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Innovation + Job News

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A mom with an idea invents new sports bra

The inspiration for Sara Marie Moylan's sports bra was pretty straightforward. "I was a mom with an idea. I knew other women were struggling with the same problem."

Moylan's product is the patent-pending Shefit, an innovative sports bra that has competitive sports and fitness benefits as well as medical applications for post-surgical recovery.

The Shefit story begins with the birth of Moylan's daughter over nine years ago. Moylan found that existing sports bras were insufficient for her body type and often times found herself wearing two or more sports bras in order to make workouts tolerable. At the same time she also found out she wasn't alone as she noticed other women with a large bust size experiencing the same frustrations at the gym.

Not wanting to compromise her fitness goals, Moylan literally pieced together her own version of a sports bra and soon had a working prototype. After fine-tuning the design Moylan was able to create a product that allowed her to have strenuous workouts without pain.

Encouraged by how her prototype worked and positive feedback, she began developing a business plan and, two years ago, quit her job to focus on launching Shefit.

Since then, Moylan has hit several significant milestones. Perhaps most importantly, she was able to enlist Dr. Bradley Bengtson from the Bengtson Center to help with the design of the product for a post-surgery recovery application, a "stamp of approval," says Moylan, that positions the utility of Shefit beyond the health and fitness market.

Most recently, Moylan completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising over $20,000 to help with first-run production.

Moylan has an impressive resume as an advocate for fitness and a healthy lifestyle. She was Miss Michigan Teen USA (1999), 1st runner up Miss Michigan USA (2001), and wore the title of Mrs. Michigan America (2008).

From those competitions, she entered the fitness world and earned top spots in the Fitness America circuit, winning the Arnold Classic in 2011 and in the same year earning a pro card, leading to a 3rd-place world finish with the World Beauty Fitness and Fashion (WBFF).

Although she is the only full-time employee at this time, Moylan's business has a strong West Michigan influence with all web, video, marketing and P.R. services sourced from area firms.

To learn more about Shefit including ordering information you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor,

Designed in Grand Rapids: the world's first smart trike

Grand Rapids-based TerraTrike has partnered with Troy, Michigan's AutoBike to design the world's first "smart trike."

The "smart trike" is part of TerraTrike's Rover series and features technology that was developed by AutoBike, a firm that has invented an automatic shifting bicycle.

The new trike, which will be available in early 2014, has several innovative features, including the ability to sense when to shift for the rider and a smartphone app with Bluetooth syncing to fine-tune the overall riding experience. The goal is to free riders  from having to manually shift, no matter how fast or slow they are traveling, regardless of terrain.

Michelle Oswald, TerraTrike's marketing assistant, says the new trike will appeal to the gadget-loving, early tech adopters as well as the individuals who are looking for a simple biking experience. "There are individuals that we know for sure who will be interested that are not avid bikers. They don't understand the mechanics. All they want is a comfortable ride and don't want to worry about shifting."

From AutoBike's perspective, the collaboration was very logical, as both organizations work with a similar demographic, and perfect culture fit. "The first time we came in contact with TerraTrike was early in 2013. We had a conversation, and we hit it off," says Sean Simpson, AutoBike CEO.

Both organizations are very optimistic about the industry and the upcoming year. Simpson sees an increased emphasis on biking infrastructure throughout the state and Oswald says they anticipate a pent-up demand for trike sales in 2014. "We anticipate this coming season will be a big one."

To learn more about AutoBike you can visit their site here. To learn more about TerraTrike, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

What's new at Springthrough? Glad you asked

When asked about "what's new" at Springthrough, neither CEO Mike Williams nor their new VP of Interactive, Michael Brown, hesitates in outlining an impressive list of projects, updates, and an optimistic vision for a collaborative and creative workforce in downtown Grand Rapids.

