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IT firm Red Level Networks aims for staff of 50

Red Level Networks is riding a wave of growth coming from the industry-wide trend of demanding better IT services and a new partnership with computer-maker Dell.

The Novi-based company has hired 10 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 31 employees and the occasional summer intern. The new hires include engineers, technicians, help-desk support, sales associates and a COO.

"The demand for better services has helped propel our growth," says David King, president of Red Level Networks. He adds that many businesses cut back on IT during the recession. Now that the recovery is well underway, the demand for fast, reliable IT services has done nothing but climb.

Also helping fuel that is Red Level Networks' work with Dell. The 9-year-old IT firm is a channel partner with Dell. That partnership allows Red Level Networks to sell its services and other products directly to the end users of Dell products.

"We expect more business to come our way because of our partnership with Dell," King says.

King is optimistic that Red Level Networks will be able to cross the 50-employee threshold within the next year.

"We want to be that go-to company, so when people think of IT services they think about us," King says.

Source: David King, president of Red Level Networks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Strategic Energy Solutions adds 8 employees in Berkley

When it comes to growing Michigan’s green economy, companies like Strategic Energy Solutions aren’t the ones that normally stand in the spotlight.

That’s because the Berkley-based firm designs and implements the energy infrastructure in large commercial and institutional facilities. It figures out what type of core systems (heating/cooling, electrical) should go into a building, the best opportunities to integrate alternative energy sources, and the best combination of all of the above to maximize energy usage.

“It’s all the stuff people never see,” says Steve DiBerardine, president of Strategic Energy Solutions.

Strategic Energy Solutions has been doing a lot of work with architecture firm Kraemer Design Group, taking on redevelopment projects in downtown Detroit for Bedrock Real Estate Services. It is also handling more work for local school districts in Livonia and Waterford, among others.

“I think communities are again open to passing bonds,” DiBerardine says.

That is all adding up to revenue growing by 20 percent over the last year. Thus, Strategic Energy Solutions has hired eight people, randing from engineers to CAD professionals. It currently employs 28 people.

Source: Steve DiBerardine, president of Strategic Energy Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Former franchisee starts mobile-repair biz, MiPhone Repair

Chad Reiss worked as a franchisee for Subway for 25 years. Then an influential relative who worked at the company retired and Reiss took it as an opportunity to take on a new challenge in life. So he opened his own mobile-device repair business, MiPhone Repair.

Reiss didn’t know much about putting smart devices back together at first. He has had a fascination with computer technology and other gadgets since high school and enjoys where technology is going. Plus, the learning curve for mobile device repair isn't known to have a lot of barriers.

"It's really easy to get involved with because there aren’t a lot of certifications," Reiss says. "I taught myself over six months before leaving Subway."

The Sterling Heights-based business launched nine months ago and currently employs two people. It specializes in fixing a broad range of Apple products (iPhone, iPod and iPad chief among them) and some Android devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy. MiPhone Repair can fix shattered touch screens, smart phones that got wet and a number of other problems that plague mobile devices.

"I want to learn about every phone I can get my hands on," Reiss says.

Source: Chad Reiss, owner of MiPhone Repair
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

4th Sector Consulting aims to bridge biz, non-profit worlds

Gary Dembs has spent nearly 30 years working in non-profits, helping them fundraise, creating marketing plans, and finding executive talent. Now he is trying to innovate in the space with a new company, 4th Sector Consulting.

The Southfield-based company company specializes in helping connect non-profits with businesses and governments to better maximize their impact. The 1-year-old company and its two employees are working to hit that trifecta of community improvement.

"It's a coming together of the non-profit, corporations and the government to create the fourth sector," Dembs says. "It's working for community solutions across sectors."

Metro Detroit, with an active non-profit and business community working to improve the region, is prime for that sort of collaboration, such as the Detroit Blight Authority's work or local corporate leaders banding together to purchase new first-responder vehicles.

