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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

'Good Neighbor Orientation' connects GVSU students to West Side neighborhoods

The common narrative is as old as the hills. Students start school, move into neighborhood rentals, party, go to class, party, finish the semester, and go home. Students come and go and often get a bad rap that they could care less about getting involved or about getting to know longtime residences, appreciating the neighborhood’s history or supporting the local businesses.

Not so fast.

For many Grand Valley State University students, when they attend their student orientation on August 25,  they will have an opportunity for a very unique learning opportunity: an opportunity to totally flip that narrative and participate in an ongoing dialogue on what it means to be a good neighbor.

Thanks to an invitation from GVSU to participate in the student orientation program, the WestSide Collaborative, two local neighborhood associations and several  local nonprofits will share with students a little history of the West Side and provide encouragement and simple ways to get involved in the community outside of GVSU as part of a program called the “Good Neighbor Orientation.”

Sergio Cira-Reyes, project director at the WestSide Collaborative, says the orientation is an important initiative meant to engage students and help better integrate them into the local neighborhoods.  “The narrative has always been that students are coming into the community and displacing long time residents,” he says. Instead, Cira-Reyes wants to inspire students to learn more about the West Side, engage them in serious discussions about economic development and gentrification, and ultimately help them discover their voice so they can speak up and express their opinions. “We want students to be part of this community and they should be part of the discussion,” he says. “We see them as future leaders in our neighborhoods.”
 
This event comes at a particularly crucial time, with “mom ‘n pop” shops giving way to larger developments and rents continually rising. In an article Rapid Growth published late last year, Andrew Sisson, of the WestSide Collaborative, explains the tension behind the changes occurring on the West Side.
 
“Currently the market rate for a studio apartment is about $1,000 a month,” Sisson says in that article. “That’s bringing in wealthier residents, and that means people living here are being forced out. About 40 percent of those living in these neighborhoods have incomes below the poverty level. People with children are having a hard time renting, because kids are hard on a house and the new owners don’t want to rent to them. And those who lost their houses in 2008 to foreclosure — the majority of those were sold to investors with cash, buying up single family housing and turning them into rental homes.”

During the orientation students will listen to peers who live and work in the West Side and be pitched on different ways to get involved.  There will also be a table in the back with representatives from West Side organizations to welcome students to the community and provide background information on their work. The program will end with a walking tour of the West Side with specific stops at local organizations and dinner.

Ultimately, Cira-Reyes hopes that students will begin to understand their impact on the West Side community and be inspired to get involved and make a difference.

The 'Good Neighbor Orientation' will take place from 7-9pm at GVSU's downtown campus on August 25 . For more information, including how to register, please go here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

12 Oakes Business & Innovation Center opens downtown co-working space, is ready to change the world

Kristian Grant is a connecter, entrepreneur and businesswoman.

Her newest venture is a direct reflection of her talents: the 12 Oakes Business & Innovation Center.

The business is located, naturally, at 12 Oakes SE in downtown Grand Rapids and is a co-working space designed to help people build their business, learn, meet and network with other entrepreneurs, and maintain a low overhead while they grow their venture.

Grant says the inspiration for 12 Oakes is directly from her personal journey. “I’ve been looking for office space for myself and was talking to a lot of other entrepreneurs about the process,” she says. “I kept hearing, ‘I can’t wait to I get to that point.’ So I decided to create something to support the people who need a stepping stone for their business.”

Besides being encouraged by other entrepreneurs, Grant says she has spent time researching other co-working spaces and has immersed herself in the small business and tech community. “I wanted to take the spirit of emerge (previously part of GR Current) and Startup Weekend and apply it to this space,” she explains.

12 Oakes will be able to support up to 10 entrepreneurs. The cost is $99 per month, with a three month contract. It has all the typical amenities of co-working spaces: technology, meeting space, work space, receptionist and beverage service. Plus, it will feature monthly workshops by successful business people  with a focus on helping entrepreneurs understand the realities of starting and running a business. “We want honesty,” Grant says. “People to talk about real topics.” She says the first speaker, Tami VandenBerg, Well House’s Executive Director and co-owner of The Meanwhile and the Pyramid Scheme, is a great example of the type of speakers she will be featuring. “She is a successful business woman [who is] involved in the community and raising a family at the same time,” Grant says.

