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Coming soon: Malamiah Mobile will deliver healthy juices, smoothies and a whole lot of inspiration

Malamiah Juice Bar’s “Malamiah Mobile” concept was the winner of  $5,000 investment from the October 5x5 Night business pitch competition.

Created by husband-and-wife team Jermale and Anissa Eddie, Malamiah is a juice and smoothie bar focused on healthy living and giving back to their community. The business is located in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market.

Malamiah Mobile is an added riff on the company’s brick-and-mortar business that will help the Eddies’ take their products and their message of healthy living and service to the community on the road.
 
With the $5,000 investment, the Eddies will begin the process of obtaining a used mobile truck and such equipment as an under-counter freezer, under-counter refrigerator, sinks, a generator, and decals to brand the truck, as well as any needed permits to get Malamiah on the road. The company also received an additional $5,000 in legal services provided by Varnum.

Jermale Eddie says the 5x5 Night is a big step in the next growth phase of their business. “It will enhance what we already do and in a more efficient way,” he explains.  Eddie says catering represents about 15 percent of his current business, but he often has to turn down opportunities because he does not have the capacity to prepare products on site. “With Malamiah Mobile, we will be moving to catering 2.0. We will be able to handle newer, bigger events.”

Eddie also says adding a food truck provides the business with an opportunity to extend their core belief in serving the community by allowing them to have more visibility and a bigger presence in Grand Rapids’ neighborhoods. 

Additionally, it will allow his business to pilot new services, such as a delivery program to hotels and large employers and eventually a mobile education lab with a sound system and projector that they can use to educate communities, including children of color, about the importance of a healthy diet, local food systems and entrepreneurship. “Kids can’t be what they don’t see,” Eddie says. “We want to make being an entrepreneur in the inner city cool. I want kids to say, ‘If he did it, I can do it.’ I want them to see that I was a just a guy with a vision and a concept and I made it happen.”

Eddie says his plan is for Malamiah Mobile to hit the road in the spring of 2017.  He envisions the truck design to have a “farm fresh, local feel with an urban twist.”

To follow Malamiah Juice, you can join their Facebook page here or website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Photo credit: Start Garden
 

Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids to honor city's unsung heroes

When you think about what fuels an organization what comes to mind? Now think about an organization like Habitat for Humanity of Kent County or the Grand Rapids Art Museum – when you think about nonprofit organizations, who do you attribute success to? In the sector we have perfected the art of thanking donors who provide the financial support to allow us to do the work that we do. We’ve even allowed ourselves to recognize people and organizations at large when they have done, relatively speaking, extraordinary things. What we continue to fail at doing, however, is recognizing the extraordinary efforts of individuals in organizations who ensure that the work is done and done well.
 
The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids recognized this problem eight years ago with the creation of the YNPN.GR Leadership Awards. Each year, the organization recognizes the efforts of individuals who go unnoticed because we know that in the sector of do-gooders it’s, more often than not, hard for people to take a moment to press pause and celebrate the work that they’ve done to move the needle on issues that effect the outcomes of those in the communities we serve.
 
There are eight awards that recognize 40 individual efforts to achieve excellence and impact in the nonprofit sector. The Advocate Award will go to an individual who is always advocating for their cause. The Breakthrough Award will go to an individual or organization whose work has led to a new method, idea, or process that has positively impacted the community and/or discovered a new solution to a complex problem within the nonprofit sector.

The DoGooder Award is an exemplary volunteer. The Dorothy A. Johnson Excellence and Achievement Award honors a seasoned leader in the nonprofit sector who consistently sets an example for the next generation of nonprofit leaders. The Exemplary Executive Award will go to an exemplary young nonprofit executive director. The Good-To-Great Award will go to an individual that has moved an organization or program from good to great. The Unsung Hero Award will go to an individual who has positively influenced a nonprofit organization from behind the scenes with positive attitude, a willingness to help, and a commitment to excellence but often goes unrecognized. And lastly, the group recognizes a young professional that excels in their work with the Young Nonprofit Professional of the Year Award.
 
On November 16, 2016 the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids will honor 36 individuals whose contributions help energize the nonprofit sector in ways that are significant but not always recognized. Come join the organization at St. Cecilia’s Music Center at 6pm as they recognize the individuals who fuel the important work this sector does and learn more about the 2016 Leadership Awards Finalists here.

Breannah Alexander is Director of Strategic Programs at Partners for a Racism-Free Community in Grand Rapids. When she is not designing programs that get people talking, she is fiercely advocating for and elevating the narratives of women and girls through women reVamped. She is also co-chair of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids board.

Independent film exploring the front lines of entrepreneurship in America to be shown in Holland

When asked for the inspiration behind the decision to help organize and sponsor a film documentary about entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs, Ryan Wenk, marketing manager at Worksighted, says it is “long story.”

