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The Ferris State Digital Animation and Game Design program gains national recognition

The Ferris State Digital Animation and Game Design (DAGD) program could easily be one of West Michigan’s best kept secrets.

Of course, it is not a secret, but, unless you are directly involved with the program, you probably would be surprised by the success and scope of this innovative initiative.

Let’s review a few facts.

The program is nationally recognized. The Ferris DAGD program was recently ranked number 16 by the Princeton Review in its 2016 rankings of the top 50 undergraduate schools worldwide for game design instruction (the list includes institutions in the United States, Canada and abroad). This is the second consecutive year for Ferris’s number 16 ranking, which is based on factors such as lab facilities, academic offerings and starting salaries for graduates of the program.

The program is focused on helping students to become successfully employed after graduation. The DAGD program was designed by industry professionals  to teach students the entire spectrum of skills needed to be successful in the digital animation and game design industry. Among the industries the DAGD program helps prepare students for include film, game design/asset creation, medical visualization, educational software and game/animation development. DAGD program coordinator David Baker is an award-winning media producer, animator and educator with extensive background in media production and animation. He has produced projects ranging from instructional videos to children's CD-ROM games for organizations such as the Children's Television Workshop, MTV and Amway.

This emphasis on the gaming industry translates to big career opportunities for the students. After all, from an economic standpoint, the gaming industry had total revenues of $23.5 billion in the U.S. in 2015 -- an increase of five percent from 2014, according to Forbes.

The program is designed to not only help students gain the needed skills to be successful, but also help them post-college, with a very active and supportive alumni group, a network of digital animation employers and access to an online portfolio where students can share their work with the world.

But the real magic of the DAGD program is best understood from a student’s perspective.

Rapid Growth was able to interview Emma Alvarez, 17, a graduate of the West Michigan Aviation Academy and current DAGD student, via email.

RGM: When did you start the program?

Emma: I started at Ferris this fall (of 2016) at the age of 16.

RGM: Why did you choose this program?

Emma: I was originally planning to go to Western Michigan University to pursue Biomedical Engineering, but around May of this year my mother showed me a video on Facebook of this new Ferris University program. After watching the introductory video for the program, I was immediately hooked. I have always had a passion for art and video games, so the collaboration of the two that the program created was a perfect fit for me. I have always appreciated video games for their visual aspects, such as intricately animated environments and the graphic design behind game's UIs (user interfaces). Not only would this program allow me to expand on my own personal creativity, but it would also be training me for one of the most booming career fields in the current time: game design. How could I not want to be part of such an innovative and immersive program right in my own city? I did not even think twice about applying to the program.

RGM: What excites you about this program?

Emma: Frankly, everything about this program excites me. Though, if I had to make a choice, I would say the aspect that excites me the most is the opportunity to be able to join the VR (virtual reality) community. Day by day, the VR community is expanding and discovering new and innovative ways to bring its audience into a whole new side of gaming that they could not have ever imagined. It amazes me that the gaming community is experiencing such an awesome way to delve into their online interfaces, and it excites me even more that I could be part of the VR game making process. It has always been a dream of mine to create video games, and now this program has taken my dream and raised it a level, going beyond what I could have imagined.

RGM: What do hope to do after you graduate?

Emma: After I complete the program, I would like to start off working as a graphic designer at a video game studio, as well as doing PR (public relations) work for various companies. As I work my way up, gaining experience and networking, I would then like to see myself be able to start my own video game company that focuses on rebooting classic video games into VR versions, as well as creating new video games for the VR scene.

Well done Ferris State University. Well done.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

The Fresh Food Fairy takes a rewarding dip in the Dolphin Tank

Known as the “Fresh Food Fairy,” Hether Frayer is on an epic journey that includes Michigan-grown kale, unique spices and oils, and swimming with dolphins.

