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Deksia expands office, adds jobs in Southeast Community neighborhood

Development and investment are common themes in many of Grand Rapids' 30-plus neighborhoods these days. Projects on Grand Rapids' West Side, in Madison Square, and along the Wealthy St. and Plainfield corridors are changing the landscape of the city.  

In the historical Southeast Community, which is home to Butterball Farms, Notions Marketing, and the best-kept-secret-that-is-no-longer-a-secret, La Taqueria San Jose,  Deksia is expanding its investment in the neighborhood and positioning the firm for future growth.

The Grand Rapids-based marketing and branding agency officially opens their new, expanded office at 120 Stevens St. SW on May 14. The larger office space reflects the firm's steady growth and the need to create more room for the new jobs that are being added.

Aaron VanderGalien, one of the three partners, says the firm has been in the community for three years and the expansion will accommodate the current 12-person team plus job openings for web developers and business development positions.

VanderGalien says the decision to invest in the Southeast Community neighborhood was purposeful. He says the company wanted to be part of a community that could use encouragement: "We found an old building that was a bit run down but had incredible walls, had great aesthetics and was built almost 100 years ago." He says the neighborhood is a terrific place for businesses to thrive and has seen a lot of growth in the last three years, especially their neighbor. "When we first moved here you could easily get a table at La Taqueria San Jose; now it is always packed," he says.

To learn more about Deksia, you can visit their site here or their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Real estate crowdfunding platform Loquidity touts inclusiveness as investors grow

Grand Rapids startup Loquidity may have gotten off to a rocky start when a shaky real estate deal dampened the launch of its online real estate crowdfunding platform last summer, but as the number of investors using the site climbed from 60 to now nearly 400, the platform is poised for growth, says  COO Joe Elias.

"We're constantly building (the platform)," says Elias, whose five-person team recently added three new full-time members, and has plans to make 3-4 more full-time hires over the next 6-9 months. 

With more than 15 years experience working with Fortune 500 companies in real estate, Elias co-founded Loquidity with fellow Michigan native and CFO Jesse Clem — who also boasts over 15 years of background working in IT for Fortune 500 companies — with hopes of creating an "inclusive" platform to capitalize on a growing interest in the Midwest by real estate investors.

However, Elias says as he and his partner watched the rapid redevelopment of Grand Rapids' urban core and utilized market research techniques to gauge potential investors' attitudes toward new real-estate opportunities, Loquidity became about more than just raising capital. 

"It's about getting the community to feel like they have some ownership," says Elias, who thinks Loquidity's crowdfunding model - which allows investors to get in for as little as $5,000 - is rooted in the spirit of a shared sense of place created by a collective investment in redevelopment. 

"I think when people don’t have a sense of ownership, it’s always somebody else's problem," he says. "If you can get the community to invest in the problem, it’s nobody else’s problem, it’s everyone's. It could potentially shift people’s mindset."

Made possible by the federal Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act of 2012, Elias says Loquidity is more focused on utilizing the state version of the law, the Michigan Invests Locally Exemption (MILE) Act signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in December, since its smaller geographic scope creates a more community-focused benefit. 

Using the MILE Act, Elias says Loquidity will soon launch a real estate deal in Detroit that is open to both accredited and non-accredited investments, with possible minimums as low as $500-1,000. 

"That’s true crowdfunding," he says. "When your funding is just from accredited investors, you're only crowdfunding from the top 5-7 percent of the population. We want the full crowd engaged." 

Visit Loquidity's website more information on careers there, or to find out how you can become part of the growing community of online real estate investors using the crowdfunding platform at www.loquidity.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Loquidity, LLC. 

The future is looking green for many area grads

Not only is the future bright for many 2015 graduates, it also is more green, thanks to Greener Grads, a local business that is on a mission from Mother Earth as it recovers, reuses and repurposes graduation gowns.

The Greener Grads story was detailed here last year. Since that time, the company has added Western Michigan University, Hope College and several other high schools and colleges. It now has a presence in 22 states with 100 organizations using their services.

The "green" appeal for students at GRPS City High is pretty simple. Kathy VandeGevel, environment club advisor at City High, says the question about whether to use Greener Grads was not "should we?" but rather "why wouldn't we?"

