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Local startups score at Social Entrepreneurship Challenge

Sixty thousand dollars in prizes went to nearly a dozen socially entrepreneurial startups competing in the Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. Most of that money went to companies and entrepreneurs from Metro Detroit addressing chronic unemployment and at-risk youth unemployment.

The prize money went out in four-figure chunks to the start-ups, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. Often that sort of cash injection can mean the difference between mission focus and chaos for a fledgling startup.

"It helps the entrepreneur take their mind off the short-term cash-flow issues and onto longterm planning," says Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps, which organized the business plan competition.

Among the Metro Detroit-based winners were City Girls Soap, which won the Women Rock prize. City Girls Soap makes hand-crafted body soap, lotion and laundry flakes from goats milk, taking advantage of the urban farming communities in Detroit and Pontiac. City Girls Soap plans to provide jobs for young people in Pontiac, starting off with summer employment.

The two-person operation is currently moving its production from Berkley to Pontiac. The company plans to hire 1-2 people (primarily youth in urban communities) before the end of this year. It plans to invest the $2,500 it won at the Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge in equipment to increase production.

"We're going to use it to build out our production facility, like buy a freezer," says Amy McIntire, co-founder of City Girls Soap.

The Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge aims to help foster social entrepreneurship across Michigan. It culminated with the Social Entrepreneurship Showcase last week, which went out of its way to help cultivate impact investors. Impact investors are high-net-worth individuals who make investments with the idea of creating a social impact and a profit.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps and Amy McIntire, co-founder of City Girls Soap
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Fooke USA sets up shop in Pontiac

Fooke USA is opening an office in Pontiac as the base for its parent company's North American operations.

Fooke is a family-owned business that develops milling machines for a number of industries including aerospace, automotive, railway, and mold and die. Fooke USA is the German-based firm’s North American arm.

"Pontiac has the potential and the space so we can expand our facility," says Matthias Hofmann, CEO of Fooke USA.

Hofmann expects Fooke USA to employ as many as 25 people, primarily specialized technicians, in Pontiac within the next three to four years. The company currently employs Hofmann and he expects to hire a handful of people by the end of the year.

Fooke USA made the leap into Pontiac thanks to the help of Automation Alley. The business accelerator's International Business Center hosts foreign companies looking at establishing an office in Metro Detroit. It provides a temporary home base and professional services that help these companies make a soft landing into the Metro Detroit area.

A dozen foreign companies have made this transition at Automation Alley since it opened the program in 2011. Those companies now have operations in the region that have created 433 new jobs.

Source: Matthias Hofmann, CEO of Fooke USA
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DASI Solutions adds 8 jobs, moves into new downtown Pontiac HQ

DASI Solutions underwent some big changes in the last year, expanding its staff with a number of hires, moving into a new home in downtown Pontiac, and preparing to offer some new cutting-edge services.

The engineering/tech firm executed its move to a newly renovated building in downtown Pontiac last summer. The company also hired eight people over the last year, expanding its headcount to 45. The new employees are primarily engineering and business development professionals. It also has two openings for application engineers and is planning on adding a couple of summer interns this year.

DASI Solutions is also getting ready to launch a 3-D printing-on-demand service later this month. The company plans to make 3-D printing much more affordable and accessible.

"We will be accepting models from our customers online," says David Darbyshire, co-owner of DASI Solutions. "We will give them an instant quote."

The 18-year-old company has also been expanding its market share geographically. It recently entered into the Cleveland market. The new Cleveland office joins a handful of the firm’s offices across the Midwest.

DASI Solutions has also been doing a lot of work with the state of Michigan's MAT2 (Michigan Advanced Technician Training) program, which helps steer high school students or recent graduates toward tech careers. Think of it as helping guide kids in high school robotics programs who might not be cut out for engineering degrees toward careers in robotics through an apprenticeship program.

"The best way to describe it is an internship on steroids," Darbyshire says.

DASI Solutions will be participating in a MAT2 company fair for careers in mechatronics and design visualization on March 22 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The fair will take place at Oakland Community College’s Auburn Hills campus in Building F, 2900 Featherstone Road.

Source: David Darbyshire, co-owner of DASI Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

RazorThreat makes security software more interactive

RazorThreat recently added a new member to its executive ranks. It's an addition the digital security firm hopes will pay some big dividends in 2014.

The downtown Pontiac-based firm brought on Deane Tierney to serve as vice president of strategic accounts last month. Tierney previously worked as a channel account manager for Symantec Corp (a NASDAQ tech firm) where he grew reseller relationships. RazorThreat hopes its new employees will help connect the firm’s software platform with Symantec's.