The Kalamazoo-based Frayer is an evangelist and educator for eating healthy.  Whether she is riding her stationary blender-bike to make smoothies at farmer’s markets or pitching her Kaleamazoo Chips (Michigan-grown kale flavored chips) to investor groups, retailers and business plan competitions, she is 100 percent focused on educating people about the benefits of eating healthier and maybe most importantly, having fun doing it.

Frayer, the founder of Fresh Food Fairy, an organization that advocates for good nutrition -- particularly among children, says she began producing and selling the kale chips with the hopes of funding scholarships for her nutrition education programs.
 
One such program included an extensive tour of the Kent County District Library system in 2016.  “I go wherever I'm invited,” Frayer says. “Last summer the Kent District Library hired me to visit 10 of their branches with my ‘Fresh Food is Fun’ presentation, followed by bike blender smoothies.  It was a great opportunity to visit the greater Grand Rapids area - I really enjoyed it.”

But back to swimming with dolphins. 

On Nov. 10, Frayer was in Grand Rapids to participate in the Michigan Women’s Foundation Dolphin Tank and Entrepreneur You Business Plan and Pitch Competition at Grand Valley State University, where she presented her vision for Kaleamazoo Chips.
 
“I’ve been meaning to write a business plan for Kaleamazoo Chips for three years, and the Entrepreneur You Program finally gave me the incentive and support to do that,” she explains. “As a result, I'm in a better position to make decisions about where the business should be headed next. The business plan was 60 percent of our score for the competition, and the pitch was 40 percent. Varnum Consulting in Grand Rapids donated "Speak Up and Be Effective,” a full day course to all 10 participants in the program to help us learn how to pitch. That was extremely valuable and will be helpful with all of my Fresh Food Fairy presentations as well.”

Frayer’s pitch ended up being spot on as she won $5,000, which will be used to fund in-store demos (especially at Whole Foods) and to hire a salesperson.

After the pitch, Frayer was asked what else she needed to keep moving forward and the answer was simple: connections. “I would like: businesses/corporations who have wellness fairs and other wellness initiatives who might be interested in bike blender smoothies. Schools, after-school programs, and events that would be interested in Fresh Food Fairy programs and specialty food/grocery stores and delis that have a customer base who appreciate healthy and locally produced snacks.”

To learn more about the Fresh Food Fairy and Kaleamazoo Chips, you can view Frayer’s website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Comcast leads a $2.8 million expansion of its fiber-based network in Kent County

A modern day riff on the old proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” could be, “it takes fast internet to build commercial development.”

 It wasn’t always the case, but, for the most part now, commercial and industrial developments need fast and reliable internet to service to attract and retain tenants, which in turn means jobs.

That’s one reason why the Comcast Business announcement of its $2.8 million expansion of its fiber-based network in Kent County that will add nearly 33 miles of fiber to 496 buildings housing 844 business tenants in a nearly six-square mile radius surrounding the Gerald R. Ford International Airport is a pretty big deal.

Rachel Sal Jansheski is real estate associate for Realvesco Properties. Her company is both a tenant and a property manager and agent for several of the businesses located in that area. She says there were limited options for companies when it came to speedy and reliable internet access in the area surrounding the airport. Which, if you had an industrial business such as a warehouse, was not a major problem, but for companies looking for affordable office space with access to the airport, not having reliable service could be a deal breaker. “The main complaints we had from 2011 to 2016 with companies looking for space in this area were the limited options and limited speed for internet access,” she says.

The proactive build approach will equip office spaces with high-speed broadband services that are capable of delivering up to 100 gigabits-per-second (gbps) of network capacity. The build-out will provide businesses access to a comprehensive portfolio of high-performance ethernet, internet and advanced voice solutions that will help meet the day-to-day demands of organizations requiring large amounts of bandwidth, looking to link multiple sites or branch locations, or planning to connect their offices to a third-party data center. The project marks the largest single concentrated fiber expansion Comcast has ever undertaken in West Michigan.

