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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.

Moosejaw holds job fair to fill 300 openings

Moosejaw plans to start hiring 300 seasonal workers today. That’s the good news. The better news is that the outdoors retailer headquartered in Madison Heights expects a number of those hires to become permanent.

The 21-year-old company is hosting its first job fair to fill the 300 positions today between 8 a.m. and noon at Bowl One Lanes, 1639 E. 14 Mile Road in Troy. The company is encouraging applicants to bowl a free game and dress up in their Halloween costume.

The idea is to find new workers who fit in with Moosejaw's unique company culture, which the company's leadership sums up as Moosejaw Madness. The culture is to be creative and not take yourself too seriously. The company wants employees that have a solid sense of humor.

"Culture fit is the No. 1 thing," says Eoin Comerford, president & CEO of Moosejaw. "It's the thing we won’t compromise on."

Moosejaw has complemented the company’s revenue growth with 30 hires over the last year. It currently employs 300 people and expects that number to keep growing at that pace next year with some of the seasonal workers staying on.

"We are big believers of promoting from within," Comerford says.

New hires range from retail sales and management professionals to IT and software development professionals. Moosejaw brought its website development in-house last year and likes to do a number of other non-core functions, such as marketing, in-house.

Source: Eoin Comerford, president & CEO of Moosejaw
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Former franchisee starts mobile-repair biz, MiPhone Repair

Chad Reiss worked as a franchisee for Subway for 25 years. Then an influential relative who worked at the company retired and Reiss took it as an opportunity to take on a new challenge in life. So he opened his own mobile-device repair business, MiPhone Repair.

Reiss didn’t know much about putting smart devices back together at first. He has had a fascination with computer technology and other gadgets since high school and enjoys where technology is going. Plus, the learning curve for mobile device repair isn't known to have a lot of barriers.

"It's really easy to get involved with because there aren’t a lot of certifications," Reiss says. "I taught myself over six months before leaving Subway."

The Sterling Heights-based business launched nine months ago and currently employs two people. It specializes in fixing a broad range of Apple products (iPhone, iPod and iPad chief among them) and some Android devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy. MiPhone Repair can fix shattered touch screens, smart phones that got wet and a number of other problems that plague mobile devices.

"I want to learn about every phone I can get my hands on," Reiss says.

Source: Chad Reiss, owner of MiPhone Repair
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ReapSo takes customer loyalty mobile app public

ReapSo launched its customer loyalty app last week. The start-up is initially focusing on Apple users in the downtown Royal Oak market.

The Farmington Hills-based company and its team of three people have created a mobile app that helps local businesses increase sales using things like traditional customer loyalty rewards programs, newer technology like QR codes and gamification techniques to keep customers engaged. The app also takes care to protect customer's privacy and makes it easy for merchants to use by making sign-ups free and easy.

"We get paid from our merchants when a user comes in and pays for a product," says Steve Valentine, co-founder of ReapSo. "There is no risk. There is no long-term contract for them to sign."

ReapSo has signed up 30 merchants in Royal Oak, mostly restaurants and bars in downtown. The start-up's market research shows that about 60 percent of people who frequent downtown Royal Oak use Apple products. The focus on eateries aims to leverage the frequency of spending money on food and drink in the city's center.

"I might not buy a shirt everyday, but I am eating everyday," Valentine says.

Source: Steve Valentine, co-founder of ReapSo
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Gongos continues expansion with new customers, employees

Gongos Research sees it future as being both more global and more mobile as the Auburn Hills-based consumer research firm continues its 20-year growth streak.

Gongos Research conducts consumer research for businesses, using polls, surveys and dialogs within consumer online research communities. That information helps its clients tailor ad campaigns and new products to the desires of their customers. Recently, the company began moving more of its business into research utilizing mobile devices, like smart phones.

Gongos Research has even done a study on the effectiveness of mobile research, which has gained it international attention. It's all part of the company's philosophy to leverage new technology to stay ahead of its competition and keep on its double-digit growth curve.

