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Rochester-based company debuts 'Uber-like' marketplace for movers

Most of the time when someone talks about ride-sharing, they’re talking about people. But an enterprising college student recently expanded on the peer-to-peer service-sharing model to help people ride-share their stuff, so to speak.

It’s called Herculeze and it’s the work of Oakland University student and Business Administration major Connor Darrow. With the help of Oakland University’s OU INC business incubator, Darrow recently launched the Herculeze marketplace platform.

Basically, it works like this. Users post their requests on the Herculeze marketplace, typically people in need of moving larger pieces of furniture and other items but without the truck to do so. Local pick-up truck owners than log-in and put bids in, competing with other pick-up truck owners to win the job.

"Think of it as the Uberization of delivery," Darrow says.

"It’s Uber-like, but for stuff."

The Rochester-based company has utilized the help of OU INC to take it to the next level. The Smartzone Business Incubator and Innovation Center OU INC provides resources and strategy-based solutions to entrepreneurs, helping bring ideas to market.

The business incubator works with a range of companies, though focuses on the energy, medical device, and information technology sectors. A previous Metromode story highlighted the work of another OU INC member, Wave Water Works, and its clean energy device that converts water waves into electricity.

Ryan Tsivitse helps manage the Herculeze business operations.

"We all have really enjoyed working at OU INC, where we have an environment that allows us to collaborate with each other every day," Tsivitse says.

Visit Herculeze online to learn more about its services.

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

Lawrence Tech, Southfield launch new Centrepolis Accelerator


Lawrence Technological University and the City of Southfield have entered into a formal partnership to launch the Centrepolis Accelerator.

Housed on the campus of LTU, the Centrepolis Accelerator will broaden and replace the small business and entrepreneurial support services provided by the LTU Collaboratory in recent years, leveraging the city’s focus on driving local and regional economic development through Southfield’s Centrepolis SmartZone.

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HoMedics in Commerce Township and New York’s Bluestar Alliance sign $165M agreement under Brookstone


HoMedics in Commerce Township, a large manufacturer and distributor of personal health, wellness, and relaxation products, and New York’s Bluestar Alliance have announced the signing of a $165-million, five-year license agreement under the Brookstone brand. The license covers a range of massage, massage chair, home environment, and other select product categories.

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At Scrubbers, dogs and cats are groovin' to the grooming


Just off the corner of Webster and Woodward in Royal Oak, a steady parade of customers is streaming into Scrubbers, fur babies in tow, all of the latter in need of a good bath.

Dennielle McIver, a Royal Oak MS LPC (Master of Science, Licensed Professional Counselor) just popped in with Happy, an adorable Pomsky puppy that she is training to be an emotional support dog. The Pomeranian/Husky mix, hugging McIver like a baby, is a ball of thick black fur. Today is his first grooming.

Read more. 

Oakland County consultants foster corporate parenting experience

It was a snow day, and Karen Evans and Brooke Miller got together for a playdate. While they watched the kids frolic, the two mothers started discussing the challenges of being a working parent. By the time the day was over, they’d agreed to launch a company dedicated to making the process run more smoothly for both parents and employers.

“We decided to pool our talents,” said Evans, who lives in Royal Oak. She’s an attorney, business consultant and adjunct professor at Lawrence Tech, while Miller, a Berkley resident, is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of Honey Space for Moms, a boutique wellness and co-working space in Ferndale.

Each is the mother of two small children and knew all too well the struggles of balancing work and family life.

The idea behind SIX Corporate Parent Experience Consulting is simple, and, some would say, obvious: It’s possible – and beneficial for everyone involved – to be both a present parent and a productive employee. But that is often not the case.

“I did a deep dive into all the academic literature from around the world two years ago, and found that very few workplaces are thinking about this,” Evans said. “It’s such a missed opportunity.”

Companies that don’t support parents are losing out on talent, deep institutional knowledge, time, and money, she said.

