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Southfield-based Clayton & McKervey adds 10 jobs

Clayton & McKervey's recent growth has a bit of a foreign flavor to it.

The Southfield-based accounting and business advisory firm has grown its revenue by about 5 percent over the last year and is on target to do it again in 2014. That has allowed it to hire 10 people over the last year, including accountants, tax experts, and support staff. The firm currently employs 60 people.

Fueling that growth is rising demand for bigger companies to buy smaller ones.

"A lot more companies are looking at mergers and acquisitions these days," says Kevin McKervey, president of Clayton & McKervey. "A lot of clients are buying companies."

In many case those companies are foreign-owned corporations looking to establish a foothold in the North American market. Often the easier way to do that is to buy a locally-owned company in its space and turn it into the U.S. subsidiary for the multi-national corporation.

"There is a big interest in foreign companies establishing a presence in the U.S.," McKervey says.

Source: Kevin McKervey, president of Clayton & McKervey
Writer: Jon Zemke

Lotus Bank eyes 20% growth, plans to open new branch

Lotus Bank has its eyes on opening a new branch in Metro Detroit over the next year as it works to keep up with its recent growth.

It will be the third branch for the Novi-based bank, which also has branches in Novi and Farmington Hills. The location hasn’t been selected yet but is expected to become a reality in 2015. That would allow the 7-year-old financial institution to keep up with the growth it's been experiencing in recent years.

"2013 was an exceptional year for the bank," says Neal Searle, president & CEO of Lotus Bank. "We grew about 20 percent. We also surpassed $100 million in assets in April."

Lotus Bank is 80-percent owned by Indian-Americans and primarily serves that community in Metro Detroit. It grew by about 20 percent over the last year and is on track to repeat that number in 2014. Accordingly,  the bank has hired three people, including a credit administrator and client service professionals. It has a staff of 20 employees and one intern, and is looking to hire a commercial lender right now.

Searle points out that Lotus Bank's growth is entirely organic. He credits traditional community banking practices that stress customer service as the fuel for the bank's growth. It's why he is bullish on the bank’s expansion plans and hiring prospects.

"We intend to continue to grow our staff as the market demands," Searle says.

Source: Neal Searle, president & CEO of Lotus Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

Motawi Tileworks to expand into downtown retail at Ann Arbor Art Center

Retail is nothing new for Motawi Tileworks. The art tile company has been selling their tiles online at at their Enterprise Dr. location in Ann Arbor for some time, in addition to their wholesale work. But owner Nawal Motawi decided it was time to investigate retail in a more visible location. 

"Every once in a while it dawns on me how hard to find our place on Enterprise really is," Motawi says. "But looking at the parts of our business that are most successful, our retail has been quite successful." 

Opening a dedicated retail location in downtown Ann Arbor can be expensive, however, so Motawi is partnering with the Ann Arbor Art Center to ease into the downtown retail game. Beginning in late August, about 500 square feet of the Center will be dedicated to Motawi Tileworks, which will be merchandized by the tile company. 

Though the tile will be sold on consignment like any other art sold at the center, Motawi will share the cost of staffing with the Ann Arbor Art Center and the dedicated space and control over their inventory will help Motawi experiment with downtown retail location. 

"They're feeling really great about it because it's a different way of helping a local artist, so it's still true to their mission," Motawi says. "And really, I want to learn by doing. It would be a great thing to see it grow into own space, and to see if the concept is strong, and if it can be started in other locales."

Motawi Tileworks enthusiasts will find extra incentive to visit the downtown location, as Motawi says she'll market test new tiles there, as well as host periodic events during which visitors can watch tiles being created. 

Motawi hopes to begin operations in the Ann Arbor Art Center space on Aug. 20 and celebrate a grand opening Sept. 5. 

Source: Nawal Motawi, Motawi Tileworks
Writer: Natalie Burg

Social Club Grooming Co.'s "Shop Talks" not your average panel discussions

The Social Club Grooming Company hosts panel discussion that are wholly unique in Detroit. During the Social Club's "Shop Talks," panelists have an intimate conversation with an audience about the future of Detroit -- while sitting in a barber chair and getting their hair cut.

The next Shop Talk is scheduled for Thursday, July 24 from 6-8 p.m. The Social Club will host a Duke and Harvard student-moderated panel discussion on the social-entrepreneurial climate and business innovation happening in Detroit. Panelists include designer Rick Williams, fashion photographer Piper Carter, chief talent officer for the city of Detroit Bryan Barnhill, and Crain’s Detroit Business's director of audience development Eric Cedo. The panelists will receive haircuts while speaking so the shop can collect the trimmed hair and use its nitrogen content to help grow vegetation in Detroit.

