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StartUp Spotlight: Wodul

Quiet giants are the companies that find themselves in niche markets and carve out a space for themselves to grow into slowly. Search Engine Optimization is how local West Michigan company Wodul is making their bones in the entrepreneurial tech space.

Wodul’s team is comprised of Eric Hendrickson, Geraldo Gonzalez, Tim Charron, and Thom McGuire. Two years in development and six months after their launch Wodul continues to grow.

We sat down with Wodul’s Founder & CEO Eric Henrickson to talk a bit about the company’s purpose and what they are currently up to.

RG: How did the Wodul start?

W: My background is in lead generation through digital marketing, which I've been involved in since 2006. At one time I managed over 800 landing pages (one-page websites) that received thousands of visitors and generated hundreds of leads daily for health insurance agents all over the country. After Healthcare Reform passed, agent commissions dropped by nearly 70 percent and as a result, agents could no longer afford to purchase leads. My focus then shifted toward helping all types of business generate more customers online by maximizing their search visibility on Google, Bing, Yahoo and 70 plus other digital endpoints. (Waiting for founding date)

RG: What was the inspiration behind Wodul?

W: In February 2016, Google changed its SERP (Search Engine Result Page) display to eliminate PPC (pay per click) based ads on the right rail, which sent many marketers into a panic. Business owners would now have two choices for getting found online: buy ads on Google or pay an SEO firm $2000-$5000 per month to help optimize their web presence. I saw a better way, and a game-changing opportunity to leverage my skills and resources to essentially level the playing field for local business through a responsive microsite chassis that leverages content credibility to improve the search rankings of a business—which resulted in the creation of Wodul™.

Wodul™ delivers a smarter approach to getting businesses found online. Each microsite employs the latest SEO best practices to optimize and index content independently to web crawlers while leveraging the power of our trusted domain to achieve top ranking on major search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo sooner and without the need for any technical background.  

RG: What is Wodul’s mission?

W: We are focused on helping Michigan local businesses utilize Wodul™ Microsites to maximize online search visibility and connect with more new customers. In addition, each month we're hosting a half day SEO workshop where we teach attendees winning online marketing strategies that can be tremendous in helping boost a company’s bottom line. 

RG: Where is Wodul headquartered and why?

W: Our offices are located in downtown Grand Rapids. I was born and raised in the here in Grand Rapids and there is an excitement, innovative culture and buzzing nightlife that makes downtown such a fun, inspiring place to work.

RG: What is on the horizon for you and your team?

W: Our plans are to slowly expand our footprint to other major cities with offices already starting in Indianapolis.

RG: What has been the most difficult aspect of this business so far? What has been the most rewarding?

W: Our most difficult challenge is finding enough talented people to keep up with the insatiable demand for our services. There is nothing more frustrating than having to tell someone we are backlogged one to two weeks before we can start their project. The most rewarding part of what we do is taking a business from minimal search visibility to outranking their competitors' sites and seeing how empowering it makes them feel. It's just amazing!

You can find Wodul online here.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Strictly Business: The women who own Grand Rapids

Business growth and development to Grand Rapids is not breaking news, and we will continue to see more change with every passing year. Our city is already home to many women owned and operated businesses, and with this development boom we are likely to see a continued rise in women's ownership and leadership. Nationally, business growth among women entrepreneurs continues to be on the rise.

According to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) “More than 9.4 million firms are owned by women, employing nearly 7.9 million people, and generating $1.5 trillion in sales as of 2015.”

Furthermore NAWBO’s website states “Women-owned firms (51 percent or more) account for 31 percent of all privately held firms and contribute 14 percent of employment and 12 percent of revenues.” and “Over the past seven years, the overall increase of 8.3 million (net) new jobs is comprised of a 9.2 million increase in employment in large, publicly traded corporations, combined with a 893,000 decline in employment among smaller, privately held companies.”
Although not a comprehensive list, below is a snippet of the businesses of the greater Grand Rapids area that are owned and operated by women. 

Delasie
Rhoda Abena Klomega

Parliament The Boutique
Elyse Marie Welcher

The Meanwhile & Pyramid Scheme
Tammy VandenBerg

Rebellious Creatives Web Design
Adriane Johnson

Citizen
Rachel Lee

cultured.GR
Holly Bechiri

Matthew Agency 
Kelly Koning-Ramic

Aesthetikhs  
Kelley Hughes


‎La Fuente Consulting, LLC 
Ana Ramirez-Saenz

Sanchez Income Tax-Translation 
Zoraida Sanchez

Samaria J’s Salon & Suite 
Synia Elizabeth Jordan

La Casa de la Cobija 
Angelica Velazquez

Mira Krishnan LLC
Mira Krishnan

El Granjero Mexican Grill 
Mercedes Lopez-Duran & Paola Mendivil 

I Got Face 
Latesha Lipscomb

Happy Cat Cafe 
Kati Dodge

Nationally, women owned business are vital to our business landscapes, as NAWBO adds “These firms employ 1.4 million people and generate $226 billion in revenues annually” and “One in five firms with revenue of $1 million or more is woman-owned.”

Furthermore, women of color contribute in growing numbers to the overall trend in the labor and business market. NAWBO’s website reports “2.9 million firms are majority-owned by women of color in the U.S.” 

Grand Rapids already prides itself as being the leaders and best in many fields, it would be no surprise if given some time that it could lead in women’s business growth and leadership on a national stage.

