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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.

Trent Design grows staff thanks to manufacturing website work

There is no denying that Trent Design is a new economy company. The marketing firm specializes in design, specifically website design. So it’s a little amusing that the biggest driver of its recent growth is an old economy sector, manufacturing.

Trent Design has handled the website designs/redesigns of a number of big-name manufacturers over the last year, including Brasco International. Trent Design is currently working on new websites for Pennsylvania Steel and Jac Products. The trend started when Eaton Steel first reached out to Trent Design to redesign its website a couple of years ago. That led to a number of Eaton Steel's sister firms and manufacturers it works with following suit.

"We have done several manufacturing sites, which has helped us get even more manufacturing website work," says Marilyn Trent, principal of Trent Design. "I feel manufacturing can use our help."

That has allowed the Rochester-based company to hire a new brand strategist over the last year. It now employs five full-time employees, three part-timers and the occasional intern. Many of these employees have stayed with the firm for many years after they hired in. "When I hire them, they stay with me," Trent says.

Trent Design also opened an office in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood a couple of years ago. Trent thinks she could add another person or two to her staff in the next year but still wants to keep her company small.

"I want to keep a boutique-size agency that does great work and provides great customer service," Trent says.

Source: Marilyn Trent, principal of Trent Design
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Great Lakes Systems & Technology aims to become prime govt contractor

Gerald "Jerry" Lane has spent most of his career working for someone else. He recently turned that equation around by working for himself running Great Lakes Systems & Technology, a defense technology firm. Now he is aiming to build a team of employees under him.

"I want to turn the business into a prime contractor and build unmanned systems," Lane says. "I want to bid on these projects as a prime contractor."

A prime contractor is licensed to hold direct government contracts and to divvy out the work to other subcontractors. Great Lakes Systems & Technology currently services small business in the defense sector that need a marketing/manufacturing representative, engineering, business development and project management. The Chesterfield Township-based firm currently serves a handful of firms of various sizes, but Lane declined to name any of them because of confidentiality agreements. It also works with the annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition at Oakland University.

Lane has spent most of the last few decades doing that sort of work for larger firms that are centered around the TARDEC and TACOM facilities in Warren. He struck out on his own last year by starting Great Lakes Systems & Technology.

"It was certainly my strong suit," Lane says. "I am very well connected in the ground vehicle community. I started in TARDEC in 1976."

He plans to put together a small team by the end of this winter so he can become a prime contractor for the U.S. government.

Source: Gerald "Jerry" Lane, president & owner of Great Lakes Systems & Technology
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Insight Technologies grows revenue on strongest year yet

Michael Wade spent 20 years helping manage communication networks and data centers for large companies. Then he decided to take things into his own hands and start his own business, Insight Technologies.

"I thought there has to be a better way to do this," Wade says. "What I mean by a better way is higher quality for the customer."

Insight Technologies provides turn-key solutions for advanced corporate communications networks and data center systems. The Shelby Township-based firm did everything it could to stay afloat when it first launched four years ago. Wade describes working in those first few years as "survival mode."

Insight Technologies survived. Then it, like many other companies that were able to make it through the recession, thrived. Its revenue spiked 23 percent in 2013.

"Last year was our strongest year yet," Wade says.

He credits Insight Technologies' rise in business to an improving economy that has more businesses spending on updating their technology. Those firms that cut back on technology upgrades during the downturn now see the need to improve their IT infrastructure.

Wade always wanted to run his own business and is living that dream now. Currently he is his only employee, and he expects Insight Technologies to stay that way.

"I just enjoy doing it the way it is," Wade says.

Source: Michael Wade, principal of Insight Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Diversified Legal Staffing helps 50 legal pros find jobs

Finding a job in the legal world is far from as easy as it used to be. There is no shortage of news stories about too many attorneys graduating from law school for too few jobs. That’s why the team at Diversified Legal Staffing was happy to help 50 people find work in the legal world in 2013.

"We are flat-out overlawyered," says Mark Grobbel, owner of Diversified Legal Staffing. "We have too many attorneys to meet the demand."

The Bingham Farms-based company, an affiliate of D Diversified Services, helps professionals in the legal world find work. Those jobs range from attorneys to paralegals to legal administrative assistants.

Grobbel has been an attorney for 30 years and worked in legal staffing for 18 of those years. He started Diversified Legal Staffing in 2007 after being encouraged by a friend who owns D Diversified Services. Diversified Legal Staffing now employs a staff of six people.

Grobbel is pivoting his business plan by moving to a fixed-price hourly model for routine attorney document reviews. D Diversified Services will supply licensed attorneys at $30 per hour while carrying the cost of employing the attorneys. Grobbel hopes cost-effective pricing like this will lead to even more for the legal workers in Metro Detroit.

"If there is anyway to expand the pie, this is the way to do it," Grobbel says.

Source: Mark Grobbel, owner of Diversified Legal Staffing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Genesis Genetics hires 6, moves to larger Plymouth facility

Genesis Genetics has expanded its staff over the last year and is now moving to a bigger facility in downtown Plymouth to accommodate that growth.

The 13-year-old life sciences firm specializes in developing disease-detection technology that utilizes in vitro fertilization. Genesis Genetics has hired six people (laboratory scientists and administrative professionals) over the last year, expanding its staff to 40 employees, including 35 in Metro Detroit.

"We're growing pretty strongly," says Tony Gordon, managing director of Genesis Genetics. "We're at 40-45 percent growth."

Genesis Genetics was based in Detroit before making the move to Plymouth. It also has a satellite lab in Phoenix. The new space in Plymouth is roughly double the size of its old home, which the company expects will help facilitate its growth. Gordon says the new facility will allow for faster turn around time for its research, easier access to Metro Airport and closer proximity to the University of Michigan.