The Social Club’s Shop Talk series is designed to provide a monthly opportunity for the Detroit community to hear from a diverse group of community leaders, artists, business leaders, and activists about specific issues. The objective is to help young people develop thoughtful positions on topics being discussed in Detroit, as well as increase their understanding of the positions of others.

“There’s so much positive energy in Detroit right now,” said The Social Club founder Sebastian Jackson. “It’s wonderful to see tomorrow's leaders at Harvard and Duke take notice. The fact that these students are here to experience a firsthand account of what’s going on means we are beginning to change the narrative of Detroit. Thursday’s panel discussion gives these students an opportunity to interact and learn from the individuals influencing the future of Detroit.” 

Other panelists may be added.

The Social Club Grooming Company provides environmentally friendly grooming services to the Detroit community through socially responsible practices. The Social Club prides itself in catering to all who enter, regardless of race or gender. The shop is located at 5272 Anthony Wayne Dr. on the campus of Wayne State University.

For updates, visit the Social Club's Facebook page.

Java Hope Project focuses on helping chronically unemployed

The Java Hope Project has a hard nut to crack, helping chronically unemployed women become self-sufficient through entrepreneurship.

The Ypsilanti-based non-profit helps women escape poverty through a 3-month training course that takes them from unemployment to running their own coffee stand that could gross as much as $100,000 annually. It sounds like a good idea on paper. Maybe even easy. It's anything but in reality.

"I have to go back and do what the parents didn't teach them to do, like being self-sufficient and believing in themselves," says Brenda Moore, executive director of the Java Hope Project.

The Java Hope Project has been working with women at Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS) in Detroit for the past year. The program has had 63 participants. So far three of them of stuck through it, built up professional skills and used them to land jobs. It's a step in a long process that Moore hopes to get a couple of them running their own coffee cart in the next year.

"We have to make sure they have the wherewithal to manage the cart," Moore says.

The program teaches the women, often single mothers, the need for professionalism in the workplace. It also teaches the basic of running a small business in the hope that entrepreneurship will help them break the cycle of poverty.

The Java Hope Project has recently been approved to become an apprentice program by the U.S. Dept of Labor. Moore is exploring the option of partnering with a large local organization or two to grow its reach later this year.

"I think the program will get better with that umbrella over it," Moore says. "It will strengthen the program."

Source: Brenda Moore, executive director of the Java Hope Project
Writer: Jon Zemke

Blue Heron Talent expands with international work

Blue Heron Talent has doubled its revenue over the last year and a major part of that growth is due to new business abroad.

The Ann Arbor-based company specializes in c-suite level coaching, and all of its client had been domestic until this last year. That's when a longtime global client referred the firm to a few international colleagues. Today about 12 percent of the company’s revenue comes from foriegn-based clients.

"That has been very exciting working with different cultures around the globe," says Barbara Allushuski, president & CEO of Blue Heron Talent.

Blue Heron Talent helps executives maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses through coaching. The idea is to help these companies grow by helping their leadership teams grow as professionals. It services both executives in large corporations and entrepreneurs in new startups.

"It's very in-demand because companies are growing again and companies what to be all they can be," Allushuski says.

Blue Heron Talent has added a handful of coaches over the last year to help keep up with demand. Allushuski points out that finding the right fit for her company has become a challenge in the last year, specifically finding coaches with both academic and business backgrounds.

"That continues to be the challenge," Allushuski says. "I can't find enough c-suite-level coaches with the right background."

Source: Barbara Allushuski, president & CEO of Blue Heron Talent
Writer: Jon Zemke

Primetime Testing Laboratory expands facility, staff

It's a good time to be Primetime Testing Laboratory. The Clinton Township-based automotive-interior testing company is experiencing double-digit growth, is hiring a handful of people, and is about to finish a facility expansion.
The 16-year-old business specializes in mechanical and physical testing of automotive interiors.  Its services test the durability, fatigue, load and vibration of interior parts of cars and trucks. The company has experienced an uptick in demand for its services, including landing 27 new customers over the last year.

"We're becoming much more busy and growing a lot from it," says Jim Flachsmann, director of business development for Primetime Testing Laboratory.

Primetime Testing Laboratory is on pace to grow between 25 percent and 30 percent this year. Flachsmann credits that growth to the resurgence of the automotive industry, stricter regulations on the interiors of cars and trucks, and the integration of new technology.

"I think the technology came a lot faster than anyone was prepared for," Flachsmann says.

The company has hired three people over the last year, including Flachsmann and two technicians. It is also looking to hire two more technicians. The firm's staff currently stands at 20 employees and one intern.

Primetime Testing Laboratory is also in the process of expanding its facility. It is adding 1,200 square feet of storage space and is remodeling its front office and lobby.

