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StartUp News: UberEATS arrives in Grand Rapids

The on-demand economy may seem like the hip new trend, like startup mega giant Uber, but we have had on-demand delivery in the form of pizza delivery for decades. As a matter of fact, Columbia Pictures’ 2011 action-comedy 30 Minutes Or Less about a pizza delivery guy was actually filmed here in Grand Rapids. 

The race to instant delivery perhaps started in the pizza delivery arena, with companies offering shorter and shorter time windows from order to delivery, but it is no surprise that Uber has since entered the on-demand delivery race as well. Already present in other major markets around the country, Uber Eats competes with Postmates and DoorDash and locally with Seamless and GrubHub.

Last week UberEATS officially launched in the Greater Grand Rapids area. In a press release, Peter Forsberg, UberEATS General Manager for Michigan said “The UberEATS app allows users to order food delivery whenever they get a craving, with menus available from over 40 restaurant locations in Grand Rapids.”

Here’s how UberEATS works:
  1. Download the free standalone UberEATS app for iOS or Android
  2. Login with your Uber account
  3. Find a restaurant you know and love, and pick what you want from their menu
  4. Pay with your card on file
  5. Watch as the order is picked up and delivered to you
To celebrate the launch, first-time eaters can enter the promo code MICHIGANEATS to receive their first two deliveries free, now through December 21, 2017.

The press release adds “We will be launching in downtown Grand Rapids and surrounding neighborhoods including Grandville, Walker, East Grand Rapids and Kentwood.”

Grand Rapids has already large startups Seamless and GrubHub present, but Vox Media’s EATER reports UberEATS dominance of the delivery service market in other cities as overwhelming. Quarter over quarter, it shows users flocking to UberEATS over all other apps, and Grand Rapids may soon follow suit.
Coming back to Grand Rapids after being in a larger city can sometimes be jarring for a number of reasons, most notably the lack of late night food options and delivery. With the advent of Uber and Lyft, the next inevitable creature comfort service was going to be same-day delivery. 

From Uber’s press release:

UberEATS gives Grand Rapids more options:
  • Folks looking to eat in Grand Rapids now have access to menus from over 40 of their favorite restaurant locations, delivered seven days a week, at Uber speed including Brick & Porter, Curry Kitchen, Wealthy St Bakery, and more!
  • Restaurants in Grand Rapids can depend on the Uber delivery network to get more meals delivered to more customers, quickly and reliably
  • Drivers looking for flexible ways to earn can connect restaurants with customers–making money by making deliveries
Brick & Porter’s General Manager Elias says, “could be interesting to see really how fast these deliveries will go. We have not had any issues or complaints yet.” Grand Rapids sure is growing up, and there is no sign of slowing down. 

Who knows what will happen if Amazon decides to relocate to West Michigan for their second location. Some of us are still holding out for more all-night diners...especially downtown. One can hope!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo courtesy of UberEATS.

Young professional spotlight: Briana Ureńa Ravelo

Every month, we get more and more transplants to our riverside city, so it can be easy to overlook the talent that’s been lying here all along. For people of color, West Michigan can feel alienating in contrast to cities like Atlanta, San Diego, Miami, and the Bronx. Yet many stay here and push forward the culture and help grow our community.

One such young professional is writer and activist Briana Ureña Ravelo, a long-time resident of the region and city. We were delighted to have the chance to catch up with her and pick her brain about how she came to be here, her experiences, and what she is currently working on.

RG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? (Are you from the area, how do you identify, what are you currently doing for work and interest here in Grand Rapids)

BUR: I am a queer, femme Afro-Latina of Dominican descent born to two Dominican immigrants in upstate New York, but I have lived in West Michigan since I was about seven years old, so I am more or less from here.

I have made my way around different communities while growing up specifically around music and the arts, but have been a writer, organizer, and activist since my teens, and that is the work I primarily do these days.

RG: Where did you study/grow up and how has that experience shape who you are?

BUR: I didn’t attend college. I’ve jumped around in this area, but I have spent the bulk of my West Michigan life in Kentwood. It is a culturally diverse suburb that was formerly white and has experienced major white flight and an increase of poor people, often of color, displaced from Grand Rapids due to gentrification, along with refugees and immigrant families who cannot afford to live anywhere else.

I experienced both the beauty and positivity of living in a place with many different peoples and cultures in one city and the downside of increased policing, antagonism towards newer residents, specifically African Americans and other Black people, and the school-to-prison pipeline, etc.

Before that, I spent a few years in Comstock Park, where my family and I experienced a lot of racial microaggression to outright antagonism; the city was primarily white at the time and wholy inhospitable, [and] it was traumatizing in many ways. It really showed me about the covert and passive nature of a lot of the -isms, bigotry, and violence that occurs in many places in this city.

RG: What is your current work/passion?

BUR: I have been really interested in learning discussing, writing, and organizing around misogynoir, LGBTQ communities of color, prison abolition, decolonizing the African diaspora, [and] Black and Indigenous solidarity lately.

I use the framework of mutual aid/grassroots organizing and try to make spaces and events Black women-centered, free, safer, inclusive, and police and alcohol-free as much as possible. I believe strongly in people power and that we, not those in traditional power and authority or within systems, can be trusted to get us free!

