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Innovative Learning Group set to move to bigger office in Troy

Innovative Learning Group has been a staple of downtown Royal Oak for years, and now it’s going to become a staple of Troy.

The 10-year-old business consultancy purchased a new building in Troy last December with plans to execute a move later this year. The new office is more than twice as large coming in at 10,100 square feet.

"We will be spending the year remodeling the building and moving just before the end of this calendar year," says Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group.

Innovation Learning Group specializes in training and human performance improvement for businesses. It has grown 40 percent over the last year and is looking to add another 15 percent this year. Most of that growth comes from its mobile work.

"Using your tablet or smartphone for learning or doing your job better," Toenniges says.

That increase in work has led to more hiring at Innovative Learning Group. It has hired six people over the last year, including project managers, graphic designers and office managers. It is also looking to hire another three (a consultant, project manager, and sales professional) to add to its current staff of 17 employees.

"We are full up (on space for employees) here in Royal Oak," Toenniges says.

Source: Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

IT firms Expetec Technology Services, BCL Computing merge into Expetec of Michigan

A couple of IT firms are merging together to form a bigger company with services that complement one another.

Expetec Technology Services of Rochester Hills and BCL Computing are combining to become of Expetec of Michigan. The new company will remain an Expetec franchise, expanding staff to 12 people and hiring six over the last year.

"We're probably going to add 2-3 more in the next 1-2 months," says Michael St. John, vice president of sales & marketing for Expetec of Michigan.

The newly formed company will offer a larger variety of IT services, such as managed IT, network development, , IT hardware, telecommunications, and IT security. St. John says the the companies focused on different areas, such as BCL Computing in IT hardware work and Expetec more in IT services. He adds that the new company is looking to launch a training program later this winter.

"We're going to kick off a new (military) veterans training program for IT and business management," St. John says.

Source: Michael St. John, vice president of sales & marketing for Expetec of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Aras Corp grows new Metro Detroit office to 4 people

Aras Corp opened its first Metro Detroit office in Troy last spring with an idea of leveraging more automotive industry work. Why here instead of anywhere else in the world?

"If you want to be in automotive you need an office in Detroit," says Bill Bone, CTO of Automotive Solutions for Aras Corp. "It's that simple."

The Maryland-based tech firm makes product lifecycle management software. Its Troy office now employs four people and is looking to hire three more right now. Those new job openings include a consultant and marketing manager.

"We're actually in an expansion mode right now," Bone says. "We're integrating the adjoining suite with us."

Aras Corp is also working to host its first industry conference at the Renaissance Center early this spring. The company plans to use it to help integrate it further into the region and with its customers.

"It's focused on our products, our services, and what our customers are doing," Bone says. "It's a community-based event. We are an open-sourced company."

Source: Bill Bone, CTO of Automotive Solutions for Aras Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ink Detroit aims to take t-shirt/garment business national

T-shirt companies are a dime a dozen when it comes new business starts. There are low-barriers of entry and lots of people with ideas for clever garment designs.

Ink Detroit is the exception to that rule. The 10-year-old company has its t-shirt designs, such as its trademark "I Love Detroit" brand, in a stores across Michigan. It employs four people after hiring a sales manager last year. And now the company plans to hire a few more people later this year as it looks to take its business national.

So what's the secret to success in such a competitive industry? Experience, according to Ink Detroit's president & owner Steve Mansour. He and his partner have years of experience in fashion and garment industries, and Manour's family has been in the business for a long time. It's the type of inside track that often leaves newcomers in the dust.

"They don't have the network capabilities to get their product into distribution," Mansour says.

So the Royal Oak-based company has grown. Its revenue is up 30 percent over the last year after adding a few new retailers in 2014.

"We're curated in 25 stores locally," Mansour says.

One of those new stores is one in Metro Airport. Its parent company has 145 locations across the country. Mansour hopes to leverage those connections to launch his new Ink City brand later this year in major metro areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Miami. The new brand will be locally specific much like I Love Detroit is today.

"It's pretty much city themed merchandise geared toward those cities," Mansour says.

Ink Detroit is also looking at expanding locally, too. The company is aiming to open a retail location in downtown Detroit later this year.

"We'd like to have a full-time operation there," Mansour says.

Source: Steve Mansour, president & owner of Ink Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Reach Influence scores $5M in VC, aims to add staff

Reach Influence has scored $5 million in seed capital to start off the new year, scoring investments from Detroit Venture Partners and Vineyard Capital Group to lead the round.

