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Underground shows and podcasts: The new way to discover music and the artist's that make it

Startups have been shaking things up for decades. We see them more visibly now and refer to them as startups, more prominently tech startups, but they have always been at the core of innovation in our society.

The startup is of course comprised of individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset, strong work ethic, and passion. These are our society’s disruptors, innovators, and most unique individuals.

Grand Rapids is no stranger to entrepreneurs, but the latest wave of innovators usually look towards the San Francisco Bay, NYC, or even secondary markets like Austin or Boulder. Still, even among the innovators, there is unique innovation and radical thinking.

Enter those transplants that come to Grand Rapids that thrown down roots to collaborate and innovate to fulfill their passions. This passion drives them to face failure everyday, and the slate can be wiped at any moment.

Necessity is the mother of innovation, and our city is beginning to fill with talented individuals eager to make Grand Rapids their canvas.

The concept of a house show is not new, but at its core is the spirit of innovation. Where a house show does away with the traditional venue and all the fees that come with it, and instead uses a house as the venue for a more economical and intimate production. The same is true for podcasts. With high barriers of entry for both venue shows and radio broadcasting, entrepreneurs sought ways to get out their material. In the same vein, our city has seen a growth of house shows, to the success of The Lamp Light Music Festival and the rise of more Grand Rapids based podcasts, like Super Hungry The Podcast.

Virginia Anzengruber, host of Super Hungry The Podcast, has made Grand Rapids her home base and has begun to use different ways to reach a wider audience and provide unique content.

This past weekend, Anzengruber hosted a secret pop-up show and podcast on the Southside of the city where she hosted local rapper Lady Ace Boogie of “Feel Good Music” fame. The mix of an interview and a live show was punctuated by questions from the audience and performances of unreleased material for the lucky few.

When asked about why the she used the unique format, Anzengruber replied: “I love the intimacy of house shows, and am inspired by the people of at SoFar Sounds (Sounds from a Room), who curate some of the best and most intimate shows I've ever been to. I wanted to sort of recreate that vibe with this event. The small, intimate audience brought the exact atmosphere I was hoping would organically happen. I think it really comes across in the recording.”

The show was intimate, allowing the audience to see and hear Lady Ace Boogie in ways that a traditional venue could not grant. Under the advisory of local music mainstay Thom McGuire, president of the West Michigan Entertainment Industry Professionals, Anzengruber presented a viable new formula for the growing underground music scene in Grand Rapids. With advisory from McGuire, who himself worked with the band Journey, it seems that Anzengruber’s efforts will be well guided.

Anzengruber added: “I've been to tons of house shows...I knew it was something I wanted to do, and I think Lady Ace Boogie is such a dynamically talented performer that I knew we'd be able to create something special. Having an audience's energy to pull from really makes a difference. It's like any live show—it only exists between the people who were actually there.”

Though a singular experience, Anzengruber did capture the entire event for her next episode of Super Hungry The Podcast, which will be dropping soon. With a great show in the books we asked what was next for Anzengruber as she seeks to continue to expand formats she tells us:

“I’m currently in the funding/pre-production phase for my next project, an expansion of the Super Hungry brand. While the podcast focuses on the lives of working, or "Not-So Starving Artists"; the new project, a six-episode YouTube series, is called Super Hungry: Conversations from the Kitchen and will explore the intersection of food and storytelling. Highlighting some of the best and most inspired chefs in our nation’s mitten. Super Hungry: Conversations from the Kitchen will dissect and engage the viewer in the ephemeral Art of the Meal. I'm also going to be offering my Podcasting 101: The Basics and Podcasting 201: The Details workshops again through a collaboration with Avenue for the Arts.

Grand Rapids is mixing it up, and you will miss out if you don’t stop and smell the roses. The person next to you in the coffee shop or on the bus could be the host or creator of the city’s underground scene.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

BedBud alarm: Put an end to sleeping in

Our weather is here, then there, then back again. What is consistent is that we are having longer days of sun. The morning at 7 a.m. looks a lot different then it did a few months ago, and like the saying says, early to bed early to rise makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise. I’ve been waking up at 4:45 a.m. for a while now and I still haven’t seen my wealth grow. Maybe the growth in my wisdom will make me realize how wealthy in experience I am. Afterall, I was paid in experience from all those internships!

Whether it is waking up early for health reasons, for productivity, or because you absolutely have to get to work, you most likely utilize an alarm clock. The alarm clock is simple, it always tells the time, and at certain times it alerts you of that time. The problem here really is us, the human variable. We whine, we procrastinate, and we don’t wake up the first time! The solution is really simple: sleep earlier and get enough sleep, and you will naturally wake up on time.

Oh if it were only that easy, so inventors see a problem to fix. They toil away and look for the most effective solution. Some are very effective but are not so, how can we put this delicately...they are not the way you would imagine waking up peacefully from a deep slumber.

Enter the BedBud Alarm, the latest device from the now Grand Rapids-based company AtLast Industries.

President of AtLast Industries, Don Rhoads says “The BedBud Alarm allows the user to finally take control of their morning routine. Many individuals have the drive to wake up and start their mornings, but have the terrible problem of hitting the snooze and going back to sleep.”

So here is how it all works: you place the BedBud between your mattress and boxspring, let it calibrate its sensors to the weight of the bed, and then just pull out the easy-to-use app to set your weekly alarm schedule.

No need to set eight different alarms to wake you up! We all know someone who does this...or maybe it’s you!

Excited to give it a try? AtLast’s press release tells us that “the Kickstarter campaign will go live May 2017. The best way to make sure that you get the early bird pricing is to go to our website sign up for our newsletter. Anyone signed up for the newsletter prior to launch and who backs the BedBud within the first 48hrs, will be up for a chance to win a free run of the product!”

Summer seems to be trying to peek its head around the corner, so don’t miss any more sunlight and get up early!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Envoy secures Grand Trunk to B2B Platform

Local company Envoy has been making the news lately with continued growth and moves to their new space on the westside. The local business community is happy to hear that Envoy is back in the news again with another exciting announcement!
From Envoy’s press release: “Grand Trunk, makers of renowned adventure, travel, camping, and beach accessories, has adopted Envoy as its B2B platform.”

