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A bow-dacious idea inspires new business

Pat Gaines was a little frustrated. 

She wanted to buy the perfect bow tie for her grandson's Valentine’s Day picture. She had a specific color scheme and style she was looking for but after searching far and wide, she had to settle on a tie that was, at its best, just OK. "I could not find anything satisfactory and I went to multiple places, including several specialty clothing stores,” says Gaines, a Grand Rapids resident.

After a short reflection, Gaines decided enough was enough. She knew she wasn't the only person looking for the perfect tie, especially with weddings and graduations coming up in the spring, so she decided to make ties herself. "I had the skills to make the ties myself, so I did,” she explains.

It did not take long before she began getting orders, primarily through word of mouth, for her ties from friends and family.  From there, she made contact with a local tailor, who asked Gaines to make her custom ties for entire wedding parties.

And that spring (2015) was the humble beginning of Pat Gaines’ entrepreneurial journey and business, All Tied Up by Pat.

The operative word there is 'beginning,’  because Gaines has big plans and a support network to make it happen. Knowing she needed some assistance to create a profitable and sustainable business, Gaines decided to enroll in SpringGR, an entrepreneurial training, mentoring and networking program.
"It was a great resource,” she says. “I found out about it through friend. I had a ballroom dancing program scheduled on the same day so it was SpringGR or ballroom dancing. SpringGR won."

Gaines credits the program with keeping her on track, helping her to develop her plan, and keeping her motivated and accountable. "Chris Mathis was my business coach with SpringGR;  meeting with him on a weekly basis has really broadened my business horizons,” she says.

Moving forward Gaines says her plan is to polish her branding and launch an ecommerce site within the next six to 12 months. Her goal is specialize in custom made men's neckwear, not just bow ties, and have a wide variety of stylish products "from the low end to the high end.”

In the meantime, if you are interested in viewing her work or placing an order, Gaines says to contact her directly through her Facebook page, All Tied Up by Pat.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

C2 Group looks to build excitement for high tech careers

C2 Group will host six high school students as part of the Kent Intermediate School District's (KISD) Groundhog Shadow Day Program on February 2.

The KISD program is designed to help introduce and prepare students for careers in a wide variety of industries.  Students may choose from one of up to 300 roles to shadow for a day to gain a better understanding of the industry, day-to-day operations and responsibilities, and educational requirements for obtaining successful employment.

At the C2 Group — a Grand Rapids-based, full-service web experience provider — students will learn about careers in the software industry and gain hands-on experience with software design and development while building a mobile app.

Brian Beaupied, marketing communications manager, says this is the second year for C2 Group to participate  in the program and the first in their new location, 560 5th Street NW, Ste. 100 (the Grand Rapids Furniture Campus). He says the firm is committed to supporting community efforts to expose more high school students to the tremendous career opportunities within the tech sector.
"It’s important because we need to do our part in building excitement and awareness for careers in the high-demand technology field,” Beaupied says. “Our participation in programs like Groundhog Shadow Day can provide students with actual hands-on experience in a field of their interest, as well as invaluable mentorship from some incredibly talented professionals."

C2 has been in its downtown, westside Grand Rapids location for almost four months. Previously, they were based out of Grandville. The move was made to accommodate the needs of a growing agency. Beaupied says the new location has almost 2,000 more square feet and is designed to support the creative needs of a tech workforce. 

Beaupied says the firm is in the hiring mode.
"We’re always interested in talking to qualified candidates for any position (designers, developers, CMS specialists, project leads),” he notes. “We currently have 28 employees with a goal of growing our team by 30 percent during 2016."   Current openings can be found here:http://c2experience.com/about/

For more information about C2 Group, visit www.c2experience.com or follow them on Twitter (@thec2group).

