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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.

Draper Triangle Ventures expands into Metro Detroit with new VC fund

More venture capital is coming to Metro Detroit now that a Pittsburgh-based venture capital firm is planting a flag in southeast Michigan.

Draper Triangle Ventures plans to sink a significant part of its newest investment fund in Michigan. To execute on that vision, the firm is setting up offices in Ann Arbor and downtown Detroit, and moving a managing director to the region to scout out new investments.

"Michigan is attractive for venture capital for a number of reasons," says Jonathan Murray, managing director of Draper Triangle Ventures. "There is a lot of good deal flow in Ann Arbor and Detroit. There is a lot of national exposure in Michigan."

Draper Triangle Investments specializes in early-stage investments in tech startups. Think software and IT companies that are creating products that could span a number of different sectors.

The venture capital firm has raised $75 million for its third fund. The goal for the fund is $100 million. That capital will be focused on tech startups based in western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Investments will range between $1 million and $2 million. Murray expects to make 1-2 investments each year. He says one potential investment is already in the works and could come to fruition within the next few months.

Source: Jonathan Murray, managing director of Draper Triangle Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Software firm Coil Group adds 5 jobs in downtown Rochester

Coil Group is walking a tried-and-true line for software firms by trying to make the jump from custom-software development services to selling its own software products.

The downtown Rochester-based company has made a name for itself as a custom-software creation and consulting shop in its first year. During that time it also developed its own software platform that looks to bring analytics to sales forces.

And of course this all required more manpower. Coil Group has hired five people over the last year, mainly for user experience consultants and mobile software developer roles. It currently has a staff of six full-time employees and a handful of independent contractors. It is also looking to add 1-2 interns this summer. The firm also has job openings for one sales professional, one user experience consultant and two software developers.

"We're looking to hire another 10 people in the course of the next 12 months," says Jim Brown, CEO of Coil Group.

That staff is handling a growing workload of custom software and consulting work. Coil Group has continued to expand the number of clients in need of solutions. It is also looking to accelerate the development and sales of its new software platform called Stage.

Stage is a mobile app built for iPads. It enables the user to capture the actionable statistics from its sales staff. "As sales people go out into the field, this captures metrics," Brown says.

Source: Jim Brown, CEO of Coil Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Metiss Group leverages national growth to hire staff

The Metiss Group always grew steadily when it was only based in Metro Detroit. But the staffing consulting firm saw its growth go national after it opened an office in North Carolina seven years ago.

Today the firm services a broad range of clients across the U.S., ranging from property managers to architecture firms. The 17-year-old consulting firm helps other businesses make smart hires that fit their needs and cultures.

"You name the industry and I believe we have worked in it," says Cyndi Gave, president of The Metiss Group.

That has allowed the Sterling Heights-based firm to consistently notch double-digit gains over the last five years. It spiked its revenue 29 percent in 2013 off of organic growth. About 30 percent of that revenue expansion came from new businesses.

The growth has allowed The Metiss Group to add to its staff. The firm currently employs six people after hiring an office manager and a content delivery person over the last year. It is also looking to hire a business development executive.

"We're really searching to find the right person," Gave says. She adds that her firm expects to have a staff of nine people by the end of the year.

Source: Cyndi Gave, president of The Metiss Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TM3 Systems scores Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund cash

TM3 Systems is raising seed capital to start scaling its microgrid technology. It's off to a good start, landing six figures' worth of funding from the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund. The 1-year-old firm is currently looking to close on the seed capital by the end of the first quarter this year.

The Royal Oak-based company is designing microgrid technology (think generators) that can be used in remote locations by both military and commercial customers. The idea is to create power sources that help meet the power and logistical needs of the personnel using them.

"We feel the way it's done today ends up wasting a lot of fuel and downtime," says Nate Lowery, CEO of TM3 Systems. "We're looking to solve these problems."

TM3 Systems microgrid products, developed in partnership with Detroit-based NextEnergy, are designed to meter, control and condition power in remote locations. The technology provides users with grid monitoring and automatic generation and demand control with an eye for optimizing off-grid power assets. Currently, most of these users need to haul diesel generators to remote locations, with the generators often not meeting the needs for the situations.

"You end up with generators that are too large or too small for the application," Lowery says. "If it's too large it wastes fuel. If it's too small it doesn’t provide enough electricity."

TM3 Systems and its team of three people recently started selling its three units. The company is aiming at both military customers and commercial clients, such as remote mining interests.

Source: Nate Lowery, CEO of TM3 Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Broadsword expands client base by 50 percent

Nearly 10 years ago, the co-founders of Broadsword started their tech-consulting firm with the idea of staying closer to home after careers of jet-setting around the world working for multi-national firms.

"We started the company with the idea that we would stay in Detroit mostly," says Jeff Dalton, president of Broadsword.

That was 2005, not long before the auto industry crashed and the bottom fell out of the national economy. That prompted Broadsword to expand its client base. It took on customers across the U.S. in a number of different sectors, ranging from government contractors to automotive firms. It now services a wide variety of customers, including Chrysler, American Axle, Johnson Controls and SAIC. It has gone from 20 active clients last year to 30 this year.