This is great news for the ever growing business community in Grand Rapids, as another startup continues to show strong and steady growth.

Envoy is a technology company providing innovative wholesale B2B software solutions for content and commerce, and is designed to help footwear and apparel companies create dynamic content, increase sales, grow their wholesale channels, and raise their market strategies.

From Envoy’s press release: “Grand Trunk will be using Envoy Core to unify their B2B processes and fuel growth, while providing valuable feedback on the specific demands a growing company will have for its B2B platform.”

"Our new Envoy Core offering is really exciting for us. It's an opportunity for growing companies to take advantage of the same powerful tools and benefits found in our enterprise edition. Envoy Core gets these growing brands out of using an xls sheet to capture orders and a PDF to tell their story, and gives them a destination to invite their buyers into a modern purchasing and showroom experience," says CEO Jon Faber.

With similarities to Swedish-based, but Grand Rapids present software company Configura, Envoy has found an elegant solution to a problem within an industry that has been previously overlooked. In a Jobsian approach, Envoy has simplified an antiquated process that tech has overlooked and that businesses have not noticed could not only be improved, but revolutionized.

If you are reading this news and are currently living in Grand Rapids, our city is shaking things up!

If you are a Grand Rapids expat reading this elsewhere, then you might want to reconsider that move. Grand Rapids is showing little sign of slowing down.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Tallysheet: Clearing out the Headache from Clearing out your stuff

The weather is getting nicer, and you are a little late on your spring cleaning. You call your friends and they are in the same predicament. Thank goodness for friends! So you all decide to gather up your extra things you have from your spring cleaning and have a big sale!

If you have ever managed a multi-seller garage sale, you already know the headache that this can bring. If you have never managed one, just take a look at the image below for the nightmare that awaits you.

That is all in the past thanks to a West Michigan based startup, husband and wife duo Holly and Brian Anderson, otherwise known as Tallysheet.

“The traditional process of tracking how much each seller has earned in a multi-family garage sale is really time-consuming and antiquated. It usually involves peeling price tags off each item and sticking them on a poster board or notebook. Then adding up all those tags at the end of the sale. I kept thinking ‘There has to be a better way to do this!’" says Holly Anderson.

After hearing and experiencing the same problem again and again within their friend group, the Andersons decided to do something about it. Brian, a VP at local digital agency Brightly, and Holly, a Project Manager at Haworth, put their skills together to knock out an app ideation, creation, and launch in record time.

Sitting down in May of last year to ideate and prototype, they worked throughout the summer during their free time and were able to launch by September 2016.

The app does it all and with slick design for simple user interface. When asked about their favorite feature they created for the app the Andersons said, “I love that multiple cashiers can each be using their own phone to simultaneously checkout customers, and they can be anywhere in the garage—not stuck at a table behind a cash box.

Another great feature is that cashiers can run real-time reports at anytime to see how much they've earned. After all the hard work of pulling the garage sale together, it's really rewarding to see that total going up!”

You would expect these features and design type to be a product of a Silicon Valley startup or a top prospect fresh out of Y-Combinator, but we have the talent right here in West Michigan.

The app has seen the most installs and growth in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. It is safe to say that this app has gone global, showing that West Michigan has more than just manufacturing under its sleeve.

So we asked the Andersons if this cool new app is meant for just garage sales and they let us know that “in addition to garage sales and estate sales, we've seen people use it for all kinds of multi-seller events like craft sales, bake sales, fruit and vegetable stands, and multi-level marketing parties and shows [e.g. ThirtyOne bags, Premier Jewelry, etc.]. We've found that it's applicable across a broad market of sales events.”

Well you heard it here first folks, put away the dry erase board and the cash security box, and jump into the future with Tallysheet!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

5x5 Night: On the road at The Downtown Market

If you haven’t made your way out to a 5x5 Night by now, I feel bad for your back; it’s been achingly supporting the rock you’ve been living under for the last 5 years. Truly painful. We have some great chiropractors here in the city that can take a look at that.

This past Tuesday was another installment of Start Garden’s 5x5 Night: On the Road series. The team headed down to the Downtown Market with five contestants to hear their pitches, rub elbows with the entrepreneurial community, and to of course eat and drink amazing offerings from the market.

This installment had a bit of everything. The pitches included a board game, a community development, a fashion line, a food company, and a mobile app.

Nathan Straathof presented his idea “Unlabeled: Blind Beer Tasting Game” where cards were matched to flights of beer to taste and show off your fledgling Cicerone skills.

Maurice Townsend presented his vision for “Motown Square,” a community of affordable and mixed-use housing on the southside of the city.

Rhoda Klomega presented her business “Delasie,” a fashion line emphasizing fitted clothing that lifts your confidence.

Hannah Johnson presented her business “Spera Foods,” a nut-alternative food that uses a tasty root vegetable called the tigernut.

Jeffrey Boore presented his untitled idea for an app that provides meal planning and grocery shopping, and is also a cooking guide.

Each presenter drew the audience in with their charisma, and impressed everyone with market research, but it may have been the fashion model line up that did it for Klomega and her fashion company, Delasie.

The judges awarded Delasie with the coveted check for $5,000, provided by Start Garden, and an additional $5000 in legal services from Varnum LLP, a Michigan law firm based in Grand Rapids. The $5000 in legal services will go a long way in helping this fashion startup grow as they seek to hire new staff due to continued demand and growth.

If you missed this installation of 5x5 Night you can’t afford to miss the next one. Be sure to stay updated here for the next event!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Podcasting 101: The art of listening and conversing with Virginia Anzengruber

Do you have a long commute? A boring job? Insomnia? It’s likely that you have filled that never-ending void in time by listening to a few podcasts, and if you have only listened to a few, or none at all, you are missing out on a whole new world of storytelling and journalism. We are living in the golden age of storytelling, in the form of both television and podcasting, and life has been good.

