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Organic wheat farm expands offerings after competing in Mason County business plan contest

Reality TV shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice” have demonstrated that, for participants, it is not always about winning but more about what you do with the experience.

It is a very similar story for participants in last year’s inaugural $50,000 Momentum Business Plan Competition in Mason County, Mich.

In the 2015 competition, the winner was Andy Thomas of Starving Artist Brewing, but another participant and top five finisher has taken full advantage of the experience to move his business forward.

Stuart Family Organics, an organic wheat farm and bakery, is preparing to take the business to a new level. Jim Stuart, CEO, says the competition was very helpful in fine-tuning his business model. “Our organic wheat is a good product,” he says. “Participating in the Momentum Business Plan Competition  helped us ask ourselves, ‘What more can we do,’ and it showed folks we were serious.”

The business had up to that point sold baked goods, such as cookies and muffins, through local farmers’ markets. They also had a little pop-up business, The Stoop, in Venice Beach, Calif. (which was started and run by a family member), but ever since the competition Stuart says he is moving forward on other opportunities. “One fellow in Ludington approached us about renting a building and modifying it for our needs,” he says.

Stuart says they are in the process of opening a storefront at 215 S. James St. in downtown Ludington (tentatively to be named The Stoop, like the Venice Beach store) this fall, which will sell organic baked goods. Longer term it will also include an organic processing facility so the business can ship their products around the world with a USDA organic label and potentially help other food entrepreneurs move their products beyond what the Cottage Food Laws allow in Michigan.
 
Besides the expansion to a brick and mortar site in Ludington, Stuart says he is a top 10 finalist for the Archer Daniels Midland Food Innovation Challenge, for which they are developing a cookie using their wheat -- another opportunity related to his participation in the business plan competition.

The 2016 Momentum Business plan competition is underway with initial applications and plans due July 31 at www.momentumstartup.org (also includes details of rules and regulations). All West Michigan entrepreneurs are encouraged to apply for this contest.

For more information about Stuart Family Organics visit their Facebook page or stuartfamilyorganics.com.

By John Rumery, Jobs News and Innovation Editor

Grand Rapids entrepreneur launches ride-sharing venture

SteadyFare is a new ride-sharing application developed by local entrepreneur and business owner James Matthews. After a month-long “soft ­launch,” SteadyFare was announced to West Michigan with a massive, local advertising campaign, including billboards throughout the city and advertising through multiple online platforms such as Pandora.
 
SteadyFare competes in the exact same space as ride­-share behemoths like Uber and Lyft, a pretty daunting task -- unless, of course, you have a plan, and you have significant differentiators.
 
“How does a small grocery store compete against Wal­Mart?” Matthews says when asked how he plans to compete in the marketplace. “You can be small and be successful.”
 
From a driver’s perspective, he says SteadyFare provides a better rates, the ability to accept and keep tips and, maybe most importantly, a personal touch. “Drivers seem to enjoy that we actually talk to them,” he says. “They have probably never spoken to anyone at Uber.” Matthews notes they also have training programs and opportunities for exceptional drivers to create a stronger and more profitable business. “Our drivers will have a person to help them build a business. Real people in the community.”
 
For the riding experience, Matthews says using his application will be similar to his competitors but that there will be no surge pricing, and his drivers will have gone through a more extensive background check,providing a higher level of safety and security.
 
Behind the launch, Matthews has received funding from an angel investor and has a team of developers working on the app. The success of SteadyFare in Grand Rapids and future rounds of investment will determine the next 2­3 markets. “We are actively looking at other cities, similar to Grand Rapids, but will play it year­-to-­year.”
 
To learn more about SteadyFare, you can visit their website here.
 
By John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Japanese Animation, Film & Art eXpo makes move to downtown Grand Rapids

And now for something completely different.

The Japanese Animation, Film & Art eXpo (JAFAX), is set to open at its new event location, the DeVos Place Convention Center and The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel on June 24-26.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the convention, which celebrates attendees dressed in costumes of popular Japanese animation characters, Japanese cultural seminars, and local artists who will exhibit at booths throughout the weekend.

JAFAX was last held in 2014 on the campus of Grand Valley State University. After drawing a crowd of more than 5,000 people during the course of the weekend event, GVSU could no longer host the skyrocketing number of attendees.
 
