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Startup Spotlight: Parliament the Boutique

Sometimes things are right under our nose when we’re looking for them high and low everywhere else.

If you haven’t had a chance to go to Avenue for the Arts' First Friday’s events, then not only have you been missing out on one of the most intriguing events of the week, but you may have also not had the chance to stumble upon the dynamic duo of Elyse Marie Welcher and Jake Vroon’s shop known as Parliament the Boutique, which houses both of their respective businesses, Littlewings Design and Harbinger Leather. 

We caught up with the business duo and couple to find out the latest rumblings on the avenue.

RG: What date did you launch? Why did you start Littlewings Designs and Harbinger Leather?

EW: Littlewings Designs launched in 2010 while Elyse was still a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and was technically her senior capstone project, before she first put it into the world using Etsy in the summer of 2010.

JV: Harbinger Leather Design launched in 2012, after Jake discovered leather working in college when he was hunting for the perfect messenger bag, and couldn’t find just the right thing, so he decided to make it for himself. After rebuilding that first bag around half a dozen times, he decided he liked working with leather and to just keep making stuff!

EW&JV: We both launched our businesses and stuck with it because first, we are both really independent people and didn’t want to see our energies poured into systems and places that didn’t value people; and second, because it was right after the economic crash of ‘08/’09, and for both of us, it was like why not, we aren’t getting hired anywhere else! My (Elyse’s) degree is literally in Accessory Design, and my industry had been in a virtual hiring freeze for three years at the time I graduated college in 2010, with that many years of graduates ahead of me to compete with for jobs if I was going to get involved in the traditional corporate scene. For Jake, he was entirely self-taught, and breaking into that corporate scene was of zero interest to him. Both of us came at it with an attitude of “There’s no better time than now,” and have kept that up!

RG: What is at the core of Littlewings Designs and Harbinger Leather? Where have you been and how has the journey been?

EW&JV: The core of each of our brands has always been centered around the value of handcrafted quality, from both an economic and an eudaimonic perspective; how is owning handcrafted, locally made goods not only a wiser economic choice in terms of products being better made and longer lasting, as well as keeping economic energy within your own community, but how supporting those goods and their makers also leads to a higher quality of life and well-being. 

Starting out, it’s really tough to launch a business alone, and be able to grow it to the point that it becomes your full-time gig. We were really lucky to meet each other in that stage of growth, and to be able to combine our talents together to support each other’s work, while still maintaining our own creative brands and voices. Maintaining the two brands has been intentional, and we’re able to voice a myriad of our artistic visions and problem solving skills by keeping them that way, which is also super rewarding.

The other portion of our journey has been owning and operating Parliament the Boutique together. I (Elyse) launched the business in 2013, but Jake was involved from the get-go. It has been a tough and crazy journey of navigating a business that frankly started out as an experiment, that had a third partner involved for part of it, and that in many ways has grown to be bigger than its combined parts. We now have finally landed in an ideal location on South Division that allows us to operate our retail shop, have our studio and production on-site, and has room for our continued growth over the next several years; we’re very excited about how this space has allowed us so many opportunities for collaboration, and can’t wait to see where it’s going to take us next!

RG: What are Littlewings Designs and Harbinger Leather's plans for this new year? Any new releases or shows you are looking forward to?

EW&JV: This question leads nicely from the last! Actually, this year, we are launching a new business and rebranding Parliament. Over the course of the last five years, we have learned extensively that our retail space serves not only as a shopping destination for those who are passionate about handcrafted, high quality goods, but also as a showroom for potential wholesale and large-scale production clients. Much of Harbinger Leather Designs’ work over the years has been private label work for local brands such a Woosah, Victor Axe + Tool, and even Horween Leather out of Chicago, and Littlewings Designs sells wholesale to around 35 boutiques around the country; our store has proved to be a fantastic little “garden” for seeding and fruiting independent, private label, and wholesale client work.

We also recently had a partner exit Parliament, and have thusly decided this is the perfect juncture to rebrand and take a new direction that better reflects those goals. From a public perspective, it will still be the same shop focused on creating a space that is a crossroads for makers and their community, but with a new name and branding that is more focused on Jake and I as a couple, and our back story (we’re not releasing the name yet, but it is centered around us being both born under the sign of Gemini), and with an internal value proposition of formalizing our offerings in private label, wholesale, and collaboration work for other brands. Keep tuned for the announcement of our new brand the first of March, and an official transition party at the end of March!

RG: What is it like having a live/work space on the Avenue for the Arts?

EW&JV: Similarly to our business journey, it is tough but also really rewarding, and very educational. Jake and I both came from fairly sheltered backgrounds, and getting involved in this community has been very humbling and has had a steep learning curve. There are some fantastic perks: we have awesome neighbors, live in a community of talented makers and artists, we’re within walking distance to an awesome food and nightlife scene here in GR, and have been fortunate enough to live in/next to our working spaces for the last five years.

We’ve learned that as able-bodied community members, it’s not just to our advantage to advocate for neighborhood improvements and additional measures to ensure safety, but that we have a duty to do so. Many of our close neighbors and fellow Heartside dwellers are disabled, elderly, shut-in, and often are without transportation; many of them lack the ability and energy to advocate for themselves in terms of basic human rights, such as working toward getting a public restroom in this neighborhood, or demanding more pedestrian lighting and law-enforcement to make safe transit by foot more possible for everyone. We are constantly thinking about how our actions both impact our own financial security, as well as how that advocacy is making positive change for the well-being of all our neighbors, not just us. For us, that comes down to working toward more safety measures, increased community cooperation, and public awareness/education about the realities rather than the rumors, of living and working in Heartside.

RG: What role does making/crafting have in our society? How does making/crafting fit into your everyday life outside of work?

EW&JV: We truly believe that making and crafting is a critical conduit for processing our human experience; making art or goods is a way of physically manifesting the energetic ideas within our hearts and minds. For us, it is a continued extension of our values, of living a life well-lived and not just financially earned.

Our wedding was one of the biggest demonstrations of this. We made most of it ourselves—the decor, the flowers, our gifts for our wedding party—we even made our own rings with Abbey Hunter at the Hot Spot GR! And I wore my mother’s wedding dress, both as a way to reuse a beautiful heirloom with family value, and also to not waste money on a very expensive gown that I would only wear one day.

Currently, we’re looking at buying a house, as we love living downtown, but it’s difficult to have a family in a one-room flat. As we house-hunt, we’re looking for spaces with history that we can preserve and renovate utilizing our DIY skills, and that also continue to allow us to be sustainable in our commute and live/work balance, by sticking within a couple miles of our current shop and therefore being able to walk, bike, and/or take the Silver Line into work everyday.  

