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Wellness spa takes home $20,000 in free rent, business resources as Muskegon's 321 Go! pitch winner

With sights set on bringing new retailers to Muskegon’s growing Midtown business district, Downtown Muskegon Now’s panel of five judges selected East of Eden Wellness Spa as the winner of its 321 Go! pitch competition earlier this month, with spa owner Jodi McClain taking home a prize package worth a combined $20,000. 

Hosted at Grand Valley State University’s Muskegon Innovation Hub, the April 13 event doubled as both a Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce "Business After Hours" event and a final round of the 321 Go! pitch competition spearheaded by Downtown Muskegon Now

“I am excited and humbled to be selected as every one of the other presenters did such a great job. Thanks to all who have taken a chance on me,” says McClain, a veteran massage therapist whose current practice at 3374 Merriam St. offers a variety of spa services, from the more traditional Swedish, deep tissue, and hot stone massages to more specialized services, such as cancer and oncology massages, trigger point therapy, and ionic foot detoxes. 

Pitching an expansion plan that would allow East of Eden Wellness Spa Center to expand its operations into a “destination wellness business,” the revamped East of Eden space will also offer floatation and dry salt therapy along with its existing menu of spa services. 

Citing a passionate and well-researched business plan alongside McClain’s years of experience as part of their decision to select East of Eden’s expansion plans to win the 321 Go! competition, the five-person judging panel also noted a lack of existing spa and wellness service options in Midtown Muskegon, seeing an opportunity to add a unique retailer to the growing corridor. 

As winner of 321 Go!, McClain must be open for business in the new Midtown retail space by June 2017 and will receive six months of free rent at 1144 Third St. courtesy of building owner Brad Martell. After that, McClain will negotiate a one-year lease with Martell, with prize conditions requiring the competition winner to continue operating in the space for at least 18 months after the initial opening. 

The prize package also includes a plethora of free business support services and resources, including everything from legal, accounting, marketing, architectural and design services to commitments by Downtown Muskegon Now, GVSU’s Muskegon Innovation Hub and the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce to promote and mentor the winning business/business owner.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Downtown Muskegon Now

Related articles: 
Downtown Muskegon’s 321 Go! utilizes pitch competition to incentivize new downtown retail

Grand Rapids' first-ever African American-owned cosmetology school celebrates opening

In all of the greater Grand Rapids area, there’s only one cosmetology school that is African American-owned and operated — and it has just opened for business.

Co-founded by licensed cosmetology instructors Theresa Mosley and Summer Williams, the new Mosley Cosmetology School held a ribbon cutting ceremony April 10 to commemorate the grand opening of its new Brentwood Centre facility at 4454 Breton Road SE. 

Part of the salon and spa industry that generates nearly $40 billion in annual sales in the U.S. alone, Mosley Cosmetology School marks not only the first black-owned beauty school in the greater Grand Rapids area, but also the first time a natural hair care certificate program is being offered in West Michigan. 

“I am ecstatic to open Mosley School of Cosmetology,” Mosley says. “This has been a dream come true.” 

The new cosmetology school creates both a new option for vocational training in the greater Grand Rapids community and a necessary one, filling some of the void left behind by other “chain” vocational schools that used to have campuses in West Michigan — Minnesota-based Regency Beauty Institute, for example, whose Grand Rapids campus closed abruptly with its other 78 campuses in September of last year, just weeks after ITT Technical Institute announced plans to shut down all 130 of its locations.

With a degree in business management from Cornerstone University and a specialization in hair extensions and healthy hair, Mosley says she built her new school on the foundation of her longtime vision to create “a place where education, community and entrepreneurship build strong leaders in the cosmetology industry.” 

With small class sizes, affordable tuition payments, and curriculum that incorporates 1,500 hour of hands-on training, MCS students can choose between full- and part-time classes to complete the 350 hours of experience required to obtain a cosmetology license. Though MCS offers flexible re-payment options at zero interest to students enrolled in either of its two course programs, grants and scholarships are also available. 

“It has been my vision to bring quality education that will help students graduate with confidence, knowledge and skills to build their business,” Mosley says. 

With the capacity to serve 60 students between morning and night sessions, Mosley Cosmetology  School is open Monday through Friday. For more information about Mosley Cosmetology School, or to schedule an appointment with an enrollment specialist online, visit mosleysoc.com or find Mosley Cosmetology School here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Mosley Cosmetology School 

Downtown Muskegon’s 321 Go! utilizes pitch competition to incentivize new downtown retail

Since the closing and demolition of the Muskegon Mall over 15 years ago, the downtown business community along the Muskegon lakeshore has focused on the slow and steady revitalization of new businesses and retail in the formerly titled Third Street Business District, now referred to more simply as Midtown.