Comcast is one of the nation’s largest video, high-speed internet and phone providers. It maintains a strong presence in the West Michigan community. In 2015, the company invested nearly $925,000 in the form of grants and PSAs to nonprofits, scholarships to high school students, and community sponsorships.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

Daddy Pete's BBQ opens to-go shop on Eastern Ave, ready to smoke year-round

If you are dreaming of barbecue -- beef brisket, pork butt, ribs, smoked chicken -- for Christmas this year, you are in luck. Daddy Pete’s BBQ is coming to town.

The local food truck, Daddy Pete’s BBQ, has added a brick-and-mortar location to their lineup in Grand Rapids and will celebrate with a grand opening on Thursday, Dec. 15, from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm.

The 1,200-square-foot Daddy Pete’s ‘to-go’ location is housed at 2921 Eastern Ave. SE and has been open since its Nov. 25 soft launch. They plan on maintaining a weekly schedule of Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 am until 7:00 pm.

Daddy Pete’s BBQ, known for its classic, old-school, wood-burning rotisserie smoker and ‘low and slow’ cooking technique, has been in business since 2012.

Like many entrepreneurs, owners Cory and Tarra Davis began small, cooking from their kitchen for catering gigs and then moving to a food truck, all the time building a stellar reputation and a loyal following.

With a pending grand opening and hundreds of pounds of briskets and pork butts smoking, Rapid Growth was able to catch up via emails with the Davis duo while they took a short breather over the weekend.

RM: What does a brick-and-mortar mean to your business model? 

Daddy Pete’s: The food truck/concession trailer was not able to be opened year-round, therefore, the business was not well-equipped to take advantage of the many off-peak dining and catering opportunities. Daddy Pete’s capacity to serve would increase considerably if it were able to serve its customers year-round and expand catering through a larger brick-and-mortar kitchen.

RM: We’ve been following your soft opening; it appears you got a lot of support from other BBQ "brothers and sisters.” Anything unique about the BBQ scene in West Michigan? 

Daddy Pete’s: Here, in the north, the predominant cooking style is 'high and fast,’ meaning the use of high heat, which cooks the meat fast. There are a handful of others who utilize the 'low and slow' cooking style, using wood as their heat source. A number of us who follow the ‘low and slow’ cooking style have developed a kinship. Although the field of BBQ can be competitive, when it has come to being supportive of each other, we know there is a group of pit masters and business owners who band together.

We have been blessed to have so many friends, customers and businesses who have supported and helped Daddy Pete's from the very beginning of our very humble start to now that it would be hard to single out any one person or entity. We are just thankful to each and every one of them who have helped in any way to get where we are today.

To keep current on Daddy Pete’s BBQ news you can follow them on the web at http:// daddypetesbbq.com. They can also be followed on FaceBook at https:// www.facebook.com/DaddyPetesBBQ/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ DaddyPetesBBQ and on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/daddypetesbbq/.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

WYCE provides the soundtrack of West Michigan at Rosa Parks Circle

Grand Rapids has always been hip to everything local, so it is only fitting that our own community-sponsored radio station, WYCE 88.1FM, will now be providing the soundtrack to the city.

Thanks to a  partnership with the city of Grand Rapids Parks Department, when you are at Rosa Parks Circle and there is music being played through the speaker system, it will be a live stream from the West Side studios of  the Community Media Center and WYCE. 

The program, which began precisely at 7pm on Dec. 2 (following the lighting of the Christmas tree), was the result of multiple conversations that station manager Quinn Mathews had with the team from Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. “Since I began working with WYCE, I’ve been wanting to team up with community partners,” Matthews says. “We are the only radio station that plays local and regional music, and we want to spread the world.”

This program follows the introduction of GR Live, a live radio program happening every Thursday at noon in downtown Grand Rapids and broadcast live over the air on WYCE 88.1 FM.

Matthews sees this type of programming helping to not only to broaden the audience for WYCE, but most importantly showcasing the area’s vibrant  music scene. “We are all thrilled here.  As visitors come to town, or business men and women head to lunch, you will be given the soundtrack to 'a world of music' at West Michigan Community radio as you make your way through our growing downtown."