 

Our ever growing city has already sprouted its own podcasts that have garnered cult followings: The Have Company podcast, West Michigan Indie, and Entrepreneurial Gold, to name just a few. To add more fertilizer to the soil, this past Wednesday, April 26, Virginia Anzengruber, host of Super Hungry the Podcast, shared her podcasting knowledge, thanks to a partnership with the Avenue for the Arts. Anzengruber is one of the founding members of Snowball Studios, the commercial and podcasting wing of the Grand Rapids-based Snow Monster Studios.

 

“I think that the accessibility of podcasts, like many other art forms, has made them so popular. You can listen to them on your phone, online, or download them like music. There are so many that are directed at such specific interests that it's like curating conversations and lessons to your exact taste.” says Anzengruber

 

The free event took place at Snowball Studios, located at 222 Division Ave. South. Where a panel of podcasters Lucy Diamond, Mary Harrington, and Darren Gibson from both Women Libs and Southpaws respectively, fielded questions and shared their experiences with the packed room.

 

Anzengruber, who now lives in Grand Rapids, brought her talents from her home state of Florida to Los Angeles, where she started Super Hungry the Podcast, and has since brought on such guests as Aaron Carter, Tom Wilson, Jim O’Heir, and Brian McKnight...yes, that Brian McKnight!

 

“I feel that for me personally, podcasting has helped me hone my voice and point of view," Anzengruber says. "I've always been a mouthier sort of gal, and I love that I've created a show that is my exact voice and taste, and that people are actually listening and enjoying it. It's such a thrill to connect with fans and listeners, whether that be live shows or on the internet. I am absolutely in love with having a genuine connection with other people, and Super Hungry the Podcast has made that so much easier for me to do that.”

 

Since the last comedy boom, aspiring comedians started to look at where Saturday Night Live and Late Night hired from. All signs pointed to Improve Olympics (iO), The Groundlings, Upright Citizens Brigade, and Second City. All these comedy troupes soon became the farm teams for the comedy big leagues as soon as the blueprint was out.

 

As they grew in popularity, comedy troupes began experiencing a new phenomenon...corporate types. Gasp! These suit and tie types started popping up more and more at comedy troupes and open mic nights. The Freakonomics of the phenomenon was that companies started realizing the valuable skill set that stand-up comedians and improv-sketch comedians were forming. These same skills were needed by their CEOs, vice presidents, and executive level employees. So off to the dark comedy cellars they went!

 

In the same vein, companies challenge their middle management and leadership to go through career development to improve productivity and effectiveness. To be an effective leader you need a few distinct qualities, including the ability to actively listen and the ability to be intentional. Coincidentally, these are also the qualities that make a great podcast host.

 

A podcaster must be able to listen actively, take mental notes, read tone changes or facial queues, be comfortable one-on-one, and be able to carry the conversation. All good qualities for a manager or supervisor right?

 

Anzengruber encourages those interested in podcasting, saying, “Don't be afraid to use your voice. Once you find it -- use it. The worst that can happen is that someone will disagree with you. The best thing that can happen is that you can connect with someone.”

 

Wednesday's event was completely attended by would-be podcasters, whether they planned on starting a storytelling podcast (more murder mystery please!) or an aftershow podcast (The Wire: we need it; contact me; I will co-host) or they were looking to increase their already growing podcast base. As was the case for the ladies of This Podcast is Haunted who attended the event. "It was so good to see that there are other people doing the same thing and trying to grow," says Jen Vos of This Podcast is Haunted.

 

Curious to learn more about Anzengruber’s work? You can check out her podcast here.


Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Bust out the shades: Ten ways to make the most of this spring in (and around) Grand Rapids

Michigan weather can be quite capricious, but lately it has been consistently feeling like spring is here to stay.

 

So put away the boots, heavy coats and wool socks, and bust out the shades, sneakers and short sleeves. Spring has arrived, and we have the must-hit spots and activities for you during this warm weather.

 

West Michigan Trails and Greenways

With such an extensive network of trails at our disposal it would be a shame--no, a crime--if you did not find your way to the trails this spring. Walk, bike, run, or even skate your way out there! If you are looking for a closer ride you can launch from Riverside Park on the north side of the city or you can head to the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail from the west side.

 

Taqueria San Jose

This taqueria’s aesthetic is hard to beat. A throwback to the diner drive-in days, Taqueria San Jose is always packed as soon as the temperature heats up. Right off of both the Rapid 1 or Silver Line route, this southside gem will not disappoint. Find your way inside the cozy restaurant to make your order, but be sure to save a seat outside to get the full experience. Want to check out other restaurants where you can soak in the sun while eating? This comprehensive list has tons of good suggestions.

 

Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium - Grand Rapids Public Museum

This choice might sound counterproductive, but just hear me out for a bit. These tickets are just $5 ($4 if you purchased a general admission to the museum), which is a drop in the bucket compared to the $58 million price tag SpaceX is asking for a ride into the stars. Just a quick walk over the bridge into the westside will literally take you into a whole new world. (OK, so figuratively, but as close to literal as possible. Asymptotically close for all you math nerds out there!)

 

Spoke Folks

So you are reading all this spring goodness, and you go into your garage to untangle your bike from the heaping mess and realize it needs more than just a little air in the tires. Or maybe not; maybe you are super organized, and your bike has its own place and is good to go. We can’t all be like you, Karen. No one has the time, because we fly by the seat of our pants! Well, the Spoke Folks are a handy crew of people who believe in teaching you how to fish instead of handing you one. They will help you fix your own bike, and they have all the tools and supplies you could need. The charge is just $5, and you get access to the entire kingdom; all other parts are seriously affordable, so you won’t break the bank. Head on over and be sure to give all the amazing people at Spoke Folks--Jay, Martel and Morgan, just to name a few--a high five when you see them.

 

Grand Rapids Parks

Get out to your local park! Our city boasts 74 city-owned parks with over 1,600 acres available. If you want to play futsal (futbol de sala, or street soccer) or just watch the local skill tear up the court, head on over to Garfield Park on the southside or Lincoln Park on the westside. If getting lost and walking in nature is more your thing, you can’t beat Riverside Park or Huff Park on the north end. With Riverside Park flooding beautifully, it transforms the whole landscape into a new park. Like having two parks in one!

