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Help wanted: Must be interested in making a difference in the community

Are you interested in helping to end homelessness in Grand Rapids? How about making sure the West Michigan business community grows and local neighborhoods thrive? Or being in a classroom and shaping the next generation of citizens?

If any of these descriptions describe you, check out these three organizations that have openings for jobs that can make a significant impact in the community and in the lives of people throughout our area.

1. Well House is growing and looking for a Chief Operating Officer.

If you interested in being an agent of change in the community and being part of an organization that is tackling the issue of homelessness in an innovative way, Well House Executive Director Tami Vandenberg has the job for you.
“This is an incredible opportunity to help shape the future of Well House and the movement we are building to change the conversation around homelessness in our community,” Vandenberg says. “This position will interact with a wide cross-section of the city including people living on the street, elected officials, funders and service providers. A rare opportunity to have lasting impact in people's lives as well as the city's housing future."

For more information, you can view the application here and the Well House website here.

2. The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has two new leadership positions posted.

If you are  interested in economic development and being part of the team that has significant impact on West Michigan’s business growth and success, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has recently announced  two new opportunities to join its senior leadership team. The two available positions are Vice President of Talent Development and Vice President of Marketing & Communications.

You can view the jobs here and learn more about the Chamber here

3. The GVSU Charter School Portfolio has multiple job openings in both east and west Michigan

If education, teaching and learning is your passion, Erin Abel has a series of job openings in the GVSU Charter School Portfolio that might be what you are looking for. “We’re the first accredited charter authorizer in the nation,” Abel notes. Beyond the intrinsic value of working in education, Abel explains there are significant professional and personal development opportunities. “What you get working at a GVSU charter school: M.Ed tuition reimbursement, free professional development, a statewide support network, and career satisfaction,” Abel says.

You can view the employment opportunities through the GVSU Charter Portfolio here.

If you’re looking for a new career or position, keep an eye on our jobs and innovation section. Rapid Growth will be highlighting other interesting jobs across many sectors in the upcoming months.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Building respect: Grand Rapids launches bicycle safety campaign to curb crashes, grow awareness

It’s no secret that motorists and bicyclists don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to navigating the streets of Grand Rapids.

Individuals have aired frustrations over how to interact with the 80 miles of new bike lanes introduced in the city since 2010, others are unaware of the bicycle ordinances, and people are fed up with bad behavior displayed by both motorists and bicyclists, according to research commissioned by the city in 2015.

Still, that same research reports residents believe that drivers and bicyclists can share the road together in harmony — something that is particularly needed in a city with the second highest fatal bike crash ratio in Michigan.

But, how, exactly can this happen?

City and state officials hope much of the answer lies in a bicycle safety education campaign, Driving Change, they unrolled Monday at City Hall.

“Our number one goal is that Grand Rapids is a safe place for everyone,” whether you are a bicyclist, driver, skateboarder, or pedestrian, Bliss said at Monday’s campaign launch.

A multi-tiered education plan that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is funding to the tune of $632,000, Driving Change culminates local officials’ year-long effort to better understand the reasons behind the high rate of crashes involving vehicles and bicycles. The campaign will feature television ads (which can also be seen here), billboards, radio commercials, and social media and other digital ads that aim to educate drivers and cyclists about safe behavior on the roads.

“We know we need to build respect between cyclists and motorists,” Bliss said.

Additionally, the city will be handing out 1,000 free bike lights on a first-come, first-served basis. The lights will be given out at various community events, and individuals can pick them up at the Development Center at 1120 Monroe.

The initiative will promote a series of key rules, including:
  • Motorists passing a bicycle must leave at least five feet between the right side of their vehicle and a bicyclist, a standard that was passed by the City Commission in 2015 and went into effect this year.
  • Bicyclists must make sure they’re visible on the road and use a forward white light and rear reflector, or white light, when riding at night.
  • Motorists need to watch out for their cyclist colleagues, particularly when making a right-hand turn.
  • Bicyclists must obey all traffic signals and signs.
  • Bicyclists should stick to the roads, not the sidewalks. Additionally, there are places where cycling on the sidewalk is prohibited, including downtown Grand Rapids.

Police noted during Monday’s event that the goal will not be to issue citations against drivers or cyclists who violate the bicycle-related ordinances, unless officers believe them to be necessary. Instead, law enforcement and more than 60 community partners, including the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, will focus on distributing the educational materials.

“Grand Rapids will be a model for cities in Michigan and beyond,” said Grand Rapids Bicycle Police Officer Eric Gizzi, who was joined at Monday’s event launch by police officials from throughout Kent County, including East Grand Rapids and Walker.

Grand Rapids is the first city in Michigan that MDOT is working with on an initiative like this, and Josh DeBruyn, the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator at MDOT, noted that the decision to allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars in support stemmed from the fact that the city has one of the worst bicycle-related crash rates in the state. Between 2008 and 2014, the most recent data available, Kalamazoo had the highest fatal bicycle crash ratio, Grand Rapids had the second highest, and Detroit and Lansing came in at the third highest. In Grand Rapids, there were 71 bicycle-involved crashes in 2014, 85 in 2013 and 93 in 2012. Of these crashes, there was one fatality in 2013 and another fatality in 2012.