To learn more about WYCE, you can visit its site here.

(Full disclosure: The author of this story is a volunteer programmer for WYCE. Uncle John is on air every other Saturday night from 6:00pm-9:00pm.)

First photo: The WYCE Team Kicks off Music at Rosa Parks Circle. From left to right are: Gabriella De La Vega (“El Mundo Musical” on WYCE), Johanna Jelks (GRCMC), The Professor (WYCE programmer), Nina Capri (WYCE programmer), and Quinn Mathews (Station Manager WYCE).
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Pillow talk: Grand Rapids companies brightly and TR Data Strategy launch home decor business

For anyone who follows the work of the local creative and design firm, brightly, on Facebook, you might have noticed a series of posts in your news feed announcing the launch of a new “side project” called Tyg Décor shortly before Thanksgiving.

Rapid Growth was able to contact Larry Faragalli, the CEO at brightly, to get the lowdown of this new project, which he described as a partnership between brightly, TR Data Strategy, and one of their clients in the fabric and decor industry. 

For the purposes of this interview, questions are being answered by Larry Faragalli, CEO at brightly, and Matt Anderson, Partner at TR Data Strategy.

RGM. What's the new side project that brightly is working on?

Larry: Tyg Décor is a home decor business founded on the idea that accessories can be the star of your home. You don’t need to buy new furniture or repaint a room to change the feel; even something as simple as a well-made pillow can be transformative to a space. We’ve got decadent fabrics, vibrant colors, and a multitude of patterns that are ahead of the average fabric market fashion. We think there’s value in being able to constantly refresh a space with the seasons and so we’re launching the first subscription service for pillows, like Stitch Fix or Birchbox. Subscribe and each quarter and you will be delighted with seasonally fashionable pillows to dress up a room.

RGM: Who else is involved in with this project?

Larry: I learned about the Tyg Décor conceptually while traveling in Palm Springs with Matt Anderson of TR Data Strategy, a data strategy firm we work with both closely and frequently. One of their clients in Connecticut has significant exclusive access to premium fabrics from around the world, and TR Data Strategy believed there was a prime opportunity to create a direct-to-consumer brand in the home decor space.  We both agreed that data driven decisions and strong user experience would be the backbone of delivering the brand online and decided to formalize the arrangement. Through joint investment, both financially and through service contributions, we worked to create a new joint venture business.

RGM: How long have you been working on it?

Matt: We’ve been working on Tyg Décor on and off for most of this year. Funding the business took longer than expected. Then we made half a dozen trips to source fabric, make hundreds of prototypes, dial in the manufacturing and fulfillment processes, and install the technology that makes it all work. And now we’re live, just in time for the holiday shopping season.

RGM: What attracted brightly to this project?

Larry: One of brightly’s core missions is investment in product businesses, whether they’re technology based or not. We’ve invested in a few businesses thus far across several categories that are less consumer facing, and we wanted to dip our toe in the water of the consumer space. We’ve had great experiences working with the folks at TR Data Strategy, and generally love unique businesses that provide some kind of delight or value in a fairly accessible way. I think there’s a lot of possibilities in the category.

RGM: When it comes to the pillows, where does the actual work get done?  (sourcing, sewing, fabric design and shipping)

Matt: Tyg Décor is a distributed company. Our partner in Connecticut spent the better part of five years scouring the globe finding overlooked sources of super premium fabrics, which we now source domestically. Design takes place here and in Connecticut. We cut and sew in a terrific factory just over the border and ship five days a week from Eagle Pass, Texas. And we manage the business right here in Grand Rapids.

RGM: What are your plans for marketing Tyg Décor?

Matt: Home décor is highly visual, engaging, and fun, which makes it a great fit for social sharing. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. We’ve been working on partnerships with high profile home design blogs that we look forward to announcing next year. And through the end of the year, we’re giving our friends and family (and their friends and family) the chance to earn free product and other prizes for spreading the word. We’re extending that offer to Rapid Growth readers. You can get started at http://friends.tygdecor.com.

