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Entrepreneurship : Innovation & Job News

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Former Identity VP launches own firm, Alchemy Group

Brent Eastman has made his career in marketing, spending 25 years specializing in brand management. Most recently he served as a vice president of brand strategy & creative at Identity, a Bingham Farms-based public relations and marketing agency. This summer he is starting all over by launching his own marketing firm, Alchemy Group.

The Birmingham-based creative firm plans to focus on "research, engagement and actionable plans that make a real difference in an organization, both inside and out," according to the firm's press release about its launch.

"We're really focused on understanding client backgrounds and what's going on with them," Eastman says. "We want to help them evolve their brand."

Alchemy Group
is currently composed of Eastman and a network of independent contractors. However, Eastman expects to begin making his first hires soon.

"I'd like to have 7-9 people in the next three years, according to my business plan," Eastman says. "I would like to have a couple by the end of the year."

Source: Brent Eastman, chief brand alchemist of Alchemy Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge announces winners

Metro Detroit-based business performed well at the Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, taking home a number of the contests prizes.

The Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge is meant to help spread some seed capital around to entrepreneurial businesses and non-profits that aim to help improve life in Michigan. Prizes range from $3,000 to $25,000, which attracted 160 submissions from across the state.

"It shows that we can really put Michigan on the social innovation map," Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps, which organized the  Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, wrote in an email. "While we had so many inspiring entries, we were excited to give these top six finalists an opportunity to showcase their passion, skill and innovation at our pitch event."

Among the Metro Detroit-based firms that places are:

Fresh Corner Café, a healthy-eating start-up that helps make quality food more widely available in underserved Detroit neighborhoods. It won first place ($20,000) for the Emerging Company category.

Digital Inclusion
, which specializes in refurbishing computers, technical support and training. It aims to help incubate ideas and projects for young, entrepreneurial people. It won second place $15,000 in the Emerging Company category.

, an Ypsilanti-based start-up working to combat maternal and infant health disparities in low-income areas through the design and commercialization of appropriate, locally affordable, innovative devices. It won third place ($5,000) in the Emerging Company category.

The Java Hope Project won $5,000 for first place in the New Enterprise Idea category. The non-profit is dedicated to helping women break the cycle of poverty through business development by offering extensive small-business skills training programs.

Ecotelligent Homes
won the Emerging Company award in the Fostering Energy Affordability category, a prize worth $10,000. The Farmington Hills-based company performs RESNET and BPI certified home energy audits and installing energy efficiency improvements on Metro Detroit homes.

ReSource Fund won $5,000 for the New Enterprise Idea in the Fostering Energy Affordability category. The fund provides financial services to low-income communities in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

, a localized crowdfunding platform, won the $3,000 Millennial Social Innovation Prize. The company works to support building vibrant communities by connecting small businesses, organizations and events with patrons and sponsors to help them grow, one project at a time.

The Community Ventures prize ($25,000) went to the Vanguard Property Preservation Enterprise in Detroit. The prize is meant for a social entrepreneur impacting structural unemployment in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac or Saginaw. Vanguard Property Preservation Enterprise provides job opportunities for unemployed Detroiters, particularly citizens returning from prison, through the cleaning and maintenance of private-owner eviction and foreclosed properties.

Detroit-based Rebel Nell L3C won The Spirit of Social Entrepreneurship Award for its embodiment of the vision, commitment and tenacity present in the best Social Entrepreneurs around the world.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Family turns unemployment into Aunt Nee's salsa biz

There was nothing small about the Great Recession for Patrick Schwager's family in Garden City. Both of his parents lost their jobs in mid-2008. He was just graduating from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with a degree in business management and marketing in 2009 and his internship wasn't going anywhere.

That's when the family rallied together and made a go of it with its Aunt Nee's salsa business.

"For a solid year we were cash-strapped and unemployed," Schwager says. "We decided to make a major push to make it successful."

Aunt Nee's had always been a hobby business for the family. They were always disappointed buying prepared salsa, often with its lack of freshness. Aunt Nee's sells the seasoning to the customers so they can add their own produce to make fresh salsa. Schwager brought on a friend as a partner, Carlos Parisi, and the business took off.

"It's the best fresh salsa you can make yourself," Schwager says.