Executive Director David Alexander of the downtown business improvement district, Downtown Muskegon Now, says bringing in new retailers is the last piece of the live-work-play puzzle that has picked up speed along the lakeshore over the past few years thanks to larger collaborative initiatives between the city, its chamber of commerce, and other local economic developers and community organizations.

“We want to build a diverse downtown that is dynamic; one that has a live, work, play environment for all kinds of talent looking for a staying place, and retail is really just the last of those segments that we need to start rebuilding,” says Alexander, who recently announced the launch of a new pitch competition called 321 Go!, developed in partnership by Downtown Muskegon Now, the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, and Grand Valley State University’s Muskegon Innovation Hub.

“The GVSU Muskegon Innovation Hub has very much wanted and is wanting to get involved with new business development, and to encourage its entrepreneurial class and be a strong partner to Downtown Muskegon and revitalization on the downtown waterfront and nobody has been a bigger support of downtown redevelopment in Muskegon than the Muskegon Chamber,” says Alexander, who worked with partner organizations to model the business competition off of a similar one in Sacramento, California that they came across while brainstorming ideas to kick-start more downtown retail.

“We thought, hey, we can do that here, and we’ll see if we can get the interest from people and find the right tenant to embrace the space,” he says.

With a flexible application deadline set for March 17, 321 Go! partners will select five finalists to go on to the April 13 pitch event, where each will have the opportunity to present a case for their business or business plan to a small panel of judges with the chance to win a basket of business services valued at $15,000 and six months of free rent in a Midtown retail space.

After receiving six months of free rent on the retail space at 1144 Third Street as part of the prize winnings, the winning retailer will need to negotiate a one-year lease with building owner Brad Martell, a Grand Rapids entrepreneur and property developer who began redeveloping the former Oldsmobile dealership showroom and office for new retail space shortly after purchasing the property in 2016.

The competition winner must also be able to open for business by June 2017 and continue to operate in that space for at least 18 months thereafter to receive all the benefits of the massive prize package, which includes legal, accounting, marketing, architectural and design services as well as a commitment from Downtown Muskegon Now, GVSU’s Muskegon Innovation Hub and the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce to promote and mentor the winning business/business owner.

“There is a host of business support services the winner will be able to access through our sponsors and the Muskegon Innovation Hub,” says Kevin Ricco, executive director of GVSU’s Muskegon Innovation Hub.

Alexander says any and all retailers, both for and non-profit, as well on-site service operations are encouraged and welcome to apply to be a 321 Go! finalist with the exception of restaurants/restauranteurs, who are only disqualified because the space at 1144 Third Street doesn’t have the commercial kitchen required for food service operations.

For more information on 321 Go! or two submit an application for your business or start-up idea, visit downtownmuskegon.org/321go/.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Downtown Muskegon Now

Power to the people: WestSide Collaborative & Harmony Hall launch fundraiser for neighborhood grants

If you are looking to contribute to a local, grassroots cause this holiday season, it doesn’t get more local and more grassroots than the partnership between Harmony Hall and the WestSide Collaborative. 

For the month of December, Harmony Hall will be selling ornaments to raise funds for the WestSide Collaborative’s resident empowerment grant program, with empowerment being the key word.
 
The WestSide Collaborative is a group of local nonprofits and neighborhood organizations located in, and working on, the west side of Grand Rapids that seeks to address the marginalization of west side residents due to the concentration of power held by entities and individuals other than the residents themselves.

Sergio Cira-Reyes, of the WestSide Collaborative, says the grant program will fund programs designed by residents and for residents of the west side of Grand Rapids. “The goal is to connect residents with other residents to improve the neighborhood and build community,” he says.
 
These efforts come at a particularly crucial time, with “mom ‘n pop” shops giving way to larger developments and rents continually rising. In an article Rapid Growth published last year, Andrew Sisson, of the WestSide Collaborative, explained the tension behind the changes occurring on the city’s west side.

Cira-Reyes says this new program is open to all west side residents living in an area that is roughly west of the Grand River, north of Wealthy Street, south of Richmond, and east of Valley.  Ideas and applications for the  empowerment grants program are submitted on their website and then the neighborhood votes to see which project will be awarded up to $1,000. 

As far the types of projects that can be submitted, Cira-Reyes says it is up to the people living in the neighborhoods.  “If they want to fund a mural, to build pride, and they can get the residents energized to vote, that is fine,” he says.
 
Cira-Reyes encourages anyone submitting ideas to think of proposals that will bring the neighborhood together, whether it is, for example, a repurposing existing spaces for soccer fields or improving local parks. “It’s really about residents addressing the issues in the neighborhoods,” he says. “We want to build a culture so that if there is a problem in the community we can get together and fix it.”

Heather Van Dyke-Titus, co-owner of the west side’s Harmony Hall, says this is exactly the type of program her business believes in supporting. “The WestSide Collaborative are old school organizers,” she says. “They are raising money and working on projects that directly impact the neighborhoods.”