Actually, it is a very entrepreneurial story. You see an opportunity, and you start to hustle.
 
“I came across a trailer for the film, and, being from Detroit, I thought it would be awesome to bring to West Michigan,” Wenk says of the film that focuses on Detroit-based startups. Wenk first pitched the idea to the management at Worksighted, an information technology services firm headquartered in Holland, and then to his contacts at Start Garden and Lakeshore Advantage, both of which quickly signed on as sponsors. And, voila, “Generation Startup” will be showing at the historic Knickerbocker Theater in Holland, Nov. 9, from 6pm to 8pm. The screening will be followed by a discussion and munchies at Collective Idea in Holland.

What is Generation Startup all about? Here’s the official description:

“‘Generation Startup’ takes us to the front lines of entrepreneurship in America, capturing the struggles and triumphs of six recent college graduates who put everything on the line to build startups in Detroit. Shot over 17 months, it’s an honest, in-the-trenches look at what it takes to launch a startup. Directed by Academy Award winner Cynthia Wade and award-winning filmmaker Cheryl Miller Houser, the film celebrates risk-taking, urban revitalization, and diversity while delivering a vital call-to-action—with entrepreneurship at a record low, the country’s economic future is at stake.” To learn more about the film, you can click here.

Wenk says the documentary is for business owners, administrators, students, and professionals looking to learn more about entrepreneurship, make connections and be inspired.
  
Besides debuting in Holland, the film will be shown in Grand Rapids as part of a monthly film series sponsored by Start Garden. Check out their calendar of events for details on dates and times. 

To register for the show, you can can go here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Cultured.GR launches to examine and celebrate Grand Rapids' fine arts scene

Cultured.GR is a new digital publication focused on telling great stories, providing thoughtful criticism and celebrating the visual and performing arts culture of Grand Rapids.
 
The two entrepreneurs behind this new venture are Marjorie Steele and Holly Bechiri, both of whom have deep roots in the cultural, creative and media scene in West Michigan. For five years, Bechiri served as The Rapidian’s managing editor until her recent departure, and Steele has worked as a freelance writer and communications consultant with startup experience, as well as a reporter at The Rapidian during Bechiri’s tenure.
 
The inspiration behind cultured.GR is grounded in the seismic changes to the media landscape over the last several years. When is the last time you have read a newspaper? Or read any serious, visual and performing arts criticism? These are the stories that today’s traditional news sources rarely cover in any detail or with any expertise.
 
Steele says cultured.GR represents a new media business model for the area. It will have an NPR-style revenue support: corporate sponsorship, individual support and grants -- and it’s focus will be 100 percent on the Grand Rapids art scene. “We are designed to support the art community and it is a community effort,” she says. “The sponsorship will come from the local non-profits that we serve.”
 
However, and this is a big however, sponsorship does not mean that these organizations get coverage. “It is not pay-to-play model. It’s a very important part for us and sponsors. This is not a cheerleading platform,” Steele stresses. She explains cultured.GR will not shy away from writing negative reviews, even if it is from an event hosted by a sponsor -- which is exactly what the sponsors want. “Arts criticism is welcome. In fact, our sponsors say, ‘We want you to bring actual art criticism and honest discourse to the readers.”
 
Initially, cultured.GR will be focused on Grand Rapids and its environs, and its content will cover the fine arts. “Our coverage will be on arts and culture, not arts and entertainment,” Steele says. (Sorry, no Kanye or Garth Brooks reviews.) “We have other media that do a good job of covering those types of events." 
 
Both Steele and Bechiri will be providing content, as well as local freelance journalists. “It’s not been a problem finding writers and photographers. We have great voices in the community. If you can’t go to the opera but want to read a serious review, we have writers that have expertise in writing those types of events.” Bechiri says besides commissioned content, there will be opportunities for submitted op-ed pieces.
 
Stories will be added to cultured.GR on an ongoing basis, and there will be a Thursday email sent to subscribers providing an overview of the upcoming cultural events in West Michigan.
 
To learn more about cultured.GR, you can visit their site here or Facebook page here
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News editor

Experience Grand Rapids adds staff to welcome visitors pouring into our city

So, what’s going on?

“Oh, you know we've got to find a way. To bring some understanding here today.”

Thanks Marvin Gaye, but when you are looking to visit Grand Rapids or book a convention downtown and want to know “what’s going on,” the people you really need to meet with are from Experience Grand Rapids (EXGR), the city’s official destination marketing organization.  

Because, if you are making a decision to spend millions of dollars on a convention, bringing hundreds (or thousands) of people from out of town, you need a whole lot of interesting things going on. 

The good news is that we have that covered. Our city has become a true destination for national conventions and conferences. The demand has increased to the point  that Experience Grand Rapids has just announced the addition of Larissa Karimwabo (event coordinator) and Maria Liddil (events specialist) to its events.

