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20-somethings consider Chicago for new digital design company but choose Grand Rapids instead

Sharon Hanks

John Scianna, 22, and Matt DeLong, 23, are perfect examples of the young, high-tech entrepreneurs West Michigan is trying so desperately to retain and attract.

The roommates recently launched Deka Creative, a digital advertising and design group from their Northeast Grand Rapids apartment near Diamond Avenue and Michigan Street, but not before seriously considering a move to Chicago to set up shop.

They concluded Grand Rapids was a much more appealing location for their fledging firm because it offered a lower cost of living, quicker drives to clients and other destinations, a vibrant community and a lot less competition in the 20-something crowd.

"There's definitely a huge design crowd in Grand Rapids, but they're a bit older than us -- 30s and 40s," says Scianna, a Jenison native and 2010 graduate of Kendall College of Art & Design. "We're young, fresh and understand how to connect with a younger audience," he says, adding the pair can offer clients a "rare mix" of strong design talent and a deep knowledge of Internet culture.

"Social media tools present a relatively low-cost, powerful and effective advertising opportunity," he says, but they are frequently untapped by businesses. By creating an intelligent online advertising strategy using Facebook, Google, Foursquare, Twitter, and Yelp, a brand can be reinforced and put into the forefront of the audience's mind, Scianna says.

The duo is dead serious about the business. DeLong was living in New Brunswick, Canada, when he learned nearly two years ago online at www.youngentrepreneur.com that Scianna was looking for a business partner. A series of e-mails, phone calls and collaborations with freelance design work ensued before the pair realized their potential as a team.

The budding entrepreneurs met for the first time in Chicago a few months ago. DeLong, a former student at the University of New Brunswick, moved in with Scianna at their apartment in early July.

"He picked up his whole life really, put it into his car, and drove 22 hours to Grand Rapids," says Scianna.

Last month they launched their website, announcing "We're the guys who connect your business with a world that changes every minute." They also joined the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and began filling out application papers to become a limited liability corporation.

"As we grow, we'd like to add more designers and a person dedicated to sales," he says. "With the next five years, we hope to have 15 to 25 people in an office downtown." At that point, Chicago could be in their business plans, but only for a second office.

Source: John Scianna, Deka Creative, Grand Rapids

Sharon Hanks is innovations and jobs news editor at Rapid Growth Media. Please send story ideas and comments for the column to Sharon at sharon@rapidgrowthmedia.com. She also is owner of The Write Words in Grand Rapids.


Deka Creative Logo

John Scianna left; Matt DeLong right -Courtesy Photo

Grand Rapids energy solutions company aids independent grocers, aims to add jobs

Deborah Johnson Wood

In the last six months, Grand Rapids-based Vantaura Energy Services has honed its market to a fine point, bringing energy efficient products and the resulting cost savings to independent grocers in an effort to help them stay competitive. Company leaders say the refined focus has increased sales and created jobs, with the possibility of more jobs on the way.

Vantaura distributes, installs and services energy efficient systems that include LED lighting and high efficiency motors for refrigerated cases, and heat controllers for freezer doors. The company is also the exclusive North American distributor for Cork, Ireland-based Nualight products.

Vantaura President Bryan Houck says nearly three-quarters of a typical store's energy usage is lighting and refrigeration, and new technologies can increase energy efficiency up to 60 percent.

"Large grocers have engineering departments and energy managers to move forward on these new technologies," Houck says. "What we're finding is that the independent grocer is left behind."

Houck says there are as many as 15 manufacturers of energy products, and independent grocers simply don't have the time or knowledge to figure out which products will help them most. Vantaura does a needs assessment, and recommends a systems package solution.

The solution might include replacing old fan motors with high-efficiency models and replacing heat generating fluorescent bulbs with cool-running LEDs.

"Just between these two products we can take power consumption on a refrigerated case and cut it by 35 to 50 percent," Houck says. "Our projects typically can come in with a 12-month to 28-month ROI. The cost to do nothing is significant."

