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Meet Kaitlyn Califf: Developer breaking down barriers for other women

Ever since the boost of the tech industry in the early 2000s, stories surrounding app developments, and the evolution of technology has been male dominated. Although the technology industry continues to be a white-cis-male dominated industry, there are women from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences who are working hard to ensure others have access to these spaces.

To explore this narrative, we begin this three-part series highlighting brilliant women who are developing apps, websites and turning ideas into screen realities with Kaitlyn Califf, a developer and marketing professional in Grand Rapids.

Califf, a woman of color, originally from Guatemala and raised in Muskegon, began her career as a developer after finishing a boot-camp course at Grand Circus C# Coding Bootcamp where she got to build a web application from scratch.

Califf believes it's not about what you know but who you know when navigating what she deems as an “unwelcoming environment.”

“For me, that means networking to meet those willing to mentor and guide you. If those in the industry are not open to creating this environment of inclusion, the industry will continue being a white-cis-male dominated industry,” shares Califf. The front-end developer stays in Grand Rapids because she sees the budding growth and opportunities here.

“I have been on the front line of this change and see great potential,” says Califf.

As the Project Coordinator for Vias Latino Market Consultants, Califf spends her days coding in HTML, CSS, and ASP.NET, and advocating to ensure other women and women of color have access to the tech industry. She does this by continuing to collaborate with Grand Circus and by serving as the Marketing Co-Chair for BL²END whose mission is to foster an environment of growth and belonging for young professionals of color in Grand Rapids. The young professional uses her skills towards the efforts of diversity and inclusion through non-profit organization and hopes her visibility encourages other girls to want to follow in on her foot-steps.

“It is all about creating an open environment where women and their talents are valued. Girls will not chose a career with more roadblocks than opportunities,” says Califf.

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.

Ag Help: Optimizing connections between migrant workers and farms

Many of us have the privilege to not have to know where our food comes from. We don’t have to know about the hands who worked from sun-up to sun-down on our countries’ fields carefully selecting and inspecting the curves of the tomatoes that eventually end up decorating our lunch plates and filling our bellies with nutrients.

For eighteen years, Feliciano, Ivan & Sadoc Paredes worked alongside their father, mother, younger brother, and four sisters picking fruits and vegetables in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Michigan. Often having to rely on word of mouth, and outdated flyers to find work and faced with the unpredictability of whether the site would have appropriate housing for their family—uncertainties plagued the Paredes family from year to year as migrant farm workers. Not only was the network of work unreliable, but constantly having to be newcomers at every site proved difficult when trying to find support services like health clinics and education programs.

With their childhood history of farm work and familiar with the many barriers it brought, Feliciano wanted to use his passions for technology to ensure every migrant farm worker is well connected to a stable site of employment, housing, basic needs, and educational and health support services.

The project was born in 2011 with the three brothers, and it quickly took off when the three pitched the idea to one of the of the CIS app development classes in hopes that a student would be interested in helping them tackle the project. The project inspired graduate student, Xiaomei Huang, who immigrated from China, to take on the development of the app as her capstone project transforming the idea into a reality with AgHelp.

AgHelp is the name of the free application available for Android and Apple operating systems connecting farmworkers with agricultural employers, and support services near them.

“We wanted to address the needs for agricultural employers to attract more talent, so that they can harvest their crops, and to help farm workers find the local support services and work as they travel across the country and within their own state,” shares Feliciano Paredes.

“This helps increase a farmworker’s earning potential by allowing each to continue to earn money during downtimes at their home farm. A farm worker would do this by simply using AgHelp to find available agricultural work near them," says Paredes.

The app also provides the user with instant notifications of crop conditions to help every farm worker know what to expect when they arrive at the site, or know if they need to find work elsewhere.

“Farmworkers will feel more safe and secure knowing that they can locate support services, like migrant health clinics, migrant educations programs, legal assistance no matter where they go to find work,” says Paredes.

To help minimize any barriers, a user only has to provide their name and an email address to be able to apply for jobs, follow agencies and farmers, and use some of the other features of the app. The app also functions as a platform for employers to post their jobs.

“We've had some great reactions from farmers who say they are spending thousands of dollars a week pre harvest doing a kinds of recruitment, with poor results. They see this as an option for them to have access to a national pool of agricultural labor, they would never be able to connect with,” explains Paredes.

In addition, this app could function as another great tool for agricultural employers to use to help with labor crisis in Michigan and across the country, according to Adam Kantrovich from MSU Extension, program of Michigan State University providing expertise of the institution to communities, individuals, and businesses, who has been working with Paredes to expand their work across the state.

Currently the pair has been able to attract 10 employers in West Michigan, and a couple out of state who are eager to start using the app to post jobs.

To find more about this app please visit their site at www.aghelpusa.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.

Catch The Wave and ride The Rapid: a faster, easier and more convenient way to ride

Coming to riders in early 2018, The Wave, a new tap-and go method, will offer riders a more simple, seamless, and cost-effective way of riding. The Wave is new smart technology available through the use of a smart card and a smart-phone application.
 
Every rider will be able to purchase a smart card for a small, one-time fee, then add funds through the app, website, phone, or at transit locations. In addition, riders will have the opportunity to add funds automatically by linking their bank account to their smart-card. Every smart-card can be registered online, giving riders balance protection in case of loss. Riders do not need to have a bank account to reload their card, as they are able to use cash to reload by visiting the Information Center at Rapid Central Station.  
 