Harmony Hall will kick off the fundraiser with a celebration on Dec. 8. The event will feature the local band The Bootstrap Boys playing holiday music from 6-9 pm, the release of the Gingerbread Brown beer, and festive food specials. Representatives from the WestSide Collaborative will be present to share information about the grant program.

Submissions for ideas close on Dec. 16. The top ideas, as voted by the residents, will be pitched to a panel of judges, which will include people living in the neighborhood, to determine the winner of the grant on Jan. 19. Cira-Reyes says organization has a full-court press to get the word out about the grant, including meetings with students in the local middle school and Union High School. 

To learn more, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Dec. 10 opening of Pop Up Shop GR brings unique retail space to Avenue for the Arts

Located at 315 S. Division along the Avenue for the Arts, the new Pop Up Shop GR will hold its grand opening Dec. 10. The event will be hosted by Pop Up Shop owner Tova Jones. 

The new Pop Up Shop was created by Jones to encourage entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, and other independent entities to take the first leap at owning and promoting their own work. 

“I want to get e-commerce business owners, artists, and musicians excited about a space where they can come and sell their product,” says Jones.

Jones adds that because many e-commerce business owners don’t often get the opportunity to hold a space of their own outside of festivals and other tabling events, Pop Up Shop’s vision is to provide a venue that helps entrepreneurs expand their brand and have a local touchpoint with their customer base.

For more information about Pop Up Shop GR, email Jones at grpopupshop@gmail.com or visit here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Pop Up Shop GR

From Second City to Beer City: These GR comedians plan to open improv comedy venue

Grand Rapids comedian Joe Anderson knows that when it comes to opening an improv, sketch and experimental comedy venue and cocktail bar in downtown Grand Rapids, failure is not an option.

“We want to come out swinging because unless we do that, we can't open,” says Anderson, who has worked for the past two years alongside fellow comedian Ben Wilke to draft plans and garner support for The Comedy Project. The two recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for the venue, and its $25,000 funding goal is growing steadily within reach.

“Even with the Kickstarter, we could have done it for more money, but the worst thing that would have happened would be not meeting that Kickstarter goal because we need everything to be a win,” he says. “In the same way, there are so many people — whether it's a restaurant, but certainly a theater and comedy — so many people have had enough bad experiences or just mediocre experiences that they're not excited to go back… So, we need to make sure that anyone who comes, the first time they come, they're just like, 'Oh my gosh, this is great. I could do this once a month.’”

A Western Michigan University graduate, Second City alumnus, and seven-year board member of the non-profit Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids, Anderson began working with Wilke — a Chicago native who also has roots in the Windy City’s famed Second City comedy troupe — began working more dedicatedly on The Comedy Project two years ago.

The goal of the space, Anderson says, is to be a kind of “repertoire comedy place,” with a small group of six to 10 performers who are on stage performing both improv and sketch comedy shows regularly,  with scheduling wiggle room for other comedians and improv troupes to host their own shows.

“There would be this core group of people doing the ‘heavy lifting’ of the performances, but then there would be an unknown huge amount of other people putting shows on, putting shows on the other nights, stepping in when for some reason someone else can't do the show — kind of building this stable of performers,” he says, adding that although they are open to hosting some alt stand-up comedians for special event shows, they’re avoiding the more traditional comedy genre in favor of the more experimental.

In addition to daily improv shows, The Comedy Project will offer improv and sketch comedy classes geared at career development and innovation within professional organizations, using the tenets of improv to help people in all walks of life sharpen their communication skills.

“There will be an 18-year-old kid who just thinks he's funny, and then the 35-year-old mom who also does improv and then some 65-year-old executive at a company who’s also trying to learn how to talk more extemporaneously, how to seem more approachable or be more open to other people's ideas, since those are all things that happen in good improvising,” Anderson says.

Though the duo are still waiting to finalize details on the space, they’ve already solidified a few very important partnerships, including working with Matt Smith, owner of PitStop BBQ & Catering, to bring a full menu to a space with only a prep kitchen in its plans.

Anderson and Wilke have also received support from Michele Sellers, who was instrumental in the launch of local establishments that include Stella's and Hopcat, and like Revue Holding Co.'s Brian Edwards has been consulting on the project and plans for the future space -- which promises something just as unconventional as its performances.

“In our minds, we want this space to look like the comedy place cobbled together after some kind of apocalyptic event happened, and everyone just grabbed whatever they could to make this place seem like a theater — but they did grab the best things they could,” Anderson says.

There are a few logistics and funding hurdles to clear before solidifying any concrete timeline for opening, though ideally the The Comedy Project would be fully operational this spring for LaughFest 2017.

In a city that just keeps growing, Anderson says he’s confident he and Wilke have come to Grand Rapids at a time when something like The Comedy Project has a real shot.

