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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

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
 
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