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Innovation & Job News

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Slow Jams doubles production with move to Hopeful Harvest

Slow Jams isn't getting just a little help from its friends. The slow food startup is doubling its production thanks in large part to the help of a number of friendly entrepreneurial resources across metro Detroit.

The craft food maker has doubled the production of its jams over the last year by working with local institutions like Eastern Market Corp. and FoodLab Detroit. The biggest boost has come from moving to Forgotten Harvest’s food company incubator, Hopeful Harvest, in Oak Park.

"They are making it possible for small businesses like Slow Jams to grow our customer base and keep expanding," says Shannon Bryne, owner of Slow Jams.

Hopeful Harvest provides small food-based businesses with a wide variety of resources and services, such as full-service processing, manufacturing, and packaging. The commercial kitchen is a big plus for Slow Jams production efforts as it moves further and further into bulk production for larger customers, such as restaurants. Today it produces 500 cases of jams a month, double its production from a year ago.

"It provides the production capacity we need," Bryne says. "It's 10 times the size of our old space."

Slow Jams and its staff of six employees and the occasional summer intern from FoodLab Detroit also started working with a distributor from Chicago earlier this year. That relationship opened up new markets in the Windy City, northern Indiana, and west Michigan. Slow Jams is now focusing on fleshing out its sales in those areas along with the rest of Michigan to consolidate its recent gains.

"That takes some time," Bryne says. "It's what we're focused on right now."

Source: Shannon Bryne, owner of Slow Jams
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Stardock, a leader in the PC games industry, is on a hiring spree

Some video game companies are starting to pull out of the personal computer market. Stardock is running toward it as fast as it can.

The Plymouth-based video game firm develops PC games and desktop software. It has established itself as a leader in the industry since its founding in 1991.
"Stardock is investing more in these PC games," says Chris Kowal, vice president of business development for Stardock. "There are lots and lots of gamers in the PC world."

The company has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. It has hired 40 people in the last three years, expanding its staff to 100 people. Half of those work in Plymouth with the rest in offices in Baltimore and Austin. The growth prompted Stardock to move to a new headquarters in Plymouth last year.

Stardock has produced some applauded games over the years. Some of those include Sins of a Solar Empire, the Galactic Civilizations series, and Sorcerer King. Stardock is also gearing up to release Ashes of the Singularity early next year. The company is marketing Ashes of the Singularity as the most advanced real-time strategy game ever. The game consists of a future-based dystopia with warring factions. Players are generals of armies working to win battles.

"It's like nothing else that has been done in PCs before," Kowal says.

Source: Chris Kowal, vice president of business development for Stardock
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Troy-based tech startup brings hunter education into 21st century

Jim Moore was working for Remington Arms when he noticed a gap in the hunter education market. That'w when he decided to start his own business, a tech startup called Hunter Ed Course.

The Troy-based company provides state-required hunter education through online courses. The courses enable people to purchase hunting and fishing licenses with a few key strokes from the comfort of their own home.

"It is a good chance to bring change and disruption to the hunter education market," Moore says. "That hasn’t happened since hunter education’s inception in the 1940s."

For decades if you wanted to buy a hunting license, you needed to sit through a couple hours or hunting classes that teach everything from safety to how to field dress game. Users can purchase hunter education online courses through Hunter Ed Course for as little as $13.

Moore has been working on the company for the last three years. It now employs six people after recently hiring a marketing person. The company is in 20 states right now, up from 14 last year, and looking to continue expanding its geographic footprint in hunter-friendly states for the rest of 2015 and 2016.

"We have a strong Midwestern presence with Wisconsin and Michigan," Moore says. "We are probably strongest in the southeastern states."

Source: Jim Moore, president of Hunter Ed Course
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Delphinus Medical Technologies scores $39.5M in Series C funding

Delphinus Medical Technologies has landed a $39.5 million Series C funding round, the largest ever for a medical device startup in Michigan.

The Plymouth-based, breast-cancer detection startup has been growing quickly since it spun out of Wayne State University in 2010. It has hired 10 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 40 people.

"We're adding people pretty rapidly," says Mark Forchette, president & CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies. "Soon we will be at 50-55 people."

Delphinus Medical Technologies principal technology is SoftVue, a whole breast ultrasound system that allows physicians to image the entire breast, including the chest wall. SoftVue incorporates a circular ultrasound transducer, presenting cross-sectional ultrasound slices through the entire volume of breast tissue. The multi-dimensional imaging captures not only reflected echoes in a 360-degree array, but also signals passing through the breast, depicting tissue characterization.

The expectation is the technology will do a number of things to help improve the detecting breast cancer process. Patients no longer have to go through a compression or other uncomfortable moments when using SoftVue. The platform is also expected to help doctors find breast cancer with more accuracy and eliminate more false positives.