 

CKO Kickboxing

Not feeling quite ready to frolic around in the fields of blooming flowers? Well, head on over to CKO Kickboxing to jump start your spring, but be warned this team means business! Each trainer brings a bit of a twist to the mat, but what is certain is that you will leave with a complete body burn. You will kick, you will punch, you will sweat (more than you thought was possible), and yes you might ask yourself is it over? Their Triple Play package is perfect for testing the waters; at $20 for three classes (45 minutes to one hour each) and a pair of gloves, it’s hard to pass up!

 

Spring Runs

Still wanting to make good on that New Year’s resolution to stay fit? Grab a friend and sign up for these upcoming races in our city. Support Title IX and women in sports and head to the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon on Sunday April 23 with your mom, grandma, girlfriend, or any other powerful women in your life. Come out and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the country’s largest 25K road run, the Fifth Third River Bank Run, on May 13. Want to do more than just run? Head to the Grand Rapids Triathlon on June 11. If you’re looking for something a bit more laid back, you can “run through dreamy colored foam” and “snap whimsical photos with giant unicorns” at the Color Run on July 29 (yeah, we know that’s a summer event, but you can purchase cheaper early-bird tickets through April 26).

 

Festival of the Arts

Long before ArtPrize, in 1969, Alexander Calder’s “La Grande Vitesse” was installed in front of Grand Rapids’ City Hall and inspired the city’s first Festival of the Arts. This event, the biggest art event the city had ever seen, jump-started a revival of the arts in Grand Rapids and has gone onto become the free three-day soiree of creativity that draws hundreds of thousands of people to our downtown. This year, Festival will be celebrated on June 2, 3 and 4 and will feature several stages of performances, a juried regional arts exhibition, dozens of food booths run by nonprofit organizations, and more.

 

The first-ever Grand Rapids Asian Festival

This inaugural one-day event will feature food, art, music and more from the Philippines, Korea, India, China, Vietnam, and other countries across Asia. Guests will have a chance to join origami and chopsticks workshops, as well as interactive dance performances representing Bollywood, Laos and more. Plus, you’ll have the chance to see a variety of entertainment, Taiko drumming, martial arts demonstrations, and a karaoke contest and party with DJ Ace Marasigan. Feel free to bring the whole family, as there will be an interactive kids’ area. For the adults, there will be a beer tent selling both local and Asian brews. The festival will be free and open to everyone.

 

Tulips, tulips and more tulips!

Gather the family together and head to the week-long Tulip Time Festival in Holland, a nationally renowned celebration of Dutch culture that features parades, an arts and crafts fair, tulip trolley tours, a carnival, a Dutch market, live music and dance, and more. The festival runs from May 6-14.

 

Have a few nuggets of your own that you are willing to share? Let us know in the comments! Have a seriously awesome spot but are not willing to share it? Well, I have only this to say to you:

 

I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for a prize, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you tell me your secret spot now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for that secret spot, I will find it, and I will tell everybody.

 

(Confused? Go here.)

 

Until next time, stay moving, stay cheap, stay curious.

 

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram


Summer science camps: Van Andel Education Institute makes learning fun for local students

We are rounding that spring corner, and before you know it we will be right in the middle of summer! If you found yourself scrambling this spring break for educational activities for the little ones, we are here to make sure you are prepared for the summer. The folks at the Van Andel Education Institute have a plenty of programs to help fill up your kid’s, and entire family’s, summer.

“Kids love hands-on science. They enjoy getting messy, seeing how things work, and exploring,” says Terra Tarango, director of the Van Andel Education Institute.

The institute will be offering two summer camps geared towards students in fourth through seventh grades.
The fourth and fifth graders will be joining the “Animal Survivor: Pill Bugs, Newts & Geckos, Oh My!” program.

As part of this week-long day camp, students will explore the world of animal adaptations, including studying animal behavior, observing structural traits and discovering what helps animals survive in the wild. Plus, the youngsters will have the chance to learn about a variety of species, including invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles, through hands-on exploration.

“The students love getting to interact with the different animals we have in the lab,” Tarango says. “They have seen geckos and bearded dragons, but most of them have never been able to hold them, so they can’t wait to get their hands on them and learn about their survival mechanisms and habitat preference.”

There will be two sessions held, with the first running from June 26 to June 30 and the second starting July 17 and wrapping up July 21.

The sixth and seventh graders will get to dive into the “Environmental Forensics: What’s in the water?” program.
As part of this, students will “explore solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental concerns,” the institute explains.

Also a week-long day camp, this program will allow the children to “discover how oil spills, chemical contamination and other threats to water quality affect our environment.”

By using hands-on investigations, learning water monitoring techniques and working with peers, students will brainstorm how to protect Earth’s water.

“In this camp, students study real-world challenges to our water resources, giving them a strong foundational understanding of water quality and environmental influences,” says Tarango.

There will be two sessions held for this as well: one from July 10 - 14 and the second from July 24 - 27.

The cost for each of these summer camps is $185. For more information, head on over to the VAEI site for registration.

Not ready to take the full dive just yet? The institute has a great weekend option for you and your little ones to dip your toes into. Science on Saturday provides a great exposure to science for those who might not be ready to take the plunge. The program is $20 for teams of a student and an adult, but financial assistance is available. Space is limited to 16 teams per session, so be sure to contact the institute at information@vaei.org or call 616-234-5528 to register.

There will be a session for first and second graders at the end of this month so be sure to reserve your spot as they tend to fill up quickly!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
 

To address racism in hiring, poverty & more, Grand Rapids launches Racial Equity Initiative

Grand Rapidians often hear their city’s stories of success: the beer industry that’s bringing in tourists from around the country, the manufacturing sector that’s making a comeback, the almost endless string of accolades naming Grand Rapids as one of the best places to raise a family, buy a house, and more.

 

But there are other stories that aren’t as often heard, even though they’re being told: those of the city’s residents living in poverty. Those of the people struggling to find work. Those of the families who can no longer afford the rent for the home in which they’ve lived for years, or decades.

