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Troy-based Expetec hits $1 million milestone, emphasizes veteran hiring

Expetec is looking to expand its team by hiring a few good women and men who have served their country.

"We're starting to place a bigger emphasis on veteran hiring," says Mike St. John, partner at Expetec.

St. John, a veteran himself, believes that experience can vets better adjust to civilian life and become more successful. He also sees their military experience as an asset to his technology firm.

"They (veterans) have more discipline," St. John says. "They perform well under pressure. They are well seasoned when it comes to working together as a team."

Thanks to a spike in revenue, the Troy-based IT firm has already hired two people over the last year, and it's looking to hire another two people now. Those hires will bring the 10-year-old company's staff to 15 people. 

Expetec's revenue passed the $1 million milestone last year, and its aiming to hit $2 million by the end of 2016. Part of that growth is organic, coming from both new clients and expanding work with existing customers. The other part comes from a merger with BCL Computing a year ago, a company that had reached its growth ceiling.

"We had a marketing and operations departments," St. John says. "It allowed the owner to focus on clients."

Source: Mike St. John, partner at Expetec
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

SPLT launches pilot platform at Magna

SPLT announced that it will launch a pilot rideshare platform with global automotive supplier Magna International. As part of the pilot program, Magna will offer the SPLT rideshare platform to approximately 1,700 of its employees, who commute to and from four of its Southeast Michigan locations.

SPLT is a 2015 Techstars Mobility company that provides an app-based dynamic rideshare platform. SPLT's technology allows co-workers commuting along similar corridors to find one another and share the ride to and from work using their own vehicles. Participants in the program can help reduce carbon emissions and lower their transportation costs, among many other advantages.

Magna is a co-sponsor of the inaugural Techstars Mobility accelerator, which kicked off in Detroit last year. Magna mentored SPLT through the Techstars program, has since helped shape the app to meet corporate needs and recently elected to run the pilot program.

"Working with startups and having the opportunity to mentor companies like SPLT has been a rewarding experience.  The tremendous energy and creativity they bring is inspiring and we get exposed to innovative new technologies and partnering opportunities," saidSwamy Kotagiri, Magna's Chief Technology Officer.  "Ridesharing is certainly a trend that we are learning more about and, by teaming up with SPLT, we can get a better understanding of that market and collect data on consumer mobility needs."

"Magna understood SPLT's value proposition from day one," said Anya Babbitt, CEO & Founder of SPLT. "Magna has helped us design SPLT to fill a crucial need in the corporate commuting space. It's not every day that corporate executives extend their wisdom to startups, but Magna is not typical by any means. We've built a trusting relationship and that's why we are so confident that this pilot will be a success, achieving high user adoption and new data points."

All from the tap of an app, employees enter their schedules and address and are automatically matched with co-workers with SPLT's ride matching algorithm. Click here to learn more about the SPLT platform at Magna and be sure to check out Magna's Techstars Demo Day video to learn more about how the company is supporting the startup community.

Visit the Magna and SPLT webpage at www.SPLTrides.com/magna.

About SPLT
To transform the way people meet and move in every major city worldwide. SPLT provides a social, economical and environmental layer to the transportation system. In short, we strive to help our SPLTRs save money, meet people and help the environment. SPLT is the recent beneficiary of press and national and international awards. Learn more about SPLT at www.SPLTrides.com.

About Magna
Magna is a leading global automotive supplier with 305 manufacturing operations and 95 product development, engineering and sales centres in 29 countries. Magna has over 139,000 employees focused on delivering superior value to our customers through innovative processes and World Class Manufacturing. Learn more about Magna at www.magna.com.  

Oakland Senior Design class helps startup with battery enclosure prototype


Oakland University Engineering students and OU INC, the university’s business accelerator, recently worked with a Rochester Hills-based startup geared towards zero emission power grids to create a new battery enclosure prototype.

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MTAM "Women in Mobile/Wireless Tech' advisory council to host careers event for women


Though women often assume differently, the career opportunities available to them as a result of their knowledge of mobile/wireless technologies are almost limitless and cross many industries. To help them get educated about a few of those career options, the ‘Women in Mobile/Wireless Tech’ Advisory Council of the Mobile Technology Association of Michigan (MTAM) is hosting a careers event on April 21st  from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. at RIIS Corporate offices at 1250 Stephenson Highway in Troy.

Read more.

OCC Chancellor's Scholarship -- qualifying students sought for awards


Students planning to attend OCC for the 2016-17 academic year are encouraged to apply for the Chancellor’s Scholarship awards. These scholarships help incoming, qualified students get a financial head start on their higher education experience.