RG: What are some of your favorite things about owning your own business? What are the downsides?

EW&JV: We love the freedom, of being able to make decisions for our life/family in a way that holistically support our values. We choose our work hours, and are able to bring the skills we love into our work every single day. And we both love being designers! It’s our passion, and to share that together is an amazing blessing. The downside is that managing it all is really tough. No one thinks about how difficult it is to write your paychecks, manage the finances of three businesses, and keep everything running smoothly while also remembering to eat, sleep, and be a healthy human! And taxes are really an annual nightmare, haha. But we wouldn’t trade it for all the world; Jake and I often say, we are ride or die when it comes to this life.

RG: What are your hopes for the small business scene in Grand Rapids and Michigan at large?

EW&JV: We have a rich and deep history here in Michigan of design, production, and businesses that when started, had the intention of working toward the common good. In a lot of aspects, we lost our way in the last 50 years: the fall of Detroit, the fall-out of manufacturing, the shipping overseas of valuable jobs and production that were the backbone of our local economy. My hope is that the many small businesses like ours, who are creating a sustainable network of production and collaboration, will continue to be a foundational part of Michigan’s economic recovery for years to come. You can’t build a strong foundation without bricks and mortar; the big businesses are the bricks, and the little ones like us are the mortar that holds it all together.

With continued clarification and activism, I think Grand Rapids is poised to be a leading location in this type of economic rebuilding for a long time, so long as we work together and continue to broaden the web of communication between these many entities, and understand that there aren’t “black/white” solutions to these problems. Big business isn’t all bad; small businesses aren’t all heroes. If we can see the complexity of our ecosystem with more clarity, we will continue to see abundance and growth; if we devolve into dividing and segmenting, we will fall back into the same scarcity-based thinking that led to much of the greed and crumbling of our local economy in the first place.

You can visit Parliament the Boutique at 136 S. Division or here. Elyse’s work with Littlewings Design can be seen here and Jake’s work at Harbinger Leather is here.

Their Instagram accounts can also be found here: Parliament the Boutique, Littlewings Design, and Harbinger Leather

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 Parliament the Boutique.

WestSide Collaborative bands together nonprofits for the common good

10 years ago, when Grand Rapids and the nation was hit with the Great Recession, GR's Westside, a predominantly working class neighborhood, felt the heat. "West Grand Rapids was particularly hit hard, housing had huge vacancy rates, people [were] struggling to find employment," says Westside Collaborative Executive Director Jim Davis. The decade that followed witnessed the transformation of a neighborhood increased diversity, a changing workforce, and eventual reinvestment into the area.

After eight years of struggling to serve the neighborhood and find their individual and communal voices, Westside nonprofits decided to band together to be better partners, to each other and to their shared clientele.

With the shared values of "equity, inclusion, and hope," resulting in "access and opportunity for all," these nonprofits—like The Other Way Ministries, the YMCA, Challenge Scholars, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids—formed the West Town collaborative. For the next two years, the group worked toward identifying their shared needs and those that were unique to the residents of their neighborhood. "They saw value in getting to know one another," says Davis, referring to a trait uncommon to nonprofits who are often competing for precious resources.

However, after two years, Davis says, "They were invested in an idea that hadn't come to fruition." Despite the passion and labor that went into the project, the group still hadn't cemented their mission, and in August of 2017, hired Jim Davis to serve as the executive director to assist them with the task.

Davis, at heart a music director with experience working at the local Interlochen Music Camp, was no stranger to combining the talent, skill, and personalities of many people into a smooth, working ensemble. Having also worked in public education for eight years outside of Flint, he is no stranger to poverty and the constant struggle for resources.

Knowing that this passionate group of people and organizations needed to define their mission to move forward, he began reviewing data and conducting interviews throughout the neighborhood. The common response to the mission of collaborative was "we become the neutral party that allows both space and staff assistance and financial support when needed for other organizations to get together and to amplify that work."

But what was "that work?" Seeking to further define "collective impact work," or the tasks that these nonprofits embarked upon together, Davis worked with member organizations to define their three main jobs: to identify gaps in service, to eliminate duplicated services, and to improving marginal services. They would do this by serving as referrals to member agencies, as well as forming specialized "work groups" to tackle specific problems within in the community.

One such work group is called "Sense of Belonging," which aims to improve the welcome and comfort for all groups of people in the neighborhood. With the priority to best represent and serve the Westside, each of these groups is made up of 50 percent Westside collaborative members (nonprofit staff), 40 percent represents marginalized communities or POCs, and at least two residents (these percentages can overlap). "We celebrate diversity at that table. We think it's essential," says Davis.

Working alongside community organizations like the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association, the John Ball Area Neighbors, and the West Grand Neighborhood Organization, the Westside Collaborative provides a unique service by specifically banding together nonprofits.

"In no way do we duplicate their work, but we absolutely depend on neighborhood organIzations to assist in the efforts our non-profit community is putting forth in addressing common issues in West Grand Rapids," says Davis.

With a new name and a clearly defined mission, they hope to do this for years to come. Davis summarizes their work with this: "Our end goal is to improve the community at large…we want their quality of life to improve."

New year, new job: The winter jobs roundup

Habitat for Humanity

Site Supervisor

The Site Supervisor oversees and works directly with volunteers and home buyer families to provide instruction while ensuring site safety and producing a positive Habitat site experience. This position will also manage the warranty program with existing homeowners, as well as work on educational builds alongside students and instructors. This position requires the ability to build homes to code through all phases of construction, while keeping on schedule. Preferred qualifications include a state of Michigan builder’s license and five years minimum supervisory experience in the remodeling/new construction industry. Candidates must be passionate about the mission of Habitat, be a team player and willing to foster relationships during the build process.

Send resumes by February 9, 2018 to hr@habitatkent.org. No phone calls or walk-ins.

Material Recovery Supervisor
The Material Recovery Supervisor will coordinate and perform recovery projects to obtain donated gifts that require physical removal and disassembly from the donor’s premises to be sold in Habitat for Humanity of Kent County ReStores or to be used in Habitat for Humanity of Kent County building projects.

This is a full-time hourly position with benefits. Send resumes by February 13, 2018 to: hr@habitatkent.org. No phone calls or walk-ins.

D.A. Blodgett St. John's

Residential Therapists (Seeking one for Cebelak and one for Elenbaas)
Full-time youth and family therapist for middle school-aged children residing in our residential facility. Work focuses on healing past trauma, developing a healthy identity, learning independent living skills, and preparing for permanent placements. The ideal candidate will have strong therapeutic skills and expertise. Skills in substance abuse treatment, trauma informed treatment, EMDR, motivational interviewing, and CBT are preferred.

