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Innovation & Job News

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Triune Specialty Trailers grows through client diversity

Triune Speciality Trailers relied on a select number of clients for revenue during most of its first decade in business. More recently, the Madison Heights-based firm made a conscious effort to expand its clientele, which has resulted in it tripling in size over the last three years.
 
"We have a much more diverse client base that we used to have," says Harry Kurtz, president & CEO of Triune Specialty Trailers. "We also have a lot of business in Canada, which is exciting to us."

The 10-year-old company specializes in making state-of-the-art specialty trailers. It products now include designing and building trailers for mobile marketing, educational outreach, and custom trailers.

Triune Specialty Trailers' growth has allowed it to hire three people over the last year, expanding its staff to 15 employees and an intern. Its new hires include a couple of office administration workers and a welder.

"We would hire more if we could find more welders," Kurtz says.

One of Triune Specialty Trailers’ biggest successes over the last year is its Fab Lab mobile education and training vehicle. The Fab Lab is a mobile training classroom for training students in high-tech machining careers, such as computer numerical controlled programmers. Triune Specialty Trailers designed and created the Fab Lab for the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance and North Central Michigan College to help create more skilled professionals to fill openings for skilled machinist positions.

"It's a big issue, especially in Michigan," Kurtz says.

Source: Harry Kurtz, president & CEO of Triune Specialty Trailers
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Media Genesis grows thanks to focus on startups with high growth potential

Media Genesis isn't growing because it's signing bigger and bigger clients. It's growing because it's doing business with more companies that are showing high potential for growth.

That's not to say the Troy-based digital marketing agency doesn't have any big-name clients. It does work with Chrysler, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and city of Detroit. The latter project is with Motor City Match, an initiative that connects new and growing businesses with quality real estate opportunities.

"It's becoming a great initiative," says Antoine Dubeauclard, president of Media Genesis. "We're pretty excited about it."

And then there are the smaller clients for Media Genesis, such as Secure Beginnings. The Detroit-based firm makes a breathable mattress for infants with the intention of helping prevent newborns from suffocating when they roll over onto their stomachs while sleeping. It's a newer, smaller business. But, according to Dubeauclard, it won't be small for long.

"These are the things we are excited about," Dubeauclard says. "These are not big names, but they're important in our book. They could one day change a whole industry."

Which could mean a lot more business for Media Genesis. So far, the company has notched double-digit revenue gains and rounded its staff out to 40 employees and three interns. It has hired six people (graphic designers, project managers, and software programmers) over the last year and is looking to hire two now.

Source: Antoine Dubeauclard, president of Media Genesis
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Boutique PR firm, Identity, grows thanks to creative vision and streamline operations

Identity, a boutique public relations firm, has always prided itself on its grand creative visions for clients. Now the Bingham Farms-based company can brag about streamline operations that help transform those visions into reality.

"We have put processes in place that help us to be the best agency we can be," says Mark Winter, founder & partner of Identity. "We call it the identity way. It has created a framework that will allow us to get to the next level."

The 17-year-old company has grow its revenue by 20 percent over the last year and is aiming to hit 30 percent growth this year. That has allowed it to hired five people in graphic design, media relations, and social media community management. Identity currently has a staff of 25 employees and an intern.

"We're always looking," Winter says. "We're opportunistic with our hiring."

That growth is coming from a diverse set of revenue streams. About a third of its growth comes from increased work from existing business, a third comes from referrals, and a third from request for proposals. Its clients span a wide variety of industries and region, and no one client supplies a large percentage of the firm’s revenue.

"We are extremely diversified in terms of clients," Winter says.

Source: Mark Winter, founder & partner of Identity
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Great Lakes Angels elects new president to lead investment group

Great Lakes Angels, a metro Detroit angel investor group, has new president in Pietro Sarcina.

David Weaver founded Great Lakes Angels and served as its president for years. He is stepping aside to serve as chairman and founder of the organization. Sarcina has made a career as an international banker and is looking forward to the challenge of running Great Lakes Angels.

"I have always been interested in entrepreneurs and startups,' says Sarcina. "I was a CFO at a fast-growing startup 20 years ago."

Great Lakes Angels is a organization made up of angel investors, high-net-worth individuals who make investments in small businesses that can scale. Often times that means investing tens of thousands of dollars into early stage tech startups with hopes of locking in a exponential return.

Great Lakes Angels looks to do this by recruiting new people with deep pockets into the local investing community. It will offer them training in how to make angel investments, recognize which ones would work best for them, and evaluate real value in these startups. The organization is also looking to make more inroads with local research universities with the idea of helping turn the research they produce into new economy businesses.