On top of the positive experience, VandeGevel explains it is also a perfect philosophical fit with City High. "We are a school based on the Wege Foundation's philosophy of Economicology," she says. "This concept is Economicology in action." She says the recent graduating class was the first group to follow the environmental and business principles since 7th grade. She says the juniors at City High are already planning to follow the footsteps of the class of the 2015.

According to Greener Grads, since inception the initiative has been able to divert approximately 12,000 pounds of polyester from being placed in the nation’s landfills. A goal of 50,000 pounds has been set for the end of this spring’s graduation season.

For more information about Greener Grads or to participate in the movement, please visit www.greenergrads.org.

Brezel brings a new twist to Downtown Market

Laurel had Hardy, Penn has Teller, and beer has always had pretzels. So it's no surprise that a traditional handmade pretzel business will be making Beer City, USA home.

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market has announced that Brezel, a gourmet pretzel shop, will be bringing their unique twist and taste to the Market Hall this summer.

Brezel will sell authentic hand-rolled Bavarian pretzels, made in small batches with local ingredients, as well as other pretzel-based products such as pizza crusts, buns and pretzel bites.

Brittany Baum, who along with her husband Tim, co-own the business, says the Grand Rapids store is only their third location and first foray north of the Ohio border. But even in a different state, she says the plan is follow the same recipe for success: a focus on local ingredients, unique flavors and a traditional German process. "What makes our pretzel different is we use a lye bath before they are baked. It results in a crunchy exterior and a  soft and chewy center," she says. "That is how they make pretzels in Germany. It is more bread-like and dense, very substantial."

Not surprisingly, Baum says that once they get settled in, they plan to partner with local breweries for some unique flavor profiles and experiences. In the meantime, customers can expect an eclectic selection of pretzels, including dark chocolate expresso, carrot cake, fresh basil/peppercorn, jalepeno cheddar, and asiago infused with fresh herbs.

Baum says one of their managers is moving from Cincinnati to run the Grand Rapids store.  In addition, she anticipates hiring 5-8 staff for the local operation, which is slated to open in early June.

To learn more about Brezel, you can view their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Writer

Atomic Object to expand GR headquarters, create 33 jobs statewide with help from The Right Place

With 33 employees currently on staff at its Grand Rapids location and plans to add nine more this year, software developer Atomic Object is doubling its office space to accommodate growth by moving from its current 5,000-square-foot headquarters at 941 Wealthy St. SE to a renovated 11,000-square-foot building at 1034 Wealthy St. SE. 

"We are very excited about the move and this new journey for Atomic Object," said Atomic Object CEO Carl Erickson in a press release last week, adding that regional development organization The Right Place, Inc. played a big role in bringing together the state and the local resources to facilitate the move. 

TRP collaborated with Michigan Economic Development Corporation to develop a high-tech business support package, including a performance-based grant through the Michigan Development Program. 

Megan Sall, business development manager for The Right Place, Inc., says keeping tech start-ups like Atomic Object in West Michigan is an increasingly important focus for economic development organizations in the state, who want to "get the word out about West Michigan as a place for technology and talent," in an industry that since 2009 has increased employment by 13.8 percent throughout the 13-county region, above the national average of 9.4 percent. 

"First and foremost, I think people don't quite understand the excellent level of knowledge and skill we have here in West Michigan when it comes to technology, whether it's software development firms or tech consulting groups or people making technology products," Sall says. "…Traditionally, when we think of industry in West Michigan, we think of manufacturing and we think of healthcare as the two big drivers and the thing that's so important about technology is that it's pushing those other industries forward. Changes to those industries are being driven by technology." 

As a result, Atomic Object plans for nine more hires at its new location in Grand Rapids, as well as 11 more hires to its Detroit location and the addition of 13 new employees to its Ann Arbor staff, creating a total investment of $2.9 million including its upgraded headquarters. 

Though Atomic Object isn’t planning to expand into its new Wealthy St. space until later this year, they are already accepting applicants for full-time software developers and designers online. 

