December 2013

What's Happening

Sandra Cochrane


Wednesday, December 4. WMU Starting Gate Demo Day from 5:00 pm until 7:30 pm. During the event, The Starting Gate members (8 companies) will demonstrate what they have built to the audience. Member will have 5 minutes each to show their product and talk about their idea. Location is 161 E. Michigan Ave., Suite 400B, Kalamazoo, MI.

Monday, December 16. WMU Starting Gate Investor Day from 6:00 pm until 8:00 pm. At this event, the student founders will pitch the their business to investors. They will have 7-10 minutes to show their product, discuss their business model, and show their future plans in their business.  Location is 161 E. Michigan Ave., Suite 400B, Kalamazoo, MI.

Two OU INC Clients Take Top Honors in Innovation Contest

Amy Butler

Two OU INC clients recently claimed first-place finishes and won $25,000 each in North America's largest business plan competition. At the The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, AutoBike won in the Next Generation Manufacturing category and CureLauncher took first place in the Life Sciences category.

The competition is an international business event designed to highlight Michigan as a robust and vibrant venue for innovation and business opportunity. Individuals and organizations with the best and brightest new business concepts competed to attract local and national investment capital to help foster their business.

AutoBike is a new venture that has created technology that monitors a bicycle's operating environment and adjusts the gear so that the user can simply hop on and enjoy the ride. The group has leveraged individual experience in research and development, product development, project management and financial management to bring their product from its conceptual beginnings all the way to production design. Autobike is currently discussing partnership opportunities with four bicycle manufacturers.

CureLauncher solves the clinical trial enrollment problem my using a patent-pending, technology-enabled process that translates enrolling trial information to improve patient understanding, matches patients to enrolling trials and contacts trial sites on behalf of patients. The organization has five-year exclusive contracts with many leading support communities and service agreements with trial sites and sponsors.

Seven Success Secrets that Best Young Companies Share

Kevin Kuske, Turnstone

Some say it all started with Michael J. Fox in the 1980’s. 

His movie, “The Secret to My Success,” placed the spotlight on a generation of ambitious, upwardly mobile professionals who would do anything to follow their dreams of grabbing the corner office. 

These days, while the goals and manner of success may be changing, it’s still natural to ask, “What’s your secret?” And when it comes to the secrets of great companies, things are no different. We want to know what makes them tick and why their employees love their work so much—because somewhere deep down, we know that if they can do it, we can do it, too.

This fall, we conducted our first ever Best Young Companies to Work For campaign with the goal to find and spotlight best-in-class companies across the country.  To be considered, companies had to be less than 10 years old, employ no more than 100 people and could not nominate themselves. As we – and later our panel of judges – poured over hundreds of applicants, it became clear that the final 15 Best Young Companies had more than a few things in common. Here are seven “secrets” that all 15 companies seemed to share:

1. Their success comes from the inside out:
Greatist’s marketing director Laura Schwecherl, said it best: “We believe being successful internally is profoundly tied to our success externally-- and the good news is--it's working.”  Among other things, Greatist’s inward success has enabled them to find and retain top talent – a priority for most, if not all, companies.Perhaps more than anything else, a company whose success comes from the inside out shows the world that its people are highly valued and that its space matters. Another Best Young Company, Sparkhouse, also embodies these qualities and has lived out what Andrew Zolli, executive director and chief creative officer of PopTech, in his book “Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back,” says, “There’s tremendous power in the physical environment to help build trust, cooperation and resilient behavior.”  

2. They laugh together:
Another thing we love about these companies is that they have managed to walk the fine line between being serious about what they do and being serious about having fun.
Research shows that humor is invaluable for well-being, stress relief and creating friendships. Furthermore, when applied to a workplace, we know that these benefits are critical for creativity and innovation – two elements we saw consistently among all fifteen companies. They recognize that work and fun are not mutually exclusive, but rather, that together they serve to strengthen the work they are already doing.

3. They champion great values:
Each of these young companies also operates as part of a bigger picture. They want to do good in the world and leave things a little better than they were before. Detroit-based Chalkfly, for example, is helping fund classroom supplies for teachers with the click of a mouse. This is a simple thought with profound ripple effects! 