Brown cites a number of "significantly sized" proposals and bids on mobile projects involving iOS, Android and Windows 8 (It's not just an iOS world out there in West Michigan"), a "hot" market for touchscreen interactive, and Springthrough's Platinum Partnership with .NET web content management platform Sitefinity as examples of "what's new" for the 48-person (and growing) technology firm.

Williams follows up on Brown's updates, specifically highlighting the work the firm has done redesigning Haworth's website, Haworth.com. "Haworth has been a phenomenal partner. The launch of Haworth.com was a huge undertaking. It's become quite the partnership."  Springthrough's redesign of the site was awarded Top Five Site List by Sitefinity in June 2013.

Both Williams and Brown reference the potential in the marketplace for development of key strategic partnerships with local and regional creative agencies, with Springthrough adding the technology and enterprise expertise to complex, integrated projects such as the Haworth website and ecommerce store.

Looking at job growth, Williams said the firm is always looking for talent. "We have two distinct services; web and app development and consulting services. Both areas have openings. On the development side, we are currently looking for a senior software architect." Williams also adds that it is very possible they will also be adding 5-10 developers in the near future.

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Muskegon telecommunications, IT company adds technician job, drop-off computer repair service

Business is booming after Muskegon companies Logical Technologies and StarTek Communications merged in February to form Star Logic Solutions. After working together on a number of projects over the years, owners Jim Flood and Kevin Lloyd saw the growing crossover between technology and communications and merged the two firms.

Company growth since the merger created a new sales position and a new computer technician position, both of which were filled recently. But with the new salesperson in place to bring aboard new clients, and the launch of the company's first drop-off computer repair service, Star Logic Solutions expects to add another computer technician position in the next two to six months.

"While onsite serving the networks of our business customers, we often get requests from their employees asking us if we can work on their home computer and clean off viruses or repair it," says Sales Manager Elisabeth Major. "In the past we hadn't offered that service. But now, people can drop off their computers at our office for diagnosis and repair."

Customers can drop off their computers at the company headquarters, 3120 S. Getty St., Suite E.

Major says technicians interested in the future technician position will need to have an understanding of Microsoft Windows and the Windows server environment. In addition, the company wants a technician who can cut through the technical jargon and explain solutions to customers in plain language.

"We are working toward becoming a company's trusted technology advisor," Major says. "We come to you and help you do your business better by providing the technology solutions that help you do it better."

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of Star Logic Solutions

Wege Prize designed to find collaborative solutions to complex problems

Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD) and the Wege Foundation have announced the creation of the Wege Prize, a new collegiate competition for teams of five students from five different areas of study who will work across disciplines to solve "wicked" problems.

"Wicked" problems are challenges that the organizations deems as being highly complex -  problems that need to be approached from multiple perspectives in order for solutions not to have unintended, negative consequences.

Wege Foundation CEO Ellen Satterlee says the partnership between the two organizations is based on mutually shared values surrounding education. "We had been involved with the renovation of the Federal Building, providing one of the lead gifts. In working with David Rosen from Kendall, they knew of our mission for environmental education and they wanted to build a program around the principles that would engage the students and capture the essence of 'Economicology' (education, environment, empathy, ecology, economy, and ethics). They came up with the competition and we really liked it."

Once the "wicked" problem is defined, the cross-disciplinary student teams will approach the solution through the design thinking process. The best solution will earn each member of the winning team a $3000 scholarship, and each member of the second and third place teams $2000 and $1000 scholarships, respectively. According to Kendall administration, this program is designed to be scalable and, within three years, it could be become an international competition.

Details are in the process of being finalized. To learn more about the program you can visit www.wegeprize.org for more information.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Kickstarter and Start Garden alumnus shifting into high gear

After two successful Kickstarter campaigns and funding through Start Garden, Marie-Claire Camp has been able to move from the design phase to the growth phase for her concept of Children's Wallet Cards (profiled in Rapid Growth in September, 2012).  