“It’s just what's happening right now in Grand Rapids. It's the same reason why there's all these restaurants and all of these new developments; there's a Trader Joe's, and there's another brewery,” he says. “I think people just feel like they've been given permission to try things, and I think that applies to us as well. Looking at the kind of climate here in Grand Rapids right now it's like, ‘Yeah, we gotta do this. Grand Rapids can pull this off.’”

Click here to learn more about The Comedy Project’s Kickstarter campaign, which is open through Nov. 11, or find The Comedy Project here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Comedy Project

Bold Socks S. Division retail outlet takes off running

When Bold Socks hosted its first holiday pop-up shop last November in a new space at 17 S. Division Ave., co-owners Ryan Roff and Ryan Preisner had modest plans for making the space into a more permanent store — the first physical retail outlet for the sock retailer’s then online-only sales operation. 

“We were thinking we were going to do a couple of hundred of dollars worth of business during the holidays…but when we opened we were overwhelmed by the amount of people coming through here, the amount of media that we got,” says Roff, who, alongside being the co-owner, is also creative director at Bold Socks. “It kind of transformed our model to what we thought was going to be to just help pay the rent to actually being somewhat of of a successful business just from the store.” 

In fact, Roff says barely one month after opening its first physical retail space, Bold Socks brought in more than 1,200 orders in the month of December 2015 alone, though online sales still account for nearly 95 percent of its business. 

Though 17 S. Division’s actual retail space accounts for only 700 of the 1,700 total square-foot space — the other 1,000 square feet of basement storage space earmarked for an ever-growing inventory — the brightly lit front room is cozy and features hanging displays of each brand Bold Socks carries, which includes names like Happy Socks, Stance, and Darn Tough alongside its own self-titled brand of basics and novelty designs, and their second private label Statement Sockwear.

Both brands — operated under the parent company Bold Endeavors — have grown quite a bit over the past year, with Bold Socks branching out from basics alone to more novelty prints designed to lure in locals like Michigan Mittens and Beer City USA editions, while each purchase made from the Statement Sockwear line helps to provide clean water solutions like rainwater harvesting cisterns and sand and membrane water filters through a partnership with the nonprofit 20 Liters, is also growing, with Roff currently finalizing dozens of new designs that he himself created to expand the brand, both in stores and online. 

“I think our company has thrived on the creative of selling these things that other people aren't selling online, so the fact that we can offer all of in Grand Rapids I think is pretty cool because we become more of an industry leader in the sock business,” he says. “From that perspective we have to be able to offer cutting edge design that competes with some fashion designers in New York, big box stores like Target that have dedicated fashion teams...it's a challenge but I think that we’re definitely competing.” 

To check out all of Bold Socks’ collections online, visit www.boldsocks.com and find Bold Socks here on Facebook to stay up to date on new designs and in-store promotions.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Anya Zentmeyer 


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Bold Socks plans Nov. pop-up shop in advance of spring opening for new S. Division retail space

GROW's micro-loan program increases opportunities for women entrepreneurs in West Michigan

Although the organization Grand Rapids Opportunities For Women (GROW) has been an active entrepreneurial resource for West Michigan women interested in business ownership for more than 25 years, CEO Bonnie Nawara says it’s not uncommon for she and her co-workers to be approached at speaking engagements by attendees who can’t believe they’ve never heard of the organization before. 

“I think the city has grown, and I think there are a lot of new people that aren’t familiar with the resources available to them in the city,” says Nawara, whose organization’s micro-loan program will now be able to provide more support than ever before thanks to a recent designation as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). In order to receive this certification from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, the organization must have a primary mission of promoting community development, providing financial products and services; serving one or more defined low-income target markets; maintaining accountability to the community it serves; and being a legal non-governmental entity. 

Nawara says the CDFI designation will allow for GROW’s micro-loan program to offer five times the funding it has in the past, increasing from $50,000 to $250,000, creating even more financial support options to be provided alongside its professional, high-quality training and business counseling programs in finance, management, marketing, and strategic planning.

Over the past four and a half years, GROW has provided more than $1 million in these micro-loan funds, helping local individuals create more than 53 new businesses, fund 21 new start-ups, and create 92 jobs in low to moderate income communities last year alone. And although 77 percent of GROW’s clients are women, the organization’s service demographics reach beyond gender to include 23 men, and 51 percent of the businesses served by GROW’s micro-loan program are minority owned. 

“If you are a micro-borrower under GROW’s umbrella, then our training resources are free resources to you, and we really encourage our borrowers to take advantage of that,” Nawara says.

For more information on GROW, its micro-loan program, or educational opportunities for new business owners, visit www.http://www.growbusiness.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Opportunities For Women

Bold Socks plans Nov. pop-up shop in advance of spring opening for new S. Division retail space

This holiday season, Bold Socks wants you to live boldly.

This new S. Division retailer is hoping to make your steps matter more with a November pop-up shop that will give customers a taste of its distinct and unique merchandise — top-notch socks. 

