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Kickstarter and Start Garden alumnus shifting into high gear

After two successful Kickstarter campaigns and funding through Start Garden, Marie-Claire Camp has been able to move from the design phase to the growth phase for her concept of Children's Wallet Cards (profiled in Rapid Growth in September, 2012).  

Camp says she has raised a total of $41,790 through two campaigns on Kickstarter and $10,000 through two different Start Garden grants, which has allowed her to move from one educational deck of cards to five decks and also develop a complimentary interactive iPhone app.

At the same time, she has moved from selling her products only online to having a presence in multiple brick and mortar retailers. "I'm in several retail locations in West Michigan: 6.25 Paper, Beyond Paper, Pooh's Corner, HopScotch, Minds in Motion in Grand Rapids Children's Museum, and Sand Castle for Kids," says Camp.

Besides developing new products, Camp has been building the online community to support her customers. "My mom, Lisa Ann Camp, was a Montessori teacher for over 25 years, with a Masters in Education from Harvard. She has been consulting on the resource area on the site for parents, teachers and small children. The area includes activities for small children to encourage early learning at home."

Next up for Camp: more growth. "After fulfilling all of the Kickstarter rewards and pre-orders, my goal is to expand into 30 more retail stores in the U.S. and 20 international shops. I'm also working on organizing my next Kickstarter campaign; it's on schedule to launch in summer 2014 as well. I can't disclose what I'm working on quite yet, but it's about twice the size [of] my last campaign".

To learn more about Children's Wallet Cards you can visit Camp's website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Holiday gift program gets a makeover and investment through Start Garden

There is a personal backstory to the Elf Factory's tag line: "a handmade holiday school program specializing in gifts that parents don't have to pretend to like!"  

Kirsten Field, founder of the Elf Factory, explains the inspiration behind her new venture. "I volunteered at my kids' schools and I was disgusted at the products for the holiday workshop. I knew there had to be something better."

Describing herself as a "stay-at-home-mom getting back into the workforce," Field submitted her idea to Start Garden and received $5,000 in funding after she ran one pilot program with an elementary school. Field says she will use the Start Garden funding for  customer development experiments with five new schools and ultimately try to determine if the idea is scalable. "Our goal is to get a 75 percent participation rate at the schools."

Operationally, Field says that once a school decides to go ahead with the Elf Factory program, she partners with a parent organization and then provides all the craft materials  order forms, timelines, online training videos, and other tools they would need to run an Elf Factory at their school. The concept is designed to for simplicity (approximately four minutes to make a present), affordability, and a much higher quality product than existing holiday programs.

Currently, Field is the only full-time employee but she has four part-time staff that help with assembling the craft boxes.

To learn more, you can follow on Facebook for Elf Factory updates or check out their website at www.elffactory.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids web developer launches WordPress tutorial classes

Brian Richards, co-founder of the popular WordPress Grand Rapids Meetup group, was having difficulty finding someone to help him with a very technical WordPress issue. As he researched the problem, he started thinking about others who have had the same the issue, especially the more technical aspects of working with the software.  

"I then started thinking, 'what if I could hire some real smart guys to teach about WordPress and then make the sessions available be watched freely from your own home?'"

His solution is WPSessions, an online platform that provides both live and recorded sessions made by WordPress experts, which are then made available for purchase. Each session will typically cost $25, but Richards also plans to make the courses available for free after a three to four month period.
 
Richard says he has hired 27 speakers to give sessions over the next nine months. Featured topics include business development, theme design, security, and optimization. The first live session was June 22 and featured Topher Derosia, Daniel Espinoza, and Pippin Williamson discussing building WordPress plugins.

Richard acknowledges his project is in the very early stages of development and he is still fine-tuning the business model, but knows that with the popularity of WordPress and the feedback he gets from WordPress Grand Rapids members, "it could grow into something bigger, especially if it catches on with the greater WordPress community."