As always be sure to let us know in the comments if you do not see your favorite woman owned business is mentioned. 

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s Innovation and Jobs Editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Young Professional Spotlight: Tonisha Begay finds her voice in multicultural affairs

We often only see the success and work of a community leader only after they have spent years in their field. However, emerging leaders and young professionals make up a large part of organizations and help to push missions forward with their hard work and perseverance.
 
We caught up Tonisha Begay, a young professional working in Grand Rapids to hear more about her career and life in the midwest. 
 
RG: Can you tell us a little about yourself? How do you identify?
 
TB: I’m from Gallup, NM and have lived in Grand Rapids for the last 6 years. I’m a Diné (or Navajo) woman. In Diné culture, we identify ourselves by naming our four clans, starting with our mother’s clan, then our father’s clan, our maternal grandfather’s and paternal grandfather’s clan. My clans are Tó Baazhní'ázhí, Kinlichíi'nii, Dziltl'ahnii, and Haltsooí Dine'é. 
 
RG: Where did you study and how was your experience? How did it shape who you are?
 
TB: I studied sociology at Calvin College. I grew up in the CRC and went to Rehoboth Christian School in Rehoboth, NM. My experience at Calvin was shaped by the CRC and the relationship between the CRC and the Diné people. CRC missionaries began the Rehoboth Mission in 1903 with the intention of evangelizing and assimilating the Diné people. 
 
I chose to go to Calvin because a few of my high school teachers are from Michigan and went to Calvin. I liked how my teachers who went to Calvin thought about and engaged the world around them. I could see a difference between them and the other teachers who went to Christian colleges and universities. My experience at Calvin was bittersweet. I loved learning and thinking critically about what I believed and the knowledge I was gathering. However, I often felt isolated and powerless on the predominantly white campus. I eventually found supportive and caring people who helped me to resist and find my voice. For that, I am grateful to Calvin. 
 
RG: What is your current work?
 
TB: I work at Calvin College in the Service-Learning Center and at Grand Valley State University in the Office of Multicultural Affairs. I work primarily with students, helping them to engage with issues and challenging them to think critically about their surroundings. Part of my work in both places includes helping the institutions I work with recognize and advocate for marginalized students in higher education. As a first-generation Diné college student, I needed all the support I could get, and my biggest goal is giving that to students on the margins.
 
RG: As a woman of color (WoC) what current issues are most pressing to you?
 
TB: Right now, I’m interested in amplifying the voices of Black/Indigenous/Latinx women/femmes in Grand Rapids. Reclaiming, maintaining, and protecting spaces for us in Grand Rapids, at Calvin, and GVSU is what I’m working towards. This work includes raising awareness about intra-cultural patriarchy and sexual violence, while holding the surrounding communities accountable to our wellbeing. 
 
RG:As a millennial, what has been your career path, growth, and obstacles?
 
TB: I hope to continue to push for equity in higher education as I continue my career. At GVSU, I work a lot with the local indigenous communities to help keep Native students rooted in tradition. Additionally, I work with Native students to help them feel supported, heard, and empowered in higher ed. I’ve learned a lot and sometimes it’s frustrating to advocate for Native students within these institutions.  
 
RG: How has Grand Rapids faired in helping support you as PoC?
 
TB: My lens of Grand Rapids is mostly shaped by LGBTQ Black/Indigenous/Latinx thinkers/activists/creatives. Grand Rapids is home to a lot of brilliant voices who are so often overlooked and undervalued. I learn from and with them, and my hope is that the rest of the city can acknowledge and listen to these communities. I am thankful and honored to know them. 
 
 
Begay can be reached at tonishabegay@gmail.com for further questions or collaboration.


Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Steel River: Fitness and growth

Hacking: when we hear that word we think of fingers typing furiously on a keyboard in an attempt to gain entry to a network full of sensitive information. Rather, like many other words, the definition of hacking has changed with time. 
 
Hacking now speaks to a method of gathering readily available resources to create a working solution to a problem. If you know what it means to “MacGyver” something ,then you know what it means to hack something together.
 
Taylor Wieck founded Steel River fitness as a way to hack his life back together by bringing his passion for fitness to life. From working in manufacturing, to direct sales, to fitness, Wieck has hacked together an active and purposeful life for himself.
 
 “Steel River was born out of a need for fitness and health to be relatable and easily understood," says Wieck. "My personal brand of training creates results by combining effective and challenging workouts with lifestyle coaching. Health and fitness is a true passion of mine. Before I found the gym I was socially awkward, in awful health, and was headed towards an early grave. One morning I woke up and just felt absolutely terrible. I could hardly breathe and felt completely drained. This continued for weeks and I simply decided enough was enough. I dove headfirst into every bit of knowledge I could find regarding exercise, fitness, health, lifestyle changes, and hacking your own mentality. The fitness field became a forge for all my passion and gave me purpose.”
 
Entrepreneurial businesses do not happen overnight and require long hours of work just to get the working plan off the ground. Even before a business plan is executed, there comes the mental preparation an entrepreneur must go through before arriving to their idea.