Rae Morris, the promotions director, says the event has come a long way.
 
“This is our 20th anniversary,” Morris says. “We started at Kendall, showing anime films. Then we were at GVSU in Allendale for 17 years until we outgrew the location.”

JAFAX eXpo highlights include:
 
Artist Alley and Vendor Exhibits         Cosplay Costume and Performance Skits  
  • Sunday, June 26 4:30—6pm
  • DeVos Place Convention Center
  • Ballroom D
The Maid Café - Family-friendly, dining experience with a Victorian Japanese aesthetic, featuring interaction between attendees and actors.
  • Saturday, June 25
  • 11:30am – 6pm
  • Sunday, June 26
  • 11:30am – 3pm
  • Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Atrium Room (Reservations are strongly recommended.)
Other activities include guest script reading, cosplay photo shoots, game shows, a video game tournament, and a brand new dance on Saturday evening. JAFAX is also partnering with Michigan Blood in hosting a blood drive during the weekend’s events.

Morris says the general public is welcome and encouraged to come experience the culture at JAFAX, as well as learn more about this educational nonprofit organization.
 
For more information about JAFAX and to purchase tickets, visit www.JAFAX.org.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

The ultimate BBQ: A West Michigan guide to briskets, butts, birds, and ribs

The West Michigan Tourist Association recently sent out a press release highlighting the best BBQ in West Michigan. 

Their heart was in the right place, but it was a little too… touristy. (FireKeepers Casino Hotel? Really?)

Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed and Rapid Growth has prepared a simple guide to help you find great, authentic barbecue in the region, this summer and beyond.

Downtown GR

Slow’s Bar B-Q
Located at the Downtown Market (435 Ionia Ave. SW).
Traditional meats, sides and a very nice craft beer selection.

Two Scotts Barbecue
Located at 536 Leonard St. NW in a a refurbished root beer stand.
The two Scotts work hard and do a good job with their meats and sides.

Horseshoe Smokehouse
Located near Founder’s Brewing (333 Grandville Ave. SW).
Excellent menu with a few twists like crispy brussels sprouts.

Daddy Pete’s BBQ
The pitmaster is always in the house. Cory and his team smoke the meat and serve out of a food truck located at Rosa Parks Circle on Thursdays.  Daddy Pete’s is always on the move so check out their website for other locations. Outstanding barbecue.

Further afield

Pit Stop Catering
Located at 6479 28t St. SE.
Matt and Sue Smith helped catalyze the barbecue scene in the area when they moved their catering operation to a brick and mortar location. Great EVERYTHING.  Check out their website for hours.

The Grilling Company
Located at 6231 West River Dr. NE in Belmont, Mich.
Keith Hall is always chopping and stacking wood. That’s a very good sign. This is wood-cooked and smoked barbecue at its best.

Dallas Deli
Located at 3660 Byron Center Ave. SW in Wyoming, Mich.
A little treasure tucked away on Byron Center. Dallas Deli serves Texas-style BBQ. Very authentic.

Even further afield

Main St. BBQ
Located at 210 E. Main St. in Lowell, Mich.
One of the newer barbecue joints in the region that’s already landing big praise. Real students of the ‘que. Brisket, ribs, butts, and birds -- plus a full menu of sides.

Kurly’s House of Smoke
Located at 8025 Cannonsburg Rd. NE in Cannonsburg Village, Mich.
Really good smoked meats that are served out of a gas-station/breakfast diner/grocery store.  Kitty-corner to the famous Honeycreek Inn.

American Char
Located at 6394 Adams St. in Zeeland, Mich.
Chef Len is one of the most visible proponents of barbecue in West Michigan. His new place in Zeeland also serves ice cream. That is a winning combo.

West Michigan also boasts multiple outstanding barbecue catering businesses, pig roasters, roadside pits, and barbecue events.  Just keep your eyes open and your windows rolled down. Trust the smoke.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Photos courtesy of Pit Stop Catering, The Grilling Company and Grilladelic.
 
 

Creatives have a new work space in downtown Grand Rapids

A new co-working space in downtown Grand Rapids, Left Right Boom Collaborative, is all about bringing together “left brain thinking and right brain creativity.”

The space is located at 8 Ransom Ave NE and was founded by a trio of freelancers, Joe Morris, Rian Morgan and Terry Vanden Akker, all of whom started the business with a very specific target market in mind.