"There is a really good alignment between our product and Symantec's product line," says Greg Guidice, president & CEO of RazorThreat.

The 4-year-old firm has also been working on fleshing out its own software platform, which provides digital security assessments and monitoring. Before the platform provided a few pages of reports. Now the firm is offering a more comprehensive package that includes meetings with its professionals and its clients as needed.

"It's so much more interactive," Guidice says. "Everything the product does is about visibility, context and action."

Source: Greg Guidice, president & CEO of RazorThreat
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Dobrusin Law Firm pivots to focus on IP law practice

The Dobrusin Law Firm is growing after pivoting its business plan and focusing solely on intellectual property creation.

The downtown Pontiac-based practice focused on both intellectual property creation and litigation since its creation in 1999. A shakeup in the firm's leadership a year ago allowed it to drop the litigation aspect and focus on helping companies and entrepreneurs patent, trademark and copyright their innovations.

The Dobrusin Law Firm now helps these ventures file for the patent, handle the back-and-forth bureaucracy and land the rights to their intellectual property. That new business strategy has allowed the practice to hire two people over the last year to expand its staff to 20 employees.

The firm services a wide range of clientele. It started out serving primarily automotive and manufacturing firms but it is now handling work for companies across the country working on medical devices, packaging and chemicals.

"We want to broaden our client base in the chemical and medical device areas," says Kristen Pursley, managing partner of The Dobrusin Law Firm. "We think these sectors have a lot of room for growth."

Source: Kristen Pursley, managing partner of The Dobrusin Law Firm
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

FIRSTsense Medical aims to launch product next summer

It's been a long time coming, but FIRSTsense Medical is getting ready to begin selling its new breast cancer screening platform.

The Pontiac-based firm's breast cancer test uses robotics and software that emulates a manual test. FIRSTsense Medical claims that its technology achieves a 95-percent detection rate and has been validated in a 2,000-person trial.

"We hope to be in the market in June," says Paul Angott, president and founder of FIRSTsense Medical.

The 5-year-old firm has hired four people (software and mechanical engineers) over the last year to help get the technology to this point. The team of a dozen people helped FIRSTsense Medical make the semifinals of last month's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

FIRSTsense Medical has raised $5 million in seed capital and is in the midst of raising another $5 million in a Series B round. It is also working with a contract sales company to make sales directly to hospitals and medical centers.

Source: Paul Angott, president & founder of FIRSTsense Medical
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Mobile Comply adds 5 staff in downtown Pontiac

The app economy isn't just a boom for software developers and the companies that use their technology. It's also a growth opportunity for educators aiming to teach the world the advantages of mobile.

That has been the case with Mobile Comply, a downtown Pontiac-based company that helps educate businesses and institutions (think higher education) on how best to leverage mobile technology.

"We have doubled in size every year since we started in 2010," says Elaina Farnsworth, CEO of Mobile Comply.

That means Mobile Comply now employs a growing staff of employees and a large number of independent contractors. It has hired five people over the last year, including curriculum writers, trainers and mobile developers.

Farnsworth credits the rapid adoption of mobile technology since the launch of the iPhone six years ago as the driving force behind her company's growth. The serial entrepreneur sold her education technology company in 2006 and started Mobile Comply a few years later after seeing the change that would sweep the technology industry. She thinks that growth momentum will continue to build as mobile technology continues to become more ingrained in mainstream America and abroad.

"I expect to triple in size over the next three years," Farnsworth says. "I also expect to be recognized on an international level."

Source: Elaina Farnsworth, CEO of Mobile Comply
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge announces winners

Metro Detroit-based business performed well at the Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, taking home a number of the contests prizes.

The Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge is meant to help spread some seed capital around to entrepreneurial businesses and non-profits that aim to help improve life in Michigan. Prizes range from $3,000 to $25,000, which attracted 160 submissions from across the state.

"It shows that we can really put Michigan on the social innovation map," Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps, which organized the  Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, wrote in an email. "While we had so many inspiring entries, we were excited to give these top six finalists an opportunity to showcase their passion, skill and innovation at our pitch event."

Among the Metro Detroit-based firms that places are:

Fresh Corner Café, a healthy-eating start-up that helps make quality food more widely available in underserved Detroit neighborhoods. It won first place ($20,000) for the Emerging Company category.

Digital Inclusion
, which specializes in refurbishing computers, technical support and training. It aims to help incubate ideas and projects for young, entrepreneurial people. It won second place $15,000 in the Emerging Company category.