Formerly an online-only retailer, Bold Socks began five years ago as a competition between co-workers who, at the time, worked on staff at Gordon Food Services. 

“It turned into this idea that there wasn’t enough selling of socks online and no one was bringing the best brands together,” says Ryan Roff, co-owner and director of creative and marketing. “The opportunity was identified to try to start our own website, and it grew from $3,000 in sales the first year to $180,000 the next year and it’s just taken off since then.”

Though eventually Bold Socks owners will make17 S. Division its permanent physical retail space, Roff says a pop-up shop made more sense with the timeframe they’re working under, having just recently signed the lease on the 1,700-square-foot storefront.

“…to try to put that all together in a month’s time, we felt, just wasn’t worth it; but we do want to get our socks showcased and get the backbone of what our store will look like up (for the holiday season),” Roff says. 

Though Roff says big-box retailers like Target are more recently selling similarly expressive sock fashions, he’s not worried about the competition. Not only does Bold Socks hold a unique niche in the market as one of very few exclusive retailers for statement-making socks, its parent company Bold Endeavors also has two of its own brands sold through boldsocks.com — the basic Bold Socks label compromised primarily of solid color socks, and a second private label called Statement Sockwear, which reaches beyond just revenue in its mission. 

“Your purchase goes so much further than just buying a pair of socks,” Roff says. “With our socks, you’re able to contribute 100 days of clean water with each pair you purchase.” 

To date, Bold Socks has been able to contribute 2.5 million days of clean water to African villages by way of its partner organization 20 Liters, which focuses not only on bringing clean water to specific communities, but also on helping those communities build their own sustainable infrastructure by spearheading new partnerships between business owners and churches in the area and making sure community leaders are properly trained to continue a slow but steady trend of economic growth. 

“The social enterprise business model is something we believe really strongly in; in fact, we believe all companies should consider a social enterprise model if they have that opportunity,” he says, adding that they liked the idea of being a part of helping to build sustainable systems versus just donating money to a charity. 

After its scheduled grand opening this spring, Bold Socks’ new 17 S. Division space will give owners approximately 1,000 square feet for inventory with the remaining 700 allocated to retail space. 

He says he and CEO Ryan Preisner, alongside business partners Dan Manshaem and Adam Whitmore, are looking forward to not only consolidating operations from their respective basements, but also to new opportunities to get involved in the community and be a part of South Division’s renaissance, so to speak. 

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here. Not only is it extremely central to Grand Rapids – I think that corner is something people think of as iconic to the essential downtown area — but there’s an opportunity to participate in the community,” says Roff, adding that choosing a location based on sales demographic alone does little to foster the diversity of brand when you compare it to actual engagement. 

“We believe strongly in the growth of Grand Rapids and I think in order to attract people that actually want to walk around and be in downtown as part of a retail sector, it requires businesses like ours that are unique and offer a one-of-a-kind experience to be able to continue to progress that area downtown.” 

To check out Bold Socks’ full inventory online, visit Bold Socks online or find Bold Socks on Facebook for more updates on its November pop-up shop and spring grand opening. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Bold Socks Endeavors

Holland-based Michigan Pantry to open second location in Downtown GR Market

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market will welcome Michigan Pantry on Sept. 10 as its newest local retailer, a second location for the Holland-based business that launched its first location at 210 S. River Avenue in 2013. 

Michigan Pantry promotes not only a variety of Michigan-made food products, kitchenware, art, jewelry, beer, and wine from local producers, but also sells items from its own growing product line of specialty food products like Michigan honey, maple syrup, salsa and blueberry products. 

“There were some things we wanted and were looking for that were Michigan made, and if we can’t find what we're after or the quality isn’t there, then we think, you know what, why don’t we just do it ourselves,” says Michigan Pantry’s owner Robin Nash. 

Like its original Holland location, Michigan Pantry’s new Downtown Market location will carry entirely Michigan-made food and gifts, too. 

“We love the Market and what it is kind of about there and that whole vibe of what’s going on, and we just felt like we were a really good fit for being over there,” Nash says. “Our products are unique; they’re not things you’re going to find all over the place, a lot of them are just sold here.”

Nash said sometime last year she explored opening a second location in a mall or other location, but never felt as if those kinds of venues quite fit the primary vision of Michigan Pantry, which is to support local entrepreneurs and artisans. 

However, when they began talking with organizers at the Downtown Grand Rapids Market, Nash says a Grand Rapids location started to make more sense. Combined with an existing customer base in the Grand Rapids/Hudsonville area, she says she feels good about taking this next step for expanding the physical presence for Michigan Pantry. 

“I think we just wanted to be able to reach more people,” she says. “We love the whole Downtown Market location and what they’re about. It just seems like a perfect fit for us. There’s really nowhere else that I can picture us being that we would be such good fit, honestly.” 