De Bruyn also noted that Grand Rapids has a large, and growing, bicycle culture, making it that much more important that a sustainable truce between drivers and bicyclists occurs. An MDOT-commissioned study shows the annual economic and health benefits for Grand Rapids associated with bicycling total approximately $39.1 million each year, including $8.3 million on the purchase of bicycling-related items, $2.6 million in manufacturing, $13.5 million in avoided health care costs, $10.3 million in reduced absenteeism (i.e. people are able to make it to work), and $4.3 million in event and tourism spending.

Plus, the community has the largest bicycle industry presence in the state, and bicycling is a crucial element of the city’s larger commitment to sustainability in the city, Grand Rapids City Planner Suzanne Schulz said.

“Our Driving Change campaign fits with the city’s placemaking strategies and aligns with the vision of Grand Rapids business and civic leaders who understand bicycling can serve as a tool to help attract and retain talent in an ever-increasing competitive employee recruitment landscape," Schulz said.

For more information, you can visit the Driving Change website and Facebook page.

Photos by Tommy Allen, logos courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids.

Have an idea to make your neighborhood, city & world a better place? Pitch it at GVSU's 5x5 night

GR Current's March 5x5 Night is rather unique. Instead of entrepreneurs pitching ideas for their own business ideas and $5,000 in funding, individuals will be pitching ideas to develop new or existing community-based initiatives that provide value to local neighborhoods, communities or the world.

Kevin McCurren, Executive Director, The Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Ruth Stegeman, Assistant Dean and Director for Community Engagement at the College of Community and Public Service, are part of the team that is organizing this event.

Stegeman says the key component of this 5x5 Night are the connections between community partners, the owner of the idea and Grand Valley State University.
"We use a very broad description of the community partner: It could be a business, a non-profit organization, a faith-based initiative or a loose group of neighbors,” Stegeman says. “We are looking for ways to help these organizations sustain initiatives with the help of our school." 

She says the ideas can be new, or it can be about growing an existing program. These types of programs can be as diverse as funding for a research project, a development of an app that would help an organization with their mission or an after-school program. It is wide open. (You can get a sense of the range of  ideas by visiting the 5x5 Night site here and review the currently submitted ideas.)

McCurren says any GVSU faculty, staff, or student, preferably in collaboration with a community partner, can submit an idea. He also says the program is open to anyone in the community, but the goal will be to connect these individuals and community partners with GVSU resources.
"We think 5x5 is important and unique to West Michigan,” McCurren says. “For the university, it is a great way to foster community involvement."
For community partners or individuals without an existing GVSU connection, the organizing team is available to help facilitate a match.
"It is not just about the $5,000, it is about putting your idea out there and building a community of supporters and followers,” McCurren adds.

This approach to 5x5 Night is somewhat of pilot program and will be evaluated after it is over, but the goal would be to do it once every semester, McCurren says.

The program follows the same basic format as the more traditional 5x5 Nights. The top 5 ideas based on a public vote will be pitched to a panel of five judges for five minutes and with five presentation slides in efforts to win $5,000 in funding for the project. Submissions for new and existing initiatives are welcome.

If your initiative is selected as one of the top five, pitch coaching is available. The event is open to the public.

Submission deadline: Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Time of the public event: Wednesday, March 23, 2016, 5-7 pm¨Location: L.V. Eberhard Center (Room 201), 301 West Fulton Street, Grand Rapids.

Please visit www.5x5night.com in order to submit an idea, vote, or receive updates. For more information, send an email to: hello@5x5night.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Room to grow: Grand Rapids to host craft beverage workshop

The Craft Beverage Education Association will bring its one-day educational workshop targeting individuals interested in learning more about the craft beverage industry to the Grand Rapids Doubletree Airport on February 12.

Craig B. Rashkis, program chair, says the workshop is geared towards helping both new craft beverage business owners and entrepreneurs considering entering the market to navigate the complexities of industry.
"This is a highly regulated industry,” he says. “Many startup issues are the same in every business, but this industry introduces a whole slew of issues that are unique to the craft beverage industry."  

Rashkis says the material covered in the workshop is applicable  for anyone considering — or in the early stages of establishing — their own craft beverage business. 

It is full-day, hands-on workshop with discussions focusing on the entire craft beverage industry.
"We are not focused on one area, instead we are covering issues for breweries, wineries, distilleries, meaderies, and cideries,” Rashkis says, noting that someone can have a great recipe and is highly skilled in making their product, but they lack the business acumen or experience to turn their interest into a successful business.
"You know how to make the product, but what about everything else?” he asks. “Once you are running a business, you realize you need to start thinking like a business person."

Speakers include representatives from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, distributors and producers who have recently begun operations in Michigan, and groups focused on legal and insurance issues.

The Craft Beverage Education Association (CBEA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping its members from the wine, beer, spirits, cider and mead industries navigate the business of craft and artisanal beverage productionRegistration and programming information are located at www.craftbeverage.org/workshops. 

