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West Michigan makes great impression at Sports Event Symposium

The National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC), hosted its annual Sports Event Symposium in Grand Rapids on  April 3 through April 7.  It was the first time this conference, in its 24-year history, was held in the state. 

The symposium brought almost 950 sports industry professionals to DeVos Hall, many of whom  are rights holders: individuals directly responsible for a sports association and making decisions as to where they will be booking their events.

West Michigan Sports Commission President Mike Guswiler says this event is a key part of the process of making Grand Rapids a destination for sporting events from around the country.
 
“In this industry, this event is key,” Guswiler says of the symposium for the NASC, the country’s only member-based, nonprofit trade association for the $8.96 billion youth and amateur sports event industry.
 
Guswiler says that during the conference he was able to set up several meetings with representatives from multiple sports organizations and has begun the process to secure events in Grand Rapids for 2018-2022.

Besides acting as a West Michigan showcase and a deal-making platform, the symposium also served as a fundraiser for a local charity.  The conference concluded with a luncheon and awarded Mary Free Bed Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports and its wheelchair tennis program a check for $27,000, the largest amount ever raised at NASC.

Another beneficiary of Grand Rapids hosting the NASC Symposium was Riverside Park in the Creston neighborhood. Symposium attendees joined the Sports Legacy Committee in a morning community service to prepare the park for spring use.

Big events heading to West Michigan in the next 18 months include the U.S.A. Masters Track & Field Championships and the 2017 State Games of America.

The West Michigan Sports Commission, a nonprofit, works to identify, secure and host a diverse level of youth and amateur sporting events to positively impact the economy and quality of life in the region. Since its inception in 2007, the WMSC has booked 489 sporting events and tournaments that attracted 650,000 athletes and visitors, generating $190 million in direct visitor spending. For more information, visit westmisports.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Bartertown Diner: Fresh, healthy food with a side dish of compassion and kindness

One minute you are minding your own business. The next, you end up owning a restaurant that will be serving healthy, fresh food with a heaping side dish of compassion and kindness.

Crystal LeCoy and Thad Cummings are the new owners of Bartertown Diner, the iconic downtown restaurant founded by Ryan Capaletti.

LeCoy says the opportunity to become a business owner happened very, very quickly.  Three weeks ago, she had plans to open a restaurant and was actually getting ready to review a potential site in northeast Grand Rapids when she was approached by Cummings, who had just purchased the business from Capaletti. Less than 24 hours later she was an equal partner in Bartertown and in the restaurant business.

Respecting the original vision of Bartertown — a vegan and vegetarian restaurant that has been well known for “challenging the food system and advocating for workers’ rights” — LeCoy says she and Cummings are doubling down on building a sustainable business that focuses on plant-based foods and will be a force for good in community.

There are many layers to this story, and LeCoy outlines some key tenets of what will be driving Bartertown forward.

Business model

“We're the first full service, no-tip restaurant in West Michigan.”

The Give a Taco, Take a Taco program

“When you walk into the restaurant, the wall immediately to the left is filled with $2 taco and $5 bowl of food coupons (purchased and posted by customers),” LeCoy says. “Anyone can step in, grab a coupon and a seat, and redeem the coupon for a meal. Those who use the coupons are served, like everyone else, as we hope to give dignity back to those who would normally get kicked out of a restaurant because they don't have the means to pay for a meal. We invite those who don't have a home, or a job, or a means to prepare a meal — single parents, families and individuals who are living paycheck to paycheck, and others who just need a break.”

Commitment to staff

“Our employees are paid an hourly livable wage, well above minimum wage, and provided long-term benefits. Our employees participate in a 20 percent profit share.”

Menu, service and space updates

“The space is open and bright. We've doubled the seating area and brought in comfortable seating to encourage those who need a place to study or relax. We've added a seasonal smoothie menu, and this week we're adding a grab-and-go menu for those that don't have time to dine in. We'll soon launch a new website, a new seasonal brunch and dinner menu, catering and picnic options, and we'll be expanding our hours to include Tuesdays and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.”

