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Gettin' Fresh Events gets more bang for the truck

Where do tired food trucks go at the end of the day? The Gettin’ Fresh food truck gets tucked in at 2844 Eastern Ave. SE along with several other mobile eateries. When the folks who own these food trucks took a look at the parking and building space offered here, they decided it’d be a perfect spot to park their vehicles and store their equipment. Gettin’ Fresh’s owner, Abbie Sterling, saw something more.

“I quickly realized we were underutilizing the space. It had a lot of potential,” Sterling says. “When I saw the natural light from 50 feet of west-facing windows, I thought it would make a great space for making art, displaying art, and doing photography. Those ideas sort of got my wheels turning.”

Sterling enlisted her husband, Bill Lewis, and sister, Amanda Sterling, to transform the interior space into a superb little event spot. The long wall adjacent to the windows has been painted white to accommodate photography. Sterling put together an eclectic mix of vintage, Victorian, and mid-century modern furnishings, including wonderful tables and buffets to display artwork, products, or floral arrangements.

“We’re really focusing on entrepreneurs that need photos of their work,” Sterling says.

Accommodating up to 50 guests, Gettin' Fresh Events has so far hosted an album release party, a food truck tasting party, and a podcaster who needed a space to record her online course. Sterling’s extended family will be using the space for their own holiday get-together.

Customers booking the space have the option of purchasing food from the Gettin’ Fresh food truck. In addition to the regular menu, Sterling will honor just about any catering request, from small bites and charcuterie boards, to dessert bars and full meals. A stickler for hyper-local ingredients, she purchases her fresh produce from Ken’s Fruit Market, bread from Nantucket Baking Company, meats from Bob’s Butcher Block, and sweets from Ida’s Pastry Shop.

“When someone requests to rent the space or collaborate with us, the food truck can always be incorporated into the event,” she says. “For instance, when the Astrobats released their new album, we served nachos later in the evening. If I was hosting a yoga session, we could prepare smoothies, a veggie bowl, or lick some lettuce afterwards.”

(Yes, Sterling has a sense of humor as well as good business sense.)

As Gettin’ Fresh Events becomes a popular gathering spot, Sterling hopes that other nearby businesses will find success in a happening neighborhood.

“A lot of what’s going on in Alger Heights proper is just a stone’s throw away and it’s diverse,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of businesses nearby that are overlooked. I think we could we draw interest.”

Current neighboring businesses include Cut Creators barber shop, Martha’s International Market, and Daddy Pete’s BBQ. Several women-focused organizations and individuals are looking to book space in the future.

“It has been amazing. A new organization, Women Who, is interested in hosting a monthly gathering and some women who focus on ethical fashion and recycling wardrobes reserved a date in January to host a workshop,” she says. “It’s rewarding being able to provide a space for these incredible women. In the future I’ll be looking to collaborate with these types of organizations and individuals that focus on ethics, equality, and community.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of  Arrae Creative 


Mokaya expansion is nothing to be truffled with

Founded in 2016, Grand Rapids’ own Mesoamerican inspired chocolate boutique, Mokaya, recently expanded into a new space at 638 Wealthy Street SE. The Mokaya, or Corn People, predated the Mayans and may have been the first peoples to create a cacao drink. The Mokaya logo copies imagery found on bowls unearthed by archaeologists, bowls which also had traces of several compounds found in chocolate.

“We have 80 to 120 items, truffles and bon bons, pastries, tarts, custard, ice cream — all sorts of things,” says Max Golczynski, Mokaya’s general manager, who happens to have a degree in archeology. “The biggest reason for our expansion was production space. We quickly hit capacity in the tiny kitchen that we had. Last year, during the holidays, we couldn’t keep up. We sold out every day.”

The chocolatier behind Mokaya’s artisan chocolates and confections, Charles Golczynski, Max’s father, served as chef for his own business, The Catering Company, for 20 some years before falling in love with chocolate. In 2000, a client requested that he create an extravagant dessert buffet that looked like a jewelry store display. This led him to discover a company in Las Vegas that offered colored cocoa butters. Golczynski also was good friends with a Mexican chocolatier. The experience and the friendship ignited Golczynski’s new passion for all things chocolate. After perfecting this passion under the tutelage of world-renowned pastry chef and chocolatier, Chef Luis Amado, he was more than ready to create his chocolate-covered business.

Working with his father is nothing new for Max Golczynski. He grew up helping at the family’s other business, Jersey Junction, in East Grand Rapids, and helping out at the catering business. Max’s sister, Isabelle Golczynski; mother, Tamra Crampton; and uncle, Michael Crampton, also pitch in.

