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Technology Solutions aims for 50% revenue increase

Technology Solutions has experienced years of double-digit growth and is preparing for another one in 2014.

The Livonia-based tech firm has grown its revenues by 300 percent since 2009. It is looking forward to another year of 50-percent revenue growth this year.

"We have grown somewhat dramatically," says Steve Futrell, president of Technology Solutions.

Technology Solutions specializes in VOIP work in the voice and data industry. The 19-year-old company rebranded itself as Technology Solutions in 1999. It does business with a number of large companies around the world. It is also expanding into some institutional customers, such as school districts.

"Our solution is ideal for the school-district workplace," Futrell says. "We are giving them a full-blown, feature-rich system on their own campus."

That new bit of business has allowed Technology Solutions to hire two people over the last year, including an engineer and customer advocate. It is also looking to hire another engineer right now. The firm currently employs a staff of a dozen employees and an intern.

Source: Steve Futrell, president of Technology Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Grow Michigan issues $20M in loans to 12 businesses in last year

Grow Michigan is wrapping up its first year of loans, dispersing $20.1 million to a dozen different growing companies in Michigan.

"Both the size and the speed of our loans is accelerating now that more and more people are becoming more aware of it," says Russell Youngdahl, Jr., CEO of Grow Michigan.

Grow Michigan got its start when a number of members of Michigan's banking community and the Michigan Strategic Fund put the $35.7 million fund together. It provides mezzanine loans that are made in conjunction with senior loans from other established lenders. Those loans range in size from $500,000 to $3 million.

"We're speculating that we will do $4 million a quarter (in loans)," Youngdahl says.

Among the recipients of the first round of loans are tier one and tier two automotive suppliers, aerospace manufacturers and hospitality firms.  

The $20.1 million in loans from Grow Michigan were part of a total debt package valued at $141 million. Those businesses employ more than 1,000 workers in the Great Lakes State.

Source: Russell Youngdahl, Jr., CEO of Grow Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Fred Astaire Dance Studio expands staff in Bloomfield Hills

The Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Bloomfield Hills is on a bit of a hiring binge.

The dance-instruction business has hired four teachers in the last year. It is currently looking to hire another two right now, along with an administrative professional. All of these hires are so the eight-year-old business can keep up with the increasing demand for its services.

"The momentum of ballroom dancing is part of it," says Evan Mountain, co-owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studio. "People want to be more comfortable dancing. Plus, it's probably part of the improving economy."

Evan Mountain owns the business with his wife, Lada Mountain. They oversee a staff of 10 people. The business’ revenue has spiked by 60 percent over the last year and it's seeing even more encouraging results so far this year. Seven weeks into 2014, the company's revenues are up 58 percent compared to the same period last year.

"People are flooding in," Evan Mountain says. "It's incredible to me. We have always led the country in business (the Bloomfield Hills location is part of a national franchise) from this studio but I have never seen students flood in like this."

Source: Evan Mountain, co-owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Broder & Sachse expands on strength of multi-family biz

Broder & Sachse Real Estate Services experienced a significant spike in growth in 2013, thanks in large part to company’s growth in multi-family sector.

The downtown Birmingham-based firm has hired 50 people over the last year, taking its staff to 150 employees and a few summer interns.

"We have grown dramatically," says John Hamburger, president of Broder & Sachse Real Estate Services.

The 20-year-old firm, it moved to Birmingham 10 years ago, offers a broad range of real-estate services, including construction and management of commercial, multifamily residential and industrial properties. It has a portfolio of 116 properties and 11 million square feet of space.

Broder & Sachse Real Estate Services’ leadership decided to focus more on multi-family residential projects n 2003. It watched that sector grow the next five years until the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008.

"In 2012 and 2013 the lending channels opened up," Hamburger says. "We started renovating and managing more properties."

The firm now manages 6,000 rental units across the U.S. It expects to expand that number to at least 8,000 and perhaps as high as 10,000 by the end of this year.

Source: John Hamburger, president of Broder & Sachse Real Estate Services
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LHP Software expands Troy office with 11 hires

LHP Software makes controls applications for the transportation and medical device industries. It was founded in 2001 and now employs 250 people in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.