Today you can find Aunt Nee's in a wide variety of supermarkets across Michigan, including 45 Kroger grocery stores. It now sells a little more than 50,000 packets of seasoning annually. It is gearing up to begin online sales later this year. Schwager hopes to cross into six-figures worth of unit sales within the next year.

Aunt Nee's now employs five people and is looking to add a few interns this summer. It is also working with other local small businesses to help them get off the ground.

Source: Patrick Schwager, CEO of Aunt Nee's
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Seat Side Service brings food to your side at sports events

Seat Side Service is a start-up born out of frustration. Barak Leibovitz's frustration.

The 20-something was at a baseball game trying to buy a hotdog when the idea hit him. Repeatedly. First he had to wait 30 minutes for the vendor to come by. Then he didn't have enough cash on him to buy the hotdogs. Then he couldn't pay for it with anything other than cash. The process left the aspiring entrepreneur dumbfounded.

"It just didn't make sense at the time," Leibovitz says.

Seat Side Service
is Leibovitz answer. The 1-year-old start-up creates software that allows athletic spectators to order what they want from their smartphone, pay for it online and then have the vendors deliver the food for tips from a centralized kitchen. The system simplifies the process so vendors no longer have to carry all of their food around and can instead focus on providing quality service.

"Your tips should reflect your hustle," Leibovitz says.

The Southfield-based business, which got its start in Ann Arbor's TechArb, currently has a staff of four employees and six interns. It is working on running a pilot program with the Toledo Mud Hens this summer and wants to take it to even more stadiums and arenas next year.

"I am engaging minor league stadiums because they don't have problems with bandwidth (cellular service)," Leibovitz says.

Source: Barak Leibovitz, founder & CEO of Seat Side Service
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Blackstone LaunchPad pushes new thinking at Make It Better

The cliche, "Get 'em while they're young" applies when it comes to the Walsh College Blackstone LaunchPad's Make It Better competition.

The event challenges Michigan-based high school students to think outside of the proverbial box and redesign an existing product or service or develop a new one. The end goal is to create something that helps improve the quality of life and improves their community or the Great Lakes State. The competition's goal is to foster critical thinking skills and encourage more young people to consider a life in entrepreneurship.

"They have no barriers in their thinking," says Carol Glynn, director of Blackstone LaunchPad at Walsh College in Troy. "We want them to start down a path of innovation. The older we get the more barriers we put for ourselves."

Among the winners are Kirsten Gendron, who took first place ($500) for her idea of a chewing gum that filters harmful toxins of second-hand smoke. Second place ($250) went to Rebecca List for her entry of a Wi-Fi Lifesaver Wristband. Hannah Beller won third place ($250) for her "Wake Me Up Blanket", an electric blanket that gradually circulates chilling temperatures as encouragement to get sleepy owners out of bed.

A grant from the Charles M. Bauervic Foundation funded the competition. It is open to all high school and college students in Michigan. This year's Make It Better competition was the second. Glynn says plans are in the making for a third installment next year.

"We definitely intend on doing it again next year," Glynn says. "We will probably do it earlier."

Source: Carol Glynn, director of Blackstone LaunchPad at Walsh College
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Advanced Amputee Solutions start-up tackles prosthetic pain

Prosthetics have come a long way since the days of The Fugitive with Dr. Richard Kimble trying to track down a one-armed man. Ask Gordon Maniere and he will tell you there is still a long way to go, even with a man racing with prosthetic legs in the Olympics.

So the certified prosthetist is turning that journey into a start-up, Advanced Amputee Solutions.

"No one has really tackled the problem of where the bone meets the prosthetic," Maniere says. "That's the biggest problem because the amputee won't wear the prosthetic if it causes pain."

Advanced Amputee Solutions is developing its I.E.P. technology, specifically a polymer that cushions the cut bone of the amputee. It applies exoskeletal principles endoskeletally, killing the pain problem at the point of contact. I.E.P. is applied during the amputation surgery so it protects the amputated bone and seals the bone marrow.

This eliminates the problem of trying to make a rigid tool (the prosthetic) comfortably fit with a human body that is never the same two days in a row. "The tissue is constantly changing shape everyday," Maniere says. "Eating salt can cause a wide variety of size in the tissue."

Maniere and his co-founder, Jack Wheeler, are working to build their start-up team and raise a $500,000 angel round of seed capital. Maniere will present his company's technology at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium next week to help further its fundraising.