To learn more about Michigan Pantry and its full product line, visit their website here or find them on Facebook. For more information on the Downtown Grand Rapids Market, visit downtownmarketgr.com/. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Michigan Pantry

New commercial kitchen at the Muskegon Farmers Market promotes entrepreneurship, nutrition, and food


Housed at the Muskegon Farmers' Market, the new rentable commercial kitchen, Kitchen 242, was designed in the spirit of a two-fold mission: first, create a space where food entrepreneurs can make a low-risk investment in developing their new business and centralize other strategic resources that can help them succeed along the way; and secondly, provide a more engaging avenue for educating the community about nutrition and healthy food. 

“It was modeled as 60 percent entrepreneurs and 40 percent education, and what we’re hoping is that we can start to build on the education piece,” says Dana Gannon, education and event coordinator for Kitchen 242 and a nutritionist with the Muskegon County Health Department. 

At 1,520 square feet, Kitchen 242 boasts all of the fixings of a fully-furnished commercial kitchen, including a range, griddle, convection and conventional ovens, cooler, workspace, and cold/dry storage. The kitchen is equipped with professional quality appliances for cooking and refrigeration and includes a selection of pots, pans, and sheet trays that can be used onsite, but all other small wares like foil or plastic wrap are left to the individual renters. 

The space is available to individuals, organizations, and new businesses at hourly rates of $20 for prep work, and $25 for baking, processing, or catering. Block rates are also available for the kitchen space with advanced reservation, designed largely to eliminate long-term leases and facility management/maintenance costs for new entrepreneurs looking for a workspace. 

Gannon says as a bonus feature, any individual who rents out Kitchen 242 is also eligible for a free stall at the Muskegon Farmers' Market, complete with a promotional banner. 

Kitchen 242 was formed in a collaboration between the Downtown Development Corporation, the Muskegon County Health Department and Pioneer Resources, who received a $200,000 appropriation form the budget of the Department of Agricultural and Rural Development to help fund the project, with additional donations from Trinity Health and other area organizations. 

Kitchen 242 comes during a campaign for federal funding launched by the city to create a new downtown food hub, Gannon says. Both the community kitchen space and plans for a future food hub crafted in a collaborative effort are intended not only to spark more economic growth in downtown Muskegon, but also to help address the disparity in access to fresh food and nutrition education that has put the region near the bottom of the county health rankings for the past decade. 

“If we can make this a education kitchen, as well, then we can change the dynamic and the face of Muskegon, working to make Muskegon one of the healthiest counties by 2021,” Gannon says. 

For more information, visit Kitchen 242's website or find them on Facebook here.  To learn more about how to start your own food-related business, check the Michigan State University Product Center online and explore its how-to guide for getting started. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Kitchen 242

Ferris Coffee plans to test drive new Trust Building location with ArtPrize pop-up shop

Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. announced plans last week to create a pop-up coffee shop for the three-week ArtPrize 2015 event in downtown Grand Rapids, with the intention of making its new space on the ground floor of the historic Trust Building a permanent second location by next spring. 

“We’re thrilled with the location. It’s a very historic building with very old bones,” says David VanTongeren, director of retail at Ferris Coffee & Nut.

Almost one year after successfully launching its flagship location on Grand Rapids’ west side at 227 Winter Ave., VanTongeren says the coffee roasters feel perfectly poised to expand the Ferris Coffee brand — and with ArtPrize 2015 promising some guaranteed foot traffic, there was no time like the present.

“We were approached by Sam Cummings at CWD (Real Estate Investment) with the opportunity and after talking with them, it all fell into place that this was the perfect time to expand our coffee footprint and build a shop on the other side of the river,” he says. 

Family-owned and operated since 1924, Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. operated a mobile coffee truck outside of the B.O.B. for the past two ArtPrize seasons in 2013 and 2014, using the opening of its Winter. Ave location last fall to not only increase production capacity, but also open a new coffee education center called The Foundry, intended to create a more mindful and collaborative coffee community. 

It’s part of an arguably growing trend in the downtown Grand Rapids business community to gain brand recognition for small businesses through collaborative event-based efforts such as the recent July 12 Great Vegan Grand Rapids Pop-Up Bakery, for example, which was hosted by Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters at its home on Godfrey Ave. SW and, over the course of three hours, drew hundreds of customers to help increase sales and brand recognition for six area bakeries. 

The new Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. pop-up shop will sell a limited menu of classic espresso beverages and brewed coffees from Ferris’ tier two and tier three offerings during the three-week ArtPrize event, alongside seasonal, non-alcoholic coffee-based cocktails. 

“I think Ferris is unique in having the quality of coffee we offer and [being] able to do it in a very high-volume setting,” VanTongeren says, adding that when the new location becomes permanent in March 2016, the roasters are exploring the addition of new menu items. 

“We are looking at non-coffee options for beverages so whether that’s something alcoholic or non-alcoholic, we’re open to branching beyond just coffee,” he says.