RG: As a woman of color (WoC) what current issues are most pressing to you?

BUR: Misogynoir! Navigating not only the racism of white and non-Black people, but the colorism and anti-Blackness within my own family and community, and the way Black women are erased from conversations, communities and organizing even as we are regularly the spine of the work.

We have huge issues with racism, anti-Blackness, and erasure Grand Rapids for sure.

As an Afro-Latina, I generally work more in African American spaces because most of the Latinx community here is non-Black Central Americans and I deal with lots of racism and covert but still nasty judgement and assumptions. I get funny looks and asked “Y como sabes como hablar Español?” (How do you know how to speak Spanish?!) [by] people seemingly uneducated on the millions upon millions of Afro-Latinxs across the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. It is a hard thing to manage because in the past I would say Latinxs son mis gentes but that’s just not the case anymore.

RG: As a millennial, what has been your career path, growth, and obstacles?

BUR: My path has jumped around everywhere due to the untraditional path I took but overall I’d say it is social justice-oriented community engagement and organizing, with a heavy media creation/communications facilitation aspect.

I find that the biggest obstacle I face is the need to be formally accredited by institutions, which is largely exclusive and dangerous despite my having ample experience, education, and know-how to do the work I’m passionate about. The intentional gate-keeping that gifts those with more privilege and ability to access those spaces for accreditation, but not necessarily the experience and expertise, is anger-inducing and leaves lots of great people underpaid and unemployed, and gifts merely going to school (which in my mind is not synonymous with education) or having connections over everything.

RG: How has Grand Rapids faired in helping support you as PoC?

BUR: OK, so I’ll lay off a bit here. I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for the city. Grand Rapids has taught me so much. I have met a lot of really amazing, kind, and radical people who have taught, guided, loved, supported and shown me so much since I was a kid, and continue to do so. I have been exposed to so much art and culture and different types of people in this city. But a lot of times I feel like a baby chick fighting its way out of its shell, with the city being the shell. The resistance that people can have against those who question the status quo or challenge them is often very stifling and restrictive.

RG: Anything else you would like to add, discuss, or share?

BUR: Something my friends and I have been organizing around is mass incarceration, especially how it affects marginalized groups like Black women survivors of domestic violence.

Myself and fellow activists will be holding an event called a A Season of Solidarity!

This event is free, and you can learn more about it here!

You can find out more about Briana Ureña Ravelo’s work by reading it here.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s Innovation and Jobs Editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Photos courtesy of Briana Ureña Ravelo.

Local business holiday roundup

Although we have seen and heard plenty of holiday music days—and sometimes even a week—before Thanksgiving. The time has officially come to allow the holiday season to swing into full effect. 

The food, music, and—if the weather decides to cooperate— even the scenery will begin to look a lot like Christmas, as the song goes. With the holiday season comes joy and laughter, gift giving, and treating family and friends.

Say no more! We have got a list of all the places you will want to visit to find the right thing for that picky person in your life, or the right place to fill your day with that holiday cheer we all need during these longer winter nights!

RESTAURANTS

Citizen
A full service Tiki Bar and restaurant is new in town and should be good for a tasty drink and meal.


Mi Casa Restaurante
If you are looking to change up dinner plans, be sure to grab the Chivo Guisado at this Caribbean restaurant in Burton Heights.

Palace of India
You will come for the Butter Chicken, but stay for the mango custard.

New Hotel Mertens
A french brasserie right in the heart of downtown. You will want to place that New Year’s Eve reservation early!

Chez Olga
If you want to have spicy food like you’ve never had before, this is your place. Don’t worry; the staff will have mercy on you and bring you milk just as soon as the heat really kicks in!

The Søvengård
A delightful addition to the Westside of Grand Rapids that serves up seasonal cuisine inspired by Danish tradition.


STORES

Slate Clothing
Looking for spiffy duds for the modern man in your life? Look no further than Slate, a relatively new addition to downtown on Ionia Ave.

Iconoclasp
This shop that will have you mystified wondering how the clothes are all handmade. Have a fashionista in your midst? Be sure to drop by here and let them browse to their heart's content.

6.25 Paper Studio
The perfect place for well-designed stocking stuffers, and also for the wrapping paper you will most surely need!

Vault of Midnight
The one stop shop for the nerd/geek/cool person in your life. They have got it all: comics, graphic novels, board games, anime, and a peculiar collection of plush toys.

Blacklamb
This clean, modern shop offers curated goods from around the region and country. If you are looking to turn your home from drab to chic, look no further.

Woosah Outfitters
This one-of-a-kind art and apparel shop offers everything from t-shirts to prints, handcrafted with founder Erica Lang's unique outdoors-inspired woodcuts. Look for them soon at their new location in the Wealthy Street Business District this December!

Parliament the Boutique / Harbinger Leather
Handmade quality goods from a dynamic duo!

Premier
Find some of the best streetwear and gear here. It may be the middle of winter when your loved ones get those sneakers, but then again, this is Michigan! Who knows when the snow will get here or eventually melt?