Karimwabo brings an extensive background in events and logistics. She previously worked with the West Michigan Sports Commission, assisting with the State Games of Michigan (winter and summer) as well as several ancillary events. She has also worked on planning the annual symposium for the National Congress of State Games. 
 
In her position at EXGR, Liddil manages small events, promotional purchasing, and projects for larger events. She is a graduate of Grand Valley State University and has previously worked in data management roles. She is also an accomplished local artist whose work has been on display at Wealthy Street Bakery, The Electric Cheetah, and charitable events. 

Kim Rangel, EXGR Director of Events, say her team handles more than 75 events annually and explains that although her job is by no means easy (event marketing is very competitive), selling Grand Rapids is not all that hard. “It is cool to show off all the different experiences we have in Grand Rapids and everything they can do here while visiting. Of course we are Beer City, but we have history, art, education, museums, hotels, restaurants. It’s really just a matter of asking what do they want to see, and we show it to them.”

Rangel says that the sales cycle in her industry is unique and a long-term process, ranging from three months to three years -- so having a talented team that can build long term relationships with clients is critical. Looking forward, Rangel says 2017 is right on track, with several large conferences in the books. “We have a number of great conventions booked in 2017, including Bruhan Maharashtra Mandal of North America with an estimated 3,400 attendees and the National Environmental Health Association with an estimated 1,000 attendees. These groups represent a combined direct spending of $6 million.”

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

GRCC Psychology Department's Speaker Series tackles the elephant (and donkey) in the room

Trump supporter: “What the h*ll are you thinking?”
Clinton supporter: “How can you even consider supporting…”
Third party supporter: “What planet are you on?”

Whether it has been at work, in a coffee shop, over a beer, or on social media, we have all heard variations of these types of comments, ad nauseam, in 2016.  

As divisive and exhausting as this year’s election is, you have to admit: it’s not boring. 

If you are interested in taking a deeper dive into the “why” of political partisanship in this year’s presidential election cycle, you might want to check out the first topic of the  2016-17 season of Grand Rapids Community College's Psychology Speaker Series.

Dr. Frank Conner, chairman of GRCC's psychology department, will discuss "The Psychology of Political Affiliations: Are Donkeys and Elephants Really that Different?" from 1-2:30 p.m. this Thursday, Oct. 27. All presentations in this speaker series are free, open to the public and held in room 168 of the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center at 151 Fountain St. NE.

Dr. Conner says the talk is apolitical. It is not meant to convince you to support one party over the other; instead, it is simply about being able to understand other people’s point of view, even if it is radically different than yours. “It’s about being more objective, accepting and understanding of people who are different from you,” Conner says. “The fact is different people view the world differently.“

The genesis of the talk is born from Conner’s research background and curiosity. “I am really curious about the continuing political divide. What is causing this separation?”  He says his research background is in socio-cultural psychology, which tries to understand individual differences and how we influence others, as well as how others influence us.

Conner says developing an understanding of individual differences is not only important in political discourse, but also plays itself out in the workforce when people have to work in cross-functional teams while solving problems. Each individual, whether they are an engineer, accountant, or marketer, will approach the problem differently, and it is only through understanding another’s point of view that the team will be able to arrive at the optimal solution.

The GRCC Psychology Department Speaker Series is in its ninth year. It was started to enhance the Psychology Department at GRCC and provide students a “four-year institution” experience and an opportunity to learn, be challenged and push their world view. Other talks scheduled include:
  • "The Emergent Use of Virtual Reality in the Treatment of Psychological Disorders" by psychotherapist and software developer Thomas J. Overly from 1-2:30 p.m. on Nov. 30.
  • "Understanding the Neurobiology of Drug Addiction in Humans through the Study of Animals" by Bryan Singer, a research fellow and lecturer at the University of Michigan, from 1-2:30 p.m. on Feb. 16.
  • "Introduction to Mindfulness: Exploring the Science and Practical Application" by April Hadley, social worker and instructor at the Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness, from 1-2:30 p.m. on March 22. 

As stated above, all presentations in this speaker series are free, open to the public and held in room 168 of the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center at 151 Fountain St. NE.

For more information about the series, contact Conner at (616) 234-3612.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

SkyBox Cloud makes the move from Reno to Grand Rapids

It’s home sweet home for the husband and wife team of Tim and Shelly Averill, the chief technical officer and chief executive officer (respectively) of SkyBox Cloud LLC, as they move their headquarters from Reno, Nevada to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

SkyBox Cloud is a provider of  secure and reliable offsite server hosting, application hosting and cloud backup for small to enterprise sized companies. “We fill the gap for companies looking for something different than Amazon, Google or Microsoft Azure. We work with our clients, review their infrastructure and then build it. It ends up being a turnkey solution,” says Tim Averill.
 