Qualifications:
MSW or similar degree and State License / Limited License required.

Multi-Systemic Therapist (What is MST, you ask? MST is an intensive, family-focused and community-based treatment program for chronically violent youth.)
Full-time Master’s level therapist, who is organized and highly engaging, for our MST (Multi-Systemic Therapy) program. MST is an evidenced-based therapy program to treat teenagers with delinquent behaviors by working with the parents as the change-agents. Therapy occurs in the home and community.

Qualifications:
LMSW, LPC, LMFT, or LP (limited or full license) is required and a minimum of one year of counseling experience is preferred. Further information about the counseling model can be found at www.mstservices.com. Bilingual and culturally diverse persons are encouraged to apply. EOE.

Advancement Services Manager (Brand new position!)
APPLICATION DEADLINE: FEBRUARY 1, 2018
The Advancement Services Manager provides leadership and oversight of donor management systems and strategies, special events, administrative support, donor communication and direct mail appeals and other fundraising activities. The Advancement Services Manager supervises the Advancement Assistant and Events Coordinator, reporting to the Chief Advancement Officer.

Qualifications:
A minimum of five years of experience in advancement functions. Familiar with fundraising principles and donor strategies and working knowledge of donor management strategies and systems (Raiser’s Edge NXT preferred). Supervisory experience preferred. Proven leadership abilities and successful experience managing multiple projects. Bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university preferred.

Second and Third Shift Youth Development Specialist – Residential Program
Full time, counselor role providing direct care for children and youth living in an open residential program. Counselors see to the physical and emotional needs of the children and youth who have experienced some form of abuse and/or neglect. Counselors will model and teach appropriate social skills while working closely with a staff therapist to implement individualized treatment plans. This role demands an individual with strong relationship building skills, physical and emotional stamina and an ability to work in a team environment in order to provide a family like setting. Counselors act in a parental role by meeting basic needs of youth.

Qualifications:
High School diploma or equivalent required. Associates and/or Bachelor's degree in Psychology, Sociology, Social Work, Youth Ministries, Criminal Justice and/or Communications a plus. Valid driver’s license with a good driving record is required. Those interested in a career in the child welfare field or those with a desire to help struggling children and teenagers are encouraged to apply.

Supports Coordinator
For those who have a passion for working with children who have developmental disabilities. Full-time position providing individual case management to children with developmental disabilities. Job requires linking, monitoring, and coordinating services within the family system and the community. Services are provided in the home setting and some evening hours are required.

Qualifications:
Minimum education requirements include a 4 year degree in the following: psychology, physician, education from an accredited program, social work, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, audiology, registered nurse, registered dietician, therapeutic recreation, or a licensed or limited-licensed professional counselor. Experience working with culturally diverse populations and one year of experience working with clients diagnosed with developmental disabilities preferred. Bilingual persons are encouraged to apply.

Foster Care Case Aide and Community Living Supports Aide
Wonderful part-time opportunities; perfect for college students working towards a Human Services degree.

Apply here.

John Ball Zoo

Marketing Manager
John Ball Zoo is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, with a mission to inspire people to be active participants in the conservation of wildlife and our natural environment. We are seeking an energetic Marketing Manager to join our team. In collaboration with the Chief Development Officer, the Marketing Manager designs, develops, and directs the implementation of all media relations, advertising, promotions, and public relations activities for the Zoo.

Apply here.

Wolverine Worldwide

Director Of Retail Marketing
This position will play a critical role in developing integrated marketing strategies and plans for key wholesale accounts and DTC channels. Responsible for working closely with the Category marketing directors, Sales leadership, and internal stakeholders to develop account and channel specific campaigns designed to ensure that the brand is effectively represented and communicated to our end consumers. This position will have marketing responsibility over all wholesale channels of trade along with our DTC channels, with the goal of driving awareness and sales within those channels. This role will also work closely with the Sales team to develop key sales tools for our sales force in order to improve product sell-in and sell-thru at retail.

Apply here.

Calvin College

Writer and Marketing Coordinator
To reach prospective students, this position will create strategic, compelling and on-brand content across a variety of communication channels. Collaborate with creative professionals, tell the stories of world-changing Calvin students, and connect with high school students about the benefits of a Calvin education. This position will be part of a team that executes marketing initiatives across many channels, including email, print, web, digital advertising, and video.

Apply here.

Herman Miller

Senior Marketing Specialist - Focused Markets
As a Senior Marketing Specialist - Focused Markets, you'll be responsible for developing and implementing marketing strategies and tactical plans to successfully support Herman Miller's business objectives in two key areas within the North America Contract business: Healthcare and Higher Education. You will also be responsible for leading the implementation of projects, programs, and initiatives from concept, design, development, and delivery to achieve goals.

Apply here.

Meijer

Brand Planner
This position is responsible for building marketing platforms and campaigns, guiding campaign and marketing plan development and cross-channel integration. This role is integral in bringing cross-functional partners together to build campaigns—Merchants, Promo Planning, Business Ops, Customer Insights, Media, Content Planning and Creative Teams, translating business and communication objectives into marketing campaigns that prompt meaningful customer action.

Apply here.

Byrne Electrical Specialists

Jr. Digital Marketing Specialist
Execute and plan Byrne’s digital marketing strategy, managing and publishing targeted content to drive engagement, growth and revenue goals across digital channels.

Apply here.

West Michigan Whitecaps

Community Relations Street Team
The Community Relations Street Team is responsible for escorting mascots at community events. Street Team members must be upbeat, outgoing individuals with the ability to interact with all types of people. The Community Relations Street Team performs all job tasks in compliance with the philosophy, policies, goals, and budget of Whitecaps Professional Baseball, Inc.

Apply here.

Inner City Christian Federation

Resident Engagement Specialist
The Resident Engagement Specialist adjusts and implements successful neighbor engagement programs. Job functions include team collaboration, program development, outcomes planning and improvement, resident event planning and execution, focus groups and surveys, and relationship building to support residents to meet their personal and housing goals. Goals of this program include increased opportunity, strong relationships, and housing stability.

Please submit your resume with a cover letter to hr@iccf.org or Traci Douglas, tdouglas@humanresourcepotential.com. ICCF is an EEO employer.
 

Robotics company expansion ushers in next generation of manufacturing in Kent County

West Michigan is quickly becoming a hub for technological growth and experimentation. With a smattering of maker spaces, tech entrepreneurs garnering crowdfunding, and established companies expanded their capabilities, tech is here to stay.