4th Sector Consulting is currently working with a local health-insurance company on where best to give its charitable dollars. The idea is to maximize their impact by carefully thinking about where they are going.

"Is it the right strategy?" Dembs says. "Does it help them build their business?"

Source: Gary Dembs, CEO of 4th Sector Consulting
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Scratch Golf Clubs moves to Berkley from Tennessee

Scratch Golf Clubs has made the move from Tennessee to Berkley, opening up a retail outlet next to the Vinsetta Garage on Woodward.

The custom-golf-club company is also planning to move its grinding operations to Warren. It's a move that could add up to an investment of $1 million in Metro Detroit and bring 8 new jobs to the region. The reasons why are as simple as familiarity and the opportunity that comes with a major metro region.

"Most of us are from Michigan," says Ari Techner, president & CEO of Scratch Golf Clubs. "We were looking for a bigger city to sink our roots in."

Scratch Golf Clubs specializes in making custom golf clubs with radar and scan equipment that gauges a player's point of attack on the ball. It also shapes the club's head, weight, shaft rigidity and attack angle to fit the golfer's swing. The idea is to change the club to maximize the player’s swing instead of trying to get the player to change their swing to fit the club.

"We produce a club that fits a player better much better than anywhere else," Techner says.

The 10-year-old company executed the move late last summer and immediately saw a bump in sales with the new location. It expects to score a significant sales increase during next year’s golf season.

Source: Ari Techner, president & CEO of Scratch Golf Clubs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Farmington Hills-based assure360 adds 5 jobs

What was once known as National Default Exchange (NDeX) is now rebranded as assure360.

The Farmington Hills-based company provided comprehensive mortgage default processing services to law firms for its first seven years. Now it has expanded its service offerings to include back-end IT and secure cloud computing services to vehicle insurance, banking and financing businesses by leveraging its experience in handling the backend of mortgage default processing.

"This is where our expertise is invaluable and the products we offer have value," says Scott Goldstein, president & CEO of assure360. "I think we are on the cusp of something big."

The experience is valuable because more federal regulations in finance and banking means more companies should be looking for service providers with assure360's experience. The firm also offers secure cloud computing by owning its own data centers.

The 7-year-old company has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 35 employees. Those new hires were for software engineers and business analysts. It is also looking to hire two more people right now.

Source: Scott Goldstein, president & CEO of assure360
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Peteet's Famous Cheesecakes creates following in Oak Park

The Peteet family ran its own real-estate company for decades until the recession hit and the bottom fell out of the real-estate market. To put it simply, the business lost everything. So the family decided to embark on a new venture, cheesecake.

"I looked around and said something has to change," says Patrick Peteet, owner & head baker of Peteet's Famous Cheesecakes. "That’s when we started the cheesecake bakery."

The Oak Park-based business has made a bit of a name for itself in its first three years. Its cheesecakes are all made in Michigan, from scratch, and always consist of two layers. They are certified kosher. The bakery started out with 10 flavors and now has more than 90 flavors in its portfolio.

"We have some flavors you have probably never heard of," Peteet says. He adds that the baker's best seller is Sweet Potato Cheesecake.

Peteet's Famous Cheesecake can be found in 15 restaurants across Metro Detroit. It is expanding into other sweets, such as ice cream, cookies and pushup pops. The bakery has reached the point now that 50 percent of its retail business comes from outside of Oak Park. The company also plans to open a second location next year.

Source: Patrick Peteet, owner & head baker of Peteet's Famous Cheesecakes
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Acme Group leverages green products for growth

The Acme Group is finding its inner-green self with its latest two products to hit the market.

The Bloomfield Hills-based firm is launching its ComfortSpan seating technology, which should allow vehicle seats to become lighter and use less materials. It's also starting to sell its NueBond filtration system that helps facilitate the recycling of industrial waste. The company, which employs about 150 people, has hired three over the last year.

"We are heading toward our break-out year," says Stephen Couchman, director of marketing for The Acme Group. "We have two products that are really taking the industry by storm."

