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Handmade ice creams, fresh-baked cones, and jobs -- Furniture City Creamery aims for May opening

With the building permit finally on display and the sound of hammering not yet quieted, Matt and Rachel Franko are thrilled to be moving forward with the creation of their tiny storefront for Furniture City Creamery, 958 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids.

The cozy shop will offer 14 handcrafted ice creams, fresh-baked cones, and handmade toppings. Many of the ice creams and all of the cones and toppings are vegan-friendly. The store opening, tentatively set for Memorial Weekend, looms large as the married couple works to build a commercial kitchen, add a few seats, and create an ice cream-lovers paradise in the backdoor courtyard.

Amidst the dust and din, Rachel Franko says she's preparing to begin hiring for four full-time equivalent job positions (six to eight people) for front counter servers/cashiers, and kitchen assistants.

"For the kitchen assistants, we want someone with experience," Franko says. "The counter service people should have service experience. We're looking for college age or above, looking for people who are interested in what we're doing and in bringing our products to the public."

Franko, whose background is in industrial process development, says the culinary industry speaks a common language and sees the creamery jobs as a good crossover fit for college students studying science or chemistry. "They can see how it all works and how it comes together."

She sees opportunities and challenges ahead, all stemming from the intimate size of the creamery.

'The opportunity will be having the ability to interact with the community," she says. "We'll have a suggestion box where we can gather input from the community. The challenges might be keeping up production with the cones. We have a small kitchen and the cones take time to make, but we won't know until we get in there."

To apply for a job, contact Rachel at Furniture City Creamery.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Furniture City Creamery

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BizStream technology company moves to new headquarters, seeks developers to fill two new positions

BizStream, a technology company that specializes in web design, web development, custom software, portal and intranet development, celebrates a grand opening of its new 12,000-square-foot Allendale headquarters at 11480 53rd Ave. The company's growth prompted the move to the spacious new digs that feature play and relaxation areas for employees, along with the need to hire two developers.

"We're making sure the culture for our 19 employees is a place where people absolutely love to come to work," says Mark Schmidt, founder. "We have a three-quarter size basketball court with two hoops, a foosball table, a weight room, and darts. We had a March Madness party and took the day off and just hung out with our team, and we had a movie night with employees' kids watching Frozen."

Schmidt says it's the playful camaraderie that makes his team an effective force for setting up clients' data systems, integrating their order management systems and other technologies for seamless business transactions, and enabling smooth e-commerce transactions. Click here to view an unscripted video of employees talking about the company.

BizStream needs a front-end web developer with experience in Java Script and HTML. The back-end developer position requires experience in C Sharp. Applicants for both positions need to have CMS experience of any kind.  

BizStream works primarily with the Kentico content management system and Schmidt says that out of Kentico's approximately 1,200 partners worldwide, BizStream ranks in the top four or five.

"We're looking for people who are passionate about technology, people who hang out with people who love technology," Schmidt says. "If you like to go home from work and have your own website going and you follow podcasts on new technology information and read the blogs, you're doing it because you love it."

To apply for a position, contact Mark Schmidt through BizStream's website here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of BizStream

First comes love, then comes a really well designed website

Sitting in a Tree is the two-year 'young' startup which provides an online platform and multiple website designs that allow couples to modernize the wedding invitation process.

Since November 2012, Laura Vaughn, co-founder, (along with Julia Jamieson) says they have helped facilitate invitations for over 650 weddings.  She also estimates they receive between 50-100 customer service emails each month, which has necessitated the hiring of a customer service representative, Megan Seeley.  "The volume is too high now for Julia and me to handle the customer service process" says Vaughn who explains that even though their sites are very user friendly to set up and use, it might the first time someone ever went through the process of managing a reservation site.

Seeley will be responsible for handling design and technical questions plus help craft the overall customer service experience for the the site.

Leveraging their experience with wedding R.S.V.P.'s, Vaughn and Jamieson are all ready working on their first product extension, a corporate event site that provides planners with a customized registration experience.  The site, called Blackbird, is near launch.

To learn more about Sitting in a Tree or Blackbird, you can view their sites here and here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

It's not all fun and games at Uncle Goose, but it certainly is cool

For someone looking for a job in marketing, working at Uncle Goose, might be the equivalent of "taking the road less traveled" where you could end up making "all the difference".

Before "local" was cool and "craft" became associated with beer, there was Uncle Goose, the Grand Rapids-based, leading handmade wooden toy block manufacturer in the U.S.

On one hand, the creative, unique, artistic little wooden blocks are about as far removed from our digital world as any toy being made today.  On the other hand, it is exactly that quality that creates an online buzz, such as when Jimmy Fallon featured Uncle Goose blocks in his rendition of ‚ "Let it Go"  and ended up sharing his fondness for the toys to thousands on Twitter.