 

More than a quarter of Grand Rapids’ population -- 26 percent -- lives at or below the federal poverty level (about $24,000 for a family of four), and that number climbs even higher in communities of color, according to statistics from the U.S. Census. About 45 percent of the 42,000 African Americans residing in the city live in poverty. The unemployment rate climbs to about 53 percent in predominantly black neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. Approximately 35 percent of Hispanic residents are living in poverty and are facing a 27 percent unemployment rate.

 

The staggering unemployment and poverty rates for people of color has led to Grand Rapids being ranked as one of the worst cities for African Americans in the entire country. While the median income for white individuals in the city is about $77,000 per year, it is $22,000 for black residents. Of the nearly 16,000 businesses in Kent County, just 5 percent are owned by individuals who are black, according to the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses.

 

“Grand Rapids continues to be a tale of two cities, where neighborhoods in 17 census tracks -- home to roughly a third of our city’s population -- have 48 percent of their residents living in poverty,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said during her State of the City address last month. “These neighborhoods are more racially and ethnically diverse than the city as a whole. These neighborhoods are economically unstable with low median household incomes and high unemployment.”

 

To address racism and racial disparities in the city, Bliss and the city officially launched the “Grand Rapids Racial Equity Initiative,” which the mayor announced during her State of the City and which has landed $300,000 in support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF).

 

The city announced this week that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will provide a three-year, $300,000 grant for the initiative that aims to increase job creation and employment and create an action plan for racial equity in the city. The program will focus on the 17 census tracks cited by Bliss during her March speech. These communities are identified by WKKF as “neighborhoods of focus,” or areas that are facing higher rates of poverty and unemployment than the rest of the city. The neighborhoods included in these census tracts include Madison Square, Baxter, Garfield Park, Roosevelt Park, the South East Community, and Heartside, among others.

 

“The initiative will convene stakeholders to create specific action steps that increase equitable employment and reduce racial disparities in the city, create a digital Racial Equity Dashboard for community transparency and accountability, and identify ways for community stakeholders to work together form community-wide impact,” the city says in a press release issued this week.

 

With this initiative, Bliss said the city will “work hard to strengthen our partnerships” with such organizations as the NAACP, Urban League, Hispanic Chamber, Greater Grand Rapids Racial Equity Network, The Right Place, The Source, WMCAT, GROW, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the West Michigan Small Business Development Center, and others.

 

The WKKF funding will cover the costs of hiring a facilitator for the initiative and hiring an “evaluation and data partner to track and publish program outcomes,” according to the city. Additionally, it will cover the costs associated with trainings, strategic planning sessions, community roundtables, and other public outreach.

 

“The Grand Rapids Racial Equity Initiative will strengthen our efforts to eliminate racial disparities in our city,” Bliss said in a press release. “We know that without racial equity we cannot be prosperous as a community.”

 

Dr. Bill Pink, the vice president and dean for workforce development at Grand Rapids Community College who will take over as the school’s president on May 1, will serve as the co-chair of the initiative with Bliss.

 

“This effort is something that’s been a growing initiative from the mayor’s office and the city of Grand Rapids wanting to make sure, from the city’s perspective, we’re doing all we can to promote racial equity in our city,” Pink said in an interview with Rapid Growth.

 

The soon-to-be president of GRCC said the data that stems from the initiative will not only help to inform the city on matters of racial equity (including, for example, how racism prevents people from being employed), but it will help the college as well.

 

“Some of our students are in these neighborhoods, and this gives us more information so we can make more informed decisions,” said Pink, who has long done equity work, including chairing a national conference on the future of African-American education in the U.S. and conducting equity and diversity training for teachers and organizations. “This will give us more data for us to find out more about our community… This is the work that will inform us enough that we can make lasting change.”

 

Part of that lasting change will stem from some honest and difficult conversations about racism and racial bias in the Grand Rapids community, including dialogue about policing after five unarmed African American boys were stopped at gunpoint by police last month.

 

“Anything in terms of what we see in Grand Rapids that we want to address will be on the table,” Pink said in regards to community conversations about police bias. WKKF noted that racial equity work not only strengthens communities but makes policing more effective.

 

“Police forces that reflect the diversity of their communities can improve communications and foster cultural understandings that lead to both safer neighborhoods and stronger police-community relationships,” WKKF wrote. “There is more opportunity for trust and transparency when the community sees a police force that includes members of their community.”

 

While the WKKF grant will last for three years, this work must be at the forefront of city policy -- and continued by residents throughout Grand Rapids, officials said.

 

“It’s not just a task force or initiative that drives changes; people drive change,” Pink said. “The folks who are a part of this great city are the people who will be the main players in this.”


“This is all of our work; this is how we take care of each other,” Pink continued. “This is how we take care of our city. It’s ambitious for us, and it’s a positive move. But it won’t mean a thing if we as a whole can’t grab a hold of this.”

Streamlining passion: Good Ink is making fundraising a whole lot easier

They say there is an app for everything, whether it’s ordering a ride through Lyft or now getting a quick mortgage approval through Rocket Mortgage. No problem is too big or too small for internet entrepreneurs to tackle.

 

The team at Michigan Awesome , a screen printing shop based in Holland, Michigan, found themselves working with friends, family and the community quite often on the same kind of project. People would come into the shop and bring t-shirt designs for a fundraiser they were hosting. There would be a back and forth on design implementation, logistics, and payments that would add stress to the whole process. It wasn’t simple; it wasn’t letting their customers concentrate on what they were passionate about: the causes for which they were fundraising.

 

After helping dozens of clients with fundraising campaigns for adoptions, schools, teams, youth groups, and more, they realized they could serve a greater number of clients if the process was streamlined.

 

Team member Kevin Watson recalls it best. “Organizing campaigns, designing shirts, spreading the word, collecting funds and delivering shirts was a lot of work,” he says.

 

So, the team of four got to working on creating a platform that would automate and simplify the stresses of running a t-shirt fundraising campaign, and just like that Good Ink was born.

 

When asked what is at the heart of Good Ink, Watson replies that “Good Ink is set out to simplify the t-shirt fundraising process. We want to remove the roadblocks and make it as easy as possible to turn your good intentions into a huge success. We all want to make a difference, but have limited time.”