Delasie
Beautiful clothing made from imported textiles, fusing European design with African fabrics.

Dime & Regal
A great shop for jewelry and handcrafted gifts.

Books & Mortar Bookstore
It’s time to step up your book game from a few to stacks on stacks on stacks.

All City Kicks
Their name should describes it all, and really should be where everyone gets their shoes. Such a wide array that you’ll have a hard time picking between your favorites.

EXPERIENCES

Grand Rapids Ballet 
Why of course, you have to catch a showing of The Nutcracker during the winter holidays. 

Grand Rapids Symphony 
Our symphony has regular programming through Christmas! This holiday season you will hear them alongside the Grand Rapids Ballet for their winter programming.

Funky Buddha Yoga Hot House 
When the only stretching you have been doing is on the couch, it’s time to sweat it out! Come out to a community class if you are a beginner or step it up a notch for that deep burn.

AM Yoga
Feeling stiff and looking for a change of venue? AM Yoga often switches up their location for classes in venues like our very own Grand Rapids Art Museum.

CKO Kickboxing
So you let yourself indulge in more holiday food than you planned. Office party, dinner parties, and family dinners can all add up fast. Just as fast is the pace with which these instructors will kick your butt.

I GOT FACE Cosmetic
If you are off to a holiday party and you need to look glamorous, you know where to go!

Be sure to find us on social media here @rapidgrowthmedia, and to tag your pics throughout the month of December with #holidayroundup if you’re in any of the locations we mentioned!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s Innovation and Jobs Editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

StartUp Spotlight: Wodul

Quiet giants are the companies that find themselves in niche markets and carve out a space for themselves to grow into slowly. Search Engine Optimization is how local West Michigan company Wodul is making their bones in the entrepreneurial tech space.

Wodul’s team is comprised of Eric Hendrickson, Geraldo Gonzalez, Tim Charron, and Thom McGuire. Two years in development and six months after their launch Wodul continues to grow.

We sat down with Wodul’s Founder & CEO Eric Henrickson to talk a bit about the company’s purpose and what they are currently up to.

RG: How did the Wodul start?

W: My background is in lead generation through digital marketing, which I've been involved in since 2006. At one time I managed over 800 landing pages (one-page websites) that received thousands of visitors and generated hundreds of leads daily for health insurance agents all over the country. After Healthcare Reform passed, agent commissions dropped by nearly 70 percent and as a result, agents could no longer afford to purchase leads. My focus then shifted toward helping all types of business generate more customers online by maximizing their search visibility on Google, Bing, Yahoo and 70 plus other digital endpoints. (Waiting for founding date)

RG: What was the inspiration behind Wodul?

W: In February 2016, Google changed its SERP (Search Engine Result Page) display to eliminate PPC (pay per click) based ads on the right rail, which sent many marketers into a panic. Business owners would now have two choices for getting found online: buy ads on Google or pay an SEO firm $2000-$5000 per month to help optimize their web presence. I saw a better way, and a game-changing opportunity to leverage my skills and resources to essentially level the playing field for local business through a responsive microsite chassis that leverages content credibility to improve the search rankings of a business—which resulted in the creation of Wodul™.

Wodul™ delivers a smarter approach to getting businesses found online. Each microsite employs the latest SEO best practices to optimize and index content independently to web crawlers while leveraging the power of our trusted domain to achieve top ranking on major search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo sooner and without the need for any technical background.  

RG: What is Wodul’s mission?

W: We are focused on helping Michigan local businesses utilize Wodul™ Microsites to maximize online search visibility and connect with more new customers. In addition, each month we're hosting a half day SEO workshop where we teach attendees winning online marketing strategies that can be tremendous in helping boost a company’s bottom line. 

RG: Where is Wodul headquartered and why?

W: Our offices are located in downtown Grand Rapids. I was born and raised in the here in Grand Rapids and there is an excitement, innovative culture and buzzing nightlife that makes downtown such a fun, inspiring place to work.

RG: What is on the horizon for you and your team?

W: Our plans are to slowly expand our footprint to other major cities with offices already starting in Indianapolis.

RG: What has been the most difficult aspect of this business so far? What has been the most rewarding?

W: Our most difficult challenge is finding enough talented people to keep up with the insatiable demand for our services. There is nothing more frustrating than having to tell someone we are backlogged one to two weeks before we can start their project. The most rewarding part of what we do is taking a business from minimal search visibility to outranking their competitors' sites and seeing how empowering it makes them feel. It's just amazing!

You can find Wodul online here.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Strictly Business: The women who own Grand Rapids

Business growth and development to Grand Rapids is not breaking news, and we will continue to see more change with every passing year. Our city is already home to many women owned and operated businesses, and with this development boom we are likely to see a continued rise in women's ownership and leadership. Nationally, business growth among women entrepreneurs continues to be on the rise.

According to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) “More than 9.4 million firms are owned by women, employing nearly 7.9 million people, and generating $1.5 trillion in sales as of 2015.”