He says his company provides consultation in the front end, so they can design the best possible plan for their clients. He adds that many of SkyBox’s customers once owned their own server systems and then made the switch to SkyBox’s  monthly service plan when they understood the hidden costs of power, cooling, hardware and software maintenance, floor space, personal property taxes, and obsolescence.  “We build custom solutions,” Averill notes.

Averill, a native of Grand Rapids, says the catalyst for the move was simply to be closer to family and help care for his mother. However, a move to the Midwest was always on the couple’s radar.  “We had plans to hit this market: Chicago, Grand Rapids, Detroit; my family situation only accelerated the move,” he explains.

SkyBox Cloud serves customers in a wide variety of industries. The company owns server farms in Tier 4 data storage facilities in Sacramento and Dallas that have several levels of entry security and redundancies that prevent interruptions due to loss of electricity, internet connections and cooling. Established in 2011, SkyBox has seven full-time employees at offices in Reno, Nevada, two locally, and a team of about 20 subcontractors in the United States and internationally.

Averill says the industry continues on a very positive growth curve. “There is a lot of opportunity. For example, security concerns continue to grow and grow. Even though people are more aware of security risks, many people don’t realize  the extent how high their risk is.”

He says they are currently looking for office space in or near downtown and should be ready to announce the location in the first quarter of 2017. Once moved, they will be looking to hiring administration, sales and engineering positions. 

To learn more about SkyBox Cloud, you can view their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Help wanted: Exploring (and landing) a design career in West Michigan

Rapid Growth Media recently published a story about all the interesting work being done locally in designing for the world of connectivity, aka the Internet of Things (IoT). For many folks, working on connected devices is not the first thing you might think of when considering a career in design.

Design can mean different things to different people, and it is often a bit misunderstood by individuals without industry familiarity: parents with children exploring careers, students in high school or college figuring out what to study, and even some teachers and career counselors. It’s easy to imagine the conversations. My kid wants to be a designer, what’s that mean?  Fashion? Interior design? Are there jobs?

The truth is design is more interesting than mystifying. It is just that the breadth of careers, areas of study and specialization create truly unique career choices with different skill sets.

Grand Rapids is home to many organizations in many different industries that have robust design teams and can provide very interesting, well paying, and creative careers.

Rapid Growth Media asked Ken Krayer, Director of Design West Michigan, and John O'Neill, President of AIGA West Michigan and the Principal and Creative Director of Conduit, to provide a little perspective as to what a career in design might mean.

(Plus, we highlighted three great companies with job openings for designers, which you can check out at the end of the article.)

RGM:  What are “design jobs”?

KK: “Design jobs” cover a broad range of opportunities and industries, including, but not limited to, communication design, product design, fashion design, interior design, furniture design, sustainable design, experience design, sound design, architecture, information design, and even food design. Many of these disciplines include specialization opportunities, such as type design, as well as collaborative, cross-disciplinary opportunities. Designers often move within and across disciplines over the life of their careers.

RGM: What is the job forecast within the design industry over the next five to 10 years?

KK: We are seeing a brighter spotlight on design, especially here in West Michigan, as more and more companies are placing design at the center of their business strategies. Many Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) design graduates who could pursue careers elsewhere choose to stay in the area because of the robust opportunities that exist here.
 
RGM: What would surprise people (non-designers) about the design industry and design careers?

KK: Most people who are not designers are surprised at the breadth and depth of career possibilities in design. Other professions often cross over with design due to the interdisciplinary power of design. Some examples of these are photography, engineering, research, marketing, and design management. Design thinking gives non-designers the tools and skills needed to develop and apply iterative solutions to problem solving.

JO: Michigan has a surprisingly robust design community, with jobs in industrial design, architecture, interior design, branding, and UI/UX. In certain fields, such as industrial design, we have more designers per capita than any other state, and these designers make about $10,000 more annually than similar positions in other states.

RGM: Looking at your crystal ball, what and where will the design jobs be in 10 to 20 years?

JO: The law of truly large numbers states that even a small percent of a large number is a large number. China now has 400 design programs and over 10,000 designers graduating each year, so we are no doubt going to see China come onto the international design scene in the next 20 years. However, I still feel that our rich design heritage and world class design institutions have a lot to offer, so it should be interesting.

RGM: What are great sources for information about careers within the design industry?

KK: For any specific statistics on design, I would suggest you see the 2016 Creative State Michigan Creative Industries Report. A copy of the report can be viewed here. Design careers are included within the overall category of creative industries.
 
In addition,for more information on design in our region, visit the Design West Michigan website. Membership is free. You can sign up for our mailings on the web site. Design West Michigan is part of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University.
 