One such company that is meeting the national need for tech innovation is Axis Company, a Walker-based firm that "designs, programs and builds robotic automation and assembly equipment for a wide range of manufacturers and industries," according to their press release. With eyes set on continued growth in the very near future, Axis recently announced a $4 million investment in a new facility in southeast Kent County, one that will offer 50 new jobs.

The new positions will include six to eight managerial/professional roles, 15 to 20 technical positions, and 20 to 25 skilled craftsman. Having already posted 10 to 12 job openings for their new facility, Axis is hiring now, and job descriptions can be found on their website.

Part of the $4 million in funding is sourced through a three-year contract with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). Working with the Right Place and the MEDC and forgoing an out-of-state site option, Axis decided to maintain their presence in Kent County and reinvest in their home community, and thus the MEDC approved the $400,000 performance grant in October 2017.

"The reason that we're so excited about his, beyond having another company expand in the region, which is always good, is an automation and robotics company expanding in your community is really the next generation of what manufacturing is going to look like in the US," says Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communications for The Right Place.

Currently seeking the perfect site for their second location, Axis will most likely choose an existing structure that can be further developed for their use, according to Mroz.

Mroz adds that an increased advanced manufacturing presence stands to bolster the region's expertise and desirability in that sector. Adding 50 new jobs to the region while progressing in robotics and automation "really puts our manufacturing community in a position of strength," he says.

Where to work it in a West Michigan Winter

Winter is here, and as any good Michigander knows, just because it has hit 40 degrees it does not mean the weather will stay this way. If you have set resolutions for healthier habits in this new year, then a long Michigan winter can certainly put a damper on your plans.

Have you been slacking on your efforts to meet your new goals? Finding it hard to motivate yourself to jump right in with a fury?

Not to worry! Having that flash of energy to attempt two-a-day workouts might be able to get you through two weeks straight, but burnout is real. You can only burn that hot for so long. Slow and steady wins the race, and when the race is lifelong, you should be aiming for a healthy slow burn that changes your habits and, most importantly, keeps you happy. 

West Michigan has all the options on the spectrum for gyms, from local 24-hour fitness centers all the way to our friend’s at the YMCA and MVP, and everything in between. When the gym just is not cutting it and you need a change of pace and environment here are some different options to stay active this winter.

Higher Ground 851 Bond Ave NW
Indoor climbing and bouldering can be a deceptive way to burn calories and still have lots of fun. This indoor climbing facility is tucked away just north of downtown Grand Rapids.

Terra Firma 1555 Marshall Ave SE
A brand new facility near the South East End neighborhood brings an enormous indoor bouldering wall along with a training section. Terra Firma changes the climbing routes placed on their routes regularly so you won’t run out of adventure. Trying to fit in climbing into your schedule? No worries, this facility also offers coworking space, alongside showers, and free wifi.

Inside Moves 639 76th St SW, Byron Center
Indoor rock climbing for all our friends in the Greater Grand Rapids Area. Just south is another large indoor facility with 31-foot walls that has serviced the climbing community for many years. Now that Inside Moves has been acquired by the good folks at Higher Ground, dual membership passes are available to pass between locations with ease.

CKO kickboxing 820 Monroe Avenue NW Suite 150, 
The formula here is simple: move fast. The team at CKO does kickboxing, and it does it at a blistering pace. They take beginners and everyone else that wants to hit a bag fast. You will learn how to kick, punch, and sweat your butt off.

Bokssport 1614 Leonard St NW
Train like a boxer, literally. Owner and local legend Buster Mathis Jr brings his career knowledge of the sweet science into your workouts at this Westside location. You will get put through your paces in this boxer’s gym.

Life Addicts 2427 Eastern Avenue
"Create life habits" is the motto of this boutique fitness studio where the wife and husband duo owners are working to create an intentional community of healthy members. Nestled in the growing Alger Heights neighborhood, this new fitness alternative services one of the city’s most overlooked areas.

8th Day Gym 130 Market Ave
We have all heard of it, we may have even seen it. Crossfit is not a fad; it is here to stay. 8th Day Gym provides Grand Rapidians with the hardcore workout that your body craves.

FZIQUE 740 Michigan St. NE #110
Indoor cycling meets nightclub. The team at Fzique believes that life is a party and they are having fun and laughing all the way. There is currently a promotion valued at $1248 for only $99. So get on that bike, and start the burn!

AM Yoga 555 4th Street Suite 200
The leaders at AM Yoga have truly begun to innovate the yoga game. You can find them in different locations across the city hosting community classes. After working and stretching out your body you can also calm your mind with their guided meditations. Heal your body and mind, all in one place.

Funky Buddha: Yoga Hot House 1331 Lake Drive SE, 820 Forest Hills Ave
A staple in the Eastown neighborhood, this place is a yogi’s dream. The Funky Buddha offers five different types of classes including a slow flow class, a power flow set to music, and classes for absolute beginners.

Allegro Coaching 1422 Robinson Rd SE #201
This small boutique studio offers large group classes, small group training, and one-on-one training options. The team at Allegro is about more than just fitness; they center physical conditioning as their core. So if you are looking for a group of people who will be your fan, advocate, and partner in your journey, you have found the right place.

Beer City Barre 820 Monroe Ave NW Suite 120 
“Barre is a total body workout that incorporates elements of yoga, pilates, and dance into a fast-paced 60-minute class set to upbeat music," according to their website. Using both small and large range motions, "This is a low impact workout that yields HUGE results,” they add. They make a convincing statement, so go and head on out to their location on North Monroe!

The Dailey Method 1551 Wealthy St. SE
Owner Jill Dailey takes what she has learned and cultivated in New York and San Francisco to the city of Grand Rapids. “The Dailey Method combines ballet barre work, core conditioning, and muscle strengthening through yoga, pilates, and orthopedic exercise,” according to their website. Be sure to take advantage of their two-week unlimited class special for only $45.

While on your road to a healthier life, remember to keep your eyes on your own journey. We all move at a different pace, and our processes will all look different. Remember to give yourself forgiveness for the big and small mistakes. The whole process is bigger than a cheat meal or a bad weekend. You are enough, and you will make it.

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.
 

culturedGR: Closing the gap in arts coverage

Not all startups are tech focused; some are actually close to the opposite. Such is the case with local non-profit startup culturedGR, an arts focused non-profit that “celebrates, examines, and supports the visual and performing arts culture of Grand Rapids, Michigan by building thoughtful conversation through news, arts criticism, and conversations with creators,” according to their website.

