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Grand Rapids Mobile Monday Chapter relaunches

Linda Daichendt, executive director of MTAM (Mobile Technology Association of Michigan), the parent organization behind the Grand Rapids Mobile Monday chapter, says new leaders are in place to reestablish the organization. "The original chapter launched in 2011 with a volunteer leadership group and met quarterly for a while," she says. "However, due to relocations and job changes, the original volunteer group had to step aside and the chapter went on hiatus until MTAM could find a new volunteer organizer."

The new Steering Committee Chairperson is Al Juarez, Director of Business Development at RX Networks. Arrangements are also being finalized for a host sponsorship from Priority Health, where the group will meet on a monthly schedule on Monday evenings. (Visit their Meetup site here for meeting times and subjects.)

Daichendt says the timing is perfect for the group to become active again: "There is a very vibrant mobile and wireless technologies community in West Michigan; from mobile app development to wireless charging to use of wireless technology in surgery and much more."  

She says the organization draws from a wide variety of business and technology professionals. "Mobile Mondays have very broad appeal and the audience changes based on the topic being presented," she says. "If the topic is focused on something related to the 'how-to's' of mobile app development, you're likely to see a very large contingent of mobile developers, UX/UI specialists, graphic designers, etc." Likewise, if the topic is focused on mobile applications and healthcare, you would likely see CEO's, CIOs, hospital tech staff, and doctors alongside tech experts who want to work with the healthcare industry.

There are currently four active chapters in Michigan (Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing and Grand Rapids) with over 2900 members state-wide. Information about Mobile Monday Michigan can be found at http://MobileMondayMichigan.org.

Daichendt says Juarez is still seeking additional volunteers to assist him on the organizing committee. If interested, contact Juarez through the Meetup site.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Collective Idea and the culture of calm

Since the beginning of the year, Collective Idea, a Holland, Michigan-based software development consultancy, has added eight software developers and designers to its team.  

That is no small accomplishment. Besides growing revenue to sustain eight new jobs, finding and hiring qualified, creative tech talent when seemingly every organization in the region is looking to add software developers and designers is very impressive.

Daniel Morrison, founder, says that although it's true that the market for software professionals is competitive, West Michigan technology firms are well positioned to compete on a national level for talent. "The software industry is a very competitive market right now nationwide. Silicon Valley can tempt people with high salaries, but we are easily competitive when you factor in our quality of life and low cost of living," he says.  

Morrison says that besides the relatively low cost of living and high quality of life in West Michigan, he also has purposefully created a culture where creative people can do great work and find the elusive work-life balance. "We have a culture of calm which is different from many startups, which can be manic," he says. "We work hard, but go home at night and take vacations. We are valuable to our clients because we do great work and don't burn out. We take care of our employees by offering a strong work-life balance, great benefits and investment in their continuing education." Recently the firm added a small fleet of bicycles for the team to use around Holland for trips to the lake or area restaurants and festivals.

Collective Idea's newest team members have come from all over the country with a variety of backgrounds of interests and talents. They include Dana Jones, Laura Mosher, Brianna Onken, Ray Brown, Mike Kopchick, Joshua Kovach, Ben Lambert, and Jon Stokes.  

Equally important to its culture, Morrison says finding the right fit and mix of qualified programming talent is essential. "Without a doubt, the more diverse people you have on a team, the better the team executes," he says. "Our industry skews heavily toward white males, so we're always excited when we can bring underrepresented groups into the mix. That said, we didn't do anything specific to hire women; we simply didn't limit ourselves to people who fit a stereotype."

Founded in 2005 by Morrison, Collective Idea creates innovative software experiences for multinational companies, small startups and everything in between for organizations around the country.

For more information at www.collectiveidea.com

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Meredith Bronk on work-life balance, career success and happiness

How can a person who runs a $160-million-dollar business, with almost 200 employees and offices in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis and London, England, maintain any semblance of work-life balance?

It's pretty simple. It starts with purposefully making time to be happy.

Meredith Bronk, CEO and president of OST, was recently recognized as one of the top 50 women entrepreneurs in America by Inc. Earlier, OST made the Inc. 5000 list for the 9th consecutive year, highlighting the company's 83 new hires and three-year average growth rate of 57 percent.

Besides her responsibilities and success at OST, Bronk is also very involved in the community, serving as a board member of United Bank and the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. She is a committed mentor to other business professionals and is a wife and mother to three active girls, ages 15, 13 and 11.   