To learn more about 12 Oakes, you can visit their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

How the business community is unlocking the potential of The Port of Muskegon

The Port of Muskegon is West Michigan’s largest, natural deepwater port, and according to a recent economic impact report, with proper development, marketing and promotion,  it has the potential to create 1,700 jobs and more than $280 million in annual economic activity that reaches throughout West Michigan.

That was the gist of Port Day, an event organized and hosted by the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC),  the Muskegon County Port Advisory Committee and the West Michigan Prosperity Alliance (WMPA) with the intention to introduce the port’s potential to local and regional stakeholders and build a collaborative network in order to advance the vision of the port becoming a multi-modal regional logistics hub and capturing the economic value forecasted in the report.

“There are a lot of moving parts” before this vision can become a reality, says WMSRDC Executive Director Erin Kuhn, but she is very optimistic that the port has the potential to be a significant economic engine for West Michigan. “The greater community does not realize the assets around Muskegon Lake and the port,” Kuhn says. “We have access to shipping, an airport, rail and the highways.  And the commercial capacities are often underutilized.”

Kuhn notes the recent interest in the Port of Muskegon is directly related to the closing of the Consumers Energy plant in Muskegon. In order to have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to dredge the channel, the tonnage of coal that was shipped for use by Consumers Energy would be need to be replaced. To address this, the local business community came together and began asking questions: How do they diversify? How do they overcome this issue?

The answer quickly became evident: cooperation. Diversifying the use of the port would require the coordination of the private sector and local, regional, state, and federal governments.

When the WMPA (an organization that was formed in January 2014 as part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Regional Prosperity Initiative) issued a call for projects in October 2014, a proposal was created by local leaders, and the  Port of Muskegon was selected as the number one regional project.

With this recognition, the project was moved from a local level to a regional one, and The West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission took a lead role in securing state and federal grants and is developing a plan to advance the port as a regional logistics hub.

For more information about this initiative please visit http://wmsrdc.org/port-day.

The West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission is a planning and development agency serving 120 local governments from Lake, Mason, Muskegon, Newaygo and Oceana Counties. The Commission works to foster regional development in West Michigan through various services and programs.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Days gone by: Holland's Grand-Craft focuses on making boats the old-fashioned way, by hand

Boat building is not the oldest profession in the world, but it has to be close. And for Grand-Craft Boats, a builder and restorer of classic wooden boats, having an appreciation for “old” is very good for business. 

“Retro new is very popular in our country now,” says Jeff Cavanagh, owner of the Holland-based company that recently opened a second production plant in Holland to build its new $279,000 Super Sport power boat being introduced at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show November 3.

The introduction of the Super Sport is the first all new boat model from Grand-Craft in four years. The company was started in Holland in 1979 as a builder of vintage-design mahogany powerboats based on past Chris-Craft boat designs.

Cavanagh purchased Grand-Craft in 2010 and moved the business to its main plant and headquarters at 1821 Ottawa Beach Road on Lake Macatawa. Due to the high demand in his boats and restoration services, Cavanagh recently purchased the 10,000-square-foot former Chris-Craft facility at 60 Chris-Craft Way for production of the company's new 25-foot Super Sport and other custom runabouts.

Cavanagh says he has been working in the industry for almost his entire career, and he has long been fascinated by classic wooden boats and has a deep appreciation for the craftsmanship and design of wooden boats.

The company currently employs 12 people, and Cavanagh is looking to add two more people to his team, which he says is a great job, but is not for everyone. “Boat craftsmen are hard to find, he notes. He says an apprenticeship is typically one year and that he is aware of only one small school in the Upper Peninsula, Great Lakes Boat Building School, that has a program specifically for shipwrights.  He says all the boats are hand built and can take anywhere from seven to 18 months to build. 