Though different in focus, Sputnik of Austin, Texas, has a fantastic mission statement that underscores their desire for relationship and not just a plump bottom line. They say, “We believe wholeheartedly that building brands isn’t about one company providing a service for another, but rather growing like a friendship over the years. We’re not interested in turning over tables and moving on to the next town. We’re interested in the long haul.” 

We love that these companies are pro-humanity and pro-world – not just pro-wallet. 

4. They believe that great company culture takes work – and is worth the effort:
Fanology of Los Angeles is a terrific example of a place that makes culture their top priority. They share, “Just four years ago, Fanology Social was a dream taking shape in the back garden of our beloved family friends. ...Flash forward to October 2013 where we are presently functioning in the ‘Happily Ever After.’ In the time between then and now, we focused on creating a culture that would attract the best and the brightest.”

Fanology understands what many overlook – that while the job description or resume might get someone in the door, it’s the culture that will help you attract the right fit and, more importantly, make them want to stay.

5. They are intensely passionate about what they do:
SocialRadar has what they call the “Pillars of Culture,” and one of them is to “Be better than you were yesterday.” This is important to them and to their company because they know that passion drives success, and success always starts with motivated team members who love what they do. Get inspired by reading more about SocialRadar’s intentional design at

6. Their people are their best asset:
Sparefoot of Austin knows they are nothing without the ongoing valiant efforts of their team and recently shared: “We pride ourselves on being a flat organization and being transparent, which empowers our employees and makes everyone feel like they’re truly a part of the company. It’s easy to do good work and be successful every day when you get to work alongside the smartest, most talented people--and it helps that they all happen to be genuinely awesome, too.”

7. Their secret weapon: they don’t view their work as work.
The team at nexus IT said, “We don’t see what we do as work – we truly enjoy coming to the office and working together every day. Our interaction and dedication expands beyond the walls of our office, as well, as we are constantly participating in community events such as Big Brother/Big Sister and mock interviews for low income high school students.”

There are, undoubtedly, more qualities these companies have in common, but what it seems to boil down to is that they passionately try to build something awesome while looking out for the good of others and the good of the company. 

So how can you build something awesome? Start with the basics:

  • Let the personality of your brand and your team come through; don’t squelch it.

  • Invest time, money and energy into building a culture and a space that aligns with who you are and the strategy of the company.

  • Lead with behaviors that communicate that people matter, that fun is part of work and that what we do here is important.

By holding to these simple guiding principals, we believe that any team can find satisfaction in their work, happiness in the journey, and success in the marketplace.

WMU Starting Gate

Moh'd Albattikhi

Starting Gate is a student business accelerator that gives students rich and valuable resources to develop their startup companies. Located in the Haymarket Building in downtown Kalamazoo and operated by the Haworth College of Business Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in partnership with the Western Michigan University Office of Community Outreach, the accelerator is open to all WMU students through a competitive application process in which students must demonstrate a promising idea for a product or service, which can be launched within a short period of time. Starting Gate provides a fast-track to business launch.  Open 24 hours per day, the mentor-based accelerator offers an array of resources and just the right amount of structure for these highly motivated and creative students. For more information, go to

