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And the winner of $50,000 is...

Andy Thomas, Starving Artist Brewing!

Thomas is the winner of the inaugural Mason County Momentum Business Plan Competition. His "nanobrewery" beat out four other competitors to win $50,000, which will be used to grow his business in Mason County.

A long-time craft beer enthusiast, Thomas has a wide variety of experience working in the industry including stints at the Jamesport Brewing Company, being certified as a craft beer judge, and as the founder of a local home brew club.

Thomas currently operates a small-batch brewery on his home property in Scottville, where he brews a handful of rotating beers for local distribution as well as contract brews for two Ludington restaurants. His business model is focused on controlled growth. He says  phase one of his business plan has been based on generating local sales through kegging, for which the demand is already exceeding supply,

The winning pitch as delivered by Thomas was focused on launching phase two of his business plan, which includes purchasing additional brewing equipment, building out addition space, and expanding distribution beyond Mason County. Thanks to a partnership with Grand Rapids-based Alliance Beverage Distributing, Starving Artist will be able to sell beer from Kalamazoo to Traverse City, and as far east as Lansing once he builds capacity.

Thomas is very optimistic about his business and the burgeoning craft beer scene in Mason County and has plans for growth beyond phase two. "Once our recipes are solid and our fan base is strong, we plan to expand into bottling and canning."  

Although Starving Artist Brewery is not a brew pub the brewery is open for tours by appointment. Call 231-794-1399 and leave a message. "People are always welcome to stop by. Just let us know when they are in the area so we can set some time aside,‚Äù says Thomas.  

The brewery is located at 624 S. Stiles, Ludington. Thomas also owns and operates the Ludington art gallery A.M. Galleries, hence the moniker Starving Artist.

To keep up with the latest for Starving Artist Brewery, follow their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs news editor

Spring GR alumnus, Alfield Reeves Photography, explores Grand Rapids people and events

Alfield Reeves Photography is a Grand Rapids-based photography business. The owner and operator is, naturally, Alfield Reeves, a native of the west coast African country of Liberia.

Reeves, who has lived in Grand Rapids most of his life, bought a camera while in college and fell in love with taking pictures. "After starting my photography page on Facebook, a friend of a friend saw some of my work and asked if I would do their wedding," Reeves says. "Since then I realized I could start a business and make a profit off of it. Never in my lifetime would I have imagined that I would start a business, let alone a photography business."

Reeves says he specializes in fashion photography, events, and portraits. He recently started a photo series called #ThePeopleOfGrandRapids (found on Instagram) where he explores downtown Grand Rapids. "I just talk to people and hear their stories, passions, interests and lives," he says. Reeves says this project led him to be asked to do a week-long Instagram takeover for Grand Rapids Magazine.

He says enjoying photography is only a small part of running a business. To help him build a stronger foundation, Reeves just completed Spring GR, a training, mentoring and networking program. "Spring GR helped me tremendously," he says. "It opened my eyes to a lot of things I wasn't thinking about as a business owner, such as controlling my costs, building a team, understanding my niche and other avenues to expand my business."

You can learn more about Alfield Reeves Photography through his website, Facebook page or Instagram.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Up, up and away with Worksighted

A Holland-based IT Services company, Worksighted, has made the Inc. 5000 fastest growing American companies list for the fourth consecutive year. It's a remarkable feat considering their humble beginnings 15 years ago.

Worksighted was founded by Mike Harris and Matt Nguyen in a basement with two employees and three customers. It now employs 44 full-time staff, including 28 engineers.

In the past year year alone the firm moved ahead 154 places on the Inc. 5000 list and their revenue increased 41 percent from $4.9M to $6.9M with a doubling of sales in the Grand Rapids market.

What's driving the growth? It's pretty basic, says Harris. "Honestly - it is the fact we have such an incredible team," he says. "We have the right people in the business and incredibly high employee retention. Nothing magic about it."

Harris says that, with the growth, they are always looking for the right people. He says anyone interested in working for Worksighted should go to the career page of their website and submit their resume.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor


It's a family affair at Creations by Jodi

You name it and Jodi Hardiman-Redmond can create it.