 

Watson says that a process that would take 20-plus hours of an organization’s time now just takes a few minutes on the Good Ink website. “No more collecting checks and driving around town to deliver shirts. No more fronting a lot of money in hopes of a good return,” Watson says in regards to how the website really takes care of everything.

 

Good Ink is free to use for organizers, and the purchase/donation process wrapped with the individual delivery makes it easier to sell more products and make more money for the causes closest to your heart.

 

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.


Comcast partners with Boys & Girls Club of Grand Rapids to bridge city’s digital divide

With every passing year, access to the internet becomes more necessary for daily life. Whether it is for work or personal use, a lack of reliable internet access places a person or family at a distinct social, and potential economic, disadvantage.

 

Comcast Cable (Xfinity) has been taking action to mitigate this problem with its “Internet Essentials” program.

 

This Comcast-funded initiative offers low-cost internet access for a little under $10, plus monthly tax; internet ready computers for about $150, in addition to monthly tax; and free digital literacy training. Michelle Gilbert- VP Public Relations, Comcast Cable Heartland Region says “Internet Essentials is our answer to helping bridge the digital divide, which is arguably a high priority for our country. The more families we can help get access to the Internet at home, the more possibilities we open up for them.”

 

The program was originally created to meet the needs of families with school-aged children with at least one child eligible for the National School Lunch Program, a federally subsidized program that provides free and reduced-price meals to students from families living at or below 130 percent of the poverty level. For example, 130 percent of the federal poverty level translates to a $2,633 monthly income for a family of four. In Grand Rapids, nearly 16,000 Grand Rapids Public Schools students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in the 2015-16 school year, the most recent data available, according to state statistics.

 

This past July, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Comcast announced that public housing and HUD-assisted residents living in Comcast’s service area would be eligible to apply for the Internet Essentials program.

 

As part of the Internet Essentials program, Comcast in West Michigan partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth to host five free digital literacy classes for local residents that aim to bridge the digital divide.

 

This first digital literacy class will teach students the importance of social media privacy settings, how to react if approached by a stranger online, and how to recognize and report cyber bullying.

 

Gilbert adds that, “social media is a big part of our kids’ lives, so it’s important to teach them how to use it safely and responsibly”

 

It will be held this Thursday, April 6 at 1:30pm at the Boys & Girls Club of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth, located at 235 Straight Ave NW. For more information about the class, contact the Boys & Girls Club at 616-233-9370 ext. 110.

 

The Internet Essentials program was launched in 2011, and since then Comcast has connected more than 38,000 homes in Michigan, including 5,200 in Kent County, to the web. Internet Essentials doesn’t require a credit check, installation fee or contract. The service provides speeds of up to 10 megabits per second, and in-home Wi-Fi is included.


Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Human trafficking in West Michigan: How Ferris State University is fighting modern-day slavery

Human trafficking is a deeply rooted problem that’s growing in Kent County, and throughout Michigan, according to human rights advocates. As an increasing number of people are forced into modern day slavery, leaders across Michigan, a state that has more trafficking victims than almost anywhere else in the country, are determined to combat this epidemic.

The Ferris State University Coalition Against Slavery and the Professional Convention Management Association Student Organization are holding a two-day public “Conference on Human Trafficking Awareness” from April 5 to April 6 at the FSU University Center, located at 805 Campus Drive in Big Rapids, Michigan.

FSU conference attendees are welcome to register for one or both days and will learn more about trafficking, signs of exploitation, root causes, the trauma experienced by a person who has been exploited, and tips for keeping family and friends safe through cyber security.

Day one will be held on Wednesday, April 5 in the University Center Ballroom from 7:00pm-9:30pm. It will include a presentation given by Jason Otting and the Women in Cyber Security Student Organization titled “Fighting for the Silenced: How Cyber Security Can Curb Human Trafficking.” The evening will conclude with a screening of “The Long Night” by Tim Matsui and Media Storm Productions.

Day two will be held on Thursday, April 6 in the University Center from 9am to 4pm. For a small fee ($15 for students; $30 for non-students), registrants will attend breakout sessions, enjoy a catered lunch and participate in a panel discussion with guest speakers, including Carmen Kucinich, FBI Victim Specialist; Nikeidra Battle-Debarge, Wedgewood’s Manasseh Project Coordinator; and Jane White, Chair of the Michigan State Human Trafficking Task Force.

Human trafficking: A growing problem

The FSU conference comes at a time when there has been a nationwide push to address human trafficking. In the last weeks of his final term, former U.S. President Barack Obama declared January 2017 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline’s website defines trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will.”

Human trafficking continues to be a growing problem in Michigan. In 2016, 246 human trafficking cases were reported in Michigan alone, The National Human Trafficking Hotline saw a 37.5 percent increase in calls in 2016. Of those 246 cases, 191 were sex trafficking cases, 30 were labor trafficking, eight were sex and labor, and 17 were not specified. The majority of the victims, 216 individuals, were female, and 29 were male, according to Polaris, an organization that works to eradicate human trafficking.

While 246 cases were reported in Michigan last year, advocates say the actual number of trafficking victims is far higher. It’s difficult to gauge how many people are being trafficked in the region, but Women at Risk International, a Wyoming, Michigan-based nonprofit that’s working to eliminate human trafficking, reports there could be as many as 2,400 minors who are currently trafficking victims in West Michigan -- and that number doesn’t take into account the women and men forced into slavery. People of all ages are subjected to the horrors of trafficking, though the U.S. Department of Justice states that the average age of a victim of sex trafficking in the country is 13, with 12 being the average for a boy and 14 for a girl.

Trafficking touches all corners of Michigan, and the group Hope Against Trafficking notes Michigan was ranked as the second highest state for the number of sex trafficking victims in 2015.

“Over the last decade, criminal dockets have detailed tragic accounts of children sold for sex at truck stops, servants held in captivity and forced to clean for free, and women forced to enter the sex industry and provide profit for their traffickers,” Michigan’s Human Trafficking Commission states in a 2013 report. “From urban centers like Detroit and Grand Rapids to rural communities in the state’s Upper Peninsula, reports of trafficking have made headlines. Cases like these vividly illustrate the need for a comprehensive response to this crime.”