"We will have the ability to help so many more women when they go in for a screening," Forchette says.

The $39.5 million Series C round was led by Farmington Hills-based Beringea. Other local investors include Ann Arbor-based Arboretum Ventures and North Coast Technology Investors. Venture Investors, Hopen Life Science Ventures, and Waycross Ventures also participated in the Series C.

Delphinus Medical Technologies will use the money to further the commercialization of SoftVue with a plan for launching it next year and doing a harder push in 2017.

It is planning to launch a large multi-site clinical study to support a PMA application for a supplemental screening indication for women with dense breasts later this year. Delphinus Medical Technologies will begin by prospectively imaging 10,000 women with SoftVue in eight centers across the country. The study will compare SoftVue to digital mammography, and demonstrate its effectiveness in finding cancers that are not seen with mammography, while reducing false positives, thereby reducing the need for follow-up testing

Source: Mark Forchette, president & CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

School for tween and teen entrepreneurs opens locations in Wixom, Troy

Kidpreneur, the entrepreneurial education company for tweens and teens, is in the process of opening two new locations in Wixom and Troy.

The Wixom-based startup is opening its second location in Troy this month, a move that should help double its enrollment. The 1-year-old company helps teens learn the basics of starting a business and other new economy skills, such as software development.

"We want them to be able to compete for an internship with college students," says Thanh Tran, founder of Kidpreneur. "We also want them to be able to build with these skills. We want to them to take this education and do something with it."

Kidpreneur got its start in Northville a little more than year ago. It also opened a temporary location in downtown Detroit before settling down in Wixom. It now teaches classes on digital arts, coding, robotics, and video game design. It averages six kids per class and teaches about 75 kids per month.

"We shrunk the class size because we wanted to get more kids more personal time," Tran says.

He expects the number of teens and tweens leveraging his course to double over the next year as the second location in Troy gains traction.

"We have a model that works very well," Tran says.

Source: Thanh Tran, founder of Kidpreneur
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Billhighway focuses on employee career development to fuel growth

Billhighway is a tech company that knows it can't just hire its way to a steeper growth curve. It has to look inside, too.

The Troy-based firm, which provides software for member-based associations and nonprofits, is hiring, but not with just an eye for putting bodies behind desks. It's looking to find people who can grow their careers along with the company.

"We focus on career development for our entire organization," says Brenda Gallick, director of team member services for Billhighway. "It's a tough market out there, and we want to be engaged."

Billhighway got its start in 1999, providing software that helped people divvy up expenses, such as dues or dinner costs. Today it specializes in cloud-based automation software for nonprofits and other similar organizations. That software platform integrates payment processing, banking, and accounting with existing systems and provides a transparent, holistic view of an organization’s finances so it can work more efficiently.

Over the years, Billhighway has added more and more staff, and it is consistently hiring people today. Gallick says that the company's team now numbers in the "high double digits" and is growing. Billhighway now utilizes an employee career development program with a goal of promoting from within. Often people who are hired as a member of the client care team end up working in other areas of the business. Over the last year, five people working in client care transitioned to other parts of the business after receiving technical training and other opportunities to grow their skill set.

"When we recruit people we look for people with skill sets who would fit in other areas," Gallick says.

Software developers have become a hot commodity in today’s economy, a reality Billhighway is acknowledging by hiring more young developers fresh out of college or a few years removed. The hope is as these employees grow professionally they will help grow the company in a number of ways.

"As we bring in new talent we provide them with training and opportunities to grow into other parts of the business," Gallick says. "We want them to bring fresh perspective and ideas."

Source: Brenda Gallick, director of team member services for Billhighway
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Community Choice Credit Union executes second merger of year

Community Choice Credit Union has executed its second merger in four months, expanding its reach even farther across metro Detroit.

The Farmington Hills-based credit union absorbed the Eastside Family Federal Credit Union earlier this month. Community Choice Credit Union merged with NuPath Community Credit Union last April. All three of the newly merged entities will go forward as Community Choice Credit Union, but the credit union is working to retain all of the existing employees from the merger and maintain the familiarity of the old credit union.

"We want people to walk into the Eastside Family Federal Credit Union and see the same people that worked there before," says Dan Munro, executive vice president & COO of Community Choice Credit Union.

Eastside Family Federal Credit Union is a small credit union based in Eastpointe. It has $30 million in assets and 3,100 members across a couple of branches. The addition means Community Choice Credit Union now has 13 branches and 67,000 members. NuPath Community Credit Union brought in 11,500 members and $100 million in assets. Community Choice Credit Union now has 250 employees after hiring 55 people in the last year.

These mergers follow a recent trend of smaller credit unions merging with larger ones in the wake of the Great Recession. Many of those credit unions tapped their cash reserves to ride out the economic downturn and were left depleted of resources in a newly competitive banking environment.