Business incubator

“We're close to announcing our first resident entrepreneur. Our shelves are stocked with fare from local businesses like Bloom Ferments, Brix Soda, and Sweet Batches. As a small business working alongside other small businesses, we understand the difficulties of entrepreneurship. And in efforts to support the growth of our community through entrepreneurship, we're creating an intentional community of entrepreneurs who support each other through shared skills, resources, and space. Our second dining room will be used as a space for community discussion and events, and our kitchen a shared space for food entrepreneurs who need a commercially licensed kitchen to operate from.”

That is a lot of information to process, so make sure you checkout their Facebook page and website to learn more about their hours of operation, menu and their community programs.  And, of course, visit.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

After leaving Downtown Market, Montello Meats unveils new delivery service

Tony Larson has a fairly simple philosophy when it comes to his business.

“Our family feels strongly about local,” he says. “You want local support for your business, you must support your local suppliers."

Larson, the owner of Montello Meat Market, has just announced his newest venture, a meat delivery service that will feature a “freezer locker box” packed with beef from West Michigan-based Moraine Park Farms.

With the recent closing of Montello's retail store at the Downtown Market, Larson quickly pivoted to a new business model to serve his loyal customer base.
 
“When our storefronts closed, we knew there still was a need for our product and our family enjoyed the customer interaction,” he says.

With the new venture, Larson will be bypassing the traditional store front retail outlet, instead taking orders for his product and then delivering the freezer locker boxes to homes or a designated pick-up site. The single cuts of meat will be packed and delivered frozen.  All meats will be from local farms.
 
“It’s like a protein CSA,” Larson says.

Larson says initially only beef will be available, and he will feature dry-aged  beef that is pastured, has no added growth hormones, is antibiotic free, and now, working with Moraine Park Farms,  is non-GMO as well.  

Larson says the new business is a work in progress. He is completing final designs for the “freezer locker boxes” and has plans to add other meats.
 
“Everything will be evolving,” he says. “Right now there will be one choice, but going forward there will be options for more customization.”

To keep up to date on Montello's new service, Larson says customers should sign up for his newsletter here. He will be taking his first orders in April.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

New business venture aims to bring balance and meaning back to the dinner table

You really enjoy good dinners with your family and friends, but your schedule is packed. There are never enough hours in a day to go grocery shopping, let alone prepare a healthy meal. And, when you have time, nothing is ever as easy as what you see on the Food Network.

So, who you going to call?

OGO Initiative.

At least that is what Grand Rapidian Ben Price is betting on.

Price, a veteran of the local culinary scene, founded the OGO (pronounced oh-go) Initiative, a business that offers a range of personalized, in-home services that develop culinary knowledge and foundational skills for a wide variety of customers.  

“OGO was built with a mission to reduce stress and add value for meal served around the table.  We help our individuals and families find balance,” says Price.

Services offered by OGO include:

- Culinary experience series: A mix of educational sessions, such as knife skills or how to assemble meals in the morning that will be ready in the evening.
- Taste and teach events: An evening cooking, learning and eating with up to 12 people (e.g., wine/food pairings or meal focused event)
- Co-host with OGO: Host the special event or holiday party with the assistance of Price.

Price explains his business is targeting four customer groups.
 
“One group are the individuals needing to learn new cooking skills in order to eat healthier; this could be diabetics or someone needing to lose weight,” he says. “The second group are people that need to learn to cook for someone else.  The third group are people who want to cook for themselves, such as empty nesters or retirees. Our final customer market are people who want to cook for large parties and host events.”

To get the word out, Price says that he is relying heavily on word-of-mouth and recommendations from existing customers.
 
“Going into someone’s home requires trust,” he says. “We go into their kitchens, not a laboratory. We get to know their pantry, utensils and family.”