Design jobs in West Michigan

Are you actively looking for a great job in design?  Here are three very successful, interesting and different companies that currently have job openings.

Ben Smith at Designvox shared an opening for a Web Designer. Check out the job description here.

The team at Visualhero and OST are looking for a senior user experience designer. Find out more here.

If you are interested in working at a larger company, Kedron Rhodes is putting together a design team at Gordon Food Service. To learn about applying, go here.

For more career opportunities, AIGA West Michigan keeps a job board updated here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Carvers: There's a new butcher in town

There's a new butcher in town.

Or more accurately, there is a new butcher at the Downtown Market.

Carvers: Grand Rapids’ Finest Meats, opened for business Oct. 7, becoming the newest tenant inside the Grand Rapids Downtown Market Hall.

Carvers will feature the traditional products you expect to find in a neighborhood butcher store, plus a little more. Cases will be packed with a variety of high-end meats (beef, pork, poultry, lamb, etc.) at an “approachable price” (more on this later). Beef options will include a full line of 100 percent grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef as well as high-end Kobe options. Heritage Kurobota pork, pork belly, unique house-made sausages, and organic, free-range chickens will also be available year-round. 

Carvers too will feature a full-service kitchen with made-from-scratch items, including a $5 burger feature, chicken wings, pastrami and corned-beef sandwiches, and  a full-service deli, where customers can customize their own grab-and-go sandwiches and salad bowls, made to order by deli specialists.

The founder of Carvers is none other than Jeff Butzow, the culinary impresario behind Fish Lads, a Downtown Market anchor.

Between fish mongering and opening his new business, Butzow is very busy but Rapid Growth managed to catch up and ask a few questions about Carvers via email.

With your experience at the market, why is Carver's needed after the previous butcher closed?  Are you going to be doing anything different?

Folks shopping at the Downtown Market have missed the option of having fresh meat, on-demand. We’ve listened to customers for the past several months and put together options that will hopefully satisfy everybody. From a line of grass-fed beef that’s never been treated with antibiotics or hormones to American Wagyu beef to heritage pork and organic chickens, we’re trying to reach consumers who are seeking sustainable and delicious options. We also have a full-service deli that features a full line of nitrate- and nitrite-free lunch meats and charcuterie.

What does "approachable price" mean? 

Because meat products come in greater quantities and are easier to cross-utilize than high-end seafood, we’re able to pass along cost savings to consumers. Our menu features a $5 burger made from high-end beef we grind in house from our steak trimmings. Customers will be able to pick a sausage from the case and get it grilled right then from the kitchen. We know consumers have expressed surprise at some of the prices in the Downtown Market, and we want to show that this is an experience open to anyone regardless of income level.

Are you working with any local (or regional) farms for the meats?

We are proud to be retailers of Otto’s chicken and turkey, from their farm in Middleville. Our pork comes from DeVries in Coopersville, and is excellent. But, like Fish Lads, we’ve strived to reach across the globe to source the very best products for consumers that fit with our commitment to quality and sustainability. For example, our grass-fed beef comes from Australia, and we selected them as our provider because of their ability to consistently provide diverse selections of antibiotic- and hormone-free cattle.

How many jobs will Carvers be "carving" out?

We have added eight new staffers, and been able to create more hours for our Fish Lads crew. We are currently hiring, and encourage anyone interested in joining our growing team to come down and apply.

What are the similarities and differences between Fish Lads and Carvers?

Carvers is essentially an extension of the Fish Lads experience, just meat-centric. The same front-of-house staff that serve customers at Fish Lads will extend their reach down the counter to Carvers. We’ve hired experienced butchers that know their meat and will serve as great resources for customers, whether they’re looking to try out a new cut of meat, or simply want a new recipe to spice up their dining routine. We aim to serve the highest quality products without pretense.
 
For more information about Carvers, you can check out their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Tech Tales: New website tells the stories of West Michigan's technology scene

"There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them."

OK…referencing the tag line from an iconic 1950s police drama seems a bit random, but the sentiment is true. There are countless very interesting untold stories about West Michigan’s tech sector, and Mike Sudyk is determined to get the bottom of it.

Sudyk is the vice president of operations of the EC Group International, a Comstock Park-based firm that builds software teams for product-based software companies, and he is the force behind GR Tech List, a website that features video-stories about local tech scene and companies.

The inspiration (and purpose) of GR Tech List is a bit counterintuitive. It comes from Sudyk’s interest in helping share the story of the EC Group— which he thought was best done by telling the story of other companies in the broader West Michigan tech community.  “Being a local company around since 1999, we have actually had a very little number of clients in West Michigan, and it was only until recently that we started to invest in the local tech scene. We started to get more involved with networking and realized that there is a lot of cool stuff going on in Grand Rapids. It seemed unfortunate to not have more awareness to what was going on.”