"They will draw that capitol down as they try to compete in a very competitive financial services industry," Munro says.

Those that can’t compete have to choose between folding or merging with a larger credit union. Fast-growing credit unions like Community Choice Credit Union end up as desirable targets for a merger.

Source: Dan Munro, executive vice president & COO of Community Choice Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Passion for tech, manufacturing drives DELRAY Systems' success

Joe Rocca's career in automotive manufacturing started in the early 1980s, and it didn't take him long to combine his passion for technology with his work.

Most recently, Rocca was doing so at Fisher/Unitech. Today, however, he's launched his own firm, DELRAY Systems. The Rochester-based firm focuses on incorporating the latest in technology with manufacturing processes to create efficiencies.

"I want to make an impact on the industry and then turn it over to some folks who have the same passion," Rocca says.

The 1-year-old firm works to integrate process improvement solutions for automating manufacturing, utilizing techniques like reverse engineering and product development processes. This includes 3D printing, 3D scanning, and 3D modeling solutions.
"We want to provide the technology that will help automate manufacturing," Rocca says.

DELRAY Systems recently opened a training and technology center at Oakland University. The firm recently struck a partnership with ANSYS, a company traded on the NASDAQ. DELRAY Systems will sell its software, ANSYS SpaceClaim, to 3D printer users in the Midwest.

Source: Joe Rocca, president of DELRAY Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Gerry Weinberg & Associates consolidates growing staff into larger office

Gerry Weinberg & Associates is consolidating its home office in Southfield, going from two suites in the office building at 29201 Telegraph Rd. to one larger one.

"Now we are all in one suite," says Alana Nicol, president of Gerry Weinberg & Associates. "It's a much better layout for our offices."

Gerry Weinberg & Associates, a Sandler Training Business company, provides executive sales, management, and leadership training. The 22-year-old firm employs a staff of five an intern. It is looking to hire a sales associate right now.

The company moved to the larger office because it offered a better layout without making a major move to a new home. It was also a time to refresh its surroundings by investing in its home environment.

"We are positioned for growth over the next few years," Nicol says. "Sometimes you need to make investments like this to make it work."

The company hopes to add to its growth curve over the next few years, expanding its bottom line and adding staff.

"I would like to see us grow 15 percent over the next two years," Nicol says.

Source: Alana Nicol, president of Gerry Weinberg & Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Triune Specialty Trailers grows through client diversity

Triune Speciality Trailers relied on a select number of clients for revenue during most of its first decade in business. More recently, the Madison Heights-based firm made a conscious effort to expand its clientele, which has resulted in it tripling in size over the last three years.
"We have a much more diverse client base that we used to have," says Harry Kurtz, president & CEO of Triune Specialty Trailers. "We also have a lot of business in Canada, which is exciting to us."

The 10-year-old company specializes in making state-of-the-art specialty trailers. It products now include designing and building trailers for mobile marketing, educational outreach, and custom trailers.

Triune Specialty Trailers' growth has allowed it to hire three people over the last year, expanding its staff to 15 employees and an intern. Its new hires include a couple of office administration workers and a welder.

"We would hire more if we could find more welders," Kurtz says.

One of Triune Specialty Trailers’ biggest successes over the last year is its Fab Lab mobile education and training vehicle. The Fab Lab is a mobile training classroom for training students in high-tech machining careers, such as computer numerical controlled programmers. Triune Specialty Trailers designed and created the Fab Lab for the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance and North Central Michigan College to help create more skilled professionals to fill openings for skilled machinist positions.

"It's a big issue, especially in Michigan," Kurtz says.

Source: Harry Kurtz, president & CEO of Triune Specialty Trailers
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Media Genesis grows thanks to focus on startups with high growth potential

Media Genesis isn't growing because it's signing bigger and bigger clients. It's growing because it's doing business with more companies that are showing high potential for growth.

That's not to say the Troy-based digital marketing agency doesn't have any big-name clients. It does work with Chrysler, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and city of Detroit. The latter project is with Motor City Match, an initiative that connects new and growing businesses with quality real estate opportunities.

"It's becoming a great initiative," says Antoine Dubeauclard, president of Media Genesis. "We're pretty excited about it."

And then there are the smaller clients for Media Genesis, such as Secure Beginnings. The Detroit-based firm makes a breathable mattress for infants with the intention of helping prevent newborns from suffocating when they roll over onto their stomachs while sleeping. It's a newer, smaller business. But, according to Dubeauclard, it won't be small for long.

"These are the things we are excited about," Dubeauclard says. "These are not big names, but they're important in our book. They could one day change a whole industry."