Founder Holly Bechiri launched the arts journalism site in September of 2016. “There was a continued loss of coverage of the visual and performing arts—and I know the benefit that the arts have for our community,” says Bechiri. “It was important to me that we get a chance to connect our community to the incredible artists, performers, and arts organizations—and the way that I could do that is through arts journalism.”

Shortly after leaving the Community Media Center’s journalism branch, The Rapidian, Bechiri was approached to create a proposal to answer the gap in arts coverage. Since the fall of 2009, Grand Rapids has become a growing arts hub in the Midwest. With the presence and growing notoriety of ArtPrize, Grand Rapids has developed a yearlong art presence. With the Avenue of the Arts’ First Fridays monthly event, ArtPrize in the fall, regular programming at GRAM, UICA, Grand Rapids Ballet, and Grand Rapids Symphony, there is plenty to be covered. 

Bechiri describes culturedGR as "Grand Rapids-only dedicated arts publication in Grand Rapids, creating quality arts journalism in order to connect our community with the arts. We do that with news stories, profiles, and conversations with creators, and arts criticism. Each of these are important pieces in creating a healthy arts ecosystem, and a healthy community—we need beauty and creative expression now more than ever, and the arts are a proven way to increase your sense of a high quality of life.” 

The visual arts and performing arts can be a privileged world in which access is limited or denied to marginalized peoples. This can be so prevalent that many people can come to believe that art is “not meant” for them, but is rather a space meant only for a powerful or influential coterie. Systemic racism and sexism are also ubiquitous in the arts, and it limits access to many communities. This dynamic and its barriers are addressed in the very name of the organization. The use of “cultured” is a tongue in cheek approach to how the world of visual and performing arts is often perceived.

When asked about the issue of access and the image of the visual and performing arts, Bechiri replies, “We are a nonprofit on a mission to connect our community to the arts, to restore access to the arts.” Bechiri is aware of the history of connecting marginalized peoples to high art, and the reprised role of white savior that many have taken in the past. This is why she mindfully chooses to state it as a restoration of access to the arts, drawing attention to the violence that was perpetrated upon marginalized peoples by the denial of access. 

This denial of access is seemingly compounded even more when we view art as Bechiri does—as a way to add beauty to our lives, and survive the hardships that life continuously brings. She sees an active role of art in society and our everyday lives, adding, “Artists have always been the ones helping us grapple with social issues all through history. They're often the truth-tellers, using comedy to point out abuse of power, using beauty to remind us of the value inherent in a human being, using storytelling to point out the injustice in the systems we've built around us. Art is a part of the conversation, and it's often the prophet of our society, calling us to do better. But even art that is pure beauty, pure color and form, that artist is putting more good, more beauty, more room to breathe in the world. That alone is a way to fight against all the evil in the world—by filling it up with beauty.” 

On the importance of access to the arts to marginalized peoples Bechiri says, “Somehow we got it in our heads that only a certain kind of visual arts was considered 'fine art' and that only a certain sector of society was to be privy to it. One of my favorite experiences in the arts in 2017 was at the UICA, in Shani Crowe and Kiara Lanier’s performance that included this incredible hair braiding that was otherworldly. If you were there it was undeniable that absolutely that belonged in an art institution.”

Further adding, “We need to restore that access and tear down the walls that have been built up and marginalized people in so many ways—in our arts institutions included. The way you become educated and involved in the arts—the way you become cultured—is to learn and experience. Those supposedly fancy people that we think 'belong' in the art museum with art we don't understand? They don't understand it either. Sometimes even the artist doesn't know what it is they're really saying until months later. It's true! You don't have to understand art to enjoy it, to have it benefit your life.”

You can become a member of culturedGR and thanks to the generosity of local artists and arts organizations, get to participate in plenty of "adult arts field trips," all for free, from visits to local artists' studios to attending dress rehearsals, to getting a tour with the curator of a new opening art exhibit, and more. Dip your toes in opera, ballet, theatre, and art. Try a lot of different things and discover what really captivates you. All this for as little as $5 a month or a one-time $50 donation.

You can follow culturedGR on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and on Twitter 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 culturedGR.

Working in the City: Angela Nelson

As we get into the full swing of this new year with our new resolutions and goals we at Rapid Growth are set to continue to bring you stories from the heart of our city. 

We kick of this year with a powerful woman who keeps a blistering pace of work and activities throughout the city. We were able to chat with Experience GR and 616 Grand Production’s Angela Nelson about how she spends her days, what she is working on, and get serious with career talk.

RG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 

AN: I’m a proud native of Flint, Michigan—born and raised. When I moved to West Michigan in 1998, I knew very little about this side of the state...I’ll always be a Flintstone.

I’m a lifelong learner and will always have a love for problem solving, but early on in my career I knew I equally had a passion for people. This passion eventually led to a career change and I discovered a role that would change the course of my career for the better.

RG: Where do you work and how are you involved in our local community?

AN: I currently work at Experience Grand Rapids, an organization that markets Grand Rapids as a destination to visitors, which includes the leisure traveler, group tours, and conventions attendees. This past March, after working at Amway for ten years, I was hired as the first Vice President of Multicultural Business Development. I am primarily responsible for leading our community relations, workforce development, and diversity and inclusion initiatives.

My dear friend, Milinda Ysasi-Castañon encouraged me to apply and said, “Angela, it’s as if they wrote the job description just for you.” I applied, and the rest is history, literally and figuratively.

My community involvement has always been a function of my jobs, but it goes much deeper for me. I really enjoy coalition building and supporting community initiatives that make sense given my passions and skill sets. I’ve begun to really focus my talent, time, and treasures on issues advocating for women and girl empowerment and voter empowerment/get out the vote efforts. 

I co-chair a non-partisan collaborative called PROACTIVE, which stands for People Reaching Out and Coming Together Increasing Voter Engagement since 2004. We bring other non-partisan groups together during major election cycles to do voter registration, education, and engagement.

I am also the President of the Grand Rapids Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. We are a black letter Greek organization whose mission is committed to the constructive development of its members but with a primary focus of social change in the black community. Our local chapter will be celebrating the 50th year of our charter in November. 
It’s a very exciting time for the work that I’m doing, but I stand on the shoulders of so many in this community that I’d be remiss to think that I’m doing this alone or without the understanding that so many have come before me.I simply see that what I’m doing is continuing the work of those silent and not so silent giants in this community.

RG: Why did you decide to start your own business?