The expanded Mokaya not only provides more kitchen space, it also offers seating and space for classes and chocolate-inspired events.

“We’ve done a beer and dessert dinner with Brewery Vivant,” Golczynski says. “Last week, we did our first six-course dinner with chocolate in every course. After the holidays, we are planning on doing those more regularly.”

Each dinner will showcase different themes. The recent dinner’s theme was “French Countryside,” featuring chocolate goat cheese dip, white chocolate sage mac-and-cheese, elk meatballs with mole sauce, bison chocolate chili, cocoa-rubbed chicken wings with chocolate barbecue sauces, and chocolate brioche with roasted white chocolate and vanilla bean ice cream.

As the holidays approach, Mokaya will also offer small plate lunches featuring three or four chocolate-inspired selections. Hours are 12 to 5 p.m. Sunday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Whether for lunch, an extravagant event, or a quick, luscious truffle, Golczynski believes all of Grand Rapids should take time to treat themselves. As he simply explains, “Everyone deserves good chocolate.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy of Mokaya


Robyn Porteen has a bag for that

A custom bag designer in business since 2010, Porteen Gear has opened its first retail store in the Creston neighborhood. Local customers can come in and design a custom-made bag to suit their style. From messenger-style bags, purses, and camera bags, to travel and bike bags, the shop’s motto is “We can make a bag for that!” Company president, Robyn Porteen, began her business venture somewhat by accident.

“I was a professional photographer and traveled. I decided I needed a camera bag that didn’t look like a camera bag. Someone saw it and had to have one,” she says. “I pushed a quarter-million dollars through Etsy the first year. Now I am one of the top 20 Etsy sellers. I make everything in Grand Rapids and sell worldwide.”

Over the years, Porteen Gear has been featured in print by Shutterbug Magazine, Professional Photography Magazine, Vogue UK, British GQ, and Conde Nast Traveler, among other publications. Porteen chose the Creston neighborhood because she used to live there and still enjoys shopping there. She felt that Creston was the perfect environment for expanding her business from e-commerce to bricks-and-mortar.

“It feels cozy and the neighborhood association is very tight,” she says. “The workshop is on site. When people come in, they are like a kids in a candy store. They get to create something that’s like a work of art. Come in, look at all the fabrics and leathers, and design a bag.”

Porteen encourages customers to bring in their cameras, laptops, baby’s diapers — whatever they need to tote with them — to determine dimensions for their custom bags. Then, they can choose a style and fabric from a wide variety of canvas, tapestry, and leather samples. In two to three weeks, they have their custom bag in hand. A small bag starts at $120. While Porteen still does the bulk of the work herself, she has hired on local seamstresses to lend a hand, especially with the holiday season coming up.

“Even though my bags last a lifetime, I have a lot of repeat customers,” Porteen says. “I have one customer who owns 21 of my bags, a bag for every season and use.”

Complementing the bag design area, Porteen Gear’s retail area features sunglasses, candles, camera straps, journals, and wallets from U.S. artisans like Stormy Kromer, WUDN, Soothi, and Rogue Industries. Porteen hopes to showcase more local makers in the near future. She also has plans for offering make-it and take-it classes, for example, making a classic clutch. Located at 1519 Plainfield Ave. NE, Porteen Gear is open 12 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

“Customization is the trend,” Porteen says. “Hopefully, I am blazing a trail in Grand Rapids for customer design.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Porteen Gear

SpringGR launching local entrepreneurs who have ideas and little else

In 2015, Stephanie Dolly and her children flew from Atlanta to Grand Rapids to live closer to family. She did not have a job waiting for her — all she had was an idea and $40 to invest. SpringGR empowered her to take her idea for a custom cake and sweet treats bakery, Dolly’s Delights, from dream to reality. According to Arlene Campbell, the grassroots nonprofit’s chief creator of opportunities, Dolly is now known as the “Willy Wonka of Grand Rapids.” In April 2018, Start Garden chose Dolly as one of its 100 finalists in its “100 Ideas” competition, earning her $1,000 to invest in her business.

 

“She basically had everything against her, no money, nothing,” Campbell says. “She is a great story of drive and tenacity. She didn’t allow obstacles to hold her back.”

 

Dolly is also a great story of SpringGR’s approach to launching Grand Rapids area entrepreneurs into successful small businesses. Its 12-week business training experience teaches people with ideas, like Dolly, who want to start and succeed in their own businesses. The coursework relies on the CO-STARTERS curriculum developed by a similar entrepreneurial training program based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In addition to meeting one evening each week, each participant meets one-on-one weekly with a business coach who helps them dial in on the specifics of their own business idea.