Which could mean a lot more business for Media Genesis. So far, the company has notched double-digit revenue gains and rounded its staff out to 40 employees and three interns. It has hired six people (graphic designers, project managers, and software programmers) over the last year and is looking to hire two now.

Source: Antoine Dubeauclard, president of Media Genesis
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Boutique PR firm, Identity, grows thanks to creative vision and streamline operations

Identity, a boutique public relations firm, has always prided itself on its grand creative visions for clients. Now the Bingham Farms-based company can brag about streamline operations that help transform those visions into reality.

"We have put processes in place that help us to be the best agency we can be," says Mark Winter, founder & partner of Identity. "We call it the identity way. It has created a framework that will allow us to get to the next level."

The 17-year-old company has grow its revenue by 20 percent over the last year and is aiming to hit 30 percent growth this year. That has allowed it to hired five people in graphic design, media relations, and social media community management. Identity currently has a staff of 25 employees and an intern.

"We're always looking," Winter says. "We're opportunistic with our hiring."

That growth is coming from a diverse set of revenue streams. About a third of its growth comes from increased work from existing business, a third comes from referrals, and a third from request for proposals. Its clients span a wide variety of industries and region, and no one client supplies a large percentage of the firm’s revenue.

"We are extremely diversified in terms of clients," Winter says.

Source: Mark Winter, founder & partner of Identity
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Great Lakes Angels elects new president to lead investment group

Great Lakes Angels, a metro Detroit angel investor group, has new president in Pietro Sarcina.

David Weaver founded Great Lakes Angels and served as its president for years. He is stepping aside to serve as chairman and founder of the organization. Sarcina has made a career as an international banker and is looking forward to the challenge of running Great Lakes Angels.

"I have always been interested in entrepreneurs and startups,' says Sarcina. "I was a CFO at a fast-growing startup 20 years ago."

Great Lakes Angels is a organization made up of angel investors, high-net-worth individuals who make investments in small businesses that can scale. Often times that means investing tens of thousands of dollars into early stage tech startups with hopes of locking in a exponential return.

Great Lakes Angels looks to do this by recruiting new people with deep pockets into the local investing community. It will offer them training in how to make angel investments, recognize which ones would work best for them, and evaluate real value in these startups. The organization is also looking to make more inroads with local research universities with the idea of helping turn the research they produce into new economy businesses.

"We like to say we’re building Great Lakes Angels 2.0," Sarcina says.

Source: Pietro Sarcina, president of Great Lakes Angels
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

WorkForce Software hires nearly 100 people

WorkForce Software, a Livonia-based software firm, has added 86 new jobs in 2015, expanding its staff to 520 people, most of whom are based in southeast Michigan.
"We've been on a multi-year growth streak," says Jonathan Corke, director of communications for WorkForce Software. "In addition to expanding our Ann Arbor office, we have been acquiring more real-estate at our home office."

WorkForce Software has grown its downtown Ann Arbor office to 20 people in just three years. More than half of its employee base calls the Livonia headquarters home, which has gone from occupying one floor of its building to three. WorkForce's logo serves as the building's marquee signage on the structure overlooking I-275 and 7 Mile Road.

WorkForce Software makes management software for large-scale employers. Often that software helps them make sure they are conforming to whatever federal, state, or local regulation they need to abide by.

"There is a lot more for large employers to deal with," Corke says. "In short, we get compliance right."

It's proven to be a profitable endeavor. The company consistently has grown its revenue by double-digits in recent years, including a 21 percent bump last year.

"The prior year we grew significantly more than that," Corke says.

He expects that growth to continue as more and more big companies figure out they need help to conform to new laws and streamline their operations.

"We are in a very good position," Corke says.

Source: Jonathan Corke, director of communications for WorkForce Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ZF North America to expand Northville tech center

ZF North America plans on making a big investment in its Northville facility, an expansion that is expected to bring a few hundred jobs and a few hundred thousand square feet of commercial space.

The automotive supplier, a subsidiary of German-headquartered ZF Friedrichshafen AG, specializes in driveline and chassis technology. It has a technical center in Northville where it plans to make the bulk of its investment. The expansion will allow for additional research and development services to design, develop, and test new vehicle components and systems.

"Michigan has been home to ZF's North American headquarters for more than 15 years and we are excited to continue our growth in the state and in the industries we serve," says Julio Caspari, president of ZF North America.

The firm plans to invest up to $71.2 million to add almost 210,000 square feet at its Northville tech center, an investment that is expected to create 571 jobs. There currently 53 positions open in Northville, which can be found here.

To ensure that investment happens, the state of Michigan is offering ZF North America a performance-based grant worth up to $4 million through the Michigan Strategic Fund. Northville Township is also offering a property tax abatement to the project.

Source: Julio Caspari, president of ZF North America
Writer: Jon Zemke

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