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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
 

6.25 Paper Studio celebrates five years of downtown retail

The retail industry is full of challenges: razor thin margins, finding great employees, having the right location (high traffic, good parking, affordable lease) and successfully competing with big box stores, brick-and-mortar businesses and web-based behemoths like Amazon. Being a retailer in downtown Grand Rapids is basically the same, except probably double the challenges. Maybe even triple. 

Without a thriving retail culture downtown and with rents more in line with service industry (financial and legal firms, restaurants, etc.), existing downtown Grand Rapids retailers need to be super resourceful, extra scrappy, extremely good with what they do -- and always find ways to have a little fun. Basically, the 6.25 Paper Studio story.

So, when 6.25 Paper Studio turned five years old last week, Abbey Fowler, owner and operator, threw a party and celebrated their success with their employees and customers. Damn right! 

The business first called MoDiv, the downtown retail incubator, home for two years and then moved to its present location at 40 Monroe Center three years ago. Fowler says there has been a lot to reflect on since opening up downtown. “Overall in the past five years, retail downtown has been up and down,” she says. “Things were promising when MoDiv opened (in September 2011), but quickly took a lull for awhile. We've lost some substantial retailers (such as VanHoeks Shoes and Schuler's Books).”

Despite the ups and downs, Fowler says she feels that downtown retail is more of an up than a down now. “The best change for retailers like myself is the growth of downtown dwellers,” she says. “With the new Mortan House, 616 Properties, The Waters Center, Arena Place, The Rowe, and more in just the last couple years, we see new customers every day that recently moved downtown (often from bigger cities like Chicago) with the desire to experience the city not as a destination, but as a home and community.
 
“I see this shift with the upcoming plans for Arena South and the West Side, but also in the small changes like the expansion of Grand Central Market and The Apothecary, the renovations at Madcap, the rebrand of Divani -- my favorite spot, and the fact that small retailers like myself, Gina's Boutique, The Vault of Midnight, Old World Olive Press and more are still holding strong,” she continues.

Fowler says that one secret to her success has been her blending of her brick-and-mortar location (which sells a wide variety of gifts) with her fast growing wholesale line of branded greeting cards.  “The retail side allows for decent cash flow and the opportunity to hire a larger staff that can also support the wholesale business,” she explains. “But, most importantly, our retail business  is what allows us to connect with the community and feel part of the local economy. If we only had a wholesale business, we would have no public presence in Grand Rapids and, in my opinion, feel isolated.” 

Besides the sense of community, her storefront also serves as a working laboratory that is driving her wholesale business. “In our niche of greeting cards and gifts, having the retail store also gives us the opportunity to test our wholesale product before selling to other stores,” she Fowler says. “The wholesale side of 6.25 Paper has grown significantly since our current brand launch at the 2015 National Stationery Show. We signed on about 30 stores from that show and are now in over 100 boutiques around the world, plus a national chain. Growth of the wholesale business is the most scalable part of our company, and I'm focusing much of my own attention there.”

Fowler says she works with both local and regional designers and illustrators to create her greeting cards and currently employs four employees. 

To learn more about 6.25 Paper Studio, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

 

Beer and business: GRCC's Fountain Hill Brewery responds to industry's growing hiring needs

Beer City needs beer employees — and who better to provide high quality education and training for our metropolis’s brewing and food operations than Grand Rapids Community College and the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education?

The Craft Brewing, Packaging and Service Operations Certificate is the school’s response to the industry’s growing hiring needs that go beyond solely understanding the brewing process and includes mastering the entire brewery operation that is needed to run a successful business.

The certificate program includes fieldwork experiences and an internship at a brewery or brewing-related operation. Course topics include brewing, fermentation principles, packaging, labeling, merchandising, marketing and operations management — including laws and tax regulations.

Amy Koning, Associate Dean of Operations, says industry partners, including many of the largest brewers in the city, were the catalysts for the program at a time it became apparent that the rapid growth of the industry and the demands of the job market far exceeded the supply of trained workers. With a highly successful culinary arts program that is routinely named one of the best in the country and established connections with the restaurant industry, GRCC’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education was a logical place to design and offer a program.

The centerpiece of the Craft Brewing, Packaging and Service Operations Certificate is a fully functional brewpub, The Fountain Hill Brewery, which is operated by students enrolled in the program which began in the summer of 2016.  “The brewpub is a lab, just like the Heritage Restaurant,” Koning says, referring to a restaurant run by culinary students. “Students are in class when they are brewing and serving when the brewpub is open.”

The program is two semesters long and  includes an internship for completion. Koning says the next cohort is full, with 18 students enrolled. There is currently one full-time instructor and two part-time faculty serving in the program.

The Fountain Hill Brewery is open to the public but has limited hours.

Hours of operation are:

5:30-7:30 p.m. on the following Thursdays/Fridays

Fall 2016
  • September 22-23, 29-30
  • October 6-7, 27-28
  • November 3-4, 10-11, 17-18
  • December 1-2
Winter 2017:
  • January 19-20, 26-27
  • February 2-3, 9-10
  • March 16-17, 23-24, 30-31
  • April 6, 13-14

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

Help wanted: Must be interested in making a difference in the community

Are you interested in helping to end homelessness in Grand Rapids? How about making sure the West Michigan business community grows and local neighborhoods thrive? Or being in a classroom and shaping the next generation of citizens?