The company employs 10, and Houck says they are filling positions now for sales reps and licensed technicians. Sales are double what they were at this time in 2009, and he says the firm "stands a good chance of doubling payroll in next 12 months."

Source: Bryan Houck, Vantaura Energy Services; Suzette Garvey, Simply Genuine Communications

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Development News tips can be sent to info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Atomic Object and former IBM executive create joint venture called Blue Medora

Deborah Johnson Wood

Grand Rapids technology firm Atomic Object and Nathan Owen, a former IBM employee, have created a joint venture called Blue Medora to help Fortune 5000 companies manage aspects of cloud computing.

Many companies are moving data systems to the Internet-based Amazon Cloud as a cost savings measure because they don't have to upgrade equipment continually and only pay for the data resources they use.

However, the companies generally lose the ability to monitor their systems when they use Amazon Cloud. Until now.

"Our angle is that this IBM Tivoli Monitoring (ITM) tool hasn't been adapted to work with customers who are putting things in their cloud," Nathan Owen says. "That's what we're doing now, giving them a single view of everything they have."

Blue Medora's software allows users to meter computing resources, disk usage, the number of users in the system, system slowdowns and more. Additionally, companies can determine a cut-off point when the system will alert them they need more capacity to avoid a system crash.

"The software tells companies when to elastically expand," Owen says. "Once you use, let's say, 90 percent capacity, it lets you go out and create new servers in the cloud."

Owen says Blue Medora's relationship with IBM is mutually beneficial – IBM licenses some of Blue Medora's technology and sells it under the IBM brand, and IBM sends Blue Medora customer leads.

Atomic Object incubated Blue Medora at Atomic's offices at 941 Wealthy St. SE for the first 18 months. Atomic's staff worked closely with Owen, enabling him to develop a marketable product without having to hire his own staff. Now the company has some 10 employees and Owen expects to double that in the next 18 months.

"It's in our interest to find people like Nathan with good ideas and to invest in him or her to expand our business," says Carl Erickson, Atomic Object president. "Companies like Atomic and Blue Medora are growing and creating jobs that keep the talent here."

Source: Nathan Owen, Blue Medora; Carl Erickson, Atomic Object

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Development News tips can be sent to info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Rapids' Atomic Object can't sit still – new business model brings 7 new knowledge jobs

Deborah Johnson Wood

Grand Rapids-based Atomic Object is a software development firm that just can't sit still – and doesn't want to. In the last 12 months, the company became employee-owned, added software design to its mix of services, created seven new knowledge jobs and became one of the 2010 Michigan 50 Companies to Watch.

"We have a new emphasis on product development, not just software development, and that helps our clients," says Carl Erickson, president and founder. "If they need design, programming, hosting, need to understand their pricing better or how to attract and retain customers, we can do it all for them."

For instance, Atomic Object recently created a mobile app for Priority Health to make healthcare easier for their customers.

"Our designers needed to know who it was for, the needs it served, what it should look like, how to design it," Erickson says. "All that comes after a lot of other work, and our growth has been driven off getting the right people in position to do that other work and broadening what we bring to clients."

The company used to collaborate with outside design firms, which was successful but had limitations.

"One limitation was that everything became very linear, and that meant we couldn't apply agile design," Erickson says.

In the last year, Atomic Object has created seven jobs, hiring two interaction designers, a communications coordinator and filling five other technical positions, bringing the number of employees to 28.

The company also works with apprentices, some of whom they hire after the apprenticeship is completed. This summer, three apprentices are on board, bringing the total number of apprentices the company has worked with since 2001 to 29.

Erickson says 2009 revenues were flat at $3.4 million, but predicts that 2010 will come in at about $3.9 million.

Source: Carl Erickson, Atomic Object

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Development News tips can be sent to info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Haven's GHSP recreates itself with clean technology, adds 80 West Michigan jobs

Deborah Johnson Wood

It was once a struggling metal stamping plant that had laid off some 150 employees two years ago. Now it's a 40,000-square-foot, clean technology electronics facility that has hired back many of its displaced workers.