You can learn a bit more about the concept in Richard's first blog post here. and a bit more about the first session here.  You can also follow WPSessions on twitter @WP_Sessions.

Source: Brian Richards, WPSessions
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

We're getting the band back together

Triumph Music Academy, a Grand Rapids-based music school, has grown from four teachers to eight and from 80 students to over 200. The school has also doubled its space in just two years. James Hughes, owner, says this is just the beginning.

Originally, Triumph only offered guitar lessons. "It was me and three guitar instructors," he says.

However, to paraphrase an oft-cited quote, "no plan survives the first contact with customers," Hughes and his team quickly learned that the need for quality music education went far beyond guitar lessons. "We got a lot of interest in our services, but our clients wanted more," he says. "We've added drums, voice, piano, ukulele, bass guitar, song writing, and composition."

Besides adding more variety, Hughes says they have learned something else. "People get excited about playing with other people. No one locally is helping people form bands."

With that insight, Triumph has also become a business incubator for several bands with a focus on not only helping them become better musicians, but also better business people. "We can help bridge the gap from taking lessons to playing real gigs," he says.

Hughes says one of the bands recently had their first show and learned how to do everything working musicians need to do.

"They first came up with own name (There Goes the Neighborhood), and then they were selling tickets, collecting money, putting on wrist bands -- everything. This is how music works."

Hughes says he has several bands working through the academy in multiple genres including punk, modern folk, rock, '80s hair metal, and covers.  

"Our school is for people interested in learning music as a hobby or going all out and making music as a career," he says. "Everyone who teaches here is a full-time musician -- the real deal. We can tell them, 'this how you can make it happen.' This is how to fill out self-employment tax (forms). You do not learn that in music school."

To learn more about Triumph Music Academy, you can visit their site here or their Facebook page here.

Source:  James Hughes, Triumph Music Academy
Writer; John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New business aims to decrease costs of high school graduation ceremonies

Seth Yon was convinced there had to be a better way for high school students to buy their caps and gowns for their graduation ceremony.

So, he launched Michigan Grads, a service that provides everything needed for students and their families to celebrate high school graduation.

Yon says it is not uncommon within the graduation industry for prices to vary widely between schools and come with unreasonable price pressure to order early.

"When graduates would have to purchase a cap and gown, we found the price would vary depending on when and where it was ordered. That shouldn't matter. Everyone should expect to pay the exact same price, no matter what school district they are in," he says. "The industry would also pressure for orders in fall and early winter. Families (were) not ready to purchase at that time, but were penalized for waiting to order closer to graduation."

With Michigan Grads, Yon says he has created a program where there is one set price, regardless of where and when it is ordered, and he also has eliminated shipping and storage costs for high schools by handling those services through his business. The end result, according to Yon, is lower costs for both students and schools.

The firm was launched in August of 2012 and currently employs 12 people. It  services the high school industry within the state of Michigan, but has plans to expand to other states in the near future. Besides caps and gowns, Michigan Grads also provides other products, such as custom invitations and branded merchandise for participating schools.

Michigan Grads is located at 678 Front Ave. NW, Grand Rapids. To learn more about the business, you can visit their site here.

Source: Seth Yon, Michigan Grads
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Workforce demands for high tech skills highlighted at statewide competition

In order to bring awareness to the increased demands for more technical skills across the workplace, the SkillsUSA championship competitions are taking place at Grand Rapids Community College and DeVos Place on April 20, 2013.

Over 1,100 career and technical education students from across the state will be competing in the event. Students will work against the clock and each other, proving their expertise in occupations such as welding, computer-aided drafting, precision machining, automotive service, culinary arts, cosmetology, and criminal justice. All contests are run with the help of industry experts, trade associations, and labor organizations. Test competencies are set by professional industry standards.

"Everyone has to get a job," says SkillsUSA State Director Tammy Brown. "Back in the day, vocational education programs were for the students where you couldn't figure where to put them. Today's employers need highly skilled, smart workers... The students need to know so much more – math science language skills, communication skills, and how to present themselves in business situations. Michigan has an aging workforce, and we need jobs and skills that can't be outsourced."