“Women and men have been invested in a lot by their employers before entering the parenthood journey, and they are still ready to deliver results for their company. They may just need a little more flexibility, support and understanding,” Evans said. “In exchange, companies receive loyal employees, get a return on their investment and become an overall better workplace.”

It’s not, she stressed, about giving parents more benefits or special treatment, but simply recognizing that their lives have changed and that it benefits everyone to accommodate that reality.

Helping companies support new parents

Among workers, new parents are the most likely to leave their jobs, Evans said, and it costs a company 11 percent of an employee’s salary to replace them, a hassle and expense companies can easily avoid by making a few accommodations.
“Supporting parent employees in the workplace is a win-win proposition,” she said.

Often, Evans said, that can be as simple as improving communications between the human resources department and employees. “Surveys show that even HR leaders who understand that they have wonderful benefits are so often not communicating them well, so the employees don’t even know they exist.”

SIX, which did a soft a launch over the summer, offers three services: on-site consulting, an HR Certificate program, and presentations at conferences and workshops.

The consulting aspect focuses on a company’s existing programs and communications and looks for ways they can improve.
“We always start with an audit of the corporate parent experience, what you are doing well and how to leverage your strength and existing culture,” Evans said.

The HR Certificate program includes a full-day seminar that includes legal updates, understanding maternal mental health, handling difficult conversations, leading and working with purpose and creating and implementing sustainable work-from-home procedures. There will be one on November 8 in Metro Detroit, followed by seminars in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Chicago.

The women also speak at conferences and workshops on topics that range from bringing mothers back to work, to establishing successful work-from-home policies.

Their recommendations include supporting a mother’s need to nurse by providing appropriate space, hiring an onsite lactation consultant for those experiencing challenges, and implementing ways to transport breast milk if a nursing mother must travel for business.

They suggest teaching managers about the challenges of coming back to work after becoming a parent, and offering parent support groups led by a trained leader, perhaps during lunch hours.

“Some managers are afraid to have any conversation at all because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing,” Evans noted.
Other solutions include offering onsite daycare and/or medical care, providing subsidies for offsite daycare, and hiring professionals to take care of sick children so their parents can still work.

What companies are looking for...but struggle to find

Not everyone is convinced of the need to acknowledge working parents, Evans admitted. “There are segments of people across the board who are worried there is too much of a push to being too politically correct or giving too much to women and minorities. And there can be pushback from non-parents who think the parents are getting special treatment. This is a real concern that we don’t take lightly.”

Nevertheless, she said, many corporations, like client Quicken Loans, are open to the message.

“We have been really surprised at the type of recognition we have received. After our soft launch, we were immediately reached by some pretty large organizations throughout the country who said that this is what they’ve been looking for but hadn’t been able to find,” Evans said. “Change does come slow but we are really excited and see a lot of opportunity to make a difference.”

Pontiac's Deliver My Ride launches online car-buying platform


Pontiac-based Deliver My Ride, an online car buying service launched by Birmingham’s MadDog Technology, has announced the introduction of its newly enhanced platform.

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New coworking space aims to appeal to the Ferndale spirit

A new coworking space is opening in Ferndale, and it's been created with the city itself in mind.

Co-owners Lisa Schmidt and Ben Long want PatchWork Collective to represent the city and all its unique charm. The coworking space and short-term office facility were developed to appeal to the individual and creative community of Ferndale, says Schmidt.

There are the weekly yoga sessions. An acupuncturist is one of the tenants. There is a shower for those that bike to work.

"We have the standard tables and desks but also beanbag chairs and couches. You can find the workspace that you need so you can focus," says Schmidt.

"PatchWork is a coworking space with the heart of Ferndale, not some stuffy office from the 80s."

And Schmidt and Long should know something about Ferndale. The Ferndale residents are both board members on the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce.

PatchWork came from Schmidt and Long’s own needs. Both of them are attorneys, and the duo formed the Schmidt & Long law firm in 2016. PatchWork was borne from their frustrations in finding the perfect office for their new law firm.