Like many other companies that lost business when the automotive industry tanked, Grand Haven-based GHSP took a major hit. But company leaders saw it as an opportunity to transform the metal stamper into a manufacturer of mechatronics controls – controls that integrate mechanics, electronics and computer software.

Its primary customer is still the auto industry, but the company has positioned itself for a wave of change company leaders say is not only shaping the future, but is here already – lighter, safer, fuel efficient and electric vehicles.

"With the automotive vehicle moving more and more to electrification, we started looking at changing our product portfolio as well as our skill sets," says Jeff Smith, COO. "The vision is that more and more of the vehicle manufacturers will be looking at products for better fuel economy, lighter weight, better safety."

Eighty jobs opened up when GHSP closed its Troy electronics facility. The company filled the majority of those jobs by calling back workers laid off in 2008. Smith says GHSP has created an additional 20 new positions worldwide.

"Going forward, our products will have more and more mechatronic parts," he says. "Everything we're doing going forward will be part of the new products and will require skill sets in mechanical, electronics and software production."

GHSP's focus has been creating shift systems, but as it eyes growth outside the automotive market, it continues to develop two new product lines: electronic controls and smart actuators.

The company landed its first non-automotive contract to design and manufacture mechatronic controls for a maker of high-end kitchen appliances. Smith declined to name the client citing confidentiality.

GHSP employs 850 around the world, including 262 in Grand Haven. The company has operations in Detroit, Hart, and Madison Heights, Mich; Dayton, Ohio; Mexico, Japan, Germany and other countries.

Source: Jeff Smith, GHSP; Randy Boileau, Boileau Communications Management, LLC

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Development News tips can be sent to info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

GVSU will offer master's program in biomedical engineering this fall

Sharon Hanks

Grand Valley State University will offer a master's program starting in August in biomedical engineering, a welcome addition that supports efforts to grow the Medical Mile along Michigan Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids.

Associate professor John Farris and assistant professor Samhita Rhodes from GVSU's School of Engineering were awarded $699,997 from the National Science Foundation to develop the program. It will apply mathematics, science and engineering expertise to medicine and health to help increase understanding of areas from molecules to organ systems. That knowledge is vital to develop innovative approaches for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease for patient rehabilitation and for improving health.

Rhodes says the foundation courses will include human physiology, engineering principles that apply to problems in medicine and health, medical device design and research opportunities that will employ methods that translate ideas from concept to bedside. The 38-credit program will take two years to complete

"We're looking forward to students applying," says Rhodes, adding that the program will help diversify the skills set in West Michigan that for so long has been dominated by the automotive industry. "It's a nice new offering. We have wonderful faculty and research."

Students interested in the program will find more information at the School of Engineering's website that will soon be updated with additional details, she says.

Source: Samhita Rhodes, Grand Valley State University, Allendale

Sharon Hanks is innovations and jobs news editor at Rapid Growth Media. Please send story ideas and comments for the column to Sharon at sharon@rapidgrowthmedia.com. She also is owner of The Write Words in Grand Rapids.

Byrne Electrical in Rockford acquires LED lighting company, plans 10 new jobs

Deborah Johnson Wood

Byrne Electrical Specialists, Inc. enters the energy efficiency market in a big way with its recent acquisition of XUS Corporation, an innovator in municipal LED lighting solutions. Byrne has moved all manufacturing from XUS' Holland facility to Rockford and will create some 10 new jobs ranging from production team leaders to thermodynamics and optical assemblies engineers.

Byrne Electrical Specialists provides power and data technology primarily to the furniture industry. Furniture makers embed the technology in desk tops, conference tables and other furniture items for the office market, says Mike Lomonaco, communications manager. The company's 200 employees operate two manufacturing facilities in Rockford. The company also has operations in Mexico and China, and owns Byrne Tool & Die, also in Rockford.

"Our initial focus is tooling and manufacturing of municipal luminaires for roadways," says Rusty McBride, director of business development. "The city of Grand Rapids and city of Traverse City are already onboard with prototypes of XUS Roadway installed by XUS in both cities. What makes the product so unique is that it has passive and active cooling systems."