Wieck adds, “I was allowing myself to take the easy way out by not working with people and I wasn't getting anywhere because I wasn't actually in the field I dreamt of being in. I knew I needed to get better at working with people and wanted to take on fitness full time, so I did what any young adult with a trial by fire mentality would do. I jumped from factory work straight into direct sales. It changed my life. I started as a sales rep for a gym while finishing up study for my NASM CPT exam. At first I was terrible! A lack of social skills will do that to you. After I got past the first month I started to catch on and developed an honest love for bringing people into the place I loved most, namely the gym.”

A local group has also been hacking education for more than two decades. Currently located on the west side of the city, The Geek Group is a deceptively large makerspace, studio space, and learning center for the whole city. Wieck was familiar with the group and tells us how he became more involved.

“I originally approached the group with the intent to volunteer as the on-staff personal trainer. Something unexpected happened. I fell in love with the place. I decided that I would take what I knew about sales and communications and apply it to this non-profit that brought so much to the community. I worked full-time at the gym and on my personal training skills while also volunteering in public outreach and membership services for The Geek Group. This opportunity to work in two different worlds helped me to build a blended and balanced set of skills that improved my performance in each.”

Although the space is physically located on West Leonard, that does not limit its staff involvement as Wieck tells us “Our team is built of over 25 staff members across the globe who have experience in areas that include manufacturing, higher education, social work, electronics, engineering, programming, carpentry, and hospitality. Between all of us we are able to assist people in both identifying their goals and reaching them.” This ties well with what Wieck has come to make of his career, where he helps his clients reach their fitness goals, and helps his fellow members at The Geek Group to accomplish their learning goals.

The Geek Group is always in search of new opportunities to give back to the community as well as programs to further educate their members. Wieck adds, “We are in the middle of a three-year rollout right now for providing direct vocational access to West Michigan. We want to fully expand out our programming to cover the industry's growing the most locally, and give individuals the strongest opportunity to excel in those areas.”

The Geek Group has amassed a large collection of tools, expert staff, and it is always seeking to add diversify their member base. The group understands that innovative solutions come from teams with a diverse makeup, be it in age, career type, gender, culture, or background.

When asked what is next for his business venture Wieck adds  “As Steel River grows and develops my intent is to reach a larger crowd through social media and online video while continuing to build my skills at The Geek Group. My mission is to truly create an impact in people's lives through both fitness and personal growth, which means also helping people to seek new skills and trades. I intend on building my brand through the principals I've always pushed myself to uphold. Honesty, confidence, communication, and passion. Steel River will not only be a local fitness brand for Grand Rapids but a nationwide solution to lifestyle coaching and personal development.”

You can learn more about The Geek Group’s mission and current projects here and find Wieck at the space ready to help you with your fitness and learning questions.

Wieck can be found on Instagram @steelriverfit. If you wish to reach out to fulfill your fitness goals you can reach Wieck via email at steelriverfitness@gmail.com!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Gallafe: Gallery + Cafe and the first Grand Rapid's Asian Festival

When we want a taste of some of our favorite foods from abroad, we may go to our usual standbys—the places we discovered by chance while driving around the city. 

Some of these places are recommendations from foodie friends, if we are so lucky, but at times it can be difficult to find new places for the discerning palate. Enter Gallafe, a blend of a food photo gallery and aspiring cafe.

Local artist and educator Zyra Castillo is the mind behind Gallafe. She says “It started out as a blog then an instagram account. Different people kept asking me where they could find different ethnic food restaurants. I decided to finally make a blog to feature different places I would visit. A couple years ago, a friend and I hosted a big Filipino cookout. We roasted a pig, and had a large spread of Filipino food. We had a lot of positive feedback, asking where they could find Filipino food. That's when I starting taking the idea of owning a restaurant more seriously.” Having decided to keep honing her craft a bit longer before opening up a brick and mortar location, she has moved onto bringing more cultural food events to Grand Rapids.

Castillo adds “During that time, I also started going to Kultura Festival in Chicago, and was inspired by how they put together their programming and celebrated culture through cuisine.

I'm also aware that as a small city, we do not have a lot of exposure or competition. I want to be part of what drives some of that change. As well as set a precedence for my food heritage before someone else comes in and colonizes my food.”

Gallafe has since been molding its brand and putting on events as Castillo tells us, “This past spring, Gallafe threw a small event at Mexicains San Frontieres to educate about Filipino cuisine. It was to raise money to help with expenses for Filipino Artist Kristian Kabuay for the Asian Festival.”

With so much momentum being carried into the next year, we asked Castillo what is on the horizon for Gallafe she told us, “The future of Gallafe would be to expand its online presence and have more posts related to food culture, asides from just images. I would like to do more collaborations with artists and other areas of community for cultural and educational events.”

Finally, we asked Castillo if she could share with us a shortlist of the Asian restaurants that she frequents and has gotten to know from her work in organizing this past June’s Grand Rapid’s first Asian Festival.

Below are some of the restaurants that Grand Rapids offers. 

Bangkok Taste
Angel Thai
First Wok
Emonae
Indian Masala
Wei Wei Palace
Pho Soc Trang
Curry Kitchen
Palace of India
Seoul Market Cafe
Mikado Sushi
Ju Sushi
Pho 616
Kobe

You can find Gallafe online here. Don’t see your favorite place? Let us know in the comments!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

StartUp Spotlight: Treefort VR

Film technology has come a long way from the first printed photographs. First we had pictures and we were amazed to see ourselves captured in 2 dimensions. Our society refined and improved, but it wasn’t enough. Pictures were the catalyst for the inevitable invention of moving-pictures.