"I think the average wage for tech workers in Grand Rapids right now is around $84,000," Sall says. "So it's a great wage, interesting work, flexible schedule. We want to do a lot of growth in that sector because West Michigan is a great community, it's got an awesome quality of life, there's really interesting companies to work for here and technology is really moving all of our other industries forward."

Visit The Right Place, Inc. online for more information about the organization. To learn more about careers at Atomic Object, visit www.atomicobject.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Atomic Object/The Right Place, Inc. 

Grand Rapids-based Gorilla opens LA office and launches new entertainment brand

Gorilla, an award-winning production agency and film collective in West Michigan, has opened a Los Angeles division and launched a new brand, GRLA, as it expands into producing more content for the entertainment market.

Gorilla was founded over a decade ago by two filmmakers, Eric Johnson and Eric Machiela, and has grown into a diverse collective of over 30 artists from around the country.

The new brand (GRLA, a shortened name representing the Grand Rapids/Los Angeles connection) says its new L.A. location is a natural extension of their work in West Michigan, but their focus will be on growing their entertainment portfolio.

"GRLA is part of a coming of age story" for the production agency, says Ross Vande Waa,  Partner/Producer. "Commercial work has been the engine that fueled Gorilla" but the company has also steadily been working on projects for the entertainment industry. Gorilla has recently released the award-winning series, 'For the Life of the World,' produced feature-length films in Mexico and Australia, produced the original web series, Exploring Kaman, and has several other entertainment projects in production.   

Contrary to convention wisdom, however, the opening of a division in Los Angeles does not represent a one-way street out of Grand Rapids and does not mean less focus on its West Michigan office. "It's not like we have a grappling hook in L.A. and will be moving our operations west," says Vande Waa. In fact, he sees it just as the opposite: "We hope to use the connection in Los Angeles for our commercial business and bring more work here."

For an aspiring filmmaker, Vande Waa is pragmatic. He acknowledges the lack of infrastructure and distribution in Michigan and says it is a very difficult industry to break into -- but there are opportunities. Having recently attended a film festival for talented youth, his advice to get started is simple; get hands-on experience, learn by doing, start making stuff and be prepared to be self-employed.

You can learn more about Gorilla by checking out a few links:

Demo Reel: https://vimeo.com/107276262
Website: http://wearegrla.co
Lift As You Climb: https://vimeo.com/42350265

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and News Editor

Jobs, jobs and more jobs: Grand Rapids Chair Company hiring

Business is booming at the Grand Rapids Chair Company. Founded in 1997, the  business manufactures seating and tables for corporate, commercial and hospitality environments.   

Citing both an uptick in the economy and new product launches, Dean Jeffery, communication manager, says the firm has immediate openings for up to 20 positions at their new Byron Center-based facility. "We experienced a lull in the past couple of years. Our customers had no commitment to update spaces," Jeffrey says. "It is now stabilized and there is growth and activity. We are redoing schools, restaurants and offices. There is much more confidence in the economy."

Besides the renewed confidence, Jeffery also attributes their growth and aggressive hiring needs to the launch of five new product collections.

The open positions are primarily skilled labor and include general labor, welders, spray finishers and upholsterers. Jeffery says the company offers great pay, benefits, training and tremendous career opportunities. He notes there is no third shift at the firm, adding to the work-life balance and quality of life for all employees. He describes the new facility in Byron Center as modern and "state-of-the-art."

The company is located at 1250 84th Street SW, Byron Center, Michigan and has over 140 employees in both office and warehouse positions. Jeffrey encourages job seekers to send their resume to hr@grandrapidschair.com. You can visit their website here to learn more about the company.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Duffield Lane gets comfortable in new S. Division corporate headquarters, makes first full-time hire

Jamie and Ryan Duffield's East Grand Rapids home is getting a little bit crowded. 

Filled with inventory and clothing racks, the two guest bedrooms look more like pseudo-warehouse space and the dining room has transformed into a conference room for their clothing business, Duffield Lane, which they've operated out of their house since its late 2013 beginnings. 

"I originally envisioned looking for an office space at the end of the year, but it was a necessity," says Jamie Loeks Duffield, designer and proud new tenant of 127 S. Division, which will open as the new Duffield Lane headquarters mid-May.  