To learn more about the OGO Initiative, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

'Big challenging topics' part of the SXSW and Michigan House experience: A Q&A with Larry Faragalli

The roving pop-up space, Michigan House, which travels across the country to share some of the best parts of our state with other cities, returned to Austin, Texas for the Southwest Music, Film, and Interactive Conference and Festival (SXSW) last week.

Described by organizers as a  "show, not tell" experience, the Michigan House gives visitors the chance to learn about multiple made-in-Michigan products, like All Day IPA from Founders and Leap Office Chair from Steelcase, as well as listen to numerous talented musicians who made the trip from the Mitten State to Austin.

Larry Faragalli and Marion Siebert, of the Grand Rapids-based digital design firm, brightly, were among a contingent of West Michigan attendees who spent time at SXSW and enjoyed the hospitality offerings at the Michigan House.

Faragalli is a champion of design and innovation in West Michigan. He is also a keen observer of the creative culture. He managed to carve out a little time while he was there to share his impressions of SXSW and the Michigan House.

How many times have you been to SXSW?
This is our first time at SXSW, and it has been a blast. I've been in Austin before for business/pleasure and knew I wanted to be here during the festival.

Why are you there this year? 
Honestly, we came out here for the experience first and foremost and to show support to the local causes we're invested in that are also participating in SXSW, like Failure:Lab and Michigan House. We wanted to approach this with an open mind and a flexible schedule and not make a networking thing out of it. Any relationships, business or otherwise, that come out of this will be purely serendipity.

What is the reaction to the Michigan House from non-Michiganders?  
Everyone that we talked to locally that checked out Michigan House loved it; even our Airbnb host got in on the action. The Michigan House crew did a great job of representing and showing off the creative side of the state (plus the Founder's beers and local distilleries). It's neat to see people go from inquiring about Michigan from a place of ignorance to getting excited to come check it out.

What is the most impressive, inspirational, awe-inspiring, mind-blowing thing about SXSW?  
I know SXSW has evolved into a bit of a festival monster and most folks are cynical about it, but I have been blown away by how excited and eager everyone is here to tackle big challenging topics and spend so much time passionately discussing community stewardship and cultural exchange.

Any other observations?
There has been a lot of interesting stuff here. We saw great panels with Anthony Bourdain and JJ Abrams, there has been a ton of virtual reality being used in interesting and not-so-interesting ways, and during the Founder's Tap Takeover at Stay Gold I turned around from grabbing a beer at the bar and found myself suddenly face-to-face with a live horse and a guy on his back.

How about the flip side of the coin.  Anything  you found mind-numbing about SXSW?
Getting pretty tired of bad DJs and over-the-top marketing at a lot of the venues.

‘Keep Austin Weird’ is a slogan used to promote local Austin businesses. Should Grand Rapids strive to be more weird?
I think GR needs to find its own identity. The piece we can, and should, emulate is greater empowerment of the creative class at all levels, not just for tech and professional design fields, and continue trying to foster more diversity and inclusiveness. The rest just follows. We also better hope we get our infrastructure figured out before we become this big or we're going to be having similar traffic gridlock.

The big question: Will the GRMI BBQ scene ever rival Austin BBQ?
Hahahaha. No.

You can check out the Michigan House on Facebook here or on the web here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Walking the talk: Cascade Engineering exec testifies before Congress on Welfare to Career program

Being one of  the largest certified B Corps in the world provides Cascade Engineering a certain degree of clout. As does being a nationally recognized proponent of sustainable business practices and a pioneer in innovative human resource policies, such as  their Welfare to Career program.

So, when Congress was looking for leaders and companies from the private sector to share their opinions on opportunities to reform the nation’s welfare system to better meet the needs of job seekers and job creators, as well as grow the economy, Cascade Engineering was an obvious choice.

Kenyatta Brame, Executive Vice President for Cascade Engineering, testified before the U.S. House Ways and Means subcommittee on Human Resources on March 1 at a hearing entitled “Getting Incentives Right: Connecting Low-Income Individuals with Jobs.”