When it comes to storytelling, video is the tool of choice for Sudyk, especially when your recent marketing hire is very creative and has ton of experience with film and video.  “We had seen that video is such a powerful medium for storytelling, and that is what drove us to hire a full time creative director,” Sudyk says, referring to Maria VanDyken. “She does all our video production, and, having gone through the process ourselves, we know the value but also the pain of having to figure out how to tell your story. We realized that we can offer this to the tech community to hopefully bring more awareness to the region, as well as get us plugged into these companies to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.”

Sudyk describes the GR Tech List as a side project for the EC Group, and he is letting the project grow organically before making definitive plans for the site’s next steps.  “We would like to see it grow so that it becomes the go to spot for people to get an idea of what is going on in the Grand Rapids tech scene,” he explains. “Eventually there is an opportunity to drive potential investors to the site, as well as talent that the region needs to stay competitive. I believe in the old saying that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ so the opportunity to build the region is a net positive to everyone here.” 

To date, there have been 10 videos filmed and eight videos posted on the site.  Sudyk says his team identifies potential companies to profile, typically small to mid-size tech firms and everything is provided free of charge.  “The reaction has been really positive so far,” he says. “The companies are very happy to have been featured, and they have been actively promoting the site to their networks. We have not done a significant amount of general promotion of the site as of yet but are planning to in the next two months to drive traffic to the site.”

Sudyk says GR Tech List is designed to be a win-win. For the EC Group, “it plugs us into the community, builds our brand awareness, opens up new opportunities, and helps us keep a finger on the pulse of the region.”  For the greater tech sector, “the vision is to spotlight how great West Michigan is and that it is a place that technology companies are flourishing and then to help facilitate the growth of the region.”

To learn more about the EC Group, you can visit their site here.  View the GR Tech List site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Goat creamery wins $50K business plan competition, readies to expand production

The winner of this year’s $50,000  Momentum Business Plan Competition is Kandy Potter, founder of KandyLand Dairy, the first and only Grade A-licensed goat creamery in Michigan.

Potter beat out four other contestants who also pitched their ideas to a panel of judges and live audience at West Shore Community College’s two weeks ago.

Potter is a fourth-generation Michigan farmer who got three rescue goats in 2008 and started making cheese and yogurt for family and friends. This quickly expanded, and she is managing a herd of 100 goats today.

With the $50,000 Momentum grant, Potter is ready to rock. The funds will allow her to expand and build an on-site creamery at her farm and allow her to produce cheese and yogurt locally and at increased capacity, as well as add bottled milk to the product lineup through the addition of a pasteurizer, milk chiller and bottling line. The creamery also will contain walk-in coolers, an aging room for more elaborate cheeses, and a small retail store. Part of the facility will include an observation area for visitors to see everything happen, from pasteurizing to cheese making and milk bottling. Once the creamery is complete, it will be the only goat farm in Michigan selling bottled milk and drinkable yogurt.

Potter began processing her cheese and yogurt at The Starting Block, a non-profit kitchen incubator in Hart. “The Starting Block was great, and I was able to get my license,” she says. “Sales were phenomenal from the start, and I outgrew The Starting Block. Business has exploded all over the state.”  Potter now sells at farmers markets in Ludington, Manistee, Frankfort, and Muskegon; grocers such as Hansen Foods in Hart, Port City Organics in Manistee and Biercamp in Ludington; and restaurants such as Shay's M22 in Onekama, Iron Works Cafe in Manistee and Big Hart Brewing Company in Hart.

KandyLand Dairy follows such other Momentum participants as Stuart Family Organics,  Love Wines and Starving Artist Brewery (the 2015 Momentum winner), making the Ludington area an emerging hot spot for artisan and handcrafted foods and beverages.

Launched in 2015, the Momentum Business Plan Competition awards one business entrepreneur a prize of $50,000 to start or move an early-stage business to West Michigan’s Mason County. Funded by Pennies from Heaven Foundation and administered by the Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce, the competition is open to eligible independent for-profit or non-profit ventures with a viable business idea, plan or invention, or existing organizations or companies with less than $100,000 in sales or revenue annually.

To learn more about KandyLand Dairy, you can view their site her or their Facebook page here. For more information about the Momentum Business Plan Competition, you can visit its website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

SpringGR trio collaborates to launch new line of cosmetics

With a little help from his friends, Juan Autrey, founder of J. Autrey Cosmetics, celebrated the launch of his new product line of lipsticks.

Autrey teamed up with fellow SpringGR graduates Latesha Lipscomb (Posh Entertainment; I Got Face Cosmetic Concierge) and Nicholas Dean (Dean Catering) to throw a private launch party on Friday celebrating the release of his new products.

