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i3 Business Solutions wins EPIC Award

After being named "small business of the year" and winning an "EPIC Award" by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, i3 Business Solutions, a firm that provides a wide variety of IT consulting services, is energized and ready to roll.

Kathy Labozzetta, partner, says winning the award has been a big deal. "We were very honored to win the award and our staff is very energized. Our existing clients are very excited for us and we already have new leads."

Labozzetta says a big part of the recognition was the result of several internal initiatives over the past year focused on building leadership skills throughout the organization.

"We focused on others in the organization by empowering leadership beyond the founding team," she says.

Labozzetta says this mindset had a positive influence on everyone in the organization and was a significant reason for their success and recognition from the Chamber.

The majority of clients for i3 Business Solutions are within a two-hour drive from Grand Rapids. Labozzetta says there remains plenty of opportunity for growth, especially with helping small and medium businesses strategically plan for cloud and mobile technologies.

"The user today is not just PC-based," she says. "It is about their integration with mobile devices. Technology has changed significantly and we help our clients be proactive in extending and integrating these changes in the planning process. We want to make sure that things are well-planned and everything is budgeted correctly."

i3 Business Solutions was founded nine years ago after Labozzetta and Mike Ritsema merged their businesses. The firm added four employees in the past year and currently has a team of 24. Although there are not immediate openings, Labozzetta says they are always looking for talent and anticipates more jobs to be added in the near future.

To learn more about i3 Business Solutions, including its services and team members, you can visit their site here.

Source: Kathy Labozzetta, i3 Business Solutions
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New Ada branch of Lake Michigan Credit Union opens, brings new job opportunities

The former Bank of America building directly across from Amway at Ada Drive and E. Fulton St. celebrated a new grand opening this week as Lake Michigan Credit Union. The opening of the new branch (7580 Fulton St. East), the first branch LMCU has established in the far east side of the Grand Rapids metro area, created six new financial jobs.

The jobs include branch manager, a member service representative, three teller positions, and a mortgage loan officer position, says Don Bratt, VP of marketing.

The branch offers drive-thru banking, 24/7 ATM service, a full-service lobby with tellers and other financial officers available, and a night depository. LMCU says the company opened the branch in response to member requests for an Ada location.

To find out more about the jobs available at Lake Michigan Credit Union, click here.

Source: Don Bratt, Lake Michigan Credit Union
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Innovative curriculum connects furniture design students to the marketplace

Last April, a group of students from Kendall College of Art and Design learned firsthand how design can translate into dollars thanks to an innovative curriculum designed by Kendall instructors Monty Simpson and Bruce Mulder, with support from the Michigan Economic Development Company (MEDC) and the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments.

The curriculum was developed around the first Pure Michigan Woods Design Challenge after the The Michigan Pure Wood Works Co-Op reached out to Kendall Dean Max Shangle.

The four-week course challenged students from Kendall's Furniture Design classes to create designs that highlighted Michigan's wood product industry. The goal was to design furniture that represented "Pure Michigan," with the products eventually being manufactured in-state.

According to Gayle DeBruyn, chief sustainability officer and assistant professor at Kendall, the course exceeded expectations.

"The students really enjoyed it," she says. "The research component was fascinating. There was learning about Michigan, the Great Lakes, seasonal changes, and metaphors around lakefront living. What is really fantastic is that they got experience in taking an idea to market. In the typical classroom, this does not happen."

Thirteen students participated in the program. The judges evaluated the collections based on how well they represented the theme, aligned with market trends, and met the Co-Op's manufacturing criteria. Three runners up were chosen -- "Lily" Zhengyi Hou, Evan Fay, and Lane Risdon -- each receiving a cash prize of $500. The first prize of $1,000 was awarded to Christopher Eitel.

Moving forward, each of the students will work with the Co-Op to have their collections produced and presented at a Michigan show. All four winning students will also receive royalties from future sales.

To learn more about this program, you can visit their site here.