Creations by Jodi is the family-owned and operated business that helps people celebrate the special events in their lives. The business specializes in creating customized chocolate treats, gourmet cupcakes and other sweet treats.  

"Each one is unique," says Hardiman-Redmond, "and all are named after my grandchildren."  One speciality of the shop is chocolate-covered fruit: "All of our fruits are hand-dipped. Every piece." She says the process takes time, but the attention to detail is worth it.

Hardiman-Redmond says she started the business about 15 years ago, doing only a few jobs, but the demand has grown every year and she is now poised for a move to a brick and mortar location. "I have a vision for the business that I am following," she says. "I customize all our products and people trust me to work their business."

Until the move to a store front, the best way to contact Creations by Jodi is through her website. You can also follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Local Kickstarter campaign aims to preserve voice of the silent generation

It has the all the makings of an epic adventure: travel the 50 states to interview individuals born before 1940 and create an oral (and digital) history of the world before laptops, the web, wi-fi, smart phones and tablets. All it needs is a little kickstart.

Veronica Kirin, entrepreneur and web designer, is the creator of the Untold Stories of the Silent Generation Kickstarter campaign, which launched on August 20. With a goal of $5,000, the money raised will help fund Kirin on her travels throughout the United States.

Kirin, who has an anthropology degree, will interview, photograph and record the volunteer participants in the program. Each interview will feature a series of fourteen standard questions designed to explore a perspective about life before and after the technology revolution. It's a perspective that is rapidly vanishing as the "silent generation" ages.  As Kirin collects the data, the content is made available on her website. Once the project is completed, the interviews will be a part of book to published in 2016.

Kirin says she was inspired by a NPR show that stated many children today don't know the meaning of a telephone pole. To date, Kirin has already interviewed over 30 individuals in five states. She says that, so far, every interview is different but one common denominator is how these individuals feel that interpersonal communication has changed. "Many of the people I interviewed are a little worried about the loss of communication skills," she says.  

From a personal perspective, Kirin says the project has been transformational especially as it relates to her own choices: "Relying on instant messaging and texting, I've realized how far I have separated from friends." She says she now spends more time meeting in person or having long phone conversations.

Kirin also wants to encourage families of the interviewees to be aware of the history as she welcomes requests for the materials collected so they can be shared with preceding generations.

The project relies on nominations for interviewees, which are currently being accepted on the website. Participants must be over the age of 75 and willing to be interviewed in person. Interview questions and the oral release form are displayed on the website.

To learn more about the Kickstarter campaign, which ends September 19, you can visit the site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Great food and customer service are the secret ingredients for Lindo Mexico

When you have great food and great customer service, it should be no surprise that business is good. Very good.

The popular Mexican restaurant, Lindo Mexico, will be moving to its third location in the last five years, having continually outgrown each preceding location.

The new building for Lindo Mexico is currently under construction at 1742 28th St. SE in Wyoming. It previously was the home to Ponderosa restaurant. The opening is scheduled in September, pending final approval of a liquor license, almost five years to the day they opened in a small location on the corner of 28th St. and Clyde Park.

Gricelda Mata, owner and founder, says the new location is significantly larger and gives her the opportunity to add a full service bar, a bigger kitchen and more seats. In addition, Mata says there will be at least "4-5 new jobs" added.

Mata says Lindo Mexico has a few "Tex-Mex" offerings on the menu, but the real focus is on traditional Mexican food, made with fresh ingredients, inspired by her birthplace in Michoacan, Mexico.

Besides the great food prepared by her brother, Chef Cris Campos, Mata attributes her restaurant success to exceptional customer service. "I am very strict with the hiring," she says. 'We stress customer service at all times."

To learn more about Lindo Mexico, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New career assistance program launched by coLearning and TEKsystems

The Factory and TEKsystems have announced a partnership that will provide financial and career assistance to those taking The Factory's coLearning courses.

coLearning classes blend technology and design. They feature instructors who are "industry experts" says Aaron Schaap, founder of The Factory. "These are the people you want to become. They have working knowledge from doing it day in and day out." Courses range from Design Thinking and User Experience Design to Content Strategy, Modern Web Development and Software Development.