Larry: Outside of the methods Matt mentioned, we’ll be doing a fair share of traditional advertising over time as well. We believe the market is hungry today for a company like Tyg Décor, and we intend to do all the marketing necessary to build a national and international brand

RGM: How big of an opportunity is Tyg Décor? Do you envision adding products beyond pillows?

Matt: Decorative pillows alone is a billion dollar industry in the U.S., but our vision is bigger than pillows. Be on the lookout for other innovative products we plan on launching next year.

RGM: Tell us about the name: Tyg Décor.  Any special significance?

Larry/Matt:We were looking for a name that was fresh, short, memorable, and most importantly, not already taken. When we learned that “Tyg” is Swedish for “fabric”, which is the heart and differentiator of all of our products. It seemed a fitting choice.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

It's a chair. It's exercise equipment. It's both! It's Stow Fitness!

The Greek philosopher Plato is credited as the inspiration of the English language proverb “necessity is the mother of invention.”
 
For Jason Burt, the Spring Lake inventor behind Stow Fitness, it is not so much about necessity but rather personal frustration.
 
Fitness enthusiasts, Burt and his wife were expecting child number three and were living in a four bedroom house. The extra bedroom was used as a fitness room. With the arrival of their daughter, the fitness room became a bedroom and the exercise equipment was relegated to the basement. “No one wanted to work out in the basement,” Burt says.
 
So the exercise equipment moved upstairs, and the yoga balls, benches and weights became fixtures in the T.V. room, where you could work out and watch shows or listen to music. “But that always bugged me,” Burt says, recalling having to step over and around the equipment.
 
To fix that ‘bug,’ Burt decided to do something about it and invented Stow Fitness: a high quality living room recliner chair, with built-in fitness equipment. Think Transformers, the heroic autobots that can quickly change from a car to a giant robot. But in this case, the living room recliner simply transforms into fitness equipment and then back into a chair when the workout is done.
 
Stow Fitness is Burt’s first invention. The idea had been incubating for about six years, with serious product development work in the last two years.
 
To take the final step with his invention, Burt has just launched an ambitious Kickstarter campaign, with the hopes of raising $100,000 that will allow for a some final engineering and pay for tooling.
 
Burt says several markets exist for these chairs, including residential and commercial use, such as the hotel market, where room space is at a premium.
 
The Kickstarter campaign features great savings on the chairs, which are expected to retail at $1,599, with reward levels beginning at $999 that include the chair. (There are also multiple lower levels of support for Stow Fitness).
 
To learn more about Stow Fitness, you can follow their Kickstarter Campaign here, or visit their website here and Facebook page here. All Stow Fitness products are made in the U.S.A.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Thinking outside the box: Axislab brings 3D printing to Grand Rapids in new downtown office

In October 2015, Rapid Growth Media shared the story of Aaron Brown, a business owner that easily falls into the category of “unsung hero.”

Now, just a little more than 12 months later, Brown is making some significant changes with his 3D printing business, Axislab, that will allow him to secure the future for his family and continue his work with the e-NABLE community, a group of volunteers (including Brown) from all over the world who are using their 3D printers to craft free 3D printed hands and arms for those who need them.

RGM caught up with Brown two weeks ago.

RGM: For those not familiar with the 3D printing industry, describe the work Axislab does and who are the customers you serve?

AB: In short, Axislab is a Grand Rapids-based 3D printing service center, with focuses on production, education and consulting. Companies and individuals can come to us with a concept, or a CAD (computer-aided design) model to be 3D printed, and we will run the parts for them on one of our machines at an hourly rate. We also offer classes for new 3D printer users to learn the basics of both 3D printer operations and intro to designing parts for 3D printing. 