Source: Gayle DeBruyn, Kendall College
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Fatty and friends are poised for big year in Muskegon

Fatty Lumpkins Sandwich Shack started out as a "couple of young kids with few resources" who had a dream to open a deli that served high-quality, affordable sandwiches. Now, that deli is expanding in multiple directions.

Brett Gilbert, co-founder, says the popular sandwich shop in downtown Muskegon is rocking. He cites four projects and initiatives that are not only growing his business, but adding jobs, expanding his brand, and making his sandwiches available beyond lunch-time service.   

Gilbert cites the purchase and remodeling of the building next door, which will allow additional dining, and the near completion of the Fat Garden as two of the four key projects that will be completed in 2013. The expansion will add space to the west of the current building, and is awaiting the finalization of financing. The Fat Garden, a community green space, is having a coming out party on Friday, May 10 at the Watermark

"There will be live music, featuring The Crane Wives, auctions and prizes. We'll also be selling our Fatty Lumpkins  sandwiches," Gilbert says. "Proceeds will be used to help the garden grow."

The other two Fatty projects in 2013 include the introduction of a concession trailer that will be used at several Muskegon events and festivals, and an alliance with Unruly Brewing Company to sell Fatty Lumpkin sandwiches at the brewery. 

Gilbert says he has added two jobs to support the concession trailer and anticipated demand from the sandwich sales at the brewery. "Every day we hear that our customers want our sandwiches to be available beyond lunch," he says. "Now we have more ways to spread the word about Fatty's and gain new customers."

To learn more about Fatty Lumpkins, you can visit their Facebook page here.

Source: Brett Gilbert, Fatty Lumpkins
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Mutually Human Software and GR Makers create new creative space, now accepting founding members

Samuel Bowles, VP at Mutually Human Software, describes their new relationship with GR Makers as "the intersection of atoms and bytes."

GR Makers is a community of makers and tinkerers co-founded by Casey DuBois. They have been meeting on a weekly basis at the Warehouse in Jenison, Mich. Here, members work on projects of their choice using available equipment such as 3-D printers, wood working machines, and equipment for light metal work.

With the acquisition of GR Makers by Mutually Human, the organization will soon have a new home and access to more equipment and technology. 

Bowles explains the dynamics, saying, "We are taking them to the next step. We will use Mutually Human resources to turn it into something long-term and sustainable."

For Mutually Human, Bowles says the relationship is very strategic. "We feel that devices and hardware are the future of our business. By partnering with GR Makers, it gives us an opportunity to play at the boundary of hardware and software."

Bowles says the community will be run as a for-profit space, which he says is the business model for other successful maker spaces across the country. "They are the ones that are thriving across the nation. They have best tools, most members, and most traction in the market place. We want to be like those places."

The makers lab will be located at the Mutually Human offices at 401 Hall St. It is scheduled to be open in two to three months with an initial space of 3,000 sq. feet. Bowles says they are currently accepting applications to become a founding member, which can accessed here.

To learn more about Mutually Human, you can visit their site here. To learn about GR Makers, you can view their site here.

Source: Samuel Bowles, Mutual Human Software
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Dear Prudence adds some bling to downtown Grand Rapids' boutique scene, expands workforce

Another tiny boutique in the retail incubator space at MoDiv has opened, this one with a bit of bling and a lot of custom jewelry options including pieces crafted by local artisans. Dear Prudence, whose flagship store remains in East Grand Rapids (701 Bagley St. SE), jumped at the opportunity to open a second shop, this time in a central downtown location (40 Monroe Center Ave. NW).

Prudence and Brad Kauffman set up the new shop in just 200 square feet nestled next to bokay by Eastern Floral and Wolverine Company Store. The owners, who both have full-time day jobs, added a full-time position to the downtown economy when they brought Stephanie Wood aboard as shop manager.

"We wanted somebody who could be creative, and confident enough to make decisions on their own," says Prudence Kauffman. "We met Stephanie several months ago and she was available. She wants to eventually open her own shop, so she's getting a lot of experience with us."

