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Immigrant turns American Dream into own business in Pontiac

Hector Martinez came to metro Detroit with little more than a dream for a better life and some loose connections to the area. 20 years later, he's built his own a business and created jobs in Pontiac.

Trees&Co has established itself as a staple in the local tree-trimming market. It added two people over the last year, expanding its staff to five full-time employees and another four part-timers, and is looking to hire even more, for jobs ranging from arborists to climbers to groundsmen to sales reps.

"We have been building up our system and our equipment," Martinez says. "Now I feel like we are there. We have the customer lists and the equipment. Now we just need the people."

Twenty years ago Martinez wanted to be one of those people, a guy on someone's team working for an honest day's wage. In 1996, he moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland in hopes of finding a better life, and choose Pontiac because an acquaintance lived there and could make room for him.

Martinez worked at a Taco Bell for a few months until a friend complained about being quoted an arm and a leg to have a tree removed near his house. Martinez offered to give it a try for $100.

"I was able to cut the whole thing down without hitting his house," Martinez says. "He said you should do this for a living."

That was the start of Trees&Co. Martinez wasn't afraid of heights and liked working outside. He bought a chainsaw and started building up a customer base. Word of mouth made slow-but-steady growth possible over the years, allowing Martinez to turn the weekend side job into his full-time gig. Then he started hiring people. Today Trees&Co does $500,000 in gross revenue.

"I want to provide more work for more people," Martinez says. "We have the potential to make $2 to $3 million and provide more jobs in the community."

Woodbridge developer continues line of fable-themed rehabs with "Wonderland House"

Alex Pereira and Secure Realty, the team responsible for the "Lorax"- and "Up"-themed redevelopments in Woodbridge, are back at it, this time with an "Alice in Wonderland"-themed duplex on Commonwealth Street.

Consistent with his other rentals, the Wonderland house is a modern rehabilitation of a century-old building. Were he to stop there, Pereira's rentals would be simple attractive updates of classic homes; 21st century utility upgrades complement the refurbishment of early 20th century designs and hardware. Pereira, however, has opted for something with a little more panache. The front yard of his first Woodbridge rental is marked by a sculpture of and quotes from the title character of "The Lorax" by Dr. Seuss. His second redevelopment is painted in the same pastel color scheme as the house from Disney animated film "Up."

The Wonderland house is a duplex. Each unit is roughly 2,000 sq. ft. with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Much work was done to restore the home, including a back wall that was bowing outward due to water damage. Pereira's crew disassembled the brick wall, shored up the infrastructure, and put it back together.

Sculptures of Alice and the Queen of Hearts stand out front. A quote from the tale will line the large planter box where the sculptures rest. On the third floor, Pereira has commissioned four custom-made stained glass windows, each depicting a scene from "Alice in Wonderland." Bold reds, yellows, and blues highlight the building's eaves and frames.

"People have this misconception that historic colors are bland and drab and brown and all tones of beige. It's not true," Pereira says. "Historic colors used to be very, very bold. They were just limited in the pigmentation that they used to be able to get."

Pereira says he received some flak for the pastels of the Up house, so this time he consulted the National Historic Trust to find colors more suitable for the period in which the Wonderland house was built.

Of course, that's not the only blowback he's received. From past stories Model D has run on Pereira and his Woodbridge projects, the comments section has become a place to air grievances, with arguments breaking out over Pereira's properties and practices. And while he's certainly not the only person redeveloping properties in Woodbridge, Pereira is likely the most polarizing--something he doesn't seem to mind. But whether his are designs considered whimsical or tacky, acts of rehabilitation or gentrification, Pereira believes in what he's doing.

"There's a group of people that love what I do and encourage me to do it, and there's a group of people that wants me not to do it," Pereira says. "At the end of the day, I think you have to be a little bit light-hearted with these types of projects. They're here today and they may be gone tomorrow. Who knows? Things change. But I think what most individuals fear the most is change, in general. We are in a time in Detroit's history where everything is in flux--for the better, in my opinion, but there's a subset of people that don't like change."