Moving-pictures, or movies, were made by combining a series of photos taken consecutively. Movies got better and for the most part we have stayed on this medium. Ever improving quality movies are here to stay, but there are some who wish to push film even further. 

Virtual Reality seeks to replicate the perception of reality, by blurring the lines between film and sight.

Virtual Reality (VR) has been around for a few decades and has gone through its growing pains, but just as photos and film, it continues to improve year by year. Grand Rapids is home to one such company working on virtual reality in the heart of the city.

The duo of Craig Burgess (Manager) and Tom Adams (Art Director) make up Treefort VR. Rapid Growth caught up with the duo to hear all about VR, what they do, and how they do it!

RG: How did Treefort VR (Virtual Reality) get its start?

TVR: Treefort as a VR development company started about two years ago. We have a Co-Space on Division that we share with Snow Monster Studios who we work close with on various projects. 

RG: What is Treefort's mission? What kind of work do you do?

TVR: Our mission is to make inspiring VR experiences and support the local 3d artists and developer communities in Grand Rapids.

RG: Was there a particular moment that inspired the creation of Treefort VR?

TVR: I had pre-ordered an Oculus Development kit in 2014 and was amazed at the complete transformation from one experience to a completely different experience. After that I knew that I wanted to be involved with the VR development industry. 

RG: VR is making a huge jump right now and there are a lot of players in the space, why VR?

TVR: VR is a new medium that can be used to tell stories and present experiences that you have not been able to experience before. It can permeate into many industries and be used for a wide range of applications. 

RG: What projects are you currently working on?

TVR: Right now we are working on a couple internal projects. One is a VR Horror Mystery experience. You're in a cabin in the woods and you have to figure out how to escape the cabin when mysterious things keep happening.  We are also working on building tools for the education industry to teach and educate through the use of VR. For example, in a VR chemistry environment, I can mix chemicals and see the reactions. I can repeat this process multiple times to learn without danger and cost of materials. We also create training programs for a variety of business to train employees on dangerous or complicated machines.

RG: What is in store for Treefort VR’s future?

TVR: Next plans is to continue making great vr experiences. We dabble a bit in every field and with a wide array of experiences we have not picked a specific niche 

RG: Has the GR Entrepreneur ecosystem helped Treefort grow?

TVR: I have met and worked with some great people and companies in town. Right now we are working with Kendell Joseph from Elevator Up who I met at the Factory this year. We are creating a "lego programming language" where you simple arrange lego blocks to create object in a VR environment in real time. It's open source and can be found here. We are displaying it at ArtPrize hub this year Saturday and Sunday.

RG: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

TVR: We support the Grand Rapids Virtual Reality Meetup group that meets once a week here. It's an open collaborative of like minded enthusiasts interested in Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, 3d Game development, electronics, and haptics to supplement immersive experiences and environments. Members are allowed to use the VR equipment to test their games and projects or simply to learn and try the new tech.

You can find Treefort VR on Instagram here and on Facebook here

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Images courtesy of Treefort VR.

StartUp Spotlight: LOOP Coding Center

The need to fill the growing demand for tech talent across the country is increasingly a more pressing issue for recruiters and companies alike. While universities provide a great way for many to begin their careers, and most certainly solidify their knowledge base, more and more alternatives are surfacing to help close the gap.

One such alternative is the coding bootcamp and workshop. Earlier this year, Grand Rapids welcomed Grand Circus, based in Detroit, to downtown Grand Rapids. Their coding bootcamp has in many ways allowed coding alternatives to further enter the market. 

The LOOP Coding Center (LCC) has come into the market to continue to close the learning gap, but also as their website states “fill the diversity gap in the technology workforce.”

We sat down with the LOOP Coding Center team (LCC) to get hear more of their story.

RG: Who is all part of the LCC team?

LCC:  Luis Perez is our CEO, Angel Barreto is the COO, Anthony Reed is our CMO, and finally Jose Meza is our CFO

RG: When did the LOOP Coding Center get its start?

LCC: The idea started in December 2016, but on February 2017 is when everything was getting started

RG: What inspired LCC to form?

LCC: The inspiration of making LCC happen was looking around in tech companies and college classrooms and not seeing any Latinos, African American and women. It makes you think of why are they not on those places.

RG: With so many other competitors in the coding bootcamp space, why pick coding?

LCC: Coding is one of those fields where you get to learn the basics inside a classroom but you get to take that knowledge to the outside world and build an actual product. Whether is making a personal website or donate your skills to a non-profit to help them improve their website. I personally think coding is a great way to show people what can build and how create can you be.

RG: How did LCC as we know if come to be?

LCC: Back in December 2016, I was thinking of making an impact by donating my time and skills to different organizations. On February 2017, I shared my idea with a few friends and we decided to enroll in the M West Challenge, where everything started to take shape. After completing the M West, we enrolled in Spring GR, where it was a great experience getting to know a lot more people and being able to shared our idea to more than 300 people at a pitch competition. Later we participated in 5X5 Spanish Night at Start Garden where were we able to get funding and mentorship. I believe that being in M West, Spring GR, and 5X5 really changed who we are and what we do because they challenged us to deeply think about our purpose and the impact that we hope to make.

RG: What is LCC currently working on?