"It's a little bit of all of those things," Gordon says.

Genesis Genetics’ has two primary fertility technologies: Preimplantation Genetic Screening and Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis. Preimplantation Genetic Screening is a technology where an embryo can be transferred in an in vitro fertilization cycle after being tested for chromosomal abnormalities. Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis is a laboratory procedure that is used in conjunction with in vitro fertilization to help detect certain single-gene diseases.

The number of testing embryos Genesis Genetics uses for this technology has gone up considerably over the last year. It has processed more than 1,000 extra samples in 2013 and expects that number to continue to rise.

"We expect to keep growing," Gordon says.

Source: Tony Gordon, managing director of Genesis Genetics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

SmartFinds Internet Marketing moves to bigger Birmingham office

Last year was a bit of a transition year for SmartFinds Internet Marketing.

The 27-year-old firm has moved to a new home, hired a handful of people and started to sharpen its aim on the services it provides.

"We have been focusing our message to our clients that we are marketeers more than a technology company," says Melih Oztalay, CEO of SmartFinds Internet Marketing. He further explains that in his experience that tech companies are more "order takers" while marketing firms work more collaboratively with their clients to shape messages in digital worlds.

SmartFinds Internet Marketing has been based in downtown Birmingham for most of its existence. Last year it moved into a bigger space, which measures about 1,000 square feet in more elbow room, on the other side of Old Woodward Avenue above Jos A Bank.

SmartFinds Internet Marketing has also hired four people in the last year, mostly account managers. Those were replacement hires for the company that currently employs 15 people but is aiming to grow that number in 2014.

To do that, Oztalay is turning the firm so it can provide more responsive web design. It is also looking to better keep up with Google searches.

"It's no longer about keyword searches," Oztalay says. "It's going to be about optimizing conversation."

Source: Melih Oztalay, CEO of  SmartFinds Internet Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit's EO Accelerator sparks national program

What started out as a simple program to make good entrepreneurs in Metro Detroit better has grown into a global program.

The Detroit chapter of Entrepreneurs' Organization launched is own accelerator program in 2006. The aim is to help grow small businesses with six figures of revenue into seven-figure corporations through education and mentorship.

"We want entrepreneurs to continue to learn and grow and become better, stronger leaders," says Matt Farrell, president-election of the Detroit chapter of Entrepreneurs' Organization and the champion of Entrepreneurs' Organization Detroit Accelerator.

The three-year accelerator program offers a handful of educational seminars, ranging from how to grow sales to how to best deal with human resources. The program also pairs the entrepreneurs with local business people to provide mentorship and help enforce accountability. Most of the accelerator programs now offered around the world through Entrepreneurs' Organization have 15-22 participants on average.

Entrepreneurs' Organization Detroit Accelerator averages about 20 participants annually. Some of its alumni include Blue Newt Software (a software firm in downtown Ann Arbor) and Winning Futures, a non-profit focused on providing mentoring opportunities.

"The program has grown," Farrell says. "We have 17 participants with revenue north of $250,000 but less than $1 million."

Source: Matt Farrell, president-election of the Detroit chapter of Entrepreneurs' Organization
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Software startup iziSurvey launches in Metro Detroit

A European-developed software startup is launching its U.S. operations of out Metro Detroit this winter.

Digital survey startup iziSurvey was first developed at Universum College in Kosovo when a political science professor (Ridvan Peshkopia) and a tech entrepreneur (Mergim Cahani) began talking about the cumbersome and error-prone current system of conducting polls and surveys in a largely paper-based world. They created iziSurvey with an idea of streamlining the surveying process by digitizing it.

"It's not only replacing paper and managing it more effectively overall, but it's adding some features," says Cahani, CEO of iziSurvey. "We can do it better and cheaper."

The startup created mobile software that allows companies to collect and analyze data, creating detailed reports on the information and making it easy to export that information to other sources. Check out a video about the technology here. The software has been used in Europe over the last few months.

The company is launching the North American arm of its company this week out of Rochester Hills. The startup has a team of nine people and is eyeing a move to downtown Detroit over the next couple of months. One of iziSurvey’s executives, Edi Demaj, has worked with tech startups in the M@dison Block and sees that as the right environment to grow the venture.

"We want to be part of Detroit and part of its tech community," says Edi Demaj, chief business development of iziSurvey.

Source: Mergim Cahani, CEO of iziSurvey and Edi Demaj, chief business development of iziSurvey
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Harley Ellis Devereaux expands team in Southfield

Harley Ellis Devereaux is growing its team at all levels at its Metro Detroit office in Southfield.

The national architecture firm has hired nine people over the last year, expanding its staff to 120 employees and one intern. It is also looking to hire four people, including engineers, project managers and a higher education studio lead. The firm has already hired a variety of engineers, architects and project managers, along with a new principal for the office.

"There is nothing like new people to improve our talent pool," says Michael Cooper, managing principal of Harley Ellis Devereaux's Metro Detroit office. "It also boosts the morale of the office."

Cooper credits the firm's growth to a number of factors, ranging from the customer satisfaction with the firm’s work to the improving national economy.

"The economy is cooperating," Cooper says. "It's getting stronger. Our clients are more active."

Harley Ellis Devereaux is 106 years old. The firm offers a wide variety of services, ranging from planning, architecture, engineering, landscape architecture, interior design, and construction services. It has offices in Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

Source: Michael Cooper, managing principal of Harley Ellis Devereaux's Metro Detroit office
Writer: Jon Zemke

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