After searching throughout Ferndale, Schmidt and Long found a 4,500 sq. ft. space at the corner of Woodward and Marshall. PatchWork has taken over two-thirds of the old InkAddict space, and that company has down-sized to the back third of the building.

The duo also decided to expand their vision from a law office to a co-working space, recognizing the trend of freelancers working remotely.

The facilities include a large open office space, a conference room, and a series of smaller private offices, the latter of which can be rented by the hour or on a more permanent basis.

PatchWork Collective is located at 22007 Woodward Ave. in Ferndale.

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

In Franklin, women are leading a small business revolution

Lisa Dunn has her finger on the fashion pulse. When Dunn opened her up-cycle clothing store, Déjà Vu, in Franklin in 2007, consignment stores had not yet become the trend they are today.

“At the time, ‘resale’ was not as in vogue as it is now,” Dunn explains, “but I sensed an opportunity coming and decided to open a luxury consignment boutique as opposed to a ‘thrift/ second-hand store’ that most shoppers were used to.”

Dunn is not the only woman ahead of the business curve in Franklin. With a downtown that is dominated by women-owned stores and service providers, the historic village is leading the way in entrepreneur trends. Mary Ann Liut and Monica George own lifestyle boutique Zieben Mare, Amy Regal runs beauty bar Glamour Puss, and Jacqueline Drake has recently opened a new gallery. The movement is not just about women in retail either, but also behind essential service businesses. Elina Costello owns a dental office in the village (Smile Builders of Franklin), and Pam Migliore is part owner of the village’s Marathon gas station.

Costello established her dental practice 15 years ago and says that the women driving Franklin’s downtown are here to stay. “I do think, having known the women in business here, that they are serious, long-term strategists,” she says.

Village President Pam Hansen believes Franklin is following a national increase in women in business. Over the past 20 years the number of women-owned businesses has grown 114 percent in the U.S.A., and according to a 2017 report, women-owned businesses generate more than $1.7 trillion in revenue. “We just happen to be a place where the scale of the businesses and the kind of businesses have been attractive to women entrepreneurs,” Hansen says.

Dunn says part of the appeal is working where you live. “Being a resident and business owner in Franklin is an awesome combination,” she says. “I have a great clientele not only from Franklin but from all over Michigan and beyond.” Her store has been so successful that four years ago she launched an online shop to reach a national market.

It’s not all thanks to girl-power only though. “The women business owners are working together to support each other,” Hansen says, “but so are the men.” Dunn agrees that diversity is key and working together is the way forward. “As women continue to dominate as owners of the shops downtown, we also welcome new business with male influences to balance the shopping experience.”


From a Ferndale basement, startup promotes area music scene

What started as a basement project between two friends has since blossomed into something that has attracted interest from musicians from Saginaw to Ohio, and all the way to Los Angeles.

It’s called The Ferndale Set, a music video production group started by Quicken Loans officemates Mike Steciuk and Norman Huang. Steciuk acts as the sound engineer while Huang takes on the videography side of things. What results is The Ferndale Set, an online video series that captures local musicians in their natural habitats, singing their songs in venues throughout metro Detroit.

The goal is to bring more exposure to the region’s burgeoning music scene, both to the musicians and the venues that host them. The duo takes their inspiration from national outfits like KEXP and Audiotree.

"We’ve learned that metro Detroit wants to support its local musicians," Steciuk says. "If you bring the opportunities to them, they’re quick to sign up."

The Ferndale Set began in its namesake town, in the basement of Steciuk. Over the course of a jam session amongst friends, Steciuk’s officemate Huang filmed and edited the party into a short video. The Ferndale Set grew from there.

Steciuk outfitted his basement with curtains and lighting, creating a set where bands could play. But it was the birth of his second child that pushed the group out of the basement and into area venues. It’s a move that has benefited all involved. Now promoting area venues like PJ’s Lager House in Detroit and Common Grace Coffee Company in Dearborn has become part of The Ferndale Set’s mission, too.