When it comes to the customers and clients we work with, this actually brings to light one of my favorite things about 3D printing, and the potential of this technology in a nearly limitless universe of industries. While our core focus is business-to-business prototyping, working with companies to turn proof of concept designs into physical objects, we are equally as passionate about helping individuals turn their project ideas and inventions into something they can physically hold in their hands. We have worked with everyone from product designers, architecture students, hobbyists, toy designers, even a confection artist who wanted to make custom shaped chocolates from food safe silicone molds. It's really exciting never knowing what project, or idea we may be working on next.

We also pride ourselves on the work we do with educators and youth groups around Grand Rapids. Getting 3D printers into as many schools as possible, and seeing the students get excited about designing and creating their own 3D printed ideas, has been a driving force for Axislab since day one.

RGM: When was day one?

AB: We opened the doors to our Axislab retail store at the beginning of 2015; we are just about to wrap up our second year as a Grand Rapids-based small business.
 
RGM: Why the move downtown?  How will this help (and change) your business?

AB: The brand new address is 560 5th St NW.

The closing of the Standale location was actually a difficult decision to make. Operating a full-time and open-to-the-public retail location can be quite costly at times. And, to be honest, there were quite a few months where the business did indeed pay for itself; there just wasn't anything left over to support myself and my family. I had to make the decision to shift away from the more casual walk-in type atmosphere and move into a nice office environment, with classroom and client meeting rooms to work consultations by appointment.

It's actually a really nice move, We found a great location very close to downtown out of a shared business space, which reduces the overhead quite a bit. Here we will be able to operate in a more personal and professional environment. We are continuing all normal operations, with the exception of selling machines and materials. We are no longer going to run as a retail store. Our website, Facebook and phone number will all remain the same.

RGM: Although we covered the e-NABLE group last year, give us on a update on the organization.

AB: E-NABLE is a worldwide group of volunteers, using 3D printing and the power of goodwill to design, test, and donate free of charge assisted hand and arm devices to limb-different children all over the globe. This is an organization I have volunteered with since close to the beginning. I found e-NABLE very early on, while I was myself fairly new to the world of 3D printing. I downloaded one of their very early open sourced hands, mostly as a test for myself to see if I could do it. I had no idea that first hand would alter the course of my life from then on. I have since printed and donated nearly 60 devices, including our amazing and newer Team Unlimbited arms that fill a huge need for children missing more than just a hand, up to the elbow. Being an e-NABLE member has truly helped to showcase the true power and potential of the world of 3D printing.


E-NABLE has always been a personal and loved side project for me. As long as I can maintain the business side of Axislab, and cover costs, I will never stop melting plastic for all the right reasons.

RGM: Please share any numbers that can help tell the impact of the e-NABLE group

AB: E-NABLEhas been around since 2013; as of this past month, e-NABLE has soared past 9,000 members globally, and donated over 2,000 devices to kids and families! All 100 percent free of charge, all thanks to our amazing and dedicated volunteers.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

First Lady Michelle Obama presents WMCAT with national award

There is big news.

There is REALLY BIG news.

And there is this.

First Lady Michelle Obama invited the 12 winners of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award to the White House on November 15th to recognize their programs’ effectiveness in developing young people’s learning and life skills by engaging them in the arts or humanities.

One of the winners, one of only 12 in the country, is Grand Rapids’ own West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT). 

The award recognizes the country’s best after-school and out-of-school creative youth development programs for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment. The 12 awardees—chosen from a pool of more than 251 nominations and 50 finalists—were also recognized for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.

Representing WMCAT at the event  was 17-year-old WMCAT alumnus  Keloni Seawood-Walton.

Daniel Williams, executive director at WMCAT, says that Seawood-Walton was the perfect choice to represent WMCAT. “She embodies the work we do at WMCAT,” he sais. “She attended all four years while in high school and completed the labs. She then stayed with us and also apprenticed at Ambrose.” 

Seawood-Walton became a part of WMCAT while attending Grand Rapids Montessori School and graduated in spring 2016. She now is working part time as an apprentice at WMCAT’s Ambrose Print Shop while attending Grand Rapids Community College.