Camp says she has raised a total of $41,790 through two campaigns on Kickstarter and $10,000 through two different Start Garden grants, which has allowed her to move from one educational deck of cards to five decks and also develop a complimentary interactive iPhone app.

At the same time, she has moved from selling her products only online to having a presence in multiple brick and mortar retailers. "I'm in several retail locations in West Michigan: 6.25 Paper, Beyond Paper, Pooh's Corner, HopScotch, Minds in Motion in Grand Rapids Children's Museum, and Sand Castle for Kids," says Camp.

Besides developing new products, Camp has been building the online community to support her customers. "My mom, Lisa Ann Camp, was a Montessori teacher for over 25 years, with a Masters in Education from Harvard. She has been consulting on the resource area on the site for parents, teachers and small children. The area includes activities for small children to encourage early learning at home."

Next up for Camp: more growth. "After fulfilling all of the Kickstarter rewards and pre-orders, my goal is to expand into 30 more retail stores in the U.S. and 20 international shops. I'm also working on organizing my next Kickstarter campaign; it's on schedule to launch in summer 2014 as well. I can't disclose what I'm working on quite yet, but it's about twice the size [of] my last campaign".

To learn more about Children's Wallet Cards you can visit Camp's website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Microsoft opens office at the Grand Rapids Collaborative

The newest tenant for the Grand Rapids Collaborative (coLab) is tech giant Microsoft.

Nate Baum, principal productivity strategist with Microsoft, says the new office is really just a change of location, since Microsoft has had a presence in West Michigan for over 10 years. However, the move is very purposeful as Baum wanted the team to be more visible and be more active in the emerging technology community that is growing in the coLab space on 38 Fulton St. West. "I've been with Microsoft 11 years and spent six years in Seattle. This is much closer to the Microsoft vibe of what I experienced in Seattle."

The office is part of Microsoft's Heartland District. A ten-person team staffs the West Michigan office with a focus on technology sales and service. Baum says his team travels often throughout the country.

Baum is very optimistic about the how Grand Rapids is growing its technology community.  He references the highly collaborative atmosphere at the coLab space, including The Factory, Universal Mind, and the Device Lab. "We are making great progress to promote the technology scene. There is a strong talent base here."

You can learn more about the coLab space here. For more information on the Microsoft Heartland District, you can click here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Lambert, Edwards & Associates adds three to its digital and social media team

Lambert, Edwards & Associates (LE&A) has added three new members to its new, five-person RIPPLE+AFFECT digital and social media team.

The new staff members are Derek DeVries, John VanderHaagen and Abby Hartig. All three bring extensive experience in digital media, public relations, social media and marketing to LE&A.
Jeff Lambert says the team was created two years ago when the firm was looking to broaden their resources for digital media. He says consumer product companies have been investing heavily in the digital space for years, but now he is seeing more and more business-to-business companies and institutions - companies that previously did not see the relevance to being involved in social and digital media - getting involved. "Our counsel is that if your company's customers are seeking you out online, you need to to have a presence and join the conversation."

DeVries was recently with 834 Marketing and Design, VanderHaagen, the Grand Rapids Griffins and Hartig was employed by Bevelwise.

LE&A is one of Michigan's top-ranked public relations agencies and the state's largest investor relations firm. To learn more about LE&A you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Online appraisal services looks to expand, receives Start Garden investment

Scott Packer's big idea is really just a simple one. Make the process for homeowners to purchase a non-lending home appraisal cheaper (as much as 50%)  and easier. "The idea came from the real estate meltdown. For non-lending appraisals, I've created a process that is much easier than through banks."

Packer and his partner, George Laidlaw, have been building the online business, Appraisal150.com for three years. Relying on sweat equity, hustle and personal funds, Packer had enough success to pursue additional investment and mentorship from Start Garden, where the staff deemed the venture worthy of a $5,000 investment.