For Pete Bultman, president, "The social media stuff is nice, but more important is to stay on the growth curve. People think about working for a toy company that it is like the movie BIG. It is somehow fun and games" but Bultman says his company is focused growing the business, entering new markets and maintaining high quality standards.

As Bultman manages his team of 20, he is now looking for help to ramp up the marketing and social media efforts.  "I have been looking to hire but we are a smaller company. Many people feel like they need to go to Amway or Steelcase for a career.  More money and more benefits. But we offer more room to grow. The potential is far greater here to be on the ground floor and make a difference."

As an engineer, Bultmans says he is looking add someone to his team that will complement his manufacturing sensibilities and someone with a quality he describes as "uniqueness".

Bultman is a bit uncertain about the direction he will take when it comes to hiring. "Do I try to find someone out of school? Bring in someone clean to do the things the way I want versus a lot of experience?  I want talent. I want experience, I want energy. We are looking to for someone to bring some uniqueness to help us with growth. It might be marketing and sales or involved in social media."

What ever direction Bultman decides, it certainly will provide the individual with an opportunity to make an impact on a small business that is generating a huge buzz.

To learn more about Uncle Goose, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Focusing on the details, Grand Rapids entrepreneur expands into Chicago

There is no slowing down for serial entrepreneur and "Chief Crusader" Ross Timyan as he begins development on his third venture, Real Photo Services. 

Timyan, who is in his mid-twenties, is now part of three Grand Rapids-based startups; Crystal Clean Auto Detailing, Crystal Clean Heated Indoor Storage and Real Photo Services. Between these ventures, with the first launched in 2007, he says he has 60 employees, 10 recent hires, and 5-6 current job openings at their Grand Rapids headquarters. The leadership team at the ventures includes Timyan's brother, Austin, his father and business advisor Seth Getz.

All of Timyan's businesses are currently focused within the automobile industry. Crystal Clean Auto Detailing offers an innovative service approach to both dealers  (24-hour turnaround, night pick-up and delivery, electronic estimating system and a high-tech vehicle photo studio) and retail customers, such as the Fly 'n' Shine Free Airport Valet program, where Timyan's team will pick up a customer's car curbside at the airport, detail it, store it and return it curbside when the customer returns from their trip.

Timyan says Real Photo Services is a natural extension of his previous businesses: "The entity in Chicago (Elmhurst) is a spin-off of one successful component of the Grand Rapids business, our dealership vehicle photography." With his brother, Austin, taking the lead in Illinois, Real Photo Services provides high-quality photos for car dealerships to better merchandise their vehicles online. "We were realizing there was an opportunity just doing photos. Detailing is complicated and labor intensive. The photo service could be a franchiseable concept. Where our business is located in Elmhurst, there are 138 car dealers within a 10-mile radius. We have now 13 dealers and are slowly and surely gaining traction."

Always looking forward, Timyan says they are considering adding a detailing service for semi-trucks and have several other ideas on a whiteboard, beyond working with the auto industry, where they can leverage their core competencies in service and high-end photography.

To learn more these businesses you can click here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Sun Title's 30 percent growth spurs hiring of 15; three more positions left to fill

Continued double-digit growth and client demand for regional services propelled Sun Title to open four new office locations and hire 15 employees in 2013, says company co-owner Lawrence Duthler. And the company looks to fill three more positions as soon as it can.

Sun Title, headquartered at 1410 Plainfield Ave. NE, now has offices in Ionia, Grand Haven, Grandville, Cedar Springs, and Rockford plus services clients by bringing its Mobile Closing Unit vans to their homes or places of business.

The company seeks two more escrow assistants and one title examiner.

"In 2012, sales were up 40 percent, in 2013 it was 30 percent, and we're projecting 40 percent this 2014," Duthler says. "We are always interested in interviewing great people, especially people that are in title and looking to make a move. What we've found is it requires a balance between the technical side -- examining is a very unique skill set and we need someone with several years' experience searching purchase agreements -- and having a strong team worker. We've created an environment where people look forward to going to work here. It's one thing to have clients who rave about you, but it's another thing to have employees who rave about you."

Duthler goes on to say that the escrow assistants don't necessarily need title experience, but need to be detail-oriented with the ability to meet deadlines, have good communications skills, and have some experience in real estate.

"When we look at title, one of the things we ingrain is that the number one product we sell is communication -- about the process, how it's going, how a transaction flows through the office," Duthler says. "The last four years, we spent time on the processes and the technology. We needed the foundation first, then reached out to the people we needed to do the work, and that's why we're growing now."