Jason Makowski and Mary Anne Wisinski-Rosely, brokers with the Grand Rapids-based commercial real estate firm NAI Wisinski of West Michigan, represented Duffield Lane and landlord VandLende Lofts LLC with the signing of the lease on the 4,000-square-foot new office space. 

Though it has always employed a few people part-time, Duffield Lane recently hired a new director of sales – its first full-time employee and a brand new position for the clothier, which has grown from humble beginnings in simple, classic, sleepwear designs to a line that now boasts a full inventory of timeless styles.

"What happened was that we sold it as luxury lounge wear/pajamas; it has a bit of nautical preppy look to it," says Duffield, adding that a lot of Duffield Lane's vendor retailers are located in coastal towns stretching from Palm Beach to Maine. 

"People bought them to use as pajamas, but also started buying them as resort wear," she says. "They say the customer is always right and the whole idea was that the pajamas were incredibly versatile, so we kind of took that and ran with it."

She calls the look "classic with modern comforts," drawing on clean lines and solid colors to create an array of comfortable clothing, manufactured with soft, knitted, fabrics in India and Peru, and shipped directly to Duffield, who then does an inspection and inventory of every item before shipping purchases back out to customers. 

Complete with a glass garage loading dock, Duffield plans to split the space at 127 S. Division into two sides – one with open shelving for easy access to inventory and the other half an office space. 

"I just feel lucky we found it," says Duffield, who considered bigger warehouses located in industrial parks on the edges of town as well as smaller, more traditional office suites before having her own Goldilocks moment. 

Duffield and her husband signed the lease on the new Duffield Lane headquarters just under two weeks ago, but will begin painting, installing shelving and moving furniture in on May 4. Her sights are set on a May 16 grand opening event, including a sample sale to familiarize new customers with the Duffield Lane brand. 

"We're new to the area, so we're just kind of exploring a little, but I think there are a lot of new businesses opening up downtown and there's that start-up mentality here, so I'm really excited to get involved in the business community, too," she says. "Downtown Grand Rapids just gets better and better."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Duffield Lane

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New transit option in downtown Holland powered by people

Holland, Michigan is certainly not the bustling metropolis of New York City, where you have pedestrians hailing taxis 24/7. But that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities for an entrepreneur wanting to start a taxi service. You just have to think with your feet.

PetalCab is downtown Holland's newest transit service targeting tours and travel within Holland. The PetalCab is a tricycle purpose-built for transporting up to two adults. It can be hired for a tour of Holland or as transportation to some of Holland's destinations. The service was founded and is being operated by Matt Wright, a Hope College junior.

Wright, a student in Hope's CFL program, says he was inspired by his biking experiences and felt the view from a bike makes any journey more interesting. His micro-enterprise will also provide employment for other students in Holland. "I'm planning on renting the bike out to 3-5 other guys, with each of them taking between two and four shifts a week, so I can hopefully have the bike out as much as possible," he says.   

In the initial stages, Wright says his plan is to keep one bike in operation but he'll consider expanding after he gets a feel for the market. "It's just the one bike for now, while I prove the concept and see how it works out," he says. "I'll then figure out the best way to expand, whether that be more bikes in Holland or possibly expanding with a trailer and another bike or two so I can go to big events in other cities. I'll see how the month of May goes, and then evaluate the demand and see what I want to do."

The PetalCab will operate regularly on weekends from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. in fair weather in downtown Holland. Passengers can schedule their ride by calling 616.613.6634 or using the form at www.petalcab.com. Wright says other PetalCab operators will also be available during most hours of the day for scenic tours or taxi services in downtown Holland, with destinations including the downtown Holland area, Kollen Park, Washington Square, Windmill Island and any area in between.

Wright gives enormous credit to the team at Hope College: "I've been working with the CFL since October on refining the idea and connecting with local business owners. Dr. Vanderveen, Seth Getz, and the rest of the students in the CFL have been instrumental in some of the major decisions that I've had to make, and I appreciate their help immensely!"
To learn about PetalCab you can view their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Center for Faithful Leadership consulting program connects classroom to the real world

There are no shortages of incubators, accelerators, meetups, services, organizations or resources to help an entrepreneur take an idea to launch in West Michigan. Every program is directly and indirectly connected, and all do some very interesting work. But you could make a case for Hope College's Center for Faithful Leadership (CFL) being one of the more unique catalysts for entrepreneurship.