Appraisal150 is a network of home appraisers, accessed via Packer's website, who perform non-lending appraisals for Appraisal150 customers. "At first glance, it looks like I am undercutting the market. The going rate for appraisals is $350. But once you get into it, we just simplified the process for appraisers. Everything is automated and taking less time." Packer explains that the paperwork on typical appraisal can be daunting and time-consuming.

Parker says that non-lending appraisals are used in a variety of circumstances, such as divorces and bankruptcies, where a fair value of the house is needed. He also says a non-lending appraisal can help a homeowner get more value from their house during the sales process, sharing an anecdote about a time when one of his appraisals came in substantially higher than a real estate agent's recommendation. Subsequently, the house sold at the higher appraised amount and both the homeowner and real estate agent benefited.

With the Start Garden funds, Packer says he will upgrade his site, add better search engine optimization strategy and test his concept in the Lansing market. He says the results are already very positive and he'll share the final numbers at his update night.

To learn more about Appraisal150, you can visit the site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Urban living drives growth for local property management firm

Brent Fisher, who recently joined Green Property Management as the senior portfolio manager, says it's a good time to be in the property management business in Grand Rapids, especially in and around the downtown area where college students and young professionals are interested in living, working and playing. "It's a very exciting time to be an investor."

The firm, which was founded by Marty Green in 2008, specializes in managing properties with 30-150 units. It also recently began managing office space, such as the Midtown Executive Offices, which Fisher describes as something akin to a co-working space.

Fisher says a typical housing for their College Hill property is a younger demographic. "They are looking for value relative to living downtown and a good location. They don't want to spend a ton of money. Access to public transit is important as are walkability and biking options." Several of the properties managed by his firm are just on the outskirts of the central downtown area.

The firm currently employs 13 people, and they anticipate quite a bit of growth in the near future, especially as the downtown living resurgence continues. "Our model is, we come into a property and make an investment. We work with owners that want to add value in the community by making the building more sustainable to increase the value of the property.  Everything we do -- construction, maintenance -- is done in house. As we grow, we want to raise the bar on property management." 

To learn more about Green Property Management, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Holiday gift program gets a makeover and investment through Start Garden

There is a personal backstory to the Elf Factory's tag line: "a handmade holiday school program specializing in gifts that parents don't have to pretend to like!"  

Kirsten Field, founder of the Elf Factory, explains the inspiration behind her new venture. "I volunteered at my kids' schools and I was disgusted at the products for the holiday workshop. I knew there had to be something better."

Describing herself as a "stay-at-home-mom getting back into the workforce," Field submitted her idea to Start Garden and received $5,000 in funding after she ran one pilot program with an elementary school. Field says she will use the Start Garden funding for  customer development experiments with five new schools and ultimately try to determine if the idea is scalable. "Our goal is to get a 75 percent participation rate at the schools."

Operationally, Field says that once a school decides to go ahead with the Elf Factory program, she partners with a parent organization and then provides all the craft materials  order forms, timelines, online training videos, and other tools they would need to run an Elf Factory at their school. The concept is designed to for simplicity (approximately four minutes to make a present), affordability, and a much higher quality product than existing holiday programs.

Currently, Field is the only full-time employee but she has four part-time staff that help with assembling the craft boxes.

To learn more, you can follow on Facebook for Elf Factory updates or check out their website at www.elffactory.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Jobs are being added at Northpointe Bank

Northpointe Bank is hiring, thanks in large part to the recovery in residential home sales and new home construction.

Mike Winks, executive vice president and chief lending officer, says the resurgence of home sales has put Northpointe back into the hiring mode. "There has been great demand from our customers so have added positions in sales and operations, all within the West Michigan market place. We have filled 17 positions in September and have an additional three open." Wink says the positions include both entry level and senior level positions.

Wink says their hiring efforts are attracting local talent, especially individuals who prefer to work in a collaborative environment. "We are a small community bank and our culture is very client focused. We live our corporate culture from the top down. We have been fortunate enough to find acceptable talent locally. We rebuilt our business unit with very attractive pricing and take a very consultative approach with our clients. We are attracting top performers."