Furthermore NAWBO’s website states “Women-owned firms (51 percent or more) account for 31 percent of all privately held firms and contribute 14 percent of employment and 12 percent of revenues.” and “Over the past seven years, the overall increase of 8.3 million (net) new jobs is comprised of a 9.2 million increase in employment in large, publicly traded corporations, combined with a 893,000 decline in employment among smaller, privately held companies.”
Although not a comprehensive list, below is a snippet of the businesses of the greater Grand Rapids area that are owned and operated by women. 

Delasie
Rhoda Abena Klomega

Parliament The Boutique
Elyse Marie Welcher

The Meanwhile & Pyramid Scheme
Tammy VandenBerg

Rebellious Creatives Web Design
Adriane Johnson

Citizen
Rachel Lee

cultured.GR
Holly Bechiri

Matthew Agency 
Kelly Koning-Ramic

Aesthetikhs  
Kelley Hughes


‎La Fuente Consulting, LLC 
Ana Ramirez-Saenz

Sanchez Income Tax-Translation 
Zoraida Sanchez

Samaria J’s Salon & Suite 
Synia Elizabeth Jordan

La Casa de la Cobija 
Angelica Velazquez

Mira Krishnan LLC
Mira Krishnan

El Granjero Mexican Grill 
Mercedes Lopez-Duran & Paola Mendivil 

I Got Face 
Latesha Lipscomb

Happy Cat Cafe 
Kati Dodge

Nationally, women owned business are vital to our business landscapes, as NAWBO adds “These firms employ 1.4 million people and generate $226 billion in revenues annually” and “One in five firms with revenue of $1 million or more is woman-owned.”

Furthermore, women of color contribute in growing numbers to the overall trend in the labor and business market. NAWBO’s website reports “2.9 million firms are majority-owned by women of color in the U.S.” 

Grand Rapids already prides itself as being the leaders and best in many fields, it would be no surprise if given some time that it could lead in women’s business growth and leadership on a national stage.

As always be sure to let us know in the comments if you do not see your favorite woman owned business is mentioned. 

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s Innovation and Jobs Editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Young Professional Spotlight: Tonisha Begay finds her voice in multicultural affairs

We often only see the success and work of a community leader only after they have spent years in their field. However, emerging leaders and young professionals make up a large part of organizations and help to push missions forward with their hard work and perseverance.
 
We caught up Tonisha Begay, a young professional working in Grand Rapids to hear more about her career and life in the midwest. 
 
RG: Can you tell us a little about yourself? How do you identify?
 
TB: I’m from Gallup, NM and have lived in Grand Rapids for the last 6 years. I’m a Diné (or Navajo) woman. In Diné culture, we identify ourselves by naming our four clans, starting with our mother’s clan, then our father’s clan, our maternal grandfather’s and paternal grandfather’s clan. My clans are Tó Baazhní'ázhí, Kinlichíi'nii, Dziltl'ahnii, and Haltsooí Dine'é. 
 
RG: Where did you study and how was your experience? How did it shape who you are?
 
TB: I studied sociology at Calvin College. I grew up in the CRC and went to Rehoboth Christian School in Rehoboth, NM. My experience at Calvin was shaped by the CRC and the relationship between the CRC and the Diné people. CRC missionaries began the Rehoboth Mission in 1903 with the intention of evangelizing and assimilating the Diné people. 
 
I chose to go to Calvin because a few of my high school teachers are from Michigan and went to Calvin. I liked how my teachers who went to Calvin thought about and engaged the world around them. I could see a difference between them and the other teachers who went to Christian colleges and universities. My experience at Calvin was bittersweet. I loved learning and thinking critically about what I believed and the knowledge I was gathering. However, I often felt isolated and powerless on the predominantly white campus. I eventually found supportive and caring people who helped me to resist and find my voice. For that, I am grateful to Calvin. 
 
RG: What is your current work?
 
TB: I work at Calvin College in the Service-Learning Center and at Grand Valley State University in the Office of Multicultural Affairs. I work primarily with students, helping them to engage with issues and challenging them to think critically about their surroundings. Part of my work in both places includes helping the institutions I work with recognize and advocate for marginalized students in higher education. As a first-generation Diné college student, I needed all the support I could get, and my biggest goal is giving that to students on the margins.
 
RG: As a woman of color (WoC) what current issues are most pressing to you?
 
TB: Right now, I’m interested in amplifying the voices of Black/Indigenous/Latinx women/femmes in Grand Rapids. Reclaiming, maintaining, and protecting spaces for us in Grand Rapids, at Calvin, and GVSU is what I’m working towards. This work includes raising awareness about intra-cultural patriarchy and sexual violence, while holding the surrounding communities accountable to our wellbeing. 
 
RG:As a millennial, what has been your career path, growth, and obstacles?
 
TB: I hope to continue to push for equity in higher education as I continue my career. At GVSU, I work a lot with the local indigenous communities to help keep Native students rooted in tradition. Additionally, I work with Native students to help them feel supported, heard, and empowered in higher ed. I’ve learned a lot and sometimes it’s frustrating to advocate for Native students within these institutions.  
 
RG: How has Grand Rapids faired in helping support you as PoC?
 