Schaap says over 200 people have already completed coLearning courses. He says the program is designed for individuals who have been in the workplace for a few years but understand the rapid pace of change in the economy necessitates constant career vigilance. "These individuals are realizing what they graduated with is not what is needed," he says. "They have a lot of knowledge but not skills."

TEKsystems has been involved with coLearning since the launch of the program in 2013. The new partnership gives TEKsystems a bigger role as they now will be offering career assistance (customized career planning, resume building, interviewing tips, job placement) and financial reimbursement for completed courses and successful employment.  

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids-based US Signal opens new division, adds jobs

US Signal is launching the Professional Services team, a new division that will focus on data transfer and migration.  

The team can serve as an extension of a client's IT staff and assist with infrastructure assessments, installation and building of virtual environments, migration to the cloud and training as needed.

Adam Kessler, director of information systems, says the formation for the new division came simply from listening to their customers: "A big reason we created this new group was from talking with customers. We discovered a gap in what we offered and what was needed," Kessler says. "Our customers needed services wrapped around our infrastructure."

Kessler says with the new division US Signal has already added new jobs and he anticipates more openings in the near future. "As a service department, the product is the people. As we onboard more customers, we plan to grow head count," he says.

US Signal has over 14,000 miles of lit fiber and metro rings in 23 tier-one, tier-two, and tier-three markets. US Signal's product portfolio includes colocation, disaster recovery, security and cloud hosting services to complement its network offerings.

For more information about US Signal click here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Cheers! Warner Norcross & Judd launches Craft Beer Industry Group

Warner Norcross & Judd LLP has launched a new Craft Brewery Industry Group, becoming one of the first law firms in Michigan to provide an integrated team approach for the multibillion-dollar craft brewing industry. The group is designed to help hops processors, breweries, bars and restaurants navigate a complex regulatory environment and manage all the issues that come with "growth."

The industry group is chaired by Ian R. Kennedy. He says one of the compelling needs for businesses within this industry revolves around governance decisions. "The biggest needs we are seeing are associated with managing startup businesses and expansions," Kennedy says, "how the entities are formed and the business structure. Going forward it is about figuring out expansion: how to access capital, issues with financing and partnering with other service providers."

Kennedy says the "sheer explosion" of growth makes this a very interesting industry to work with: "We've seen huge jumps in production in the last 20-25 years."

He says the growth and popularity is easily seen in many different parts of the supply chain. "You walk down a beer aisle in a retailer now, and it's like a wine aisle, with so many different brands to select from," Kennedy says.

While Kennedy does not necessarily see another major craft brewer like Founders or Bell's emerging (although he does not rule it out), he says there is still plenty of opportunity for growth within the craft beer sector. "I don't know if we'll see another giant emerge but there is a strong  presence for local beer in local communities," he says. "There are still plenty of niches to inhabit."

The group is a new subset of Warner's Agribusiness & Food Industry Group. Michigan brewers who have already begun working with the firm include Arcadia Brewing, BarFly Ventures, Founders Brewing Co., Perrin Brewing and several more.

Warner Norcross is a corporate law firm with 230 attorneys practicing in eight offices throughout Michigan: Grand Rapids, Holland, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Macomb County, Midland, Muskegon and Southfield.

To learn more about this group, you can check out their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Inforum moves to Blue35, prepares to hire Director of Corporate and Member Engagement

Inforum, a statewide professional organization focused on accelerating careers for women and boosting talent initiatives for companies, has moved its West Michigan office to Blue35 in downtown Grand Rapids.

Inforum offers a portfolio of leadership development programs for women to hone their leadership skills and advance their careers. These programs serve a broad range of women in different stages and types of careers, from nonprofit professionals to emerging and rising corporate leaders, tech entrepreneurs, veterans, and corporate board leadership.

As an organization where networking and collaboration are central to its mission, Jacqueline Wiggins, COO of Inforum, says the the move to downtown Grand Rapids from the southeast suburbs is significant. "It is very important that we move into the downtown area," she says. "We've been looking for a suitable location for several years. Blue35 is an incredible location."

Wiggins says that since opening their downtown branch in March, the new location has even changed the way they do business in West Michigan, specifically encouraging them to showcase their office setting and do more events in-house. "With all the amenities and services offered by Blue35, we now are hosting meetings instead of going to other locations," she says.