The CFL has two different opportunities: an incubator program, where students take their own idea and work towards launch (for example, RingCam, Songs Against Slavery and PetalCab), and a consulting program, which Dr. Steve VanderVeen likes to say is a "bridge between the classroom and the real world."

Describing the consulting program, Dr. VanderVeen says student teams and project leaders are at the core of the model. Teams work with a business client to solve a specific problem and are advised by more experienced project leaders. Both are compensated for their work (clients pay Hope and then Hope compensates the teams). The program also features the services of mentors -- experienced business leaders who are available to guide the process.

Both the incubator program and consulting program require students to take prerequisite classes that help assess their readiness for a more rigorous and non-traditional approach to learning. "The experiences help students discern and apply their learning, gifts, values, and calling; they also help students prepare for work and transition from college," says VanderVeen.

Dr. VanderVeen says he has over 30 students on the CFL Consulting payroll, which is more  than double from the previous year. He says both programs reflect his belief in extending the entrepreneurial classroom beyond traditional classroom experiences. "We can know things from books and lectures and writing papers, but actual experience trying to solve problems and think critically and strategically provides us with deeper understanding, especially about ourselves and the type of work we enjoy and are gifted at doing." He says the model of using coaches and mentors adds to the experience: "We learn even more deeply when accompanied by a coach who helps us leverage our gifts and a mentor who helps us understand our values and priorities. This gives us more authentic courage and confidence when we interview with employers, and it shows:"

Moving forward, Dr. VanderVeen steals a principle of lean startups; constant iteration. "We want to keep improving quality of experience for both students and clients and quantity of students and clients served," he says.

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

A Pleasant Dog training service expands with new hires, new programming this spring

It's been about one year since Jenn Gavin started her dog training business, and she says she's amazed at the overwhelming response she's had already.  

"Business has been going so well," says Gavin, who just hired a second dog trainer to help accommodate her growing client base and plans for a third hire and the addition of sport and agility classes later this spring.  “I could work from sun up to sun down, seven days a week.” 

Gavin's training services are designed for urban pet owners living with the specific kinds of challenges unique to life in the city, such as limited yard space, higher density foot and automobile traffic, and a generally more distracting environment.

With the addition of her latest trainer, Rick Wiersum, she says she'll be able to expand her services as a whole, but especially to accommodate reactive and aggressive dogs. 

A Pleasant Dog has always offered training solutions for owners with reactive dogs – a personal passion and area of focus for Gavin since the start. She says Wiersum's experience of 40 years working with reactive dogs and those struggling with inter-dog aggression is the perfect addition to her portfolio of services already tailored to city dwellers. 

 “It takes more than one trainer to run a group class for dogs who struggle with reactivity, and I am pleased to have Rick join me in offering these classes.” 

A Pleasant Dog will also now be offering classes geared specifically toward pitbulls, and other bully breed dogs.  

"Rick is really good with bully breeds" she says, adding that bully breeds actually make up the majority of dogs in the city. "They're wonderful dogs, but they have a lot of drive that needs to be channeled to keep them happy." 

Whether it's private in-home (or in-neighborhood) training lessons, small group training sessions, puppy classes, or more specialized courses, Gavin operates A Pleasant Dog with a training philosophy that champions reward and positive reinforcement over dominance and force to help owners and pets thrive in their particular context and get the most of city life. 
"I think a lot of people don’t realize that there is help for reactive dogs," Gavin says. "If you have a dog that doesn't like other dogs or who is shy and anxious around other people, there are options for you. We have training protocols that can help."  

For a full list of services and pricing, or to learn more about the new sporting and agility classes Gavin plans to debut this spring, visit A Pleasant Dog online at www.apleasantdog.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Jenn Gavin/A Pleasant Dog   

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In new space, digital marketing agency MINDSCAPE sets $10M growth goal in business

In its new home on the fifth floor of the John Widdicomb Building, CEO Pete Brand of digital marketing firm Mindscape says his company has a big but achievable goal: grow from where they are now into a $10 million company over the next three years. 