“We are geared for web dev, marketing, design and advertising professionals,” says Morris.

As successful freelancers, Morris says the founding team has an acute sensitivity to the needs these professionals. The space boasts a variety of features that help with both the creative process and with client consultations.  

Amenities at Left Right Boom Collaborative include 48-inch or 72-inch Haworth sit/stand desks, wall space for mind-mapping, free use of a fully tricked out conference room, high-speed internet, coffee, a resource library, and something you don’t find to often in downtown, free parking.

“We understand the day-to-day workflow and needs of freelance creatives,” says Morris.

Besides the physical space, Morris says they anticipate that that there will be ample opportunity for members to collaborate on projects as the community grows. Future plans includes a Mastermind group for freelance creatives, portfolio days and ask-an-expert workshops.  

There are several membership levels. Part-time membership (two days/week) begin at $100 for a  48-inch desk and $150 for a 72-inch desk. Full-time membership begins at $200 for a 48-inch desk and $250 for a 72-inch desk.

Besides the co-working spaces, Left Right Boom Collaborative also has a conference room that is available for individuals, teams and organizations to rent at $35 per hour or $140 per day.  

To learn more about this space, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

There's gold in them thar landfills: How Kent County is changing its stance on trash

Kent County has big plans for its trash.
 
The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (WMSBF) recently released the Economic Impact Potential and Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste report, which spelled out how much money this area could save if it changed the way it deals with trash. (See Rapid Growth’s story here.)

And while there isn’t actual gold in our landfills, the $56 million in potential economic value that is thrown away each year should be an incentive for entrepreneurs, businesses and government to find innovative ways to change the way solid waste is managed.

Using the report as a catalyst, the Kent County Department of Public Works (DPW) announced strategic goals to reduce waste going to a landfill by 20 percent by 2020 and by 90 percent by 2030. The aggressive 20x’20 and 90x’30 Vision is similar to waste reduction goals set by New York City, Phoenix, Austin, and San Francisco.

Dar Baas, the director of Kent County Department of Public Works, discusses in an interview with Rapid Growth specific steps to better manage waste, the challenges to move forward and the need to reset perceptions about trash.

RG: What are the immediate next steps you will be taking to reach your 2020 goal? 
 
DB: Our focus is threefold. First, improve collection and processing of discarded materials in the business and residential sectors, where existing collection and processing infrastructure already exists, including bottle deposit containers, corrugated cardboard, all types of scrap metal, paper and plastic. Second, construction and demolition debris generated by new and remodel commercial and residential construction (improving the collection of this debris). Third, provide a robust composting network to divert food waste and other organic materials that have nutrient value and could be used as a soil amendment.
 
RG: What are the biggest challenges you face as you move forward, and what are you doing to overcome these challenges?
 
DB: Our biggest challenges are that we’re lacking a consistent message and we’re trying to change habits.

A consistent message for residential and public space recycling is critical to reduce confusion about what is accepted. This is lacking on a national level so we decided to start locally since recycling is a very localized system.

As for our habits, diverting food waste and organics in order to use this material for composting should be straightforward, but we’re conditioned to throw everything in the trash so most of us don’t make the effort. Or, more specifically, our system hasn’t trained us to make the effort. We need to change the system and then change the behavior. Having viable infrastructure and services developed to collect material will also be necessary, and finding cost effective ways to offer these alternatives will be required.
 
RG: What are the most innovative and successful programs being used in other communities (similar in size to Grand Rapids) to increase recycling efforts?  Would these work here? 
 
DB: Kent County has always been a leader in technology and infrastructure to manage discarded materials. For 25 years we’ve had two significant facilities, Kent County’s Waste to Energy Facility and Kent County’s Recycling Center, that are helping West Michigan to reduce landfilled waste. What we’re working on now is an expansion of that, but it’s interesting to compare our challenges to other communities (of any size). Almost universally, these four things rise to the top of most community waste reduction strategies: education and outreach campaigns to increase the quantity and quality of recyclables; providing cost-effective organics collection and processing; establishing programs and services for the business sector to reduce waste; and developing infrastructure to process construction and demolition waste.

