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Pinoccio ships first orders of microcontroller technology

There is a saying about electronic startups that deal more in hardware than software and the difficulty of the task. One Ann Arbor-based venture is learning about that right now.

"The cliche is hardware is hard," says Sally Carson, co-founder & CEO of Pinoccio. "That's definitely true."

But it's far from impossible. That's something that Pinoccio is proving right now. The startup is shipping the first units of its wireless, web-ready microcontroller, which is about the size of your thumb. The technology comes equiped with WiFi, a LiPo battery and a built-in radio, which allows users to send commands to the microcontroller over the Internet from their laptop. Check out a video about it here.

Carson and Eric Jennings began developing this technology a little more than a year ago. They launched a crowdfunding campaign with a goal to raise $60,000. They raised $105,000, which allowed them to ship 2,500 microcontrollers to 700 funders. The recepeints are mostly makers and hobbyists, but with a few other notable exceptions.

"We are also finding interest in other product designers and people who want to use Pinoccio in their hardware," Carson says.

That success has allowed Pinoccio to expand its staff to eight people after adding six in the last year. The company, which uses the tagline "Building the Internet of things," plans to take more orders for its microcontroller this spring and ship them later this summer.

Source: Sally Carson, co-founder & CEO of Pinoccio
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rose-A-Lee Technologies spins out of Elmhirst Industries

Rose-A-Lee Technologies isn't your normal spin-out of another firm.

The Sterling Heights-based firm was spun out of Elmhirst Industries last year because Rose-A-Lee Technologies' founder, Patty Lopez, is part of the family that runs Elmhirst Industries, an automotive-manufacturing firm that specializes in everything from design to laser cutting.

Lopez is an engineer and had ambitions of being her own boss when she started Rose-A-Lee Technologies. The company specializes in engineering services and prototype manufacturing, primarily in the automotive and defense sectors. Lopez has built the firm’s staff up to three people as it gained traction.

"Over the last month or so we have been having steady work orders come in," Lopez says. "That's exciting because our customers are passing our information around."

Now that work is becoming a little more steady for Rose-A-Lee Technologies, Lopez would like to continue building on the engineering and prototyping services by diversifying the company's clientele. She would like to add more customers in not only automotive and defense, but also in the appliance and aerospace industries.

Source: Patty Lopez, president of Rose-A-Lee Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Warner Norcross & Judd staffs up IP practice in Southfield

Intellectual property work is becoming a bigger part of Warner Norcross & Judd's law practice in Southfield.

The Grand Rapids-based law firm, the third-largest in the state, has had a sizable office in Southfield for the last decade. That office has handled mostly business law work, such as contract work.

It is growing the Southfield office with the addition of a handful of new intellectual property attorneys. It has hired three over the last eight months, bringing the Southfield office’s number of attorneys to 35.

"It looks like we will bring two more on board in the next month or so," says Greg DeGrazia, intellectual property attorney for Warner Norcross & Judd. He adds, "We are ramping up our IP services on this side of the state."

Warner Norcross & Judd has a total of 220 attorneys on its payroll, including 25 in its intellectual property practice. Its new hires are taking on more technology work not only in the local automotive industry, but also for companies in other fields, such as Dow-Corning and the band KISS.

"We do all industries," DeGrazia says. "We have a lot of east coast companies."

Source: Greg DeGrazia, intellectual property attorney for Warner Norcross & Judd
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Labs adds a dozen people for apprentice program

Hiring software developers, especially those that specialize in mobile apps, is such a competitive task that Detroit Labs is looking to fill its talent needs in a new way. It's going to make its own mobile app developers.

The downtown Detroit-based mobile app firm has launched an apprentice program that will train new mobile app developers over a three-month period. During that time the apprentices will serve as full-time employees of the company and have the opportunity to become full-fledged members of the firm at the end of the program. Detroit Labs has a dozen members in its first class right now.

"At the end of three months, I expect most of them to be ready to be promoted and attached to a client team," says Nathan Hughes, co-founder of Detroit Labs.

The first month of the program is spent on classroom learning about writing software and mobile app development. The second month allows the apprentices to focus on internal projects. The last month pairs the apprentice with an mobile app developer at the firm immersed in the developer’s day-to-day.

The Detroit Labs' apprentice program aims to give real-world experience to its participants. It also will become a talent pipeline for the company. The program is open to anyone interested in pursuing mobile app development as a career.

"We have a lawyer who wants to drastically change his career," Hughes says. "We have folks right out of school."