, an Ypsilanti-based start-up working to combat maternal and infant health disparities in low-income areas through the design and commercialization of appropriate, locally affordable, innovative devices. It won third place ($5,000) in the Emerging Company category.

The Java Hope Project won $5,000 for first place in the New Enterprise Idea category. The non-profit is dedicated to helping women break the cycle of poverty through business development by offering extensive small-business skills training programs.

Ecotelligent Homes
won the Emerging Company award in the Fostering Energy Affordability category, a prize worth $10,000. The Farmington Hills-based company performs RESNET and BPI certified home energy audits and installing energy efficiency improvements on Metro Detroit homes.

ReSource Fund won $5,000 for the New Enterprise Idea in the Fostering Energy Affordability category. The fund provides financial services to low-income communities in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

, a localized crowdfunding platform, won the $3,000 Millennial Social Innovation Prize. The company works to support building vibrant communities by connecting small businesses, organizations and events with patrons and sponsors to help them grow, one project at a time.

The Community Ventures prize ($25,000) went to the Vanguard Property Preservation Enterprise in Detroit. The prize is meant for a social entrepreneur impacting structural unemployment in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac or Saginaw. Vanguard Property Preservation Enterprise provides job opportunities for unemployed Detroiters, particularly citizens returning from prison, through the cleaning and maintenance of private-owner eviction and foreclosed properties.

Detroit-based Rebel Nell L3C won The Spirit of Social Entrepreneurship Award for its embodiment of the vision, commitment and tenacity present in the best Social Entrepreneurs around the world.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Lee Industrial Contracting hires 80 people in last 2 years

Lee Industrial Contracting has one of those business models that defies the region's cyclical economy.

The Pontiac-based business specializes in providing turn-key solutions for industrial projects, such as moving machines or installing alternative energy systems. The firm's systems work to minimize downtime and miscommunication to streamline the process of completing the project.

So when a downsizing manufacturer needs to turn three facilities into one, Lee Industrial Contracting can make that happen. And when those same manufacturers need to expand and turn one facility into three, Lee Industrial Contracting makes that happen, too. That has meant big growth for the company over the last two years. Its revenue was up double digits two years ago and single digits last year while the company executed its "planned management growth strategy."

"We want to to continue to put processes in place that would allow us to operate the company in an efficient manner," says Ken LaBruyere, COO of Lee Industrial Contracting.

The 25-year-old business has hired 80 people over the last two years, including 25 in the last year. Of those new hires, 20 work in the field and the other five in administration for the company. It now employs 250 people and has a few interns in its IT department. The company regularly promotes its interns into full-time employees.

Source: Ken LaBruyere, COO of Lee Industrial Contracting
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

RazorThreat leverages digital threats into new hires

A couple of buzzwords are driving growth for RazorThreat: "insider threat."

The downtown Pontiac-based IT security firm has found the biggest need from its customers comes from combating and preventing insider threats. RazorThreat defines insider threats as credentialed employees that have gone rogue or malware that have invaded a company's network and are propagating unnoticed inside it.

"It's really now about the insider threat, whether it comes from a nation state or a rogue employee," says Greg Guidice, president & CEO of RazorThreat. "It's about protecting your high-value assets."

Guidice declines to specifically say how much the company has grown or how many hires it has made. He did say that it has grown its revenue significantly in 2012 and expects to do so again this year. The company has made a couple of new hires, expanding its staff to six employees and three interns.

He adds that there isn't a trend of specific sectors of business that is driving the demand to combat insider threats. Rather, it's businesses and organizations from across the digital spectrum.

"It's really across the board," Guidice says. "It's from the federal government to small-and medium-size businesses. Everyone has intellectual capital."

Source: Greg Guidice, president & CEO of RazorThreat
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Future Help Designs hires 4 as it grows Pontiac HQ

Future Help Designs is gearing up to take a big step into the education realm, partnering with a large mobile training company, Mobile Comply, to roll out a mobile development education course in mid-March.

"Their expertise is in training mobility, and ours is in mobile technology," says Glen Konopaskie, president of Future Help Designs. "We're partnering with them equally. They will help us rebuild our developer training course."

Future Help Designs
was an early adopter to the mobile world, launching its business creating apps four years ago. It has expanded into software development education in recent years, a move that has provided significant returns for the firm. It's planning on launching a new educational platform on a national scale later this year.

"That will launch an aggressive push into education for our agency," Konopaskie says.