Autrey has been working on his line of lipsticks since 2011, experimenting and creating his unique colors from his home. He launched his first products to sell in 2013. and, then, with the help of SpringGR in 2014, formalized his business plan and energized his efforts to build a sustainable cosmetic business. 

For the launch, Lipscomb’s company, Posh Entertainment, planned, promoted and hosted the event, while Dean’s company catered the party.

Autrey says his products are unique, featuring very distinct colors.  He says he purposely chooses women of all ethnicities as models, who help highlight the universal appeal of his lipsticks. Currently, Autrey says his products are manufactured and packaged in New York and are available through his website.

Arlene Campbell, SpringGR business coach, says this type of event is a great example of the networking and mentoring that SpringGR encourages.  "This collaboration is distinctive because of the cohort model that we use in SpringGR,” Campbell says. “These three businesses have teamed up to launch J. Autrey Cosmetics. It shows the power of collaboration to get someone started in their business. Juan won the people choice award and has worked hard to use his social capital to connect to others to launch his cosmetic line.  SpringGR would like to help expand Juan’s networks as well.”

SpringGR is an entrepreneurial training, networking and mentoring resource for individuals interested in starting a business or scaling their current venture.

You can learn more about SpringGR here and J. Autrey Cosmetics here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Ferris State University helping students to succeed in college with Promesa Summer Success Program

Getting ready for college is hard. Layers and layers of hard.
 
There is an increased rigor in classes. Pressure to study and score high on ACTs. Of course, there is confusing paperwork, forms and even more paperwork for admissions and financial aid. Once that is done, you just have to figure out where to live, meal plans,possible roommates, juggle family and work, and the list goes on and on.
 
Now, you take those layers and wrap it around students and families for whom attending college has not always been an expectation, and you have a good idea of why programs like Ferris State University’s Promesa Summer Success Program are playing an important role in West Michigan.
 
The free program is part of FSU’s Woodbridge Promise Summer Success program – a college prep program that focuses on getting high school students ready for post-secondary education through development classes, ACT readiness, and an overall college level awareness upon graduation.
 
Students interested in enrolling in Promesa must possess a 2.50 cumulative high school grade point average and have ACT sub scores that place them into both Ferris developmental courses (MATH 110 and READ 106). Applicants must be recommended by their high school. Accepted students must commit to an eight-week long program of half-day instruction during the summer following their junior year.
 
The program, which is in its fourth year has grown from 16 students from the Grand Rapids area only to 60 individuals from the Grand Rapids, Holland and Hart/Shelby areas this past summer.
 
Although the program is open to any student, the program was designed with a focus on the Latin@ community. Kaylee Moreno, Director of Latin@ Students at Ferris State University provides perspective and a little background. “FSU looked at Latin@ rates of students entering college, and they were low. We researched where large pockets of these students were living and began targeting those schools.”
 
Moreno says for many of these students, college is not on their radar. "Latin@ students in general are first generation. Access is to college is not discussed or viewed as a possibility,” she says.
 
To identify these students, Moreno says they take a very hands-on and personal approach. "We work with community leaders and the schools to identify students on the edge but are not being engaged. They are just on the brink of being eligible for college. "
 
Promesa combines fundamentals of algebra, college reading methods and college study methods with a cultural infusion by partnering with community organizations such as the local school districts, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, LAUP (Latin Americans United for Progress) and the Believe2Become Program.
 
Like the program’s name, the results have been promising, according to data shared by Moreno. The 2016 cohort of 60 participants produced 57 “successful completers” – a 95 percent success rate. And for the last three years, students from the Hart/Shelby area have posted a completion rate of 90 percent, while Holland has a program finisher rate of 88.24 percent. Grand Rapids has seen 84.09 percent of its students complete the program since 2013.
 
The most recent data available shows that 21 Promesa students from the 2014 cohort group were enrolled in post-secondary schools – six at Ferris and the remainder at other four-year institutions and community colleges. And 24 students who participated the 2015 program have been accepted to Ferris for the 2016-17 academic year.
 
To learn more about the program, you can visit their the FSU site here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and News Editor
 

Grand Rapids entrepreneur launches campaign to support better health & good night's sleep

Have you ever been curious about how inventors think?  The work, passion and process behind bringing a product to the market?  Or, maybe, just about how to get started?

If the answer is yes, a great place to start is to spend a few minutes with Grand Rapids' Rebecca Tyke, a longtime entrepreneur and inventor who has just launched a Kickstarter Campaign for her newest business and product,  the iSleepFit System and the iSleepFit Posture Belt. 

RG: Is this your first invention?

RT: As marketing director at 2/90 Sign Systems, I’ve been involved heavily in product ideation and design. My father, Charlie Tyke, revolutionized the sign industry in 1978 when he designed the first sustainable sign system; instead of throwing the sign away when the message changed, it allowed the user to replace the graphics instead. My father also designed one of the first garage door openers with an integral lighter fixture while working for Stanley Tools, but he is best known as the creator of Little Tikes.  As you can see, I’ve been raised in a solution-driven environment, so this venture is in my blood.

