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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.

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.
 
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