TB: My lens of Grand Rapids is mostly shaped by LGBTQ Black/Indigenous/Latinx thinkers/activists/creatives. Grand Rapids is home to a lot of brilliant voices who are so often overlooked and undervalued. I learn from and with them, and my hope is that the rest of the city can acknowledge and listen to these communities. I am thankful and honored to know them. 
 
 
Begay can be reached at tonishabegay@gmail.com for further questions or collaboration.


Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Steel River: Fitness and growth

Hacking: when we hear that word we think of fingers typing furiously on a keyboard in an attempt to gain entry to a network full of sensitive information. Rather, like many other words, the definition of hacking has changed with time. 
 
Hacking now speaks to a method of gathering readily available resources to create a working solution to a problem. If you know what it means to “MacGyver” something ,then you know what it means to hack something together.
 
Taylor Wieck founded Steel River fitness as a way to hack his life back together by bringing his passion for fitness to life. From working in manufacturing, to direct sales, to fitness, Wieck has hacked together an active and purposeful life for himself.
 
 “Steel River was born out of a need for fitness and health to be relatable and easily understood," says Wieck. "My personal brand of training creates results by combining effective and challenging workouts with lifestyle coaching. Health and fitness is a true passion of mine. Before I found the gym I was socially awkward, in awful health, and was headed towards an early grave. One morning I woke up and just felt absolutely terrible. I could hardly breathe and felt completely drained. This continued for weeks and I simply decided enough was enough. I dove headfirst into every bit of knowledge I could find regarding exercise, fitness, health, lifestyle changes, and hacking your own mentality. The fitness field became a forge for all my passion and gave me purpose.”
 
Entrepreneurial businesses do not happen overnight and require long hours of work just to get the working plan off the ground. Even before a business plan is executed, there comes the mental preparation an entrepreneur must go through before arriving to their idea.

Wieck adds, “I was allowing myself to take the easy way out by not working with people and I wasn't getting anywhere because I wasn't actually in the field I dreamt of being in. I knew I needed to get better at working with people and wanted to take on fitness full time, so I did what any young adult with a trial by fire mentality would do. I jumped from factory work straight into direct sales. It changed my life. I started as a sales rep for a gym while finishing up study for my NASM CPT exam. At first I was terrible! A lack of social skills will do that to you. After I got past the first month I started to catch on and developed an honest love for bringing people into the place I loved most, namely the gym.”

A local group has also been hacking education for more than two decades. Currently located on the west side of the city, The Geek Group is a deceptively large makerspace, studio space, and learning center for the whole city. Wieck was familiar with the group and tells us how he became more involved.

“I originally approached the group with the intent to volunteer as the on-staff personal trainer. Something unexpected happened. I fell in love with the place. I decided that I would take what I knew about sales and communications and apply it to this non-profit that brought so much to the community. I worked full-time at the gym and on my personal training skills while also volunteering in public outreach and membership services for The Geek Group. This opportunity to work in two different worlds helped me to build a blended and balanced set of skills that improved my performance in each.”

Although the space is physically located on West Leonard, that does not limit its staff involvement as Wieck tells us “Our team is built of over 25 staff members across the globe who have experience in areas that include manufacturing, higher education, social work, electronics, engineering, programming, carpentry, and hospitality. Between all of us we are able to assist people in both identifying their goals and reaching them.” This ties well with what Wieck has come to make of his career, where he helps his clients reach their fitness goals, and helps his fellow members at The Geek Group to accomplish their learning goals.

The Geek Group is always in search of new opportunities to give back to the community as well as programs to further educate their members. Wieck adds, “We are in the middle of a three-year rollout right now for providing direct vocational access to West Michigan. We want to fully expand out our programming to cover the industry's growing the most locally, and give individuals the strongest opportunity to excel in those areas.”

The Geek Group has amassed a large collection of tools, expert staff, and it is always seeking to add diversify their member base. The group understands that innovative solutions come from teams with a diverse makeup, be it in age, career type, gender, culture, or background.

When asked what is next for his business venture Wieck adds  “As Steel River grows and develops my intent is to reach a larger crowd through social media and online video while continuing to build my skills at The Geek Group. My mission is to truly create an impact in people's lives through both fitness and personal growth, which means also helping people to seek new skills and trades. I intend on building my brand through the principals I've always pushed myself to uphold. Honesty, confidence, communication, and passion. Steel River will not only be a local fitness brand for Grand Rapids but a nationwide solution to lifestyle coaching and personal development.”

You can learn more about The Geek Group’s mission and current projects here and find Wieck at the space ready to help you with your fitness and learning questions.

Wieck can be found on Instagram @steelriverfit. If you wish to reach out to fulfill your fitness goals you can reach Wieck via email at steelriverfitness@gmail.com!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Gallafe: Gallery + Cafe and the first Grand Rapid's Asian Festival

When we want a taste of some of our favorite foods from abroad, we may go to our usual standbys—the places we discovered by chance while driving around the city. 

Some of these places are recommendations from foodie friends, if we are so lucky, but at times it can be difficult to find new places for the discerning palate. Enter Gallafe, a blend of a food photo gallery and aspiring cafe.

