MI Celebrates Small Business hands out awards Thursday


Nearly 60 small companies from across the state will be honored at the 11th annual Michigan Celebrates Small Business event Thursday at the Lansing Center in downtown Lansing.

Awards include the Michigan 50 Companies to Watch, Main Street USA, Small Business Innovation, Government Contractor of the Year, Small Business Person of the Year, Small Business Exporter of the Year and others.

Named 2015 Small Business Person of the Year is Pat LeBlanc, owner and chairman of EBW Electronics, 13110 Ransom St., Holland.

Military Veteran Small Business Owner of the Year is Luciano Hernandez, president/founder of Tiger Studio, a design firm that relocated to Holland from Zeeland earlier this year.

Some companies receiving a Michigan 50 Companies to Watch Award are also from the west side of the state. The award is sponsored by Michigan Celebrates Small Business to recognize growth-oriented businesses based on market expansion, job creation, technological innovation and community impact. The companies represent a wide variety of industries, and must be privately held and headquartered in Michigan, have between six and 99 employees and generate between $750,000 to $50 million in annual revenue, or have working capital from investors or received grants in 2014.

The 2015 Michigan 50 Companies to Watch includes eight from Grand Rapids: Blackford Capital, Boxed Water is Better, Creative Studio Promotions, Firstronic, Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing, NxGen MDx, Sun Title and Varsity News Network. Two are from Holland: AlSentis and SpinDance; and one is from Kentwood: Genius Phone Repair.

Contractor of the Year is the Oldenburg Group Inc. in Kingsford; Young Entrepreneur of the Year is Alex Riley of MeritHall Inc. in Rochester Hills; and the Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year is Walker-Miller Energy Services in Detroit, led by president/CEO Carla Walker-Miller.

LeBlanc’s EBW Electronics produces printed circuit boards fitted with LED lights used in automobiles, and the company has been doing very well.

“Just this week we hired our 200th employee,” said LeBlanc, adding that a year ago, the employee roster was about 150.

In 2013, EBW Electronics was named by Inc. Magazine as the fastest-growing privately held manufacturing company in the Midwest. According to MiQuest.org, one of the sponsors of Michigan Celebrates Small Business, during the period including 2013, EBW’s revenue grew more than 600 percent and employment jumped from 35 to 151.

LeBlanc said sales revenues are expected to grow 25 percent in 2015 and he anticipates further growth of 25 percent in 2016. Employment may grow by another 10 percent or more in 2015, too.

EBW Electronics occupies a 71,000-square-foot plant but acquired additional adjacent property recently, which will enable the company to expand further in the next few years if the growth continues according to forecasts.

LeBlanc said EBW is in effect a tier 2 supplier to tier 1 suppliers that put the printed circuit boards with LEDs into the enclosure assemblies for tail lights and some running lights and brake lights. The finished enclosures are delivered to many of the major OEM automakers.

“Everyone knows the automotive industry is doing very well, but on top of that is an extra bump for us,” he said. A higher percentage of new cars coming off the assembly lines are now fitted with LED lights.

“The percentage is increasing each year,” he said.

The company was originally founded in Muskegon in 1992 by his father, Leo LeBlanc, and the current president, Cory Steeby.

Pat LeBlanc has had a unique dual career path. He is a veterinarian anesthesiologist and was a tenured professor at the Michigan State University veterinary medicine school from 1986 to 1994. Then he was hired to be president at EBW Electronics and was there until part of the business was sold, at which point he returned to MSU as director of the veterinarian teaching hospital from 2003 to 2012. Then it was back to EBW in his current role as chairman.

“Career ADD, I call it,” quipped LeBlanc.

The most recent expansion of the highly automated EBW plant will be celebrated by a ribbon-cutting this week. Gov. Rick Snyder may be in attendance, according to LeBlanc.

Some of the West Michigan 50 Companies to Watch that may not be as familiar to Business Journal readers are SpinDance, NxGen MDx and AlSentis.

AlSentis, based in Holland, has developed touch recognition technology used in electrical engineering for capacitive sensing. According to Wikipedia, human interface devices based on capacitive sensing include trackpads that replace a computer mouse. Digital audio players, mobile phones and tablets all use capacitive-sensing touchscreens.

AlSentis was founded by David Caldwell, who serves as chief technology officer. The firm’s intellectual property portfolio covers more than 15 years of innovation.

NxGen, founded in 2012, is located on the Medical Mile in Grand Rapids. It offers genetic testing to individuals planning to become parents, using state-of-the-art technology commonly referred to as next generation sequencing.

According to the NxGen website, the majority of genetic testing laboratories only study a portion of the gene, leaving room for error with missed mutations, especially when testing a variety of ethnicities. By sequencing the entire gene, NxGen MDx said its testing eliminates the doubt in a negative result.

SpinDance is a systems engineering and software development firm launched in Holland in 2000 by Mike Ellis. With more than 50 employees, SpinDance serves manufacturers in the automotive supply chain, consumer electronics and industrial products.

The company has invested heavily in the last few years in recruiting embedded software and mobile software developers. A year ago the firm opened another location in southeast Grand Rapids. SpinDance customers range in size from Fortune 100 to start-ups, in a variety of industries that also include appliances, insurance and banking.

The 2015 theme of Michigan Celebrates Small Business is Unleashing Innovation and Growth, and has produced an inspiring set of awardees, said Diane Durance, president of MiQuest, the managing partner for Michigan Celebrates Small Business.

“The companies to be honored on May 7 collectively achieved more than $308 million in total revenue and employed 1,748 people in 2014. This year, they’re planning to create 798 new jobs,” said Durance.

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