"It's really kind of a coming out party," Maniere says.

Source: Gordon Maniere, CEO of Advanced Amputee Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Grosse Pointer turns memories into Detroit Scroll biz

Patti Kay is turning nostalgia into moolah with her art-based business, Detroit Scroll.

The Grosse Pointe-based company got its start when Kay was traveling and saw prints of bus stops stacked on one another. It inspired her to start Detroit Scroll and create the Detroit version of that.

"They were really cool but I didn't want one from another city," Kay says. "I wanted one from Detroit."

Those scrolls show the streets from Detroit-based bus routes in the 20th Century. Street names only Detroiters would recognize, like Fenkell, Fort and Fullerton, are listed in black and white and framed as wall art.

"The resonate with everybody because of Detroit pride," Kay says. "Everybody recognizes their street or their bus route."

The 2-year-old business became Kay's full-time job in December. She just hired an administrative assistant and steadily gives work to an independent contractor. Detroit Scroll's business has steadily grown to the point that it is now offering t-shirts, glassware, stationary and apparel.

"I have been told if you do something you love you will never work another day in your life," Kay says. "That's so true for me."

Source: Patti Kay, owner of Detroit Scroll
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.

MIT grad returns home to launch Vitamin start-up, SunDaily

When local leaders talk about retaining talent, they probably have someone like Adam Leeb in mind.

The Metro Detroit native graduated from MIT with a degree in mechanical engineering and went to work for a private equity firm in New York City in the late 2000s. After watching a number of his colleagues lose their jobs in the economic downturn and a few other not-so-flattering things about the finance industry, he decided he wanted to move back home.

"I knew it wasn't something I wanted to make my career," Leeb says.

That was last year, roughly the same time he started working on his own company, SunDaily. The Royal Oak-based start-up is working to create a premium brand of vitamins and supplements. It's a hole in what Leeb sees as a crowded market.

"I saw a lot of different formulas and a lot of confusion on the consumers' end," Leeb says.

SunDaily and its team of four people began its soft Beta launch earlier this month and plans to go public with it this week. The new brand of vitamins offers traditional staples like a multi-vitamin, Vitamin D and a fish oil supplement. As many as a dozen different products are expected to be launched this year. Leeb plans to create some market separation with high-quality products that are easy to understand and come in aesthetically pleasing packaging.

Source: Adam Leeb, founder of SunDaily
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Patriot Services grows safety biz, helps war vet start own venture

Patriot Services isn't just about growing its own business. The founders of the homeland security firm, who are active members of the U.S. military who recently served tours in Afghanistan, are also helping improve the economic prospects of fellow veterans.

The Commerce Township-based firm recently brought an unemployed Iraq War veteran onto its staff. That opportunity led to the veteran starting his own security and self-defense business called Sol-Tac, thanks to Patriot Services mentorship.

"I am continuing to mentor him to this day," says Stephen Potter, president and co-founder of Patriot Services and a colonel with the U.S. Army.

Patriot Services has also been growing its own safety consulting business, hiring four people in 2011. It recently landed a statewide contract to provide security assessments for schools in West Virginia, and is looking at adding to its client base of schools in Michigan. Potter expects that sort of growth to continue for small businesses like his in 2013.

"There is an increased focus on connecting small businesses and government contracts," Potter says. "That's going to help businesses like Patriot Services."

Source: Stephen Potter, president of Patriot Services
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Adams Entrepreneur Fellowship Program taking applicants

Interested in start-ups? How about becoming a serial entrepreneur? Does mentoring from some of Metro Detroit's top business people sound good? Does a $60,000 annual stipend pique your interest?

If so then you will want to check out the Adams Entrepreneur Fellowship Program, an initiative serviced through Automation Alley to place up-and-coming business people (think recent college grads) with local start-ups and established entrepreneurs and investors. It is currently taking applications for the 2013-14 class, which will consist of four people, through April 1.

"The mission is to place these Adams Fellows in an intensive entrepreneurial environment with a lot of mentoring," says Terry Cross, managing director of Adams Entrepreneur Fellowship Program.

Adams Fellows will have daily job responsibilities and will be encouraged to participate in local entrepreneurial, business development and leadership events. Participants will be given opportunities to network with one another and with other young emerging leaders in the region.