While Michigan has strengthened its laws regarding human trafficking in recent years, communities such as Kent County is facing a growing problem, according to the Kent County Human Trafficking Task Force, which first convened in March 2015.

“Like others, our community possesses characteristics that can be easily exploited by traffickers in what is, at its core, a highly lucrative commercial enterprise,” the task force writes, citing West Michigan’s agribusiness sector as a draw for labor traffickers and truck stops and rest areas dotting well-traveled highways as “attractive places for sex traffickers to sell their victims.”

“Our local hospitality industry has grown as our region becomes an increasingly popular location for large-scale events and national conventions,” the task force writes. “Hotels — filled with guests frequently coming and going and often unfamiliar to hotel staff — provide convenient, temporary cover for traffickers looking to service sex workers.”

Additionally, the task force notes that “the socio-economic conditions that can make people vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking in the first place are widespread in our community.”

“The economic growth Kent County has experienced in recent years remains stubbornly out of reach for thousands,” the group writes. “One in six people in our community lives in poverty. With few economic options, adults and children alike are often coerced into dangerous situations to simply put food on the table and a roof over their heads.”

How you can help

As an everyday citizen, there’s much you can do to help fight human trafficking, from lending a hand financially to just keeping an eye out for signs that someone may be a victim.
 
  • There are numerous signs that may show someone is being forced to have sex or work against their will, a list of which you can see here and here.
  • If you are a victim, or you think you know someone who is, call the Kent County Human Trafficking hotline, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 616-726-7777.
  • You can also call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
  • There are numerous groups in West Michigan that support human trafficking victims, many of which accept donations and/or volunteers. You can see a list here.
  • Increase awareness by talking to your friends neighbors about trafficking, donate items that trafficking victims and their children need, and more. See the numerous ways to help at the Wyoming, Michigan-based Women at Risk International.

The Conference on Human Trafficking Awareness will be held April 5 and 6 at Ferris State University’s University Center, located at 805 Campus Drive in Big Rapids, Michigan. Pre-registration is required and will close Monday, April 3 at 11:59pm.

Additional reporting by Anna Gustafson

Straight from the farmer’s mouth: Support local agriculture at Saturday’s Growers Fare

Coming this weekend is the farmer’s market to end all farmers’ markets.

The West Michigan Growers Group, a consortium of farmers that became a nonprofit in January, is partnering with Michigan State University Extension and the Downtown Market for the 2017 Growers Fare: CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] Open House, which will give our local residents a chance to connect with, and support, area farmers. The third annual event will bring a coalition of more than 10 farms to the Downtown Market’s second floor banquet ballroom from 10am to 1:30pm this Saturday, March 25.

Market vendors will offer food samples that have used local farm produce. Along with being child-friendly, the event is geared to families seeking to support locally grown food. Those who attend Saturday’s gig will be able to get more information about, and sign up for, CSAs, programs that allow residents to purchase fresh produce from local growers. Along with produce shares, select vendors will also be offering milk and egg shares as part of their CSAs.

Farmers will provide demonstrations and be eager to field questions from any newcomers to the CSA model. The farms range from distances as far away as Kent City and Ada and as close as the south side of Grand Rapids.
The farms that will be represented this weekend include:
The event will be a great chance to ask farmers about their practices, pricing and products they offer. All WM Grower’s Group farms are committed to bringing sustainably grown products to their local communities.

While the Growers Group is a relatively new nonprofit, it has operated as a farmer-to-farmer organization since April 12, with the group meeting for monthly potlucks and farm tours in order to exchange ideas, tools and organize shared labor and other costs.

Be sure to come on down to the Downtown Market this Saturday and poke your head in and learn about the food that is being grown locally right from the...farmer’s mouth.

For more information about Growers Fare, visit www.wmgrowersgroup.org.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Citizen Labs: How a group of data geeks, developers & designers are making GR more transparent

During a time in our country when the topic of government is in most headlines, there is a group in Grand Rapids that is connecting everyday citizens with civic data. Started by an all-volunteer group of developers, designers, data geeks, and others, Citizen Labs was founded in June 2016 with the mission to connect Grand Rapidians with open data and open source technology to improve their communities.

Founding members Jace Browning, Max Dillivan, Traci Montgomery, Lee Mueller, Brandon Klotz, Joel Anderson, and Allen Clark formed Citizen Labs to provide a greater transparency to the civic data -- data from public institutions, like the city government or the police department -- that often feels tangled within inaccessible formats, such as what can be convoluted city websites.

The team has successfully finished two projects in its short existence. The group provided a short description of the completed projects:

Open Budget: Grand Rapids: Launched on June 6, 2016, the Open Budget project promotes a deeper understanding of the city budget of Grand Rapids, so that citizens, officials, and other stakeholders can engage in more informed dialogue about how the city of Grand Rapids currently works and how it should in the future.

Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation Investments: The GR Parks Project launched September 2016 and uses open source OpenStreetMap and data from the city of Grand Rapids to show the parks of the city of Grand Rapids, the tax dollars invested in each park thus far, and details of updates made. The investments in our parks were made possible by dedicated property millage for capital and pool operations, and major repair and rehabilitation of parks and playgrounds that residents of Grand Rapids voted in favor of on November 5, 2013.

Currently the group is still looking over possible projects to take on as a team in 2017. Meet ups are used to work on personal projects or to pitch group projects as well.

The group meets every other Tuesday inside The Factory; these events are free and open to the public. Members say that newcomers do not need to have robust tech experience, but rather have a desire to use data to help our city.

The membership now consists of programmers, designers, planners, community leaders, data geeks, and idea makers, but they encourage diverse backgrounds. Citizen Labs understands that diversity of thought is necessary for innovative solutions. Clark mentions that, “We are looking to grow and connect more with the community for sure in the upcoming year.”

Being technology inclined, a majority of the group’s work is done outside of the meeting times. Their projects and information can be found on their Github page, or you can join the groups conversations on Slack.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
 

Well Design Studio has big plans for the future, but they won't forget where they came from

Tucked away in a small office inside the Ledyard Building in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids is the home of Well Design Studio.