For more information, visit Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. on the web or find them on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Ferris Coffee & Nut

How a Start Garden grows

On the second floor of the historic Trust Building in downtown Grand Rapids, Start Garden's Director of Marketing and Communications, Paul Moore, points to the sunlit space near the windows in the front room and jokes that they plan to treat the barstool tables like beachfront property – designated shared workspace belonging to no specific startup habitating the venture fund's new "Start Garden Village" neighborhood on Pearl Avenue. 

"We got the point where it was getting really, really cumbersome to try and keep up with what was going on with the companies we were funding, because they're all kind of working in silos around the city," Moore says about the move from its old offices at 50 Ionia Avenue. "

Moore says the idea behind Start Garden Village isn't to create another collaborative workspace, but rather, a new piece of infrastructure lacking in Grand Rapids until now – a central hub for startups and entrepreneurs, regardless of whether or not they're funded by Start Garden, to come and share ideas, find investors and accelerate company growth

Though it has already been equipped with its own "neighborhood café," single-desk workspaces, conference rooms and private phone booths, the new hub will soon see the installation of "work pods," which Moore says were designed quite literally from the row-house concept. Right now, he added, the space has room for at least 100 people. 

Raising the stakes
The expansion is just one part of Start Garden's re-envisioning of its role in the West Michigan startup scene, which also includes an upgraded fund with the capacity to boost investment in growing companies up to $1.5 million, a significant increase from its previous $500,000 funding cap. 

"Here is where we've been, helping these companies figure out what they're not," Moore says. "In a certain way we're almost queuing them up to leave. At this point where a company would say, 'We don't need $500,000, we need $5 million,' the answer has been, 'Okay, go to the coast?' We didn't incubate all of these companies so they could come here and leave."

As far as investment in new business ideas go, Moore says two years ago it seemed like the biggest thing West Michigan needed was more experimentation and risk taking, and that's where Start Garden came in. Founded by Rick DeVos in 2012, Start Garden's initial goal was to find startups in their infancy, the very first project stage, and invest actual money. However, as those startups grew into companies with solidified visions, Moore says Start Garden found more and more that these new companies didn't need help growing their vision; they needed help growing their brand. 

"Now, two or three years later a lot of these 'projects' have grown into people who have left their day jobs to bring in new team members, co-founders, maybe even employees," he says. "They're actually working full-time at going from being projects to becoming companies that will hopefully grow quickly into something other people want to buy."

The New 5x5 Night
Though Start Garden will continue to invest smaller amounts in the $20-30,000 range in younger start-ups, they've handed over weekly investing to Emerge West Michigan, who is retooling the monthly pitch night and $5,000 reward into a member-based crowdfunding platform model. 

Now, grant funding for startups will be pooled from members' contributions and members will be allowed to become part of the judging process. 

"(Emerge) is actually writing checks, which is a big deal to us," Moore says. "You can launch an educational program for startups, but if they can't get funding to run, there's not a whole lot of application of the education they're getting. So Emerge is definitely getting into writing checks and it's also diversifying not only the investors that we've brought in over here, but also the city – where can people go when they have an idea, who can they talk to and how can they raise funds?' 

Onward & Upward
Moore says much like the companies who will now have funds to help mature past the project phase, Start Garden itself is using the transition into a new space and new funding model to make its own leap into adulthood – it's growing up. 

"Just as much as financial capital, we like to invest in intellectual and social capital. Building on to this space is almost entirely about intellectual and social capital investment," he says. "We want them to learn faster and meet new investors and new entrepreneurs and better entrepreneurs and get to know them on a much more relational level, so it seemed like we needed a place to actually house that kind of stuff." 

So, as more companies come to West Michigan to invest in the garden of startups they've grown here, Moore says a little bit of competition is exactly what they're waiting for. 

"If we were actually fighting to get into a deal on a company in the region, that would be awesome," he says. "That would be so great. It would mean the entrepreneurs have a lot of options for funding, but it would also mean that there are some really aggressive investors in the area and I think that it's kind of virtuous cycle. If you have a very large group of aggressive investors, you'll have a large group of aggressive entrepreneurs trying to get in on that funding." 

"I think the deals and the startups and the options only get better with more funding." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Start Garden to triple its downtown footprint to serve more startups

Rick DeVos shares how Start Garden is pruning its funding model

Start Garden's downtown HQ to open this week

Introducing Start Garden

Start Garden opens idea, mentoring space in downtown Grand Rapids

Moving supplies company simplifies the chaos of relocating with unique plastic boxes

Chris Marsman knows what a pain the whole process of moving from one city to another can be. He's moved 13 times in the past 9 years himself, and said one day he found himself thinking about how he could 'uncomplicate' the process. 

"I thought, 'There's got a be a way to help people out; there's got a be away to make this easier,'" he says. 

And so, moving supplies company Boxzilla was born. 