Client Spotlight: MAREC's

Joseph Graczyk

With more and more businesses outsourcing staffing needs to virtual businesses overseas, one West Michigan entrepreneur has built a virtual assistance enterprise dedicated to bringing those jobs back home, specifically to downtown Muskegon at the Michigan Alternative & Renewable Energy Center (MAREC). Through the virtual world of high-speed Internet and cloud-based solutions, can provide businesses with a remote team of employees at the fraction of the cost of a traditional employee.
Business of all sizes struggle to get their daily to-do list accomplished. This is particularly true f or small business owners who wear multiple hats and dream of longer work days since they can’t afford to hire employees. As these businesses grow they may be able to hire one or two part-time employees to handle some of the workload but what they really need is a team of employees.
“We can tackle daily ongoing tasks for businesses from providing them with a receptionist to giving them a Website team,” said Chad Lawie, Chief Executive Of f icer and f ounder of the Muskegon-based, “And we can do it all remotely from our off ice without them having to incur the expense of hiring in-house employees.”
The three-year old company grew out of a work experience Lawie had in South Carolina where he was first introduced to the concept of virtual assistance. It was there he learned he had a skill f or helping businesses solve a variety of their day-to-day business needs. And af ter working a short time in the business, Lawie developed a model f or doing it smarter, stronger, and faster.
With the idea in hand, Lawie moved his family back to his hometown of Muskegon (MI) and began building the business from his living room. As the business quickly grew, he moved the company’s off ices to Norton Shores and then to another off ice in the historic Hovey House, he realized he needed some assistance of his own in f ine-tuning the business concept and developing a formal business plan f or the company. Lawie reached out to the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC) where he met Tech Team Business Consultants Jason Pliml and John Balbach.
“The company was still in the start-up phase of business yet we were seeing a high demand f or our services and a growth rate that was off the charts,” shared Lawie. “Jason was able to come in with his start-up and growth experience, and helped us to control the growth while maintaining our path f or the business.”
With the company having already outgrown multiple locations, one of the first tasks at hand was finding a building that was right f or their growth rate. It was suggested Lawie look at the Michigan Alternative & Renewable Energy Center (MAREC) in Muskegon’s Lakeshore SmartZone. The MAREC building is a joint venture with the Michigan Economic Development Center (MEDC), Grand Valley State University (GVSU), the City of Muskegon, and a handful of Muskegon-based businesses and organizations with the intention of attracting and promoting high-tech business development to Muskegon and the region. 
Upon visiting the MAREC building, Lawie met with the Center Director, Arn Boezaart, who offered him the appropriate space f or the company to grow into and the support of one of their business consultants, Joe Graczyk. Combining the experience of Gracyzk’s corporate background with that of Pliml from the MI-SBTDC allowed him to build a solid business plan that put the company on an organized and focused path forward. In addition, Lawie also received input on the business plan and his financials from Eric Seif ert, Finance Specialist Business Consultant f or the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC).
“The consultants worked great together, and their talents complemented each other which was an extra benefit f or me,” stated Lawie. “It was like I got a six-week crash course in business from them.”
After basically going from zero to twenty-five full-time employees and $800,000 in revenue in less than two years, Lawie has used the business plan to slow things down this year to adjust to the growth and to strengthen the company’s business model. The ultimate goal f or the company is to provide high-value products and the best services to meet his customers’ administrative and off ice staffing needs. Lawie doesn’t want the fast growth rate to deter from that.
“What Chad has done with LongerDays is a true success story,” said Jason Pliml, Technology Business
Consultant for the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC). “He has done things right that will allow him to continue on his path of growth and making a difference in Muskegon.”
Lawie is a hometown boy. He was raised in Muskegon, graduated from Reeths-Puff er High School, and received an Associate’s Degree from Muskegon Community College before venturing off to ‘see the world’. His parents are also local entrepreneurs and run Dimension Four Painting, a painting contractor business.
“I’ve seen the world and it’s here where I want to raise my family and build my business,” said Lawie. “I want to be a part of the solution f or revitalizing Muskegon.”
Being a part of the solution is definitely happening! Not only is LongerDays recruiting talent and employees from the area but it’s also bringing in new money to the community. With most of the company’s clientele being from outside of Michigan including many international clients as well, LongerDays is bringing in dollars that have typically gone to similar business overseas. Lawie is also encouraging other entrepreneurs to bring their businesses to Muskegon and reminds them to never be afraid to ask f or help.
“Would the company be where it is today without the help of the folks from SBTDC and MAREC,” shared
Lawie. “Probably, but it would have definitely taken us much longer and we would have hit more bumps along the way.”
Lawie and his staff are ready to build into a world-renown staffing resource f or business of all sizes; though, they are partial to small businesses as they know what it takes to get started. To learn more about Chad Lawie and, visit them online or call (800) 507-1622.
MBIA Template 1 - December 2013