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GREEN SPACE: Green Building Automation finds niche with energy management systems

The feds, the state, and even utility companies are offering incentives for buildings to increase their efficiency. So it's nice to see a local start-up growing its business while helping clients to figure out how to be more sustainable. Introducing Green Building Automation, headquartered in Detroit's TechTown.

Scott Kaplan founded Green Building Automation in May of 2008, after leaving a large mechanical engineering design/build firm.

"There was a change in the company, it was time for me to do something different," he says. "So I decided to start my own company."

Green Building Automation installs and programs energy management systems, primarily for large commercial facilities. "We do a lot of retrofits on existing buildings," says Kaplan, who estimate the return on investment for an older building to be two to three years with typical energy savings of 30 to 50 percent. "We are able to make adjustments, shed some load, and save energy and money."

The web-based system can be monitored and adjusted off-site, a tool that will be useful when Green Building Automation enters the residential market. Kaplan is shooting for this in the next year. "We see a pretty good market for that, there are still high-end homes out there, and they still travel," he says. "You'll be able to travel and know your home is OK, view your home on-line, integrate (our system) with the security system and program lighting to come on in different sequences."

Kaplan, who is focused on building his brand and his client base, acknowledges the impact that government programs are having on his business' growth, but thinks more action is necessary to truly kick start the state's economy. "One of the things that's kind of weird is that our leadership in the state (wants us to be the) leader in green technology and energy efficiency, yet haven't put their money where their mouth is as far as manufacturing goes."

Source: Scott Kaplan, founder of Green Building Automation
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Michigan moves up to third in VC investment in healthcare

While most sectors in Michigan retreated and regrouped in 2009, local health-care start-ups largely held their ground.

The latest BioEnterprise Midwest Health Care Venture Investment Report shows that Michigan maintained its total amount of investments at just over $100 million, allowing it to move from fourth to third in the Midwest rankings. The number of deals grew to 14 in 2009, up two
from the prior year.

The Detroit-Ann Arbor region ranked third in Midwestern metro areas for health-care venture investment, with $68.8 million in investment from seven deals. That ranking is up from fifth in 2008 and much higher from its basement-dwelling time before that. The region did do one less deal and had about $20 million less in investment compared to 2008.

Midwest health care startups reported $780 million in total investments across 156 companies through 2009. Minnesota led the way in the rankings, with Michigan and Ohio making up the second tier.

Source: BioEnterprise
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit's S3 is on a 20-year growth streak

Twenty years is a long time, but it goes by kinda fast when you're making a lot of money. That's what happened with Cindy Pasky and the firm she founded two decades ago - Strategic Staffing Solutions.

The Detroit-based firm just clocked its 20th straight year of growth, hitting $168 million in revenue in 2009 compared to $160 million in 2008. It also added a couple hundred jobs to its staff of 1,700 employees and the occasional cadre of interns worldwide. It employs between 400-500 people in Detroit.

"We stay true to our firm and our mission," says Pasky, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions. "We take a very old fashioned approach to our customer relations. We are prudent and ethical and we always outwork our competition."

The firm expanded its call center and created an IT development center in Detroit in 2009. It is looking at growing primarily by offering more services to its existing clients and markets. It is also considering an expansion into the Phoenix market this year, at the request of a client.

"We'll go where our customers go," Pasky says.

These expansions have laid the ground work for Strategic Staffing Solutions to continue its revenue and employment growth for the foreseeable future. The company hopes to continue hiring in 2010.

Strategic Staffing Solutions services a number of industries. The financial services sector accounts for more than half of the company's annual revenue in 2009. Other sectors that make up a significant part of the firm's customer base include energy, healthcare and insurance, and government.

Source: Cindy Pasky, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

TechTown's CYJ Enterprises debuts first product

After three years of development, Carole Y. Johnson is ready to start generating some profits from her start-up, CYJ Enterprises.

The company is based out of the TechTown business incubator in Detroit's New Center neighborhood. Its first product is e-CYREN, a free online database of emergency information for schools and daycare programs.

Traditionally, schools and daycares have catalogued emergency contact info for students on paper in an antiquated 20th Century filing system. CYJ Enterprises' e-CYREN (pronounced e-siren) digitizes all of that info, putting it just a few key strokes away. The company is making it more accessible by lowering the buy-in costs.

"We make it affordable for schools and daycares by offering it on a subscription basis," Johnson, the company's CEO, says.

Johnson once worked for Compuware, in its IT department. She also keeps a few independent contractors busy with her start-up and hopes to add a first employee this year.