"That has been one of our goals for a really long time, but we never put a plan in place to get there," says Brand, who is looking to kick off that expansion with the addition of 5-7 new team members over the next 18 months. 

"Our purpose as an organization truly is to enable growth for the clients we serve, but also to enable growth for the team members that are with us," he says. "One of the things that keeps me awake at night is the idea of sitting across the table from the people we work with and having them say, 'I've had a great time here at Mindscape, but I need to take the next step in my career,' and I know if we continue to grow the organization and expand the career paths here, they won't have to go somewhere else."

Brand says the positions they plan to hire for will vary with business, but all new jobs will be full-time and housed at Mindscape's new headquarters on 601 Fifth St. NW, perched at the top of the historic mid-19th century Widdicomb Building. 

Former owner and furniture retailer Bob Israels invested $11 million to convert the total 65,000-square-foot space into a high-end showroom, but defaulted to Fifth Third Bank who then sold the space to Energetix Properties last year for $1.7 million

With renovations completed, Mindscape officially moved into their own slice of the historic space three weeks ago, a 7,000-square-foot open floor plan that Brand says is doing wonders for employee productivity and overall morale. 

"The open floor plan has been really, really great because our type of business is all about collaboration and over time, when you send people off to their little offices or put them in different portions of the office, it's really difficult to collaborate effectively," he says. "We knew going into that there was a potential of a lot of distractions that could kill productivity, but it's actually the opposite…it makes people want to be here, and one of our company values is to build strong personal relationships, so you can see that playing out here every day." 

Mindscape's lofty goal for growth rests largely in its workforce and in the meeting of two very different generations with two very different, but very palpable, skill sets. While Brand says Millennials often get a bad rap from older generations as the "entitled, transient" workforce, he sees it differently. 

"Millennials are the majority of the workforce and I think they have a handle on the way things should be," he says, citing an increased focus on social welfare, creating workplace balance and the desire to make greater contributions earlier on in their careers. "We've got Millennials that have worked with us for six or seven years and I think as an owner of a business, if you don't take the time to understand your workforce and understand what's important, it's easy to be lazy and think that's just the way it's going to be but you can leverage the strengths from multiple generations and build a company that everyone wants to work for."

Visit Mindscape online for more information about the company or possible careers there.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Mindscape  

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Mutually Human Software expands, adds team in Columbus, Ohio

Mutually Human Software is growing -- with a slight twist. The Grand Rapids-based software development company has added seven new employees to its team but, unlike previous hires, the new "Humans" will be based in Columbus, Ohio.

Mark Van Holstyn, Mutually Human president, says the Columbus hires were working together at another firm and reached out to MH about joining their company. "The group approached us initially because they felt a connection to our culture and values," Van Holstyn says.   

Finding and hiring top-notch tech talent is not easy, so discussions were ramped up quickly with the Columbus-based programmers and, while trying to figure out the best fit, it made the most sense to keep the team in Ohio. "They wanted to stay there because they have homes and families in the city but also because the tech industry is really booming all over the Midwest. Columbus has a lot going on. It's home to some of the biggest corporations around so it's a bit of an untapped sweet spot. The group we hired has created and maintained good relationships with Columbus-based customers and we're looking forward to creating even more."

Having the team in Columbus helps Mutually Human on multiple on fronts, says Van Holstyn:  "Because of our increase in size and capacity we can work on larger projects with bigger clients, and because of the location of the offices we're gaining important expertise in working remotely."  

Van Holstyn also says both offices will benefit from a cross-pollination of cultures.  "Mike Doel and Gina Winkler, who are running the Columbus office, bring with them years of experience in the industry, expertise in project management, and a practice called Investment Friday," he says. "Monday through Thursday (are) totally focused on billable client work, Fridays (are) for investment in internal and personal work. We are starting to experiment with this one practice (in our Grand Rapids office) and are excited and inspired."

With the new team in place, Van Holstyn also says job openings remain in both offices.