To learn more about Northpointe Bank, including employment opportunities, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Local farmers enjoying the growth of farm-to-table demand

If you are looking for an example of how a "rising tide lifts all boats," Green Wagon Farm is a terrific example of a local supply chain that is benefiting from increased consumer demand and cooperation between producers and suppliers.

The Ada-based CSA (community supported agriculture) has grown steadily since its beginnings in 2010, when it was founded by Chad Anderson. Currently, the farm employs a combination of seven full- and part-time individuals. It sells it produce to area restaurants with the farm-to-table ethos, at farmer's markets and through other partners like Doorganics, the organic produce home delivery service.

Heather Anderson, Chad's wife, reflects on the local farming upsurge and how it has benefited their farming practices. "It started a few years ago. The whole food movement took off. Restaurants in general are more concerned about where and how the food is grown.  It has also made it easier for us to offer different products. You don't always need a perfectly round tomato." 

Besides restaurant demand, Anderson also cites the recently opened Downtown Market as a catalyst for demand. "I think it is another good location. It is expanding the food movement and bringing it to downtown. It is bringing in more people, and serves almost as a tourist attraction."

Anderson says 2013 has been an exceptional year, coming off drought conditions in 2012. "This year melons and cucumbers have really grown well. Doorganics has been great too. When we have extra stuff, he can put it to good use for his delivery service." 

Finishing out the year, Anderson says there is still work to be done. "Farming work takes us through mid-November. In the winter we begin planning and schedule for rotations."  In 2014 the Green Wagon farmers have plans to purchase some land and will be adding new products, including a few animals to their mix.

You can sign up online for Green Wagon's CSA here. You can also view the market times and restaurants that buy Green Wagon Farm's produce on their website and follow them on Facebook here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Fish Market set to open seafood bar at Downtown Market

Fish Lads of Grand Rapids has completed their first month of business at the Downtown Market, and the fishing is good.

The first impressions of bringing a fresh fish market to Grand Rapids have been very positive for fish monger Jeff Butzow, who started this venture after working seafood markets in Seattle. "The opening week was very busy. The whole week after that was busy too. Now it has become steady during the week and we are very busy on weekends. The attitude of our customers and excitement is overwhelming."

The biggest surprise so far for Butzow has been peoples' willingness to try new fish. "People have embraced the whole fish. Sardines, skate wings and whole snapper have been very popular."

Fish Lads' next milestone, planned for early October, will be the opening of their seafood bar, where customers can enjoy fresh fish cooked in a variety of ways. Butzow says further additions to their business model will feature cooking demonstrations and seminars, slated to begin in 2014.

Fish Lads currently employs 10 individuals. It is open during regular market hours. You can follow their business through their website here or their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Growth Editor

Firstronic in the process of adding 110 full-time jobs

Grand Rapids-based medical device manufacturer, Firstronic, has announced plans to invest $2.45 million in building renovations, machinery and equipment at its Michigan Street headquarters. 

With this investment, the company also announced it will be adding 110  full-time jobs (with benefits). The positions will range from engineers and technicians to entry-level electronic assembly operators and skilled hand solderers.

This announcement follows a successful collaboration between The Right Place, Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the City of Grand Rapids, which approved a $300,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant for Firstronic.

John Sammut, president, says the growth is a direct result of the firm's ability to compete on a global stage. "We won contracts against direct competition with offshore companies. In fact, much of the revenue from these contracts will be from our products being exported to Mexico, China, India, and Korea."

Sammut also credits their highly automated advanced manufacturing process, commitment to quality, and highly skilled workforce as being key to their global competitive advantage.

Firstronic provides advanced electronics manufacturing services and optimized supply chain solutions for companies in a wide range of industries including automotive, industrial and medical device

To learn more about the open positions at Firstronic, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
1560 Articles | Page: | Show All
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