"We want to focus on Michigan musicians. A lot of artists create really cool stuff, but don’t have the ability to share it," Huang says.

"We want to create quality videos while also promoting local businesses as venues. You kill two birds with one stone."

Click here to visit The Ferndale Set’s YouTube channel.

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

Business pitch contest to be held in Pontiac with $25,000 available in cash prizes

It’s the third annual Pitch ’N Pontiac contest and the prizes are bigger than ever.

This year’s contestants can win up to $15,000 in cash prizes in the competition, which pits entrepreneurs against each other for a total of $25,000 in cash prizes and additional pro bono consulting services. Eligible businesses must be located in Pontiac or in the process of moving to the Oakland County city.

Pitch ’N Pontiac is organized by CEED Lending and supported by Chemical Bank, Oakland County Business Finance Corporation, and Oakland County’s One Stop Shop Business Center.

"We want to make business owners aware that there are resources available to them, that they’re not in this by themselves," says CEED Lending’s Oakland County & City of Detroit Loan Officer Belinda Turner-DuBois.

"Many entrepreneurs think that they’re an island but there is a community here to help."

In addition to the city of Pontiac requirement, eligible businesses must be in the food, lifestyle, healthy living, IT, technology, or "other" industries. Non-profits, L3Cs, and franchises are ineligible to compete.

There is a July 31 deadline for applications, which are available online.

Five finalists will be announced on Friday, Aug. 10. Following that announcement, the finalists will take part in a number of pitch prep workshops, designed to help the entrepreneurs perfect their business pitches for the final event.

On Thursday, Aug. 30, the finalists will each give a five minute pitch to the audience and a panel of judges, followed by five minute Q&A sessions. There is a $10,000 first place prize in the startup category, a $10,000 first place prize in the existing business category, and, new to this year’s competition, a $5,000 people’s choice prize. The winner of the people’s choice can be one of the first place winners, bringing that prize total to $15,000.

"This is about helping to stabilize and create and welcome entrepreneurship in Pontiac," Turner-DuBois says.

More information on Pitch ’N Pontiac is available on the CEED Lending website.

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

Highland Township glass fabricators to expand facilities and services, add jobs

A Michigan-based glass fabricating company has passed over a competing site in Kentucky to instead expand its current facilities in Oakland County’s Highland Township. The move has resulted in a state-backed grant for the company, all the while creating more jobs and millions in capital investment from the glass fabricator.

The family-owned Midwest Glass Fabricators, Inc. has announced plans to build an expansion onto its Highland Township facilities, complete with new equipment. The project is expected to create 62 jobs and generate $4.7 million in total capital investment.

Because of this decision, the company will receive a $186,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund, as announced by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Highland Township has also offered incentives for the company’s growth: A 50 percent tax abatement in support of the project.

"This expansion is the next phase in our development as a company," owner and chief operating officer Pat Iaquinto said in a statement. "Our investment in Michigan will continue to grow as will our commitment to serve our partners with locally sourced products that meet their needs."

The expansion comes as the company experiences increased demand for its fabricated glass products and custom metal fabrication services. The 53,000 sq. ft. addition to its already 50,000 sq. ft. facility will allow the company to build a glass laminating line for safety and security glass.

Midwest Glass Fabricators was founded in 1989.

"Adding laminate to our line-up of products is a step towards providing safety to buildings nationwide at an affordable price without compromising security," said Midwest Glass owner and chief executive officer Jim Iaquinto.

"Building an addition to our existing plant will allow us to bring in local R&D and help establish Michigan as a leader in the arena of safeguarding the public."

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

Lawrence Tech business incubator wins NEI grant, looks toward expansion

The LTU Collaboratory, Lawrence Technological University’s business incubator and accelerator, is planning to expand its business and technology-based mentorship services, workshops, and events. The move is made possible thanks to a one-year $40,000 grant from the New Economy Initiative. It’s the first time NEI has awarded a grant to the Southfield-based university.