The Detroit Labs' apprentice program will focus on iPhone mobile development this spring and focus on Android mobile development during the fall session. The training will take place at Grand Circus' space in the Broderick Tower overlooking Grand Circus Park. The program is funded by a grant from Automation Alley. For information, click here.

Detroit Labs launched out of the M@dison Building three years ago in May as the first investment of Detroit Venture Partners. It has grown to 54 people and established its own offices a few doors down on Woodward Avenue in what is now being branded as the M@dison Block. Detroit Labs has hired 18 people over the last year, not including the 12 people in its apprentice program.

Source: Nathan Hughes, co-founder of Detroit Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

Whiplash expands footprint in Ann Arbor, San Francisco

Whiplash is growing its headcount in Ann Arbor and its footprint across America.

Whiplash is the merchandising arm of VGKids, handling logistics for its e-commerce activity. The 3-year-old company, which got its start in Ypsilanti but is now located in Ann Arbor, recently opened a new facility in San Francisco.

"That was a pretty big win for us," says James Marks, co-founder of Whiplash.

Whiplash pulled off the new facility last August by landing an anchor customer (BetaBrand) and then finding a building twice the square footage it would need to accommodate that client. The extra space is then taken up by business that is grown organically from within Whiplash. The facility now employs four people and Whiplash is looking at opening another in Los Angeles, New Jersey or Berlin.

Whiplash is also in the process of expanding its Ann Arbor location. The company has hired two people here, growing its Tree Town location to half a dozen employees. It is now building out that building to handle its growing workload.

"Originally we had half of the building we are in and then took all of the space," Marks says. "Now we're getting the building next door." He expects to complete the expansion by the end of this summer.

Source: James Marks, co-founder of Whiplash
Writer: Jon Zemke

Motor City Muckraker carves out niche in Detroit media landscape

These times are strange ones for news organizations. The type of days where venture-backed online news aggregators cut back and passion-play news sites expand. Motor City Muckraker is a member of the latter.

What started as a news blog by former Detroit Free Press reporter Steve Neavling two years ago this summer is now an online news site that employs Neavling and his girlfriend, Abigail Shah, and gives work to six contributors that write about Detroit all day everyday.

"I write between 2-4 stories a day," Neavling says. "We just started paying contributors a month ago."

Motor City Muckraker
has made a name for itself breaking big stories in a highly competitive news market, going toe-to-toe with some big media players and winning more than anyone expected. Among its editorial highlights is breaking the story about Grosse Pointe Park Police Department officers making racially charged videos last year. That work led to an investigation of the department and the officers implicate in the incident ordered to undergo sensitivity training.

Motor City Muckraker
is produced from Neavling and Shah's apartment in Midtown, employing lean-startup techniques out of necessity that comes with budget constraints. Neavling and Shah provided the little startup capital to get the website up and going while Neavling freelanced for the likes of Reuters and Tickle The Wire. Motor City Muckraker now harvests revenue from Adsense, advertising from local businesses, and crowdfunding campaigns. It recently worked to sell 50 t-shirts with the website's logo on them. They sold 65 and raised $1,300.

"We're using that money as seed money for freelance work," Neavling says. "We want a broad range of stories in different fields."

It's part of Neavling and Shah's vision to turn Motor City Muckracker into something more than just Neavling with a blog. They want Motor City Muckracker to become a central spot for conversations about the city of Detroit and where it is going.

"We want to get to know the city and understand the city," Neavling says.

Source: Steve Neavling, co-founder of Motor City Muckraker
Writer: Jon Zemke

ALC Hosted Telecommunications adapts to stay competitive

Making a go of it in the telecommunications field is not an easy play these days, which is what’s keeping the team at ALC Hosted Telecommunications on its toes.

"It's a competitive market," says Bettyanne Molitor, president & co-owner of ALC Hosted Telecommunications. "You are competing against services that are free so you have to be clever about what you're offering."

The Chesterfield Township-based company specializes in providing hosted telecommunication services for businesses. Think audio, video, and web conferencing, hosted auto-dialing, and marketing-on-hold services. ALC Hosted Telecommunications recently added a conference call interface with the ability to dial out and invite participants into a conference call.

Molitor started the business with her husband after being a stay-at-home mom for a number of years. She thought about the idea of re-entering the workforce as someone else’s employee but soon talked herself into re-entering as someone’s boss.

"The idea of going to work for someone else after not doing that for years wasn't appealing to me," Molitor says. "So I decided to go into business for myself."

It proved to be a good choice. Molitor and her husband have built ALC Hosted Telecommunications’ team up to four people and have continued to grow the firm's revenue despite the tough competition through client retention.