Recently, Rapid Growth had a chance to sit down and chat with the Well Design team to talk about the origin story of this design and communication studio that focuses on working with nonprofits and small local businesses.

RG: How did Well Design Studio start?

WD: Well started January 2015. The founding team was just Josh Leffingwell and Amar Dzomba, and in October 2015 we brought Tyler Doornbos in as a partner. He was owner of North Sea Studio, and he brought his clients to our company. That is maybe when Well started in its current form as a full service creative agency.

RG: What drives the studio? What is Well Design’s mission?

WD: We are all pretty entrepreneurial, so we really try to bring that mindset to the orgs and businesses we work with. When we work with an organization or company we like to get to know the organization as if we are the executive director or CEO. We learn about the funders, the donors, the constituents, and stakeholders. We really take the time to understand what produces for the client — what their constituency needs are, what they respond to, how they think. We can sometimes come off a bit imperious, I think — we kind of assume an opinionated role, where we are constantly asking the client, “if it’s not producing a benefit for you, why are you doing it?”

From that we begin to craft a plan, develop messaging and identify productive channel, and create beautiful design. It is that in-depth process that I think makes our company unique. We aren't looking at a campaign just for the campaign, we’re understanding it from the various perspectives and taking that approach to creating everything we do.

RG: There can be rough waters out here for smaller design studios. How have you had to adapt?

WD: Well started out as an agency that focused exclusively on nonprofits. The goal was to help nonprofits and the community through better design and communications.

We knew that nonprofits were struggling by usually only having pro bono designers work on their work. We knew that pro bono often means work that is temporary... it doesn't understand the needs of the organization or more importantly; it doesn't understand the organization's constituents. We wanted to help them create design and messaging that understood the people they serve. That level of market research is very rarely done at the non-profit level, and it's not because of money... it's often because they don't know that they need it.

We learned that if we can better speak to the audience of the client, they can do better outreach to their constituents and further serve the community.

However, over time we realized that nonprofits are not the only ones who support the community... seed, small and medium-sized growing businesses are important for any region. So we started working with for-profit businesses that are looking to grow and bring jobs to their community. We quickly learned they are similar to nonprofits in budget and their need to understand their audience.

RG: What kind of work does the studio do?

WD: We do back-to-front communications. We do design, messaging, marketing, web development, user experience and user interface design, human-centered design… our studio wants to do it all — in large part because of that entrepreneurial mindset. Plus, we have a small but crazy good team of designers, developers, and copywriters who are really talented with a really diverse set of skills. Those diverse skill sets make our team really collaborative and allows each person to have a hand on nearly every project.

RG: What is the culture like around the office?

WD: In our work, our culture is to push our clients. We get excited when a non-profit is willing to move past what people expect of them. Nonprofits are safe by design. They don't want to offend anyone because that person may be a donor some day — and non-profits often get flack for taking risks or challenging the safe day-to-day operational model that people expect. We understand that, but we also know that every nonprofit (and for profit for that matter) is fighting for air time, for funders or customers, for volunteers or talent, so they need to stand out. You can't have a traditional annual report, you can't use traditional fundraising asks — you can't just expect what is failing before to work just because you have someone polish it with better hierarchy and type. You have to challenge yourself to look beyond what you've done, or what your peers are doing.

We get excited about helping all of our clients push past what other comparable organizations are doing. Whether that is through design or messaging, we help them to stand out and most importantly, produce the outcomes they’re looking for.

Around the office, it's kind of a mix between laid back and intense. There’s a really collegial culture… everyone in the office is a friend, obviously due to our intensive team building program of arcade basketball and video games (okay, really just FIFA). None of us have worked for another studio so we don't know what it's like elsewhere, I guess. We’ve always been people that wanted to do our own thing. We all really like it, or at least we think the employees do, because everyone sticks around.

RG: The design field in Grand Rapids is really lacking diversity and inclusion. Thoughts?

WD: If firms are going to be able to compete in the long-term they will need to have diverse teams, because all of our communities are more diverse. Agencies need to value people of color. If you're hiring a copywriter and that person is Latinx and speaks Spanish, they not only bring more value from a work perspective, but they also bring a new perspective to the agency — they deserve to be paid according to the huge value they bring into the firm.

We work with a number of black-owned businesses, and nonprofits that serve people of color. Every design or tech company likely does. We understand that we have a responsibility to work with a team that understands those communities. For instance, when we do messaging for the Latinx community, we know that we need copywriters who not only speak Spanish, but understand the specific vernacular used by the people we are speaking to. Most firms speak about “translation” — we talk about Spanish-language copywriting.

RG: What do the next five years hold for the studio?

WD: We want to grow a lot in the coming years. We are looking at doubling this year, and again next year. Once we break through the current growth ceiling, we have aims to be counted among the top boutique design firms in the area.
On the side, the agency also runs a few projects like Beer O'Clock GR (the best damn happy hour site in the world) and Featherlight (hands-off websites that help professional academics build their personal brand affordably).

We plan on these projects experiencing considerable growth in the next 12 to 18 months. We are serious about building a culture and company that values entrepreneurial thinking and produces projects that expand what we do beyond just a fee-for-service agency. Plus, getting out of our collective comfort zones makes us better at producing results for our clients at Well, since we learn an enormous amount by doing on our side projects.

RG: What is right around the corner?

WD: We are always excited about working with some of our long-term clients like the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Kids Food Basket, HQ, and Challenge Scholars (Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Grand Rapids Public Schools).

But we also are doing all the design for AIGA West Michigan’s Design Week (March 25 to April 1) and we'll be doing all the design for this year's Friends of Grand Rapids Parks' Green Gala.

We have a big campaign rolling out for Friends of Grand Rapids Parks shortly that we can't talk about yet, but we are crazy excited about that. FGRP told us to create a fun fundraising campaign for them and let us run with it; that is the kind of work we love.

This amazing city of ours continues to produce hard working and talented professionals like the team at Well Design. Let’s hope this becomes the new norm, instead of the exception.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
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