Source: Carole Y Johnson, CEO of CYJ Enterprises
Writer: Jon Zemke

New VC firm Fontinalis to focus on transportation

Metro Detroit's old money is starting to dabble in a few new economy ventures, now that a group of local financial heavyweights have launched Fontinalis Partners.

Bill Ford (yep, that Bill Ford who chairs Ford Motor Co.) is teaming up with Ralph Booth (CEO and chairman of Booth American Company) and Mark Schulz (former president of International Operations at Ford) to launch the Michigan-based venture capital firm. Fontinalis will focus on investing in transportation tech companies around the world.

Fontinalis' first investment is in Atlanta-based Parkmobile USA. The nearly two-year-old firm specializes in mobile parking payment systems and integrated transportation technology solutions. Its European counterpart was founded in 1999.

Parkmobile's cashless parking system allows motorists to pay for parking through an application on their mobile phone or by making a short call. The idea is to eliminate meter feeding with pocket change and guessing a length of stay. Parkmobile also makes Electronic Parking Permits.

Fontinalis has offices in Detroit and Boston. Its mission is to leverage the firm's background in transportation to scale up companies providing the transportation technology solutions of tomorrow.

"We take our mission very seriously to invest in and assist firms currently providing transformational ideas and products devoted to solving the world's most pressing environmental and mobility-oriented problems," Bill Ford said in a press release.

Source: Fontinalis Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wayne State collects millions in new research grants

Wayne State University continues to rake in the research dollars, taking in even more federal and stimulus funds.

Among the recent wins are $775,000 to study PCBs and their relation to cancer, $60,000 for Schizophrenia research and $2.7 million to investigate attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. This caps what looks to be a big year for research at the Detroit-based university, which has counted $175 million in federal research grants so far for 2009, including $31 million in federal stimulus funds.

The biggest recent research victory is the $2.7 million from the National Institute of Mental Health. Wayne State researchers will track the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the brains of children and teens in the hope of developing more effective therapies. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common childhood illnesses.

The federal stimulus is funding two grants totaling about $775,000 to study the potential role of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the progression of breast cancer. Wayne State researchers will also delineate the role of a liver enzyme in the development of metabolic diseases such as heart disease, abnormal cholesterol metabolism, and insulin resistant type II diabetes.

The Wayne State University School of Medicine received a $60,000 Young Investigator research grant from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia & Depression. The money will be used to develop a better understanding of the neurochemical and functional bases of schizophrenia, one of the most debilitating mental illnesses in the world. Research suggests the illness is related to disordered brain neurochemistry and function.

Source: Julie O'Connor, spokeswoman for Wayne State University
Writer: Jon Zemke

DTE kicks off first operational wind farm

The first of DTE Energy's wind farms is operational now that it has turned on seven wind turbines in northern Michigan near Cadillac.

The 2,000-acre wind farm is the fruit of a partnership between the downtown Detroit-based utility and Traverse City-based Heritage Sustainable Energy. The wind turbines can produce about 14 megawatts of renewable energy and measure 403 feet tall. The project created 100 construction jobs and four full-time jobs at the site.

It is the first operational wind farm in Michigan and will be used to meet the state's new renewable portfolio standard. The RPS requires that 10 percent of the utility's power generation come from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2015. DTE Energy has struck deals with the likes of Heritage Sustainable Energy to meet that deadline.

DTE Energy has acquired easements on 75,000 acres of land in Huron County in Michigan's Thumb region for development of large-scale wind farms. The company also has two solar energy pilot projects that could produce about 20 megawatts of power.

"We want to get these things going as soon as possible to meet the RPS," says Scott Simons, a spokesman for DTE Energy.

Source: Scott Simons, a spokesman for DTE Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke

Macomb starts FastTrac entrepreneur classes

Green job and entrepreneurial programs are sprouting up around Metro Detroit now that Macomb County is trying to grow more entrepreneurs and Henry Ford Community College is harvesting $1.3 million in federal workforce grants.

The U.S. Department of Labor awarded the grant to help train people for 'green' jobs over the next two years. The money is part of the $150 million federal Pathways Out of Poverty program that comes courtesy of the federal stimulus. Henry Ford is partnering with Southwest Housing Solutions and a member of the Southwest Detroit Consortium for Green Jobs to help retrain the metro area's workforce for the sustainable jobs of the 21st Century.

TechTown's New Economy Initiative is spreading its wings to Macomb County, which is starting to employ its FastTrac program for entrepreneurs.