For those riders who may be more tech savvy, or have a difficult time keeping track of a wallet and other small miscellaneous items, The Wave also offers the option of using a free smartphone application to tap and ride. The rider will be able to add funds to their account online and use the barcode on the application to get on the bus and ride.  
 
The Wave also introduces a capped fare for every rider, showcasing a more equitable way of riding the bus. The capped fare allows every passenger who is using the smart card or the phone application to work towards the cost of 1-day, 7-day or 31-day bus pass without having to up front the cost.
 
“With capped fare, each time a passenger taps their smart card or scans their mobile phone to get on board, they essentially buy their way towards the value of a period pass. Once they reach the dollar value of a day pass, 7-day pass, or 31-day pass, they are no longer charged for the rest of that period each time they board the bus,” explains Michael Bulthuis, Public Outreach Coordinator of Community Engagement for The Rapid.
 
The current system requires every passenger to pay the entire value of a period pass up front (day pass is $3.50, 7-day pass is $16.00, and a 31-day pass is $47.00), and the value is tied to the physical ticket. When the actual ticket is lost, or the magnetic stripe is damaged the rider loses the value on the card. This will no longer be an issue with The Wave as the value will be tied to a registered account. Riders do not need to have a bank account to register their card.
 
Riders will be able to purchase smart cards online, at the Rapid Information Center, Ticket Vending Machines at Central Station, at area Meijer, D&W, and Family Fare stores, and at various other retail locations located throughout the six-city region.
 
The pilot testing will begin late August and early September. Anyone who is a bus rider and at least 18 years old is encouraged to apply to test the program here. For more information on this new system and any questions on the new transition please visit The Rapid’s dedicated website to The Wave here

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

New City Urban Café: Social enterprise empowers and builds community

In the fight for empowerment of community youth, New City Neighbors, an organization in the Creston Neighborhood working to build meaningful community and urban renewal projects for youth in the neighborhood, is using a social enterprise model to launch their newest endeavor, New City Urban Café and continue to empower youth from the Creston Neighborhood through employment and leadership development opportunities. New City Urban Café opened its’ doors on July 13 of this year, serving wood-fired pizzas, soups, and salads made by high school student staff from New City Farm produce. The cafe also features baked goods made by the New City Bakery program, a job skills and leadership training program for middle school students.
 
Overall, in 2016 New City Neighbors hired 29 high school students to work in the farm, the bakery and the after school program. The farm and cafe is employing 15 high school students this summer, and will employ six during the school year. Additional, high school students will be employed in New City Neighbors' elementary afterschool and summer day camp programs. 
 
“Our employment and leadership opportunities are the first building blocks for their resumes and college applications. Being employed in high school gives students greater hope for future job prospects and encourages them to stay engaged in their education,” shares Alaina Dobkowski, executive director of New City Neighbors.
 
For New City Neighbors, the social enterprise model is not anything new. When Lance Kraai was hired as Farm Director for New City Urban Farm in 2012, the farm was an empty lot behind Fourth Reformed Church. Kraai saw the promise of possibility and life in the land. He saw the empty lot as an opportunity to help employ youth from the neighborhood, grow, harvest and sell  food for their community.  

New City Neighbors is located in a United States Department of Agriculture designated food desert in Grand Rapids. In other words, a significant large number of the neighborhood residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.   
 
The farm uses the community supported agriculture model to sell produce to 180 shareholders, while offering customers the option to pay with food stamps and participate in the Double Up Food Bucks program.
 
“We are able to create opportunities for families to access fresh produce that is grown in their own neighborhood,” explains Dobkowski.
 
New City Urban Café brings it all to full circle, shares Dobkowski. By adding a kitchen into the farm programming, employed youth are able to complete their journey from seed to plate.
 
“Growing leeks is one thing, but growing, cooking, and eating leeks is another. We also wanted to incorporate more cross-age partnership and mentoring. By bringing the kitchen work of the high school students and adding it to the existing bakery program of the middle school students, New City Cafe provides a space for students of different ages to work together and learn from each other,” says Joel Schramm, Farm & Kitchen Manager.
 
For Schramm, the success of the program has been due to the social enterprise model that allows for a  diversification of funding.
 
“While we work hard to create and maintain relationships with donors, the revenue stream of our enterprises gives us a little more financial sustainability. It is also possible that constantly considering things with a business perspective has been one of the aspects of our organization that has made us lean and responsible with our money,” says Schramm.
 
At New City Urban Café, you can expect middle and high school students learning job skills to provide every customer with a high quality product, served in a professional manner.  Outside, you will see a three-acre working farm with high school students learning to grow, and harvest produce. Inside, you will find dozens of elementary youth studying, building relationships, and having fun.
 
New City Urban Café is open every Thursday until August 10, 12-6:30 pm. The café is located on 1226 Union Avenue NE.

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

MetaFi: Local App developed to track mental health

There’s an app for that! We have all heard it, and while most new apps are finding elaborate new ways for you to pony up cash through an addictive game, there are still new apps aimed at bringing traditional services into the digital age.