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids duo launches community job board to help workers connect with side gigs

There weren't any fireworks, kazoos, noisemakers or revelers singing “Auld Lang Syne” when Naybr launched on January 1. There was nothing fancy, just a simple Facebook post thanking friends for their encouragement and support, which seems very appropriate since Naybr is designed to make it easier and safer to get simple jobs handled.
Naybr is a Grand Rapids tech application company founded by Michael Weitzman and Nate Harr.
The team launched their first product, Naybr, a web-based community job board where users post and/or accept side jobs in their local area. For example, a quick search on the site this week showed jobs in the Grand Rapids area for office cleaning, a safety officer and more. The platform coordinates all communications, payments and feedback.
Harr says he first began thinking about the concept in 2014 and began working with Weizman to design the software for the service. He says they are aiming to improve the experience for both the individuals who want to have side jobs completed and for those looking to earn a little extra money doing this type of work.
"There was no way for people get small jobs completed that was easy and safe,” Harr says.
Harr says their platform is significantly different than other services, such as Craigslist and Angie's List, describing Naybr as being more like Uber and Airbnb.
"We track the entire job process for both the worker and the poster,” he explains.
At this time, Naybr is focused on facilitating small side jobs, primarily projects that are outside and exterior to the home.
"These are not services that require licensed professionals,” Harr says, although he adds they are considering these type of services in the future.
The next step for the Naybr team is to create a native app for mobile platforms and to explore funding and development through a startup incubator.
To learn more, follow their Facebook page here or visit their website here.
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Barrel art rises from Bad Moon Studio

John Timmer says a friend asked for his help to make a table, and it did not go well.
"It was a miserable experience,” he says.

However, Timmer found the process was intriguing, so he gave it another shot, this time designing and building coffee tables from 10 beer barrels sourced from Founders.
"The experiment worked," Timmer recalls.
With the success of his experiment, Timmer opened Bad Moon Studio in 2014 and began crafting a wide variety of products repurposed from beer barrels, including end tables, coffee tables, growler racks, and, most recently, lighting. He says his products are a fit for both home and business settings.
Timmer takes an unorthodox approach to his craft. "I do not draw out anything. I like to start building and let the piece come together as I build it,” he says. “No tape measures." He refers to his tools as old school and simple as he describes bending steel over logs to create the shapes he needs.
Bad Moon Studio is located in Jenison, Michigan and is open by appointment only.
"It's a working space, not a showroom," Timmer explains. He says he works on custom orders and has some inventory that can be viewed on his Facebook or Instagram pages.  He also currently has a couple of his new lighting designs on display at Bridge Street Electric.
For contact information, you can visit their Facebook page or website, although Timmer says his primary marking platform is Instagram.
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Brush Studio GR expands to downtown Grand Rapids, adding six new jobs

Heather Callahan, founder of Brush Studio GR,  says her team has been "very blessed and very busy" with her business in East Grand Rapids. 

So busy, in fact, that in just over three years, she needs to expand to a second location to accommodate her growing customer base.

Brush Studio GR is an instructional art studio focused on creating a unique and fun atmosphere for building creativity. Brush Studio offers open paint sessions, general classes, private parties and corporate team building events.

Callahan says the the downtown location will primarily serve corporate and group events, as well as instructional classes, while the East Grand Rapids location will be focused on "family fun" events.
"We found that we were increasingly hosting bachelorette parties, baby showers, team building and corporate events at our East Grand Rapids location, and that doesn't always mix well with moms and dads having their young children using the space,” she says.

Callahan anticipates that Brush Studio Grand Rapids will open its new 2,900-square-foot space at 50 Louis St NW sometime in February 2016.

Brush will also be adding six new employees and instructors to the team, for a total of 11 employees.  

For more information about Brush Studio and their classes, please visit: https://www.brushgr.com/.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

American Char awakens: May the smoke be with you

It's been over six months since Chef Len Towne closed up his popular barbecue restaurant in West Olive, Michigan and gave his smoker a short respite.

But the wait is over. American Char is reopening and is ready to bring the "char" to Zeeland, Michigan. 