"We hope to wrap it up by the end of the month," Flachsmann says.

Source: Jim Flachsmann, director of business development for Primetime Testing Laboratory
Writer: Jon Zemke

Gentry Partnership opens office in Berkley

Chicago-based Gentry Partnership is opening an office in Berkley to service the Metro Detroit market.

Gentry Partnership is a self-described independent third-party provider of cost savings solutions. For instance, it pools the buying power of several businesses and organizations to leverage lower prices for things like health-care plans or temporary labor.

"We help the companies negotiate these deals with the providers," says John Syvernson, managing partner with Gentry Partnership. "Our clients come to us and buy off of these programs and instantly get savings from what they buy."

The company is targeting local automakers and their tier one suppliers. The idea is to not only help them with combined purchasing but also to look at their internal business practices to see where efficiencies can be achieved.

"We bring a fresher, more up-to-date print of the labor market," says Mike Wehby, associate partner with Gentry Partnership.

Source: John Syvernson, managing partner with Gentry Partnership, and Mike Wehby, associate partner with Gentry Partnership
Writer: Jon Zemke

OST grows Ann Arbor office, targets bigger growth in A2

OST went through a big growth spurt over the last year, and the Grand Rapids-based tech firm expects its Ann Arbor and Detroit offices to benefit from that growth over the next year.

OST, AKA Open Systems Technologies, hired 50 people over the last 12 months, including two sales professionals in Ann Arbor. The local office staff, which also splits time at the Detroit office, now stands at 13 employees.

"We have had a tremendous amount of growth across the entire organization," says Rob Kellner, principal of application development practice for OST.

OST specializes in IT services, database security, and mobile application development for a number of large companies with a big presence in Michigan, such as ProQuest and Thomson Reuters

"We have seen a 40-50 percent growth especially in application development and managed services," Kellner says. "Both of these particular areas have exploded."

That's good news for the Tree Town and Motown offices. Although a vast majority of OST's new hires have been in Grand Rapids, Kellner expects the staffs in Ann Arbor and Detroit office to grow exponentially this year to keep up with the spiking demand for mobile apps and managed services. He also says OST is aggressively going after new business in southeast Michigan in 2014.

"That's definitely an area that will see a big push for growth," Kellner says.

Source: Rob Kellner, principal of application development practice for OST
Writer: Jon Zemke

NextEnergy scores $745K grant for clean-tech startups

NextEnergy is receiving several hundred thousand dollars in federal grant money to help it further entrepreneurial outreach and develop clean-tech startups.

The New Center-based nonprofit is splitting a large grant with Clean Energy Trust. The $745,000 grant comes from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It will fund the creation of The Bridge, which will offer a suite of services for early-stage technology companies in Michigan, Illinois and the Midwest region.

"It will be predominately based here at NextEnergy," says Jean Redfield, NextEnergy's president & CEO.

The Bridge will offer incubation services for startups and entrepreneurs specializing in transportation, the grid, and the built environment. The program will offer entrepreneurial training, access to technology partnerships, and demonstration platforms. The idea is to work with local entrepreneurial communities to help accelerate the process of turning more research into viable commercial ventures for the region’s existing manufacturing base.

"There is a significant amount of supplier and OEM activity in these three areas (Michigan, Indiana and Illinois)," Redfield says.

Source: Jean Redfield, president & CEO of NextEnergy
Writer: Jon Zemke

The Brinery doubles production as it grows across Midwest

Even though The Brinery can be described as a slow-food startup, fast would be a better word to describe the Ann Arbor-based firm's growth.

The 4-year-old company’s sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles and tempeh can be found in close to 100 stores in Michigan and Chicago. The Brinery has taken on two outside distributors over the last year after relying on self-distribution at local businesses and farmers markets.

"We have pretty much doubled sales since last year," says David Klingenberger, founder of The Brinery. "Every year we have come close to doubling our sales."

Helping make that possible is moving to a bigger production facility. Klingenberger started The Brinery by making sauerkraut in his home. This February he moved his business to the Washtenaw Food Hub, a new facility that helps provide support to local farmers and food companies to become economically and environmentally sustainable.

"We're the anchor tenant there," Klingenberger says.

And it's filling out that space quickly. The Brinery's team now stands at a dozen people, which is up from four a year ago. Klingenberger expects the numbers for his business (sales and staff) to keep growing as he aims to open up in markets in Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois over the next year.

Source: David Klingenberger, founder of The Brinery
Writer: Jon Zemke

140 Proof expands team in Elevator Building on riverfront

140 Proof is growing its presence in Detroit. The social media advertising startup has grown its Motor City staff to three people after making a couple of hires this year.