The downtown Royal Oak-based startup specializes in helping retailers maximize their sales through analytics gathered from its software. It had previously received an investment from Vineyard Capital Group in 2012, and plans to spend much of 2015 using its newfound seed capital to build on that initial investment's foundation.

"We are leveraging that mainly in people and technology," says Susan Dettloff, marketing director of Reach Influence. "We plan to grow our team this year."

The 5-year-old startup has hired four people over the last year, including analysts and program managers. It currently has a staff of 22 employees and the occasional intern.

Reach Influence provides technical and design services, such as data capture and analysis, to retailers and wholesalers. The startup’s software platform helps its clients measure marketing efficacy, engage shoppers, and provide an outlet to deliver digital offers by collecting daily transaction data.

After Vineyard Capital Group made its initial investment in 2012, Reach Influence’s team spend its time improving its software platform and installing better processes in the business. It rebranded to Reach Influence in 2013 and has been growing the company ever since.

"We have grown our sales quite a bit," Dettloff says. "Every year has been a building year in one way or another."

Source: Susan Dettloff, marketing director of Reach Influence
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Youngsoft adds new hires, clients, shoots for 20 percent growth

Youngsoft is a software firm but it has found itself in the addition business as of late. The Wixom-based company is adding new clients, new hires, and new revenue.

Youngsoft specializes in IT, software and consulting services, such as staffing, application development, and niche software practices. It services a number of different industries and has 400 employees in offices in North America and India.

"We have been in a hiring mode," says Amy Courter, senior vice president of sales & marketing for Youngsoft.

Courter is one of those new hires. She has served in executive positions at Valassis and most recently at VisionIT as its CIO. The 20-year-old company has hired a dozen people over the last year. It currently employs 200 in the U.S., including 73 in Michigan.

Courter expects that sort of growth to continue in 2015. Youngsoft grew its revenue by 20 percent in 2014 and expects to hit that number again in 2015. It achieved that by adding a dozen new customers over the last year. Today eight of the company's 20 largest customers are newly acquired.

"We're always adding more customers," Courter says.

Source: Amy Courter, senior vice president of sales & marketing for Youngsoft
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Rockstar Digital expands staff, work into LED signs

Ever want to use your big-screen TV as a tablet computer? Surf for information with a touch of a fingertip on a screen with plenty of space for information? A Sterling Heights-based company is making that happen.

Rockstar Digital is turning large, flatscreen TVs into interactive displays. That includes everything from use one to help customers navigate the car-buying maze in an automotive dealership or finding their favorite store in their mall.

"We're creating a 70-inch, 3-D map of the mall," says Robby Dhillon, president of Rockstar Digital.

Dhillon is a recent graduate of Kettering University in electrical and computer engineering. He saw the rise of LED technology in 2007 and worked to created a software point of sale platform for Lady Jane. A little more than a year ago he launched Rockstar Digital with the idea of combing different sectors of cutting-edge technology.

"I wanted to do something that wasn't just software but software and hardware," Dhillon says.

Today the company has a staff of 12 employees and an intern. That team is working on turning 70-inch flatscreen panel into way-finding machines for everything from businesses to city streetscapes. Check out a video of how it works here.

Source: Robby Dhillon, president of Rockstar Digital
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LOC Performance Products hires 25, preps to add 95 more

LOC Performance Products is working on expanding its home in Plymouth, hiring a couple dozen people last year and planning to hire dozens more this year and the next.

The 44-year-old company specializes in manufacturing, getting its start as an automotive supplier. Not it works in driveline and suspension systems for heavy-truck, heavy-equipment, agriculture, rail, and oil-and-gas industries. However, it’s biggest gains are coming from its defense work.

"We have won a lot of new business," says Wayne Dula, director of business development for LOC Performance Products. "The largest contract to date is the Bradley ECP1. That is a $161 million contract over four years. We’re working on the first delivery order now."

LOC Performance Products' defense contract is working to restore lost mobility to the U.S. Army’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle, specifically Engineering Change Proposal (ECP-1) vehicle modifications. LOC Performance Products is installing track kits, vehicle suspension support system kits, shock absorber kits, and heavy weight torsion bar kits.