That has prompted Broadsword to grow its staff, adding a new employee each year on average. The firm currently employs eight people after hiring one person in 2013. It is currently looking to hire an experienced tech consultant as it take on more software-development consulting work

"We're really growing that side of the business," Dalton says.

The Waterford-based firm is also looking to expand its client base to include smaller firms. It is launching an online/virtual consulting arm of its business aimed at helping small companies, like tier-three automotive suppliers.

Source: Jeff Dalton, president of Broadsword
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Q'vive grows revenue with online course sales

Q'vive is a one-man operation, so the key is to create new revenue streams to grow the Wixom-based consulting business. Eric van der Meulen believes he found another one this year: online courses.

The 5-year-old firm specializes in offering consulting services in project management. Van der Meulen also teaches courses in project management at Schoolcraft College.

He started selling these courses online last year. Sales tripled in that time, turning it into another revenue stream that helped spike the company’s growth by 50 percent in 2013.

"Last year was the best we have had so far," van der Meulen says. "It far exceeded our previous years."

He is now entering his 10th semester teaching project management at Schoolcraft and estimates he has helped educate about 250 students in that time. "Participation is strong," van der Meulen says. "It has actually been strengthening over the last few semesters."

Q'vive is looking to grow more revenue streams in 2014 by creating strategic partnerships with other local consultants and educators. "That's what I plan to do for the foreseeable future," van der Meulen says.

Source: Eric van der Meulen, president & owner of Q’vive
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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.

Liberty Center One adds staff, expands data center

Liberty Center One is moving forward in a number of different ways. The Royal Oak-based data center operator has grown its staff, facility and revenue over the last year.

"We're getting both organic growth from our existing customers and from new customers who like the model we have," says Tim Mullahy, managing director of Liberty Center One.

Liberty Center One provides network, voice, and cloud services from its data center. It recently doubled the size of its capacity, bringing another 4,000 square feet of floor space online in the last year.

The 15-year-old company has also hired two people over the last year, in network engineering and financial management. It currently has a staff of 25 employees and two interns. Mullahy expects to add a couple more employees and interns over the next year.

Liberty Center One has enjoyed double-digit gains in revenue in each of the last five years. It’s a streak Mullahy expects to continue for the foreseeable future.

"Double digits seems like it’s achievable," Mullahy says.

Source: Tim Mullahy, managing director of Liberty Center One
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

D/A Central leverages demand in IT security sector for growth

When D/A Central goes out looking for new business, the security firm doesn't focus so much on the sector as it does the location.

The Oak Park-based business will target clusters of business, such as Detroit’s Eastern Market neighborhood, to grow its bottom line. The strategy has paid off in the last year as D/A Central has grown its revenue by 13 percent and is aiming for 14-percent growth this year. It has also hired three people, expanding its staff to 40 employees and the occasional intern.

"We have a very broad range of customers," says Eric Stanton, sales & marketing manager for D/A Central.

D/A Central delivers security solutions for commercial clients through Security-Net. Stanton credits the new growth strategy for that success, along with the rebounding economy and a trend of more firms seeing security as an absolute necessity.

"Many companies are now seeing security as part of their continuity," Stanton says. "It used to be security just to protect themselves."

He explains that continuity means businesses see comprehensive security as a necessity for survival. In the past, security meant more about protecting assets without fear of outside forces ruining a venture.

Source: Eric Stanton, sales & marketing manager for D/A Central
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ProNAi lands $12M in Series C venture capital

ProNAi has secured $12 million in venture capital, seed money that will allow the life sciences startup to move forward with a critical clinical trial for its new cancer drug.

The Series C round of investment is led by Capital Midwest Fund, a venture capital firm based out of Milwaukee. Among the other VCs involved in the deal are Apjohn Ventures, which is based in Kalamazoo, and the Grand Angels, an angel investor group based in Holland, Mich.

"We have a great group of angels that not only participated in this round but have participated all along the way," says Mina Sooch, CEO of ProNAi.

The Plymouth-based startup also has an office in Kalamazoo, where it is developing a cancer-fight drug called PNT2258. ProNAi describes it as a drug that utilizes a proprietary DNA interference technology to block a key oncogene BCL2 that then signals cancer cells to die. The firm hired three people a little more than a year ago and expects to hire as many as six people in the first half of this year.

ProNAi needs to complete three clinical studies to acheive commercialization of the drug. This $12 million seed round will fund the most important study of those three, which will take about 18 months to complete.

"It's a very important study that will move the drug toward being approved," Sooch says.

This isn't the first time ProNAi has successfully closed a venture capital round. The 8-year-old startup raised $2 million from VCs and angels in 2012 and has raised $20 million before this most recent round. Sooch expects to continue fundraising to complete the commercialization of ProNAi’s cancer drug.

"We're always fundraising," Sooch says. "We might expand this round or add a B round."

Source: Mina Sooch, CEO of ProNAi
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.
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