"It's been a huge year for us because social media and big data are big parts of our business," says John Manoogian III, founder & CTO of 140 Proof.

The 4-year-old company is based in San Francisco. One of its big claims to fame is serving as one of the early development partners with Twitter. It currently employs 30 people, including a handful in the Elevator Building.

140 Proof was one of the first tenants in the Elevator Building, a century-old warehouse turned loft-style office building overlooking the intersection of the Detroit RiverWalk and the Dequindre Cut. It has recently hired two sales professionals for its office here. It also has served as a sponsor of the Detroit City Football Club this year.

"We love being in the Elevator Building," Manoogian says. "We have great neighbors here. It's nice being in a creative space down there on the waterfront by the Detroit River."

Source: John Manoogian III, founder & CTO of 140 Proof
Writer: Jon Zemke

Kimberly LED Lighting set to move into bigger facility in Clarkston

The LED lighting industry has been on an upward trajectory for years now as it becomes the go-to brand for energy-efficient lighting in the 21st century. Kimberly LED Lighting is riding that wave, expanding its sales and moving to a bigger facility this summer.

The 8-year-old company is putting the finishing touches on a new facility in Clarkston. A move-in is set for August. The new facility will be exponentially larger than its current office in Auburn Hills.

"We're going from 5,000 square feet to 25,000 square feet," says Doug Jenkins, managing partner of Kimberly LED Lighting. "It's a pretty big jump."

Kimberly LED Lighting specializes in changing out traditional incandescent bulbs for LED lighting in residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Often LED lighting is up to 70-80 percent more energy efficient than traditional options.

The switch to LEDs has allowed Kimberly LED Lighting to double its sales each year, and nearly triple them in the last year. The company has also hired three people over the last year, expanding its staff to a dozen full-time employees handling everything from LED switches in houses to factories.

"The bread and butter of LEDs right now is in the commercial and industrial side," Jenkins says. "Businesses are getting payback on them within two years."

Source: Doug Jenkins, managing partner of Kimberly LED Lighting
Writer: Jon Zemke

Big Air Software racks up hackathon wins, prize money

Sam Harrell is becoming a brand name in local hackathons and beyond, recently winning several and taking home enough prize money to supplement a comfortable middle class lifestyle.

The Ann Arbor-based computer programer and founder of Big Air Software works on mostly consulting contract work in the private sector and developing his own apps. He won the New York City Kaltura Video Experience Hackathon earlier this summer, which included a $50,000 purse. He took $20,000 home when he won the Code Michigan hackathon last fall. He also won hackathons hosted by Ann Arbor SPARK and Maker Faire Detroit, which included some nice tech swag.

Hackathons are usually one-day events where software developers, and sometime tech makers in general, collaborate to come up with innovative new technologies in a short, intense time period. Harrell likes them because they help him keep his edge when it comes to staying on top of what’s next in technology.

"I just like to move fast and be agile," Harrell says. "Keeping up with tech trends and staying on top of them is a risky business. Not everyone has the stomach for it."

When a tech startup goes on a competition tear like Harrell has been on lately that usually means some sort of angel investment isn't far behind the prize money. That's not the same situation with solo operators like Harrell because investors tend to gravitate toward teams with products as opposed to individuals with ideas. That means Big Air Software will probably remain a one-man operation until investors or entrepreneurs figure out a workaround. And that’s fine by Harrell. He is already planning on what to do at his next hackathon.

Source: Sam Harrell, founder of Big Air Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

TECAT Performance Systems triples revenue since 2012

There is a lot of new over at TECAT Performance Systems. The Ann Arbor-based startup has some new staff, new markets for its principal product to explore, and a new name.

The 2-year-old firm, which spun out of TECAT Engineering, changed its name to TECAT Performance Systems this summer. It also hired some new staff, including a new marketing person and CEO. The team of less than 10 people has been focused on growing the company’s revenue. It has added to its customer base and has tripled its revenue since 2012.

"This year we have already exceeded last year's revenue," says Don Keating, vice president of business development for TECAT Performance Systems. "We have some exciting things in the pipeline for the rest of the year."

TECAT Performance Systems is commercializing wireless sensor technology that collect environmental, motion and mechanical information and stream it wirelessly to a central control unit. These sensors, designed to be used in confined spaces, monitor and record live torque data from any rotating shaft. The company is now exploring options on using the technology to measure other things in other industries, such as defense.

"The product itself has evolved so it can do multiple functions besides just measure torque," Keating says.

In the meantime, TECAT Performance Systems is continuing to refine its sensor technologies with an eye for mass producing them on a much larger scale. However, such a increase in productivity is still a year or two away.

"We're in the very early stages of those discussions," Keating says.

Source: Don Keating, vice president of business development for TECAT Performance Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke
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