This will be second time this workshop has been held in the country. The Grand Rapids workshop is supported by Experience Grand Rapids, Promote Michigan, PR Pirates, and members of the Michigan Brewers Guild, Michigan Wine Council, Michigan Craft Distillers Association and Michigan Cider Association. 

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

It's back: Startup Weekend West Michigan returns to Grand Rapids

Startup Weekend West Michigan (SWWM) is the ultimate entrepreneurial muse.  It is 54 hours of pitching, prototyping, creating, developing, building, bonding, collaborating, and networking with over 150 aspiring entrepreneurs. Through osmosis alone, you can't help but be inspired.

The event is scheduled for January 15-17 at Kendall College and is being organized by individuals from emerge West Michigan, GR Current and Kendall College of Art and Design.

Lead organizer and marketing director at emerge, Samuel Ging, says SWWM is a perfect fit for West Michigan's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
"With the help of Startup Weekend participants, we want to create an environment where entrepreneurs can take risk, make purposeful connections and engage with a community that can push their idea forward,” he says.

Ging says the event is designed to get a ton of work and innovation done using the constraints of time.
"Participants of the at Startup Weekend have 54 hours to work through creating a pitchable business,” he continues. “You have literally 54 hours to go from an idea to an early stage venture." 

This year, the program is also serving as a feeder in the regional MWest Challenge, a collegiate-based business plan competition.  Ging says last year, Kayla Ita worked through her business concept, Re.Fresh, at Startup Weekend and went on to win the MWest Challenge.
"At Startup Weekend, her team went from an idea to working through the business model canvas, creating a business plan, to building a prototype, to creating a pitch deck,” he says. “Her company won $5,000,  three months later at MWest."

The program is part of a national organization that hosts similar events around the world every weekend. It is in its seventh year here and is open to anyone to participate. The program flows from business pitches, team formation and planning on Friday night to development all day on Saturday and Sunday morning.  The event culminates with final business pitches before a panel of judges on Sunday afternoon.

Throughout the event, there will speakers and business mentors available to help teams overcome any hurdles they might be experiencing. 

A big emphasis of SWWM is on learning and networking.  If your idea is not selected to move forward on Friday night, you are expected to stick around and pitch in by joining a team that is working on a project you find interesting.

To register for the event, click here. To learn more about the event, click here.

Lead sponsors are emerge West Michigan, GR Current, KCAD, Start Garden, and GVSU CEI.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Hook a Sista Up provides support for women entrepreneurs

Hook A Sista Up (HASU) is a local networking group focused on entrepreneurship, collaboration and helping women be more successful with their businesses and careers.  Its mission is to help women entrepreneurs launch their business ventures faster and sustain them longer through collaboration and mentorship.

Linda Otterbridge is the founder of HASU. She started the organization just over two and a half years ago. She says there was a need for an organization that addressed the unique needs of professional women. "Women have several interesting challenges, especially around time," she says. "They juggle home, kids and careers."   

Otterbidge says the group has monthly check-ins that provide accountability checks based on previous goals and also serves as a platform to set new business goals. HASU also hosts member events for women entrepreneurs interested in starting a new venture and has programming for existing business owners focused on sustainability and growth.

All members are expected to "collaborate not compete" says Otterbridge. "The main blueprint for the group is connecting the sisterhood of women entrepreneurs."

The meetings are typically $10 to attend and there is a $75 annual fee for membership.  More information, including meeting times, programming and locations, can be found on the website here.  

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Ed-tech startup Kickstand has new interface to take on reading literacy

Ed-tech startup Kickstand is rolling out something new: EdifyK4, the new interface for the company's flagship product Edify. It's designed as part of a grant that was awarded by the Michigan Department of Education for the development of at-risk, early reading challenge systems using tools that will help teachers throughout Michigan to identify and provide resources to those students who are not reading proficiently at grade level.

The new interface is an easy-to-read dashboard. It went live on September 30 and is being rolled out to several school districts in Michigan targeting K-4th grade.  

EdifyK4 features checklist assessments, comprehension rubrics, reading lessons, educational resources, 24/7 access and real-time feedback for students, teachers, administrators and parents. To keep students engaged, game-like elements have been incorporated to capture their attention and make learning fun.

Ruth Hester, elementary education specialist with Kickstand and former teacher, says the EdifyK4 interface brings together the entire educational ecosystem by capturing assessment data with an easy to use and understand dashboard: "I was an elementary teacher and I had to keep track of all the different tests, assessments and personal notes using binders, folders and spreadsheets, which I manually needed to update - when I had time." She says with EdifyK4, all this information is now consolidated and ready to view in real time.  She says parents can also view this information through a mirrored portal, also in real time, so they can be completely engaged with their child's learning.

Kickstand, LLC is an education technology startup company, founded by Tom Bieniewicz and Scott Goldberg. Its products are are similar to an individualized learning management system but are designed to serve multiple stakeholders, teachers, students and parents as they interact in the classroom and at home. Edify and the new release of EdifyK4 provide courses in science, math, social studies and English language arts.

To learn more about Kickstand, Edify, and EdifyK4, you can view their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor


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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Children, parents move to happy rhythms at growing Joyful Sounds music experience studio

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.
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