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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

Grand Rapids business makes list of 5,000 fastest growing companies in the U.S.

Final Jeopardy question.

This local, women-owned company was established in 2012. It employs 14 people and recently purchased a new office building in the North Monroe business district. In the recent release of the 2016 Inc. 5,000 fastest growing companies in the U.S, they were listed as number 447.

[ queue final Jeopardy music ]

What is Creative Studio Promotions?

Correct you are.

Unless you are one of their customers or are the promotional product industry, this would be a question worthy of final Jeopardy -- primarily because Creative Studio Promotions tends to fly under the radar and has little need for advertising, instead relying on their reputation in the industry. This, clearly, has worked, and Inc. calls it one of the "superheroes of the U.S. economy."
 
Ann Vidro, co-founder, says her business’s success is the direct result of their ability to be one of the few companies in the industry to be large enough to handle the entirety of a promotional campaign. “We can handle any promotional campaign from start to finish,” she explains. “That is very unique and sets us apart.”

Besides providing strategic advice in the early stages of a promotional campaign, Vidro says her company can design promotional goods, print t-shirts and bags, provide embroidery services, warehouse and ship products, and manage online stores for their clients’ branded merchandise. 

Creative Studio Promotions’ new building is located at 1168 Ionia NW. You can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Fathom prepares for deep dive by launching ambitious Kickstarter Campaign to fund underwater drone

Fathom, a Holland, Michigan-based startup that was profiled in 2015 by Rapid Growth Media, has announced the launch of a $150,000 Kickstarter campaign starting August 30.
 
With these funds, the team -- Danny Vessells, John Boss, and Matt Gira -- will be able to finish testing, start production of their signature product -- an underwater drone, build inventory, and avoid using outside investors. The campaign will feature a variety of support levels, including a limited number of Fathom Ones at $400.
 
Fathom One is an easy-to-use, affordable ($600) underwater drone. Vessells says that competitive products are typically in the $1,600 to $20,000 range, making it difficult for for amateur underwater explorers and enthusiasts to afford them.
 
The Fathom One features a full HD camera on board with built-in high­ intensity LEDs, as well as a patent­ pending modular thruster attachment system. This system allows users to take off all three of the Fathom One’s thrusters in order to easily customize, upgrade, or pack the drone. It also features an integrated rail system on the bottom of the device that makes it simple to attach action cameras, lights, or other sensors to the drone. To extend the working range of the Fathom One, the Fathom team is designing a WiFi buoy that can transmit up to 100 feet away to any smart device.
 
Unlike aerial drones, the Fathom One has a tether attached to the device, making it easy to retrieve and preventing accidental loss due to currents or other conditions unique to underwater exploring. The device has been tested to depths of 35 feet, and the team is continuing to test, with a goal of being able to use it up to 150 feet below surface level. It has been tested in both fresh and salt water.
 
The Fathom team envisions multiple uses for the their drone, ranging from recreational use around island lakes to ocean exploring. Vessells says there will also be commercial uses, such as inspecting underwater pipelines and hulls of boats. “You will have the ability to see and experience things without being a certified scuba diver,” he says.
 
In the event of the Kickstarter campaign not reaching the $150,000 goal, the team is fully prepared to seek outside investment to keep the company moving forward. To date, Vessells estimates the team has invested around $30,000 into product development.
 
The Kickstarter campaign will go live on August 30. You can view it here at that time.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Sugar High: D'Arts Donut Shop to celebrate opening in Eastown next week

D’Arts Donut Shop is the newest culinary attraction in Eastown, with the shop set to debut its storefront during a soft launch the week of August 22 at 1444 Lake Drive.

The specialty donut shop cut its teeth as a food truck in 2015, building its customer base and reputation that made the move to a brick and mortar seamless. “Opening a storefront was always part of the masterplan” says founder Adam Oulette. ”We knew if we built a following, success would come at a permanent location.”

As befits a business in Eastown, D’Arts will be unique and eclectic. The donuts will be made using a family recipe and will be yeast risen. The sweets will be “more like a bread dough” says Oulette, who notes they do not use any pre-made mixes as all the donuts will be made from scratch.

The plan will be to offer a rotating menu of 10 to 13 donut flavors daily, Madcap brewed coffee and nitro cold brew, and home-style breakfast and lunch options, which will always feature….donuts. “Everything will have a donut base” says Oulette. “Our sandwiches will be made on sliced donuts.”

The Lake Drive storefront features a 49-seat cafe setting with solar panels that power the radiant floor heating to provide heat in the winter and hot water in the summer; a mix of LED, natural light, and solar tubes; and a rustic industrial interior with high top and bar seating plus free Wi-Fi.

D’Arts will grow from its two original employees to a staff of 16. A larger kitchen to will be able to accommodate the wedding and private event catering side of the business.

For more information, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Young fashionistas launch new venture through Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities

With apologies to Art Linkletter, kids are doing the darndest things today.  For example, launching a business.

And forget lemonade stands; we are talking big dreams and ambitious goals, like starting up a fashion design business.

World, meet the three friends who have formed The Fashion Sisters: Michelle, Victoria and Laila, ages 11, 10 and 6, respectively.