The engineering services company opened a technical office in Troy in January of 2012, and it has since grown the location to a 20-person outfit with ambitions of adding even more.

"We could double the size of our office," says Robert Stawarz, business development manager for LHP Software. "No doubt."

The Indiana-based firm has hired 11 people for its new Troy office over the last year. Those new hires include six people in software development, two in sales and three in recruiting. The firm currently has 20 open positions right now, primarily for software developers and engineers. It hopes to fill those jobs by the end of the year.

LHP Software's growth comes from an increasing demand to improve fuel economy and lower emissions in automobiles, along with a drive to bring more infotainment technology into passenger vehicles.

To help meet that demand, LHP Software has opened a second location in Troy that will serve as its technical and training center for the region. The company is partnering with Specialized Vehicles, to utilize part of its facility at 2468 Industrial Row. It will use the new space to prototype engine building, controls integration, calibration services, and other engine development.

"They have the facility and we’re renting half of it," Stawarz says.


Source: Robert Stawarz, business development manager for LHP Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Re-Source Partners expands IT biz with 5 new jobs

Re-Source Partners grew its IT business by double digits last year and has high hopes of doubling that growth in 2014.

The Troy-based firm experienced a 10-percent increase in its revenues in 2013. That allowed it to hire five people, and it’s looking to hire a few more right now. It currently employs a staff of 30 people and the occasional intern.

"The growth of the team we have in regards to industry stature gives us the calling card to get in with big customers and make the sweeping changes that need to happen," says Matt Loria, vice president of Re-Source Partners.

Re-Source Partners provides full-service IT asset management and managed IT logistics services. It helps companies smooth out the IT back end of their operations. Financial firms have been utilizing its services more and more in recent months.

"It's in the space where finance meets IT," Loria says. "That has been our biggest growth area."

Which is why Loria is optimistic about 2014. He thinks a spike in revenue of 25 percent is possible for this year.

Source: Matt Loria, vice president of Re-Source Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

GraphiColor scores best growth year in 30-year history

GraphiColor Exhibits is celebrating its 30th year in business this year but the event firm isn’t resting on its laurels.

The Livonia-based firm has spiked its revenue by 23 percent in 2013. It also hired two people in sales and marketing and a production assistant. The company now employs nine people.

"We had our biggest year ever last year," says Anita Mitzel, president of GraphiColor Exhibits. "We are extremely pleased with that."

GraphiColor Exhibits specializes in creating trade show displays and organizing corporate events. Mitzel credits last year’s growth to repeat business from the firm's longtime customer base, along with bringing on a couple dozen new customers in 2013.

"We're pretty easy to work with," Mitzel says. "A big reason we are successful is because we do what we say we're going to do. We don’t miss deadlines."

She adds that she is optimistic about GraphiColor Exhibits' chances of growing at the same rate this year. She expects repeat business will make that possible. "I would be very happy if we do that," Mitzel says.

Source: Anita Mitzel, president of GraphiColor Exhibits
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

RazorThreat makes security software more interactive

RazorThreat recently added a new member to its executive ranks. It's an addition the digital security firm hopes will pay some big dividends in 2014.

The downtown Pontiac-based firm brought on Deane Tierney to serve as vice president of strategic accounts last month. Tierney previously worked as a channel account manager for Symantec Corp (a NASDAQ tech firm) where he grew reseller relationships. RazorThreat hopes its new employees will help connect the firm’s software platform with Symantec's.

"There is a really good alignment between our product and Symantec's product line," says Greg Guidice, president & CEO of RazorThreat.

The 4-year-old firm has also been working on fleshing out its own software platform, which provides digital security assessments and monitoring. Before the platform provided a few pages of reports. Now the firm is offering a more comprehensive package that includes meetings with its professionals and its clients as needed.

"It's so much more interactive," Guidice says. "Everything the product does is about visibility, context and action."