Keith Maki, Director of Corporate Marketing at Cascade Engineering, says the selection of Brame to participate was the direct result of the success of their Welfare to Career program.
 
"They were looking to get input on how to reduce the need for welfare and researching the issues they ran across our.program,” Maki says.

Cascade Engineering was the first business in the state of Michigan to have a Department of Human Services caseworker on site. The caseworker gave Welfare to Career employees immediate access to discuss day care, transportation and safe housing and was also able to direct any employee problems related to attendance, tardiness, and performance to the caseworker for resolution.

CE's Welfare to Career program, which started in the late 1990s, is now a model that has been expanded to become The SOURCE, which is comprised of 15 local businesses, including Cascade Engineering. According to CE,  last year, The SOURCE served almost 400 Welfare to Career employees and has a 97 percent monthly retention rate. This rate is more than double that of all other DHS cases nationally.

Brame says this program is a great example of the importance of building a public/private coalition when tackling complex problems like generational poverty. "What we are seeing is that no one can do it themselves. It takes a partnership between non-profits, state government and the private sector."

Besides the direct impact of opening up an "untapped pool" of opportunities for individuals, Brame says programs with a social mission, like the Welfare to Career,  are a critical part of CE's recruitment process.  "As we recruit millennials  they are asking us what we are doing to provide service to the community."

For more information, visit www.cascadeng.com
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

West Michigan's most interesting company you have probably never heard about - until now

It has the makings of a great riddle: what's a West Michigan company that does amazing work and creates products Grand Rapidians know well, but not very many people know its name?

This is a tough one, because unless you are an owner or in management within the local hospitality industry, you probably have never heard of Studio Wise — even though you have most likely enjoyed an experience brought to you by the company at a local restaurant or brewery.

Eric Lanning, a Studio Wise partner, says the relative anonymity goes with the territory of making products for other people in the B2B (business to business) space.
 
"Our name is not necessarily well known among the general public, but if you mention Studio Wise to members of the hospitality design and owner community, you'll find many folks who know us well,” he says.

Studio Wise designs spaces and manufactures a wide variety of products for the hospitality industry. Lanning explains their business is about helping customers create something really interesting and unique.
 
"At the fundamental level, we're makers of really cool stuff,” he says. “But in reality, we help establish designs of spaces to help owners realize their vision, we translate those designs into tangible pieces, and we produce those pieces. All of this results in iconic spaces that people fall in love with. A few that you might recognize are Maru, Brewery Vivant, Cedar Springs Brewing Co., and, coming soon, New Holland Brewing on Bridge Street."

The firm was founded more than eight years ago by Troy Bosworth and now has three partners.  Bosworth directs the creative efforts and product design, John VanZee oversees production, operations, vendor relationships, and Lanning manages finances, as well as the Studio Wise product sales representative network. Lanning says the 16-person firm does not work from a formal hierarchy and instead focus on great design and getting the job done.
 
“'We don't go by titles, as we all focus on doing whatever needs to be done,” he explains.

With its local success and well established reputation, Studio Wise is entering the next phase of its growth, which will require a little less anonymity. Lanning says Bosworth had an early vision to not only design and produce products for their customers but to also establish their own product line and brand.

The firm now offers two table lines that include FUSE, a line of custom finishes that are available in solid hardwood butcher block and veneer, and POP, a powder coated wood, which are available in any color, size and shape.
 
"We know a lot of people want to buy our products so we are now working on creating and expanding a national sales organization,” Lanning says.

To learn more about Studio Wise, you can visit their site here. If you have an interested in working at Studio Wise, the firm has an immediate opening for a wood finisher.  You can contact them directly to learn more.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

More! More! More! Doorganics expands to keep up with demand

More products. More people. More customers. More services. More demand.

Not enough room.