"We like to say we’re building Great Lakes Angels 2.0," Sarcina says.

Source: Pietro Sarcina, president of Great Lakes Angels
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

WorkForce Software hires nearly 100 people

WorkForce Software, a Livonia-based software firm, has added 86 new jobs in 2015, expanding its staff to 520 people, most of whom are based in southeast Michigan.
 
"We've been on a multi-year growth streak," says Jonathan Corke, director of communications for WorkForce Software. "In addition to expanding our Ann Arbor office, we have been acquiring more real-estate at our home office."

WorkForce Software has grown its downtown Ann Arbor office to 20 people in just three years. More than half of its employee base calls the Livonia headquarters home, which has gone from occupying one floor of its building to three. WorkForce's logo serves as the building's marquee signage on the structure overlooking I-275 and 7 Mile Road.

WorkForce Software makes management software for large-scale employers. Often that software helps them make sure they are conforming to whatever federal, state, or local regulation they need to abide by.

"There is a lot more for large employers to deal with," Corke says. "In short, we get compliance right."

It's proven to be a profitable endeavor. The company consistently has grown its revenue by double-digits in recent years, including a 21 percent bump last year.

"The prior year we grew significantly more than that," Corke says.

He expects that growth to continue as more and more big companies figure out they need help to conform to new laws and streamline their operations.

"We are in a very good position," Corke says.

Source: Jonathan Corke, director of communications for WorkForce Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ZF North America to expand Northville tech center

ZF North America plans on making a big investment in its Northville facility, an expansion that is expected to bring a few hundred jobs and a few hundred thousand square feet of commercial space.

The automotive supplier, a subsidiary of German-headquartered ZF Friedrichshafen AG, specializes in driveline and chassis technology. It has a technical center in Northville where it plans to make the bulk of its investment. The expansion will allow for additional research and development services to design, develop, and test new vehicle components and systems.

"Michigan has been home to ZF's North American headquarters for more than 15 years and we are excited to continue our growth in the state and in the industries we serve," says Julio Caspari, president of ZF North America.

The firm plans to invest up to $71.2 million to add almost 210,000 square feet at its Northville tech center, an investment that is expected to create 571 jobs. There currently 53 positions open in Northville, which can be found here.

To ensure that investment happens, the state of Michigan is offering ZF North America a performance-based grant worth up to $4 million through the Michigan Strategic Fund. Northville Township is also offering a property tax abatement to the project.

Source: Julio Caspari, president of ZF North America
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Lighthouse Molding, Civionics land Automation Alley pre-seed funding

Automation Alley’s Pre-Seed Fund has made two more investments in local startups, Civionics and Lighthouse Molding.

The two companies, based in Ann Arbor and Sterling Heights respectively, received a total of $75,000 in seed capital. The investments are intended to spur expansions in the companies and bring about more job growth.

"We want the jobs," says Tom Kelly, COO of Automation Alley.

The Automation Alley Pre-Seed Fund is worth nearly $9 million. It has made investments in 47 different companies in a little more than a decade. It plans to invest another $100,000 to $200,000 before the end of this year.

"We have been quite active over the years," Kelly says.

Civionics is a University of Michigan spinout commercializing wireless sensor technology primarily used to measure the strength of large-scale manufacturing equipment. Lighthouse Molding is a small electronics manufacturer for automotive firms, specifically low-pressure overmolding to encapsulate and protect electronic assemblies.

Both firms have recently joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program, which is focused on helping local companies integrate more advanced manufacturing methods to their business model. The idea is to help them accelerate their growth and create more jobs.

Source: Tom Kelly, COO of Automation Alley
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

JVS launches eCycle Opportunities to create low-barrier jobs

JVS is launching a electronic recycling department called eCycle Opportunities. The new operation will focus on harvesting recyclable materials from everyday electronics and employing people facing numerous challenges when it comes to entering the everyday workforce.

"These jobs will be filled by people with significant disabilities or face barriers to employment," says Stacey Lareau, director of new business development for JVS.

The Southfield-based nonprofit provides services for workforce development, youth services, affordable housing, and financial education. It will celebrate its 75th birthday next year and currently employs about 300 people.

The eCycle Opportunities department already employs three people and Lareau expects that number to hit 10 by the end of the year. Those workers will be harvesting precious metals and other raw materials from pieces of electronics like mobile devices and laptops. JVS is already talking to 10 different local companies that would supply them with old electronics in need of recycling.