The complete schedule of the events can be viewed here. The winners will go on to compete in the National Championships this June in Kansas City, MO.

Source: Tammy Brown, SkillsUSA
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Literacy Center of West Michigan adds new position

Thanks to a grant from the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation, the Literacy Center of West Michigan will be adding a new position that will be responsible for strengthening existing ESL (English as a Second Language) programs and developing new, clergy-focused ESL programs.

According to Shay Kraley, coordinator of the Family Literacy Program, the Iglesias de Esperanza Coordinator position will have two main purposes.  "First, the individual will be overseeing and providing support to existing ESL programs. The second part will be actual instruction to Hispanic clergy."

Kraley explains that this new position will eventually help the clergy in the Hispanic churches to extend their influence and connect to the greater community.

Among the requirements are experience in teaching ESL for adults and being bi-lingual in Spanish. Equally important will be relationship building skills.

To learn more about the open position, you can visit the site here.

Source: Shay Kraley, Literacy Center of West Michigan
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

West Michigan Aviation Academy takes off with huge expansion

What do astronauts and high school students have in common? A great deal in West Michigan after today. Dignitaries, staff, supporters and students of the West Michigan Aviation Academy braved cold, rainy February weather to attend the groundbreaking ceremonies for a massive expansion to this aviation-themed charter school near Gerald R Ford International Airport. The event also featured a guest appearance by former astronaut Mark Kelly, who talked to the students about what it takes to be leaders in the aviation world.

The newest phase of the Aviation Academy, and its largest yet, will create a new two-story, 47,000-square-foot addition and a new entrance. The addition on the West end of the building will give the academy the ability to add Junior and Senior classes and house a new gymnasium, fitness area, high-tech classrooms, science labs, administrative offices, food service and a commons area. At least five new hires are planned when the expansion opens, as well as the capacity for approximately 450 new students.

The groundbreaking ceremony featured remarks from the founder of the academy, Dick Devos; CEO Pat Cwayna; Joe Tomaselli, Chairman of the Gerald R Ford International Airport Board; Lennox Ramsey, student and President of the Student Council and former Congressman Vern Ehlers.

With a focus on aviation and aerospace, the school opened in the Fall of 2010 with the goal of 60 freshman students and quickly grew to 145 students. The expansion will allow the school to accommodate up to 600 students in four high school grades.

Source: Jenny Waugh, Rockford Construction
Writer: Jeff Hill

The pedagogy of experimentation

It's a foregone conclusion for many that geeks will inherit the earth. What is less understood, however, is the process of this inheritance.

Recently profiled in Rapid Growth Media, The Geek Group's Chris Boden offers a glimpse into the process and it begins with two robots, Jeff and Heather.

Like three of the protagonists in the Wizard of Oz, the robots are lacking one thing. In Jeff and Heather's case, it is a permanent mount. "Mounting the robots requires a small concrete project," says Boden, hopeful that  a local contractor will donate their services.

"We need a 12" x 12" x 12" reinforced concrete pad to mount the robots," Boden says. Once mounted and operational, Boden says this will be a unique learning opportunity for those interested in robotics and advanced manufacturing. "The robots cost more than a house. We're the only place in the world where someone can play with one and not get killed."

In exchange for the contractors' time, Boden says the entire process will be documented as they will shoot an instructional video on how to mount robots, which will then be part of The Geek Group's growing video network.

Once the robots are in place, other projects waiting to be finished off (and an old building on Grand Rapids' West side) will be one step closer to becoming a Mecca for innovators, explorers and entrepreneurs who prefer to learn through doing and experimentation.

To learn more about The Geek Group or to contact Boden with leads on local contractors, you can visit their website here.