To inquire or apply, click here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Sun Title

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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

Thinkbox Creative is hiring. Must be creative, smart, and like to have fun

Sound like the fit for you? Well, there is a little more to it. You also need to love Wordpress, have experience with HTML5, CSS3 and Sass. If business development is more to your liking, 3-5 years of sales experience in the design and development industry would be very helpful. 

If you enjoy mountain biking, that would also be a plus.

Thinkbox Creative, a web design and development studio, has an immediate job opening for a Wordpress web developer and is also looking to add a full-time sales and account manager in the upcoming months. 

Travis Fahlen, the creative director at Thinkbox, says their firm has a very flexible and youthful approach to work: "We like to have fun. We also work hard." Fahlen says everyone on their team, which has grown steadily over the years, is younger than 35, and says that perspective allows a fresh take on how they provide tech solutions for their clients.

The firm, which is located in the urban core of Grand Rapids, is also preparing to move to a bigger downtown office in the upcoming weeks with a formal announcement expected to be made within days.

To learn more about Thinkbox Creative, you can visit their site here and the open positions here and here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

The Understanding Group hires new vice president

Bill Holsinger-Robinson has joined The Understanding Group as vice president of client services and will focus on business development, strategy and marketing for the organization.

The Understanding Group has offices in both Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. It was founded in 2011 by Dan Klyn and Bob Royce. Customers range in size from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.

Holsinger-Robinson says The Understanding Group exists to help organizations that are "information rich" to better serve their customers by "creating gateways" into the business needs of the client so that solutions can be better designed to solve those needs. He says that large organizations often have so much data that it leads to "information anxiety" and makes it difficult to serve customers. "As information architects we define the 'what' before the 'how.' What will drive business? We make the complex, clear," he says.

The Understanding Group works either through direct consultancy or through a collaborative project approach. "We don't do website development; we make the website better. We don't develop applications; we prepare the groundwork for other developers for a shared client  so they can do business in new way," says Holsinger-Robinson.

The firm currently employs 10 people in the Ann Arbor office and four at their offices in Grand Rapids. The team is comprised of individuals with deep experience in development, design, business analysis and strategy. 

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

North Kent Community Services to launch From Survive To Thrive, seeks program director

After hearing from clients repeatedly about how they don't want to have to depend on food pantries to survive, Claire Guisfredi says she had to do something to help.

Guisfredi, executive director of North Kent Community Services, 10075 Northland Dr., Rockford, is ready to launch a new program called From Survive to Thrive -- once a new program director is in place to mold the program and move it forward.

"Many of our clients want to be self-supporting, but they don't know how to do it," Guisfredi says of the folks who come to NKCS for food assistance. "Many of them have cluttered lives that are so overwhelming they don't know where to begin, so they just shut down."  

From Survive to Thrive will help clients identify personal goals to overcome problems and will connect them with community resources already in place, such as, financial literacy classes, computer classes, GED courses, and résumé writing.

The program director will assess their needs, help them set goals, and connect them with the resources they need. The director will also supervise caseworkers, and oversee volunteer life coaches who will walk alongside clients, giving each one personal, one-on-one attention.
 
"I'm looking for a person that has a few years' experience in social work or management or supervising, who loves the challenge of developing new programs -- there's no outline, this is all up to them," Guisfredi says. "We need someone who will be creating an exit plan strategy for our clients, someone who can forge collaborations with local organizations, and has very good communication and analytical skills.

North Kent Community Services serves lower-income residents of Rockford, Belmont, Sparta, Cedar Springs, Kent City, Sand Lake, and parts of Gowen and Grattan. Many clients live in rural areas where services are not easy to access.

Guisfredi is passionate about making a difference. "We want to be the go-to place where people come for lifelong help that's really going to change their lives."

To apply or find out more about the position, click here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of North Kent Community Services

Kombucha startup on the grow in Grand Rapids

BLOOMferments is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, working out of the Downtown Market incubator kitchen. Its mission: make great kombucha.

Emily Helmus is the master fermenter behind the business, which started its journey with a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, began development in Uptown Kitchen, received its license in July 2013, moved to the Downtown Market's incubator in October, and started selling product shortly thereafter.

Kombucha is a sweetened fermented tea beverage that some people feel has health benefits.  "It is different for different people," says Helmus. "There are reported health benefits. I am now drinking it because I am interested in fermented beverages and different teas. I want to bring to kombucha to the speciality beverage market."

Helmus says kombucha is a very old beverage and popular in Eastern Europe, but despite its long history, there are relatively few studies about its benefits. "There is a huge educational component when making and selling kombucha," she says. "It's been around for 1000 years but [there's] not much research so I am actively researching it."