Local artist and educator Zyra Castillo is the mind behind Gallafe. She says “It started out as a blog then an instagram account. Different people kept asking me where they could find different ethnic food restaurants. I decided to finally make a blog to feature different places I would visit. A couple years ago, a friend and I hosted a big Filipino cookout. We roasted a pig, and had a large spread of Filipino food. We had a lot of positive feedback, asking where they could find Filipino food. That's when I starting taking the idea of owning a restaurant more seriously.” Having decided to keep honing her craft a bit longer before opening up a brick and mortar location, she has moved onto bringing more cultural food events to Grand Rapids.

Castillo adds “During that time, I also started going to Kultura Festival in Chicago, and was inspired by how they put together their programming and celebrated culture through cuisine.

I'm also aware that as a small city, we do not have a lot of exposure or competition. I want to be part of what drives some of that change. As well as set a precedence for my food heritage before someone else comes in and colonizes my food.”

Gallafe has since been molding its brand and putting on events as Castillo tells us, “This past spring, Gallafe threw a small event at Mexicains San Frontieres to educate about Filipino cuisine. It was to raise money to help with expenses for Filipino Artist Kristian Kabuay for the Asian Festival.”

With so much momentum being carried into the next year, we asked Castillo what is on the horizon for Gallafe she told us, “The future of Gallafe would be to expand its online presence and have more posts related to food culture, asides from just images. I would like to do more collaborations with artists and other areas of community for cultural and educational events.”

Finally, we asked Castillo if she could share with us a shortlist of the Asian restaurants that she frequents and has gotten to know from her work in organizing this past June’s Grand Rapid’s first Asian Festival.

Below are some of the restaurants that Grand Rapids offers. 

Bangkok Taste
Angel Thai
First Wok
Emonae
Indian Masala
Wei Wei Palace
Pho Soc Trang
Curry Kitchen
Palace of India
Seoul Market Cafe
Mikado Sushi
Ju Sushi
Pho 616
Kobe

You can find Gallafe online here. Don’t see your favorite place? Let us know in the comments!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

StartUp Spotlight: Treefort VR

Film technology has come a long way from the first printed photographs. First we had pictures and we were amazed to see ourselves captured in 2 dimensions. Our society refined and improved, but it wasn’t enough. Pictures were the catalyst for the inevitable invention of moving-pictures.

Moving-pictures, or movies, were made by combining a series of photos taken consecutively. Movies got better and for the most part we have stayed on this medium. Ever improving quality movies are here to stay, but there are some who wish to push film even further. 

Virtual Reality seeks to replicate the perception of reality, by blurring the lines between film and sight.

Virtual Reality (VR) has been around for a few decades and has gone through its growing pains, but just as photos and film, it continues to improve year by year. Grand Rapids is home to one such company working on virtual reality in the heart of the city.

The duo of Craig Burgess (Manager) and Tom Adams (Art Director) make up Treefort VR. Rapid Growth caught up with the duo to hear all about VR, what they do, and how they do it!

RG: How did Treefort VR (Virtual Reality) get its start?

TVR: Treefort as a VR development company started about two years ago. We have a Co-Space on Division that we share with Snow Monster Studios who we work close with on various projects. 

RG: What is Treefort's mission? What kind of work do you do?

TVR: Our mission is to make inspiring VR experiences and support the local 3d artists and developer communities in Grand Rapids.

RG: Was there a particular moment that inspired the creation of Treefort VR?

TVR: I had pre-ordered an Oculus Development kit in 2014 and was amazed at the complete transformation from one experience to a completely different experience. After that I knew that I wanted to be involved with the VR development industry. 

RG: VR is making a huge jump right now and there are a lot of players in the space, why VR?

TVR: VR is a new medium that can be used to tell stories and present experiences that you have not been able to experience before. It can permeate into many industries and be used for a wide range of applications. 

RG: What projects are you currently working on?

TVR: Right now we are working on a couple internal projects. One is a VR Horror Mystery experience. You're in a cabin in the woods and you have to figure out how to escape the cabin when mysterious things keep happening.  We are also working on building tools for the education industry to teach and educate through the use of VR. For example, in a VR chemistry environment, I can mix chemicals and see the reactions. I can repeat this process multiple times to learn without danger and cost of materials. We also create training programs for a variety of business to train employees on dangerous or complicated machines.

RG: What is in store for Treefort VR’s future?

TVR: Next plans is to continue making great vr experiences. We dabble a bit in every field and with a wide array of experiences we have not picked a specific niche 

RG: Has the GR Entrepreneur ecosystem helped Treefort grow?

TVR: I have met and worked with some great people and companies in town. Right now we are working with Kendell Joseph from Elevator Up who I met at the Factory this year. We are creating a "lego programming language" where you simple arrange lego blocks to create object in a VR environment in real time. It's open source and can be found here. We are displaying it at ArtPrize hub this year Saturday and Sunday.

RG: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

TVR: We support the Grand Rapids Virtual Reality Meetup group that meets once a week here. It's an open collaborative of like minded enthusiasts interested in Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, 3d Game development, electronics, and haptics to supplement immersive experiences and environments. Members are allowed to use the VR equipment to test their games and projects or simply to learn and try the new tech.