Source: Greg Guidice, president & CEO of RazorThreat
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

GardenHoard plants future in heirloom seeds

Gardening has been a favorite pastime for Katie Flickinger's family for quite a while, so it's little wonder the fresh Central Michigan University graduate is turning that passion into a business.

Flickinger has recently started GardenHoard, an online company that sells heirloom seeds for a variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs. It offers more than 800 varieties of vegetation.

"It started out as a hobby but became a business," Flickinger says.

She leveraged the help of Blackstone LaunchPad’s entrepreneurial services at Walsh College's Troy campus. That helped her spike GardenHoard's revenues by 250 percent last year. She has already grown her revenues another 100 percent for this growing season.

"Every year we are improving and getting more sales," Flickinger says.

The Livonia resident now utilizes six community gardens across the region to get her stock. She and her husband are now looking to move to a house with five acres so they can bring all of their business under one roof.

Source: Katie Flickinger, owner of GardenHoard
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Macomb-OU INCubator startups score seed funding

A handful of startups leveraging the Macomb-OU INCubator have scored a nice round of seed funding.

Three startups received a total of $78,000 from the Michigan Pre-Seed Microloan and the Business Accelerator funds. The winners include Splash350 ($15,000), Mobile Data Holdings ($38,000) and Coupon Wallet ($25,000).

"It's a big chunk of change for them when they are starting out," says Julie Gustafson, executive director of the Macomb-OU INCubator. "It helps propel them forward."

Splash360 is developing a software platform that allows customers to create, manage, customize and deliver brand-building marketing content. The Business Accelerator Fund money will help it launch and market the product.

"We think it’s a pretty exciting product," Gustafson says.

Mobile Data Holdings
has created a black box for data collection and verification that can be used in the seats of automobiles. The Business Accelerator Fund money will help Mobile Data Holdings test its Mobile Digital Video Recorder system.

Coupon Wallet received money from the Michigan Pre-Seed Microloan fund. Coupon Wallet's technology is digitizing paper coupons. Its microloan will help it integrate the technology with business loyalty programs.

Source: Julie Gustafson, executive director of the Macomb-OU INCubator
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Gongos hires 19 new employees in Auburn Hills

The leadership of a medium-to-large-size firm always says the business will soldier on and continue to grow just as it did before if it loses a key member (think founder or CEO) of its team. Following through on those statements is not easily done. Gongos is getting the job done.

The Auburn Hills-based market research firm lost its founder, John Gongos, suddenly to an illness a little more than a year ago. The company notched more than 20 straight years of steady growth on his watch, and it has continued to do that since. Gongos just booked its 23rd straight year of strong growth in 2013, spiking its revenue by 12 percent. Camille Nicita, president & CEO of Gongos, credits the team John Gongos assembled around him when he built the company.

"He relied heavily on the people around him," Nicita says. "He wasn't the end-all-be-all type of person."

Gongos has also grown its staff by 15 percent over the last year. It has hired 19 people since January of 2013 and now employs 125 full-time staffers and one intern.

"We're really hiring across the board because we're growing so rapidly," Nicita says. "Our goal as a company is not to be big, but to be great."

Nicita oversaw the combining of Gongos Research and O2 Integrated into the singular Gongos brand last year. The company is now working to move from solely market research to what Nicita and her team are coining the "decision intelligence space" that leverages traditional market research and data analytics that come from both Gongos overall research and from each customer.

This evolution is part of what makes Gongos a "living and breathing" thing that bases most of its ability on the combined vision of its workforce.

"We're trying to hire people who believe in the vision of this company as much as we do," Nicita says.

Source: Camille Nicita, president & CEO of Gongos
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Dobrusin Law Firm pivots to focus on IP law practice

The Dobrusin Law Firm is growing after pivoting its business plan and focusing solely on intellectual property creation.

The downtown Pontiac-based practice focused on both intellectual property creation and litigation since its creation in 1999. A shakeup in the firm's leadership a year ago allowed it to drop the litigation aspect and focus on helping companies and entrepreneurs patent, trademark and copyright their innovations.