So with schedule like that, how do you maintain any semblance of work-life balance?

Bronk credits her commitment to the "happiness challenge" to achieving balance in her life. She says she was introduced to the program while in the Executive MBA program at Notre Dame, and now makes the five tenets of the challenge part of her daily and weekly routine. "The 'happiness challenge' has five habits; regular exercise, meditation, journaling, daily acts of gratitude and random acts of kindness, she explains.

Bronk recommends these five habits for anyone needing a system to find balance in their lives. She acknowledges that it does take time and discipline to make these part of your daily and weekly routines, but the key is to make a commitment. "To get started, you take and practice what you can" and over time there will be a transformational effect, helping you become "the best version of yourself" both at work and at home.

To learn more about OST you can visit their site here. You can also read about their recent recognition by Inc. here and 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

 

New drone concept promises a voyage to the bottom of the sea

Matt Gira and his merry team of collegiate innovators, tinkerers and entrepreneurs are working on a cool, new project combining drone technology with practical, consumer applications.

Gira and his team of Danny Vessells, John Boss and Matt Webb are juniors at Hope College. They've been working with the school's Center for Faithful Leadership (CFL) program for over two years on a variety of ventures.

The current product that has Gira and CFL advisor Seth Getz excited is an underwater drone called Fathom. Gira describes the concept: "Fathom is a drone that allows for any research team, fisherman, diver or curious individual to explore the waters around them."  

Gira says the drone is designed to be easy to use, with the ability to control it from a smartphone or smart device while displaying a live video feed on the screen. "Additionally, its biomimetic motion makes it very intuitive to use, as well as making it move more naturally in the water, like a fish rather than a robot," says Gira.

The product is in the early stages of development. The team has 3D printed a model, and Gira says it's getting closer to working. "The camera works; we're still figuring out the movement part of it," he says. "Lots of programming going on right now for the internals of Fathom and for the app that will be the controls. We're hoping in the next few months to be in the water testing it out. Earliest I would say is May, but we'll definitely be launching this summer."

Gira's goal is to keep the cost around $500 which he feels is a feasible price point for commercialization. The team has secured partial funding for development through a collegiate business competition and they have applied to StartGarden and plan on a summer Kickstarter campaign.  

Getz says the product reminds him of another recent gadget that is now extremely popular.  "It's easy to see a comparison between this product and the GoPro product," he says. "They are developing this with extreme ease of use in mind and at a price point that will potentially make it the must-have product for the water-based enthusiast."

To learn more about Fathom, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

The EC Group reaches out to early stage companies needing I.T. support

The EC Group has added two interns for the summer, with a focus on creating marketing content for the mission-driven firm that helps organizations build remote and hybrid I.T. teams.

The new members of the team are Maria VanDyken, a film and writing major at Calvin College, and Ben Fenlund, a business and marketing student at Bethel University.

Mike Sudyk says the push to develop more marketing content is part of an ongoing process to increase awareness of their firm's service and to educate the  business community about the benefits of using remote I.T. talent to complement their existing core team of developers. "We are looking to partner with early stage companies," says Sudyk, who says there can be a negative connotation and lack of understanding about how to utilize remote tech workers, especially overseas. "They (early stage companies) are having a problem finding people locally. Being able to have a remote team come behind the core team can be a real asset," he says.

Sudyk says his company employs 70 full-time workers in India and has four full-time staff in Grand Rapids plus two sales reps. He anticipates bringing on another full-time team member in the next six months.

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

BandA Tech Solutions provides small businesses with big business I.T. support

As more small businesses realize that I.T. is key to their success and mission, the bigger the opportunity there is for service firms to fill that need.

A case in point is the growth of Holland-based BandA Tech Solutions. Founded in 2011 by Bill Badran, the firm provides a wide variety of I.T. management, support and training services for small businesses.

Badran says his company has experienced steady growth since entering the market three years ago and credits his firm's approach to customizing I.T. support for each of his clients. "We begin with a tech assessment, first evaluating staff and hardware," he says. "The assessment then helps determine staffing and training needs."  

Badran says his firm has worked within multiple sectors in the private sector and recently has begun to explore opportunities to provide managed I.T. services and training in the nonprofit sector. "We feel there are opportunities in the nonprofit sector and are working with nonprofit throughout the country," says Badran. "They question 'how do we stay on top of technology without relying on volunteers?'"

