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Spring GR coaches, connects, and inspires entrepreneurs

There are a variety of services for entrepreneurs in West Michigan but none quite like Spring GR, a hands-on program that provides guidance from idea to ongoing support beyond launch.

Attah Obande is the lead business consultant and hub coordinator at Spring GR. He says the program began as pilot in March and now is ramping up for a sustained presence in West Michigan. "It started as a pilot program to serve and grow entrepreneurs in the community," he says. "We have a lot of talent here and why don't we grow it?"

Obande says the curriculum is based on a successful program that was launched in Chattanooga, TN. He says Spring GR can support any idea but it is really designed to help individuals who are looking to start lifestyle businesses that serve the community where they live and individuals who might be embracing self employment for the first time. "Most of the participants in our program have no business plan or experience," he says.  

The program is 12 weeks long and has one topic per week, focusing on business basics, target markets, cash flow and financials. The  heart of the program, however, is what happens after the entrepreneurs get the business started: "We commit to the entrepreneurs to be an ongoing resource. We work to connect these individuals with other community support."  

Obande, who recently served as a judge for the new 5x5 Night, says the program is designed to complement other programs that serve entrepreneurs in the community, such as GROW, Restorers; to enhance the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem and not duplicate other programs.

Obande says the ideal class size is 10-15 people and the cost for the participant $100.   You can view the first graduation class of Spring GR here and learn more about the program here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

The future is looking green for many area grads

Not only is the future bright for many 2015 graduates, it also is more green, thanks to Greener Grads, a local business that is on a mission from Mother Earth as it recovers, reuses and repurposes graduation gowns.

The Greener Grads story was detailed here last year. Since that time, the company has added Western Michigan University, Hope College and several other high schools and colleges. It now has a presence in 22 states with 100 organizations using their services.

The "green" appeal for students at GRPS City High is pretty simple. Kathy VandeGevel, environment club advisor at City High, says the question about whether to use Greener Grads was not "should we?" but rather "why wouldn't we?"

On top of the positive experience, VandeGevel explains it is also a perfect philosophical fit with City High. "We are a school based on the Wege Foundation's philosophy of Economicology," she says. "This concept is Economicology in action." She says the recent graduating class was the first group to follow the environmental and business principles since 7th grade. She says the juniors at City High are already planning to follow the footsteps of the class of the 2015.

According to Greener Grads, since inception the initiative has been able to divert approximately 12,000 pounds of polyester from being placed in the nation’s landfills. A goal of 50,000 pounds has been set for the end of this spring’s graduation season.

For more information about Greener Grads or to participate in the movement, please visit www.greenergrads.org.

Grand Rapids Public School students in the Academy of Design and Construction (ADC) are in the chair

Mark Frost is the principal at Innovation Central High School, a GRPS school where the Academy of Design and Construction is located. He says the student's newest "business" there is a serendipitous offshoot of a class project based on students designing and building Adirondack Chairs. Frost says there were no expectations for the chair project, other than the learning outcomes from the design process, "but we saw the people were drawn to them. In the spring we started offering a few chairs and raised some money and put it back into the program."  

During ArtPrize, the students sold the Michigan-shaped Adirondack chairs as a fundraiser and took orders for 19 chairs. After that, students created additional designs and developed a business plan and assigned roles, such as CEO and CFO, to learn business skills and develop a sustainable business model. These days, business is thriving.

There are currently four designs available: Michigan-shaped, floral, football helmet, and painted Michigan State University. The painted chair is $150, while the remaining designs sell for $100. Students are able to work on three chairs at a time, and most take about three days to complete. The painted chair takes about a week. Orders can be placed through teacher Andrew Abissi at abissia@grps.org or by calling 616-485-2929. All proceeds are used to purchase materials for ADC projects.

Frost says the chair program is not designed to be ongoing, as the students will be moving forward on other parts of the curriculum, but they will revisit the project in the future as new students start the program.

The Academy of Design and Construction program is designed for students with an interest in architecture, engineering, design, and construction.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Digital gaming studio takes root in Lowell, MI

Seed. Grow. Harvest. It is a business model straight from a farm. The big difference for Protege Game Studio, however, is that they aren't growing crops, but instead are training students for high-tech jobs in the digital media and gaming industries.

Sandon Newton, founder of Protege Game Studios, says that March 2015 will mark two years at his studio in Lowell. A second studio in Zeeland, MI was just opened in September 2014.

Protege offers classes in video game design to students, roughly from 5th grade to college. He says some students are only interested in having fun and making cool games, while others are looking for career and portfolio development.