That pretty much wraps up the reason why the Grand Rapids-based organic grocery delivery service Doorganics is moving into a 4,000-square-foot warehouse at 724 Crofton SE, more than tripling the previous space the company worked from at 353 Fuller NE.

The new Southtown warehouse location includes such upgrades as 1,000 square feet of office space, an expanded walk-in cooler and multiple loading docks to better accommodate deliveries.

Mike Hughes, Doorganics’ founder, says the extra space will allow investment for larger walk-in coolers and expansion of more cold grocery products, including packaged lettuces, salad mixes, and herbs, as well as locally produced cheeses, hummus, fermented foods, and kombuchas.
 
"We look forward to providing more convenience as we venture into 'meal solutions' in the near the future,” Hughes says.

Doorganics currently partners with more than 20 Michigan farms to offer organic produce, as well as meat, bread, eggs, and more than one hundred other grocery items from producers in the state.
 
The grocery delivery service has grown its reach, as well as its space, by expanding its delivery area to Grand Haven and Spring Lake last month, while continuing to serve customers in the Grand Rapids and Holland communities.

Keeping up with demand requires more than space, and Hughes says the company recently hired its 12th employee and continues to invest in its existing team.
 
"The most unexpected part of the Doorganics success journey has been uncovering the hidden talents of our employees that weren't sought after or identified during the initial hiring process," Hughes says. "For instance, we learned that our driver Matt had a passion for digital marketing, and we have now transitioned him into a full time marketing role. Caitlin, originally hired for the packing team, is a Kendall college graduate who is skilled in food photography. We hustle as a team to fill orders and make deliveries and spend the rest of our time strategizing together and using our individual talents to build the business. I'm proud of the entrepreneurial spirit that our team embodies."

Learn more about Doorganics, including grocery offerings and staff bios, at www.doorganics.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

KCAD students use design to change the world of healthcare

Over the last year, a number of programs at Kendall College of Art and Design have been engaged in various collaborative projects with Spectrum Health Innovations (SHI) that require students to apply the human-centered design processes they studied at KCAD to solve difficult problems.

 The latest collaboration between KCAD and SHI has Industrial Design and Interior Design students working to redesign the spaces and equipment in Spectrum's Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU) to improve patients' quality of care.

Current technology in EMUs confines patients to their beds. They are allowed elsewhere only with the assistance of nurses. Emerging technology aims to increase patients’ mobility and overall comfort, but safety is still the primary concern. The students’ assignments are focused on creating room layouts and furniture designs that can help solve this mobility issue while also accommodating the needs of hospital clinicians.

KCAD Industrial Design Chair Jon Moroney says the project began in the fall of 2015 with Interior Design Professor Lee Davis and a cross-disciplinary group of industrial and interior design students. It was carried on to the spring semester, when a team of senior interior design students built upon the project design vision.
 
"The vision is to create a whole new room experience,” Moroney says.

So far, the focus of the project has been on designing both an EMU-specific bed capable of elevating to work-surface height and rotating 360 degrees to give staff full access to the patient, as well as featuring patient-operated adjustment controls. Interior spaces were redesigned featuring padded floors, curved counters and edges, and soft seating to encourage patient mobility while still ensuring safety.

Moroney says KCAD has always worked with corporate partners or sponsors, which helps students build their portfolio but says this project is grounded in real-world experiences.
 
"This is probably the most realistic innovation experience for the students,” he explains. “We anticipate this project will spin off more classes where students can work on big and complex problems."

This story featured contributions from KCAD student Ashley Newton. Read more of her project coverage here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Essence Restaurant Group lands certification for focus on local food & sustainability

Essence Restaurant Group, owners of Bistro Bella Vita, The Green Well Gastro Pub and Grove,  recently announced  that the company has become the first restaurant group in the nation to be certified B Corporation through the nonprofit organization B Lab.

This distinguished designation is awarded to companies — about 1,400 in 42 countries across the globe —  that use the power of business to creatively solve social and environmental problems. In doing so, B Corp companies consistently demonstrate and meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. In other words, a B Corp certification is to business what the Fair Trade certification is to coffee or the USDA Organic certification is to milk: it lets the public, both customers and employees, know what kind of business they’re supporting.
 