For information, click here.

Source: Terry Cross, managing director of Adams Entrepreneur Fellowship Program
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Russian immigrant leverages referrals to grow Company Folders

Vladimir Gendelman grew up in the U.S.S.R. dreaming of owning his own business. It seemed like a far-away dream for the youngster growing up in a communist country, until he immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1990s.

Gendelman worked as a website developer for a few years before he got laid off in 2002. That's when he decided to seize on his childhood dream, launching a start-up called Company Folders. The company helps make presentation folder selection easier to understand and use.

"With presentation folders there are a lot of options," Gendelman says. "People either offer you just one way or you get overwhelmed with information. I set a goal of taking that overwhelming information and turning it into something understandable."

The company now has a staff of six employees and the occasional summer intern. It hired one person (a writer) over the last year and now has three openings for jobs in social media, marketing and user experience.

That staff growth is coming on increases in revenue, which is up 50 percent since 2008. "Many of our new customers came from referrals," Gendelman says. "We also get a tremendous amount of customers who come back."

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

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

$50K for grabs at Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge

Michigan is showing strong signs of becoming the national leader when it comes to social entrepreneurship. The latest of those signs is the Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, a business competition featuring $50,000 in prizes.

"This is the first time in the country a statewide social entrepreneurship challenge has been held," says Elizabeth Garlow, director of Michigan Corps, which is organizing the competition with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Great Lakes Entrepreneur's Quest. "We're really excited to see what happens."

The Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge will offer cash prizes, access to investors, and consideration for special program opportunities. Participants can also access potential mentors, network, and discover resources tailored to social entrepreneurs. The bottom line is to help advance ideas, ventures, and solutions to address pressing social challenges in the Great Lakes State.

To enter, complete an application at GLEQ.org before the March 27 deadline. A special Social Entrepreneurship Showcase and Pitch event will take place on June 18 at GLEQ's Entrepreneur Connect event in Lansing. For information, click here.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow, director of Michigan Corps
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

PICpatch turns corp. policy into smartphone start-up

David Mamo once worked as an electrical contractor at the General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford. It was a job that required everyone to leave their camera phones at the door due to corporate espionage concerns. Mamo found a middle ground and turned it into a business, PICpatch.

"It (cell phones that happen to have cameras in them) is an important tool," says Mamo, president of PICpatch. "There needed to be a solution to take your camera phone to work."

PICpatch is small red sticker users can put over the lense of their camera phone. The patch makes sure any photo, accidental or otherwise, becomes a red screen. It has a residue-free adhesive and becomes crumpled and easily detectable if it has been removed and reapplied.

Mamo created the prototype of PICpatch about five years ago and shortly after General Motors became his first customer. Today it has 200 customers, including some of the world's largest corporations. Sales have doubled each year and Mamo notes that "half of our customers are abroad."

The Milford-based company now has a team of seven people after adding one new person over the last year. That team is now working on a new iteration of its sticker technology called PICpatch Chaperone Seals, a small strip that parents and chaperones can put on the hotel room doors of children to make sure they stay put. Many adults do this with masking tape but Mamo notes its is easily defeatable and PICpatch Chaperone Seals will solve those inadequacies. The product launched a few months ago and Mamo expects it to gain traction this year.

Source: David Mamo, president of PICpatch
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ferndale couple preps to launch Don Lucho Taco Truck

Luis and Sara Mendez once lived in Mexico until they saw opportunity in Detroit. That's when they moved to Ferndale and are now getting ready to launch their own food-truck business, Don Lucho Taco Truck and Salsa.

The couple had already been selling their own salsa when they decided they wanted to take it a step further this year. They recently graduated from D:hive's BUILD program, an initiative that teaches aspiring entrepreneurs the basics of launching a business. They are now looking to launch the food truck this spring to give their food business a foothold.

"Spring is the time because it's warm and everybody wants to be outside," Luis Mendez says.

The Mendez family was originally looking at opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Ferndale but decided to go the food truck route because it offers a better entry point for their business. They plan to cook authentic Mexican food with vegan and vegetarian options.

"We found a taco truck is more versatile than an actual restaurant," Luis Mendez says.

Source: Luis Mendez, co-owner of Don Lucho Taco Truck and Salsa
Writer: Jon Zemke

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