Keeping with their mission, "Seed, Grow. Harvest," Newton, who has a computer science degree from GVSU and an MBA from Cornerstone, says he currently has two employees, both of whom started as part of Protege classes, and he intends to keep that that practice in place: "We plan to hire only from within."

Besides offering classes, the firm has a commercial side of its business and creates digital gaming courses and training materials for other companies. Newton says their team has developed a simulation game called "The Lean Ice Cream Shop" for a local lean manufacturing training company that uses game mechanics to teach and apply lean principles. He is also is working on augmented reality apps and game development curriculum through the Zeeland-Holland studio to support iCademy and Innocademy charter schools as a premium elective.

Newton says he is reviewing several opportunities for growth and says that the education and training marketplace is ripe for innovation and perfect for using game mechanics as a platform. He says he is anticipating more hires in the very near future, all from students from within the studio.  

To learn more about Protege Game Studios you can review their sites here and here.

Writer:  John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Joyful Sounds Music Studio doubles client base, adds two new teachers to its growing community

Eastown's Joyful Sounds Music Studio has hired two new teachers and expanded its programming to accommodate its growing client base, which owner Michele Venegas says has nearly doubled since this time last year.

"There's definitely more research out there that talks about the benefits of music for young children and babies, so I don't know if it's that or just people looking for something to do," she says. "The parents obviously value music and appreciate it, and so they're looking for this activity and once they get in we can teach them a little bit more about the importance of music at such a young age. I think a lot of people are like, 'Oh my word, what on Earth would you do with a four-month-old in a music class?' We can educate them as to the benefits and the value of that."

Venegas opened Joyful Sounds in the Blackport Building at 959 Lake Drive SE six years ago with two different 45-minute classes – one for just pre-mobile infants and their caregivers, and the other a mixed class for ages birth to five and their caregivers. 

The most recent new hire, Sonja Noykos, will teach a new program with Music Together http://www.musictogether.com/
 curriculum designed specifically for ages five to seven without a caregiver, while music therapist Audrey Stein will bring a new level of expertise and potential to the program's scope. 

"I have wanted to have a music therapist on board, although our classes are inclusive for kids with more mild special needs. So, having her there, we are able to take on some kids that have a little bit greater needs," Venegas says, adding that with so much of special needs children's therapy being individual or one-on-one sessions, she hopes more families will be able to take advantage of a uniquely inclusive activity for families who want to connect. 

"The nice thing about this is that the families can come together and it's an activity that they can all do together with all of the siblings and the (parent)," she says. "In fact, a lot of what we do in there are things they do in their therapy or speech therapies and things like that but they just have a good time and it's in a really fun setting." 

Venegas says she expects to open a second location in the near future and "imagines this time next year (Joyful Sounds) will have a lot more going on," but says right now she's focusing on outreach efforts and hopes to partner with organizations like Bethany Christian Services to offer classes to families with foster children or other organizations that help young mothers and pregnant teens. 

"We're sitting on a lot of potential right now and there are a lot of avenues that we're going to be [exploring] so I feel like yes, we have grown quite a bit since last year, but I also feel like we're kind of sitting on the verge of a lot of bigger growth," she says. "It's endless. The possibilities are endless, so we're putting out our feelers across the board."

For more information on Joyful Sounds Music Studio and the Music Together program, visit www.kidsmusicgr.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Joyful Sounds Music Studios, LLC. 

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Davenport's "Employment Guarantee" putting the money where the mouth is

Davenport University's recent announcement of its innovative 'Employment Guarantee' for accounting students is generating a buzz in the region. And it is just the beginning.  

Executive Director of Career Services Shelley Lowe says the accounting program, which she describes initially as a "pilot program," will be the first of several student guarantees that will position Davenport as a leader in professional and career education. "We are putting the money where our mouth is," she says. "We are  confident we are preparing students and programs that are in high demand."

The innovative "Guarantee" will provide additional semesters of education for accounting graduates unable to find employment in their field of study within six months of graduation. Davenport is one of only a handful of schools in the country that have similar programs.  

To be eligible, students have to meet several criteria laid out by the program, such as maintaining a 3.0 GPA in their major and overall, and internship and other experiential learning experiences. Qualified graduates unable to find employment may receive up to three additional semesters up to 48 credits total of instruction tuition-free, with students responsible for fees and books. The additional courses, worth up to $30,000, should help most students obtain a second major.

Lowe says she expects the program to spread to other colleges and programs beyond accounting such as nursing and technology. She says future roll-outs will be based on ongoing market analysis, and says Davenport is focused on educating current and future students about the program and the eligibility criteria. The core message: "Start preparing now. Start planning."  