Wiggins also says that the organization is in the process of hiring a full-time Director of Corporate and Member Engagement, who will be working out of the Grand Rapids location but with state-wide responsibilities: "We know the importance of having someone in the community."

Besides Grand Rapids, Inforum has an office in Detroit, where the organization was founded in 1962. To learn more about their work, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Startup accelerator launches, announces new executive director

Rebecca Stein is the new executive director of emerge Xcelerate, an early-stage accelerator for startup companies focused on technology (hardware and software) and social impact.

Xcelerate is a six-month program that provides selected startup companies with $20,000 of funding, access to legal and accounting services, maker spaces, industrial and graphic design services, and business and industry-specific mentoring. The program culminates at a Demo Day, where each entrepreneur presents their idea to the investment community and the public in order to build interest and attract follow-on funding. Xcelerate will work with a cohort of 6-8 startup stage businesses every six months. Applications for the first cohort began July 15.

emerge West Michigan is a public-private partnership encompassing 13 counties in West Michigan. emerge programs include five distinct services:  the emerge Web Portal, which provides online access to resources for entrepreneurs regardless of physical location; 5x5 night, an entrepreneurship competition where idea-stage businesses compete to win $5,000 of seed money; emerge Incubate (previously called GR Current), a membership-based entrepreneurship community with shared space and access to resources for startups; emerge Mentor Connect, which helps entrepreneurs leverage the experience of talented senior executives; and emerge Xcelerate,

Stein describes the program as an ecosystem specifically designed to serve entrepreneurs at various phases with their business. "Someone with an idea can begin at web portal and then move to a 5x5 Night or apply to the incubator," she says. "After that they can access our mentor program and the accelerator." Stein says there are no prerequisites to when a business can access the services.

Like all ecosystems, the emerge programs are also part of a larger community, and Stein says their program was created to complement other entrepreneurial initiatives in the community, such as StartGarden's Seamless Accelerator.

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Power Up! Local organizers looking to connect with the tech sector

The Chinese proverb "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" is an apt description for the work Jonathan Jelks and AJ Hills IV began on July 21st at the Baxter Community Center.

The duo organized "Power Up," a technology fair designed to explore the opportunities for entrepreneurs, young people, women and minorities to find jobs and careers within Grand Rapids technology sector.

Over 100 people attended the event, which featured a series of speakers from the local business community along with representatives from organizations and companies such as Atomic Object, eMerge West Michigan, Grand Rapids Innovation Academy, SoftwareGR and Fathom, LLC.  

In announcing the event, the organizers said the tech fair was heavily inspired by the Forbes article that ranked Grand Rapids, Michigan in the top 10 worst places for African Americans economically.

Jelks says that addressing the needs of those underserved and under-represented in the tech sector is a process. He says that currently, there is little interaction between the African American community and the tech community. He says that solving the problem is a combination of increasing awareness, education, advocacy and making the right connections with the right minded people.

"It needs to be a holistic collaboration," says Jelks. "We are working to connect young people with opportunities to learn code outside of school and increase partnerships. We want this community to be more aware of internships and jobs in this sector." 

Moving forward, Jelks and Hill will be organizing another tech fair and also will be exploring alliances, especially educational. He says they are in the process of creating a more formal platform to launch these events, but in the meantime, you can keep updated through the non-profit, Endless Opportunities.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Owners of Byron Center Meats launch new business to connect family farms to consumers

Steve and Laura Sytsma are the owners of Byron Center Meats. Since 1946, their family has been working with local farms to process and sell high quality meats.

The Sytsmas had an idea last year. In a world where corporate farms dominate the landscape through their massive distribution channels, high-volume production practices and ubiquitous advertising campaigns, there had to be a better way for family farms who are committed to sustainable agriculture to tell their stories and give customers access to higher quality meats.

Like many entrepreneurs, Steve Sytsma took the natural next step with his idea: He sketched it out on a napkin.  

Armed with a napkin sketch and a belief that there is a better way to raise, process and sell meats, Steve then met with a team from CQL. They began developing a business model and platform that allows consumers to order bundles of custom processed meats while at the same time directly connecting with the farms and farmers where the meat is raised.