He's already working on a fourth property, 4305 Trumbull Ave., a stately manor in a condition of serious disrepair and neglect. No word yet on that building's future theme.

The Wonderland House is located at 3947 Commonwealth St. 

Writer: MJ Galbraith

(EO)2 Fastener creates streamlined car-top transport system

Richard Rayos had a stroke of inspiration the fall of 2009. The metro Detroit resident worked in robotics and the automotive industries, but his true passion was for the outdoors.

Rayos was heading out on a trip with one of those large carriers full of gear strapped to the top of his car. They carrier was convenient as far as size and staying attached to his car, but not much else.

"You don't want to take it on or off because it’s a pain in the ass," says Rayos, president & CEO of (EO)2 Fastener. "I thought there had to be a better way."

That led to the creation of (EO)2 Fastener, a snaptop rail and carrier made to securely attach to your car and easily come off when you want it. The carriers come in both large sizes and sizes small enough to use as a backpack on a hiking trip. Check out a video on (EO)2 Fasteners here.

(EO)2 Fastener has been working with automakers and automotive suppliers, selling 120,000 units last year. It's looking to increase sales this year as it targets both regular consumers and commercial uses, such as military customers looking to use the system to better attach equipment to vehicles.

"It can be used for everything from camping gear to putting a battery on a tank," Rayos says. "As you need it you can snap it on the vehicle and travel 100 mph in the rain and it won't come off."

The Sterling Heights-based firm currently calls the Velocity Incubator home. It employs a staff two people and Rayos is currently looking to hire an administrative assistant.

Source: Richard Rayos, president & CEO of (EO)2 Fastener
Writer: Jon Zemke

Hacienda Mexican Foods lands big partnership with Meijer

Hacienda Mexican Foods has signed a new deal with Meijer to produce a new line of products that will be sold exclusively through the big-box retailer.

The Mexicantown-based food manufacturer will make flour tortillas, corn tortillas, and tortilla chips for Meijer under the Hacienda Mexican Foods label. The new line is set to launch this summer.

"The products will have no preservatives," says Lydia Gutierrez, president of Hacienda Mexican Foods. "It's pretty true to what a true tortilla is."

Hacienda Mexican Foods has hired nine people over the last month to prepare for this bump in business. The new hires are for positions in production, customer service, and administration. The company also is looking to make five more hires to its current staff of 60 employees and a few summer interns.

"We're still hiring," Gutierrez says.

The 25-year-old business expects this new deal with Meijer to significantly grow its bottom line. In fact, Gutierrez believes it could double its revenue this year, and enable it to do more work with local firms. Hacienda Mexican Foods makes an effort to source as much of its work as close to home as possible.

"It becomes an economic driver for us and our community," Gutierrez says.

Source: Lydia Gutierrez, president of Hacienda Mexican Foods
Writer: Jon Zemke

Venture capital competition will offer $120k in prizes to local minority-owned businesses

An event designed to connect minority-owned businesses with venture capital will make its Detroit debut next week. Occurring April 13-15, [email protected] will offer $120,000 in direct prizes in addition to exposure and networking opportunities. Local business owners will compete with entrepreneurs from across the country in a series of venture capital-style pitch events. Attendance to events at the Detroit Athletic Club, Garden Theater, and One Detroit are open to the public through an online registration system.

PowerMoves began in New Orleans, where it was founded by current Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) CEO Rodrick Miller. The event is sponsored by Morgan Stanley and is hosted by the DEGC and Invest Detroit.

Events include training sessions, a panel discussion focused on startups and exit strategies, two back-to-back pitch events with cash prizes, and a final pitch event featuring 15 early-stage entrepreneurs, also with cash prizes.

"With all the enthusiasm for entrepreneurs in Detroit and our city’s great legacy for providing opportunities for African Americans, this seemed like the perfect time and place for [email protected]," Miller says in a statement. "This event fills an important niche in the broad spectrum of activities that DEGC undertakes to support small business in Detroit."