McBride says the key to the success of LED, or solid state, lighting is the ability to keep the product from overheating; the cooler it operates, the longer it lasts. McBride says one XUS Roadway LED operates at 155 watts and lasts a minimum of 50,000 hours, whereas normal street lights operate at 250 watts and last about 30,000 hours.

Byrne Electronics has prototyped and tested another four LED products and is nearly ready to begin production, McBride says. Those products are aimed at the parking garage, industrial low bay, farming and flood lighting markets.

"This is the direction lighting is going," Lomonaco says. "We're looking to partner with municipalities and some of the universities to light downtowns and outdoor walkways. We're not just looking in North America for opportunities, we're looking globally."

Source: Michael Lomonaco and Rusty McBride, Byrne Electrical Specialists, Inc.

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Development News tips can be sent to info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Rapids information technology services company plans to double revenue, add 25 jobs by 2012

Deborah Johnson Wood

Grand Rapids-based OST (Open Systems Technology) plans to nearly double its revenue from $34 million last year to $60 million by 2012 and add 25 jobs to make that happen.

OST is an information technology services company that provides services ranging from hardware sales to business process consulting in healthcare, manufacturing and finance.

President Dan Behm owes the expected growth to a major shift in geographic operations and the recent addition of an advisory board.

"We previously hired sales reps in Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Detroit and planned to have offices in every major city in the U.S.," Behm says. "Now we're only going to have two hubs – a corporate hub in Grand Rapids, a second hub in Minneapolis. We'll sell specialized solutions nationally and hire the people in Grand Rapids to service them. For example, security assessments. We hire all the sales reps here and our people here will do the assessments and security consulting; they'll go to the clients' sites, but a lot will be done remotely.

"This geographic shift is really a big change for us. It will keep the jobs here in Michigan, but allow us to sell into the rest of the country," he says.

The advisory board consists of two internationally known industry experts: Mac Reynolds, founder of ERL LLC, and Frank J. Feraco, managing partner of Chicago-based Great Lakes Equity Partners.

"The advisory board is a big part of the picture in helping to guide us," Behm says. "Changing the whole geographic expansion came from Frank Feraco. They really are helping us with ideas in terms of making big picture decisions."

OST employs 50, plus 51 contractors. The company hired two sales reps in January and will fill two technology positions in February. The remaining 21 positions will be mostly senior sales people and technical consultants.

Source: Dan Behm, OST

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Have a development news tip for Rapid Growth? Contact us at info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Momentum accepting applications for Web-based new businesses in West Michigan

Got an innovative Web-based business idea you're sure will make money, but unsure how to successfully launch it? There is help for such would-be tech entrepreneurs through Momentum, a West Michigan investment and training program.

Started by Rick DeVos last year, Momentum is gearing up to select and groom the next group of aspiring entrepreneurs who have innovative web technology and applications ideas, but need help getting started.

Applicants have until Feb. 12 to submit their ideas in hopes of being one of up to five budding company owners selected to receive $20,000 in pre-seed capital and attend a rigorous 12-week training program in Holland. 

DeVos, CEO of Pomegranate Studios, helped launch the program with two other West Michigan groups:  The Windquest Group and the economic development group Lakeshore Advantage, "to discover new startup ideas in Michigan and keep our creative capital here."

"We're shooting to get about 100 (applications)," says Bill Holsinger-Robinson, director of Momentum and president of Pomegranate Studios.  "We're trying to stimulate that entrepreneurial thinking but we have to flush them (aspiring entrepreneurs) out and get them to sign up."

Holsinger-Robinson says applicants can hail from any part of the country, but if they are among the potentially five companies selected to participate, they will have to move to the Holland area for the spring and summer.  Once settled, Momentum will introduce them to experts who will help them further develop their technology and business models and provide them with office space and networking opportunities.  The goal is to position the companies with access to additional capital and to successfully launch their companies into the marketplace.