The Chancellor's Scholarships are awarded to one student from each public or private Oakland County high school and one student from each qualified Adult Education/Alternative Education Center each year.

Read more.

Taste of Leadership Oakland to draw hundreds of professionals for annual networking night

Leadership Oakland (LO) will host its most popular event of the year – “A Taste of Leadership Oakland” – on March 24, 2016 at the San Marino Club.  With close to 300 business leaders expected to attend, this event promotes business-to-business networking as well as personal and professional connection opportunities. Oakland County Executive, L. Brooks Patterson is the Honorary Event Chair.
Leadership Oakland Executive Director, Nancy Maurer, comments that, “This event grows more successful each year which is a testament to the strong relationships that are built through Leadership Oakland. Taste of Leadership Oakland gives LO alumni and those interested in learning more the chance to connect in a fun, relaxing environment with great food and great conversation.  Leaders from many of the top companies in the Oakland County region choose to participate which means there’s a lot of insight and brain power in one place.” 
The 11th Annual “Taste of Leadership Oakland” will be held at the San Marino Club, 1685 E. Big Beaver Rd., Troy from 4:30-7:00 pm.  The purpose of the event is to give people a chance to meet Leadership Oakland graduates and alumni and discover how the LO Cornerstone Program has helped them become key contributors to their businesses, communities, and the Southeast Michigan Region.  Over the past ten years this has become one of the region’s most attended networking events.  This event is open to the public.  Registration is available online at www.leadershipoakland.com. Tickets for the event are $32 per ticket or $250 for a table of 8.
Major Sponsors for this year’s “A Taste of Leadership Oakland” event are HAP, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, DTE Energy Foundation, Northwestern Mutual, Center for Financial Planning, Miller Canfield, Easter Seals, Beaumont Health and Baker College. Additional sponsorship opportunities are available.
About Leadership Oakland
Established in 1990, Leadership Oakland is a 501 (c)(3) organization focused on business and community leadership development. The organization provides a nine-month Cornerstone Program to participants from businesses, organizations, and governmental agencies that are selected based on an application process. Leadership Oakland graduates are key business and community leaders serving as catalysts on boards of various organizations throughout the region.

"Transformers 5" lands in Detroit; big-budget film latest high-profile project attracted to Michigan

Michael Bay’s “Transformers 5,” the latest in the hit series of films from Paramount Pictures and Hasbro, and among the top box-office grossing franchises of all-time, will be filmed in Detroit this summer. Official confirmation comes as the result of modifying incentives from other approved Paramount Pictures projects into a single amended agreement for “Transformers 5.”
Restructuring the incentive agreements with Paramount saves the state $21 million, and speeds up the production of the next installment of one of next summer’s most-anticipated films.

Directed by Bay, “Transformers 5” will star Mark Wahlberg, reprising his role of Cade Yeager. In addition to Michigan, the movie will film in locations around the world.

“Having one of the highest-profile film franchises created in Michigan is a major economic boost and a testament to the talent of the state’s production community,” said Jenell Leonard, commissioner of the Michigan Film & Digital Media Office.

“The production and economic investment is now happening sooner rather than later, and obviously, the project is a certainty rather than merely a possibility,” she said.

The production anticipates an in-state spend of $80 million and projects making 850 cast and crew hires, 450 of which will be Michigan residents equating to 228 full-time positions. The production also expects to hire 700 extras.

The amended agreement between the film office and Paramount reallocates dedicated funds and meets all criteria for a qualified production in terms of expenditures and personnel hired in Michigan.

While in July the state legislature eliminated the film office incentive program which prohibits the film office from entering into new agreements, agreements with production companies approved before the abolishment of the program must be honored. Because approved Paramount projects had yet to begin production and receive the incentives, state statute allows for funds to be reallocated for qualified productions.

“Michigan has been so welcoming of Michael Bay and the ‘Transformers’ movies over the years and we are thrilled to be returning for this next incredible installment,” said Lee Rosenthal, president of Physical Production at Paramount Pictures.

Paramount had multiple preapproved applications with the Film Office, representing a total of approximately $42 million in eligible incentives. “Transformers 5” takes half the incentives already allocated for Paramount projects. The remaining $21 million will be returned to the state general fund at the end of the fiscal year.
The announcement of “Transformers 5” production comes a month after Viacom’s Comedy Central announced its “Detroiters” series would be filmed in Detroit beginning this summer. The television series did not receive an incentive. Rather, city of Detroit and film office representatives worked together to accommodate crews and budget for the television production.