You can find Treefort VR on Instagram here and on Facebook here

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Images courtesy of Treefort VR.

StartUp Spotlight: LOOP Coding Center

The need to fill the growing demand for tech talent across the country is increasingly a more pressing issue for recruiters and companies alike. While universities provide a great way for many to begin their careers, and most certainly solidify their knowledge base, more and more alternatives are surfacing to help close the gap.

One such alternative is the coding bootcamp and workshop. Earlier this year, Grand Rapids welcomed Grand Circus, based in Detroit, to downtown Grand Rapids. Their coding bootcamp has in many ways allowed coding alternatives to further enter the market. 

The LOOP Coding Center (LCC) has come into the market to continue to close the learning gap, but also as their website states “fill the diversity gap in the technology workforce.”

We sat down with the LOOP Coding Center team (LCC) to get hear more of their story.

RG: Who is all part of the LCC team?

LCC:  Luis Perez is our CEO, Angel Barreto is the COO, Anthony Reed is our CMO, and finally Jose Meza is our CFO

RG: When did the LOOP Coding Center get its start?

LCC: The idea started in December 2016, but on February 2017 is when everything was getting started

RG: What inspired LCC to form?

LCC: The inspiration of making LCC happen was looking around in tech companies and college classrooms and not seeing any Latinos, African American and women. It makes you think of why are they not on those places.

RG: With so many other competitors in the coding bootcamp space, why pick coding?

LCC: Coding is one of those fields where you get to learn the basics inside a classroom but you get to take that knowledge to the outside world and build an actual product. Whether is making a personal website or donate your skills to a non-profit to help them improve their website. I personally think coding is a great way to show people what can build and how create can you be.

RG: How did LCC as we know if come to be?

LCC: Back in December 2016, I was thinking of making an impact by donating my time and skills to different organizations. On February 2017, I shared my idea with a few friends and we decided to enroll in the M West Challenge, where everything started to take shape. After completing the M West, we enrolled in Spring GR, where it was a great experience getting to know a lot more people and being able to shared our idea to more than 300 people at a pitch competition. Later we participated in 5X5 Spanish Night at Start Garden where were we able to get funding and mentorship. I believe that being in M West, Spring GR, and 5X5 really changed who we are and what we do because they challenged us to deeply think about our purpose and the impact that we hope to make.

RG: What is LCC currently working on?

LCC: We are currently working on proving coding workshops all around Grand Rapids, by partnering with non-profit organizations who have a youth program.

RG: What are the next plans for LCC?

LCC: We are planning to have a coding bootcamp in the summer.

RG: How has the GR entrepreneurship ecosystem helped LCC grow so far?

LCC: The GR entrepreneur ecosystem has really helped us by showing us that we can bring our idea to an actual service. For us, it has to be the conversations that really make an impact on what we do. We will see what we can achieve in the next five months and take the little steps that we must take to get there.

You can find the LOOP Coding center here, on Instagram here , and on Facebook here.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Images courtesy of LOOP Coding Center.

Latinx Restaurant Roundup

Our city has a wide array of immigrants from around the world, and we are enriched with the diversity of culture that each group brings to our neighborhoods and business districts. The most easily recognizable contribution is culinary diversity. 

Grand Rapids, and the Greater Grand Rapids Area is fortunate to have a great extent of food options from Latin America. We have varying styles of Mexican cuisine, El Salvadoran, Dominican—and if you know where to look and who to ask you can find Honduran, Cuban and Guatemalan.

Some of these food spots will have to remain secret and hidden in the secret phone lists and Facebook groups that are spread throughout the city, but we have plenty of brick and mortar restaurants serving up amazing authentic food.

Here’s a small taste, pun most certainly intended, of the Latinx restaurants in the city, as well as the Greater Grand Rapids area.

Taqueria San Jose - 1338 Division Ave S
A charming appeal as if you are going to an old drive in, but you’ll have to walk in and wait in line for the tasty array of all the familiar Mexican foods. This southside gem has long been discovered by Grand Rapidians, so be ready to wait if you hit rush hour.

Tacos El Cuñado - 1024 Bridge St NW, 455 Burton St SW,  and Downtown Market)
With three locations, it’s hard to beat the array that this city staple serves up daily—from the westside to the southside and in between. 

Luna - 64 Ionia Ave SW
Come in for the pozole and stay for the city life vibes. 

El Globo Restaurant - 2019 Division Ave S
Tucked further away in the southside, this Burton Heights restaurant is right off the Silverline stop for your lunch rush convenience.



Mi Casa Restaurante - 334 Burton St SW
In the heart of Burton Heights, this cozy caribbean restaurant serves up everything from fried sweet plantains to stewed goat. A must try if you are in the neighborhood.

El Granjero - 950 Bridge St NW
A westside favorite, this restaurant has had a recent remodel and has never looked better. Come in and have your pick from an assorted menu.

Mi Tierra - 2300 Division Ave S
On the edge of Burton Heights, this quiet restaurant will leave you full and coming back for more.

Maggie’s Kitchen 636 Bridge St NW
A westside staple that will keep you coming back for more.