Kauffman says she selected the most popular items featured at Dear Prudence in East Grand Rapids to sell downtown. Those items include custom monogrammed necklaces, phone cases, iPad cases, and wire jewelry in the shape of the state of Michigan. Other pieces include jewelry made from vintage maps -- customers can customize the pieces to any location -- and jewelry by local artist studios Luminous Creation and Lake Effect Studios.

"We lived in Winston-Salem for 20 years and saw how that city struggled because it didn't have a vibrant downtown district," Kauffman says. "So when we moved here and saw the big push to create downtown, we wanted to be a part of it. When we opened the first store, we couldn't afford anything downtown, but then we heard about MoDiv."

Dear Prudence will have a grand opening on Thurs., April 18 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Source: Prudence Kauffman, Dear Prudence
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Plante Moran adds new partner to Grand Rapids office

Joel Mitchell, CPA, has joined the Grand Rapids office of Plante Moran. Mitchell concentrates his practice on international tax, with an emphasis on global tax compliance, financial reporting, repatriation planning, and global structuring.

Mitchell brings 13 years of corporate and firm expertise to his new role, most recently serving as director of tax for X-Rite, Inc.

A native of Novi, Mich., Mitchell says it was his wife Melissa, a Grand Rapids native, that led him to move to the area, which he says has a noticeably different vibe from other cities where he has worked.

"West Michigan is a great place," Mitchell says. "People pull for the city and local community pretty strongly. I've worked in Detroit and Chicago and it's much different here."

Working at Plante Moran has been on Mitchell's radar since he was college.  "Ironically, when I was in school, Plant Moran was one of my three finalists for work. So, it's been an indirect journey."

Mitchell, in addition to his BBA, has his Master's in Accounting, with distinction from the University of Michigan. Mitchell also holds a Master's of Science in Taxation from GVSU, where he has been an adjunct professor for both undergraduate and graduate classes.

To learn more about Plante Moran, you can visit their site here.

Source:  Joel Mitchell, Plante Moran
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Meijer expands "Made in Michigan" program

For devotees and supporters of "buy local," Meijer is making it much easier for everyone to find a wide variety of Michigan-made specialty products.

Meijer's "Made in Michigan" program, launched in January 2012, has expanded to include all 102 Meijer stores in the state. The program now features 55 new Michigan-made grocery products, including kettle chips, salsas, barbecue sauces, jams, and much more. It is expected to have an economic impact of $900k statewide.

According to Meijer spokesperson Christina Fetcher, the program was developed in conjunction with the Michigan State University Product Center, and was intended to help Michigan entrepreneurs and small businesses tackle the difficult challenges of finding distribution and creating brand awareness for their products.

Fetcher says the expansion was market driven. "We expanded the program because it received positive support from customers. We went from 40 products in 33 stores to 55 products in all of the Michigan stores."

Fetcher adds that a handful of the original Michigan-made products have already been mainstreamed throughout all Meijer stores.

For individuals or small businesses interested in learning how this program might help them, Fetcher recommends contacting the MSU Product Center. Contact information can be found here.

Source: Christina Fetcher, Meijer
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Taking the road less traveled, new restaurant launches a web-based business plan to raise capital

St. Anthony is a self-described "small, progressive, yet traditionally grounded restaurant" that is scheduled for opening in Douglas, Mich. in spring of 2014.

The restaurant is a labor of love for two veterans of the West Michigan progressive food scene, Matthew Millar and Brandon Joldersma.

With plans to bring a creative touch to both the menu and the dining experience, Millar and Joldersma are taking a very creative approach to raising the capital for the restaurant by utilizing a web-based business plan and pitch.

Millar explains: "It is not really done in the industry. Originally, we took a more traditional approach to find investors, but it did not work out. We are looking for the right investor to be part of something special versus a quick return on investment. We did not see a drawback to being very quiet, so we might as well start from the beginning doing something different."

The site features a video and a very detailed explanation of the concept, menu, and their philosophy. There is also a password protected section that includes financials for serious investors.

Millar, most recently the executive chef at Reserve, says the decision to open a restaurant in Douglas is two-fold. "I live in Fennville and have been here quite awhile -- it is where I want to be in the long term. The lakeshore also brings tourism and supports restaurants that do something interesting. The people like to eat and drink at a higher level."