JVS also has a pipeline of people Lareau and her team see as prime candidates for jobs with eCycle Opportunities.

"We want to have a diverse workforce," Lareau says. "JVS has programming that supports these people. We work with this demographic a lot."

Source: Stacey Lareau, director of new business development for JVS
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Booming craft beer industry means growth for Lake Orion's Craftwerk Brewing Systems

Craftwerk Brewing Systems got its start four years ago with the idea of supplying the equipment for the rapidly growing craft brewing movement in Michigan. Since then, the Lake Orion-based business has grown into a national brand.

"We have equipment in something like 20 states," says Tark Heine, managing director of Craftwerk Brewing Systems.

Heine got his start in craft brewing in mid-Michigan in 1989 when he began working for the Frankenmuth Brewery. He worked in management there until 2006 and struck out on his own in the industry a few years later.

"What really got me into fabrication was building the Frankenmuth Brewery," Heine says.

Craftwerk Brewing Systems manufactures high-quality, Michigan-made brewing equipment that now can be found in breweries throughout the state, including Motor City Brewing Works, Short's Brewing Co, and Founders Brewing Co., as well around the country. The company offers design, engineering, fabrication, and installation services for brewers from coast to coast.

"We can do a turn-key brewery for you," Heine says. Locally, Craftwerk built Birmingham's Griffin Claw Brewing Co. from the ground up.

The company has doubled its revenue over the last year, allowing it to grow its team to 95 people, including eight hires over the last year. Of its current staff, 88 are fabricators.

"The biggest problem we have is finding and training the fabricators," Heine says.

The rapid expansion of craft breweries and similar outfits (distillers and meade makers), both in Michigan and across the U.S., has left Heine bullish about his company’s prospects.

"The market is not slowing down," Heine says.

Source: Tark Heine, managing director of Craftwerk Brewing Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

G2 Consulting Group executes first acquisition, Schleede-Hampton

G2 Consulting Group acquired Schleede-Hampton Associates, a fellow construction engineering firm it has worked with for a few decades.

"I have known Schleede-Hampton forever," says Noel Hargrave-Thomas, principal of G2 Consulting Group. "Jim Berry, who runs the Birmingham office that we purchased, I met him 30 years ago...I am very familiar with that firm."

Troy-based G2 Consulting Group specializes in construction engineering, including environmental and geotechnical engineering services. That work, such as soil testing or tracking vibration next to freeways, usually takes place below the ground. Schleede-Hampton Associates, which is based in Birmingham, provides similar geotechnical engineering services to the construction industry.

G2 Consulting Group has been focusing on integrating more and more technology into its everyday work, such as outfitting its workers with mobile devices. Hargrave-Thomas sees bringing Schleede-Hampton Associates up to speed with its own technology use as a good opportunity for growth.

"It (the merger) is a nice fit," Hargrave-Thomas says.

G2 Consulting Group has been growing rapidly in recent years, hiring 19 people over the last year alone, growing its staff to 63. Schleede-Hampton Associates' staff of eight people will be integrated into G2 Consulting Group's staff this summer.

"We are continuously adding people," Hargrave-Thomas says.

Source: Noel Hargrave-Thomas, principal of G2 Consulting Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

3 metro Detroit companies collaborate to launch freight logistics app, Badger Freight Tracking

Badger, a Troy logistics firm, is releasing a logistics management mobile app meant for both freight companies and third-party logistics management firms.

The Badger Freight Tracking app promotes itself as a reliable, timely and hassle-free platform to track freight moving from Point A to Point B and back again. Badger also says its mobile app offers services at a fraction of the price of traditional GPS systems.

"Most trucking companies have many ways to track their trucks," says Parker Stallard, founder & CEO of Badger. He adds that when moving freight, "no one uses just one trucking company."

Badger is meant to bring some uniformity to that. The app features an open shipment dashboard for users to monitor the overall shipping process. Its simple and responsive user interface allows clients to easily view their supply chain in transit in real time, including everything from a shipment’s origin, destination, and completion to its schedule, delays, and automatically updated delivery ETAs.

"We wanted to make it extremely cheap at $99 a month," Stallard says. "It doesn't matter how big your company is or how much you ship."

Badger developed the Badger Freight Tracking app with Detroit-based Detroit Labs and Royal Oak-based iWerk. BMK Solutions managed the business intelligence and integration. Badger currently employs a team of six people to run the app and has 78 companies on board. It's aiming to hit 1,100 customers by the end of the year.