The NueBond technology takes things like paint sludge left over from manufacturing and filters it out to be used as plastic resin. It is currently working with Detroit Diesel to take this waste that would normally end up in a landfill and turn it into a viable commodity the company can sell.

"It's literally millions of pounds per year," Couchman says.

The ComfortSpan technology utilizes new suspension fabrics in vehicle seats. This technology eliminates the need for the springs, foam, clips and other bulky attachment mechanisms. That can save up to nine pounds per seat in extra material.

"It's super durable," Couchman says. "We have broken testing equipment on this."

Source: Stephen Couchman, director of marketing for The Acme Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

UnlimApps spins out C2C Apps video-game startup

UnlimApps got its start on the whim of a University of Michigan student who was fascinated with mobile apps. Now the company is spinning out a video game startup for mobile devices called C2C Apps.

The Dearborn-based firm and its team of two people got its start making mobile apps, such as UnlimTones and UnlimDownloads, the company's two best-selling products. UnlimDownloads is a full-featured download manager while UnlimTones focuses on custom-made ringtones.

"It allows you to take a song from your phone and edit into a ringtone," says Val Gui, business manager at UnlimApps.

The two-person team behind UnlimApps is now working on C2C Apps, which will focus on making video games for mobile apps. It has released two games so far, including one last week called Poppin Challenge. Its first game, Chain Reaction - Connect the Dots, averages about 500 downloads each day.

Source: Val Gui, business manager at UnlimApps
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Frog AGV Systems opens manufacturing facility

Frog AGV Systems has moved its offices from Auburn Hills to a new facility in Macomb Township that should allow it diversify its service offerings and set the stage for future growth.

"We can not only do sales and services but manufacturing of automated guided vehicles," says David Noble, vice president of business development for Frog AGV Systems.

The 30-year-old company describes itself as a "global material handling company that develops, implements and markets Automated Guided Vehicle Systems (AGVs), navigation hardware, and software" used in manufacturing and warehousing industries. In short, it specializes in self-driving forklift technology, similar to Google’s self-driving car.

It previously specialized in sales and service at its former location. The move to Macomb Township in April provided the company with a manufacturing facility that it hopes to attract more customers over the next year.

"If we can do the engineering and manufacturing ourselves we don’t have to outsource it," Noble says. "It allows us more flexibility in what we can do."

Frog AGV Systems has hired three people over the last year, including a project engineer, a software engineer and an executive. The company now employs 80 people globally with a dozen of those employees being based in Detroit. Noble expects its Metro Detroit staff to grow over the next year as the new manufacturing facility opens up more opportunities to do more business.

"The move will allow us to secure more projects," Noble says.

Source: David Noble, vice president of business development for Frog AGV Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Snapshot Design's growth in mobile leads to more hires

Some businesses grow. Some businesses evolve. Snapshot Design is doing both.

"We have evolved more than anything," says Tom Veselenak, partner with Snapshot Design.

The St. Clair Shores-based company specializes in building e-commerce avenues for direct marketing firms and other website-design functions. It has a core customer base of about 40 clients with revenues that range between $20 million and $150 million.

Those customers have engaged Snapshot Design to help redesign their websites to accommodate users from a broad range of mobile devices. Snapshot Design has launched eight of these sites so far this year. That is the most it has ever done in a year and there are still more in the pipeline.

"The amount of people using mobile devices to shop is growing dramatically," Veselenak says. "For many of our customers it is very necessary."

That has allowed the 12-year-old company to expand its staff to 15 employees and the occasional intern. It has hired three people over the last year, creating jobs for software programers and project managers. The company gets most of its talent from local universities.

"We are very proud of that," Veselenak says.

Source: Tom Veselenak, partner with Snapshot Design
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ford acquires Internet radio startup Livio

Ford has acquired Livio, the tech startup based in Ferndale. The terms of the deal were not released.