The co-founders of MetaFi, a self-awareness app that supports mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and body awareness, are looking to bring some aspects of counseling to the digital age. Rapid Growth caught up with both co-founders Benjamin Reisterer MA, LPC and Tom Engelsman to chat about their new app and how it works.

The duo chose to build an app around mental health and emotion tracking because of experience, a frustration, and desire to help.

Reisterer says, “I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice here in Grand Rapids at Mindful Counseling GR. I was noticing that a common theme that, regardless of background, reason for coming in, etc., most of my clients were engaging the vast majority of their experiences from the neck up. Most people had very little awareness of how their body experienced emotions, relationships, day to day activities, etc. So I often found myself helping clients cultivate and be more aware of their own mind/body connection and then being able to take that information to spur positive change in their lives.

The body can often give us clues before we are cognitively aware of what is going on. It's kind of like foreshadowing in a book or movie; it's not outright telling you what is going on, but if you pay attention, you can get a pretty good idea. So through doing this work, I found myself looking for effective tools and didn't really find much that I was liking. So the idea for the app was born through that.”

With such a complicated subject matter as emotions, it can be difficult to find an easy way for users to learn and effectively use the app, yet MetaFi has found a way.

Engelsman states “Via a simple interface, you can identify your primary and secondary emotions, and visually locate where they are causing a sensation on a map of a body. You then apply tags for categorization, and can also attach notes. Over time, this collected data is visualized into a complete picture of your history of emotions, in the form of graphs and heatmaps. You can also filter by dates and compare time periods.”

Learning to help ourselves can seemingly add more work to our day, but Reister says that there is a benefit to tracking your emotions. “Many of our problems stem from our reactionary (knee-jerk, unconscious, etc.) behaviors, thoughts, and feelings," says Reisterer. "The more we can cultivate self-awareness around how we are reacting, the more ability we have to make an intentional and authentic response to something."

Both co-founders have ambitious goals for their new venture as Reisterer says, “I think the biggest goal for MetaFi is that it becomes a well known, reliable, and personalized tool for people to begin to cultivate self-awareness and approach themselves and their lives more mindfully.” 

An app that could have the potential to be heavily used and gain notoriety would send most teams to Silicon Valley or New York, but Reisterer says if the app gains popularity, the team would stay based in Grand Rapids. “The biggest reason is that this is home. I am married with three kids and we want to provide some stability in a part of the country that we feel is beautiful and that we have made some great relationships in. Additionally, I love the way my career as a counselor in private practice has been built here and the clients that I am honored to sit with every day,” he says.

The MetaFi team is already hard at work for their latest update of features. “In the near future we plan to expand the analytics side of MetaFi, allowing more comparisons to real-world events; for example, an upcoming feature is the ability to correlate emotions with weather patterns. In the long-term, we aim to become the gold standard for emotion tracking and mindfulness,” says Engelsman.

You can find the app available for download here on iOS and Android devices

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.

Lajanae Smith: Local artist and filmmaker

Grand Rapids is full of talented young people from all fields. It can be difficult to get around the Beer City USA moniker that we have found for ourselves, but there are some young people who are pushing to make Grand Rapids known for more than just beer.

The film industry can be as tough and cut throat as Wall Street itself, and it takes talent, persistence, and the right connections to make a dent. We are lucky to have a growing group of young filmmakers in our growing city that have chosen Grand Rapids as their home base.

One such person is Lajanae Smith, so we caught up with her to find out more about her travels, work, and why she chooses Grand Rapids as her home base.

RG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

LJS: I say that I am a filmmaker: I write, produce content on a short scale, and freelance crew in film production for feature films. The long term goal is to become a director and I plan to direct a short I wrote late this year. In creative work, I am an ideas person and I like to exercise my imagination. When working in the music scene, I do public relations for three artists that are my clients.  Sometimes my worlds collide and I meet major artists, Ty Dolla $ and Lizzo for example, that I want to consider acting for a movie I’ve been developing for the last year and a half so that’s always a fun conversation to entertain, Lizzo was into it…

RG: Why Grand Rapids as home base?

LJS: Grand Rapids is where I was born and raised. It’s where the majority of my family and friends are and even though I love visiting new places, GR is home. Over the last few years major changes have been taking place (so much construction!). I’ve since learned that what may equal positive change for a select few isn’t always positive change for all. If I didn’t get my start here I would not see myself trying to start anything here. GR has not always been inclusive. I haven’t always seen the change I want to see as an artist here in my hometown. I laude Carbon Stories and laFEM for who and what they are and do. 

So perhaps because the infrastructure to feature films doesn’t seem as accessible here already, I feel the need to be part of the change I want to see. To create community surrounding that idea and make opportunities and avenues for those that remind me of myself and want to collaborate. For them to see those possibilities for themselves and to tell new stories. If nothing else really just to believe in people.

RG: What potential do you see in Grand Rapids?

LJS: Currently there seems to be a lot of potential in Grand Rapids if you’ve been in line awhile. It’s difficult to play the long game and have patience when it feels like you’ve been waiting 400 years just to live freely and expressively create sans boundaries. Grand Rapids seems ripe for great change with the new technologies and innovation already taking place. I see we’re building leaders and the culture is shifting to better reflect metropolitan cities. We believe in family and children here and I genuinely think our kids are the future. 