The new location will be at 6394 Adams Street, in the former ice cream shop, Village Dippers.  American Char will feature a wide variety of traditional barbecue fare: smoked wings, brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and specially sausages. 

Customers will order at a counter and then can use any sauce that beckons to their palate, including an Alabama white sauce, Carolina mustard sauce, and Memphis-, St. Louis- and Texas-style sauces. Towne says American Char will feature multiple side dishes made from scratch, with the majority of vegetables being sourced from local farms.

Towne says the decision to open in Zeeland was a natural extension of his restaurant career.
"Zeeland is a good community,” he says. “I had a breakfast space there and have a following so people know my work."

Even with numerous barbecue restaurants being open in West Michigan,Towne feels the market remains strong.  "People want barbecue year around now. Not only is it the perfect summer food, it is a taste of summer in the winter.  Plus I love protein."

Besides barbecue, American Char will also feature Sherman's Ice Cream and will be serving "amazing shakes,” plus other ice cream treats.

American Char is located at 6394 Adams Street in Zeeland and is expected to open in mid-January. The winter hours will be Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 9 pm. Towne says he anticipates to be open seven days a week in the summer.  He says he will employ between seven and 12 employees.

There will be inside seating for about 44 to 48 people with additional deck seating in warmer weather.  Customers can order for pick up and catering. Towne uses a custom-made portable wood burning smoker, using primarily hickory and Michigan cherry.

To follow American Char, you can like their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New nonprofit wants to inspire youth to 'stand up for something'

Dissent: to differ in sentiment or opinion, especially from the majority.

Dissent is not always easy — especially for youth, who might not have the confidence, experience or communication skills to express their opinions and take a leadership role with their peers and in their communities.  And that is the simple inspiration behind the new nonprofit, Dissent.

"The youth voice needs to be heard" says Branden Pecor, founder of Dissent.  "Students need to learn how to contribute to the conversation. How to use their voice in front of adults and stand up for something."

Pecor says she was inspired to start the organization after her years of being involved in education management and program assessment. She observed there were several after school programs focused on youth development, but very few were teaching leadership skills.  "There weren't very many opportunities for hands on leadership training in ways that are interesting and engaging."

Dissent will initially focus on two programs. 

The first is a student-run board ("our teens run the show") that will work on creating fun events that bring attention to social justice issues.  Pecor says one example is the upcoming caroling event to end youth homelessness on December 17, when the group is trying break a world record for most carolers.

Another program Dissent is developing is a series of youth led and designed workshops.  In development is a manufacturing workshop, "fashion design for revolution,”  that will bring attention to the manufacturing processes within the design industry. The workshop will educate on better processes and then eventually provide students the opportunity to make and sell products using ethical and sustainable processes.

Dissent became an official 501c3 in December 2014, and Pecor says she has been steadily working on scaling the organization. She recently participated in the Spring GR program, graduating last month. She says the experience was extremely important and helped her get in front of more people and develop an ongoing coaching and mentor network. 

To learn more about Dissent, including how to get involved, you can visit their website here and like their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

It's back: Startup Weekend West Michigan returns to Grand Rapids

Startup Weekend West Michigan (SWWM) is the ultimate entrepreneurial muse.  It is 54 hours of pitching, prototyping, creating, developing, building, bonding, collaborating, and networking with over 150 aspiring entrepreneurs. Through osmosis alone, you can't help but be inspired.

The event is scheduled for January 15-17 at Kendall College and is being organized by individuals from emerge West Michigan, GR Current and Kendall College of Art and Design.

Lead organizer and marketing director at emerge, Samuel Ging, says SWWM is a perfect fit for West Michigan's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
"With the help of Startup Weekend participants, we want to create an environment where entrepreneurs can take risk, make purposeful connections and engage with a community that can push their idea forward,” he says.