LCC: We are currently working on proving coding workshops all around Grand Rapids, by partnering with non-profit organizations who have a youth program.

RG: What are the next plans for LCC?

LCC: We are planning to have a coding bootcamp in the summer.

RG: How has the GR entrepreneurship ecosystem helped LCC grow so far?

LCC: The GR entrepreneur ecosystem has really helped us by showing us that we can bring our idea to an actual service. For us, it has to be the conversations that really make an impact on what we do. We will see what we can achieve in the next five months and take the little steps that we must take to get there.

You can find the LOOP Coding center here, on Instagram here , and on Facebook here.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Images courtesy of LOOP Coding Center.

Latinx Restaurant Roundup

Our city has a wide array of immigrants from around the world, and we are enriched with the diversity of culture that each group brings to our neighborhoods and business districts. The most easily recognizable contribution is culinary diversity. 

Grand Rapids, and the Greater Grand Rapids Area is fortunate to have a great extent of food options from Latin America. We have varying styles of Mexican cuisine, El Salvadoran, Dominican—and if you know where to look and who to ask you can find Honduran, Cuban and Guatemalan.

Some of these food spots will have to remain secret and hidden in the secret phone lists and Facebook groups that are spread throughout the city, but we have plenty of brick and mortar restaurants serving up amazing authentic food.

Here’s a small taste, pun most certainly intended, of the Latinx restaurants in the city, as well as the Greater Grand Rapids area.

Taqueria San Jose - 1338 Division Ave S
A charming appeal as if you are going to an old drive in, but you’ll have to walk in and wait in line for the tasty array of all the familiar Mexican foods. This southside gem has long been discovered by Grand Rapidians, so be ready to wait if you hit rush hour.

Tacos El Cuñado - 1024 Bridge St NW, 455 Burton St SW,  and Downtown Market)
With three locations, it’s hard to beat the array that this city staple serves up daily—from the westside to the southside and in between. 

Luna - 64 Ionia Ave SW
Come in for the pozole and stay for the city life vibes. 

El Globo Restaurant - 2019 Division Ave S
Tucked further away in the southside, this Burton Heights restaurant is right off the Silverline stop for your lunch rush convenience.



Mi Casa Restaurante - 334 Burton St SW
In the heart of Burton Heights, this cozy caribbean restaurant serves up everything from fried sweet plantains to stewed goat. A must try if you are in the neighborhood.

El Granjero - 950 Bridge St NW
A westside favorite, this restaurant has had a recent remodel and has never looked better. Come in and have your pick from an assorted menu.

Mi Tierra - 2300 Division Ave S
On the edge of Burton Heights, this quiet restaurant will leave you full and coming back for more.

Maggie’s Kitchen 636 Bridge St NW
A westside staple that will keep you coming back for more.

El Rincon Mexicano Taqueria - 2055 28th St. SE
Serving up great Mexican standards that will leave you wanting to come back.

Lindo Mexico - 1292 28th St Wyoming, MI
A pleasant atmosphere highlighted with local artwork, this restaurant is located just southwest of Grand Rapids proper.

Tamales Mary - 1253 Burton St SW Wyoming
Specializing in tamales both savory and sweet. It is sure to be a treat if you’ve never had a sweet tamale before.

As our city continues to grow business districts will begin to solidify where they were once in decline. If you have been keeping track of the locations provided many of the Latinx restaurants are located on the southside of the city, and as Burton Heights begins a revival we may see a flourishing of new Latinx restaurants and shops. Only time will tell, but the prospect has many excited already.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Blaquebox - A new way of #buyingBlack and boosting the economy for all

As Black Entrepreneurship month wraps up, we want to share with you another way members of our community are addressing lack of economic capital and empowering their communities through something as simple as a “Blaquebox,” a subscription box of products sold by black-owned businesses delivered to your door in a black box.

Sonja Forte, resident of Grand Rapids and founder of “Blaquebox,” is using her entrepreneurial skills to build wealth within the black community while creating an easily accessible opportunity to buy from black-owned businesses. According to Forte, the long-term impact for the Blaquebox is a mindset change.

“Unfortunately, Black people have been told and often times, convinced that they are subpar, unworthy, not enough, and incapable. The goal is to restore and rebuild confidence, pride, and faith in our community. The mindset change will spill over to the economic arena,” says Forte.

According to a 2015 study from The Pew Research Center, based on an analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, black individuals earn about 75 percent of what white individuals earn per hour. In other words, for every $1.00 a white man makes, a black man makes 75 cents. The wage gap is even greater among women: white women on average earn $17 per hour and black women are at a $13 per hour. When using our economic capital to buy from black-owned businesses, we help employ more black people and consequently, become a part of wealth-building for communities who have been systematically excluded from accessing equitable economic capital.

For the cost of $44 dollars every other month, subscribers receive three to five products to their doors. Each box has a specific theme for that time of the year.

“May was a brunch-themed box (there are a lot of Mother's day brunches) which included a Waffle Mix from Alaska, a Lapel Pin, Organic Honey, Fennel Seeds, Wax Melts, and a Chicken Fry Mix (what are waffles without chicken?),” says Forte.

Customers can also purchase special, one-time boxes at various price points. Products are sourced from across the globe, including from the city of Grand Rapids. Additionally, folks can find out through social media information about various black-owned business, causes, and community initiatives.