AN: 616 Grand Productions is my baby. I announced the start of the company on June 18, 2016, but the first event, which was wildly successful, didn’t take place until July. 616 Grand Productions is an events management and production company that produces fun and affordable experienced-based events. We strive to create experiences that you can readily create on your own, integrating the latest and trendiest technologies like our Silent Disco event during ArtPrize last year. Each event always has a giveback element where either proceeds from a ticket or a flat donation amount is given to the selected charity. One day I aspire to compete as the only minority and woman owned production company in the city.

The reason that 616 Grand Productions even came to be is because after leaving Amway, I made so many amazing community connections during my grant making and community relations tenure at Amway, and I simply didn’t want to let them go.

RG: As a woman of color (WoC) what current issues are most pressing to you?

AN: As a young black woman in Grand Rapids, I have been relatively successful in my career. But I’ve been dealt my share of obstacles, road bumps, workplace microaggressions, and more. However, I have been able to overcome these things by focusing on the one person I can control, which is me. 

A few thoughts, mantras, quotes I live by:
  • In the recent words of Oprah during her acceptance speech at the Golden Globe awards, “Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” I’m learning to not only speak my truth, but to live my truth.
  • I want women of color to better support each other, especially black women. We are often the most vilified group of people, so the last thing we can afford is not to support one another. I love the work that Shannon Cohen and Pat VerDuin are doing with Sisters Who Lead and their work to “amplify the longevity, wellness, and leadership of female leaders of color within West Michigan.”
RG: What has been your career path, growth, and obstacles?
AN: Some would wonder how does one make such a drastic switch, and I will say each time it was in God’s plans for me. He’s opened every door that I’ve been able to walk through.

My technical undergraduate degree coupled with my MBA and my solid 15 years of work experience has equipped me to do my current job.

My first career job was at Mercantile Bank. I worked there for a total of five years in a combination of roles from the IT intern to Customer Service Rep back to a technician in the IT department.

I worked at Amway for a total of 10 years, starting as a grant maker, responsible for managing the funding local non-profits to my last job as an Assistant Brand Manager for the Amway Brand Opportunity in Amway North America.

The most valuable lesson that I learned while working for Amway was to be more strategic about my professional development. Hard work doesn’t go unseen, but it’s the smart workers that get rewarded.

The last stop on my career journey is now with Experience Grand Rapids. And I’m loving it. I value the relationship I have with the leadership team and the staff. I’m looking forward to seeing the fruits of my labor come to fruition this year.

As for obstacle, generally the only obstacle I’ve ever faced is my own feeling of inadequacy. The fear of not being good enough or smart enough in comparison to my competition. But each time that I’ve leaped into my next role, I leaped with only my mustard seed faith. I was reminded by a friend that, “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” When I heard that, I immediately began to thank God for increasing my territory and putting me in the path to receive what he’s already blessed me with. 

This level of confidence is new for me, but I’m embracing one day at a time.

RG: What plans do you have for your business this year?

AN: 616 Grand Productions is still a startup business that requires much more nurturing. I am ready to take it to the next level. I’ve jotted down some goals of launching a website this year and hiring a few interns to support the bandwidth of work that I’m just not capable of supporting. I have to decline work because I simply don’t have the personal bandwidth, so it’s time to bring people that can help execute my vision for the business but also add their own spin on things.

Anyone can follow 616 Grand Productions on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @616grandprod. As well as subscribe to a newsletter via Facebook.

This Friday, January 12th Nelson will be hosting a Girls Night Out private movie screening of Proud Mary in partnership with Magic 104.9 and Celebration! Cinema. Come out this Friday at 6:00 pm for the pre-party in the wave room with the movie starting at 7:55 pm. Tickets are on sale now at www.celebrationcinema.com or email info@616grandproductions.com for more information.

Experience GR hosts the largest events calendar on www.experiencegr.com. They can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat @ExperienceGR  and on Instagram here. Lastly, be sure to read the blog The Insider Experience for a great way to keep up to date on all the great places to eat, stay and play in Grand Rapids.  


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 Angela Nelson.

Young Professional Spotlight: Zyra Castillo

As we get further into the season of giving and thanks, we had a chance to sit down and appreciate the hard work local arts teacher and Gallafe art curator Zyra Castillo does in the Greater Grand Rapids area.

We chatted with Castillo to get her perspective on life in Grand Rapids, and how she is making her own way in our growing Midwest city.

RG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? (Are you from the area, how do you identify, what are your currently doing for work and interest here in Grand Rapids)

ZC: I grew up in the Upper Peninsula and left after graduating for GVSU (Grand Valley State University). Originally born in the Philippines, I came when I was four just in time to turn five and start school the following fall. A lot of my childhood and college experiences have shaped the way I currently teach and get involved in the community. As an art teacher, my focus is on creative and analytical thinking using mediums to express those thoughts or interpret the visual world around us. Those experiences also are great influences on my involvement in the Grand Rapids Asian Festival. 

RG: Where did you study/grow up and how has that experience shape who you are?

ZC: There were both positive and negative aspects of my youth. Growing up in the UP gave me an appreciation for country living, slow pace, nature, and agriculture. I had great appreciation for growing up around Native American culture. I was lucky enough to have gone through a time period in high school were the arts were highly valued and gave me another route for the future. 

I didn’t have to deal with the quickness and overpopulation of a large urban center. 
However, that also meant there was lack in diversity. I didn’t always know where to fit in. I learned to self hate within my own identity. 

That experience continued in college. However, college was still a huge eye-opener and I tried to take on as many experiences as possible which didn't always help me academically. But the whole process was an immense life learning lesson. Those struggles helped me understand and connect with different people that may have been more difficult if I had not had to pay for my own schooling and taken multiple jobs in and out of campus. I found tufts of community that felt accepting in a place I didn't have any connection to.

RG: What is your current work/passion?

ZC: I am currently an art teacher, organizer, curator, and whatever else I can get my hands on. I love being able to provide and bring enrichment. Everything I do is a reflection of my teacher impulses—being able to connect people and ideas, opening conceptual doors, trying to search for humanity. As equally as I love harmony, I also love the challenge of discourse. I enjoy proving people wrong in situations that feel unequal and unjust.

RG: As a woman of color (WoC) what current issues are most pressing to you?

ZC: The fact there are still so many misconceptions, mistreatment, and disrespect for women professionals is a challenge, as well as the lack of women and POC (people of color) in positions of power that are taken seriously.

RG: As a young professional, what has been your career path, growth, and obstacles?

ZC: I stick to my principles in the workplace. Your personal values should be reflected in your work and vice versa. Not to be confused with style or method. But things like integrity, empathy, openness, can be be challenging in work environments. I’ve found it challenging at times to fit into spaces because my opinions and input are not always taken seriously for whatever reasons being related to age, sex, profession, race.