The custom boat builder practices the slow process of cold molding planks of mahogany to create boats that are durable and beautiful to look at. New boats from Grand Craft range in price from $120,000 to more than $1.5 million for a custom designed, one-of-a-kind boat.

To learn more about Grand-Craft, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Meet Little Lucy's and Brighton Graye's: The newest additions to Plainfield's burgeoning food scene

There are many Grand Rapids neighborhoods undergoing extreme makeovers. Ever-looming cranes and bulldozers dot massive construction projects. But there is also quieter redevelopment going on in the city, where old buildings are being repurposed into something new. 

Case in point: the Creston/Cheshire neighborhood.

Little Lucy’s Cafe and Brighton Graye’s Bistro are a two-restaurant concept housed in the former D’Amico Food Market on North Plainfield.

Larry Zeiser, partner at L&B Portfolio (owners of Graydon's Crossing, Logan's Alley and Derby Station), is one of two owners of the restaurants and sees the recent addition as being a complimentary addition to the rapidly developing food scene on Plainfield.

Although the restaurants share the same building, each one has a separate entrance, its own kitchen and its own identity.

Little Lucy’s, named after Zeiser’s daughter, opened in late May and has a focus on breakfast, lunch, coffee, deli options, and bakery items. It is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week. The bakery and deli are open most days from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It offers seating for 60 inside and  28 outside at a dedicated open air patio. A complete menu can be found on the Little Lucy’s website at www.littlelucyscafe.com.
 
Brighton Graye’s Bistro just debuted in late June. Brighton Graye’s is named after L&B Portfolio partner Brian Giampapa’s son. It’s a bit more upscale and brings the feel of urban dining to the Creston neighborhood, with an emphasis on modern American cuisine. Brighton Graye’s offers small and large plates made primarily with locally-grown ingredients that changes on a daily basis.
 
Another focus of Graye’s will be its craft cocktail selection. Brighton Graye’s offers seating for 100 people inside, including 14 at its bar and capacity for 36 at its outdoor open-air patio on the south side of the building. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m.and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. until midnight, with an after-dinner happy hour starting at 9 p.m. each night.

Both partners are residents of Grand Rapids’ northeast side, and Zeiser describes himself as a “big-believer in a great neighborhood.”  He says he has worked with the neighborhood association for more than five years and said the availability of the specific property was the catalyst for the development. “The key for me was D’Amico’s being vacant. It’s a natural connector between Creston and Cheshire,” Zeiser says, adding that the development of the neighborhoods is more akin to Cherry Street than the recent work being done on the westside.  “We are bringing something different to the neighborhood. We don’t have burgers but other places have them,” he says.

So, for those of you unfamiliar with the food scene on Plainfield Avenue on the  northeast side, here is a quick guide. Starting just north of Leonard you have the Choo-Choo Grill (burger, fries, shakes) and Graydon’s Crossing (Indian/English food, craft beers). Going north there is The Rez (pizza, Cajun, beer, pub food), the soon-to-be-opened Creston Brewery and continuing up the road you have Little Lucy’s and Brighton Grayes, Frosty Boy (an iconic ice cream stop), La Huasteca (traditional Mexican), Cheshire Grill (classic diner), and Fat Boy’s (burger and fries). For the DIY crowd, there is the local grocery store Kingma’s, which features fresh produce, a wide selection of beer and wine, groceries, and one of the finest full service meat markets in the city.

Check it out.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Collective Idea expands Holland, Michigan office, adds jobs

Collective Idea, the Holland, Michigan software design and development firm announced its office expansion with a grand opening celebration in mid-June, showcasing its modern, high-tech workplace in the heart of downtown Holland at 44 E. 8th St.

Daniel Morrison, CEO, says the firm’s office space is almost 4,400 square feet, which is double the previous space and adds more functionality. “The biggest addition is more breakout space,” he says. “We’ve added three small conference rooms for one to four people to meet or have video calls, phone booths for private conversations, and a second large conference room. Our main workspace is an open plan, so the addition of more quiet spaces was a design goal. We also have more open space to spread out during the day.”