Another obvious goal is to persuade the entrepreneurs to stay in Michigan, but even if they chose not to, Holsinger-Robinson believes that their risk-taking attitude will be contagious and help nurture other entrepreneurs. "The notion is that this energy can be infectious," he says.

Last year Momentum received nearly 30 applications and funded three startups: Downstream, Public Collections and Revetto. Momentum continues to support the developing companies with business advice and help to on-going capital resources.

This year, Holsinger-Robinson says the selection process will be more rigorous, but will also include a more selective pairing of mentors, more education that's customized for each startup and greater flexibility.

Ideal candidates are college graduates with some business background with an inventive idea and a passion for starting their own company, he adds.

"Last year some came in with no development plans, but they had ideas that tried to solve a particular problem," he notes.  "What we got for them was resources . . . . and funding."

Sources:  Bill Holsinger-Robinson, Momentum Director and president of Pomegranate Studios; Momentum website

Sharon Hanks is the editor of innovation and jobs news at Rapid Growth Media.  She can be reached at sharon@rapidgrowthmedia.com

West Michigan university receives $200K to launch nanotechnology courses

Thanks to a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, two Grand Valley State University professors will launch the university's first nanotechnology courses next year.

Lihong (Heidi) Jiao and Nael A. Barakat have two sequential courses in development: the fundamentals of nanotechnology, and advanced nanosystem engineering.

"Nanotechnology is a disciplinary word that encompasses physics, chemistry, biology and engineering," Jiao says. "Nano means cannot see with the naked eye. We are made up of nano particles, so we have the materials in chemicals and the human body and can see the features with the help of instrumentation."

The field of nanotechnology is growing rapidly, Jiao says, and is in nearly every industry, including electronics, biomedical, life sciences research, the clothing industry and even in kitchen goods.

Manufacturers embed anti-bacterial nano particles in socks, shoes and cutting boards, she says. Electronics continue to get smaller because of nanotechnology, and medical devices that used to be huge are now small enough for implantation in a patient's body.

"GVSU students currently have no exposure to nano science or technology," Jiao says. "We want our students to stay aligned with the industry, to have a state of the art education and stay aligned with what's the future of our society. Many local industries came to a GVSU open house and expressed the need of the knowledge in their companies; it's one of the reasons we're developing the courses."

Jiao expects to launch the first course by the fall semester of 2010.

Source: Lihong (Heidi) Jiao, Grand Valley State University

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Haven's GHSP to bring 70 jobs to West Michigan

Paul Doyle says the decision to close GHSP's manufacturing facility in Troy was a bittersweet one. But the need to increase efficiencies and continue the company's foray into the evolving mechatronics trend is necessary to bring future growth and jobs to the company.

GHSP produces electro-mechanical controls for surface transportation vehicles, and the closure of the Troy facility will bring about 70 manufacturing jobs to Grand Haven.

"A couple of things are going on," GHSP president and CEO Doyle says. "One is that our products in the past have been separated between mechanical and electronic, with some based in steel, some based in plastics. Vehicles in surface transportation have been seeing more and more integration of all these. We can now locate them all in one building and maximize efficiencies."

The second change is that as the trend toward electric vehicles continues, manufacturers need non-engine-related products and components to be more electronic in nature.

As a result, the new jobs are associated with electronics manufacturing, including electronic boards, assembly, component placement and soldering. GHSP will provide worker training for all of the positions, ranging from training by equipment manufacturers to the use of community educational resources and in-house trainers.

"The real win is that it isn't just the jobs moved here," Doyle says, "but the jobs that will be created because of the new direction."

Source: Paul Doyle, GHSP

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Gentex Corp. is looking to hire nearly 40 engineers; may also hire more production workers

Automotive supplier Gentex Corp. is trying to make its recruitment process more convenient and confidential in its latest efforts to recruit between 30 to 40 engineers for its Zeeland plant.