Small manufacturers and emerging hardware startups in Southeast Michigan stand to benefit most from the grant. The money will also be used to engage more high schoolers, college students, and young adults in product and manufacturing-related innovation challenges.

"As a leading resource to small and start-up companies developing innovative, engineered products, the LTU Collaboratory can now provide additional key resources for these companies to grow and scale up their operations, thanks to this NEI grant," said Mark Brucki, executive director of community and corporate partnerships at LTU.

"We are looking forward to getting more students involved in manufacturing as well."

It’s another improvement for the LTU Collaboratory. LTU is planning on a new 6,300 sq. ft. accelerator space for its Southfield campus by spring 2019.

NEI Senior Program Officer Maria LaLonde cites Southeast Michigan’s abundance of engineering talent, manufacturing expertise, patent research initiatives, and export activity in praising the deal.

"We are very excited to be partnering with LTU to offer small manufacturers and hardware entrepreneurs critical resources to keep them on the leading edge of innovation and growth," said LaLonde.

"As a university-based accelerator program, LTU is also a key partner to engage and develop the next generation of design, engineering and manufacturing talent in Michigan."

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

Birmingham chocolatier studied rocket science before turning to truffles


In a past life, Doug Cale tested flight control and attack systems for land and carrier based anti-submarine warfare aircraft. 

Nowadays, the retired astronautics and aeronautics engineer has traded rocket science for something more down to earth — chocolate making.

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How can Pontiac's tech economy grow? Sustain the momentum, entrepreneurs say

Enthusiastic. Scrappy. Upcoming. Those were just a few of the words used to describe Pontiac and its tech economy at the June 6 High Growth Happy Hour: Pontiac’s Tech Economy, held at the Paissa Building in downtown Pontiac.
The event was the second in the Comcast High Growth Happy Hour series, and was co-sponsored by the New Economy Initiative and Metromode.
Panelists were Matt Russell, Elaina Farnsworth, and Mark Hillman, with moderator Glen Konopaskie. Konopaskie is a consultant in the area on connected vehicles and a former director of Main Street Pontiac.
Russell leads several tech startups in Pontiac, including Cynerge Consulting, where he leads a team in enterprise-grade application development, cloud migration, and data center support. Elaina Farnsworth is CEO of The NEXT Education, a company focused on preparing talent for the new mobility economy. Hillman is CEO of Lenderful, one of the Pontiac-based high-tech software startups under the umbrella of MadDog Technology.
Read on for three takeaways from the event.
Pontiac has an image problem and an identity crisis.
All three panelists, as well as the moderator, agreed that Pontiac has an image problem. Since coming out from under emergency management, the downtown is looking better, vacancy rates are falling, and the city is safe, but the public at large doesn't perceive it that way.
"Pontiac is the safest city in Oakland County in terms of crime per capita and has been for the last eight years," Konopaskie says.
Coupled with the image problem is an identity crisis. Hillman says the city needs to do a better job of picking a focus and branding itself.
"There are a million things the town can be, and I have advocated specifically that business leaders and government at whatever level pick an identity and focus for the area," Hillman says. She suggested that technology and the arts could create a strong synergistic identity for the city, one that makes it feel "funky and cool."
Russell agreed that the combination of tech and art make Pontiac a cool place, along with its beautiful historic buildings.
"I think we could build around those two anchors, bring different vibes in, a youthful, creative energy," Russell says. Russell added that he has used photos of the Riker building where his business is located to draw in talent and show off what downtown Pontiac has to offer.
"We can use that as a recruiting engine, and bring in people who want to live here," he says.
Location is one of Pontiac's strongest assets.
Konopaskie says that Pontiac is exactly the place where a "small company can make a big splash" in a way they couldn't in a bigger city like Detroit.
He also notes that Pontiac is a natural hub, being the seat of Oakland County and located at the end of Woodward Ave., which is the site of the first mile of concrete road ever built in the entire nation.
Hillman says Pontiac is a place where companies can "bring the jobs to the people instead of bringing the people to the jobs."
Most people would prefer not to commute for an hour or more, but many do, because the well-paying tech jobs they want are in Ann Arbor or Detroit, Hillman says. But with Pontiac being so close to major highways, a commute from a nearby metro Detroit suburb could be only 10 or 15 minutes.
Farnsworth notes that a major paradigm shift in transportation is coming up in 2020, and the city needs to be ready for it. The next two years, she says, are the time for Pontiac to establish a plan for being a connected vehicle hub.
"We can't let this chance pass us by," she says. "We have two years before we have to have a plan in place or let another area get this. If we drag our feet like we have been, we won't be able to see the fruits."
Pontiac is poised for explosive growth — if the right collaborations happen.
All the panelists and the moderator agreed that public-private partnerships and buy-in from city government will be important to support and grow the tech economy in Pontiac.
Entrepreneurs won't keep coming to the city with cool ideas if they keep getting tripped up by bureaucracy, Russell says.
In addition to her work in Michigan, Farnsworth also works and does speaking engagements in Silicon Valley and says that, instead of competing, companies there want the whole region to succeed.
"That vibe is here in Pontiac," she says. "The challenge is that it seems like we can't get out of our own way. We have the vibe, we want things to move, but the execution isn't there yet. We need to talk about what we're doing, pick a strategy, and do it, even if it's not perfect. We've got the energy, but the follow-through is not there yet."
She adds that Pontiac already has much of what it needs to be a hub for the mobility and connected vehicle industry.
"We need to look at leveraging the assets we have here, take what's already in place and grow that," Farnsworth says.