Ging says the event is designed to get a ton of work and innovation done using the constraints of time.
"Participants of the at Startup Weekend have 54 hours to work through creating a pitchable business,” he continues. “You have literally 54 hours to go from an idea to an early stage venture." 

This year, the program is also serving as a feeder in the regional MWest Challenge, a collegiate-based business plan competition.  Ging says last year, Kayla Ita worked through her business concept, Re.Fresh, at Startup Weekend and went on to win the MWest Challenge.
"At Startup Weekend, her team went from an idea to working through the business model canvas, creating a business plan, to building a prototype, to creating a pitch deck,” he says. “Her company won $5,000,  three months later at MWest."

The program is part of a national organization that hosts similar events around the world every weekend. It is in its seventh year here and is open to anyone to participate. The program flows from business pitches, team formation and planning on Friday night to development all day on Saturday and Sunday morning.  The event culminates with final business pitches before a panel of judges on Sunday afternoon.

Throughout the event, there will speakers and business mentors available to help teams overcome any hurdles they might be experiencing. 

A big emphasis of SWWM is on learning and networking.  If your idea is not selected to move forward on Friday night, you are expected to stick around and pitch in by joining a team that is working on a project you find interesting.

To register for the event, click here. To learn more about the event, click here.

Lead sponsors are emerge West Michigan, GR Current, KCAD, Start Garden, and GVSU CEI.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

A flair for everything Oaxacan

At the Spring GR network-wide Pitch Night and Graduation Celebration, Nancy Quero closed her presentation with why she felt compelled to start her business.
"We were raised to love our culture, and because of that, I decided to start Guelaguetza,” she says.

Guelaguetza is an online business and offers handmade clothing from Oaxaca, Mexico. The designs are made by local artist from Mitla, Mexico and Mexican designer Guadalupe Quero, Nancy's sister.  The business also sells unique accessories made with natural stones, wood, shells, and other materials from the region. 

Quero says not only are the designs and materials traditional but so is the process to make the clothing and accessories.
"Most of the clothing have handmade embroidering, crochet or designs made in artisanal looms,” she says. “This kind of clothing you can only find in the region of Central Valleys, one of the eight regions of Oaxaca".

Quero's mother,  Humberta Ramirez and sister, Guadalupe Quero, both live and work in Mitla, Oaxaca and are part of the Guelaguetza team.
"My mother is my main supplier with the authentic line,” Nancy Quero says. “A couple years ago my sister joined when she graduated as a designer. Helping them motivates me to keep promoting my business."

Currently, Quero sells the products through special shows like the Hispanic and Mexican Festival at the Calder Plaza or the Fourth of July Festival in Grandville. You can can visit the Facebook page, Guelaguetza Authentic & Exclusive Designs, to check out some items posted and then contact Quero by email or phone to place an order.  The plan is for an e-commerce store to be open in Spring 2016.

As for the name, Guelaguetza, it comes from the language of the Zapotec, an indigenous people of Mexico. Quero says it means an interchange between cultures.
"I picked this name because I wanted to have something original that keeps reminding me my roots and my culture,” she says.

To follow Guelaguetza, join their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Support network emerges to help Syrian refugees in West Michigan

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead

Sam Attal is a committed citizen and advocate for Syrian refugees in West Michigan. His reason is simple.
"I am involved because I am a Syrian-American, and because of the scope of the calamity that fell on the Syrian people,” Attal says.

Attal, who is a pathologist, says there are a handful families in West Michigan that are informally supporting the agencies bringing Syrian refugees to Grand Rapids.  He says there is a lot to do and opportunity for anyone who wants to make a significant difference in the community
"Most of our support is by assisting the agencies in cultural, social and religious matters,” Attal says. “We try to befriend the settled families and make them feel welcomed and at home. We try to show the refugees that there is hope for the future and provide role-models to them by connecting them with successful expatriates. We make sure the kids are adjusted and doing well at school and in their neighborhood."
He says also they provide some material support, but those resources are limited.