Being a woman of color can make it difficult even with men of color who are playing the business or power game that celebrates patriarchy. Places often say they want innovation or diversity but don't really understand and implement on a basic or superficial level. 

Through my process of refining my professional goals, I’ve found incredible support. Those challenges have strengthened by goals, and changed my view of goals as fluid and evolving. I want to support and provide a resource for culture and education. The Asian Festival has been instrumental as a medium to do so, as well as my continual interest in growing my food pop up, and becoming a stronger educator. 

RG: How has Grand Rapids faired in helping support you as PoC?

ZC: Things have improved. I was eager to seek larger and more diverse settings to feel the support I needed. I still don't feel completely accepted. I see APA (Asian Pacific American) culture used more frequently as a sensational business opportunity, entertainment, and backdrop with disregard to actual Asian people and culture. People want to try Americanized Asian food as foodie culture has exploded in GR, but yet there isn't increased knowledge about Asian culture. I'm more identifiable but still feel othered. Even in setting that are supposed to help POC, at times there is this air of savior syndrome that exudes expectation for gratitude, or assimilation. I've found my communities that make me feel at home, but outside of it is still quite uncomfortable. 

Being a teacher to children of color, I have to prepare them for a world that isn't as kind or understanding about where they come from. that their history and cultures are not given consideration in this bootstrap culture. 

RG: Anything else you would like to add, discuss, or share? 

ZC: Go to cultural events, local happenings, and support artists and people of color. Be involved. Know about your community. Be open to other people's narratives.

Castillo’s food travels can be found 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.

Images courtesy of
 Zyra Castillo.

StartUp News: UberEATS arrives in Grand Rapids

The on-demand economy may seem like the hip new trend, like startup mega giant Uber, but we have had on-demand delivery in the form of pizza delivery for decades. As a matter of fact, Columbia Pictures’ 2011 action-comedy 30 Minutes Or Less about a pizza delivery guy was actually filmed here in Grand Rapids. 

The race to instant delivery perhaps started in the pizza delivery arena, with companies offering shorter and shorter time windows from order to delivery, but it is no surprise that Uber has since entered the on-demand delivery race as well. Already present in other major markets around the country, Uber Eats competes with Postmates and DoorDash and locally with Seamless and GrubHub.

Last week UberEATS officially launched in the Greater Grand Rapids area. In a press release, Peter Forsberg, UberEATS General Manager for Michigan said “The UberEATS app allows users to order food delivery whenever they get a craving, with menus available from over 40 restaurant locations in Grand Rapids.”

Here’s how UberEATS works:
  1. Download the free standalone UberEATS app for iOS or Android
  2. Login with your Uber account
  3. Find a restaurant you know and love, and pick what you want from their menu
  4. Pay with your card on file
  5. Watch as the order is picked up and delivered to you
To celebrate the launch, first-time eaters can enter the promo code MICHIGANEATS to receive their first two deliveries free, now through December 21, 2017.

The press release adds “We will be launching in downtown Grand Rapids and surrounding neighborhoods including Grandville, Walker, East Grand Rapids and Kentwood.”

Grand Rapids has already large startups Seamless and GrubHub present, but Vox Media’s EATER reports UberEATS dominance of the delivery service market in other cities as overwhelming. Quarter over quarter, it shows users flocking to UberEATS over all other apps, and Grand Rapids may soon follow suit.
Coming back to Grand Rapids after being in a larger city can sometimes be jarring for a number of reasons, most notably the lack of late night food options and delivery. With the advent of Uber and Lyft, the next inevitable creature comfort service was going to be same-day delivery. 

From Uber’s press release:

UberEATS gives Grand Rapids more options:
  • Folks looking to eat in Grand Rapids now have access to menus from over 40 of their favorite restaurant locations, delivered seven days a week, at Uber speed including Brick & Porter, Curry Kitchen, Wealthy St Bakery, and more!
  • Restaurants in Grand Rapids can depend on the Uber delivery network to get more meals delivered to more customers, quickly and reliably
  • Drivers looking for flexible ways to earn can connect restaurants with customers–making money by making deliveries
Brick & Porter’s General Manager Elias says, “could be interesting to see really how fast these deliveries will go. We have not had any issues or complaints yet.” Grand Rapids sure is growing up, and there is no sign of slowing down. 

Who knows what will happen if Amazon decides to relocate to West Michigan for their second location. Some of us are still holding out for more all-night diners...especially downtown. One can hope!

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.

Photo courtesy of UberEATS.

Young professional spotlight: Briana Ureņa Ravelo

Every month, we get more and more transplants to our riverside city, so it can be easy to overlook the talent that’s been lying here all along. For people of color, West Michigan can feel alienating in contrast to cities like Atlanta, San Diego, Miami, and the Bronx. Yet many stay here and push forward the culture and help grow our community.

One such young professional is writer and activist Briana Ureña Ravelo, a long-time resident of the region and city. We were delighted to have the chance to catch up with her and pick her brain about how she came to be here, her experiences, and what she is currently working on.

RG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? (Are you from the area, how do you identify, what are you currently doing for work and interest here in Grand Rapids)

BUR: I am a queer, femme Afro-Latina of Dominican descent born to two Dominican immigrants in upstate New York, but I have lived in West Michigan since I was about seven years old, so I am more or less from here.

I have made my way around different communities while growing up specifically around music and the arts, but have been a writer, organizer, and activist since my teens, and that is the work I primarily do these days.

RG: Where did you study/grow up and how has that experience shape who you are?

BUR: I didn’t attend college. I’ve jumped around in this area, but I have spent the bulk of my West Michigan life in Kentwood. It is a culturally diverse suburb that was formerly white and has experienced major white flight and an increase of poor people, often of color, displaced from Grand Rapids due to gentrification, along with refugees and immigrant families who cannot afford to live anywhere else.

I experienced both the beauty and positivity of living in a place with many different peoples and cultures in one city and the downside of increased policing, antagonism towards newer residents, specifically African Americans and other Black people, and the school-to-prison pipeline, etc.

Before that, I spent a few years in Comstock Park, where my family and I experienced a lot of racial microaggression to outright antagonism; the city was primarily white at the time and wholy inhospitable, [and] it was traumatizing in many ways. It really showed me about the covert and passive nature of a lot of the -isms, bigotry, and violence that occurs in many places in this city.

RG: What is your current work/passion?

BUR: I have been really interested in learning discussing, writing, and organizing around misogynoir, LGBTQ communities of color, prison abolition, decolonizing the African diaspora, [and] Black and Indigenous solidarity lately.