The Plymouth-based company is expanding its facility to meet the demands of that contract, investing $12.1 million in new equipment and machinery. The state of Michigan is giving it a $600,000 grant to make the investment here. LOC Performance Products plans to hire 95 people as part of that expansion. It currently employs 205 after hiring 25 over the last year. Dula expects that hiring to continue over this year as it works to fill up those 95 positions and attract more business.

"We're always working on new business opportunities," Dula says.

Source: Wayne Dula, director of business development for LOC Performance Products
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Level One Bank aims for big 2015 after acquiring Lotus Bank

Level One Bank made headlines last fall after acquiring fellow Oakland County-based Lotus Bank. Look for the newly merged banks (the acquisition should be completed in March) to make more news as they integrate together this year.

"This will be our third transaction," says Patrick Fehring, president & CEO of Level One Bank, referring to his bank's acquisitions of Paramount Bank in 2010 and Michigan Heritage Bank in 2009. "We're focused on completing the acquisition of Lotus Bank and folding it into Level One Bank."

The Farmington Hills-based bank got its start seven years ago. It has since grown to $825 million in assets, including the $110 million it added with the Lotus Bank acquisition. The bank has grown organically, too, locking down 18 percent growth in 2014 and projecting another 15 percent gain this year.

Level One Bank has hired 15 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 150 people. It’s also looking to hire another five people now. While those new jobs are largely across the board many of them are in the bank's newly beefed-up commercial banking and residential lending departments.

"We're pretty bullish on the local economy," Fehring says. "It seems southeast Michigan is fairing pretty well right now."

Source: Patrick Fehring, president & CEO of Level One Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Rochester's Trent Design rebrands to Trent Creative, grows

Trent Design is in the final stages of rebranding itself as Trent Creative, a move the boutique branding firm will execute later this month.

"We do more than design," says Marilyn Trent, principal of Trent Creative. "Our current clients know that but when we talk to new prospects it can be limiting."

The Rochester-based company, it also has an office in Midtown Detroit, has hired two people in design and client services over the last year. It currently employs six people and the occasional intern. It is also looking to hire two more people in software development and marketing.

Trent launched what will soon become Trent Creative 23 years ago. It has focused on design work for most of its life but recently moved into offering more comprehensive branding services.

The firm's work for Art X Detroit was also recently chosen as one of the 350 best designs in the U.S. in the 2014 Regional Design Annual representing the best in the Midwest. While awards like that may not directly translate into more business it is another feather the company can put in its cap when pitching new clients.

"It gives us credibility and respect," Trent says.

Trent Creative also plans to become more engaged in work in the greater downtown Detroit area. It is currently working with Midtown Detroit Inc and M-1 Rail to help encourage people to continue to do business in the neighborhood while construction of the trolley line is going over the next 18 months.

"We want to continue to help people keep shopping and doing business on Woodward as we keep building this wonderful rail," Trent says.

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

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

Assets International sharpens focus to expand company

Assets International isn’t just about doing more work. The Southfield-based firm is about taking on the most profitable work it can do.

"We're just a little bit more picky about the work we’re doing," says Michael Zwick, president of Assets International. "Let's be a leaner, stronger company."

The 14-year-old company got its start helping regular people find and claim property that rightly belongs to them, such as inheritances. It has recently expanded into the oil-and-gas industry, helping property owners capture idle royalties from oil drilling and exploration. Assets International has only been doing that for a few years but today that line of work now makes up 25 percent of its bottom line, and that percentage is growing.

"There is a lot of money that is sitting there waiting for people to claim it," Zwick says.

Assets International currently employs 17 people. It has hired two people (a paralegal and office administrator) over the last year. That staff is also working to help create more revenue streams, such as helping corporations find money owed to them and create efficiencies in their workplace.

Source: Michael Zwick, president of Assets International
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Merged firms become FireBolt Group, move to Wixom

Estrakon plus Tecart equals FireBolt Group and more jobs in Wixom.

Estrakon is an LED sign manufacturer. The Ann Arbor-based company made a name for itself making signs for businesses using more energy-efficient LED lights. It has been recognized as a FastTrack growth firm by Ann Arbor SPARK for three years running, and for clocking 20-percent revenue growth or more each year.

Estrakon acquired TecArt last March with the idea of expanding its product line to a number of new items, such as floor mats, counter stools, and neon clocks. The newly merged companies moved to a larger facility in Wixom last September and now have a new name.