"There is going to be a slow migration of research moving to smart phones," says John Gongos, the founder & CEO of Gongos Research. "It's not there yet but its going to be there soon."

That sort of strategy has allowed Gongos Research to score 18 percent revenue growth in 2011, on top of the 30 percent growth it had the year before. The company has hired 10 people over the last year and now has a staff of 110 people and a handful of interns.

Gongos and his team have also taken notice and applauded Dan Gilbert's initiative to recruit some of the 2,000 tech workers recently laid off by Yahoo to Metro Detroit. Gongos Research has often fought to recruit out-of-town talent to its firm and appreciates Gilbert's effort.

"It's not just marketing but creating a greater awareness," says Susan Scarlet, a spokeswoman for Gongos Research.

Source: John Gongos, founder & CEO of Gongos Research and Susan Scarlet, spokeswoman for Gongos Research
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Federated Service Solutions looks to double sales, add up to 15 technical jobs

When retail rebounded in 2010, Federated Service Solutions bounced with it.

The Farmington Hills-based company helps retailers deploy technology across the U.S. After taking a hit from the recession,
the 7-year-old company grew its client list, revenue, and staff last year, and expects that to continue in 2011.

"This year was a really exciting year," says Jennifer Ferris, president of Federated Service Solutions. "It was our best profit year in our history. It was a big jump."

That jump allowed the company to raise its revenues and create five new jobs in 2010, rounding out its staff to 55 people and the occasional intern. The firm is currently looking to hire a variety of employees now, including 11-15 technical staff. It expects to create 17 jobs this year as it looks to double its revenue growth.

Ferris says the driving force comes from national retailers making the leap from the red to the black last year. She expects a spending freeze to continue to thaw, allowing other firms like hers to grow.

Source: Jennifer Ferris, president of Federated Service Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Macprofessionals to create 119 jobs over 5 years

Macprofessionals is continuing its fast march of job creation in Michigan, this week signing a tax break deal with the Michigan Economic Development Corp to create another 119 jobs in Michigan over the next five years.

That would practically double the Novi-based firm's existing workforce of 122 employees. Macprofessionals plans to invest $2.2 million toward expanding its Novi base with the help of a $568,578 tax credit over five years. The 10-year-old company plans to hire 20-25 people each year to fulfill its hiring goal.

"We plan to grow our mobility division, which is our software team," says Kris Westman, a spokeswoman for Macprofessionals.

The company specializes in everything Apple, ranging from iMacs to iPads and all of the cool gadgets that can be taken to a Genius Bar near you. It resells Apple products at its northern Michigan location, far away from the nearest Apple store, and teaches people about the line and how to integrate it. It also teaches hospitality businesses the ins and outs of Apple products.

Macprofessionals recently opened up a retail location in Bay Harbor (near Petoskey)  and a service office in Windsor. It's also in the process of moving from its 17,000-square-foot space to one that measures in at 40,000 square feet.

Source: Kris Westman, spokeswoman for Macprofessionals
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Gongos adds 37 jobs; plans 14% growth in 2011

For Gongos Research, strategic, steady growth means dozens of new hires in 2010. The consumer research firm has expanded its staff to 111 people, about 90 percent of whom work from its Auburn Hills headquarters.

"We have experienced quite a bit of growth over the last year," says Camille Nicita, COO of Gongos Research. "Between 2010 and now we have hired 37 people. Of those, 30-35 are new hires."

Gongos Research regularly plans for 10 percent growth and has consistently beat those projections. It plans to hit 14 percent growth in 2011 and to continue hiring at the same level. The firm is regularly interviewing people for new positions, and if it comes across a good candidate but doesn't have a position at the time, it puts that candidate on its virtual bench. The idea is that person knows a job is waiting when one opens up.

"We don't have a goal to be big, but to be great," Nicita says. "We have a philosophy of only hiring great people."

Nicita says Gongos Research is able to do that because it takes a long-range, strategic planning approach to its business model. That consists of nurturing and growing its existing clients, a policy that allowed the company to keep many of its customers through the recent downturn.