Lowe highly recommends that students who want to get a head start in participating in this program should find as many experiential opportunities as possible. Her advice includes encouragement to "volunteer or get an internship" and "start building a professional network."

To learn more about the "Employment Guarantee," including the qualifications, visit the site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

It's official: It's back to school at coLearning

The Factory's coLearning program is now officially, official. The State of Michigan has certified the technology and design training and learning initiative as a proprietary school, a very important milestone for both the program and its students.

The certification will reinforce the learning outcomes for the students and assist in expanding career opportunities for coLearners who may be job-seeking upon completion of their course. For employers who invest in their employees' professional development, the certification demonstrates to clients their expertise in given areas. Certification will also help give employers and individuals access to funding through state programs like Michigan Works.

To date, the program has completed six courses and graduated over 100 coLearners. Amongst the courses that were scholarship-based, the leadership team at The Factory estimates a nearly 70 percent placement rate for individuals seeking jobs through coLearning courses.

The next round of coLearning courses begins September 4 and includes courses like Design Thinking, User Experience Design, Content Strategy, Intro to PHP, and Intro to Ruby. Aaron Schaap, Factory founder, says the new courses reflect the ongoing evolution of the program. "We continue to thrive in the technology space, but wanted to expand beyond the scholarship model for technical courses and reach the strong design community in West Michigan through our course offering," says Schaap.

To keep the engine humming, Schaap says that Annie Klooster will be taking over for Lauren Starrett, the past program director who is leaving for a new career opportunity, and that he anticipates adding more staff in the near future. Schaap says "coLearning is moving pretty fast and we are looking to hire more people to help grow the school. We don't have these roles finalized yet but most likely we'll continue to need people to help with admissions, recruitment, student services, and more."

To learn more about the program you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids exporting "geek expertise" thanks to The Geek Group

Grand Rapids has a long history of exporting technology, furniture, and automotive products throughout the world. Now it can add "geeks" to its latest list of exports.

The Geek Group has announced that a new chapter has opened in the SoDo District of downtown Seattle, WA. The SoDo MakerSpace will be just the second official chapter of the Geek Group. The Geek Group of Western Massachusetts opened six months ago in Springfield, MA.   

Josh Spencer, director of development at The Geek Group, describes the expansion as a "test franchise" which is the direct result of ongoing demand in communities from throughout the world that want an organization with the same values and creativity as the Grand Rapids-based The Geek Group.

Spencer says the success of The Geek Group is very appealing to other communities and that by working through a franchise model, new groups would be able to access "the largest group of makers in the world," a claim which he says based on their global membership of over 25,000 scientists, inventors, engineers, artists, tinkerers, and general geeks in over 140 countries. 

Spencer also says that by working through The Geek Group, new maker organizations can avoid growing pains by using their proprietary operating system, which can help groups with development, inventory control, point-of-sale, programming, membership, content management, and operations.   

In the short- to mid-term, Spencer says The Geek Group will be using the experiences from their first two chapters to help them learn and craft a scalable franchise program that will allow more cities to establish their own chapters. He says they anticipate adding a couple of more cities in the next year followed by a careful, growth-oriented expansion, saying that it is important to "to maintain our authenticity" and it is critical that "all Geek Groups keeps an eye on our core mission."

To learn more about The Geek Group, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Local 'Ed Tech' startup takes a student-centric approach to learning

Tom Bieniewicz and Scott Goldberg are the founders of Kickstand, an education technology startup based in Grand Rapids. Their first product is Edify, an individualized learning management system (IMLS) that the duo believes will have a significant impact on how school districts, teachers, students, and parents interact in the classroom.

Bieniewicz says that although the education industry is crowded with competition and often resistant to change, the opportunity for innovation is tremendous. "The learning management system (LMS) space is very large but our research has shown us that it is lacking a system that individualizes and customizes learning at the classroom level," he says. Bieniewicz says that many systems are merely platforms to manage content, which serves a purpose, but they are not designed for any level of customization, which he says is critical to meeting the different learning styles of students.

"Our offering, Edify, has these features (content management), but our differentiator is that we truly individualize learning by having a student-centered system that has tens of thousands of learning resources and question types which are tagged to a state standards," he says. Bieniewicz says when a student answers a question incorrectly on a assessment, their software automatically identifies the appropriate resources (videos, tutorials, etc.) so the student can review the most relevant material.

The startup currently employs seven and has immediate openings for developers and teacher consultants, who will work directly with school personnel to train and assist in implementation.