"The companies are being merged into one as FireBolt Group," says Philip Ochtman, president & CEO of FireBolt Group.

The newly created FireBolt Group has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 34 employees. It is also looking to hire two sales people and an engineer right now.

"We expect that number (staff) to go up by more than 10 people this year, primarily by focusing on the production side of things," Ochtman says.

He adds the newly formed company expects to add more and bigger customers in 2015 thanks to its recent acquisition. He also wouldn’t be surprised if FireBolt Group makes another acquisition before the end of the year.

"We are aiming for it," Ochtman says. "We feel we have a good story to tell and we have proven we can do it."

Source: Philip Ochtman, president & CEO of FireBolt Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Carbon Media Group adds 15 jobs, signs bull riding partnership

Carbon Media Group has inked a new partnership with the Professional Bull Riders, a deal that the online media startup hopes will bring its viewership together.

The Bingham Farms-based company helps coordinate advertising and content creation for more than 600 websites for fans of the outdoors, agriculture and action sports/events/activities. It has an extensive network of outdoor-related YouTube channels and its own CarbonTV outlet for online videos about the outdoors. The startup’s two primary audiences consist of fans of outdoors and rural activities along with fans of action sports like hunting, fishing, and skiing.

"The Professional Bull Riders is a very elegant bridge between the two types of content we have," says Hyaat Chaudhry, CEO of Carbon Media Group.

YouTube made the introduction between the two organizations because Carbon Media Group is the second largest global sports network on YouTube. The Professional Bull Riders, which has roughly 20 million fans, was in the process of figuring out how best to develop its digital audience.

Carbon Media Group is on track to grow 35 percent in 2014, and Chaudhry expects to do that again next year. "That's roughly on track with our annual growth rate," he says.

The 7-year-old company has hired 15 people over the last year, including professionals in design, sales, account management, and executive leadership. It now has a staff of 62 employees and plans to bring on two interns this summer. It is looking to hire five people now, including staff accountants and marketers.

"We're always looking for good digital media sales people," Chaudhry says.

Source: Hyaat Chaudhry, CEO of Carbon Media Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Genisys Credit Union expands into Royal Oak with downtown branch

Genisys Credit Union is opening its 24-hour branch in downtown Royal Oak this week, bringing the Auburn Hills-based financial institutional closer to another part of its membership.

"We have wanted to be in Royal Oak for quite some time," says Tom Alter, CMO of Genisys Credit Union. "We have a lot of members who live in Royal Oak and the surrounding communities. We feel it is a thriving community."

The new branch is located at 530 N Main on the northern edge of downtown. Six new people will work at the branch.

The credit union has hired 78 people in 2014 and is currently looking to fill six open positions. It has just under 149,000 members, which is up 3.9 percent over the last year. It has made $300 million in consumer loans in 2014, which is also up 14 percent. The organization’s total assets are up 6 percent to $1.651 billion.

Genisys Credit Union doesn’t plan to open any new branches next year but is in the process of revamping some of its existing ones. It is upgrading its Oxford branch from a storefront to a free-standing building set to open in late January. It is also improving its Waterford branch.

"It's a small branch for us that we need to expand for our members and staff," Alter says.

Source: Tom Alter, CMO of Genisys Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Troy-based Grid opens Denver, Hawaii offices, hires 8 people

Grid is wrapping up quite a year of growth in 2014.

The Troy-based technology consulting company has practically doubled in size, hiring eight people in software and strategy. It also opened up two more offices in Denver and Hawaii. It now has four offices across the U.S. after launching in 2008.

"We have been doubling every year so far," says Paul Tibbert, CEO of Grid. "We have seen steady growth even through the downturn."

Grid is a technology and design firm that specializes in integrating new innovations in the work space. Over the last year it has expanded its work with big multi-national corporations like Chrysler and smaller local firms, like Northville-based Institute for Multi-Sensory Education.

That has allowed it to hire eight people, expanding its staff to 30 employees and five interns. It is also looking to add a few more jobs now.

"We're always looking for software and graphic designers," Tibbert says. "There is always an open door to anyone with that talent."

Grid also runs an internship program with Kettering University. The program brings a handful of students into the company’s offices each year, and Grid is looking to expand that to include more local universities in 2015.

"Schools like Kettering are producing really talented people," Tibbert says.

Source: Paul Tibbert, CEO of Grid
Writer: Jon Zemke

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