In 1999, I co-founded Olympia 2000, where we took a basic name sign and branded it with licensed logos, called Persona. Licenses were cost prohibitive, and we found were not necessary for alumni fundraising and university department usage so 2/90 absorbed the product line and we still actively market it today. In 2011, my father, Charlie Tyke, looked at some of our sign equipment not being utilized and created a product called 3StepArt, a line of dimensional artwork custom created in three steps: design, color and size. Again, we took advantage of the existing distribution of 2/90 Sign Systems and offer it as a product to facilities for branding.

RG. What was the inspiration for your newest invention and business?

RT: My son, Chase, woke up with a kink in his neck and his chiropractor attributed the problem to sleeping on his stomach. When the doctor said he didn't know of any products that could help him change his sleep position, he jumped on the internet and found a recommendation to put a ball in the front pocket of a T-shirt. The idea was good, but it didn’t account for his stubbornness, so Chase moved the T-shirt over and continued his bad habit. Raised in a family of entrepreneurs, he asked me to help him design a solution that would keep him from rolling onto his stomach while he slept. I set out to design a product that could not only help him, but adapt to address all kinds of ailments caused by sleep positions, and the iSleepFit Posture Belt was born.

RG: How long was this product in development?

RT: Once I realized the product helped Chase, I wondered if the pain I suffered from since a bout from cancer could be sleep related. I took an extra prototype and changed it to promote back sleeping. I was amazed how much better I felt the next morning. I began telling our story, and soon learned we were not alone; poor sleeping habits wreak havoc on our bodies and impact the way we feel all day. So I joined the Grand Rapids Inventors Network in April of 2014 and did a product review to get input from professionals. I was told by a lot of people to plan on twice the cost and time. And they were right, but it was worth it!

RG. What were your biggest obstacles and how did you overcome them?

RT: Even though I was raised in a manufacturing-driven company – marketing and sales are my passion – my biggest obstacle was finding someone to take my design requirements and bring my vision to life. I went through a couple of product designers, but the journey lead me to Cesar Santana and World Resource Partners in Byron Center. Cesar took my product design and tweaked it for mold production. WRP then handled the sourcing of mold production and manufacturing. They are the perfect fit for me; they handle the manufacturing and fulfillment, which allows me to concentrate on my strengths of marketing and sales.

RG: What are your long-term goals for this product?

RT: Our vision is to create a fitness movement to make sleep a conscious part of healthy living. Our company name, iSleepFit System, expresses our goal to provide a “system” approach to sleeping fit. Good sleep is the foundation of good health. The iSleepFit Posture Belt is our first product designed to improve health through better sleep. Our mission is to educate and equip so people get more out of the time they sleep. When you do something for eight hours, it’s going to make an impact – we want to help make it a positive one.

RG: How is the Kickstarter campaign going to help?

RT: Our campaign is a little different than others in that we have already invested a lot of time and money into research, patent and registration fees, product design and tooling. We are all set to place our order and are using this platform as a pre-sale tool to gauge product demand based on the campaign’s success.
Kickstarter offers a unique platform to launch a product. The marketing opportunities are priceless verses just opening an e-commerce site. The exposure and support verify the need for a product like our Sleep Posture Belt and a fitness movement like iSleepFit System.

To learn more about the iSleepFit System, you can go here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and News Editor

Grand Rapids company designs award-winning app for workforce development

The C2 Group, a Grand Rapids-based web design and development company, has announced the launch of an award-winning  application.

The KentuckianaWorks Career Calculator is a web based, career focused application that  uses a variety of local and national datasets, such as the  Economic Modeling Specialists International, U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET Web Services, and the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, to make job and career searches easier, faster and more effective. The app was designed by The C2 Group in conjunction with KentuckianaWorks, the career training arm of the Louisville, Kentucky metro government.

The new app helps users such as students, career counselors and adults looking to transition into another career easily search real-time labor data by occupation, education and income. The app translates the data into easy-to-understand visualizations that helps users identify trends and opportunities to make better career and academic decisions.  “This is the centerpiece for a workforce development initiative,” says Brian Beaupied, marketing communications manager at The C2 Group.

In June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors recognized KentuckianaWorks, the city of Louisville, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer with a 2016 National Education Pathways with a Purpose Award and, with it, a $100,000 grant based on the success of the career calculator.

Beaupied says The C2 Group has worked extensively in higher education and was chosen for the project after submitting a request for proposal.

The C2 Group is a full-service web development company, designs and builds web, mobile, and custom application. For more information on the company you can view their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 
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