RG: When you’re not traveling and working, what do you do for fun around the city?

LJS: I bike, I read, I love studying my field, I watch a lot of movies, enjoy time with friends and family. I Love Downtown GR and Movies in the Park. We have a few weekly watering holes for filmmakers that I frequent to catch up with people. My work is my passion and purpose so it’s very fun for me to work on projects I care about when I’m home.

RG: What are you currently working on?

LJS: Currently my main focus is the creative arts company Cinema Bijøn Enterprise that I’m launching mid-August. I’m planning a community-wide business and movie pitch at Chez Olga in Eastown so it’s a bit unconventional and scary but I know it’s needed and I’m very excited. Chez Olga is opening on a Sunday just for that and customizing a brunch menu with me, so that kind of creative collaboration with minority women and immigrant business owners has been a total blessing. After that I hope to freelance on two films shooting in GR and then heading down to Atlanta to finally collaborate with The House Of June, an independent arts production company founded exclusively by black women. I’ve been developing two projects with them since late 2015.

RG: Anything else you would like to tell us?

LJS: My hope for opportunities in the city include sharing more of my experiences/narrative on a city/communal level. Specifically, what it was like to experience Sundance and SXSW and to work on the movie Mudbound. Just to provide context and hopefully inspire people that want to embark these journey’s that anything is possible! 

Mudbound is already on Netflix’s website here

Lastly, Open Projector Night at the UICA has been an awesome opportunity for new and experienced Michigan Filmmakers. Everything we show is actually required to have a tie-in to Michigan. The last big show of the year is August 16 and I’d love to extend a personal invitation to those that haven’t been but are curious to come check us out!


Catching up with Smith was a breath of fresh air for another long time resident of the city. She sees the city through different lenses and knows Grand Rapids intimately, so she can speak about it with both critique and love. 

The words of James Baldwin come to mind when hearing Smith talk about her hopes for her industry’s growth in Grand Rapids, where Baldwin says “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually” 

Smith dishes it out as it is, and chooses everyday to stay and make a change. This city is lucky to have one Lajanae Smith, let’s hope she succeeds in inspiring more just like her.

The date for Smith’s “Hollywood Pitch & Brunch” is August 13th and will go from 11AM-3PM at Chez Olga in Eastown

Smith’s company Cinema Bijon Enterprise is a creative arts company focused on producing avant-garde digital multi-media content by and largely for women of color. Launched in 2017, founded in Grand Rapids, MI. The mission is to bring celebratory, thought-provoking stories to life in order to improve the self perception and external opinion of people of color. Specifically Black women. Respecting diversity in order to change our world for the better. These are new stories. 

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.

Grand Rapids Coffee Shop Guide

When Grand Rapidians are not out at the nearest brewery, they can usually be found at one of the many coffee shops that continue to pop up across the city.

Here is a short guide to all the local shops serving up a different kind of brew. Roasted beans and sweet treats are the way to a freelancer's heart. That and of course, very strong wifi. 

The Sparrows Coffee Tea and Newsstand - 1035 Wealthy St. SE
Cozy environment with plenty of seating for a long work session. Just a few steps away from local restaurants and The Meanwhile bar for those marathon work sessions that go late into the night. Its new West Side location is soon to open its doors at 442 Bridge St NW.

The Bitter End Coffeehouse - 752 West Fulton
A long standing classic study and work spot on the West Side, few things have changed at this beautiful location that is situated in a century-old bank building. 

Madcap Coffee - 98 Monroe Center NW
The favorite spot for all the downtown movers and shakers. Madcap is beautifully designed from its exterior down to its tea serving boards and pots. With two other locations at The Downtown Market and at 1041 East Fulton St., Madcap is everywhere, and if for some wild reason you haven’t been inside, just explore your instagram feed. A friend in your group has likely instagrammed their latte art...this week. 

Squibb Coffee & Wine Bar - 955 Wealthy St. SE
You read the correctly...AND wine bar. Sure, The Meanwhile is on the other block, but when you are settling into a good book or on a killer work streak, why break it with walking out? Especially during a harsh Michigan winter. (It’s never too early to say Winter Is Coming in Michigan)

Lightfast Coffee + Art Collective - 944 East Fulton St.
A selection of tasty baked goods, chocolates and art is a recipe for success for this newer coffee shop on Fulton Street.

Lantern Coffee Bar & Lounge - 100 Commerce SE
Art, cozy environment and some of the comfiest seats to sit back, forget about work and concentrate on a strong brew.

Mayan Buzz Cafe - 208 Grandville Ave SW
A stone’s throw from Founder’s Brewing and The Rapid Central Station, Mayan Buzz has long been the home for marathon work sessions thanks to their early and late hours. If you’re looking for something more be sure to head on Thursday nights for their open mic nights!

Rowsters Coffee - 632 Wealthy St. SE
Clean lines in design, strong coffee and regular art showings from local artists. Rowsters recently opened the Rowers Club on the West Side at 616 West Fulton to expand access to their delightful brews.

Ferris Coffee & Nut - 227 Winter Ave NW
With locations on both the West Side and downtown in the Trust Building, Ferris coffee carries all the treats and brews you could need for a relaxing time. 