The story behind the The Fashion Sisters is a testament to the philosophy and the work being done at the Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities’ (GAAH) Cook Arts Center, which provides free arts programming, from music and dance to theater and pottery, to give children and adults in the Grandville Avenue area an opportunity to develop a deeper appreciation of the arts.

First, the story. GAAH has a Summer Arts and Learning program. It is open for children ages five to 12 and has a series of rotating activities. Each year they have a theme. The theme for 2016 was “the future you,” so the GAAH team led discussions on colleges and brought in speakers to discuss careers.

Steffanie Rosalez, program director at the Cook Arts Center, said one the girls told her she wanted to be a fashion designer, so they brought in a textile and graphic designer, Becky Prevette, to talk to the kids.

After Prevette’s talk, Rosalez says she was approached by some of the girls who were inspired and wanted to do more with fashion. “We want to start a fashion design club and make clothes to sell,” the girls told Prevette, who said: “That’s why we are here.”

Now, this is where the program philosophy of GAAH kicks in. “We give the kids responsibility, and they drive the programming. They work as autonomous teams and, budget or no budget, they find ways to get things done.” Rosalez asked the children what they needed to make their design club happen, and they said sewing machines, fabrics and an instructor. Since the Cook Arts Center has sewing machines and access to fabrics already, all they had to do was to ask Prevette to get on board, to which she readily agreed.

With that settled, the club decided on a name, The Fashion Sisters, and now are working hard to take their passion for fashion to a new level. “The girls are coming in early and staying late, alway working away to develop inventory and working through the process of starting a business,” says Rosalez.

Despite their busy schedules, Rapid Growth was able to secure an exclusive interview with The Fashion Sisters.

Why did you start the club?

"We met at the Cook Arts Center summer camp and just started talking about fashion, and then decided we should be partners together." - Michelle

"Yeah, because we make a great team." - Victoria

When do you hope to begin selling?

"Probably in two weeks. And we want to have sewing lessons for younger kids." - Victoria

What type of products are you making?

"Bags, skirts, bows, bandanas, chokers. Just the new stuff that's trendy right now." - Victoria 

What's most exciting about fashion design for you?

"You just get to be yourself and turn it into something very special." - Victoria

"For me, what's most exciting about fashion is that I like making clothes, and I want to learn how to so that one day one of the super stars might wear my design on the red carpet." - Michelle

The Fashion Sisters are planning to launch a Facebook page soon, but in the meantime you can follow their progress at the Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities page
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Family Fares in Grand Rapids offer expanded fruit & veggie options for SNAP participants

SpartanNash will be offering Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB), a program that helps participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to earn additional dollars for fresh fruits and vegetables  at 17 Family Fare locations throughout western, southern and northern Michigan, including in Grand Rapids. SpartanNash is the only major grocery retail chain with multiple stores participating in Double Up Food Bucks in the state.

This is the third year SpartanNash has offered the Double Up Food Bucks program. Vice President of Corporate Affairs & Communications Meredith Gremel says the program fits  perfectly within the SpartanNash commitment to local communities, social responsibility and environmental sustainability.  “First, it’s the right thing to do,” she says. “It supports SNAP customers, who don’t have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables and it supports Michigan farmers.”  Gremel notes the majority of the Family Fare stores have a strong neighborhood presence and all have associates who are trained on how the program works and can help any customers with questions.

Gremel says the program has been a real success and the number of participating stores has tripled in the last three years.  “We started with two stores, then five stores and now 17,” she explains. “Last year with five stores we had over 11,000 people who used DUFB. For our soft launch on August 1st this year, we had 1,200 customers participate.” 

The Double Up Food Bucks program is a public-private partnership administered by Fair Food Network with support provided by federal, state and private sources. The program is available from August 1 to December 31 at more than 150 farmers markets and 34 additional grocery stores in Michigan, the majority of which are SpartanNash’s independent customers.

For each dollar of fresh Michigan produce SNAP customers purchase at participating Family Fare stores using their Bridge Card and yes Rewards Card between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31, an equivalent amount of points will be earned and placed on their yes Card. Shoppers can then redeem the points at any participating Family Fare store for free fruits and vegetables. Each point is valued at $1, with a maximum dollar-for-dollar match of $20 per day on their yes Card.
 
The Family Fare Supermarkets taking part in the Double Up Food Bucks program in Rapid Growth’s coverage area include:
 
Greater Grand Rapids area
 
·        Leonard – 1225 Leonard, NE in Grand Rapids
·        Fulton Heights – 1415 E. Fulton St. in Grand Rapids
·        Rogers Plaza – 1148 28th St., SW in Wyoming
·        Burlingame – 2900 Burlingame Ave., SW in Wyoming
·        Breton Meadows – 4325 Breton Road, SE in Grand Rapids
·        Kentwood – 6127 Kalamazoo, SE in Kentwood
 
Holland

 
·        Butternut – 993 Butternut Dr.
·        S. Washington – 1185 S. Washington

The DUFB is only one of many community programs that SpartanNash supports. You can learn more their more about their commitment to the triple bottom line here.
 
And to learn more about the Double Up Food Bucks program, please go here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
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