her side business into her main focus and thinks it possible now because of the help Blackstone LaunchPad provided.

"It would be nice to have a job where it didn't matter where I was but could still work," Miodowski says.

Source: Mary Miodowski, founder of Dashing Elements
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Basso Design Group scores "break-out" year in 2012

Basso Design Group is one of those companies that has consistently enjoyed success in its 10 years of business.

"We have had the good fortune of every year being the best year for us, but 2012 was a break-out year," says Dan Santonocito, managing partner & co-founder of Basso Design Group.

The Troy-based firm has traditionally done website design and Internet marketing work for some significant Michigan-based businesses. It expanded on that list over the last year, launching the redesigned websites for Genesee County and Flint. It has also done work for the Woodward Dream Cruise and Autorama.com.

All that new work nearly doubled the integrated marketing firm company's revenue. It also hired three people, including a website developer, designer and project manager. It now has a staff of 15 people and is looking to add a social media director.

Santonocito expects that sort of aggressive growth curve to continue this year. Basso Design Group plans to continue to recruit more well-known Michigan brand names to its client base to help grow its bottom line.

Source: Dan Santonocito, managing partner & co-founder of Basso Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Future Help Designs hires 4 as it grows Pontiac HQ

Future Help Designs is gearing up to take a big step into the education realm, partnering with a large mobile training company, Mobile Comply, to roll out a mobile development education course in mid-March.

"Their expertise is in training mobility, and ours is in mobile technology," says Glen Konopaskie, president of Future Help Designs. "We're partnering with them equally. They will help us rebuild our developer training course."

Future Help Designs
was an early adopter to the mobile world, launching its business creating apps four years ago. It has expanded into software development education in recent years, a move that has provided significant returns for the firm. It's planning on launching a new educational platform on a national scale later this year.

"That will launch an aggressive push into education for our agency," Konopaskie says.

Future Help Designs moved to downtown Pontiac a little more than a year ago, taking an active part in the city's rebirth. Its staff has been in flux over that time as demand for mobile developers has skyrocketed and more and more programmers are launching their own start-ups. Future Help Designs has hired four people (mostly replacement positions) since moving to downtown Pontiac and is bringing on a new intern this spring.

"That intern will hopefully turn into No. 5," Konopaskie says. "He has some high potential."

Source: Glen Konopaskie, president of Future Help Designs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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