The expanding space is needed to accommodate the growth. “In the last six months, we’ve brought on two junior software developers, one senior software developer, one designer, one marketer, and two interns.  We’ll likely be growing the team by one or two more people before the end of the year. Depending on the need, we may add more.”
 
“We’re always on the lookout for good people, even when we can’t hire them,” Morrison continues. “We also don’t limit ourselves to the local market. We currently have four employees in other states, and we’ll grow that segment.”

Like many local companies in the tech sector, recruiting and retaining talent remains a priority in order to stay competitive. Morrison says his firm takes a very employee- and family-centric approach to creating a corporate culture. “We work very hard to treat our people well and empower them,” he says. “We keep salaries competitive and have a great and growing benefits package that takes great care of them and their families. For example, our health insurance plan currently has more of our employees’ children on it than it does our actual employees. We focus not on silly perks, but on cultivating a good work/life balance. We do all of this because we want to build a company that will be around longer than any of us.”

‘A rising tide lifts all ships’ is a perfect adage for Morrison’s perspective on the importance of growing the technology sector in the region. “We have a real opportunity to give West Michigan a national reputation as a tech hub,” he says. “There are a lot of talented people and companies here already doing amazing things, but we just need to be better at talking about it to the wider world. As a great place to live, we’ll be able to attract and retain a lot of people to this area. There is such a great entrepreneurial spirit in West Michigan, and if we keep that momentum going, we’ll show that tech hubs aren’t just on the east or west coast.”

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

TechStars Startup Weekend: Unplug and unwind with fellow entrepreneurs

“Pitching ideas and pitching tents” is the unofficial mantra of the very unique and original “unplugged” TechStars Startup Weekend at the future site of Camp BluSky on Hamlin Lake, just north of Ludington, Michigan, from July 29-31.

Startup weekends have been a staple of the West Michigan entrepreneurial community since Aaron Schaap and Mike Boyink brought the concept to Grand Rapids from Seattle, Washington seven years ago. Typically, the 54-hour idea-pitching, business-developing, and team-building hackathon is held in early January.

However, Tim Murphy, lead organizer, had a different idea for 2016: design an event for the summer for which participants camp out in a beautiful setting and get inspired by nature. “Let’s get entrepreneurs to unplug from the day-to-day environment and see what happens,” he says.

The event will be structured like all startup weekends, which are held around the world throughout the year. Participants register online and then show up to pitch their ideas on Friday night. The crowd votes for the best 10 to 15 ideas and teams and proceed to self-select based on personal interest and skills (design, marketing, software development, etc.). For the remainder of the weekend, the teams work together to validate the idea and create some type of prototype, which is then presented back to the group on Sunday. One of the big difference with the “unplugged” weekend is that instead of teams retreating to conference rooms to work on the idea, the participants can check out a pontoon, meet around a campfire or chill out and work on the shores of Hamlin Lake.

Murphy, who is founder of Airdrop Gaming (a Start Garden funded venture) and a faculty member within the design department at Kendall, says that although the event is unplugged, there will be Wi-Fi available so teams can test their applications and conduct market research. But, other than that, it is very rustic, with everyone pitching tents and enjoying group meals over the weekend.

Besides expanding the entrepreneurial community beyond Grand Rapids, Murphy says the weekend will also be a chance to showcase Camp BluSky, his concept for a year-round innovation and design camp retreat, which he plans to launch within the confines the property of the 100-year-old Camp Douglas Smith.

Murphy says there is room for 150 people to participate in the event, and registration is still open. He says everyone will drive up and meet in a specified location in Ludington and then will be bussed to the Hamlin Lake site.