The event will feature a number of minority-owned businesses from the Detroit region as well as New York, Boston, and San Francisco. Mayor Mike Duggan believes that not only will it provide Detroiters a pathway to venture capital, it will also expose minority-owned businesses from other parts of the country to opportunities available in the city of Detroit.

Local representatives include Jerry Rucker and Edward Carrington of Warranty Ninja, Terreance Reeves of Networkingout, and Dana White of Paralee Boyd Salon.

Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Stratos launches all-in-one credit card for your wallet

Stratos is launching its all-in-one payment card this week, a product that aims to consolidate the contents of your wallet into one piece of durable, dynamic plastic.

"It's a next generation card that can hold all of the cards in your wallet," says Thiago Olson, CEO of Stratos.

The Stratos Bluetooth Connected Card consolidates an unlimited number of plastic cards into one and can work anywhere traditional credit cards are accepted. That means the Stratos Card can load credit, debit, loyalty, membership and gift cards into a familiar, universally accepted card that can instantly change into the card you need on demand.

The Stratos Card comes equipped with Bluetooth technology that consolidates your cards helps make sure the right one is ready to go when the user is ready to check out. Check out a video describing it here.

"If I simple double tap this card it will say, 'Based on your location you are near Macy's. Do you want to use your Macy’s card?'" Olson says.

Users can access the Stratos card on a subscription basis for $95 per year or $145 for two years. Customers can sign up now and expect the cards to be shipped in April. The cards are made of a durable plastic that comes with a scratch-proof coating.

"It's more resistant to wear and tear than an average credit card," Olson says.

Stratos launched a little more than two years ago in downtown Ann Arbor. It has grown into a new office space in Kerrytown, taking over the former home of Duo Security. It currently employs a staff of 50, including 25 people and a few interns in Ann Arbor. It has hired about 15 people over the last year and it looking to hire another 14. You can check out the open positions here.

Source: Thiago Olson, CEO of Stratos
Writer: Jon Zemke

Guidesmob grows as its app introducing students to college towns takes off

Guidesmob, a startup product from Bizdom, is gearing up to release the second generation of its higher-education guide app, and it's looking to take over the Big Ten with it.

The downtown Detroit-based firm’s mobile app helps students discover and learn more about their new college towns. Daniel Kerbel, CEO of Guidesmob, started working on the app after going to Michigan State University as an international student from Costa Rica.

Guidesmob launched the Spartan App for Michigan State University in 2012. It has been downloaded 27,000 times since. The company is now looking to release a new version of that app for Michigan State University, along with Central Michigan University and the University of Michigan later this year.

"We're getting ready to launch a new platform," Kerbel says "Basically a Spartan App 2.0."

Kerbel and his two co-founders went to Michigan State and Central Michigan universities. They choose to focus on those schools (and U-M) because of the number of connections they have built there over the years and because many of those students co-mingle. It’s a big reason why Guidesmob is going to target Big Ten and MAC schools for expansion first.

"The approach is to take over conferences of universities," Kerbel says.

Guidesmob is in the process of hiring two people right now. It's also working to raise a seed capital round to finance its expansion and to build out its team. The company hopes to raise a Series A of $750,000 to $1 million by next spring.

Source: Daniel Kerbel, CEO of Guidesmob
Writer: Jon Zemke

Brazilian immigrants launch pastry biz, Doce Brigadeiro

A couple of Brazilian immigrants are making a go of it in entrepreneurship, launching their own pastry business with the help of the Blackstone LaunchPad at Walsh College.

Doce Brigadeiro specializes in Brazilian handmade gourmet sweets. The main pastry is the popular treat called a brigadeiro. The main ingredients consist of condensed milk, cream and chocolate. Twenty-one flavors are on offer, including mint, toffee, lemon zest and sea salt caramel, as well as milk, dark and white chocolate.

"I love to do Brazilian desserts," says Danielle Cecconi, co-founder of Doce Brigadeiro. "It's something I would do every month."

Cecconi recently received her MBA from Walsh College where she leveraged the services of the Blackstone LaunchPad program, which teaches the basics of business to aspiring entrepreneurs. Cecconi and her friend, Marina Kapordelis, started selling brigadeiros to friends and family under the Doce Brigadeiro brand this spring.