Putting aside the challenges of creating awareness and "demystifying" kombucha ("The mother culture looks pretty scary. It looks like a pancake."), Helmus continues to build her business, adding new products and distribution channels. "We are releasing a new flavor in a few weeks. It's lavender-hibiscus and is called Parejas. If we continue to grow, we will outgrow the space very quickly."

Currently you can find BLOOMferment's kombucha on tap at Cult Pizza at 10 Jefferson Ave. SE in downtown Grand Rapids and at over a dozen other stores in the area.

To learn more about BLOOMferments you can visit their website here or their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Exclusive brands, personal service featured in Grand Rapid's newest fashion store

Ally's Boutique is the new specialty fashion store for men and women located at 2211 E. Beltline at the Celebration Cinema/Knapp Corner complex in Grand Rapids.

Exclusive brands include handbags from Michigan designer Jenna Kator. The vegan handbags are named after cities in Michigan and range in size and price point from wristlets to larger bags. An additional exclusive brand is the Cartise International collection. The collection is made of European fabric, completely machine washable and designed to fit sizes 2-16. 

The specialty shop will also feature seasonal runway fashion shows, style consultations, and a highly customized level of personal service led by the store's owner Ally Bakrow.

Bakrow is a veteran of the retail and fashion industry, (Ally's Boutique is her third store) who takes the concept of being a hands-on owner literally. "What sets us aside is that when our customers come into our store they will work with the owner, buyer and stylists all in one," says Bakrow.

Bakrow says she chose Grand Rapids after being encouraged by friends and family to move her Brighton store here and being impressed with the vibe: "There is always something going on in Grand Rapids. It's also a very charitable community." 

The grand opening of the boutique took place in early March and featured a fashion show benefiting Autism Support of Kent County. Bakrow says she plans to continue organizing fashion shows that are tied to supporting local nonprofits throughout the year.

Ally's Boutique's website is being finalized but in the meantime you can follow their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

TaskPro is at your service

Growing up in a family-owned business, Nathan Hickman has a deep appreciation for both the rewards of managing a growing business and the struggles of balancing the time needed to work and the time for family and friends.

As it turns out, it's that intersection of work/life balance and the demands of work that inspired Hickman to launch his business, TaskPro, a personal concierge and lifestyle management business that serves residents of greater Grand Rapids.

Hickman says TaskPro provides a wide variety of services, including home watch (keeping an eye on a individual's home while they are away for extended times), personal concierge  (errands and personal shopping), lifestyle management (personal representative for travel and estate issues), and in-home, non-medical personal and companionship care services (family advocacy, companionship, transportation and light housekeeping).

Besides growing up in an entrepreneurial family, other inspiration for the business came from personal experience. Hickman's parents had used a home-watch service in Florida to maintain their property while traveling for extended periods. More personal was the experience of caring for his brother, who was born with a serious medical condition. "My parents could not find adequate care," he says. "I watched my parents really struggle with managing his special needs."

After launching the business in 2013, Hickman says he initially will be working solo but is planning to scale the business by hiring and training a team once he becomes more familiar with the specific needs of the West Michigan market. "I'm just starting the company. It will be interesting to see what services stick. When I created the business I created it to have staff. I'm certified in human resources and I excel at hiring and training," he says.

To learn more about TaskPro, including pricing and more detailed information on the services, you can visit Hickman's site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To apply, click here, then on Employment Opportunities.

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

Sweet culinary vision leads to small-batch deliciousness

Whiskey barrel-aged maple syrup and raspberry jalapeno & kaffir lime preserves. Do we have your attention? Ryan Thornburg hopes so.

Benton Harbor-based Thornburg and Company is a retailer and wholesaler of products featuring Michigan ingredients that was founded in 2011 by Thornburg and his wife Julie, both veterans of the food and hospitality industry. 

Inspired by the West Michigan fruit belt and their culinary background, the Thornburgs have a sweet vision: to make  small-batch, unique food items such as fruit preserves, honey, maple syrup and vinegars from raw ingredients found in West Michigan. 

All the products are made in "small batches" from their commercial kitchen in Benton Harbor and are currently sold in dozens of specially stores in Illinois and West Michigan. You can also buy directly through their website and their store at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market.

Thornburg says he currently employs two people and has three part-time employees at the
Downtown Market. Both Thornburgs are natives of southwest Michigan and have seen how attitudes are positively changing in support of locally sourced foods and artisanal processes. "The food scene has come a long way," says Thornburg. "The public is more receptive to buy local and support the state."

Thornburg says he plans to grow his business through both new product development and distribution. This year he expects to also expand to Northern Michigan and the east side of the state.

To learn more about Thornburg and Company you can visit their site here or stop by the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
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