So, what does that translate to at Bistro Bella Vita, The Green Well Gastro Pub and Grove?

Lauren Jaenicke, marketing and sustainability director, says it’s a focus on both the local and the global: there’s an emphasis on sourcing the majority of the group’s products from Michigan businesses (80 percent, to be specific), which both helps to grow the city and state’s economy and significantly slashes the restaurants’ carbon footprint by not importing goods from across the country or overseas, composting, internal programs on sustainability, decreasing kilowatt usage, and more.
 
It is, Jaenicke says, a recognition that the private sector has a social and environmental obligation to its community — and world.
 
"It is not just a government’s and non-profit’s responsibility,” she says. “Businesses have an unique opportunity to contribute. It is in our DNA to work with local suppliers."
 
First approached by Local First, a Grand Rapids group focused on developing and supporting a local economy, about applying for the B Corp certification — a long and in-depth process that requires extensive documentation and proof that a business is as socially and environmentally conscious as they say — Essence immediately jumped at the chance to become certified.
 
“Businesses can be this incredible force for change,” says Jaenicke, who graduated from Aquinas College’s Sustainable Business program and became Essence’s marketing and sustainability director in 2014. “It’s taking this new approach; businesses have a responsibility and the resources to make significant change.”
 
A big part of that change is a shift to a business that almost entirely offers Michigan products, and Essence partners with 39 companies in the state for their food, including Visser Farms, Grassfields Cheese, S&S Lamb, Ingraberg Farms, Ham Family Farm, and many others.
 
In addition to making their business more environmentally conscious, the restaurant group has advocated for change on a policy level. For example, Jaenicke has met with state Rep. Winnie Brinks, who represents Grand Rapids, about how small businesses can be a voice for renewable energy.
 
All of this adds up to a company that far more easily retains employees in an industry that often faces a high turnover rate.
 
“Over 70 percent of millennials want to work for a company that stands for something,” Jaenicke says, citing a recent Harvard study.
 
Essence Restaurant Group has several policies in place that focus the organization on supporting local independent suppliers and supplier diversity

In two years, Essence will have to reapply for B Corp certification — something which Jaenicke says will help to inspire them to continue to evolve for the better. Going forward, she says the company will encourage their employees to volunteer more in the community, as well as further educate the farmers with whom they work on sustainability issues.
 
“It’s not a question of if we get it again, but how we can get better,” Jaenicke says.
 
Essence joins nine other Michigan companies that have received the B Corp certification, including Grand Rapids’ Brewery Vivant, Cascade Engineering, Bazzani Building Company, Gazelle Sports, Catalyst Partners, and The GFB, as well as Zeeland’s Better Way Imports and Monroe’s Buy The Change.

To learn more about Essence Restaurant Group you can visit their site here. To learn more about B Corporation, visit its site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor, with additional reporting by Anna Gustafson
 

Calling all artists! Enter your work now for a chance to show at Muskegon Museum of Art exhibition

Michigan artists who are 18 years and older now have the chance to present their work in the longest running regional art exhibition in the state — but they need to act now.

To be considered for the Muskegon Museum of Art’s 88th annual Regional Exhibition, both professional and amateur artists must submit their entries at www.callforentry.org (search “Muskegon” to find the show) before March 19, 2016. Each individual can enter up to two works for the exhibition, during which more than $5,000 in cash prizes and purchase awards will be distributed to artists.

Two- and three-dimensional works created over the past two years are eligible for submission. For the first time in the exhibition’s history, entries will be registered via the internet, and jurying will be done from digital images of the artwork. Submission fees are $35 for entries, or $20 for Muskegon Museum of Art members. Tom Lundberg, a professor of art at Colorado State University whose work has been seen in solo, group and invitational exhibitions around the world, will be the show’s juror.