The Royal Oak-based business is now looking for its own kitchen space to make its sweets, and eventually wants to open up a storefront in a local downtown like Ann Arbor or Birmingham in the not-too-distant future.

"We're hoping to get a lot of Christmas orders this year," Cecconi says.

Source: Danielle Cecconi, co-founder of Doce Brigadeiro
Writer: Jon Zemke

BUILD grad launches Alegria Pops in SW Detroit

During the work day, Ofelia Saenz toils away as a copywriter and freelance publicist. During events, you can find her selling paletas from her young business Alegria Pops.

Paletas are Mexican ice pops made from a variety of flavors. Alegria Pops advertises its paletas as "small-batch, artisanal ice pops [that] are made from scratch using a blend of traditional Mexican flavors and the freshest available ingredients, often combined in unconventional and surprising ways."

Saenz completed the BUILD entrepreneurial class at D:hive last spring and used that experience as the launchpad for starting Alegria Pops in Southwest Detroit last summer.

"I knew I wanted to do something with food," Saenz says. "Coming up with the recipes for ice pops seemed like a challenge, but an interesting challenge."

Today she has 15 recipes and sells her products by popping-up at local festivals, events, and restaurants like Green Dot Stables. She is also going to be working at the series of BUILD Bazaar events across the city this month.

"My goal is to build the business so it can be sold out of a brick-and-mortar location, preferably in the Southwest or Corktown areas." Saenz says.

Source: Ofelia Saenz, owner of Alegria Pops
Writer: Jon Zemke

Steel startup Detroit Materials spins out of Wayne State

A new startup spinning out of Wayne State University believes it can make a stronger steel that will have applications in a broad range of industries, including defense, infrastructure, and automotive.

Detroit Materials technology promises to create a high-quality steel that is both lighter and stronger than current options. The steel alloy is expected to help create efficiencies in areas like energy sustainability, pollution reduction, increased safety, and lower production costs.

"We're in the process of revalidating the technology so we can show that everything we say can happen in a lab can happen in a production facility," says Pedro Guillen, CEO of Detroit Materials.

The technology was developed by a research team led by Wayne State University Engineering Profesor Susil Putatunda. The team focused on creating advanced materials with high-yield strength, fracture toughness, and ductility. A $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and $25,000 from the Michigan Emerging Technologies Fund got the technology to the point where it could be considered for commercialization.

Detroit Materials is also partaking in the New Economy Initiative's Technology Development Incubator Program, which opened the door for a licensing agreement and the creation of the startup last September. Detroit Materials is currently working from the Invest Detroit offices in the Renaissance Center while it looks for a permanent office in the greater downtown Detroit area.

Detroit Materials currently has a staff of two, including its CEO. Guillen worked as an entrepreneur-in-residence for the Detroit Technology Exchange. The company is also looking to hire two part-time engineers while it works to secure three pilot programs for its steel technology by the end of this year. It is also preparing to raise a Series A round of seed capital.

"Our goal is to raise a Series A within the next six months," Guillen says.

Source: Pedro Guillen, CEO of Detroit Materials
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

ReNu Wireless hires 15 in Roseville, looks to hire 25 more

ReNu Wireless USA opened an office in Roseville earlier this year and is looking to hire a couple of dozen people right now.

The Roseville-based business specializes in refurbishing and re-manufacturing smartphones and other mobile devices. The new company is a joint venture between ReNu WG Holdings and IWH Cornerstone, which are based in Florida and Michigan, respectively.

ReNu Wireless USA opened in Roseville and recently received a $900,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant from the state of Michigan. In exchange for the grant, ReNu Wireless USA is pledging to invest $5.3 million in building out its facility and to create up to 228 jobs over the next three years.

"It made sense to utilize the space we already had," says Jeff Litman, president & CEO of ReNu Wireless USA. "In addition there is the opportunity for us to find local talent."