Besides traditional I.T. services, Badran says his firm is expanding into training businesses how to use and leverage social media, new devices and, in the case of health care, be compliant with privacy and security regulations.

Currently BandA Tech has four full-time employees, with Badran anticipating more jobs to be added in the upcoming months.

To learn more about BandA Tech, you can view their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Up, up and away: Mighty in the Midwest is on the move

Mighty in the Midwest is a Grand Rapids-based web and mobile design and development company. It values organizational culture, collaboration, craftsmanship and its clients. It works on cool projects and it's growing. What's not to like?

Cliff Wegner, founder and CEO, says the firm  has been on a steady diet of growth since it was founded in 2007 with one employee, a 300-square-foot office and a focus solely on web development. "We have grown in staff and services," Wegner says. "We started with only web development and now provide content strategy, project management, and full-service web and mobile design and development. We've doubled in size in the past year, 33% since January, and are moving into a new space three times our current size this summer (Trade Center, 50 Louis)."

Wegner credits his organization's culture as key factor in Mighty's growth: "We have great work and great clients. We are focused on working with clients for the long term. The majority of our clients have been with us for 3-6 years. We have a team that works with that client so there is a sense of personal ownership."  

Besides encouraging a culture that emphasizes long-term relationships, Wegner says the firm's consistently thoughtful approach to work is another significant part of its success. "We have a group that appreciates the details. It requires a level of humility," he says. "How can I get help? Can we work on this together? We really care about work and craftsmanship."

Current projects for Mighty include a complete, strategic redesign of Hope College's website, ongoing work with Start Garden, and their almost three-year relationship with ArtPrize, where Mighty is responsible for the digital and mobile experience.

While there are no immediate job openings, Wegner says he expects to be hiring again soon, anticipating a sales position to be open in the summer. "We hire very, very slowly," he says. "Meaning, we hire if and only when we really need to, which is why we have very, very little turnover."

To learn more about Mighty in the Midwest, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Big deals driving Breakupgoods.com to the next big jump in business

The big deal.

Literally speaking, the "big deals" with Breakupgoods.com are the great deals on a wide variety of products. The Holland-based startup offers consumers one of the largest online selections of distressed goods from around the country. It follows a business model very similar to the travel site, Kayak, by compiling the best product deals from various e-commerce platforms on one easy-to-use site. 

Figuratively speaking, the "big deal" is the growth.

The firm, which officially launched in Holland in 2013, currently employs five full-time staff and has a team of six contractors. The business also has hit several milestones, including 2 million users, over $69 million in total value of items listed, a $95,000 investment from StartGarden and the near completion of a "bridge round" of funding, which essentially closes the gap between seed investment and the next round of funding that the founder Tom Liravongsa says will allow him to make "the next big jump in business" - which, it turns out, is quite the jump.

The big jump.

Liravongsa says that because his company was able to "get massive traction," he has attracted significant interest from investors in Silicon Valley and will soon be moving Breakupgoods.com headquarters to the San Francisco area, where access to funding, talent and networking are aligned with his business needs. "At a networking event in Holland my extended reach is the local bank or attorney's office," he says. "What happens in the west coast when you talk about your site you immediately are taking to people with experience with Yelp, Google, and eBay. The density is entirely different."

Although needing to move away from West Michigan to grow might be disheartening to some, Breakupgoods.com will be adding jobs in West Michigan as its product development team remains local and opens an office in Grand Rapids.  

To learn more about Breakupgoods.com you can visit their site here. The company also has immediate job openings for an information architect and programmer. If interested you can mail an inquiry to info@breakupgoods.com

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

American Seating new product lines are designed for active learning

American Seating will be unveiling two new product lines at this year's NeoCon June 9-11 in Chicago. Both new product lines are designed to give instructors and students the ability and flexibility to configure the classroom to optimize the learning experience.

Rely is the table line design that features options for flip and nest storage plus a variety of options for sizes, mobile and stationary applications, edge profiles, finishes, power and data technology, wire management and modesty panels.

Complementing the table line, Nima is the family of chairs designed by the famous furniture designer Giancarlo Piretti. The chair's  articulating back movement provides for a more comfortable and ergonomic seating experience. Each chair in the line also offers stacking and mobility functionality.