Source: Chris Boden, The Geek Group
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

East Hills is alive with the sound of music

Life is good at Triumph Music Academy, which opened in April of 2011 and has had enough business to expand their facility and branch out into additional lessons for drums and voice.

Explaining the interest in their services, James Forrester Hughes, one of the owners, starts with their business model.

"It was always constructed to help musicians to succeed, regardless of age and skill level. There are no auditions (with the exception of the college-based programs). It is not every day you find folks working together around their passion."

Timing and location are two other factors Forrester points out.

"Grand Rapids is turning out to be a big art town," he says. "Art and music are synonymous."

The Academy is located on the corner of Wealthy and Diamond in a building and neighborhood that Forrester describes as "forward thinking," which he feels also is critical to their success.

As for future plans, Forrester wryly observes that as a musician, "you get used to things not going according to the plan," but the Academy is looking into offering training in recording technology -- a skill set he believes every working musician needs. 

To celebrate the expansion and the addition of new instructors Sarah Idema, voice and piano, Zachary James Kolkman, piano and composition, and Brian Kops, drums, the academy will be hosting an open house on Friday, Sept. 23.

To learn more about Triumph Music Academy, you can visit their site here.

Source: James Hughes Forrester, Triumph Music Academy
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Keller Futures Center working to produce innovative curriculum

The Keller Futures Center followed up its spring research into career pathways with its third program exploring how West Michigan might best encourage alternative forms of transportation within the region using a process known as human-centered design.  

The transportation program was sponsored by Amway's Innovation Team and was co-facilitated by the Luma Institute.

According to Liz McCormick, director of innovation at GRCC, the Futures Center is designed "to provide fuel for the region's innovation engine through diverse perspectives. The insights then can be used by the people doing the work. If an entrepreneurial member in the community sees an opportunity, go for it."

"I'm a huge fan of human-centered design," states Luisa Schumacher, executive director of WMCAT, after participating in the career pathways program. "It was my first exposure to solving community issues using this process and I found it a great way to educate. The ideas that came out of the program are truly relevant." Schumacher adds that their organization will be implementing several of the ideas at WMCAT for career services.

With another program in the works surrounding the health care sector scheduled for later this year, a longer-term goal of the Futures Center will be the introduction of a formal curriculum, focused on human-centered design and experiential learning that will begin in January 2012.  

For a recap of the transportation event and to learn more about human-centered design, you can visit a series of articles published by a local journalist who blogged during the event here.

Results of the transportation exploration will also be available on the Keller Futures Center site.  

(Full Disclosure: the author of this article has been an active participant in two of the Futures Center's projects and is an adjunct instructor at GRCC)

Sources: Liz McCormick, GRCC and Luisa Schumacher, WMCAT
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor.

Passion a key ingredient in Kissing Rock Kitchens recipe for success

Advance preparation is the key to many a great recipe. For Chef Tina Marie, when considering starting her own business centered around her passion for cooking, it  meant "very purposeful research" into what would be a viable business model.

After years of market research, world travel and studying food traditions, Marie launched Kissing Rock Kitchens in January of 2011.  

"I love food, love people, and love travel," she says. "I've always been cooking for people. Friends encouraged me and I began taking cooking classes (and) baking and selling breads, which led to Kissing Rock Kitchens."

Marie describes her core business, based between Lowell and Ada on Kissing Rock Rd., as "primarily cooking classes for non-chefs and foodies." She also features personal chef services for corporate and special events, dinner parties and catering.

With a cooking philosophy that's "very much into farm-to-plate, eating fresh and healthy," Marie indicates her business is going well but needs to focus more on marketing.

"I am continuing to do market research and (I am) honing my skills," she says, referencing a recent trip to France where she studied more cooking techniques.  

Marie is very active with social media, including Facebook and Twitter accounts where she posts recipes, tips and pictures of her work. To learn more about Kissing Rock Kitchens, you can visit the site here.