Lyon St. Cafe - 617 Lyon St. NE
It is hard to beat a coffee shop nestled in the border of Midtown, that sources its treats from Nantucket Bakery and has Martha’s Vineyard just a few doors down. An excellent spot to work, meet and to just lose yourself in a tasty cup.

As always, if we missed your favorite spot let us know in the comments!

R.I.P. Kava House for all those who remember...but also check out That Early Bird

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 The Bitter End, Rowster, The Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newsstand, Mayan Buzz Cafe, MadCap Coffee, Lyon St. Cafe, Lantern Coffee Bar & Lounge, Squibb Coffee & Wine Bar


 

Thom McGuire: Music, Movies, and Hustle

When people think of music scenes their thoughts go to Nashville, Los Angeles, Miami, but too often the Midwest is left out, or so it seems. Talent is certainly in every state and city, but it takes a certain other level of talent to spot and guide music talents to the next level. Enter Thom McGuire of McGuire & Associates.

Thom McGuire has been in the entertainment industry all his life. Born in Washington D.C., McGuire then moved around the country from coast to coast working on movie sets and for music labels. All this led up to his last move 11 years ago when he made his way to Grand Rapids.

McGuire certainly has the pedigree and chops of a music industry veteran. Tag on his uncanny likeness to industry titan Rick Rubin (it’s all in the beard!) and McGuire stands out in the local Grand Rapids music scene. McGuire has been managing talent off and on for years through McGuire & Associates and has specialized in taking talent from local to a regional stage and beyond.

Grand Rapids has certainly always had a healthy music scene, whether it was through traditional music venues or house shows, musicians have been filling this city with life for decades.

Before the inception of Founder’s Fest or even the Pyramid Scheme, there were shows held at the now defunct Skeletones and The Five-One. Both were all-age venues that served the alternative music in the early 2000s. With their passing, bands found venues and outlets through the DAAC (Division Avenue Arts Collective) and a growing number of smaller venues like The Upper Room

Local bands can also find their sound at house shows and smaller venues, and have carved out an even bigger local scene for themselves with events like the Lamp Light Music Festival which is comprised of a weekend of multiple house venues hosting a mix of local artists from the region. 

McGuire says, “The local music scene is needed and I certainly underestimated it when I move here from L.A 11 years ago.” McGuire has since begun taking on talent full time through McGuire & Associates and is looking to help bring local talent “from the street to the elite” as is the tagline for McGuire & Associates. 

McGuire recognizes and believes in the talent that Grand Rapids continues to turn out, so he has put one more iron in the fire, namely his new group West Michigan Industry Professionals.

“This city has so much talent, and it just keeps growing. If we all got out of our silos and worked together we can make so much more,” says McGuire about the meetup group, which he describes as a more relaxed might to get to know each other over a few drinks at a local bar. 

McGuire & Associates is available to take on talent for regional growth, providing management and booking services as well hourly as services.

With more people like McGuire turning their eye to Grand Rapids and West Michigan in general, it won’t be long before we will have to add music to our “Beer City” billboards. 

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 
Thom McGuire.

The Matthew Agency: Modeling In the Heart of Downtown West Michigan

Are you Grand Rapids next top model?

The Matthew Agency, founded nine years ago by photographer Jerrad Matthew, has prevailed as the go-to talent and modeling agency in Grand Rapids. Throughout the years, the agency has increased its clientele base to include some of Grand Rapids’ top international businesses.

In a recent turn of events, the agency was acquired by local businesswoman Kelly Koning. When the opportunity presented itself, Koning could not pass up the opportunity. The acquisition will be a marked shift from her previous venture, a logistics company, where she ran the business with her husband.

“My previous experiences mesh with the needs of the Matthew Agency, alongside with my degree in international business and past work in Barcelona for global fashion brand Desigual, allow me a solid working foundation in the industry,” says Koning.

The Matthew Agency represents talent from Grand Rapids, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

“We take great pride in assisting our vendors with professionally scouted, diverse talent of age, ethnicity, and body size of today's communities. We seek to always represent ourselves well within this community and on all job sites,” adds Koning when asked about what the agency stands to uphold moving onward.

Since the acquisition was official at the beginning of June, Koning has had time at the reigns to analyze and set goals for the near future.

“We are scouting more models to join our agency and our open call will be next month, July 12, at our office in McKay Towers Suite 422.”

Koning says that on her list of objectives is to “..to be on the forefront of celebrating diversity, non-discrimination, and body positivity…a place that radiates positivity and celebrates everyone!” She adds, “We celebrate all types of beauty at The Matthew Agency and I hope that shows in our diverse base of models and talents currently signed.”

According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, U.S.-based women business owners generate $1.4 trillion in sales and employ nearly 7.9 million people.Also, more than 9.1 million firms are owned by women.

We ask Koning what, if any, obstacles present themselves for a woman business owner in West Michigan. “Owning and running a small local business takes a lot of fortitude and there are always hurdles that present themselves in growing and expanding. I am confident that by nurturing existing relationships [and] building new lasting relationships while continuing to be a leader in local talent, we can contribute to the vibrant and exciting growth in West Michigan. I believe so strongly in our Grand Rapids community and the power that lies in supporting local,” answers Koning.

You can follow The Matthew Agency on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with their handle @matthewagency.

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.