The program focuses on helping laid-off and displaced workers pursue dreams of being their own boss. That could mean anything from helping them turn a skill into a business or a hobby into a career or even buy into a franchise business.

"The idea is to develop a business plan that will assess their concept and develop a strategy to implement it," says Don Morandini, regional director for the Macomb Small Business and Technology Development Center.

The 10-week program requires participants to attend one three-hour class each week. There they learn the basics about pursuing a business and making it successful. Normal class size ranges from 15-25 people and the next session begins on Feb. 1.

The New Economy Initiative is partnering with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to create the three-year program based out of Detroit's TechTown business incubator. The New Economy Initiative is making $9.25 million in direct cash investment available while the Kauffman Foundation will provide expertise to help the transition, such as staff, materials, and its FastTrac and Urban Entrepreneurship Partnership programs.

FastTrac is a 15-year-old business development program that helps unemployed or underemployed people transition into entrepreneurship through an intensive 3-10 week training program.

Source: Don Morandini, regional director for the Macomb Small Business and Technology Development Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

Inside Detroit hires 9 new employees downtown

It's been a long, interesting ride for the two women behind Inside Detroit, and the journey is just gaining speed.

Jeanette Pierce and Maureen Kearns started the tour-based venture four years ago when Pierce was working in marketing for the United Way and Kearns was working in IT for Wayne County. It became their full-time jobs two years ago, and the duo just brought on nine part-time employees and three interns, primarily through social media.

"They're all Detroit residents," Pierce says. "They have their fingers on the pulse of what's going on inside Detroit."

Inside Detroit started to make strides last year when it became a non-profit and set up shop in a storefront on Woodward Avenue downtown, next to the Detroit Breakfast House & Grill. There they have started the instantly popular Segway Tours and are sharing the 4,500 square feet of space with local volunteer groups like Detroit Synergy. They also run a retail store and offer free Wi-Fi to tourists and locals alike who just want to hang out.

"2009 was our best year yet and 2010 is shaping up to be even bigger and better than that," Pierce says.

Among the ideas for expansion of services are expanding the Segway tours to two per day. The company also wants to expand its walking tours, begin bus tours of the city, and further expand its popular party tours. The latest offering is a Happy Hour bar tour on Feb. 12. For information, call (313) 962-4590 or (313) 268-6562 or send an email to info@insidedetroit.org.

Source: Jeanette Pierce, co-founder of Inside Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Clean Energy Prize competition heads to Round 2

Round two of the second annual Clean Energy Prize is in the books and eight teams are ready to move on in the sustainability start-up competition.

Downtown Detroit-based DTE Energy and the University of Michigan started the competition last year with the idea of helping fund Michigan's emerging alternative energy start-ups. A total of 32 teams from six universities in Michigan made a go at it this year compared to 23 last year.

They are competing for a $100,000 prize pool of start-up capital. Last year's winner walked away with $65,000. That company, Algal Scientific, is developing technology that uses algae to simultaneously treat wastewater and produce the raw materials for biofuels.

"We hope the competition and the development of a business plan will help push these entrepreneurs toward starting operations," says John Austerberry, spokesman for DTE Energy.

Two of the eight remaining teams include Advanced Battery Control, which is developing a proprietary smart battery management system, which will radically enhance battery utilization in electric vehicles. Another is carbon perks, which is a service that motivates people to incorporate energy efficient practices into their lifestyles while helping utilities reduce the costs of providing peak power.

The teams had to come up with an invention that supports renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart grid technologies, environmental control technologies, plug-in electric vehicles, or energy storage. The semifinals will be held on Feb. 12.

John Austerberry, spokesman for DTE Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke

GREEN SPACE: Transit Action Conference lands in Detroit on Jan. 30, TRU hiring

This Saturday, January 30, transit advocates will spend an afternoon hunkering down and working towards moving ahead with regional transit goals in the coming year. Hosted by none other than Transportation Riders United (TRU), the 1 to 6 p.m. session includes training workshops as well as organizational business like TRU board elections.

Workshop options include improving the area's existing bus systems, SMART millage renewal, advancing rapid transit, outreach, and leadership development. The opportunities are geared towards both seasoned transit advocates and newer volunteers to the cause. "No matter their skill level, (attendees) will be able to get actively involved in promoting transit in our community," says TRU executive director Megan Owens.

The conference takes place at the new MSU Detroit Center, located at 3408 Woodward, south of Mack. Register here.

While on the subject of TRU, we'd be remiss not to mention that the organization is currently hiring a new assistant director. Job description and application instructions can be found here. The application deadline is Monday, Feb. 1, so get cracking!