Source: Bettyanne Molitor, president & co-owner of ALC Hosted Telecommunications
Writer: Jon Zemke

Walsh College launches online program for aspiring entrepreneurs

Walsh College has always prided itself on being a friend of small business through education, but now its Troy campus is trying to make that help easier to access.

The Walsh Institute is debuting its new Business Launch program, an online guide focused on helping aspiring entrepreneurs to turn their business dreams into reality.

"We took everything we do and centralized it," says Tara R Miceli, director of Walsh Institute. "We put it online and put it out there."

Business Launch can walk budding businesspersons through the steps of growing their ideas and give them access to Walsh College's resources, mentors and faculty. The idea is to streamline the business-creation process so new entrepreneurs go through less of a learning curve.

It costs $195 per idea to use the program, which includes filling out a questionnaire and receiving customized feedback. Users of the program will have access to a variety of business resources, including articles, blogs and case studies featuring small- and family-owned business success stories.

"It just makes more sense," Miceli says. "We want to give the real-time answers to what a business needs at that time."

Source: Tara R Miceli, director of Walsh Institute
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Hile Creative creates more work, jobs with biz model pivot

Hile Creative made a name for itself as Hile Design up until about nine months ago. That was when the Ann Arbor-based company pivoted its business plan away from project-oriented work and more toward branding, giving itself a new name in the process.

"Now we're more geared toward helping companies establish their brand," says Dave Hile, founder & president of Hile Creative. "That was a good move for us."

The 30-year-old company has hired three people in the last year, expanding its staff to a dozen employees. It is looking at adding interns this summer.

The extra staff has allowed Hile Creative to capitalize on its growth. The firm has watched its animation work spike recently. Hile Creative handles all of its animation work internally so it means more and more work for the Ann Arbor-based creative agency.

"We're becoming increasingly visual as a people," Hile says. "If you can come up with creative concepts visually people will get it."

Source: Dave Hile, founder & president of Hile Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

Applications for D:hive's BUILD program triple number of spots

Demand for D:hive's BUILD program is outstripping supply for the entrepreneurial education course.

BUILD is a weekly class that teaches the basics about business building and project management for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to stake a claim in Detroit. The 2-year-old program hosts four of these classes annually. Its most recent class received applications for triple the number of spots available, and has a waiting list of more than 100 people. That's up 20 percent from the last round of applications.

"The amount of applications is continuously growing," says April Jones-Boyle, director of small business initiatives for D:hive.

D:hive also recently launched a socially entrepreneurial-version of BUILD called BUILD Social, which focuses on double- and triple-bottom-line entrepreneurship. It's most recent class of 12 people are in the early stages of the nine-week program.

D:hive's Pilot program, which focuses on giving aspiring retailers a place to open a pop-up shop in downtown Detroit, is also welcoming its latest winner, Trish's Garage, a fashion startup. The owner has applied for the spot several times.

"She is a very driven, passionate person," Jones-Boyle says. "It just made sense."

Source: April Boyle, director of small business initiatives for D:hive
Writer: Jon Zemke

Carbon Media Group hires 30, expands outdoor-related digital content focus

Carbon Media Group is not trying to keep its growth slow and steady. The digital media firm is in the midst of taking a couple of big steps forward.

The Bingham Farms-based company has hired 30 people since the beginning of 2013, more than doubling its staff to 56 employees. It is looking to add some interns this summer. Many of the new jobs included positions in software development, account management, business development, sales, content writing and editing.

"We're getting ready for a big growth year in 2014," says Hyaat Chaudhary, CEO of Carbon Media Group.

For most of its first seven years, Carbon Media Group focused on digital advertising. Think banner ads, aimed at outdoors enthusiasts. It has since expanded its scope to include agriculture and action sports, like snowboarding or rock climbing. It is now working to become the largest digital content producer for the outdoor sporting world.

"It's really a growth in the breadth of the business," Chaudhary says.

Carbon Media Group now helps coordinate advertising and content creation for more than 600 websites for fans of the outdoors, agriculture and action sports/events/activities. It also has an extensive network of outdoor-related YouTube channels and its own CarbonTV outlet for online videos about the outdoors.

That expansion has allowed Carbon Media Group to grow its revenue by 33 percent in 2013. It is on track to hit its goal of 60-percent revenue growth this year, an expansion that should allow the firm to continuing hiring at a brisk pace.

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

Troy-based Autobike partners with Grand Rapids TerraTrike

Autobike, the young company from Troy that's reworked and refined automatic shifting technology for bicycles, is going into business with TerraTrike, a Grand Rapids manufacturer of recumbent trikes.

The partnership gives Autobike a whole new market for its technology that appeals to both techies who love gadgets and cyclists who just want an easy ride.