Having launched in June, HarvestBox is a stand alone business from Bryon Center Meats, but Laura Sytsma says they use their expertise, reputation and facilities to run the business. "We've been custom processing meat for almost 70 years."

With HarvestBox, she says they created a transparent process for consumers, so they can better understand the many different benefits of supporting local farms. "The meat comes here and is hand processed," she says. "We then hand pack and ship out from our facility."

Sytsma says they are very selective with their partners and only work with farms that follow sustainable and natural practices. Videos and direct communication links are embedded in the site so there is a level of trust created that's similar to the experience at a farmers' market.

Sytsma says that their family has no background creating and operating an online business, but working with the team from CQL they have been able to pull all the components of a web-based business together -- marketing, branding, and ecommerce -- so that they can focus on what they do best: building the relationships with the farms (and farmers) that meet their standards and custom processing the meats.   

Operationally, she says that typically the orders are shipped on a Monday and, depending on the address, are delivered within five days. All the meat bundles are vacuum packed in specially designed boxes with dry ice to ensure that the meats are always frozen upon arrival, no matter the delivery location. Because the meats are sold in bundles, the consumers can expect a variety of cuts with each order, all clearly labeled.  

To learn more HarvestBox, visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor


Degage Ministries and Paul's Moms' Cookies partner up FTW!

How's this for a winning partnership? The Heartside mission, Degage Ministries, partners with Paul's Moms' Cookies to provide job, business and life-skills training to women who are part of Degage's Open Door Women's Center. As part of the program, the women are learning the process of baking cookies each week and are running a booth at the Rockford Farmers' Market with the proceeds benefiting the center.

And, of course, the end customer gets to enjoy a delicious artisan cookie. #FTW.

Pauls' Moms' Cookies is a business started by two moms with the goal of raising money for a charity. Marge Palmerlee, Executive Director at Degage, said they were approached to partner with the company: "Chris Mason and Cindy Knape, are the women who started the business. We created a pilot program that pays an hourly rate through the summer. The goal is to give women the skills like salesmanship and how to run a business so they so they can get a job after the program is over."

Through the partnership, former Open Door patrons work alongside the founders of Pauls' Moms' Cookies through various parts of the operation, including baking, operations and selling. Kristie Newkirk is one of the two women working with the program and says it has been a terrific learning experience. "I learned how to work together with othe r people and how to trust," she says. She says selling at the farmers' market has made her get out of her comfort zone and talk to people she normally wouldn't be interacting with.

After the summer program, Parmerlee is very optimistic about the future. "Right now we are just at the Rockford Farmers' Market but we are looking to grow," she says. "Our goal is [to] hire more women for the program."

To learn more about the organizations involved, you can view their sites here and here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Four-year anniversary gives Doorganics something to celebrate

Business is never easy, especially for startups. So there was a lot to celebrate at a Wlicox Park "birthday party" when Doorganics recently hit its four-year mark.

Mike Hughes, founder of Doorganics, took the time to outline several of the company's milestones since launching in 2012. "We have now have 10 employees, two of which are new, full-time jobs in the last six months," he says. "We've also been able to move all our part-time employees to more hours, almost 30 plus hours per week."  

Hughes says that new products, services and technology are driving growth: "When we introduced our online ordering software in 2013, it changed the game." He says they went from about 70 deliveries per week to over 500 deliveries per week (as of April 2015).

He points to new product lines, including deli items such as popular organic salads, and says he is getting ready to test meal kits, which include a kebob set featuring prepped, locally sourced meats, veggies and skewers, which then can be assembled quickly for a grill out.   

With the growth, Doorganics has never lost sight on its mission of making fresh, local and organic foods accessible while supporting the local producers. Hughes says many small farms are growing along side Doorganics such as Lettuce Boy Farm, Jacob's Acres and In Harmony Farm.

What's next for Doorganics will most likely include a new building. "We want to stay in the city of Grand Rapids and be part of the momentum and stay true to our roots but our current building can't hold us," he says. Hughes says his team is actively looking for a new site and should have an announcement in the next six months.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor
1864 Articles | Page: | Show All
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