Source: Camille Nicita, COO of Gongos Research
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Mom turns super hero capes biz into flyaway success

Boil down the description of the PowerCapes.com business to one word, and what comes to mind is "serendipitous".

The Livonia-based business got its start four years ago at a birthday party for Holly Bartman's son's fourth birthday. The special education teacher made her son and all of his guests superhero capes. The gift turned into such a hit at the party that one of the mothers suggested that Bartman sell them.

Bartman took the bait and began selling the superhero capes on eBay and Etsy, an e-commerce site for handmade or vintage items, art and supplies. Demand soon dictated that Bartman move from her home operation to a small studio at the old Winery building in Farmington Hills, where she deployed a few commercial sewing machines and hired her first employee.

Justin Draplin, owner of a social media and signage firm called CityDrip, happened to be next door. Soon he was designing a website for Bartman's superhero capes and wholesaling them. Now he is a managing partner of PowerCapes.com, a company that employs eight people (mostly mothers on a part-time basis) and has a goal of reaching $1 million in revenue this year.

"The next thing I know I am in the superhero cape business," Draplin says. "I never thought I would be in this business or that it would take off. We have been growing exponentially month over month."

PowerCapes.com plans to buy its own building this year to accommodate its growth. Draplin expects its staff to hit 12-15 people by the end of the year as it continues to sell simple, non-branded capes made for budding superheroes. It's also looking to expand its product offering to tutus.

Source: Justin Draplin, managing partner of PowerCapes.com
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Macprofessionals expands staff with new hires

Most companies that grow do so when they have a handful of employees. Macprofessionals isn't most companies. The Novi-based tech firm added more than a dozen employees over the last year.

"We have had huge growth in the last year," says Lisa Glush, president and CEO of Macprofessionals. "This time last year we had 60 employees."

Today the company has 73 It recently opened up a retail location in
northern Michigan's Bay Harbor. It's also in the process of moving from its 17,000-square-foot space to one that measures in at 40,000 square feet.

Macprofessionals specializes in everything Apple, ranging from iMacs to iPads and all of the cool gadgets Steve Jobs has introduced in between. It resells Apple products at its Bay Harbor location, far away from the nearest Apple store, and teaches people about the line and how to integrate it. One area that keeps the 10-year-old company busy is teaching hospitality businesses the ins and outs of Apple products.

"Apple's business is very mobile based with the iPad and the iPhone," Glush says.

She expects to continue the company's double-digit growth with another 25-35 percent revenue increase over the next year. That should lead to another 20-30 hires as the company expands further into the Michigan market and into the Illinois and Wisconsin markets.

Source: Lisa Glush, president and CEO of Macprofessionals
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Brand Labs e-commerce firm expands staff by 12, grows through downturn

Most companies that took a hit and are trying to rebound after the recession. Brand Labs isn't most companies.

The Rochester-based e-commerce firm didn't miss a beat over the last couple of years, continuing to grow and hire at an accelerated pace. It started with four people, including its two co-founders, in 2004. Today the firm employs 36 with a couple of interns and independent contractors. It has hired at least 12 people over the last year and expects to maintain that pace for the foreseeable future.

"We have seen a huge influx of business," says Kevin Skinner, director of marketing for Brand Labs. "We have been hiring steadily and we have an ad out for an associate designer right now. We have never had to let anyone go."

Driving this growth is Brand Labs' focus on Volusion, a popular software platform that provides an easy platform for businesses to establish an e-commerce presence. Brand Labs basically handles the website design, marketing, call center, and shipping. It's planning to begin a major marketing push this fall to supplement its continued growth.

Source: Kevin Skinner, director of marketing for Brand Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

Urban Science makes 31 Detroit hires, plans 30 more

Urban Science has been on quite the quiet hitting streak in the Renaissance Center lately.

The retail consulting firm employs 550 people worldwide after making 31 hires last year. There are plans to hire 30 more this year. Most positions will be in the Renaissance Center, which houses 250 of the company's employees.