Source: Tina Marie, Kissing Rock Kitchens
Writer: John Rumery, Jobs and Innovation Editor

Conga looking to line up West Michigan user groups

It's no secret that technology plays a role in almost every business in the world. What might not be so well known is the growing West Michigan community of developers, programmers, designers and engineers that provide the expertise and creativity that makes technology functional to the end user.

As evidence of this growth, you need to look no further than the increasing number of user groups that are active in West Michigan.

For the lay person, user groups are formal and informal organizations that are formed around a shared interest in programming, software and technology. They exist to help individuals learn from each other and also "to learn from outside speakers" according to Ben Rousch, one of the organizers of a new site, Conga.

Conga's mission is to coordinate the various user groups by providing a central calendar with meeting dates, speakers and special events within the industry.

"The tech world moves very fast," Rousch says. "To keep up with these changes, you really have three options: learn on your own, read or join a user group."

Before Conga, Rousch says many of the user groups existed "in silos" without much formal communication between each other. With Conga, Rousch and others involved in this initiative hope to be able to consolidate all this activity. He encourages anyone involved with a user group to list the events on the site.

Although involved in the I.T. sector for over 10 years, Rousch did not attend his first user group until 2009 when the the economy left him a bit nervous and decided he needed to network more. Since then, he heartily recommends this type of networking for anyone involved in the industry.  "The learning experience is cheaper than other alternatives" he says. "(It is) typically the "price of a beer. Everyone is very friendly and everyone is welcome."

To check out Conga, you can visit their website here.


Source: Ben Rousch, Conga
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

NewNorth Center begins regional benchmarking process on innovation

Holland-based innovation advocate NewNorth Center recently announced a joint project with Plante & Moran to launch an ongoing survey targeted towards Midwest executives to determine their company's innovation quotient (IQ).

According to Stephanine Elhart, director of client services and communications at NewNorth Center, the survey will provide a benchmark for the "health of the area" in terms of innovation.  

Elhart explains they want to use the survey to identify "pain points" and subsequent opportunities for companies to innovate as the regional economy improves.

"We want to find out if area businesses understand innovation," she says. "Do they have an innovation process in place?"

Participants in the survey will receive a report that benchmarks their organization against others in the area. A "white paper" will also be published by Plante & Moran later in the summer.

To participate in the survey, you can follow the link here.

Besides providing leadership to the survey efforts, NewNorth champions innovation and design through several educational and training programs which can be viewed on their website.

"Businesses are coming back and we want to help them navigate through the future," Elhart says.

Source: Stephanie Elhart, NewNorth Center
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs editor

Making science and engineering fun is a goal of organization promoting robotics competitions

FIRST Robotics Competition has been described as a "varsity sport for the mind" but according to David Kane, a long time organizer, fundraiser, judge/advisor and promoter of the event, the magic of FIRST is its goal of "drawing out the kids that aren't thinking about college because they never realized how much fun engineering and science can be."

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded by Dean Kamen and now sanctions and organizes robotic competitions around the country.

In West Michigan, the high school teams are getting ready for the regional event, March 18 and 19 at the GVSU Fieldhouse in Allendale. The winner of this competition moves on to the state competition with hopes of advancing to the national finals.

Kane explains that each team, compromising of 25 or more students, has six weeks to build the robots after "it's  announced in a link from NASA."  After the six week period, the robots are boxed up and shipped to a site and teams are not allowed to work on the hardware until a day before the event.

At the competition, the robots are put through a series of prescribed activities, challenging the engineering, science, creativity and teamwork skills of each team.

Afterwards, each team is judged in a variety of categories and awards are given out. Kane says the event is very spectator-friendly with the finals beginning at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

"The matches are exciting and it is also interesting to see the robots up close," Kane says. "I recommend that visitors walk through pits to see the teams working together with the mentors on their robots."

For information on the FIRST movement in Michigan, including dates and times of the regional events, you can visit their site here.

Source: David Kane, FIRST
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

64 Education Articles | Page: | Show All
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