As it turns out, our waste challenges and the resulting strategies to solve them are very similar to those of San Diego, Fort Collins, Santa Monica, Albuquerque, Maryland, Oberlin (Ohio), Boulder, San Jose, Austin, and even Scotland! Naturally, everyone’s approach is just a little different (policy changes vs. pure education) depending on their community dynamics.
 
RG: How do you envision the private sector's role in reaching these goals?
 
DB: The private sector will be important in several ways. A number of West Michigan companies have been leading the efforts to become more sustainable and desire to have zero waste to landfill policies that are driving the larger effort locally; we need to share their successes and the steps they took to successfully implement change. All companies, particularly smaller organizations, need to be open to change on how they manage their discards, and the first step is taking a look at their trash. This could be an internal assessment or through a formal waste audit to determine what they really are throwing away as trash and what they can to do to divert some, or all, of it. Waste haulers will need to diversify collection habits to deliver material to processing facilities. Private investment in waste conversion and processing technologies will also be part of the mix.    

RG: If you could change one misperception about trash, what would that be?
 
DB: The trash can is not the end of the line. We need to start looking at trash as “end of life” material with value that shouldn’t simply be thrown away, destined for the landfill. All of this material has previously been harvested, mined or extracted as a natural resource and should be placed back into a value stream where possible. Both the WMSBF study and our boots on the ground work at the transfer station and landfill supports that there are significant volumes of readily recyclable and compostable material including corrugated cardboard, metals of all types, paper, plastics and organic materials that can be collected separately and sent to facilities to prepare this material as a commodity to be used as a feedstock for manufacturing or agriculture or energy.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

MOKA celebrates the grand opening of its newest group home

MOKA is a Muskegon-based nonprofit organization that supports children and adults with autism, development, developmental disabilities, and mental illnesses throughout West Michigan.

The organization’s mission is to create opportunities for independence and acceptance in local communities by supporting people in making choices, building relationships, sharing places, developing skills and enhancing reputations.

A great example of an organization putting its mission in action is MOKA’s recent construction and opening of the group’s newest group home in the region: Forest Trail Home, located at 3088 South Hilton Park Road in Fruitport, Mich.

Thomas Zmolek, executive director, says the new home is a direct reflection of the organization’s mission. Zmolek says the home is situated in a nice, residential neighborhood and there will be three to four men living in the house, which is less than the typical group homes that might have six people living together.  “We are removing the stigma from group homes for people with disabilities,” he says. “Where someone lives tells a great deal about how society values people.”

Zmolek says his organization supports 37 group homes in the four-county area (Muskegon, Ottawa, Kent and Allegan), with about 200 people living in both group settings and independently.  He says that the smaller sized home, with less people per home, is much better for clinical treatment and, ultimately, less expensive for the organization to support. “The range of options we can provide helps us get people to where they need to be,” he says.

The agency, which was founded in 1978, supports more than 900 individuals and provides more than 750,000 hours of direct source annually. It employs 585 people.

To learn more about MOKA you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

New building provides nonprofit Never The Same with home base to plan, grow, serve, and get muddy

The nonprofit organization, Never The Same, has a new home. It’s bigger, better, cooler, and, hopefully, easy to clean.

Kyle Wood, director of operations and communication, says the facility is designed specifically for the organization, including to help with the planning of its signature fundraising event, The Grand Rapids Mud Run.

The new location is located at 2725 29th St. SE in Grand Rapids and features over 4,000 square feet of modern office space, a large warehouse, loading dock, and other amenities for staff and volunteers. The move comes after a fire left the group’s original building in ruins, causing $100,000 worth of damage, in June 2015.

Wood says the nonprofit has multiple programs and youth camps, and utilizes the Grand Rapids Mud Run as its core fundraising event, which requires months of planning to pull off. “The Grand Rapids Mud Run features over 300 volunteers working the cheering section, obstacle course, logistics, food service and sponsor support,” he says. Wood estimates the event will raise more than $45,000, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting Never the Same, a national youth ministry organization that was founded in West Michigan.

The Grand Rapids Mud Run is scheduled for Saturday, August 27 at 1200 60th St. in Kentwood, next to Celebration Cinemas South. The messy, muddy obstacle and challenge-based 5K run is designed to be safe and fun for the competitive athlete, fun seekers, and families. Wood says that although there are other mud runs in the state, Never The Same is the “pioneer of mud runs.”