Future Help Designs moved to downtown Pontiac a little more than a year ago, taking an active part in the city's rebirth. Its staff has been in flux over that time as demand for mobile developers has skyrocketed and more and more programmers are launching their own start-ups. Future Help Designs has hired four people (mostly replacement positions) since moving to downtown Pontiac and is bringing on a new intern this spring.

"That intern will hopefully turn into No. 5," Konopaskie says. "He has some high potential."

Source: Glen Konopaskie, president of Future Help Designs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Curve Detroit launches FavRiot as hot-or-not website for brands

Charlie Wollborg knows at least two things, and both are key components to his latest tech start-up, FavRiot.com.

"It gamifies the shopping experience," says Wollborg, chief troublemaker at FavRiot.com. "We know that casual games do really well and that no one pays attention during conference calls."

The Pontiac-based start-up is at its core, a hot-or-not game for consumer products. For instance, users are shown two pictures of different cars and asked to choose which one they prefer. The cars are what's for sale at a local automotive dealership and the service is sold to that dealership as a tool to get people to casually walk through its online dealership showroom.

"There are a lot of industries we are thinking about for this," Wollborg says. "Right now it's just automotive." He adds other popular consumer brands for things like alcohol or clothing could be added soon.

FavRiot.com and its team of five people got its start in May, launching out of a side project from Curve Detroit. The FavRiot.com website went live earlier this month.

Source: Charlie Wollborg, chief troublemaker at FavRiot.com
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Pontiac entrepreneur teams with Menlo Innovations to create eBabEx

Moses Olaniran is a serial entrepreneur in transition. He spent six years growing his online home-improvement supply business MWP in Pontiac before selling it earlier this year. About the same time he started eBabEx, a foreign language start-up that is creating a cloud-based marketplace for foreign language services.

Olaniran is utilizing the tech expertise of Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor to build out his online marketplace where clients can hire foreign-language services providers. He is also applying to the entrepreneurial accelerator Bizdom in downtown Detroit in the hopes of building and scaling his company quickly

"We're starting with lean start-up principles," Olaniran says. "Within six months we hope to have a minimum viable product. By working with groups like Bizdom and Menlo, we hope it'll give us access to a good network of professional investors."

Olaniran is currently raising seed capital for eBabEx and hopes to launch the start-up's first product within the year.

Source: Moses Olaniran, CEO & founder of eBabEx
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

RazorThreat expands staff as it continues IT security solutions

RazorThreat hasn't been as focused on growing its sales numbers as it has been on expanding the size of its reseller clientele.

The downtown Pontiac IT security firm has watched its number of resellers jump 50 percent over the last year. That has allowed the 5-year-old start-up to expand its staff, grow its bottom line and set the stage for more growth in 2012.

"That will certainly translate to revenue," says Greg Guidice, president & CEO of RazorThreat.

RazorThreat's products help companies fight network breaches from the likes of malware, bots and hackers of all kinds. Guidice says the market has really come to his firm as businesses become more wary of keeping their IT systems secure. That has allowed the company to hire a new COO last week, expanding its staff to five people. It has also brought on a new member to its board this year.

"Both gentlemen are on the east coast," Guidice says. "It really speaks to the footprint of RazorThreat."

Source: Greg Guidice, president & CEO RazorThreat
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DTE's 500 summer jobs for youth hitting region's suburbs

DTE Energy Foundation has been helping young people in the city of Detroit find jobs for several years now through its summer jobs initiative. The effort normally means several hundred quality positions, often first jobs, for young people in places where work is an uncommon commodity.

The downtown Detroit-based charitable organization is looking to spread the working wealth. The youth summer employment initiative plans to fund up to 500 jobs this summer in both Detroit and some of its economically challenged suburbs.

"We are looking to grow beyond Detroit to some other communities that are vulnerable, like Ypsialnti, Muskegeon and Pontiac," says Karla Hill, vice president of DTE Energy Foundation.

DTE Energy Foundation made a $750,000 commitment, which includes a $500,000 grant to the Grow Detroit's Young Talent program. That is the largest private donation toward its fundraising goal of $2 million. The additional $250,000 from the DTE Energy Foundation will be used to enhance Detroit's program and expand to other communities across the state.

DTE Energy Foundation plans to work with about 50 community partners to place teens and young adults in jobs. The foundation's $500,000 grant to Grow Detroit will fund nearly 350 jobs in the non-profit's Young Talent program. The summer jobs program begins in July and runs for six weeks. For information, click here.

Source: Karla Hill, vice president of DTE Energy Foundation
Writer: Jon Zemke

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