Source: Megan Owens, TRU (Read her Metromode blog here.)
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

The Few Records capitalizes on Detroit music scene, creates jobs

Dominic Arellano's record label The Few Records isn't constrained by genres or labels or stereotypes. It's all about good music, hence its motto: "No genre, just good music. We are the few."

The label, based out of Detroit's Woodbridge neighborhood, has artists that specialize in hip-hop, electronic, jazz, indie rock, post-classical, and funk. The six artists run the gamut of music in Detroit's smorgasbord of talent.

"I think people listen to a lot more music these days in a lot of different genres," Arellano says.

The 2-year-old company has three employees and six artists. Arellano hopes to hire another two this year and sign a few more artists. He also plans to release a lot more music this year from artists like Silver Ghost and Will Sessions.

"We will be releasing quite a bit of music," Arellano says.

Source: Dominic Arellano, owner and founder of The Few Records
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wayne State branches out with new websites

Wayne State University is making a bigger name for itself in the local website game, expanding one of its established sites and launching another.

The new site is called LivingDetroit. The virtual museum will chronicle Detroit's history through a Wikipedia-style display of audio diaries, photographs, and interactive maps. The website has been developed and maintained by students at the university's Honors College.

It will feature the history of the city as told through the eyes of everyday Detroiters. It will include the personal experiences, knowledge, perspectives, and reflections of several generations of Detroiters. Also incorporated are mapping pages showing what the city looked like both then and now.

The project came out of a 2008 Honors College program where Detroit senior citizens were invited to recount and record their recollections of historic events. The idea is to allow current and future generations to better understand the people, places, and events that have shaped their communities.

Wayne State's Word Warriors website released a list of words that have been neglected but should be brought back in 2010. Launched last year, it's a list of neglected but eminently useful words that visitors to the site and its creators would like to bring back into fashion.

Source: Wayne State University
Writer: Jon Zemke

New jobs, investments announced at Detroit Auto Show

Last year the North American International Auto Show was all about whether Metro Detroit will be able to keep its automotive jobs. This year, it's about creating a lot of automotive jobs.

A number of investments in the metro area have either been announced or come to fruition in the recent weeks leading up to and during the show. And these aren't the normal metal-bending jobs pumping out the gas guzzlers of yore. These are the "wave-of-the-future" jobs that specialize in developing new energy efficient technology for the automotive industry.

Here is a little taste of what has been announced:

  • The first advanced lithium-ion battery for the Chevrolet Volt was produced at GM's Brownstown Battery Pack Assembly Plant. GM invested $43 million to turn the 160,000-square-foot building into a landfill-free facility for production of lithium-ion battery packs for the Volt and other electric vehicles with extended-range capabilities.
  • Ford plans to retool its Wayne Assembly Plant (a $550 million investment) to make the compact Ford Focus and its electronic version. That impacts about 3,200 jobs directly.
  • Ford also plans to invest another $450 million in its electric vehicle program. The investment is expected to create about 1,000 jobs in Michigan, creating Ford's next generation of hybrid and hybrid electric vehicles.
  • A dozen Michigan businesses won $248 million in federal tax credits that will create an expected 17,000 green jobs. Among the lucky winners are Livonia-based Stirling Energy Systems (solar power), Troy-based Ilumisys (LED lights) and Monroe-based Ventower Industries (wind turbines).
  • Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE chose Michigan to host a competition that aims to pit some of the world's most fuel efficient vehicles against one another in a quest to win a share of a $10 million prize.
Source: Ford, General Motors, Progressive Insurance Automotive
Writer: Jon Zemke

Inland Waters continues hiring in Detroit

Inland Waters Pollution Control continues its growth in Detroit. The Southwest Detroit-based firm added 15 people to its payroll in the last year, including two in the last month. It expects to keep that growth going into 2010.

"We're probably going to be adding 15-20 people this year," says Al Jedneak, president of Inland Waters Pollution Control, a division of Inland Pipe Rehabilitation.

Inland Waters Pollution Control specializes in rebuilding municipal infrastructure such as water and sewer lines. It does a lot of its work in the city of the Detroit but also branches out to other suburbs and states, Ohio and Pennsylvania among them.

The company recently held a job fair in Detroit and received 600 applications. The response was so strong that the company is still going through them as it evaluates prospective job candidates.

"It's staggering how many good quality people there are out there," Jedneak says.

Source: Al Jedneak, president of Inland Waters Pollution Control
Writer: Jon Zemke
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