The Dobrusin Law Firm now helps these ventures file for the patent, handle the back-and-forth bureaucracy and land the rights to their intellectual property. That new business strategy has allowed the practice to hire two people over the last year to expand its staff to 20 employees.

The firm services a wide range of clientele. It started out serving primarily automotive and manufacturing firms but it is now handling work for companies across the country working on medical devices, packaging and chemicals.

"We want to broaden our client base in the chemical and medical device areas," says Kristen Pursley, managing partner of The Dobrusin Law Firm. "We think these sectors have a lot of room for growth."

Source: Kristen Pursley, managing partner of The Dobrusin Law Firm
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AIM Computer Solutions expands clientele through referrals

AIM Computer Solutions has watched its business grow over the last year primarily through referrals, a phenomena the 18-year-old firm’s leadership credits to its inclusive business model.

The Fraser-based business develops ERP software for small- to medium-sized manufacturers. Creating that software means AIM Computer Solutions needs a lot of continuous input from its customers.

"We run our business almost like a cooperative," says Jerry Czernel, vice president of operations for AIM Computer Solutions. "Users have direct input into how we develop our applications. They are the owner/operator of our software."

That has allowed AIM Computer Solutions to pickup another three customers over the last year.

"That for us is a lot," Czernel says. "We look for one to...four new customers each year."

AIM Computer Solutions has hired one person for customer support over the last year. The firm now has a staff of 17 employees, and another 25 people in its extended staff. It is also looking for an intern. Czernel is optimistic that the firm’s continued growth will allow it to continue hiring in 2014.

"It's looking very rosy," Czernel says. "We immediately replenished the new business we got with double that amount in the pipeline."

Source: Jerry Czernel, vice president of operations for AIM Computer Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Post-production firm Pluto moves to full-content creation

Pluto has seen itself as a post-production studio for many of its 16 years, but the downtown Birmingham-based content studio has been working to make the transition to "full content creation" in recent years.

"We are trying to broaden our client base," says Dave Corbett, creative director of Pluto. "Also, with services we don’t have, we want to bring in top talent from across the country."

Pluto has traditionally worked with firms, like Leo Burnett, Commonwealth, Lowe Campbell Ewald and Team Detroit, that handle advertising and marketing for automotive companies. It provides post-production services, along with visual-effect and interactive services. It is also teaming up with other firms, including coastal-based Spotwelders, on Chevrolet and Ford campaigns. Pluto has also attracted a some out-of-town firms to bring work to Metro Detroit. Nice Shoes, a New York City-based firm, is opening a remote-color-correction suite inside Pluto's studios in Birmingham and Detroit.

"Our goal is to provide enough services so the creative community doesn't need to go out of town," says Natasha Marin, director of business development for Pluto. "We want to offer services that are as good if not better than what you can find out of town."

Expanding Pluto’s service offerings has allowed growth in its staff. It has hired two interns for visual effects positions over the last year, expanding to 30 full-time workers, 5-10 independent contractors and one intern.

Source: Dave Corbett, creative director of Pluto and Natasha Marin, director of business development for Pluto
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DFCU Financial distributes $23M in dividends to members

For eight years running, DFCU Financial has paid out a dividend to its members. This year was no different, with $23 million in dividends making its way into the accounts of the Dearborn-based credit union’s membership.

"Of that $23 million we paid in January, 76 percent ($17.5 million) went to tri-county residents," says Mark Shobe, president & CEO of DFCU Financial. "I like to think of it as our own little stimulus program."

DFCU Financial members received an average of $250 each. Some of its clients received thousands of dollars while one received $18,000.

The 64-year-old credit union has grown exponentially in the last decade. It has gone from having three branches in Dearborn and Livonia to 24 offices across Michigan, including in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Lansing. It opened a new office in Ann Arbor last year and plans to open another in Michigan later this year.

"We plan to deepen our coverage into these markets," Shobe says. "We will be opening new offices in these cities."

DFCU Financial currently employs 500 people and the occasional summer intern. It hired about 50 people for a broad range of positions over the last year.

Source: Mark Shobe, president & CEO of DFCU Financial
Writer: Jon Zemke

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