Bruce Los, Gentex vice president of human resources, says engineering applicants are encouraged to apply online at the company's website  by Monday, Nov. 23 to be considered for an interview. After recruiters conduct an initial screening of the applicant's credentials, qualified candidates will be contacted for private interviews on Thursday, Dec. 3 in Grand Rapids.

The company is looking to fill electrical, software, computer, and technical engineering project positions due to rising sales.  Applicants must also hold a bachelor's degree in engineering.

"At job fairs, we'd get 600 people lined up, but people happily employed don't want others to know they are poking around a bit," Los says.  Rather than risk tipping their hand to co-workers or employers, the candidate might avoid the job fair altogether, he adds. Others may not be able to break away from their job for a day to attend a fair or have the time to drive to the company's Zeeland headquarters for an interview.

"This is a way to test drive (contact with Gentex) and get to know us a bit," Los says. "We have not exactly recruited this way. It's based on feedback we've gotten back from candidates that, again, in this economic environment, it's risky if you do have a job to be out looking around." 

After shedding nearly 500 jobs over the past year and a half, the manufacturer of automatic-dimming rearview mirrors and commercial fire protection products has begun hiring production workers as well. Since July, Gentex has called back from between 100 to 150 workers who were laid off last December, Los says.

"Sales are going very strong right now," Los says, noting sales of the company's smart beam optimization system and rear camera display mirror are among the leaders. "But with the coming holidays, we're cautious about not bringing on too many people. We'll wait and see how orders progress after the year."

The additional hires would join a Zeeland workforce of 2,300.

In its financial results released for the third quarter ending Sept. 30, Gentex reported a 33 percent increase in net sales on a sequential, quarter-to-quarter basis, from $117.3 million in the second quarter of 2009 to $155.7 million in the third quarter of 2009.

Source: Bruce Los, Gentex Corp. vice president of human resources, Zeeland;
Gentex website. 

Sharon Hanks is the innovation and jobs news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at sharon@rapidgrowthmedia

Two West Michigan manufacturers create 50 new jobs, retain 350 with $21.2M investment

Two West Michigan manufacturers will invest some $21.2 million in capital improvements to retain 350 jobs and create an additional 50 positions. The news came this week after the Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA) board approved tax credits for Consolidated Resource Imaging, LLC (CRI) and Steelcase, Inc.

CRI plans to invest some $3 million to relocate its 11 employees from Allendale to an undisclosed location in Walker. Most of the investment will be in computers, technical and research equipment for the aerospace systems manufacturer.

CRI will create 50 new jobs with an average weekly wage of $1,099, including healthcare benefits.

Between MEGA's High-Tech Tax Credit program and 12-year tax abatement from the city of Walker, CRI's tax incentive will be $873,915.

Steelcase received approval for a Retention MEGA of $4.7 million over eight years for keeping jobs tied to significant new investment.

That investment will be the proposed $18.2 million renovation of the company headquarters at 44th and Kalamazoo to equip and expand the facility to handle the relocation of 350 Steelcase employees from the Corporate Development Center in Gaines Twp.

"Steelcase is obviously a pillar of our West Michigan economy and this investment shows their commitment to West Michigan," says George Bosnjak, Right Place Inc.'s business development manager. Right Place, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and others worked with Steelcase and CRI, helping them navigate the tax incentives, choose a new work site and relocate employees efficiently.

"CRI does very technical work that benefits other companies nationally, if not globally," Bosnjak says." It's the kind of high-tech company many people wouldn't expect to find in West Michigan and another example of the kind of technology and expertise that's available here."

To receive the MEGA incentives for creating or retaining jobs, companies must prove they've created or retained a specified number of jobs for each year of the incentive period.
Source: George Bosnjak, Right Place, Inc.

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

National software developer opens Grand Rapids user experience design hub

Universal Mind, an enterprise-level rich Internet application developer for the web, desktop and mobile devices, has opened its first development hub dedicated to user experience design. The new office, located in the Brass Works Building in Grand Rapids' Monroe North business district, began operations November 1.