This year, more than 1,500 participants are expected to run the course this year, filled with mud pits, a 60-foot mudslide, tunnel crawls, walls, and slippery hill climbs.

The Grand Rapids Mud Run creates new challenges and obstacles to their course every year, so no two races are ever the same. Participation varies from highly competitive challenge-based runs, group and team runs, costume-friendly fun runs, and a Kid’s Mini-Mud fun run for children ages six to twelve years old.

Never The Same is a national organization that teaches middle and high school students around the country how praying can bring positive change in a peaceful way to schools where bullying, violence, gossip and struggles exist in their respective school environments.  

To learn more about the event and the organization, check out their sites here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

 

Franks, sausage and specialty meats producer expected to invest $35 million in expansion

Kent Quality Foods, a West Michigan maker of franks, sausages and specialty meats for commercial customers, has announced the construction of a food processing facility in Jamestown  Charter Township. The company plans to invest nearly $35 million dollars, creating 140 jobs over three years.

“The project was a huge win.” says Emily Staley, director of marketing and communications for Lakeshore Advantage, a non-profit that aims to drive economic growth in West Michigan. “They looked all over the region and they chose us.” Staley says the Lakeshore Advantage team worked  for nearly nine months on this location process, helping to coordinate nearly 15 local and state organizations in winning this expansion for Jamestown Charter Township.

Staley says the jobs that are being created are “really good jobs,” including management positions and production supervision. She also notes the multiple benefits of the new facility to the region, including spin-off jobs with suppliers and construction.

According to Staley, key factors in the decision to build the plant in the local township were the experienced and educated workforce, the region’s expertise in food production and the teamwork between the private and public sectors organizations that are essential for a project of this complexity and size to be successful.

Kent Quality Foods was founded in 1967. Family owned and operated for three generations, Kent makes high quality sausages and franks for customers from hot dog stands to national restaurant chains, food service companies, broad line distributors, and the further processing industry. You can learn more at www.kqf.com.

Lakeshore Advantage is a non-profit organization that catalyzes resources to drive economic growth in West Michigan.  You can learn more here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 
 

Dressing for success at Degage Ministries

Seventy-eight female patrons of the Heartside neighborhood mission Dégagé Ministries received free clothing, accessories and, perhaps most importantly, a little individual attention, encouragement and a lot of respect.

This clothing, accessories, individual attention, encouragement, and respect was possible thanks to a generous donation from the women’s clothing company cabi and the Heart of cabi Foundation.

Bob Kreter, marketing manager at Dégagé Ministries, describes the donation as “a blessing” and the overall experience for the women “transformational.” Kreter says the Dégagé donation is one of 20 locations throughout the country that is on the receiving end of the cabi program.

Kreter said the clothing donation was a surprise and his team had to work quickly to make the program happen. It came about thanks to a Grand Rapids-based cabi Stylist, who recommended Dégagé. Kreter says it is perfect fit. “We both are focused on transformation, not transactions. Like us, they work with women one-on-one.” Kreter says besides clothing (up to eight different pieces of clothing) and accessories donation, each participant had one-on-one time with the cabi Stylist.

Launched in 2002, cabi provides a designer women’s clothing collection and is the nation’s largest social selling apparel company, powered by their independent salespeople, known as Stylists. The Heart of cabi Foundation was launched in 2005 with the mission to encourage and empower women in need. From distributing clothing to U.S. communities affected by natural disasters to empowering women entrepreneurs in the developing world to work their way out of poverty, cabi invests in women across the globe.

Photos courtesy of Dégagé Ministries

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Building respect: Grand Rapids launches bicycle safety campaign to curb crashes, grow awareness

It’s no secret that motorists and bicyclists don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to navigating the streets of Grand Rapids.

Individuals have aired frustrations over how to interact with the 80 miles of new bike lanes introduced in the city since 2010, others are unaware of the bicycle ordinances, and people are fed up with bad behavior displayed by both motorists and bicyclists, according to research commissioned by the city in 2015.

Still, that same research reports residents believe that drivers and bicyclists can share the road together in harmony — something that is particularly needed in a city with the second highest fatal bike crash ratio in Michigan.

But, how, exactly can this happen?

City and state officials hope much of the answer lies in a bicycle safety education campaign, Driving Change, they unrolled Monday at City Hall.