 

“We’re a grassroots business training program,” Campbell says. “We teach the foundations of business, finance, and marketing, and we pair each student with a business coach.”

 

In the five years since SpringGR was founded, 313 area entrepreneurs have graduated the course to establish 206 businesses and create 257 jobs.

 

“We work with people who are at the beginning level. Generally, programs help a more mature entrepreneur — you need a business plan, numbers, a prototype,” says Attah Obande, director of dream fulfillment. “At SpringGR, the only requirement is to have a business idea. If you’ve got an idea, come to us. We will help you move it forward.”

 

Obande notes that a third of the past year’s Start Garden’s 5x5 Night winners were SpringGR graduates, as well as 14 of its 100 "Big Idea" finalists.

 

SpringGR offers continuing support to program graduates through a five-week alumni course and promotion of graduate businesses on its website. In addition, alumni form strong relationships that provide an enduring connection for support and networking. For example, a group of eight SpringGR graduates came together to host a successful, minority-focused wedding expo, “Tying The Knot,” at the Richard App Gallery in October 2017.

 

“It’s really fun to watch them support one another, network. It’s grassroots for sure. It just kind of happens,” Campbell says. “They come in not knowing each other and leave as friends. They learn that ‘I really need to surround myself with other like-minded entrepreneurs so I can have the support I need to move my business forward.’ It’s exciting.”

 

SpringGR is still accepting applications for its two, 12-week fall business training courses. On Monday evenings, the course will take place at The Goei Center and Wednesday evenings as part of the Restorers, Inc. programming at Madison Square Church. The course costs $100. Dinner and childcare are provided.

 

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
 

Photos courtesy SpringGR

 


The Blueprint Collaborative takes coworking to an entrepreneurial level

After working for 15 years for a large, local construction firm, Brent Gibson decided to strike out on his own. He founded his own construction company, Construction Simplified. His work kept him busy, too busy, in fact, to allow him time to network and make vital connections to grow his business. He came up with an idea—a collaborative work space that brought others involved in the construction, design, and real estate industry together with entrepreneurs servicing those industries.

In June 2017, the Blueprint Collaborative opened at 859 West Fulton. Gibson renovated a car mechanic’s garage, that had sat idle for a good long while, into a highly innovative work-space. He chose the location not only because he lives on the WestSide, but also because of the nature of the businesses he sought to bring together—a vibe he describes as being “a little more blue-collar, a different work ethic.”

“Our coworking and incubator space is full of industry-specific entrepreneurs and small businesses in the construction, design, and real estate industry,” says Kim Reed, Community Connector for the Blueprint Collaborative. “We are a small business full of small businesses. Our passion is to help people build their businesses and grow the entrepreneurial spirit of Grand Rapids.”

For $150 a month, drop-in members can access the space 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. They can access all amenities, find a space to work at the co-working table, and use the conference room for meetings. To lay claim to a dedicated workstation—a permanent desk, lockable storage cabinet, and personal locker—the price rises to $495 and grants 24/7 access. Members who also want a large team room of their very own pay $1,250 each month.

“As a small business, the number one goal is to work full-time. It’s hard to connect and to build relationships,” Gibson says. “I used backwards engineering. Now, when I’m sitting at my desk six or seven hours a day and doing the work, three or four connections are walking in the door. That’s what the space really does.”

The Blueprint Collaborative extends free drop-in membership to college students in fields aligned with its industry mix. For example, two Grand Valley State University students working on inventing a mask for people working in deep freezers have used the space and its connections to evolve the product for construction workers spending long hours outdoors in cold temperatures. Another student entrepreneur is working on a heated tool box.

“Those are the golden nuggets I like to find,” Gibson says.

Gibson also wants West Michigan to push the envelope on what entrepreneurial means. He notes that the word commonly brings to mind a 20-something nerd at a computer inventing a new app. He believes that bringing an entrepreneurial spirit to any industry can take it to the next level. The Blueprint Collaborative is a space where professionals and students in the construction, design, and real estate industries can nurture that spirit.

“Most of the buzzwords these days are not focused on a tangible industry where you go out every week and build something. That shouldn’t limit the thought of entrepreneurship,” Gibson says. “I wanted to be surrounded by people in similar industries who have the same passion that I do—and want to build a business.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy The Blueprint Collaborative


Natural lifestyle brand gears up for new retail location on Wealthy

"I've always been fascinated by people who run their own careers," says Chicago transplant turned natural products entrepreneur Patrick Stoffel. Passionate about his soaps and lotions, brilliant presentation, and above all investing in one's city, Stoffel is about to open a retail store for his lifestyle company Fox Naturals.