Some Like It Hot: Outdoor Eats

Mother nature is certainly making up for lost time with the weather we have been having lately. Forecast shows that we will be enjoying this for some time to come.

So get out there and enjoy this beautiful weather with the best outdoor eating spaces our city has to offer.

Taqueria San Jose -1338 Division Ave S
Nestled in the heart of the southside. Offers authentic Mexican cuisine.

Sundance Grill - 151 Ottawa Ave NW
Right smack in the middle of downtown’s Center City.

Donkey Taqueria - 665 Wealthy St SE
Nestled in the Wealthy St Business district. Offers Authentic Mexican cuisine.

Creston Brewery - 1504 Plainfield Ave NE
Hard to go wrong with beer and an eclectic food menu.

Parsley Mediterranean Grill - 80 Ottawa Ave NW
An outdoor seating area with one of the best views of the city. Right across from the GRAM and Madcap Coffee.

Palace of India - 138 Fulton St E
Located right on Fulton Street. If you find yourself sweating from the spice, just grab a table outside and blend in with the rest of the city making their way through this heat.

Marie Catrib’s - 1001-1003 Lake Dr SE
Still offering some of the best deli meals in East Hills, or better known as the Center of the Universe.

The Old Goat - 2434 Eastern Ave SE
Located in the growing Alger Heights district.

Iron - 25 Ottawa Ave SW
Right in the middle of the Arena district. Offering contemporary takes on comfort food.

Slows BBQ - 435 Ionia Ave SW
Located in the Downtown Market.

Social Kitchen & Bar - 435 Ionia Ave SW
Located in the Downtown Market.

Terra GR - 1429 Lake Dr SE
A locally sourced farm to table restaurant nestled in East Hills.

Founder’s Brewery - 235 Grandville Ave SW
If you are reading this and you have not had a meal and drink on Founder’s outdoor seating, you are missing out on more than just a good time. You are missing a rite of passage for any Grand Rapidian.

If you have reached the bottom of this list and are currently scoffing, please join us in the comments section and share your favorite outdoor seating restaurants, food trucks, or secret summer bbq pop-ups across the city.

Happy Hunting!

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.

Summer jobs roundup

Summer is here with it comes all the fun and games, but remember to always keep your eyes on the latest job opportunities.

Grab a cold drink, sit outside, and take a look at some of the latest opportunities the city has to offer.

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.

Send resumes by June 16, 2017 to hr@habitatkent.org

Neighborhood Resident Development Manager: The NRDM is called to serve as Habitat Kent’s “ambassador” to the community and serves as the communications liaison between the selected neighborhood and HFHKC. The Manager will be responsible for overseeing and implementing resident-driven community planning processes and neighborhood outreach and engagement strategies to ensure that the voice of the community is heard and their potential maximized to create a real and long-term impact.

Send cover letter and resume by Friday, June 16, 2017 to hr@habitatkent.org

Corporate Relations Manager: The Corporate Relations Manager seeks to build transformational relationships with corporate and business partners to further the mission of Habitat Kent. This position is responsible for building on an existing donor-centered data-driven strategy to prospect, cultivate, solicit, and steward gifts from corporate and business partners.The Corporate Relations Manager works closely in collaboration with the Resource Development team, Volunteer Services, and Gift in Kind to ensure business and corporate partners are being engaged on many levels, that Habitat is sharing meaningful stories, authentically thanking those who support Habitat Kent’s mission, and reporting successes and challenges. Habitat Kent’s Resource Development team is focused on a collaborative, organization-wide approach to fundraising with integrity, creativity, and transparency guiding our decision making.

This is a full-time exempt position. Please send resume/cover letter by Friday, June 30, 2017 to hr@habitatkent.org.

Managing Director of Operations: The Managing Director of Operations at Habitat Kent is a newly created position within the organization. The Managing Director will provide key leadership and overall strategic and operational responsibility for four key departments that make up significant components of the affiliate’s operations (Construction, Volunteer Services, ReStore, and Material Recovery).

Send resume/cover letter by June 30, 2017 to hr@habitatkent.org

Cultural Intelligence Center

Client Services Coordinator: The Client Services Coordinator will provide informative, helpful customer service for all customers, and administrative and day-to-day support to the company’s corporate segment and certification programs.

City of Grand Rapids

Administrative Analyst I - Neighborhood Connector: This position is responsible for providing a variety of administrative support services to a department head or other administrative position. The work includes providing staff liaison to the various departmental divisions and programs, outside agencies, and the media. The work is performed under the general supervision of a department head or administrative position. The employees may supervise subordinate support staff.

Apply here

Administrative Analyst II - Legislative: This is advanced professional work providing a variety of administrative support services to the City Manager or Assistant City Manager and department heads. The work includes providing staff liaison to the various city departments and programs, outside agencies, and the media. The work is performed under the managerial direction of the City Manager or Assistant City Manager.

Apply here

Administrative Analyst II Sustainability: This is advanced professional work providing a variety of administrative support services to the City Manager or Assistant City Manager and department heads. The work includes providing staff liaison to the various city departments and programs, outside agencies, and the media. The work is performed under the managerial direction of the City Manager or Assistant City Manager.

Apply here

Keep your resumes updated, your interview skills sharp, and your game up!

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.

Elevator Up partners with SightLine Display to enhance digital offerings.