Williams says this recognition is reflective of the entire WMCAT community: staff, instructors, mentors, students and supporters and will impact organizations throughout the country by showcasing the opportunities that exist to invest in creative youth development programs. “This expands our ability to share the work we are doing,” he says. “It takes our program to the national stage and showcases what is going in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

This recognition is built on years of hard work. Since 2005 the WMCAT Teen Arts + Tech Program has engaged more than 2,000 high school students in studio experiences in fine arts, technology and design. The impact is illustrated through 95 percent of WMCAT teen students graduating high school on time and 85 percent being accepted to college. This past year, 90 percent of teen students said WMCAT makes them believe they can be successful in college and career.
 
The Teen Arts + Tech Program at WMCAT is grounded in design thinking and project-based learning. In partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, WMCAT has empowered teens through learning studios, such as photography, ceramics, and leadership by design. WMCAT encourages teens to elevate their voice and affect social change by applying their skills learned in the programs. Now in its 11th year of programming, WMCAT has helped more than 2,000 teens to achieve both academic and personal success. 

The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the nation’s highest honor for out-of-school arts and humanities initiatives that celebrate the creativity of the United States’ young people, particularly those from underserved communities. This award recognizes and supports excellence in programs that open new pathways to learning, self discovery, and achievement. Each year, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards recognize 12 outstanding programs in the United States, from a wide range of urban and rural settings.

Recipients receive a $10,000 grant and the opportunity to visit the White House and accept the award from First Lady Michelle Obama. Awardees also receive a full year of capacity-building and communications support, designed to make their organizations stronger. In addition, 38 exceptional youth-focused arts and humanities programs across the United States receive a Finalist Certificate of Excellence.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Put on your dancing shoes: The DanceOff returns to the Pyramid Scheme to raise money for Well House

“Life's a dance; put on your dancing shoes; take a chance.” That lyrical snippet of Steve Winwood’s minor hit does a very nice job of summing up the coolness that the third annual DanceOff will be bringing to the Pyramid Scheme on Dec. 10.

Jonathan Williams, creator of the DanceOff, says the event has raised nearly $10,000 over the last two years for Well House, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that provides safe, affordable housing to individuals who are homeless. He expects the same type of success in 2016. 

Williams says all dance styles are welcome, and the event is now open to all ages.  So, whether you breakdance, swing, free style, tap, cha cha, waltz, rumba, merengue, samba, salsa, Charleston, jitterbug, Carolina shag,  disco, tango, or foxtrot -- or you prefer mashing, skanking, doing the electric boogaloo, flexing, robot dancing, or vogueing, you are welcome.

Basically, if you got moves: bring it.

The event is designed to bring together some of Grand Rapids’ best dancers for a head-to-head  battle to crown the ultimate dance champion.

Doors will swing open at the Pyramid Scheme on Dec. 10. The top dancer, as selected by a panel of professional dancers, will be awarded a grand prize of $500, and proceeds from ticket sales benefit Well House.

To enter the DanceOff, contestants must submit a three-minute video of their best moves at www.thedanceoff.co or audition in-person at the Pyramid Scheme on Nov. 15 from 7 to 9 p.m. Contestants need to pre-register online and will be asked to submit a three-minute clip of their music. Contestants who make the cut will compete on stage at the main event on Dec. 10.

The DanceOff is seeking experienced and diverse dancers of all ages and all dance styles. Although Williams is a bit modest with his dance moves (“I like to keep it simple with the two step and some finger snapping for good measure”), he does promise some amazing performances.  “We have had everything from: contemporary, modern, tap, and hip hop -- what surprises me every year is the hidden dance talent in Grand Rapids.”

Tickets for the Dec. 10 event are $10 and can be purchased online at www.thedanceoff.co.

Video trailer for Dance-Off: https://youtu.be/-0_echOfPFE

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Photo credits:  Dave Burgess | Studio 616 Photography

 

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
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