The Westfield, Massachusetts-based company's client list includes technology leaders Adobe, Verizon Wireless, Kodak and JibJab, says Erik Loehfelm, director of user experience design and head of the Grand Rapids office.

One popular application developed by the company in conjunction with Adobe is the Verizon Media Store.

"We build the software in a user-centric way," Loehfelm says. "We determine who the users will be and design interactive software around those users in a beautiful, simple, elegant way.

"We consider Grand Rapids a center of design thought, especially as it relates to user design and interactive design, so it seems likes a good place to be a center of excellence," he says. "We like to call it the Silicon Mitten as opposed to the Silicon Valley."

Loehfelm has lived in Grand Rapids for seven years; the other four designers on the team are lifelong residents. All have worked together in the past and are active in a variety of technology-centric organizations, including Design West Michigan, AimWest and MichiganXD.

Loehfelm expects to add another 10 positions in the next six months and will use the office as a meeting space to bring clients from around the country for face-to-face meetings.

Universal Mind has offices in Massachusetts, Golden, Colo. and San Francisco. The company employs 50 fulltime workers and 70 fulltime contractors. Loehfelm says all of the company's resources work remotely, with the exception of the new Grand Rapids office which accommodates 15 people and is the company's largest location.
Source: Erik Loehfelm, Universal Mind

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Owners of start-up Holland company aim to revolutionize the North American truck industry

Two Holland entrepreneurs are aiming to revolutionize the North American truck industry by introducing drivers to an innovative Austrian-designed truck trailer with side panels that lift up with a push of a button.

Bob Hakken, 52, and Duke De Leeuw, 47, signed a deal this month with Wingliner International to become the sole distributors of Wingliner System kits for sale in Canada, Mexico and the United States.  The start-up venture, Wingliner North America Inc., would produce and sell the kits used to transform new truck chassis into a Wingliner truck, bringing jobs to West Michigan and helping truck owners greatly reduce transportation operating costs.

The partners hope to begin contracting out the manufacture of component parts and the assembly work to local Holland-Zeeland companies in early 2010. Visits to Plascore, Inc. in Zeeland, Genzink Steel of Holland and BuhlerPrince Inc. of Holland  have taken place but no deals have been signed, Hakken says. He estimates the work could result in creating five to 10 new local jobs next year.

"We just really believe in this product and see a bright future," says Hakken.  "This could really snowball into something really big because it's cost effective. We're very excited."

Unlike traditional truck trailers seen on North American roads, the side walls of a Wingliner can be moved into any position. They can be brought to rest flat on the truck roof in 10 seconds using an hydraulic circuit started by a push of a button. Loaded goods can more readily be accessed in the shortest possible time from the trailer's sides and back.  The company says there can be an enormous reduction of time and operating costs with every loading and unloading process compared with conventional trucks.

Wingliner North America plans to produce a variety of Wingliner kits containing the components needed to transform the chassis of any type of new commercial vehicle -- truck, trailer, semi-truck, swap trailer, container or dump truck -- into a Wingliner.

Only a handful of Wingliner trucks exist in America.  One has been used since 2004 by another Holland company owned by Hakken and De Leeux:  Wagner Wood Products.   The demo Wingliner vehicle was discovered while the pair was searching for a better delivery system for their newly purchased distributorship of small hardwood and plywood goods at 80 W. Lakewood Blvd. Hakken says company drivers immediately recognized a "tremendous impact" on time-saving efficiencies while making loading and unloading products. "It's all about efficiencies," he says.

"In the trucking industry, pent-up demand is growing," Hakken says. "So many fleet owners have been sitting on the sidelines due the economy.  But as that turns, they'll be faced with replacing equipment on the road.  They'll be looking for ways to become more efficient."

Wingliner International was started in 1996 in Salzburg, Austria after Johann Strasser Sr. invented the Wingliner System. Since then, thousands of Wingliner kits have been sold all over the world, including China, Europe, Japan, South America and Australia.

Source: Bob Hakken, Wingliner North America, Holland; Wingliner International website

Sharon Hanks is the innovation and jobs news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at sharon@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

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