“My hope is that the Blaquebox can be a go-to source when it comes to black-owned businesses: be it discovery through knowledge or experience. We want to grow to be a trusted source,” says Sonja Forte.

To find out more about Blaquebox and how you can subscribe, visit www.blaqueboxsubscription.com.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Images courtesy of Blaquebox.
 

“Black Girls Be Like” – A love letter to Grand Rapids, Michigan

“Black Girls Be Like” is the title for Racheal Floyd’s debut feature film, or what she calls, “a love letter to Grand Rapids.” Floyd, who was born and raised in Grand Rapids, tells the story of Ta’Sheena, a young black girl growing up in the “hood” of Grand Rapids. The film is currently in pre-production stages expected to be released in the Winter of 2018.

The films begins with Ta’Sheena finishing up her last year of middle school, providing us glimpses of the how she’s fighting to find a place to be the girl she wants to be. Battling against the identities dictated by her environment, we see Ta’Sheena learn about herself and find the freedom she has always dreamed.

“We're living in a time in American history where marginalized people don't feel safe in this country,” says Floyd.

For the young film-maker, the story of Ta’Sheena is personal, as she remembers growing up and having little to no content representing girls like herself. “As a filmmaker it’s been a personal mission statement for me to create content that little girls can look up to, see themselves in, and be empowered by,” says Floyd.

Floyd, the brain behind the film, has teamed up with local filmmakers Virginia Anzengruber, Elizabeth Merriman, and Thom McGuire to produce Floyd’s love letter to Grand Rapids.

“I plan on making it as ‘Grand Rapids’ as possible. I want to incorporate the culture, the community, and how it feels to grow up there,” says Floyd, who is currently based in Atlanta.

Anzengruber, producer of the film, sought to get involved with this film to help make change in diversifying the industry, and ultimately help empower young women and girls facing racism and oppression.

In the words of Floyd, this film is coming at a time when people of color and people with marginalized identities are being represented more than ever helping create the stage for a production like Black Girls Be Like.

“This story needs to be told no just for black girls, but for every person that's ever had a dream or ever had a desire to better themselves and improve their situation by hard work and determination,” shares Floyd.

To find out more about how to support this film please visit the website at www.BGBLmovie.com.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


A guide to GR's black-owned businesses

Showing up for each other economically is one of the ways we can ensure livability and economic prosperity for our community as a whole. To celebrate our talented entrepreneurs and commemorate Black Entrepreneurship Month, we have crafted a short guide of a few of our favorite local black-owned food establishments working hard to satiate our taste buds!

 

Ellnora's Kitchen - 547 Eastern Ave SE

Specializing in grilled meat, ribbed tips, pork chops, turkey knuckles, and chicken—here you can find homemade soul food with every side imaginable of greens, macaroni cheese, potato salad, spaghetti or black eyed peas. A locally owned restaurant, this joint is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11am-9pm or until thefood runs out. Catering is also available upon request.

 

Ma’Dear Soul Food – 817 Franklin Street SE

Serving up the award winning barbeque, the southeast community knows as Sandman’s, this joint serves up home-made soul food. The restaurant located near the corner of Eastern and Franklin street and serves barbeque every Wednesday through Saturday. Every Sunday, you can expect to be served their soul food specialty home made grilled chicken with barbeque and a side of warm mashed potatoes.

 

Irie Kitchen - 6630 Kalamazoo Ave SE

If you are looking for some local Jamaican delicacy, look no further than Irie Kitchen. They promise to provide you with healthy, non GMO food every time. They also offer vegetarian options filled with flavors unique to Jamaica. Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

 

Icons Coffee – 2433 Eastern Ave SE

Located in the Alger Heights neighborhood, this eclectic coffee shop features ice chai tea lattes, bubble tea, blackberry vanilla lavender lemonade shaken iced tea, and of course the all-time crowd favorite: a good warm cup of coffee. At this joint you can also find eight delicious Hudsonville ice cream flavors, D’arts Donuts, and bagels. Open Tuesday through Thursday 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays until 9 p.m. and Sundays until 7 p.m.

 



Go-Jo Ethiopian Cuisine
- 956 Fulton St E

Offering traditional Ethiopian dishes all served with Injerra, Ethiopian flatbread. Expect to get your hands messy if you want to enjoy your meal the traditional Ethiopian way. If you call ahead, you also also have the opportunity to observe an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, a daily tradition to welcome visitors. Vegan and vegetarian options are also available upon request.

 

Local Mocha Coffee – 96 Monroe Center NW, Suite 100

A downtown Grand Rapids stable, this coffee shop specializes in serving premium, fairtrade and organic coffee. Also offering fruit smoothies, home-made tomato soup and chili, delicious espresso drinks with homemade chocolate and caramel. Opened 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 

Malamiah Juice Bar - Downtown Market / 435 Ionia St SW | Suite #128

Located inside Downtown Market, this family-owned juice bar offers specialty juices and smoothies to help you glide with energy all day. Or, if you are recovering from a particularly long weekend, you can pick up a quick booster shot packed full of vitamins and minerals. This Juice Bar unlike any other juice bar, partners with local organization to hire and employ youth from the community and provide them with meaningful employment. Open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 



Boston Square Ice Cream & Café
– 1553 Kalamazoo SE

Looking for a new place to grab brunch? Visit Boston Square Ice Cream & Café and get a taste of their delicious Boston Big Breakfast of home-made eggs, pancake, sausage, and crispy hashbrowns. Breakfast and lunch are served all day. A welcoming feel to all visitors, expect to be greeted by cheerful staff. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday for Soul Food from 12 to 6 p.m.