Registration is $75 for students and $100 for everyone else. This includes all meals, snacks and beverages throughout the weekend,

To learn more about the event, you can visit the site here. To learn more about Murphy’s concept for Camp BlueSky, you can check out more information here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Grand Rapids Garage Bar & Grill is taking it to the streets

The popular North Monroe Garage Bar & Grill is bringing some serious fun to Grand Rapids this summer as it hosts weekly Wednesday night block parties through August 31. The shindigs will be held in front of the venue, located at 819 Ottawa Ave., from 6-10 pm each week.

Like its 2015 inaugural year, the parties not only bring music and fun to the ascending North Monroe light industrial neighborhood, but also have a charitable component with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.  According to founder Kevin Farhat, they have raised more than $7,300 through the block parties and other charitable events over the last two years. Farhat says the support for veterans is a legacy from the previous owner of Teasers, the previous bar where Garage is now located.

Farhat says the block parties are bigger and better this year. “We have bigger acts, a bigger stage (The Who could play on it), and more people. We are blessed to be able to put these on,” he says.  Farhat adds the parties get a great deal of support from classic car and motorcycle enthusiasts, which adds to the existing  North Monroe vibe that he describes as “free spirited” and “easily accessible.” (Parking is always free.)

The block parties are not the only thing happening at the Garage Bar & Grill. Farhat says they recently received permission to install a parklet in front the bar. “It is something I have seen in other parts of the city. It really improves the curb appeal. It’s very attractive, and it livens things up.  It’s also the first tables to fill up.”  Also with the addition of 20 seats, Farhat says business is up 20 percent this year.

Working with his partners  from Third Coast Development, Farhat says that the Garage Bar & Grill brand has an excellent opportunity to grow, either through opening other locations or franchising.  He says the business currently employs 24 people.

For more information about Garage Bar & Grill,including their block parties, you can visit their website here or Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Business is booming at JR Automation: Company expands, adds jobs

Bryan Jones, CEO of JR Automation Technologies,  sums it up succinctly: “We work in cool industries on cool projects. It is unlike what anyone is doing in the world.”

The Holland-based JR Automation Technologies is a global leader in custom automation solutions for a variety of industries, including automotive, aerospace, medical device, pharmaceutical, food processing, construction, and more. The company which was founded in 1980, has been on a high growth trajectory since 2009 and has recently announced their intention to expand operations in Holland by investing $5.6 million, which will  create 250 new jobs in the area over the course of the project.

Jones says an improving economy, advances in technology and JR Automation’s culture and team environment have played key roles in the firm’s growth. “An expanding economy certainly has helped our business, but our success is much bigger than that,” he says. “Changing and improving technology is making it possible to do more. Process developments are changing the way that we build cars, airplanes, and any number of everyday products.  All of these developments generally need intelligent, intuitive systems to be viable.”

The new jobs that are being created through their recent expansion will be filled by both new graduates and seasoned veterans. “We are looking to hire individuals ranging in experience: new college grads to seasoned professionals in a variety of disciplines and skill sets. Mechanical, electrical and process engineers, controls engineers, software engineers, project managers, machine builders, machinist, fabricators, service technicians. JR is a very technically diverse team, and we will continue to add in all areas,” says Jones.

Despite the competition for this type of talent, Jones is very optimistic that his company offers an interesting opportunities for job seekers. “JR is unique in that we bring so many different talent sets together in a respectful, enabling work environment for the purpose of solving problems and building solutions that are bigger than what any one discipline or talent set could ever accomplish on their own,” he says. “We get to see the results of our efforts on a daily basis in the construction and run-off of systems that can be hundreds of feet long and cost multiple millions of dollars.”

Jones says  the technology being developed and used is industry leading. “It’s cool stuff,” he says. “We build things that move and make and manufacture and that are unlike anything else in the world. What could be more fun than that to someone who gets into building things and making things work? And while all that is happening, there is a true team atmosphere supporting one another and making the work days enjoyable.”

Several economic development organizations have played a role in JR Automation’s recent expansion, including Lakeshore Advantage, Holland Charter Township and the MEDC.
 
Those interested in employment at JR Automation should visit http://www.jrauto.com/careers.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

The sweet life: Laham family pursues the American Dream with Chocolates by Grimaldi

There’s no doubt about it: Steve and Molli Laham are living the sweet life.