Great Expressions moves headquarters to Southfield, creates 84 jobs

There are big smiles and toothy grins in the city of Southfield today as Great Expressions Dental Centers is preparing to relocate its headquarters there. Eighty-four new jobs and $2.55 million in investment will be generated by the move. The relocation corresponds with the company leaving its former headquarters in nearby Bloomfield Hills and the closing of a support center in Norcross, Georgia. Great Expressions is moving to the Onyx Office Plaza.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced the move Wednesday, Feb. 10. Great Expressions is receiving a $300,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant, approved by the Michigan Strategic Fund. The city of Southfield is also offering to expedite the permitting process and/or business leisure cards.

Great Expressions is one of the largest privately-owned dental service organizations in the country and has over 240 offices in 10 states.

"Great Expressions Dental Centers looks forward to calling Southfield our new home, as we expand our headquarters to accommodate the continuous growth our organization has seen in recent years," Richard Beckman, CEO of Great Expressions Dental Centers, says in a statement. "Our Onyx Building headquarters will accommodate the creation of nearly 100 new jobs, will house an on-site training facility and will support our growth as we expand into new markets. Its accessible location offers convenience to our employees living throughout metro Detroit, and will help us attract top talent in the years to come."

Other projects approved grant money by the Michigan Strategic Fund include two new production lines for Magna Seating of America in Highland Park, facade improvements in Ludington, and the renovation of a vacant, historic building in downtown Niles. The MEDC's Great Expressions news is part of a larger announcement detailing a total of $13.6 million in total investment and the creation of 335 jobs across Michigan.

The Onyx Office Plaza is located at 29777 Telegraph Rd. in Southfield.

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

How a Pontiac company has grown into a local leader in 3-D printing

DASI Solutions, a downtown Pontiac-based tech firm, has had great success growing its customer base by offering 3-D printing services. Last year, the firm by offer sold its sold its Stratasys-branded 3-D printing business, which will allow it to develop a variety of other 3-D printing brands and expand offerings.

"We didn't want to be pigeonholed in one product," says David Darbyshire, co-owner of DASI Solutions. "Our customers demanded a more diverse product offering."

Today, the 20-year-old company is growing its 3-D printing department by adding FDM and PolyJet technologies to its in-house printing studio. These 3-D printers and others allow customers to quickly produce trial and test parts. The move is part of the company’s overall philosophy to keep evolving and growing.

DASI Solutions has hired three people over the last year, expanding its team to 48 employees and an intern. It is also looking to hire a couple of application engineers to help it keep up with its revenue growth.

"Our revenue grew at least 9 percent year over year for the last five years," Darbyshire says. "We increase our sales $1 million a year every year."

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

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

Skye Durrant discusses his aspirations to make LawnGuru the Uber of landscaping and snowplowing

Skye Durrant and Brandon Bertrang have been in their business a long time. They started out small, working landscaping jobs as teens. Now in their 20s, they are working to scale a startup, LawnGuru, that could fundamentally change how the landscaping business works.

“Brandon and I started cutting lawns together in high school,” Durrant says. “We turned a tiny lawncare company into a multi-million-dollar business.”

They have bigger aspirations today. The partners are making the jump from landscaping small business owners to startup co-founders with LawnGuru.

The Wixom-based startup’s mobile platform enables users to hire landscapers to mow lawns in much the same way Uber does with rides. The mobile app connects an independent contractor with someone who needs a job done. This way contractors can choose jobs close to where they have an established workload, maximizing the efficiency and earning potential of a workday. Property owners, on the other hand, are able to find reliable contractors at competitive prices.

Most landscaping companies are owner-operated. That means these mom-and-pop businesses cut the lawns, manage employees, file paperwork, recruit new clients, and handle all of the other problems that come with running a company. LawnGuru gives them a chance to grow their clientele and handle some of the backend of the business with little extra work.

LawnGuru launched in May covering the metro Detroit area. It now has a couple thousand users across Michigan, mostly in southeast Michigan. It recently added snowplowing services to its offerings and is working to grow across the state.

“We will be pretty well positioned in Michigan by the end of this month,” Durrant says.

Growing that fast is anything but easy. The initial plan was to spread across the Michigan, then the Midwest, then North America. That has changed.

LawnGuru was selected to 500 Startups, an early stage venture capital firm and startup accelerator. LawnGuru and its team of eight people are currently wrapping up the 500 Startups accelerator program in Silicon Valley. Its biggest takeaway so far is that it needs to find better ways to scale its growth. The startup is raising a seed capital round (it won $25,000 at last fall's Accelerate Michigan innovation Competition) and taking copious notes on how best to enter a new market, how much it will cost, where to find the right contractors, and how to organize it all so it works smoothly for the customer. The team is feeling confident enough in it now that it’s looking at expanding to the Chicago, Cleveland, and Indianapolis areas later this year and next.