In 2012, Stoffel began experimenting by making his own soaps and "kind of just goofing around with it," he says. While perfecting his recipes and receiving heaps of compliments from his friends on his products and presentation, Stoffel honed in his focus on all-natural ingredients. "It was a good way to learn about natural products. At the time it wasn't a big thing yet. So it was easy to learn how to make something and use it and try it out for friends," he says.

In the mean time, Stoffel became interested in Grand Rapids while visiting his brother. While grabbing a beer at local favorite Brewery Vivant, "I think I fell in love at that moment," says Stoffel. He and his husband soon moved to Grand Rapids for our city's "Good beer. Good food. Cheap living," he says.

Living in GR and working retail management full time for pretty much every big company you can think of," he says, Stoffel officially launched Fox Naturals in 2015, offering free local delivery of everything from body soaps to hair and body oils to shampoos and conditioners. Focused equally on skin and body as well as health and wellness, Stoffel began partnering with other locals like designer and DJ AB and businesses like Mokaya, Lamb Bride, and the Downtown Market to host pop-up events where he could promote his brand and reach more customers. "It was amazing the response that we got for doing those," he says.

Soon, Fox Naturals was blowing up, and Stoffel quit his retail job to pursue the business full time. Out growing his and his home office, the two stumbled upon a fairly new development at 619 Wealthy, right across the street from Wealthy Street Bakery. With hard work and serendipity combined, Stoffel decided. "It's now or never. And Wealthy Street is just the perfect location," he says.

Excited about a petite store front that will maintain the original charm of the building with a fresh, updated look, Stofel will open Fox Naturals this April. With a book and mortar presence, new customers will have a chance to walk in and experience the products, while others will still have the opportunity to order online (and also pickup in store). Starting out with just himself and his husband behind the counter, he is open to growth, and knows he is in good company.

"The best part of being in Grand Rapid is that there's so many people who support local," says Stoffel.

Photos courtesy of Leigh Ann Cobb for Fox Naturals.

Open Systems Technologies aims to redefine digital with launch of new brand

"The word digital is being redefined," says Michael Lomanaco, director of marketing and communications at Open Systems Technologies (OST). "10-15 years ago, technology was the innovation," he continues, but now, "innovation has moved toward the experience, the emotive…" In order to keep up with this rapid growth and change, revolutionizing digital for existing clients and new ones, OST recently launched Open Digital, an evolution of VisualHero, which the company acquired in 2016, to form a new digital consultancy.

Founded in 1997, OST has been consistently serving clients in West Michigan and across the country for over twenty years. Upon entering its third decade, notes Lomanaco, the company seeks to pair its expertise in IT with the "internet of things," or as he says, "the tangible and the intangible" supported by design. Most importantly, for the Open Digital team, is the "physical piece of products, intangible of experience and emotion that plays into a great digital transformation strategy."


Seem like a mouthful? Chief Designer Andy Van Solkema breaks it down. "This is really quite possibly about problem solving," he says, noting that the combination of Visual Hero's design savvy with OST's IT prowess creates a well-rounded team that can tackle any project.

Like many firms at the forefront of workplace structure, the new Open Digital will approach each problem with a "cross-disciplined group focused on value creation," says Van Solkema. "We're at the forefront of where roles were changing," he adds. "It's kind of like thinking of it as a matrix now."

At the heart of this redefinition is "our unique ability to connect both the human and technology disciplines together in ways that few others can," says Lomanaco. "That's because we have cloud architects sitting next to designers...There's something special that happens when you're able to do that."

This cross-disciplinary approach is based on human-centered design, a leading approach for designers across all industries throughout the world. "Our team at Open Digital is inherently wired to lead with the human element," says Meredith Bronk, President and CEO and COO Jim VanderMey in a letter on OST's website..

"When it comes to digital, this team sees the entire customer journey, and thrives on ensuring first that our clients are solving the right problem, and then drives to solutions that aren’t just ‘smart,' but that create an immersive experience across all digital touch points," they add.

Though in their two decades OST has expanded to Minneapolis, Detroit, and even London, the company is still proud to call West Michigan their home as they grow and evolve. "This community is really well positioned because of the momentum and growth," says Van Solkema. "This is where we make things." And in the center of GR, on the city's Westside, OST is part of the community's growing tech scene.

"Why not Grand Rapids? Why can't we?" asks Van Solkema with a smirk. "We've come a long way, we've done a lot, this is the challenge in front of us. Let's tackle it."

Images and video courtesy of OST.

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

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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
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