Attal says both Bethany Christian Services and Lutheran Social Services are the agencies taking the leadership role locally.  He says volunteering through these groups is fairly straightforward. After background checks and some training, you can have make an immediate impact.
"You can befriend a family and become a mentor, an English instructor, a driving tutor, or just assist the families with the multitude of skills that they need to learn to become productive citizens,” Attal says.

One important focus for Attal is helping the refugees to find employment as soon as possible.
"Finding jobs is essential,” he says. “It changes their lives dramatically.  They feel that they are part of the community and they are also giving."
He says language can be a barrier, and many need coaching as they seek to re-enter the education system, which is an ongoing service need.

Attal estimates there are 10 refugee families in the area now that represent just over 70 individuals. He says there are plans for more families to be settled here but it is unclear when this might happen.

You can contact Bethany Christian Services here and Lutheran Social Services here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Traditional pit barbecue finds a home on West River Drive

Keith Hall, owner and pitmaster of The Grilling Company, prefers not to get into any debate about what is traditional barbecue and what is not. Instead, he just does his own thing and lets his wood pile, his customized Texas built wood barbecue pit and his smoky and tender briskets, tell the story.

"I only use wood in my pit,” Hall says. “This is what I do." The Grilling Company recently celebrated their grand opening on West River Drive with a ribbon cutting ceremony in mid-October, after a two-month soft launch.  Before opening a brick and mortar location, Hall had been catering from his home in Cedar Springs for almost four years.

The Grilling Company features barbecue takeout and catering. They specialize in many traditional barbecue items: pulled pork, chicken, sausage, ribs, burnt ends, and brisket, plus a wide variety of made-from-scratch side dishes. Hall says all seasonings and sauces are also his own creation.

Hall estimates he goes through about two cords of apple wood per month in his custom built trailer and pit, which he recently hauled back from Whitney, Texas. (For the record, a full cord of wood has a volume of about 128 cubic feet. That is a lot of wood.)

"I left Grand Rapids at 5:00 p.m. on a Thursday and was back cooking in Grand Rapids on Saturday,” he said.  A round trip of almost 3,000 miles made in less than 48 hours.

The Grilling Company has a team of four employees, along with several seasonal and event staff.

The Grilling Company is located at 6231 West River Drive NE.  You can view their website here and join their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Modustri makes a sweet move

Hostile takeovers might make business headlines, but there is nothing sweeter than Modustri's recent friendly takeover.

The Grand Rapids-based tech company that designs and builds digital measurement tools for the heavy equipment industry was faced with space and growth challenges: too many new hires and not enough room.

So, the company, which is based at 38 Commerce Avenue SW, made an offer to the owner of their next door neighbor's business that was preparing to close, Sissy’s Sweet Shoppe. Modustri would take over her lease payments in October and purchase more than 180 pounds of candy she had in her inventory. A sweet deal.

Brian Steketee, founder and CEO, says that once the additional space was acquired, the second order of business was what to do with the almost 200 pounds of candy in inventory? He pulled his team together for a little brainstorming session.

"How can we turn this into a positive event for everyone?" he asked.

One idea quickly resonated.

"How cool would it be if we could send it to the troops?"  The answer? Very cool.

Modustri donated all the candy to Operation Gratitude, an organization that creates care packets for overseas military. The team spent an entire day packing the candy into 14 extra-large boxes that were later shipped out. Steketee attributes much of the sales and job growth to a recent strategic alliance  with Caterpillar, the construction machinery and equipment company based in Peoria, Illinois.

"We've been hiring so fast, it's been hard to keep up,” Steketee says.

He says the firm has six new hires this fall and more job openings waiting to be filled. He anticipates the 30-person firm will grow to 54 employees in 2016, and he categorizes these as all great, well paying jobs: developers, mobile and UX designers, and back office administration help.