Deb McDermott, vice president of marketing, says the trend toward "active learning" environments is changing the way many instructors and students interact: "Teaching and learning styles have changed over the years. More and more instructors want (the) ability to change the classroom quickly."  

McDermott says that today's classroom environment requires flexibility in how tables and chairs are organized in the classroom, especially for project-based learning that emphasizes collaboration and teamwork.  

Besides enhancing the instructional environment, there are also very practical issues that these new designs address. "One of the biggest challenges is when the student comes to class," McDermott says. She explains many students are coming into a class prepared for multiple classes -- and the ability to store extra books, laptops, tablets, water bottles and other material is a real challenge. "We did our research and observed the learning experience. There were many backpacks on the floor and they might reconfigure the desks  two to three times during a class."

McDermott also says both the Rely and Nima line also have a broader use within corporate learning and training environments.

The new products will be introduced at American Seating's permanent showroom on the 10th floor, space # 148 at NeoCon. The Rely line will be available for shipping in September. The Nima chair will be available in the spring of 2015. More information can be found at www.americanseating.com

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Growth at Quantum Leap Communications prompts company to seek more sales people

Quantum Leap Communications, a telecommunications company specializing in Voice Over Internet Protocol systems for businesses, plans to hire at least two more account executives immediately, and possibly another four in the next 12 months.

President Mike Borowka says he's looking for people who are able to prospect, network, and build solid relationships in the community.

"It's much less about having a technological or industry background," Borowka says. "We will train for the skills. We want people who are willing to be out there meeting, talking to people. It's preferred that they have some business-to-business contacts, but having the right synergy with the team is what's important."

Quantum Leap Communications, 2006 44th St. SE, Grand Rapids, installs and services ShoreTel, MiTel, Avaya, and Executone systems, and is an agent for all the major telecom carriers, such as AT&T. Determining the best telecommunications system for a client's needs and helping them choose the right telecom carrier are essential to Quantum's success.

"Even though we're a technology business, this is still a relationship business," Borowka says. "We try not to be too techie when we're finding out what's going on in a client's business -- what are the pain points, what keeps them up at night -- it makes it easier for us to connect the dots and ease the pain and correct the challenges they have."

Quantum Leap expanded into an 11,000-square-foot building last month and plans to use the space as a collaborative workspace where clients can come to brainstorm ideas and see what particular systems can do for them.

"We're trying to be a non-typical telecommunications company," Borowka says. "We're trying to get rid of the stigma of technology being intimidating. We want to know how we can make clients' lives easier, and make their employees more productive and happy in our little segment of their business."

To inquire about the sales positions, or to submit a résumé and cover letter, click here.  

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Quantum Leap Communications

Challenge the absurdity: An interview with Meredith Bronk, president of OST

Meredith Bronk is the new president of OST. She was one of the original seven employees who bought out OST (when it was a division in another company) in 2002. At that time, sales were around $5 million a year. Today, OST is forecasting sales of over $100 million for this fiscal year.

In a 2009 report about women in I.T., the conclusion was that, despite the prediction that technology job opportunities are expected to grow at a faster rate than all other jobs in the professional sector, the industry is failing to attract and retain highly qualified women. In a short interview, Bronk shares her insights and experiences about efforts to attract and retain women within technology.


RG: What is your assessment about the "state of the I.T." in terms of its ability to attract and retain highly qualified women?

MB: I think the stereotype of I.T. and technology is hard and slow to overcome but I think we are overcoming it. As I look at the statistics you shared from 2009 it was going in the wrong direction. I think about what has happened since then. You have Meg Whitman, president and CEO of HP in 2011; the CEO of IBM, Virginia Rometty in 2012; and Melissa Mayer in Yahoo in 2012. There is a surge of women leaders in the industry that is helping to change the stereotype.

We are also seeing that with our recent hires. We did not have any female consultants on staff a couple of years ago and we have hired three just in the last six months. We are seeing that the tide is changing over the last few years but it is slow.

I.T. is about problem solving. It's about communication and working with people and understanding business, business outcomes and business objectives. As you break the stereotype that I.T. is all about someone sitting in a dark corner at a keyboard, it becomes part of attracting diverse talent, including women, to the industry.

RG: What can companies do to change the current state of affairs?

MB: There are couple of things. I recently had the chance to attend the "50 Most Influential Women of West Michigan"luncheon and the keynote was Reshma Saujani, CEO and Founder of Girls Who Code.