Livio, formerly Livio Radio, got its start making Internet radios. It has since evolved to make software that enhances in-car connectivity between the vehicle and the electronics its passengers use. Ford plans to allow the startup to keep traveling down its current path, leaving its staff intact at its home in Ferndale.

"It's a win not just for our staff but for entrepreneurs all over southeast Michigan," says Jake Sigal, CEO of Livio.

He adds that his startup's "plans haven't changed" after the acquisition, which includes continuing its hiring. It currently has four positions open for software developers (more info on those positions here) on top of its staff of 11 employees, four independent contractors and a few interns.

Livio also plans to continue working to set the bar in its sector by developing new intellectual property and products. "I can guarantee we will always come out with new stuff," Sigal says.

Source: Jake Sigal, CEO of Livio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Bill Proctor and Assoc. focuses on finding truth in justice system

Searching out the truth might sound a tad cliché when it's used in the mission statement of a business, but these are words that mean a lot to Bill Proctor.

The recently retired TV news reporter has launched Bill Proctor and Associates in Farmington Hills. Proctor describes himself as "an activist for truth," and his company will focus on providing communications, investigative and legal services to individuals and businesses tangled in the U.S. legal system.

"I have found that the criminal justice system makes mistakes," Proctor says. "I am being kind. These mistakes ruin the lives of people, so for me the truth is very important."

Proctor worked for nearly 40 years in broadcast journalism before retiring in May. A majority of his career was spent at WXYZ Channel 7 in Detroit. He also served as a police officer in the Federal Protective Service while attending the University of Maryland.

Bill Proctor and Associates is composed of two employees and 24 independent contractors. It is looking at adding interns in the not-too-distant future. That staff will provide communications services, such as marketing, public relations, media training, crisis management, and multimedia production. It will also provide investigative and legal services, which includes investigations, subject/video surveillance, witness location, vendor theft, and background checks.

"I literally have a courtroom under my umbrella for mock trials and trial prep," Proctor says.

Source: Bill Proctor, president & CEO of Bill Proctor and Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Blue Force Services expands into security sector, hires veterans

Blue Force Services is expanding into the security sector, diversifying its customer base and hiring a few veterans to meet its new product needs.

The Farmington Hills-based company, a subsidiary of ASG Renaissance, specializes in providing services in the defense industry, such as helping firms recruit and place technical personnel, providing engineering services, integrated logistics, and maintenance support, and development of technical publications/documentation.

But with the recent contraction of government spending in the defense industry, Blue Force Services has been expanding into security services, such as security evaluation, threat assessments, emergency action plans, surveillance detection, security training and event security.

"We have moved our focus to fill the gaps," says Richard Simon, vice president of sales & operations for Blue Force Services.

That diversification has allowed Blue Force Security to grow its revenue about 7 percent over the last year. Security services now makes up 30 percent of the company’s bottom line. The company has also hired two people over the last year, both of whom are veterans.

"We see a tremendous amount of talent coming out of the military as they come back from Iraq and Afghanistan," Simon says.

Source: Richard Simon, vice president of sales & operations for Blue Force Services
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tech firm Godlan continues growth streak in Clinton Township

Getting through the recession was a tall order for a number of manufacturers and the companies that service them. But many of those that survived have enjoyed significant growth since 2009.

Godlan is one of those companies.

"The companies that survived and emerged figured out they had to do more with less," says Ed Lanko, president & owner of Godlan.

The Clinton Township-based tech firm sells Infor's Product Configuration Management software, which helps manufacturers streamline the production and sales of their products. It also provides consulting services to manage that software. Its client roster consists of about 250 manufacturers from a variety of industries, such as aerospace, metal fabrication and automotive, among others.

Godlan has enjoyed double-digit gains each year since the end of the recession while responding to the demands of its industry. That has allowed Godlan to increase its staff to 35 people after making seven hires over the last year. It's a growth streak Lanko expects to continue well into next year.

"We are forecasting 20-percent growth year over year in our core business," Lanko says. "That translates roughly to personnel as well."

Source: Ed Lanko, president & owner of Godlan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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