Techies get a ride that's constantly being analyzed for when to shift by a tiny little electronic brain along with a smartphone app and bluetooth synching. Easy riders get a ride without ever having to shift a gear themselves.

TerraTrike's product combined with Autobike's technology adds up to the world's first smart trike, the companies say. The new high-tech model, part of the TerraTrike's Rover line, debuts within weeks.

TerraTrike and Autobike, which builds and sells its own bikes with its automatic shifters, have customers around the country, and they  expect sales to increase after the release of the smart trike.

Source: Autobike
Writer: Kim North Shine

Donation boosts OU's industrial robotics and automation programs

Oakland University will build a four-year industrial robotics and automation program thanks to a donation from a leading supplier of industrial robots.

ABB Robotics' $50,000 gift to OU's School of Engineering and Computer Science will prepare future graduates for work in the industry and companies such as ABB. ABB will also offer an internship to OU students. Three members of the ABB Robotics executive team are OU grads.

One of them, Michael Mahfet, vice president and general manager for ABB, says "We might be a little biased, but we know OU is a highly regarded school in the engineering community. We're pleased to be able to play a part in advising the SECS on their new robotics curriculum. Ultimately, it's good for OU and it's good for companies like ours. The automation industry is changing so fast that it's important to have your finger on the pulse of what customers want.”

Dr. Louay M. Chamra, dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science, says OU's relationship with the industry strengthens its push to become a "premier research center in this area."

"There have been strong advances in manufacturing, both in southeast Michigan and across the United States," Chamra says, "and industrial robotics has been at the heart of much of that development."

Source: Automation Alley and Oakland University
Writer: Kim North Shine

H3D reinvents nuclear radiation detection technology

Zhong He has been working toward a better way to detect nuclear radiation for most of his academic career.

The University of Michigan professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences first started working on the technology in 1997 and has developed it through the years. Today it has been spun out of the university and is the principal product of H3D. The Ann Arbor-based startup launched almost two years ago after it saw an increased demand for it from government agencies and large corporations.

"We realized the technology is ready for market," says He, CEO of H3D.

H3D's Polaris H technology is a handheld radiation camera that helps nuclear plant operators find potentially dangerous hot spots and leaky fuel rods faster and more precisely. It accomplishes this by laying a gamma-ray map over an image of a room, allowing it to pinpoint radiation sources.

"We have developed a very sensitive technology readout system," He says.

H3D employs a staff of five employees and two independent contractors. It began marketing the product in earnest in early 2013 and has already taken orders for it. The Polaris H radiation camera is currently being used in four nuclear plants.

"We are doing demonstrations to show people how it works," He says. "That way people will know more and more about the technology."

Source: Zhong He, CEO of H3D
Writer: Jon Zemke

Beringea investment opens doors at Detroit Institute of Music Education possible

On the surface, Beringea's investment in the Detroit Institute of Music Education can be head scratching.

The Farmington Hills-based venture capital firm is Michigan’s largest, specializing in the later stages of investment. VCs are known for investing in startups with scalable technology that can lead to big exits. The Detroit Institute of Music Education doesn’t exactly fit that stereotype.

The music college for contemporary musicians is launching its U.S. operations from one of Bedrock Real Estate Services buildings in downtown Detroit this fall. The company will offer lessons in playing instrument and musical entrepreneurship. To Beringea's brass, the market for that sort of education is so underserved it makes sinking $3 million into the business an easy choice.

"It's really more about the size of the market that exists and whether it's being served or not," says Charlie Rothstein, founder & senior managing director of Beringea.

Beringea's employees first came into contact with the co-founders behind Detroit Institute of Music Education, commonly known as DIME, through its London office. Sarah Clayman, Bruce Dickinson and Kevin Nixon launched Brighton Institute of Modern Music in Brighton, England, in 2001. They sold the business in 2010 and were recruited by Rothstein and his colleagues at Beringea to open a U.S. version in Detroit.

The trio considered other major cities but were wowed by Detroit. A combination of the Motor City’s musical heritage, buzz about the city’s forward momentum, and hospitality from its business leaders like Rothstein and Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert made it an easy decision.

"There wasn't a city that extended this sort of hospitality to them," Rothstein says.

The Detroit Institute of Music Education will open its doors to a projected 150 students in September. It will occupy 15,000 square feet in downtown, which Rothstein expects will be able to support up to 1,000 students one day. The company is currently looking to hire 20-30 instructors and support staff for the firm.

Source: Charlie Rothstein, founder & senior managing director of Beringea
Writer: Jon Zemke
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