Literally.

The husband and wife duo, both of whom were born and raised in Grand Rapids, not long ago had been living in Indiatlantic, Florida, a small beach town perched on Florida’s east coast, with their two sons when the idea hit: Why not return to their home state and open a family run chocolate shop?

It was an idea born from visiting their friends’ chocolate store in Florida (“where everything was amazing!” Molli exclaims), and one that came naturally to the Lahams, who had owned and operated businesses in Grand Rapids for years prior to heading south.

“We wanted to show our sons how to start a business, run a business, grow a business,” says Molli, who owned a dental lab for 15 years in Grand Rapids.

Plus, moving back to Michigan was a no-brainer for the couple, with Steve citing “the values that are so core to the Midwest and West Michigan” being a major draw for their family of four.

“We’re Grand Rapidians,” says Steve, who owned an ATV, snowmobile, personal watercraft, and boat business in Grand Rapids for 19 years before going to work for a French multinational company in a senior level capacity for a decade and a half. “When we do a tour, we say, ‘We’re smitten with the mitten.’”

So, Molli and Steve and their two sons, Nick and Zach, packed up and hit the road, returning to the place they always called home: West Michigan. In 2012, the family opened Chocolates by Grimaldi in Grand Haven, and, with everything from tours of its chocolate factory to its chocolate-covered potato chips and truffles that seem to fly off the shelves, the space has flourished. Now, four years after its inception, the chocolatier continues to do what it does best: whip up caramels, hand-rolled truffles, chocolate-covered fruits hailing from local farms, and more — plus it’s gearing up to grow the business, including offering more events in the shop that’s located in a former roller rink at 219 N. 7th Street.

“We love creating recipes for chocolate confections and sharing them with everyone who comes into our shop,” Molli says. “Seeing the smiles and contentment on our customers’ faces while they savor our chocolate creations is priceless.”

Using a 30-foot 1950s enrober (a machine that coats the candies in chocolate and, despite being more than 60 years old, looks impressively futuristic), the business frequently uses local ingredients from places like the Ferris Nut Company, Crossroads Blueberry Farm, Gordon Foods, Better Made Potato Chips, and more to create their products that they proudly describe as using no artificial ingredients, preservatives or high fructose corn syrup.

This emphasis on using local ingredients is something that the Lahams stress is celebrated by their customers.

We have so many of the same people come in on a weekly basis; I think a lot of it has to do with supporting local,” Molli says. “When you can find a place that supports the local growers, that’s something people want to support. Michigan has such amazing crops, from strawberries to blueberries to cherries; we have great ingredients that are grown locally.”

Part of this focus on local is a natural fit for the Lahams, who say building relationships with the community has been one of their ultimate priorities, which can also be seen in the way they interact with customers.

“[West Michigan’s] more relaxed pace and outdoorsy activities allows you time to be able to talk, and when that happens, you start to create relationships,” Steve says.

Already, numerous community groups from area schools and religious organizations take advantage of the space, going on the tour that the Lahams offer of the chocolate factory, and the owners say they plan on expanding how they offer the space to the public. “We’d like to do events like chocolate-making classes or wine and chocolates,” says Steve, who adds they also hope to expand by growing their gifts for sale. “If you think about the perfect gift, chocolate is pretty darn close to perfect,” he says.

No matter how the business grows, there’s one thing the Lahams say they know will remain constant: their love for chocolate.

“It’s surprising you never get tired of chocolate,” Molli laughs. “You think it will just become part of your day and not be a novelty for you, but that’s not the case. Everyone who works here enjoys coming to work because it’s a fun product.”

To learn more about Chocolates by Grimaldi, you can visit the website here or check out their Facebook page here. You can also find their products locally at their factory at 219 North 7th St. in Grand Haven, or at Crossroad Blueberry Farm and the Sweet Tooth in Rockford. Those interested in taking a tour ($4 per person) should schedule it in advance by calling 616-935-7740.
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