Artists will be notified if they have been selected for the show via email, after which they will need to deliver their work between April 21 and April 23.

The Regional Exhibition will open on May 12 and will fill two large galleries at the museum through August 3, 2016.

The show has long been lauded, and an extensive list of well-known Michigan artists have participated in the exhibition throughout their careers. Last year, a record 725 entries were submitted by 409 artists from throughout the state.

The Muskegon Museum of Art is located at 296 W. Webster Ave. in downtown Muskegon. For information about the museum, call 231-720-2571 or visit the museum’s website.

Photos courtesy of the Muskegon Museum of Art

Have an idea to make your neighborhood, city & world a better place? Pitch it at GVSU's 5x5 night

GR Current's March 5x5 Night is rather unique. Instead of entrepreneurs pitching ideas for their own business ideas and $5,000 in funding, individuals will be pitching ideas to develop new or existing community-based initiatives that provide value to local neighborhoods, communities or the world.

Kevin McCurren, Executive Director, The Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Ruth Stegeman, Assistant Dean and Director for Community Engagement at the College of Community and Public Service, are part of the team that is organizing this event.

Stegeman says the key component of this 5x5 Night are the connections between community partners, the owner of the idea and Grand Valley State University.
 
"We use a very broad description of the community partner: It could be a business, a non-profit organization, a faith-based initiative or a loose group of neighbors,” Stegeman says. “We are looking for ways to help these organizations sustain initiatives with the help of our school." 

She says the ideas can be new, or it can be about growing an existing program. These types of programs can be as diverse as funding for a research project, a development of an app that would help an organization with their mission or an after-school program. It is wide open. (You can get a sense of the range of  ideas by visiting the 5x5 Night site here and review the currently submitted ideas.)

McCurren says any GVSU faculty, staff, or student, preferably in collaboration with a community partner, can submit an idea. He also says the program is open to anyone in the community, but the goal will be to connect these individuals and community partners with GVSU resources.
 
"We think 5x5 is important and unique to West Michigan,” McCurren says. “For the university, it is a great way to foster community involvement."
 
For community partners or individuals without an existing GVSU connection, the organizing team is available to help facilitate a match.
 
"It is not just about the $5,000, it is about putting your idea out there and building a community of supporters and followers,” McCurren adds.

This approach to 5x5 Night is somewhat of pilot program and will be evaluated after it is over, but the goal would be to do it once every semester, McCurren says.

The program follows the same basic format as the more traditional 5x5 Nights. The top 5 ideas based on a public vote will be pitched to a panel of five judges for five minutes and with five presentation slides in efforts to win $5,000 in funding for the project. Submissions for new and existing initiatives are welcome.

If your initiative is selected as one of the top five, pitch coaching is available. The event is open to the public.

Submission deadline: Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Time of the public event: Wednesday, March 23, 2016, 5-7 pm¨Location: L.V. Eberhard Center (Room 201), 301 West Fulton Street, Grand Rapids.

Please visit www.5x5night.com in order to submit an idea, vote, or receive updates. For more information, send an email to: hello@5x5night.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Summer job help wanted: Must love animals, nature and people

Looking for a summer job on the wild side? John Ball Park Zoo has more than 130 job openings available, and they are filling up fast.

The positions are both part-time and full-time for the summer months. There are opportunities in the gift shop, concession stand, events and rental department, experiences (like the zipline and touchable stingrays), education department, membership, and maintenance.  For most positions, there is no experience necessary.

Nancy Johnson, interim human resources manager at John Ball Park Zoo says that, beyond the need to make some spending money, this is the ideal summer job for those pursuing a job in education, hospitality and tourism, biology, zoology, horticulture, and environmental science/conservation.
 
"Those looking for internships may be able to use their work experience here to fulfill those requirements,” she says. “Many of the jobs offer a good experience base for building a career." 