“Now we have a strong playbook of how to enter a new market,” Durrant says.

- Written by Jon Zemke

Walsh College earns ranking as a best business school for veterans for third consecutive year


For the third consecutive year, Walsh College is ranked as a “Best for Vets: Business School 2016” by The Military Times.

The annual survey focuses on veteran culture and curriculum, cost in the context of military and veteran benefits, overall veteran policies, and publicly available outcome measures.  Walsh was one of 77 select institutions to receive the “Best for Vets” designation in 2016.

Read more.

Tech students rock automotive competition


Two advanced teams from the auto program at Harrison High School and Farmington High School earned high honors at the Jan. 14 Automotive Tech Trek Competition. The competition was sponsored by Snap-on Tools and the Eppert Family Foundation.

On the Farmington team, juniors Jack Lovelace and Geoffrey Yezersky placed second, and on the Harrison team, juniors Alec Barber and Ty Armstrong placed fourth.

Read more.

Oakland County Bar Association to host autonomous vehicle seminar on March 2nd

Autonomous vehicles are rapidly evolving from a speculative concept to a reality. But what does this mean to our region?  “Autonomous Vehicles are Coming: Opportunities and Challenges” is an upcoming seminar, co-hosted by the Oakland County Bar Association and Automation Alley, which answers this question.
Top industry insiders will discuss the future and current status of connected and autonomous vehicles, and will explore the challenges and opportunities that self-driving cars will pose to our region, including legal, economic growth and policy considerations.
Speakers include John Maddox,  Assistant Director of the U-M Mobility Transformation Center and Director of Collaborative Program Strategy of the U-M Transportation Institute; Richard Walawender, Corporate Group Co-Leader and Director of the International Practice and Automotive Practice Groups at Miller Canfield; Tom Kelly, COO and Director of Entrepreneurship at Automation Alley; Bryce Pilz, Clinical Assistant Professor at U-M Law School; Matt Gibb, Deputy Oakland County Executive; Emily Frascaroli, Counsel at Ford Motor Company; and Kirk Steudle, Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.  Moderator is Nicole Tabin, Esq., Chairperson of the OCBA’s Municipal Law Committee.
A continental breakfast, provided by Miller Canfield, will be served from 7:30 – 8:00 a.m. Speaker presentations will take place from 8:00 - 10:30 a.m., followed by a panel Q&A session from 10:30 – 11:00 a.m.
The seminar takes place March 2, 2016 from 7:30 -11:00 a.m. at Automation Alley, 2675 Bellingham, Troy, MI 48083. The pre-registration cost is $30.00.  Tickets can be purchased at https://www.automationalley.com/Events/Calendar/Event-Detail.aspx?uniqueid=21712.  Walk-in tickets are available for $40.00. For further information, contact Merri Lee Jones at 248-334-3400, extension 114.

Fifth annual Entrepreneur-YOU conference at Walsh College highlights women's business success

Registration is now open for the fifth annual Southeast Michigan Women’s Entrepreneur-YOU conference, a collaborative initiative to help women become successful business owners presented by Inforum, Michigan Women’s Foundation, and Walsh College. The conference will held on Friday, February 26, 2016 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Walsh College, 3838 Livernois Rd., Troy.

Entrepreneur-YOU features workshops, taught by leading business professionals, to teach women entrepreneurs about the resources necessary and available to open, run, and grow a business.

Again this year, the event collaborators are calling for panelists with expertise in areas including social media, professional services, cash flow and accounting, funding, legal services, coaching/mentoring, and other important business practices to lead sessions.

Breakout sessions will be 45 minutes long. There will be up to four panelists per session. Each panelist will have five minutes to address the room and then will participate in a facilitated question-and-answer session.   

Tickets are $45 each, $25 for students with identification. Visit www.walshcollege.edu/EYOU to register. 

“At Entrepreneur-YOU, women entrepreneurs will find the guidance and support they need to start elevating their aspirations into reality,” said Stephanie Bergeron, Walsh College president and CEO, “Panelists and speakers will help entrepreneurs define, fund, and grow their business with sound advice.”

About Entrepreneur-YOU
Entrepreneur-YOU is a collaborative initiative between Inforum, Michigan Women’s Foundation and Walsh College, to help women become successful business owners. Among its varied business-building activities, Entrepreneur-YOU conducts all-day workshops-- taught by leading business professionals-- to teach women entrepreneurs about the resources necessary and available to open, run and grow a business.

Auburn Hills opens co-working space in renovated historical cabin downtown


The City of Auburn Hills has opened a co-working space, called CoWork @ TheDen, offering freelancers, small-business owners, and students workspaces with free access to the Internet.

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