ReNu Wireless USA has already hired 15 people in Roseville and has 25 job openings now. Those positions are all bench technicians that will help refurbish mobile devices. Litman says the company expects to have a staff of 150 employees by the end of next year to keep up with the demand for mobile-device repair.

"There are a lot of opportunities in the pipeline for us to repair products in the wireless space," Litman says.

Source: Jeff Litman, president & CEO of ReNu Wireless USA
Writer: Jon Zemke

Guidesmob app makes new homes familiar for users

Not too long ago, Daniel Kerbel was an international student coming from Costa Rica to go to Michigan State University. It was an experience that at first proved difficult to adjust to but eventually inspired him to start his own business, Guidesmob.

The 1-year-old start-up makes a mobile app that helps students discover and learn more about the college towns they just moved to. The idea is to streamline the adjustment period for young people who are excited to discover a new place but too often don't have much of a clue of how best to live life there.

"The toughest thing was the weather," Kerbel says. "It got really cold really quickly. Coming from a tropical climate it was hard to adjust to." He adds that "if you didn't discover something while it was warm you won't be able to do it until it's warm again."

Guidesmob's app offers everything from Google Maps to weather forecasts. It also lets students know what options they have there for social functions, such as restaurants, bars and other gathering places or events.

Guidesmob, which went through Bizdom's start-up accelerator curriculum last fall, launched its first app last year. The Spartan app focused on helping new students adjust to life at Michigan State University and had 12,000 iPhone users. This fall it plans to expand its newly redesigned app to include Central Michigan University and the University of Michigan.

Source: Daniel Kerbel, CEO of Guidesmob
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M grads leverage microloan to grow start-up Rippld

Another $200,000 in financing has been dispersed by the Michigan Microloan Fund Program, a large portion of which is helping start-ups run by University of Michigan graduates get off the ground.

The Michigan Microloan Fund Program provides five-figure loans around $50,000 to locally based start-ups in need of seed capital. The funding helps support the commercialization of their products. More than $2.5 million has been loan through the fund since its inception.

Among the most recent recipients is Rippld, a Detroit-based start-up that is creating a connection, collaboration and services exchange platform for creative professionals and the clients that need their talents. Rippld was founded by a trio of U-M grads, Adrian Walker, Wilbert Fobbs III and Lander Coronado-Garcia.

"It's going to help both the tools and the man-hours needed to build it out," Coronado-Garcia says. "Some of those funds are going toward the cost of the independent contractors and employees. It is also going toward the infrastructure cost of hosting the site."

Another recent recipient is Seelio, formerly known as TruApp. The Ann Arbor-based start-up created by U-M alumni provides a stage for college students to distinguish themselves through an online portfolio of work and connect with companies. The microloan is funding Seelio's recent beta launch, and served as a bridge to the company’s recently closed seed funding round.

Source: Lander Coronado-Garcia, co-founder of Rippld
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rippld lands $75K, including Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund investment

Rippld, a start-up that provides a professional network for creatives, has landed $78,400 in seed capital that it plans to fuel a private Beta launch this summer.

The 1-year-old firm is creating an online network for creatively inclined professionals to collaborate, post portfolios and share jobs. Lander Coronado-Garcia, Adrian Walker and Wilbert Fobbs III co-founded Rippld and are building it at the Detroit Creative Corridor Center in New Center, overseeing a team of seven other people.

Making this possible is a $50,000 microloan from the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund, which Rippld landed last week. The start-up also received a $28,5000 business acceleration grant from the state. Money that will go toward the Beta launch and beyond.

"We will leverage it in our style to A) grow our development team, B) marketing and C) some future research-and-development," Fobbs says.

The private Beta launch will begin on July 9 and continue throughout the summer. The trio plan to focus on the Metro Detroit region first before spreading it across the country and around the world.

"We are definitely looking internationally and creating a density among creatives throughout the U.S.," Coronado-Garcia says.

Source: Lander Coronado-Garcia, Adrian Walker and Wilbert Fobbs III, co-founders of Rippld
Writer: Jon Zemke
31 Hispanic Community Articles | Page: | Show All
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