Johnson recommends that all job seekers attend a zoo job fair on Saturday, March 4, from 10am to 3pm. The zoo suggests responders apply online before attending the fair, where they’ll have an opportunity to speak to the hiring managers about the jobs. Applicants can easily apply for multiple jobs through the online application process.
 
 "It's a great place to work,” Johnson says. “You get a lot of great experience, meet wonderful people and it's a wildly fun atmosphere."

The job fair will be held in the John Ball Zoo ballroom, located on the second floor of the zoo administration office outside of the zoo gate. People can find out more by going to: www.jbzoo.org/careers. Applicants must be 16 years of age and older.

John Ball Zoo is located at 1300 W. Fulton, 1 mile west of downtown. For more information, call  (616)336-4300, email info@jbzooo.org, check out the zoo’s Facebook page, JB Zoo, or visit www.jbzoo.org.
 

Free week of coworking space being offered by Worklab by Custer

Worklab by Custer is having a celebration — and you are invited, but be forewarned. You are expected to work.

Worklab is celebrating coworking by hosting a free We Share Work Week at their downtown Grand Rapids location from March 14th through March 18th.

The event is open to the public and includes a free week of coworking. Mark Custer, founder, says you can create your own schedule, stay for one day, the entire week or just pop in and out at your convenience.
 
"This is our own event. A bit of March Madness and a good way to kick off spring,” he says.

Custer notes the trends for coworking spaces remain strong.
 
"We are entering the sharing economy, and there is plenty of research supporting the benefits of these 'third spaces' and spending time outside the office,” he says.
 
The founder says coworking spaces are great places to get work done, network, help change up the routine, and are much better than going home to work, where often times there are far too many distractions.

Besides offering the space (and all the amenities, including concierge services), there will be a series of speakers and business service partners in the space throughout the week. 

Worklab opened in June 2014 and provides a professional work environment and meeting space in the heart of downtown. Members include professionals, entrepreneurs, business owners, freelancers, consultants, mobile workers, corporate teams, and event planners.

For more information on Worklab, visit www.worklabinc.com, or to schedule a private tour, email Mark Custer at mcuster@custerworklab.com.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Blackbird 2.0 takes flight

Blackbird is an online platform that lets anyone plan great events. It is also a testament to the entrepreneurial tenacity of its founder, Laura Vaughn.

Rapid Growth first wrote about the startup in 2014. Since then, Vaughn has methodically built the business, always listening to her customers in order to build a better product. It was also through the product development process that she received a significant boost; Vaughn was able to attract a software development firm, Collective Idea, to come along as both an investor and development team. The addition moved the technology forward and helped Vaughn get to where she is today: the launch of the new and improved Blackbird. 

"The journey has been long,” Vaughn says. “Anyone who knows me knows that I have been talking about this product for years. It takes a significant amount of time to figure out how to get customers, then more time to start learning from them. Finally, it takes time to line up the best resources to make the ideal product for them. I'd be lying if I said it's been easy."

Vaughn says the new release (Blackbird 2.0) is designed for any type of event and for anyone to use.
 
"If you're planning a book tour, lobster boil, conference, or anything in between, Blackbird is an easy way to make a great looking registration page that looks as impressive as your event is sure to be,” she explains.

She says the site has several great features for event planners that help through the entire planning and promotion process.
 
"Blackbird can help them sell tickets, offer discount codes, and send email invitations that come with built-in reminders so everyone knows when and where to show up."

Besides new features, Vaughn has redesigned the pricing model.
 
"Our new pricing is also exciting,” she says. “Events cost $39 to publish, whether you have five people coming or 500. If you're selling tickets to your event, publishing is free — we take a small transaction fee for each ticket sold to your event."

Vaughn and her supporters recently had a launch celebration at Start Garden.
 
"Continuing to see a need and desire for what we were building really drove me to keep working on it and looking for the right resources,” she says. “Now that we've reached this milestone Blackbird 2.0 release, I'm really glad we spent that time listening to our customers and gathering feedback."

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 
 
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