“Our number one goal is that Grand Rapids is a safe place for everyone,” whether you are a bicyclist, driver, skateboarder, or pedestrian, Bliss said at Monday’s campaign launch.

A multi-tiered education plan that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is funding to the tune of $632,000, Driving Change culminates local officials’ year-long effort to better understand the reasons behind the high rate of crashes involving vehicles and bicycles. The campaign will feature television ads (which can also be seen here), billboards, radio commercials, and social media and other digital ads that aim to educate drivers and cyclists about safe behavior on the roads.

“We know we need to build respect between cyclists and motorists,” Bliss said.


Additionally, the city will be handing out 1,000 free bike lights on a first-come, first-served basis. The lights will be given out at various community events, and individuals can pick them up at the Development Center at 1120 Monroe.

The initiative will promote a series of key rules, including:
 
  • Motorists passing a bicycle must leave at least five feet between the right side of their vehicle and a bicyclist, a standard that was passed by the City Commission in 2015 and went into effect this year.
 
  • Bicyclists must make sure they’re visible on the road and use a forward white light and rear reflector, or white light, when riding at night.
 
  • Motorists need to watch out for their cyclist colleagues, particularly when making a right-hand turn.
 
  • Bicyclists must obey all traffic signals and signs.
 
  • Bicyclists should stick to the roads, not the sidewalks. Additionally, there are places where cycling on the sidewalk is prohibited, including downtown Grand Rapids.

Police noted during Monday’s event that the goal will not be to issue citations against drivers or cyclists who violate the bicycle-related ordinances, unless officers believe them to be necessary. Instead, law enforcement and more than 60 community partners, including the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, will focus on distributing the educational materials.

“Grand Rapids will be a model for cities in Michigan and beyond,” said Grand Rapids Bicycle Police Officer Eric Gizzi, who was joined at Monday’s event launch by police officials from throughout Kent County, including East Grand Rapids and Walker.

Grand Rapids is the first city in Michigan that MDOT is working with on an initiative like this, and Josh DeBruyn, the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator at MDOT, noted that the decision to allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars in support stemmed from the fact that the city has one of the worst bicycle-related crash rates in the state. Between 2008 and 2014, the most recent data available, Kalamazoo had the highest fatal bicycle crash ratio, Grand Rapids had the second highest, and Detroit and Lansing came in at the third highest. In Grand Rapids, there were 71 bicycle-involved crashes in 2014, 85 in 2013 and 93 in 2012. Of these crashes, there was one fatality in 2013 and another fatality in 2012.

De Bruyn also noted that Grand Rapids has a large, and growing, bicycle culture, making it that much more important that a sustainable truce between drivers and bicyclists occurs. An MDOT-commissioned study shows the annual economic and health benefits for Grand Rapids associated with bicycling total approximately $39.1 million each year, including $8.3 million on the purchase of bicycling-related items, $2.6 million in manufacturing, $13.5 million in avoided health care costs, $10.3 million in reduced absenteeism (i.e. people are able to make it to work), and $4.3 million in event and tourism spending.

Plus, the community has the largest bicycle industry presence in the state, and bicycling is a crucial element of the city’s larger commitment to sustainability in the city, Grand Rapids City Planner Suzanne Schulz said.

“Our Driving Change campaign fits with the city’s placemaking strategies and aligns with the vision of Grand Rapids business and civic leaders who understand bicycling can serve as a tool to help attract and retain talent in an ever-increasing competitive employee recruitment landscape," Schulz said.

For more information, you can visit the Driving Change website and Facebook page.

Photos by Tommy Allen, logos courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids.

Keeping it local: Harmony Brewing Company and Green Wagon Farm launch partnership

Harmony Brewing Company is a hip neighborhood brewpub in Eastown that also makes some of the most unique and delicious pizza in the city.

Green Wagon Farm is a small-scale vegetable farm located in Ada, Michigan, growing 11 acres of diverse vegetables and herbs.

Now, the two businesses will be working hand-in-hand to grow both organizations and add a new level of freshness to the local food scene.

Harmony will be sourcing a custom mix of leafy greens, romaine lettuce, basil, spinach, and arugula, along with other in-season produce from Green Wagon.  Doug Nowiski, head chef at Harmony says the new partnership goes beyond the typical supply chain relationship. “For me, this is about working on a more direct relationship between farmer and restaurant. I want to go beyond the typical supplier relationship,” he says.