 

Daddy Pete’s BBQ - 2921 Eastern Ave SE

Specializing in delicious, Southern, slow-smoked meats served with a homemade, finger-lickin’ BBQ sauce, Daddy Pete’s is a must-visit. You can also find their smoked meats at their food truck. Open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

 

Load-A-Spud - 2919 28th Street

Hungry for a loaded potato or a loaded tacos? Visit Load-A-Spud or schedule a delicious delivery of hearty potatoes and all the toppings you can think of. Offering delivery and catering or dine-in service—you can enjoy a loaded potato from anywhere. Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 12 to 8 p.m.


Creston Brewery - 1504 Plainfield Avenue NE

If you are looking to quench your thirst with a cold beer, or a cider on the northeast side of town make sure to check out this brewery. Featuring seven hot sauces ranging from mild spiciness to dangerously hot. Vegan and vegetarian dishes also available for those with dietary restrictions. It’s ample and beautiful space outside and in is just the perfect atmosphere to host your next work meeting. Open Monday through Thursday 12-11p.m., Saturdays 11-12 a. m., and Sundays 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.

 

If you are looking for more local black-owned restaurants, and businesses check out Grand Rapids Area Black Business (GRAAB) directory here. This list has been collaboratively compiled thanks to Jamiel Robinson, founder of GRAAB.
Let us know if we missed your favorite spot in the comments!


Michelle Jokish Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


Meet Rachael Miller: Full-stack developer who isn't afraid to represent

“Helping humans do amazing things has been embedded in software’s DNA from the very beginning. Becoming one of the people that enables that kind of human advancement was a no-brainer for me.” – Rachael Miller, Software Consultant & Developer at Atomic Object.
 
This week, we conclude our three-part series on local women in the tech industry who are taking strides to empower, create, and do good. Meet Rachael Miller, a transplant to Grand Rapids. Miller, originally from Oxford, Michigan on the east side of the state, moved here after completing her undergraduate studies to begin her career as a developer. 

Miller, a full-stack developer, has been coding for the past seven years, and credits her success in the industry to being exposed to technology's potential to help humans do amazing things.
 
At Atomic Object, Miller is what the small, West Michigan company calls a “generalist, in other words, the focus of her work falls under the umbrella of’ 'whatever the customer needs.’” A graduate from the highly competitive computer science program at University of Michigan, Miller has developed the expertise to work in each layer of software technology.
 
The developer extraordinaire stays in Grand Rapids because she wants to contribute to a small, local economy.
 
“There’s interesting technical work, there are growing local companies in need of talented technologists, and the economy is such that laying down roots with eventual homeownership doesn’t have to be a pipe dream,” says Miller “Having spent some time there, I can’t say as much for the West coast. I think that elements of the Silicon Valley culture can be unwelcoming, and even hostile to women."
 
“What makes that easier is having other people to ‘share the pain’ with," she adds. "if there are other women developers around, I don’t have to bear the weight of being the token women developer for all speaking engagements and outreach efforts.”
 
To help address the lack of representation of women in the field, Miller tries to be as visible as she is able to and get to know as many women in the industry as possible. By building relationships with other women, and talking about her own experiences, Miller believes she can be part of the solution through representation.
 
“I want to be visible as a representative, so that other women know they’re not alone,” shares Miller.
 
“There isn’t one way to be a developer,” she adds. By having a representation of diverse work styles, women and girls can have the opportunity to be different and get to see their approach to technology isn’t wrong. 

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Local firm Mindscape redefines marketing through relationship building

Mindscape, a 17-year old digital marketing firm located on Grand Rapids' West Side, has been upping its game with community involvement. Offering services that educate its clients, but also engaging community members for free, Mindscape is in hot pursuit of better digital marketing for everyone.

"We're always looking for opportunities to engage the community," says CEO Pete Brand. With this in mind, Brand developed various content marketing workshops for small business owners, nonprofits, and marketing professionals who want to make the jump from traditional marketing and learn "how to navigate the digital space effectively," says Brand. Mindscape also provides training for inbound marketing strategy.

In addition to paid training, Mindscape has expanded their educational opportunities to be accessible to all. "We made the decision that we'd like to teach other people as well so we can not just help the people that are paying us," says Brand.

Two years ago, Mindscape began facilitating Lunch & Learn events, in which interested community members can visit their West Side office for a free lunch and an hour of education on a particular topic in the industry.

This fall, Brand and his cohort will embark on an exciting new project as part of their Create & Execute strategy building program. Working with Grand Valley State University and Ferris State University, Mindscape will act as the go-between for recent graduates and nonprofits seeking digital marketing talent. "We do the matchmaking," says Brand, for organizations "who typically have limited resources and capacity internally to tap into digital marketing," he adds.

Contributing half of the cost of the nonprofit's participation in the program, Mindscape assists in developing a strategic digital marketing plan for the organization while at the same time mentoring the recent grad. At the end of this experimental program, the grad will have to then present their plan in front of the nonprofit's board of directors for approval. "We want to help the nonprofit and also hep the marketing student so they can stay here," says Brand.