Design is all around us, whether it’s the phone we are reading this on, the car we ride, or even the shoelaces we tie every day (if you still wear velcro straps good for you! That’s a biomimicry design at its best.)

Design includes everything from the spacing on our steps, the material of the handrail, down to the stickers and signs we see at the grocery store.

For years companies like SightLine Display have designed and supplied consumer brands and retailers with effective retail signage for everything from produce to clothing. An entire sale can depend on the right signage. Whether the customer notices the colorful display, or is able to quickly see the price and find the best deal, it all affects the sale.

It may not sound needed or worthwhile, but during times when marketing is being pushed to smaller platforms like Snapchat with seconds of exposure, even older industries must adapt or die.

So will the small stickers and signage you see at department and grocery stores become tiny screens that flash prices and deals? Not exactly; those signs and stickers are purchased in bulk and are often purchased as a carefully designed set of signage systems for displaying inventory.

These sets can be incredibly dense and extensive, so imagine you are the owner of a small grocery store and you want to upgrade your signage for your new expansion, or you are the owner of a small chain of department stores and need signage for all your items in all of your stores.

If you think this is a tall task, imagine all the work it takes to design, organize, and then sell those signage systems. The work becomes even harder for the signage company when they seek to help the client make the best purchase and feel satisfied. Now this may all seem very uneventful and seem like the last business idea one would pitch—after all everyone wants to be the next Facebook, Google, or Snapchat. But for every every flashy startup,there is a silent giant like Oracle: a company that provides database management systems, essentially the equivalent of owning the construction company instead of the new popular restaurant.

SightLine Display recently reached out to local company Elevator Up to improve their offering and platform. Where once the options were displayed in large binders full of images to sift through, clients now have a streamlined experience to the full offering of signage solutions.

“Partnering with Elevator Up has helped us clarify our product and service offerings...This new platform makes our custom products and services available to a wider audience.” said Steve Cole, CEO of Sightline in a press release.

SightLine Display’s new e-commerce platform, that was developed in partnership with Elevator Up can be viewed here.

Elevator Up has formed an ongoing partnership to continue to enhance SightLine’s product and service offerings. Extensive customer experience research allowed Elevator Up to develop custom solutions for SightLine’s integrated inventory management. This paired with SightLine’s use of rapid prototyping has allowed the business to move forward at a new pace.

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.

Malamiah Juice Bar: Mobile Juice Bar For The Win

The news is not the only thing that is on a 24-hour cycle. As our city continues to grow and more transplants move to Grand Rapids, our city is staying up later and waking up earlier. Whether it’s a busier work schedule, events, or longer commutes, our time gets squeezed from different ends. Combine a busy schedule with a dash of stress, and you have the recipe for poor eating habits.

Surely there’s nothing wrong with a bit of comfort food every now and then, but it can be hard to stay healthy when we live fast lives and need food fast, but we don’t want fast-food. There is always the super trendy Soylent option for those on the tech vanguard, but with only two flavors, it can be lacking at times.

For almost four years, Malamiah Juice Bar has provided the downtown area with convenient fresh juices and smoothies. After a win at the local entrepreneurial pitch competition 5x5 Night last winter, the team is ready to launch their latest division of their business. A mobile juice bar will be hitting the streets soon to provide juice to those who find themselves just a bit out of walking distance from the Downtown Market.

Malamiah Mobile Juice Bar wants to provide its array of products to a wider audience by bringing the juice...literally.

We caught up with co-owner Jermale Eddie to get the scoop on the latest addition to the business.

When we last touched base there was talk of a food truck, why the change to bikes?

We recognized that the prize money that we won was just a drop of "juice in the cup" compared to the actual cost of a truck, equipment, and permits. We wanted to be true to the concept of "going mobile" like we stated, we just did it in a smarter and more economical way...kind of outside the box—like we normally do things. When it’s all said and done, we pitched, we won, we refined ,and we bought a bike! Juice + Bike = A Healthy Lifestyle Business that is visible in the community.

What area will you be covering with the bike(s)? Will you be riding it yourself?

At this time, I am piloting just this one bike to see how things go. I am able to post up at one location within the downtown area, but I can actually drive it around the rest of Grand Rapids. We originally planned to use our bike to attend special events. However, depending on the demand, we may be out and about more than we thought. We also hope to pop up on the Lakeshore and other area of West Michigan as requested. It’s a good way to test the market. We may also use it to get into some business, office, and home deliveries.

Will it have a regular route and time?

Not at this time, but we are about the community. If the community wants more Malamiah, then hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Email or stop in at our shop in the Downtown Market to let us know!

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the Mobile Juice Bar this summer as they ride through the city offering freshly squeezed juice.

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.

Pop Up Shop: Can't Knock The Hustle

With nearly six months under her belt, entrepreneur Tova Jones has successfully launched her concept business that targets the e-commerce retail market.

A brick and mortar store for online retailers who want to offer a showing of their items, but either cannot or do not wish to rent a permanent space, The Pop Up Shop is a common occurrence in major markets, and Jones has taken the concept and added her own approach as she brought it here to Grand Rapids.