Millar says they anticipate a total of 20 full- and part-time jobs created, with seven to eight of those jobs being in the kitchen. Although Millar is keeping the exact location a secret for now, he does share that it will be in the Blue Star corridor.

To learn more about St. Anthony, you can visit their website here.

Source: Matthew Millar, St. Anthony
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New app allows art lovers to explore master prints from the GRAM

Grand Rapids-based design firm Conduit Studio and the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) recently announced the launch of The Jansma Print Collection iPad app, the first digital product created by Conduit for the GRAM.

The app was released on iTunes March 8 and downloaded in 10 countries the first week including China, Mexico, France, the U.K., Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, and Saudi Arabia.

For Conduit, the project was an opportunity to work with a very creative and passionate team from the GRAM. John O'Neill, creative director, explains: "It's been an interesting experience in collaboration. We worked with the eduction director, art curator, and digital strategist at the GRAM."

O'Neill says that particular combination really allowed the development of the app to address multiple user perspectives. "You can use the app horizontally and it gives more academic details," he says. "When viewed vertically, you focus on the images."

O'Neill says this approach appeals to a broader audience and lets individuals explore in a way that aligns with their interests and preferences.

For the GRAM, the app allows The Jansma Print Collection -- which is not only a significant addition to the permanent collection, but also very old and delicate -- to be shared, viewed, explored, and studied by a global audience.  

To learn more about the app, you can view the website here. To download the app from the iTunes store, click here.

Source: John O'Neill, Conduit Studio
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Chill out foodies, and show some love for craft ice cream

Grand Rapids will soon be home to Love's Ice Cream, a purveyor of hand-crafted ice cream made from local, organic, grass grazed dairy.

The business will debut in the Downtown Market this summer and is the second act from Chris McKellar, who sold his tech and marketing firm, then took a year off to figure a way to combine his love for the local food scene with a solid business model.

McKellar explains the genesis of Love's Ice Cream. "It's a brand new startup. It arose out some unique circumstances in my life. I have a passion for real food and local grown ingredients. I love craft beer, but wanted to do something different, so I decided on creating craft ice cream in small batches."

Preparing for the July 1 opening, McKellar says he is developing the business and working through recipes, developing relationships with suppliers, and preparing for all health department requirements. "Besides dairy ice cream, we will have vegan options, sorbet, and baked goods. We are still figuring out what the core flavors will be, but (we) probably will have five seasonal flavors and 1-2 experimental flavors."

In his year hiatus, McKellar also went to culinary school to learn more about food from a chef's perspective, so look for something interesting with Love's. "There will be unique flavors -- fresh herbs and different components -- not to be weird, but to challenge perceptions." McKellar is also quick to point out that he will still feature tried and true flavors such as chocolate and mint chip.

If you love ice cream, McKellar also says that he anticipates having 4-6 jobs to support his venture, but with one major requirement. "You need a real interest in people, but most importantly (you must) know about the product -- how it is made, the entire process."

Besides the foray into craft ice cream, McKellar is also the co-founder of the Grand Rapids Cooking School, which is based in the Uptown Kitchen. 

To learn more about Love's Ice Cream, the best way is to follow their Facebook page.

Source: Chris McKellar, Love's Ice Cream
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

The Factory launches new training initiative targeting skills for the modern web

West Michigan co-working space The Factory has launched a new initiative focused on teaching individuals the needed skills to work with the modern web.

The initiative is dubbed "coLearning," and the first class is titled "Intro to Ruby." It's a six-week course taught by Daniel Morrison, founder of software firm Collective Idea.

The Factory's Aaron Schaap says this will be the first of many classes, all designed to teach high-demand skills, especially for individuals that are underemployed or looking for a career change. "We feel the  true learning experience is situational knowledgable. Our model is based on learning in the classroom, going to meetups and hacking on actual projects, and then putting the people in direct connection with the creators at companies."