I use the framework of mutual aid/grassroots organizing and try to make spaces and events Black women-centered, free, safer, inclusive, and police and alcohol-free as much as possible. I believe strongly in people power and that we, not those in traditional power and authority or within systems, can be trusted to get us free!

RG: As a woman of color (WoC) what current issues are most pressing to you?

BUR: Misogynoir! Navigating not only the racism of white and non-Black people, but the colorism and anti-Blackness within my own family and community, and the way Black women are erased from conversations, communities and organizing even as we are regularly the spine of the work.

We have huge issues with racism, anti-Blackness, and erasure Grand Rapids for sure.

As an Afro-Latina, I generally work more in African American spaces because most of the Latinx community here is non-Black Central Americans and I deal with lots of racism and covert but still nasty judgement and assumptions. I get funny looks and asked “Y como sabes como hablar Español?” (How do you know how to speak Spanish?!) [by] people seemingly uneducated on the millions upon millions of Afro-Latinxs across the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. It is a hard thing to manage because in the past I would say Latinxs son mis gentes but that’s just not the case anymore.

RG: As a millennial, what has been your career path, growth, and obstacles?

BUR: My path has jumped around everywhere due to the untraditional path I took but overall I’d say it is social justice-oriented community engagement and organizing, with a heavy media creation/communications facilitation aspect.

I find that the biggest obstacle I face is the need to be formally accredited by institutions, which is largely exclusive and dangerous despite my having ample experience, education, and know-how to do the work I’m passionate about. The intentional gate-keeping that gifts those with more privilege and ability to access those spaces for accreditation, but not necessarily the experience and expertise, is anger-inducing and leaves lots of great people underpaid and unemployed, and gifts merely going to school (which in my mind is not synonymous with education) or having connections over everything.

RG: How has Grand Rapids faired in helping support you as PoC?

BUR: OK, so I’ll lay off a bit here. I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for the city. Grand Rapids has taught me so much. I have met a lot of really amazing, kind, and radical people who have taught, guided, loved, supported and shown me so much since I was a kid, and continue to do so. I have been exposed to so much art and culture and different types of people in this city. But a lot of times I feel like a baby chick fighting its way out of its shell, with the city being the shell. The resistance that people can have against those who question the status quo or challenge them is often very stifling and restrictive.

RG: Anything else you would like to add, discuss, or share?

BUR: Something my friends and I have been organizing around is mass incarceration, especially how it affects marginalized groups like Black women survivors of domestic violence.

Myself and fellow activists will be holding an event called a A Season of Solidarity!

This event is free, and you can learn more about it here!

You can find out more about Briana Ureña Ravelo’s work by reading it 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.

Photos courtesy of Briana Ureña Ravelo.

Local business holiday roundup

Although we have seen and heard plenty of holiday music days—and sometimes even a week—before Thanksgiving. The time has officially come to allow the holiday season to swing into full effect. 

The food, music, and—if the weather decides to cooperate— even the scenery will begin to look a lot like Christmas, as the song goes. With the holiday season comes joy and laughter, gift giving, and treating family and friends.

Say no more! We have got a list of all the places you will want to visit to find the right thing for that picky person in your life, or the right place to fill your day with that holiday cheer we all need during these longer winter nights!

RESTAURANTS

Citizen
A full service Tiki Bar and restaurant is new in town and should be good for a tasty drink and meal.


Mi Casa Restaurante
If you are looking to change up dinner plans, be sure to grab the Chivo Guisado at this Caribbean restaurant in Burton Heights.

Palace of India
You will come for the Butter Chicken, but stay for the mango custard.

New Hotel Mertens
A french brasserie right in the heart of downtown. You will want to place that New Year’s Eve reservation early!

Chez Olga
If you want to have spicy food like you’ve never had before, this is your place. Don’t worry; the staff will have mercy on you and bring you milk just as soon as the heat really kicks in!

The Søvengård
A delightful addition to the Westside of Grand Rapids that serves up seasonal cuisine inspired by Danish tradition.


STORES

Slate Clothing
Looking for spiffy duds for the modern man in your life? Look no further than Slate, a relatively new addition to downtown on Ionia Ave.

Iconoclasp
This shop that will have you mystified wondering how the clothes are all handmade. Have a fashionista in your midst? Be sure to drop by here and let them browse to their heart's content.

6.25 Paper Studio
The perfect place for well-designed stocking stuffers, and also for the wrapping paper you will most surely need!

Vault of Midnight
The one stop shop for the nerd/geek/cool person in your life. They have got it all: comics, graphic novels, board games, anime, and a peculiar collection of plush toys.

Blacklamb
This clean, modern shop offers curated goods from around the region and country. If you are looking to turn your home from drab to chic, look no further.

Woosah Outfitters
This one-of-a-kind art and apparel shop offers everything from t-shirts to prints, handcrafted with founder Erica Lang's unique outdoors-inspired woodcuts. Look for them soon at their new location in the Wealthy Street Business District this December!

Parliament the Boutique / Harbinger Leather
Handmade quality goods from a dynamic duo!

Premier
Find some of the best streetwear and gear here. It may be the middle of winter when your loved ones get those sneakers, but then again, this is Michigan! Who knows when the snow will get here or eventually melt?

Delasie
Beautiful clothing made from imported textiles, fusing European design with African fabrics.

Dime & Regal
A great shop for jewelry and handcrafted gifts.

Books & Mortar Bookstore
It’s time to step up your book game from a few to stacks on stacks on stacks.

All City Kicks
Their name should describes it all, and really should be where everyone gets their shoes. Such a wide array that you’ll have a hard time picking between your favorites.

EXPERIENCES

Grand Rapids Ballet 
Why of course, you have to catch a showing of The Nutcracker during the winter holidays. 

Grand Rapids Symphony 
Our symphony has regular programming through Christmas! This holiday season you will hear them alongside the Grand Rapids Ballet for their winter programming.

Funky Buddha Yoga Hot House 
When the only stretching you have been doing is on the couch, it’s time to sweat it out! Come out to a community class if you are a beginner or step it up a notch for that deep burn.

AM Yoga
Feeling stiff and looking for a change of venue? AM Yoga often switches up their location for classes in venues like our very own Grand Rapids Art Museum.

CKO Kickboxing
So you let yourself indulge in more holiday food than you planned. Office party, dinner parties, and family dinners can all add up fast. Just as fast is the pace with which these instructors will kick your butt.

I GOT FACE Cosmetic
If you are off to a holiday party and you need to look glamorous, you know where to go!

Be sure to find us on social media here @rapidgrowthmedia, and to tag your pics throughout the month of December with #holidayroundup if you’re in any of the locations we 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.

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.
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