To learn more about Mutually Human you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Kickstart it! Children's Wallet Cards III: Emotions, Seasons, House and Pets

Marie-Claire Camp has launched her third Kickstarter campaign to support the introduction of four new decks of educational and fun Children's Wallet Cards: Emotions, Seasons, House and Pets.   

The new decks are part of a larger portfolio of products that mimic credit cards in size and material. The cards, which also have been made into posters, are made for children's play and work. Camp uses non-toxic, kid-safe, U.S.-made materials.

Camp says this is her largest campaign yet. "Since starting this little business nearly three years ago, I've been contacted by so many parents and teachers with their ideas for new decks," she says. "I've been able to collect those ideas, along with those I've had since 'day one,' into some pretty impressive and exciting lists and plans."

Besides having proven to be a reliable source of funds, Camp has learned the "ins and outs" of Kickstarter and says it fits perfectly into her business philosophy: "I do like Kickstarter! I really love the community feeling, the connections I make, the confidence it brings when people contribute and really love what we make."

She says the crowdfunding platform is a great alternative for entrepreneurs needing to raise capital. "It definitely beats sitting in a bank lobby, draining our personal savings accounts or racking up credit card debt trying to make new products," Camp says.

The new deck has a strong flavor of Michigan. It includes work from two Michigan artists, illustrator Adrianne Adelle (Cedar Springs, MI), and photographer Rhiannon McCalmont (Grand Rapids, MI). Camp also credits consulting from Lisa Ann Camp (Jenison, MI),  Advanced Fulfillment (Grand Rapids, MI) for packing and shipping the rewards, and printing at Tepel Brothers Printing (Troy, MI).

Camp says her "little business" has altogether eight decks, one wallet, and five posters.  Moving forward, there will be a little break and then she'll get back to her creative work. "After this campaign is funded and the new pieces are produced and delivered, I'd love to take a vacation! After that, I'll start on the next round of card decks that parents and teachers have been asking for," she says. "I'd love to expand into books, tools for helping children with special needs, and some fun things inspired by my own boy's appreciation for receiving letters in the mail."

The campaign only lasts until April 29th. Here's the campaign page link.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Dominion Systems looks to create new jobs to staff its MCSB-hailed Grand Rapids headquarters

Boasting a spot on a list by collaborative organization Michigan Celebrates Small Business called "50 Michigan Companies to Watch in 2014," Dominion Systems has made eight new hires over this past year, with three of those positions created in addition to existing roles. However, the Grand Rapids-based tech company and software developer is currently seeking applicants for a part-time marketing internship and four full-time positions – two client solutions representatives and a client trainer and operation specialist.  

"We actually moved into a larger space probably a year, year-and-a-half ago to accommodate for the growth we're experiencing now," says Paul Nysse, director of marketing. "We have enough room as it is for the employees we have coming in…we looked ahead and saw (expansion) on the horizon so we thought we'd be proactive." 

Nysse says Dominion Systems is experiencing a growth rate of about 15-20 percent, finding that better business lies in offering additional tools to the clients they already have. The tech company's HRM software enables business to manage payroll, time and attendance, and benefits administration in the cloud. As of four weeks ago, Nysse says Dominion Systems' platform has also added an applicant-tracking portal. 

"We're finding our clients are continually adding on these products, so they had payroll and time/attendance, now they can add benefits administration or applicant tracking," he says. "We're adding on new clients, but we're also finding our clients are using our software more because they want all of the that functionality to be in one place." 

He says the next addition to the HRM Platform will be an on-boarding function, so when individuals who submit a job application to a company using Dominion Systems' platform, they can also pre-emptively load any on-boarding information into payroll and benefits administration. 

"So when a new hire actually gets hired on to a company, they don't have to fill out paperwork for the first few days, they'll be ready to go," Nysse says. "They can hit the ground running." 

Dominion Systems has a laid-back workplace culture, Nysse says, but as a growing tech company, they value a self-motivated, independent work mentality of "go-getters" who also know how to slow down and listen. 

"I think one of the things that we do really well here is we listen to our clients," he says. "We survey them regularly, we want to know what would make their lives easier and we build those functionalities or those features for them." 

For more information on Dominion Systems HRM payroll platform, visit www.dominionsystems.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Dominion Systems   

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Dominion Systems

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