When asked what inspired Jones to create the Pop Up Shop, she responds “I got the idea actually from owning a plus size e-commerce clothing business. I noticed that when I was a part of vendor opportunities I made more money because the consumer could feel the product, try it on, and meet the face behind the brand. I looked high and low in west Michigan, actually Michigan period to find storefront space that could be rented out to sell product short term, and had no luck. So my husband and I decided to be the change that we wanted to see. We found a great downtown location and the Pop Up Shop became a reality.”

Jones’ location at 315 S. Division places the Pop Up shop right in the Avenue for the Arts along many other local businesses. She says the Pop Up Shop has hosted “...bridal pop up shops, bakery pop up shops, a Detroit-based African Clothing brand, lularoe pop up shops... we've had CD releases, handcrafted jewelry, and even a dog Treat Pop up shop! We also have community meetings in our space and small listening parties.

The options are limitless. We are hoping to attract businesses who are looking to add pop up shops to their branding and business model. And more artists, we would love to see our space used as a small gallery. Our goal is to help expand the brands of e-commerce business owners artist and musicians.”

Although the location offers a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs, it also gives Jones the opportunity to interact with an array of different businesses. “I love seeing the excitement in their faces when the talk about their businesses. I love bouncing ideas about how to have a successful pop up shop and even easing some of their concern. I just love the synergy,” says Jones.

The Pop Up Shop is now taking bookings for June-August. To schedule a walkthrough, you may visit their website at www.popupshopgr.com or you can email the team at grpopupshop@gmail.com with any questions.

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.

The Women's Resource Center: Providing pathways to self-sufficiency and success

We all enter the workforce at different ages and with different backgrounds. There is of course the tale of a young Warren Buffett and his paper route where he displayed a high business acumen at such an early age. The young Buffett made sure to write off his bicycle on his taxes because of its use during his paper route.

Now, we all know what that young boy grew up to be, and the legend he has become. The Oracle of Omaha is now worth just under $74 Billion and is considered to be one of the world’s most savvy businesspeople. No one would deny that Buffett was born with an innate gift for business, but we cannot overlook the time and systems of privileges that allowed him to use his full talent and hard work to achieve and overcome.

It is very easy to look at those from our community that have fallen on hard times or were born into systems of perpetual structural violence and disadvantage, and not see talent, potential, or passion. Yet it is there, and time and time again we are reminded of those of us that rise from adversity. In big ways and in smaller ways, whether it is a mega star like Oprah Winfrey or a home grown star like Latesha Lipscomb, the talent is there alongside all the barriers.

Grand Rapids is fortunate to have a team of dedicated and talented people at the Women’s Resource Center, and a newly named CEO in Sandra Gaddy. The proverb states it takes a village to raise a child, yet in many ways when we live in community with each other it should be better said it takes a village to raise a person.

When entering or re-entering the workforce it can feel daunting and scary, and many try to go at it alone not knowing that no one ever makes it completely on their own. Behind every successful person there is a long story; the successful stand on the shoulders of their mentors, coaches, sponsors, family, network, and friends.

This is what the Women’s Resource Center provides for its members, and they take it to heart. Newly appointed CEO Sandra Gaddy refers to herself as the newest member of the team, and speaks about how it takes the entire team, at times other program members, to empower each and every woman in the program.

Gaddy says “Our purpose is simple yet powerful. We empower local women to become economically self sufficient and improve their lives through career development, meaningful employment, and powerful growth.”
Servant leadership shows itself at the core of this amazing team, where they have several pathways aimed to empower and uplift women.

The Empower Pathway “..helps women who are in a life transition to move toward economic self-sufficiency by providing career and life skill development” states the organization’s website, and is provided by professional staff Career Coaches.

The Women Mentoring Women Pathway provides “caring volunteer mentors who offer one-on-one advice and encouragement while developing a personalized plan of action with each participant.” states the organization’s website

The New Beginnings Pathway operates with the “understanding that incarceration presents unique challenges for future job seekers, and provides enhanced gender-responsive mentoring services to women at Kent County Jail pre-release and up to 18 months post-release. Offering one-on-one and/or group mentoring, employability assessments coupled with individual employment development plans, employability and life skills workshops, job placement and retention assistance, and strength-based case management services to connect returning women with collaborative community partners for substance abuse and mental health treatment, education/training, housing and basic needs, and other services critical to their successful community reentry.” states the organization’s website.

If these programs were not already multi-faceted, the center also provides: a business center, computer classes, resume coaching, a seeking employment together- support group, interviewing techniques, resume writing, personal finance management, a working women’s clothing closet - where you can pick out a full work outfit, a divorce information workshop, and a scholarship program available for the women participating in the intensive program and is designed to assist women in becoming economically self-sufficient.

Gaddy adds “Not everyone comes to the Resource Center at the same time and place in their lives and careers,” so the center has a diverse set of resources to overcome the barriers and challenges that women often encounter.

I have no doubt of the quality of work that the Women’s Resource Center provides, but I do know that a team can always use more players for the long game. If you fancy yourself a leader or a skilled teammate, consider looking at the growing talent at the Women’s Resource Center and reach out to the team to learn more how you can continue to lead by having a hand in inspiring and growing more leaders.

If you want to become a participant or are unsure if the Women’s Resource Center is right for you and would like to learn more please reach out to the team here. Take Gaddy’s words to heart “We empower local women..”, and indeed they have, are doing so, and will continue to do so.

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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