To support the growth of the business, Goldberg and Bieniewicz are electing to use crowd funding instead of venture capital, and have just launched a Kickstarter campaign.  

To learn more about Kickstand and Edify you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

 

Literacy Center offers bilingual positions, hopes to bring literacy to more West MI families

Reflecting its mission, "building a literate community and transforming lives by strengthening reading and language skills," the Literacy Center of West Michigan is offering new positions for bilingual, English and Spanish, speakers.

The Literacy Center provides support to adults throughout West Michigan who need further help developing their literacy skills.

The two positions offered, a part-time community literacy assistant and receptionist position and a full-time program assistant, customized workplace English position, require similar skills from the candidates.

"We're looking for someone who has an interest and passion for working with people in the community," says Lindsay McHolme, director of the Community Literacy Initiative. "We want someone who values cultural awareness and inclusion and has professional communication and organization skills."

Of course, the most important requirement is bilingualism.

"As we seek to improve literacy in our community, we know there are more Spanish speakers now than there were 10 years ago," McHolme says. "We want to be accessible to the community. We're looking to meet all needs."

According to McHolme, 21 percent of adults in West Michigan are low literate: they have some reading skill, but not enough to easily function at a job. However, the Literacy Center's staff and its programs, like the Family Literacy Program, are reaching out to the community and improving those numbers.

"Seventy percent of children of Family Literacy Program families met their literacy growth target, according to district assessments," says Dan Drust, manager of the Family Literacy Program. "This group was compared to similar students whose parents had expressed a need for Family Literacy Services. Only 57 percent of comparison group children met their growth targets."

For more information, or to apply for a position, click here.

Writer: Nicholas Garbaty, Rapid Growth Intern
Images courtesy of Literacy Center of West Michigan

New locations opening bring 160 teacher, teacher's aide, admin jobs to Gilden Woods Preschools

Appletree Learning Centers and its partner program Gilden Woods Early Care & Preschool Centers are in the throes of opening at least four new Gilden Woods locations in Michigan, bringing some 160 new jobs to the state.

Appletree Learning Centers began in 1998, catering to children six weeks old through 12 years, offering early education opportunities, after-school learning and play environments, and enrichment programs that include Spanish, gymnastics, and music.

Since partnering with Gilden Woods Early Care & Preschool Centers in 2012, the company has opened its 13th school and looks to open four new schools in the near future: Portage (broke ground in April), Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Walker.

"We're planning to add 160 employees in the next year, most of whom will be teachers and teachers' aides," says Beth Johnson, marketing manager. "Early education equips the (children) for school so they are socially ready, emotionally ready, and mentally ready -- all the different facets of the early education program to help them be a success in school. We start with the infant, then they can stay at the same school for preschool, after-school programs, and summer camps."

Each new school opens some 40 positions: school directors, teachers, teachers' aides, cooks, and bus drivers and other support staff. About 75 percent of the jobs are full-time.

Teachers need qualifications such as a Bachelors, Child Development Associate (CDA), or Associates degree and/or CEU hours in child related fields to meet the Licensing Rules of Child Care Centers for the State of Michigan.  

"The culture here is based on the premise 'Would this be best for my own child?'" Johnson says. "We want to hire people who want to establish relationships with these families, because they've trusted us to be a part of the development of their most precious gift, their child."

To find out more and to apply, click here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Appletree Learning Centers and Gilden Woods Early Care & Preschool Centers

Holland's Outdoor Discovery Center seeks nature lovers to fill two new job positions

Connecting people with the joys of our natural surroundings, instilling a love of the earth, and developing programs that nurture caretaking of our wetlands and its inhabitants are opportunities awaiting new employees of Holland's Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway.

The nonprofit organization, located at 4214 56th St., seeks to fill two new positions immediately: naturalist and program assistant.

Due to growth Executive Director Travis Williams calls "phenomenal," the 150-acre center hired seven employees in the past 12 months, and recently added the two new positions to help the center keep up with its popularity among schools, church groups, and visitors.

"The Outdoor Discovery Center started in 2000 to connect people with the outdoors through education programs for area schools, community churches, scout groups, libraries, teaching about the outdoors and natural sciences," Williams says. "We merged with the Macatawa Greenway in 2009 to preserve and protect land along the Macatawa River, about a 10-mile river corridor, to protect the water quality, create park spaces, protect wildlife."

The organization maintains trails through wetlands, woods, and meadows, manages a visitor center that hosts upwards of 37,000 visitors a year, plus feeds and cares for birds of prey, reptiles, and amphibians.  