For example, Nowiski says that Harmony staff will have the opportunity to meet with the farmers and work on the farm to learn more about the growing process. He says this experience is a natural continuation of providing more information to the consumer about where the food comes from. 

Nowiski says the goal is to source 100 percent of leafy greens from Green Wagon Farm, with a plan to expand into other products as the partnership matures and they learn from the first year of operations. Nowiski says that initially that Green Wagon Farm will be working only with Harmony in Eastown but that they will also pursue this type of relationship for their popular Westside venue, Harmony Hall.

Besides growing products for Harmony, Green Wagon Farms serves other customers and currently has CSA shares available for individuals looking to connect directly with the farm and receive weekly fresh produce during the summer season. For more information please visit: www.greenwagonfarm.com/what-is-a-csa/.

You can check out Harmony Brewing's menu and hours and here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

The Image Shoppe becomes the state's first marketing agency to be certified as a B Corp

The Image Shoppe (TIS), a Grand Rapids-based brand marketing agency, has officially earned its certification as a Benefit Corporation, or B Corporation, the first marketing agency in the state of Michigan to do so.

Keeping it in the family, TIS joins its clients 616 Lofts, Bazzani and Essence Restaurant Group (ERG) as a certified B Corp.

B Corporations are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. Essentially, it is a 21st century litmus test for organizations that are committed to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit and have the internal policies, procedures and organizational culture to back it up.

Karen Tracey, TIS’s president and creative director, says the B Corp certification validates many of her company’s core values. “We always have been very conscious about our environmental footprint,” she says. “It has always been part of our culture. We’ve been acting this way for a long time before we heard about B Corp.”

Examples of the programs and organizational values that TIS have in place include:

 - Implementing a reduction, recycling and composting program for proper disposal of resources.
- Volunteering for and serving community organizations, such as The Cook Leadership Academy at The Hauenstein Center, Equity Drinks, WMEAC, Well House, and others.
- Installing a native plant garden on the lot and creating a community green space.
- Paying employees competitive, living wages that are not less than 50 percent of executive salaries.
- Sourcing recycled and alternative fiber papers for print pieces.

Tracey says the amount of rigor and detail in the certification process is extremely important in making sure that being a B Corp is not a simple application process, but rather it documents and measures policies and procedures that align with the B Corp ethos. “It’s very important to us,” she says. “We are who we claim be. It’s a also a validation point that resonates with our clients.”

Earning B Corp certification is not a static accomplishment. The organization created a sustainability team, led by Emily Hammes, to champion ongoing efforts. “We started a sustainability team in 2015 that consists of four employees to ensure that we are holding ourselves accountable to these values,” Tracey says. “Now we are now measuring and documenting things that we hadn't measured in the past, like pounds of compost, recycling and landfill, for example. And every staff member participates in this process.”
 
With TIS’s new designation as a B Corp business, as well as other locales throughout Grand Rapids landing the label, a focus on, and recognition of, being environmentally sustainable and socially responsible organizations is quickly becoming the norm in the city’s commercial landscape — in huge part due to Local First.

Rob McCarty, TIS chief executive officer,  points to Local First (an organization he helped to found that has spearhead efforts to encourage Grand Rapids businesses to apply for B Corp status) as an example of where he feels B Corp certification is heading — and what it can mean for a community.
 
For other businesses interested in following in the footsteps of places like TIS, 616 Lofts, Brewery Vivant, and Essence Restaurant Group, among others, McCarty recommends they take Local First’s Quick Impact Assessment. The assessment is a free online tool to help interested companies discover how prepared they are for B Corp status.

To learn more about TIS you can view their page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor
 

New startup SetHero arrives to save the day, make the lives of filmmakers easier

When it comes to movies, there are no shortages of super heroes — but there are none with as unique super powers as the local startup, SetHero.

In other words, have no fear, SetHero is here.

SetHero is a West Michigan software company and Emerge Accelerator/Start Garden alumnus co-founded by Luke DeBoer and Leslie Naugle.

The business proposition is pretty simple: the program streamlines the process of creating film schedules. This, according to DeBoer, is a longstanding pain point for filmmakers. “There are many logistical complexities on a film set, and film schedules are the flight plan for the day,” he says. In other words, film schedules help make sure the productions stay on time and budget.

