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High Growth Happy Hour: Great beer, positive vibes, and practical encouragement for entrepreneurs

Shannon Cohen leads a discussion with three area entrepreneurs.

On Tuesday, Grand Rapids area entrepreneurs learned how to better grow their dreams at Rapid Growth’s annual Comcast High Growth Happy Hour at Creston Brewery. Beer taps flowed, plates filled with delicious eats emptied quickly, and the diverse panel of local entrepreneurs spilled the secrets of their success.
On Tuesday, Grand Rapids area entrepreneurs learned how to better grow their dreams at Rapid Growth’s annual Comcast High Growth Happy Hour. Creston Brewery hosted the free networking event, in its new, upstairs Golden Age banquet facility. Beer taps flowed, plates filled with delicious eats emptied quickly, and the diverse panel of local entrepreneurs spilled the secrets of their success.

Audience members ask the panelists questions. Rapid Growth publisher, Tommy Allen, talked about how he had worked to shape the online weekly into a “Radical platform for new ideas, an opportunity for community to see themselves in a magazine—a publication that has room for everyone.” In that context, he welcomed the panel and guests to “a safe space where you can speak freely and openly.”

Shannon CohenPanel moderator, Shannon Cohen—blogger, motivational speaker, life coach, and author of “Tough Skin, Soft Heart,” started the discussion by defining the tone as “a fireside chat.” “As entrepreneurs, we are constantly learning,” she said. The evening that unfolded taught a lot.

The three panelists brought their passion to the discussion, passion that not only included their business ventures, but also love for their respective communities. Maria Erazo, financial and branding strategist, has a heart for helping entrepreneurs from among Grand Rapids’ Hispanic community. Yili Bornarski, owner of Café Boba and Bamboo Café, works tirelessly in the local Asian community.

Maria Erazo“I am passionate about helping immigrants,” Bornarski said. “They immediately become entrepreneurs because they have to. They could not find a job in their profession because of language and education barriers.”

Yili BornarskiJermale Eddie, owner of Malamiah Juice Bar, explained why he gives back so much and so often, “The secret sauce is love. Love for the product. Love for our employees. And, love for the community.”

When Cohen asked if they had stumbled, baby-stepped, or leapt into their business ventures, each had a different answer. Bornarski, who already worked a full time job, was deliberately searching for an entrepreneurial opportunity when the café and gallery came along. Eddie confided, “The business found us. We stumbled in.” Erazo launched her first enterprise at age 11 in Mexico to “bring milk and bread” the table. “All of us have a story that needs to be told, that can impact other people,” she shared.

Jermale EddieEddie concurred that entrepreneurs should tell their own story—and be their true selves at all times. “You need to be who you are. Who you are. Who you are. On all forms of social media as well as in person.”

At Cohen’s request, each panelist shared an instance of when they had “failed forward.” Malamiah Juice Bar had to close a second location to avoid bankruptcy and keep its Downtown Market location solvent. A Chinese immigrant, Bornarski faced challenges seeking a second degree here in the US while raising her children. Erazo related that when she first opened her insurance agency, she grew it too fast. Because she overlooked procedural safeguards, a top employee was able to steal money from customers. After allowing herself a couple days of tears, she moved beyond the disappointment by enrolling in all sorts of training programs that helped her navigate her company to renewed success. Erazo’s parting words concluded the evening on a very practical note,

“There are five steps to brand development,” she said. “Ask yourself, one, who am I? What’s my story? Two, who is my client? Who am I serving? Three, what problem am I solving? Four, how am I helping? And, five, what am I offering? Once you have clarity about those questions, then you can build confidence.”
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