"We're hiring quite a bit right now," says Jim Anderson, CEO of Urban Science. "By the time this is printed, it might be 260 [employees in the Renaissance Center]."

The downtown Detroit-based company got its start in a 3,600 square-foot Ren Cen space in 1977 and has grown steadily since then. It now occupies four floors in the skyscraper and expects to take on another floor next year.

The company, which has posted double-digit revenue growth in each of its 33 years, attributes much of its success to two new products. One is a software program for automotive dealers that collects, analyzes, summarizes, and creates actionable goals for saving money and creating efficiencies.

The other program sorts, grades, and manages Internet sales leads for automotive dealers. It uses analytics and diagnostics to determine which leads have the best chance of turning into sales. Right now Urban Science, a 2010 Inner City 100 winner, is processing 4 million leads and expects to deal with many, many more.

"We just see a big opportunity and we're running with it," Anderson says.

Source: Jim Anderson, CEO of Urban Science
Writer: Jon Zemke

Intellitouch Digital hires 11 in Rochester

The company now known as Intellitouch Digital Solutions is bigger than it was when it rebranded itself last summer.

The downtown Rochester-based firm went from two to 13 employees and a couple of independent contractors. It's also looking to bring in some summer interns from Oakland University.

"We have seen tremendous growth in the last nine months," says Jeffrey Olszewski, vice president of sales and marketing for Intellitouch Digital Solutions.

Intellitouch Digital Solutions makes touch screen displays so customers can browse and order merchandise. It started with fast food kiosks in places like California Pizza Kitchen. Today its touchscreens have expanded to 42-inch Hi-Def TVs in places like ArtVan Furniture. The technology is much more sales friendly so customers can browse merchandise and get a better feel for it in smaller retail outlets.

"We're bringing life to the ordering boards," Olszewski says.

Intellitouch Digital Solutions hopes to bring its technology into more industries such as health-care by creating strategic partnerships with hospitals.

Source: Jeffrey Olszewski, vice president of sales and marketing for Intellitouch Digital Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

ecoSTORE USA creates 30 jobs, expects to hire more

Lyne Appel Downing used to be a hippie, an ultra-health-conscious diehards. In her later years, however, she drifted away from the ethos. But now she's back on track thanks to a little inspiration from her daughter's new business ecoSTORE USA.

"I thought, 'This is what I want for my family,'" Appel Downing says. "It's perfect."

The West Bloomfield-based business specializes in selling eco-friendly, plant-based household cleaning products that are as effective as the leading supermarket brands. It went from Appel Downing and a partner three years ago to about 35 employees and the occasional intern today.

The company employs mostly in Metro Detroit. It hired half a dozen people last year and expects to hire anywhere from six to 20 more this year.

"I've got people all over the place," Appel Downing says. "We have people in Chicago and New York."

The company got its start three years ago and actually saw its products hit the shelves about a year ago. The products come from ecostore NZ, as in New Zealand. That company got its start 15 years ago with an ethos of organic growing and healthy living. It has since thrived, helping spur its North American spin off in Michigan.

Source: Lyne Appel Downing, vice president of operations for ecoSTORE USA
Writer: Jon Zemke

Retail 3 opens doors in Troy with 52 new jobs

Troy-based Retail 3 has three focuses when it comes to building businesses retail strategy, retail activation, and retail metrics. It's where the new advertising firm's name comes from.

"It's the best time to start a company like this," says Harold Kobakof, president of Retail 3. "Retail has never been tougher than it is right now and every dollar needs to be maximized."

The new company has a staff of 52, many of whom come from
BBDO Worldwide, the former ad house for Chrysler. It hopes to grow its staff as the company establishes itself as a national advertising firm.

Retail 3 uses a proprietary system to analyze the productivity of every marketing effort. The idea is to identify what drives traffic and advertising and how to best maximize the profit potential each represents.

"We make a connection between the message, the medium and the sale," says Kobakof.

Source: Harold Kobakof, president of Retail 3
Writer: Jon Zemke
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