If any of these descriptions describe you, check out these three organizations that have openings for jobs that can make a significant impact in the community and in the lives of people throughout our area.

1. Well House is growing and looking for a Chief Operating Officer.

If you interested in being an agent of change in the community and being part of an organization that is tackling the issue of homelessness in an innovative way, Well House Executive Director Tami Vandenberg has the job for you.
 
“This is an incredible opportunity to help shape the future of Well House and the movement we are building to change the conversation around homelessness in our community,” Vandenberg says. “This position will interact with a wide cross-section of the city including people living on the street, elected officials, funders and service providers. A rare opportunity to have lasting impact in people's lives as well as the city's housing future."

For more information, you can view the application here and the Well House website here.

2. The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has two new leadership positions posted.

If you are  interested in economic development and being part of the team that has significant impact on West Michigan’s business growth and success, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has recently announced  two new opportunities to join its senior leadership team. The two available positions are Vice President of Talent Development and Vice President of Marketing & Communications.

You can view the jobs here and learn more about the Chamber here

3. The GVSU Charter School Portfolio has multiple job openings in both east and west Michigan

If education, teaching and learning is your passion, Erin Abel has a series of job openings in the GVSU Charter School Portfolio that might be what you are looking for. “We’re the first accredited charter authorizer in the nation,” Abel notes. Beyond the intrinsic value of working in education, Abel explains there are significant professional and personal development opportunities. “What you get working at a GVSU charter school: M.Ed tuition reimbursement, free professional development, a statewide support network, and career satisfaction,” Abel says.

You can view the employment opportunities through the GVSU Charter Portfolio here.

If you’re looking for a new career or position, keep an eye on our jobs and innovation section. Rapid Growth will be highlighting other interesting jobs across many sectors in the upcoming months.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Women of the web: Girl Develop It to support, grow community of female programmers in West Michigan

Becky VandenBout and Shelby Tieche make things happen -- both at work and in the community.

VandenBout is a freelance software developer and Tieche is a front end developer at BizStream. They use code to make things for a living.

They are now using coding to build and support a community of women programmers in West Michigan as co-founders of the Girl Develop It (GDI) Grand Rapids chapter.

GDI is a national nonprofit organization that exists to provide affordable and accessible programs to women who want to learn web and software development through hands-on instruction. GDI targets women 18 years and older who are interested in exploring a career in software or are looking for a career change. Classes range from introductory to advance level software development skills.

Tieche says her motivation to spend her energies on starting the chapter is simple. “I am passionate about code, and being a female in the industry I want to encourage women to make a career in coding,” she explains. 

The local chapter will reflect the interests of the members, says Tieche, as they will have the freedom to create different courses -- all based on listening to the local members. “We will mold it to what the community wants,” Tieche says.

Tieche recommends you sign up for their email list to receive more information on how to become involved with GDI GR by filling out this form. You will then be sent more information based on the interests you identify, as well as newsletters and reminders for future classes and meetups.

To get started, the first meetup is scheduled for Wednesday, September 14th from 6:00pm-8:00pm at The Factory downtown and will be focused on everything GDI, as well as what the vision and goals are for the Grand Rapids chapter. They will also be announcing the schedule for upcoming classes and social events as well. These meetups will be held every second Wednesday of the month.

To RSVP to this meetup, check out the Meetup page at https://www.meetup.com/Girl-Develop-It-Grand-Rapids/events/233536292/.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

GR's Varsity News Network adds founder of The North Face to strategic advisory board

Grand Rapids-based Varsity News Network (VNN) has announced that Kenneth “Hap” Klopp, founder of The North Face, will be joining VNN’s strategic advisory board effective immediately.
 
Klopp is the founder of the outdoor brand The North Face and served as the CEO for 25 years. In addition to his role at VNN, Klopp is currently an Operating Partner and Advisor at VO2 Partners.
 
Ryan Vaughn, VNN founder, says that adding Klopp to the advisory board is an important chapter in the story of the growing news network, which offers hyperlocal high school sports content to millions of readers across the country.
 
Vaughn explains the relationship with Klopp began about two years ago through an introduction from a VNN investor. At that time, Vaughn says Klopp was intrigued by VNN but took a wait­-and-­see approach to the startup. “He has a sports background and an appreciation for the difficulty for what we are doing,” Vaughn says. “He has seen other companies trying to consolidate the fragmented high school market and has seen them fail.”
 
However, after VNN continued to grow, hitting business milestones and attracting investors, Vaughn was able to make a successful pitch for Klopp to join his advisory board. ”He knows people throughout the sports industry, has many contacts in the media and has a lengthy background in building startups,” Vaughn notes of the new board member.
 
Besides Klopp’s incredible network and experience, Vaughn notes it is his expertise in branding where he might have his biggest impact on VNN. “It’s a big commitment on his part and an important part of the the evolution of VNN,” he says. “As we have grown, we’ve figured out many things about our business. Now we are growing from a startup to a company, and in the next few years we will be scaling to build a national consumer brand.”
 
As the industry’s first comprehensive communication platform, VNN is the exclusive web/mobile platform for more than 10 percent of all U.S. high school athletic communities, reaching over 7 million passionate fans across 40-plus states (adding 8,000 fans daily) with exclusive, hyperlocal high school sports content. To learn more about VNN, you can visit their site here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
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