Source: Parker Stallard, founder & CEO of Badger
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Entrepreneurial engineers score $5K in #hack4detroit

Lots of people like to bike through Detroit, taking in everything from the city's historic neighborhoods to its vast expanses of urban prairie. Now a mobile app exists to aid cyclists discover new routes through the city.

That app came to fruition last weekend during Automation Alley's #hack4detroit hackathon at Grand Circus in downtown Detroit. A couple of tech engineers won $5,000 for creating Ride4Detroit, a mobile app that helps people discover, create, and share bike routes in the city.

Hackathons are usually 1-to-2-day events where techies gather to create new technology from scratch. The #hack4detroit hackathon challenged participants to build a mobile application using the city of Detroit’s new Open Data Portal.

"It was a fun and intense 24 hours that really got our brains working to come up with a solution that would help the city of Detroit," says Abdul Miah, co-founder and principal engineer at rankedHiRe.

Miah and Imran Raja, senior software engineers at MB Financial, created the app that integrates information on existing bike paths in Detroit.

Second place winners included PishPosh.TV founders Ben Duell Fraser and Michael Evans, who is also a senior developer at Loveland Technologies. The third place winner was Jonathan Werber, a developer at Nexient.

Source: Automation Alley
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

S.E.T. Products turns Detroit blight into thriving board-up business

Scott Millman and Justin Comstock both worked in the steel industry until their employer went belly up in 2012. The next logical step for the friends? Start a business that boards up abandoned buildings. They call it S.E.T. Products.

"We saw a need and developed the S.E.T. system," Millman says.

S.E.T. stands for Simple, Effective, Tough. The Farmington Hills-based company makes specialized systems for securing vacant properties that utilize specially made sheets of galvanized steel that fit over windows and doors and are stronger than plywood. The 3-year-old company and its staff of three (it's looking to hire a sales person now) has deployed more than 200 of these systems on vacant properties, primarily in the city of Detroit.

"We can cover any home you can find in the city of Detroit, or anywhere for that matter," Millman says.

The normal S.E.T. system costs between $800 and $1,000 to secure the average bungalow in Detroit. Each project in individually quoted for free. S.E.T. systems are sold to the user, where most comparable systems rent them out.

"It allows the customer to spend less money and put those funds elsewhere," Millman says. "It's also cost competitive with plywood and stronger."

Source: Scott Millman, CEO of S.E.T. Products
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Bmax USA preps to launch new facility in Pontiac

Bmax USA, a subsidiary of a French tech company called I-Pulse, is setting up its North American presence in Pontiac this year.

The global corporation specializes in technology for metal processing that can be utilized by a variety of industries, such as automotive, energy, aerospace, and packaging. It plans to invest $4.3 million into creating a new facility in Pontiac.

"We considered a number of sites, including Columbus, but decided to go with metro Detroit as we have a potential customer base in the region as well as a large catchment area for the engineering, business, and technical staff we will need," says Paul Lester, director of business development for Bmax USA. "We looked at Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties and decided upon Oakland County, which has been incredibly supportive and given us many resources to help our start up and continues to do so."

The investment, which comes with a $250,000 grant from the state of Michigan, is expected to create 26 jobs. The firm expects to create those jobs, and probably more, over the next three years.

"I expect to get to that number very much quicker," Lester says.

Work on the next facility at 777 Enterprise Dr. is about to begin. Lester expects the work to wrap up later this year and the firm to begin moving into its new home by late July.

"We will be finalizing the legal paperwork in the next couple of weeks and some remodeling will take place immediately," Lester says.

Source: Paul Lester, director of business development for Bmax USA
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Vision Institute of Michigan opens second location in Macomb

The Vision Institute of Michigan recently opened its second location in metro Detroit, adding about a dozen new jobs.

The eye-and-ear medical practice has called Sterling Heights home for its first 30 years. It recently opened a new location in Macomb Township at 21932 23 Mile Rd.

"It (the new office) has every piece of technology and equipment that we offer in Sterling Heights," says Mark Berkowitz, partner with the Vision Institute of Michigan. "It was placed there to be more convenient to the people in the area and farther north."

The Vision Institute of Michigan provides eye care, hearing, and cosmetic services. It offers the latest advancements in technology in cataracts, laser, glaucoma, lasik, retina care, hearing instruments and cosmetic services.

The Vision Institute of Michigan opened the Macomb office four months ago. Since then its revenue has jumped 20 percent. It now has 10 of its 80 employees working there with more hires expected to keep up with the growth.

"I think it's going to grow quite significantly over the next 1-2 years," Berkowitz says.

Source: Mark Berkowitz, partner with the Vision Institute of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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