Automation Alley receives grant to help minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses

The New Economy Initiative (NEI) has awarded Automation Alley a year-long grant to help minority, women and veteran-owned businesses embrace Industry 4.0, the smart factory revolution characterized by the convergence of digital and physical technologies.

The grant aligns with Automation Alley's existing Industry 4.0 programs for startups, manufactures and defense companies, and will provide resources and knowledge to help these businesses grow and prosper as technology rapidly impacts industry.

"As Michigan's Industry 4.0 knowledge center, Automation Alley is passionate about ensuring our state's small and medium-sized businesses understand and have access to the tools they need to transition to an Industry 4.0 workplace. Any time we can reach more minority, women and veteran-owned businesses in the ecosystem its a win-win, and this NEI grant will help us do just that," said Tom Kelly, Automation Alley's executive director and CEO.

The grant will be used to deliver Industry 4.0 readiness assessments on corporate strategy and direction to minority, women and veteran-owned businesses. It will also cover the cost of entry to Automation Alley's Industry 4.0 events throughout the year, which includes its Tech Takeover series held weekly at its Troy Headquarters and Automation Alley's global Industry 4.0 conference, Integr8, to be held this year on Nov. 14 in Detroit.

“NEI is dedicated to advancing inclusive entrepreneurship support in southeast Michigan” said Maria LaLonde, senior program officer at NEI. “We’re pleased to partner with Automation Alley to empower our region’s women, minority and veteran-led small and medium-sized businesses to prosper by preparing for Industry 4.0.”

Robotic Precision Therapy, a women-owned business based in Troy, was among the first companies to benefit from the grant funds, recently completing an Industry 4.0 assessment with Automation Alley. The company is in the business of providing the first clinical robot designed to non-surgically lengthen muscular tissue to licensed physicians and medical professionals in the rehabilitative and pain management industries.

“Automation Alley’s assessment is a phenomenal resource for the local business community. Their staff provided us with an expansive scope of valuable business insight including first customer acquisition process, consideration of other viable options in marketing and local opportunities to interact with other professionals in our field. In addition, they provided introductions for our group which have become key business connections," said Arin Rentz, COO of Robotic Precision Therapy.

For more information about this grant, or to see if your company qualifies for support, contact bedzj@automationalley.com.
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