Schaap says they have partnered with several local companies to not only help coach the students participating in the classes, but also offer job interviews after the course is  finished. 

"There is a lot of community demand for tech talent. Everyone in the area is trying to hire people," but, Schaap says, "all the existing talent is busy."

The cost for the "Intro to Ruby" is $100 for those that qualify. To learn more about this class and how to register, you can visit the site here.

 Source: Aaron Schaap, The Factory
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

NewNorth Center catalyzes creativity and innovation for individuals and corporations

NewNorth Center is a nonprofit, hybrid educational and business institution headquartered in Holland, Mich. Clients include local, regional, and national businesses.

The organization focuses on teaching the design-thinking process to help facilitate innovation within large corporations, small businesses, and entrepreneurial startups.

Nate Young, president and teaching faculty member, says NewNorth has two active approaches. The first is an Innovation Methods Certification course, a one-year series of classes and exercises that promote a leadership and team-centric approach to innovation.

Young says one session recently finished, and now these individuals are applying what they learned. "We have 38 graduates and 38 unique innovation projects active in West Michigan," says Young, who adds that these individuals come from organizations diverse in industry and size. 

The other approach being used by NewNorth is through topical business workshops conducted throughout the region. Young identifies work at The Right Place, The Holland Chamber of Commerce, StartGarden, and an upcoming seminar the Grand Rapids Tech Hub as examples of this approach. 

Although these workshops are much shorter in length, they are very practical and can introduce the innovation process to individuals and begin a flight path toward more complex projects.

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

Source: Nate Young, NewNorth
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Newly formed Muskegon Angels looking to invest in job growth

Grand Valley State University's Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center (MAREC) recently announced the formation of a Muskegon Angel investment group.

Eric Seifert, finance and strategy specialist at MI-SBDTC, says MAREC is a perfect home for an investment group. "MAREC has the resources to support the Angels with infrastructure, including access to GVSU and the MI-SBDTC." 

Seifert says the organization has a very specific focus. "They are keenly interested in businesses located in Muskegon and (the) lakeshore area, especially advanced manufacturing, technology, water-related issues, and food production."

Seifert adds that the organization is also looking to invest in existing businesses other than startups that are recovering from the recession. "Because of the challenges in the past, (these businesses) need working capital. The Angels are looking to put money and mentorship into those businesses."

According to MAREC's press release, the concept of an Angel group in Muskegon began in 2012. More than 20 individuals are participating, with some members located beyond Muskegon County. Participants agree to invest $125,000 over five years. When fully capitalized, the organization's financial assets will total more than $2.75 million.

Seifert credits Kevin McCurren, executive director of GVSU's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, as being instrumental in the formation of this group along with Mike Olthoff, Larry Hines, John Pridnia, and Paul Jackson.

To learn more about this organization, you can visit their site here.

Source: Eric Seifert, MI-SBDTC,
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New Chamber hires look to energize membership

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce recently announced three staff promotions and the addition of two new hires to its team.

Andy Johnston has been promoted to VP of Government and Corporate Affairs,  Mark Allen has been promoted to Senior Director of Membership Development, and Latricia Trice has been promoted to Senior Director of Marketing and Communications.

The two new hires will be focused on membership development. Tori Bennett's new role is membership development coordinator, and Desiree Reed's new position is  membership development representative.

Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, says the promotions and new hires are aligned with the Chamber's strategic plan. "We have been on a very deliberate path of implementing our strategic plan. We had a great year in 2012 and have a lot of new programming in 2013." Baker adds that the emphasis on membership development is about having a voice. "When we grow our membership, it only makes our voice stronger in Lansing and Washington."

Baker says one program of note in 2013 is the upcoming "Energize Your Business 2013," featuring several nationally known speakers such as Dick Vitale; John Jacob, co-founder of Life is Good; and Rebecca Ryan of Next Generation Consulting. "The whole event is about connecting businesses with information. Rebecca Ryan's talk is specifically about helping businesses attract and retain talent."

To learn more about the Energy Your Business Event, you can click here. To learn more about the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, you can click here.

Source: Rick Baker, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
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