I am often the only woman leader in the room and had stopped noticing. I had not necessarily, proactively, put myself out there as a female leader in technology. She (Reshma) made a comment: "You can't be what you can't see." As a female leader, creating awareness and being someone who girls can see, and that the possibility exists, has to be where it starts. She inspired me to embrace the fact that I am a female leader in technology and could be a motivator for others.

At OST, we are actively recruiting female talent. We are also engaging with BitCamp, we are engaging with younger girls, because the only way you can change the trend is to bring girls up in the industry from an earlier age.

I had someone tell me the other day, you have to challenge the absurdity of the status quo. That can translate well into women in technology and what we are doing and teaching.

The other thing is that women have to support other women in I.T. We have to be better at helping each other, putting ourselves out there and encouraging others to put themselves out there.

RG: If you could speak to classroom of 7th and 8th grade girls as part of a "career day" program, what would you say?

MB: I have three daughters, 4th, 6th and 8th grade. So I have an opportunity to talk to middle schools every day. The most important thing I tell them is, challenge the absurdity. Don't take everything at face value. And second, do what you love. Don't limit yourself and explore everything you can.
 

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

Grand Rapids photo editing firm grows business locally and globally

Many small businesses do not readily embrace globalization. In fact, some see globalization as a threat to their efforts. But Chris Palmer views it much differently. "PhotoUp is prime example of how globalization can have a real positive impact. It's globalization done the right way," he says.

Palmer is the CEO of PhotoUp, a web platform that brings together real estate photographers with professional photo editors. It was founded by Kristian Pettyjohn in 2012, with Palmer joining soon afterwards.

The firm's value proposition is two pronged: PhotoUp helps real estate photographers be more productive and efficient with their time, and it helps photo editors in emerging markets stay in their native country, earn a fair wage and continue their education.

From the perspective of a photographer, Palmer outlines the business dilemma: "A real estate photographer I talked to could not do (photograph and edit) more than four homes a day. He was stuck, tapped out at three to four homes a day. How do you grow your business that way?"

By using his firm's services, Palmer says a photographer can grow his or her business significantly by having someone else handling the editing, often times overnight.

Second, PhotoUp utilizes a team of professional creatives in the Philippines. Palmer describes his team of "Photoshop wizards" as being "high capacity, very creative, computer savvy." He says many of the employees in the Philippines are students and are paid market wages and take advantage of PhotoUp's employee benefit programs that provide resources to help build stronger communities and funding for ongoing education and training.

The decision to use the Philippines for a home base was partly the result of Palmer's direct experience of living and working in the country and his interest in using business as a tool for social enterprise. "Many students and professionals I met could not find good jobs in the Philippines but wanted to stay," says Palmer. He says many of these creative and talented individuals had to leave the country to find work, often in other industries not related to their career interests.

The PhotoUp team reflects its global mission. There are 20 employees in the Philippines, two in Grand Rapids (the company's headquarters) and two in other parts of the U.S. 

Confident that the demand for for higher quality, digital real estate photography will grow, Palmer says he anticipates hiring sales and customer service help in the summer of 2014.

To learn more about PhotoUp you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor


OST becomes the first Michigan partner of national leader in enterprise mobile app development

Open Systems Technologies (OST) has announced that they have become one of 20 premier partners with San Francisco, CA based Xamarin and the first partner in the State of Michigan.

Xamarin is a leader for enterprise, cross-platform mobile development. It is used by over 350,000 developers from more than a hundred Fortune 500 companies.

Brian Anderson, OST's business development manager for application development, explains the primary benefits of this relationship: "Their tools are very unique in the marketplace. Building individual apps is very expensive. We now can share all the code which accelerates the development and maintenance of apps. We will also have direct access with their firm. As we get opportunities, we can work with the right people and they will have the opportunity to come to us with projects." 

Anderson also says the relationship is opening up more job growth at OST as they look to hire developers to meet the customer demand for cross-platform mobile technology.   According to OST, their application development practice is one of the largest App Dev teams in Michigan, with annual revenues of $9 million and a roster of 30 full-time developers and 50 full-time contractors.

OST is an $80 million company with offices in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, Michigan; Minneapolis; and London, England.

To learn more about Xamarin you can visit their site here. To learn more about OST you can view their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
103 High Tech Articles | Page: | Show All
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