Boxzilla finds its unique value in the 100% recycled plastic moving boxes, which Marsman says can be used about 400 times before being recycled again, whereas cardboard boxes have a much shorter lifespan.

"You don't have to use the tape or assemble them," he says. "We drop them off at somebody's door and then they just pack them up and then finish their move and we come and pick them up from wherever they unpacked them at," he says. 

Boxzilla's industrial-strength plastic moving boxes are designed with a subtle groove in the top for easy stacking, so Marsman says about 25 unpacked boxes only stand about 6 feet tall, "nested" in each other like plastic cups. It helps not only with easy storage, but also allows customers a more flexible packing regime, saving space while taking the worry out of stacking boxes with fragile items. 

The way Boxzilla's business model is a simple one - Boxzilla drops off your plastic moving boxes at your requested location, you "pack, stack, and roll to your destination, and when you're finished unpacking, Boxzilla comes to your new destination and picks the boxes up. 

Each plastic moving box is sanitized between uses and rates are up to 50 percent cheaper than other traditional moving supply store boxes, Marsman says, at $1.75 per box for the first week, which is cut in half each additional week. 

Boxzilla also offers custom, four-wheel dollies for easy transportation during move-in, bubble wrap, packing paper and zip ties. 

Marsman says currently, Boxzilla's 4920 Plainfield NE office space is only used by administrative staff while their storage warehouse is located off-site. However, with Boxzilla's consumer base of both residential and commercial movers growing steadily since he opened last month, he says he's in the process of finding a larger space - possibly a little closer to downtown Grand Rapids - where he can house an office space, warehouse facility and new storefront for customers.  

Boxzilla's service area covers most of greater Grand Rapids and out to the lakeshore, but on its website users can key delivery and pickup locations into a form that will confirm service area eligibility. Marsman says Boxzilla will also deliver outside of those specified service areas for a small fee upon request. 

"It's awesome, people are loving it and it makes their lives way easier," Marsman says. 

For more information on Boxzilla products and service areas, visit www.rentboxzilla.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Boxzilla, LLC

As GR Makers plan second location at Pyramid, failure is an option

When the Steelcase Pyramid Campus research facility reopens in the fall, it will be a different kind of learning arena.
 
Though the architectural pyramid-shaped landmark was operated by Steelcase researchers from 1989 to 2009, the state-of-the-art model shop and testing labs will be made available to schools and businesses located at The Pyramid as well current members, thanks to the innovative GR Makers, which plans to occupy the space by fall.
 
“We’ve long said there are three pillars to GR Makers - entrepreneurship, creative expression and, of course, education, and those are the core of what we’re about,” says GR Makers Vice President Samuel Bowles. “Education is something we’re very committed to and when we saw an opportunity to extend our reach and help more people, we thought that was an interesting opportunity, especially being so close to these kids.”
 
Currently, GR Makers operates an 8,500-square-foot open community lab space at 401 Hall Street in downtown Grand Rapids where they allow members access to a full prototyping studio, complete with tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, a CNC mill and other woodworking and power tools.
 
Bowles says learning through the physical act of building is an element of innovation often lost in our current public education system.
 
“One of the things we’re seeing in most schools is that shop classes disappeared, so kids aren’t afforded the opportunity to learn with their hands in the same way other generations have been able to,” Bowles says.
 
The move to The Pyramid Campus is consistent with some of GR Makers other programming, like the summer camp for neighborhood school children that teaches them the chemistry of cooking, tie-dye science and the Grand Rapids Public Museum-hosted GR Maker Fair, which Bowles says was one of the public museum’s most attended events of last year.
 
Bowles says with the new Pyramid Campus location, GR Makers expects to make over $1,000,000 worth of tools available to up to 6,000 additional students and members. He says his team there is currently meeting with area educators to learn how to better tune new programming and curriculum to the needs of the students.
 
“We’re already beginning the process of defining what some of that looks like, but we’re also very much looking to connect with many of the local educational institutions to shape that,” Bowles says. “We’ve started and we want their input to make sure that what we’re moving forward with will be the best fit.”
 
More than anything else, GR Makers facilities strive to bring back the notion that sometimes failure is the best option, because it gives both our students and ourselves a reason to think differently the second (or third) time around.
 
“I think that our educational system has moved more and more toward teaching kids facts and teaching kids theory and not getting them in contact with real materials and real problems that allow them to experience some of the real challenges they’re going to face once they leave school; because we’ve done that we’re depriving them of really important lessons, lessons on how to fail,” says Bowles.
 
“Failure in school is a really, really bad thing, it’s something that comes back on a test and if you don’t succeed and if you don’t do it right, you can’t move on,” he says. “But in the real world, failure is something that helps you move on and we know if we can get kids in contact with real material to try something, fail, learn from it, and try again, we’re giving them lessons that just aren’t taught in classrooms.”
 
For more information, visit www.grmakers.com.
 
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Samuel Bowles/GR Makers
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