The naturalist will help manage the visitor center, engaging with the public in face-to-face presentations and answering questions, and helping develop educational programs for schools and other community groups. The ideal candidate will have at least five years' experience in natural sciences or outdoor education, and/or a degree in a related field.

The program assistant will perform some of the same face-to-face engagement with visitors, but will work only on weekends. Other responsibilities include helping prepare programs.

Both positions require someone who will care for the birds, reptiles, and amphibians, clean their cages, water the native garden around the building, and even help with posting on social media.

"All of our employees have to be interested and willing to handle live animals and talk to the visitors," Williams says.

To apply for one of the positions, stop by the center or call. Click here for contact information.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway

GR Current adds new entrepreneur-in-residence

Dr. Stanley Samuel has joined GR Current as an entrepreneur-in-residence, where he will focus on helping to grow the life science and medical device community in the region.

In his new role, Dr. Samuel will provide a wide range of consulting and coaching for startups, from ideation to technology validation. He will also help advise on company structure, business planning, investor pitches and plan out the regulatory path with the FDA. "Any company in (the) medical device and life science industry needs an understanding of how a product is received by the FDA. It is very important to lay it out early and get feedback," says Samuel.

Besides his role with GR Current, Dr. Samuel is the founder of OcuSano, Inc, one of several life science startups that is choosing to base their operations in Grand Rapids, even though the region is not yet really known for these types of businesses. "The industry is not real well known here yet," says Samuel. "GR  Current wants to focus on recruiting talent to West Michigan. Life science can be a big job creator." Dr. Samuel adds that these are typically high paying professions, including engineering, drug development, chemists and pharmacology.

If interested in accessing the services at GR Current, Dr. Samuel suggests you make an appointment and drop in to their new facility: "Go to GRCurrent.com and you can contact anyone on the team." He says you don't need a business plan to make an appointment. "You can come with an idea. We are encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit," he says.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

The Geek Group launches new program to support grassroots innovation

There is a new resource in town for the ever-growing community of inventors and entrepreneurs.

The Geek Group has announced a new program called ‚ "Destructive Innovation Tuesday" which takes place every Tuesday from 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. Anyone who has an idea for a new project, product, or experiment will have the opportunity to share their idea with a revolving panel of manufacturing and science experts who then will provide feedback and assistance with taking the idea to the next level.

Josh Spencer, director of development at The Geek Group, says their program exists to fill the need for manufacturing assistance and serve as a gateway for other programs in the community like Start Garden and GR Current. "We see  ourselves as a feeder system. We are the first step for people with ideas," says Spencer. 

Spencer says that they feel individuals will have a much better chance to have their idea funded by working through The Geek Group's program, especially for entrepreneurs in the science and manufacturing space.

The program will be free for members of The Geek Group and $10 for non-members. Since space is limited, participants are required to register by contacting Josh Spencer by email at josh.spencer@thegeekgroup.org.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Serving more schools creates need for two Kent School Services Network coordinators

Kent School Services Network, a human services organization that serves 16,000 students in 28 Kent County schools, seeks two new coordinators who are bilingual in English and Spanish.

Part of the need comes from KSSN adding a new school, Westwood Middle, to its client list.

"We're in our eighth year as community school initiative, bringing health and human services to the poorest schools," says Executive Director Carol Paine-McGovern. "We break down barriers to learning, create a neighborhood hub at the schools so students and parents don't have to drive to get the help they need. We're creating opportunities for services right in the school setting where they're comfortable."

Each school coordinator works within a specific school, communicating with faculty, students, and parents to get help for students who don't get enough to eat at home, don't have clothing, have transportation issues, or maybe have parents who don't speak English.

They coordinate connections with agencies who can provide services, such as Network180 and the Department of Human Services. Children who are struggling in school, or whose families need food stamps, family therapy, or other interventions, can be referred to the KSSN coordinator by a teacher or principal, or can come to the coordinator directly.

With the addition of Westwood Middle School, the coordinator from Burton Elementary/Middle will move to Westwood, leaving an open coordinator position at Burton. A second position is at Stocking Elementary.

Paine-McGovern says she's looking for someone with a bachelors' degree, who is bilingual and has an entrepreneurial spirit, with strong communication skills and the ability to speak to groups and pull various people together for a common cause.

"You're not in an office, you're out in the schools melding a lot of job responsibilities and juggling lots of types of partnerships," she says. "We want someone who can be a strong communicator with principals, teachers, parents, and partners in the process."

To apply, click here, then on Employment Opportunities.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Kent School Services Network
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