Having worked in the film industry, DeBoer says that managing films’ schedules are a bulky, paper-heavy process: inefficient, time-consuming and very old school. He knew there was a better way to apply technology to manage and coordinate the information.  “SetHero streamlines everything,” he says. “We took a manual paper process and automated and digitalized it. It’s now easy to publish, and the information can be pushed out by text and email to cast and crew.”

DeBoer says his company is currently targeting independent filmmakers and productions that involve teams of more than 15 cast and crew members. He says SetHero can be used on small or large productions.

SetHero is currently in beta and is free for anyone to use at this point. After beta testing pricing will  be based on a subscription model, with users paying by per month and per project. Different pricing tiers range from $29 to $300 per month, and DeBoer says there will also be customized programs available.

DeBoer has been pleasantly surprised so far with the beta test. He says almost one-third of users are from outside of the United States.

Both DeBoer and Naugle are from Kalamazoo, and DeBoer moved to Grand Rapids last year to participate in the accelerator program at Emerge.

To learn more, you can check out their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Down the stretch they go ... and it's The Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan for the win

The Kentucky Derby is known as the greatest two minutes in sports. It’s also one heck of a party, both at the track and at race parties throughout the country.

The Winners Cup Benefit, a Kentucky Derby themed party and fundraiser, combines the excitement of a watch party with a big-hearted philanthropic cause serving the Down Syndrome community in West Michigan.   

Since its inception in 2014, the benefit has raised more than $1.2 million for the The Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan Foundation.

The primary benefactor of the event is the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan (DSAWM), an organization that was started a little more than 30 years ago when six families who had children with Down Syndrome gathered together to form a group to provide support and share knowledge with other families.

To say that the group has been successful in their original mission is an understatement. Today, the DSAWM serves more than 300 member families across 12 counties in West Michigan: Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Ottawa, and Van Buren.

April Sawhill, executive director of DSAWM, says the Winners Cup Benefit goes far beyond raising funds to support services for the Down Syndrome community.  Her email signature provides a glimpse into the greater work of her organization: “We believe in people-first language. Instead of saying ‘He's a Down's’ or ‘a Down’s kid,’ simply say ‘He/she has Down Syndrome’ or ‘a child with Down Syndrome.’ Keep your emphasis on the person, not the diagnosis!”

Sawhill says that the Winners Cup Benefit is an important platform to educate, educate and educate, noting that “events like this continue to to assist the greater community to understand Down Syndrome.” She says there continues to be a shift in viewing the potential of children and adults with Down Syndrome. In the last decade or so, the perception of the abilities of these individuals to contribute in school, work and in the community has greatly changed. “These Individuals are now in regular classes; they play on soccer teams, participate in dance classes and many are very productive in the workplace,” Sawhill says.

Mike Lomonaco along with his wife Jaimie are in their second year of chairing the Winners Cup Benefit. Besides their leadership with the event, Mike Lomonaco has been on the DSAWM board for six years, even though does not have a child with Down Syndrome. As longtime champions and advocates for making West Michigan an inclusive and equitable community, he says his work with the DSAWM “is a calling.”

Lomonaco says there are many times individuals with cognitive disabilities are left out the discussion when it comes to inclusion, equity and diversity, and the work with the Winners Cub Benefit and DSAWM is one way to make a difference. “It’s a disservice to our community when we don’t include these individuals,” he says.

The 2016 Winners Cup Benefit will be held on Saturday, May 7 at Kent Country Club. Guests are greeted by a professional show horse as they arrive in Derby attire, including the iconic stylish hats and dresses. The event features the Best Hat & Dapper Dan contests, a hand rolled cigar bar, silent and live auctions, and live music by West Michigan favorite, Nine Mile Smile.
 
This year’s guest speaker is Dr. Dale Ulrich, a professor in the School of Kinesiology and chairman of the Movement Sciences Program at the University of Michigan. His research focus is in the conduct of evidence-based developmental research to improve health and functioning in infants and children with Down Syndrome and children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Lomonaco says the event would not be possible without generous philanthropy and sponsorship of many individuals and corporations in West Michigan who invest time, talent and money.

You can learn more at the website at http://foundation.dsawm.org/winners-cup/ and http://foundation.dsawm.org/.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 
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