All of these efforts are part of Brand's desire to reach to and improve his community. From carefully crafted educational programs to fun events like National Margarita Day at the Widdicomb building, Mindscape is making strides in their mission to spread the marketing love. "It's not just about the bottom line," says Brand. "It's about rolling up your sleeves and pitching in to the community that you're a part of."
 

Meet Joanie Davis: empowering girls to code for good

Continuing our three-part series highlighting local women in the tech industry, who are navigating often unwelcoming spaces to use their expertise and skill as developers for good, we present you, Joanie Davis from West Michigan and an intern at Collective Idea.

Davis was not always interested in the field of coding and web development, but after enrolling in a course in scientific computer programming at Hope College, where she is currently a senior, Davis was exposed to what she calls a “mixture of creativity, problem solving, and collaboration,” she decided to change her career course and pursue a major in computer science.  “I haven’t regretted it since,” shares Davis.

Because Davis is still growing her skills in code, she has not yet decided on her specialization. Davis has experience in back-end development, a kind of coding that handles database and behavior logic, and also has interest in front-end development, which focuses more on styling and user experience.

“Here at Collective Idea, I've had the opportunity to participate in the development process for web applications that help people plan and coordinate events, manage their company's resource usage, and event keep a better track of whether or not their own programs are running correctly,” says Davis.

For Davis, the biggest challenge is reminding herself that she has a place in the tech industry.

“Most of the guys have a self-confidence in their abilities that stems from messing around with computers since they were kids or young teens. I didn’t start being interested in computers until college and a lot of the time when I’m talking to guys who've been messing around with code for most of their lives, I struggle with the idea that I’ll never catch up to them,” says Davis.

Despite these barriers, Davis has found a place in an industry where she uses her skills to help create programs to help others.

Last summer, computer science professor at Hope College, Mike Jipping worked with Davis and three other students—Natalie Boardway, Joanie Davis, and Meredith Lind—to develop “Bilancio” an iOS application designed to help students with learning disabilities learn budgeting skills. The app is currently being used in Hope’s Ready for Life’s budgeting unit, the college’s program for college-age students with learning disabilities.

“Not every girl is going to want to be a developer, of course. But instead of assuming girls won't want to work with computers, we have to make it easy for them to explore this possibility, and decide for themselves if it's a career they want to pursue,” says Davis.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Look good, feel good, and do good–the Delasie ripple effect

Alongside her family, Rhoda Abena Klomega made the 5,477 mile journey across west Africa and the Atlantic Ocean to Saline, Michigan. The transition was difficult for Klomega who was faced with having to adjust to a new place, language, customs and traditions when she immigrated to the United States at eleven years of age. Experiencing challenges fitting in and acculturating to her new environment, Klomega began dealing with depression
.
For immigrants, the process of coming to a new country can lead to increase in stress and anxiety as they try to wrestle with understanding and being a part of a new culture while respecting and holding on their own customs and traditions from home. Amidst all the tumultuous changes, Klomega found solace through a sewing machine.

“One day in high school I decided to walk into my teacher’s room and ask for a sewing machine. My teacher told me I couldn’t take the one from school home, so the very next day she gave me her own sewing machine,” shares Klomega.

The very first time Klomega attempted to make an outfit, she asked her brother to trace her out on a piece of paper while she laid on the floor. Although the outfit did not come out the way Klomega wanted it to—this experience gave her the courage to keep on. 

“It became my escape. It became my release,” says Klomega.

As a young Klomega developed her sewing skills throughout high school, her reputation as a fashion designer followed her later on as a student of computer and information systems at Grand Valley State University. Gaining so much notoriety among her peers, Klomega took the leap and launched the brand “Delasie” under which she began selling clothes two years ago at different pop-up shops around town.

“Delasie means ‘the savior heard me’ in my father’s native dialect, ” explains Klomega.

Now Delasie has become much more than just a brand of clothes, it has become a tool of empowerment and education for Klomega, who wants to design clothing that can fit anybody.

“I want everybody to feel good, wearing my clothing, any ethnicity, age or size. I sew for everybody. If you have a body we can measure it and fit you in something,” shares the fashion-designer.
The patterns Klomega uses in the clothing she crafts are purchased directly from textile and supply companies from her home country of Ghana.

“I inquire about the naming of the fabric and I then get to decide if that’s the meaning that I want my clients to have when I create the clothing. I then educate my clients on what they are wearing,” shares Klomega.

After completing Spring GR Business Academy winning second place and winning the grand prize of $5000 at the Start Garden 5x5 competition in April, Klomega has been using the funds to help grow her business. As Delasie has grown, Klomega sees opportunity in using her brand to benefit mental health services for immigrant women in the community of Grand Rapids. In the fashion launch of “Nsubra,” a Ghanaian graphic fabric pattern that represents the ripple effect of a stone thrown in a water well, Klomega decided to donate a portion of the proceeds received at the fashion event this past Friday, July 28, to Arbor Circle’s programming.

“Arbor Circle has an art therapy program specifically benefitting immigrant women—which is exactly what I am,” states Klomega.  

As a woman, and an immigrant to this community, Klomega hopes other women create their own ripple effects as their pursue their passions despite any obstacles faced.

“The ripple effect was my teacher giving me the sewing machine – I want my clients to create a positive ripple effect. I want others to believe that challenges do not hold you down,” says Klomega.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

 
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