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Local health care sites land grants to help provide services to uninsured and underinsured families

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan presented $60,000 in Strengthening the Safety Net Grants on Tuesday, November 17 to four Grand Rapids clinics that provide health care services to uninsured and underinsured families in Kent County.

The recipients of the Strengthening the Safety Net Grants are: Baxter Community Center, which received $15,000 to support its dental clinic; Catherine’s Health Center, which received $20,000 for medical service enhancements; Health Intervention Services, which received $15,000 for dental services; and Oasis of Hope Center, which received $10,000 to support its medical services.

Kim Kratz, a senior health care analyst at Blue Cross Blue Shield says the grant program is in its 11th year and has become an important part of these organizations' ability to serve their clients. She estimates the grants have a five-time multiplier impact on the amount of services that are provided.

"All the grants support  operations,” Kratz says.  “All four organizations use volunteers to help with administration so they are able to leverage the grants to provide more services.”

According to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, more than 150,000 Kent County residents are uninsured or underinsured. Combined, Baxter Community Center, Catherine’s Health Center, Health Intervention Services, and Oasis of Hope Center provided free or low-cost medical care through 17,500 primary care and 3,000 dental visits in 2014. The health centers assisted patients in obtaining 4,400 free or low-cost medications and helped 5,500 people enroll in a health plan.

Written by John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids company Appropos launches software to simplify online campsite reservations

Camping is supposed to be a bit rustic, but that doesn't mean that making an online reservation at a campground needs to be like starting a fire with two sticks and a piece of birch bark.

Grand Rapids-based technology company Appropos has announced the launch of an Appropos-designed software, Campspot , that will streamline, simplify and optimize online campsite reservations at select Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts around the country.

The software was developed for RezPlot Systems, LLC, an industry leader in campground management, and Northgate Resorts, the owners of RV camping properties, including several Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts.

Northgate Resorts CFO, Caleb Hartung, says the need for a new reservation management program was self-evident by anyone who has made campground reservations in the past, and in the case of Northgate Resorts an important part of the growth strategy.

"As we acquired RV resorts with their existing reservation systems, nothing met our needs,” Hartung says.

In fact, he says the whole online reservation system "was a miserable experience." Hartung says Campspot was developed with a superior front end design and a vastly improved user experience.

Mari-Megan Moore, senior UI/UX designer at Appropos, describes Campspot as "modern and responsive" and says it gives the camping customer a very simple and streamlined way to reserve sites from any device. It will also allow campground owners to better manage their sites for profitability through smart bookings, discounts to encourage longer stays and repeat reservations. It also gives them the ability to introduce other products and services such as firewood, pie irons and s’mores, golf carts, hot tubs, and more.

The launch was recently announced at the annual Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Symposium and Trade Show  in Cincinnati last week.

Appropos is a Grand Rapids tech company that was formed in 2012. It employs 22 people and serves some of the largest U.S. and international companies. Learn more about Appropos at www.appropos.com.

Written by John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Hook a Sista Up provides support for women entrepreneurs

Hook A Sista Up (HASU) is a local networking group focused on entrepreneurship, collaboration and helping women be more successful with their businesses and careers.  Its mission is to help women entrepreneurs launch their business ventures faster and sustain them longer through collaboration and mentorship.

Linda Otterbridge is the founder of HASU. She started the organization just over two and a half years ago. She says there was a need for an organization that addressed the unique needs of professional women. "Women have several interesting challenges, especially around time," she says. "They juggle home, kids and careers."   

Otterbidge says the group has monthly check-ins that provide accountability checks based on previous goals and also serves as a platform to set new business goals. HASU also hosts member events for women entrepreneurs interested in starting a new venture and has programming for existing business owners focused on sustainability and growth.

All members are expected to "collaborate not compete" says Otterbridge. "The main blueprint for the group is connecting the sisterhood of women entrepreneurs."

The meetings are typically $10 to attend and there is a $75 annual fee for membership.  More information, including meeting times, programming and locations, can be found on the website here.  

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
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