El Rincon Mexicano Taqueria - 2055 28th St. SE
Serving up great Mexican standards that will leave you wanting to come back.

Lindo Mexico - 1292 28th St Wyoming, MI
A pleasant atmosphere highlighted with local artwork, this restaurant is located just southwest of Grand Rapids proper.

Tamales Mary - 1253 Burton St SW Wyoming
Specializing in tamales both savory and sweet. It is sure to be a treat if you’ve never had a sweet tamale before.

As our city continues to grow business districts will begin to solidify where they were once in decline. If you have been keeping track of the locations provided many of the Latinx restaurants are located on the southside of the city, and as Burton Heights begins a revival we may see a flourishing of new Latinx restaurants and shops. Only time will tell, but the prospect has many excited already.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Blaquebox - A new way of #buyingBlack and boosting the economy for all

As Black Entrepreneurship month wraps up, we want to share with you another way members of our community are addressing lack of economic capital and empowering their communities through something as simple as a “Blaquebox,” a subscription box of products sold by black-owned businesses delivered to your door in a black box.

Sonja Forte, resident of Grand Rapids and founder of “Blaquebox,” is using her entrepreneurial skills to build wealth within the black community while creating an easily accessible opportunity to buy from black-owned businesses. According to Forte, the long-term impact for the Blaquebox is a mindset change.

“Unfortunately, Black people have been told and often times, convinced that they are subpar, unworthy, not enough, and incapable. The goal is to restore and rebuild confidence, pride, and faith in our community. The mindset change will spill over to the economic arena,” says Forte.

According to a 2015 study from The Pew Research Center, based on an analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, black individuals earn about 75 percent of what white individuals earn per hour. In other words, for every $1.00 a white man makes, a black man makes 75 cents. The wage gap is even greater among women: white women on average earn $17 per hour and black women are at a $13 per hour. When using our economic capital to buy from black-owned businesses, we help employ more black people and consequently, become a part of wealth-building for communities who have been systematically excluded from accessing equitable economic capital.

For the cost of $44 dollars every other month, subscribers receive three to five products to their doors. Each box has a specific theme for that time of the year.

“May was a brunch-themed box (there are a lot of Mother's day brunches) which included a Waffle Mix from Alaska, a Lapel Pin, Organic Honey, Fennel Seeds, Wax Melts, and a Chicken Fry Mix (what are waffles without chicken?),” says Forte.

Customers can also purchase special, one-time boxes at various price points. Products are sourced from across the globe, including from the city of Grand Rapids. Additionally, folks can find out through social media information about various black-owned business, causes, and community initiatives.

“My hope is that the Blaquebox can be a go-to source when it comes to black-owned businesses: be it discovery through knowledge or experience. We want to grow to be a trusted source,” says Sonja Forte.

To find out more about Blaquebox and how you can subscribe, visit www.blaqueboxsubscription.com.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Images courtesy of Blaquebox.
 

“Black Girls Be Like” – A love letter to Grand Rapids, Michigan

“Black Girls Be Like” is the title for Racheal Floyd’s debut feature film, or what she calls, “a love letter to Grand Rapids.” Floyd, who was born and raised in Grand Rapids, tells the story of Ta’Sheena, a young black girl growing up in the “hood” of Grand Rapids. The film is currently in pre-production stages expected to be released in the Winter of 2018.

The films begins with Ta’Sheena finishing up her last year of middle school, providing us glimpses of the how she’s fighting to find a place to be the girl she wants to be. Battling against the identities dictated by her environment, we see Ta’Sheena learn about herself and find the freedom she has always dreamed.

“We're living in a time in American history where marginalized people don't feel safe in this country,” says Floyd.

For the young film-maker, the story of Ta’Sheena is personal, as she remembers growing up and having little to no content representing girls like herself. “As a filmmaker it’s been a personal mission statement for me to create content that little girls can look up to, see themselves in, and be empowered by,” says Floyd.

Floyd, the brain behind the film, has teamed up with local filmmakers Virginia Anzengruber, Elizabeth Merriman, and Thom McGuire to produce Floyd’s love letter to Grand Rapids.

“I plan on making it as ‘Grand Rapids’ as possible. I want to incorporate the culture, the community, and how it feels to grow up there,” says Floyd, who is currently based in Atlanta.

Anzengruber, producer of the film, sought to get involved with this film to help make change in diversifying the industry, and ultimately help empower young women and girls facing racism and oppression.

In the words of Floyd, this film is coming at a time when people of color and people with marginalized identities are being represented more than ever helping create the stage for a production like Black Girls Be Like.

“This story needs to be told no just for black girls, but for every person that's ever had a dream or ever had a desire to better themselves and improve their situation by hard work and determination,” shares Floyd.

To find out more about how to support this film please visit the website at www.BGBLmovie.com.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


A guide to GR's black-owned businesses

Showing up for each other economically is one of the ways we can ensure livability and economic prosperity for our community as a whole. To celebrate our talented entrepreneurs and commemorate Black Entrepreneurship Month, we have crafted a short guide of a few of our favorite local black-owned food establishments working hard to satiate our taste buds!

 

Ellnora's Kitchen - 547 Eastern Ave SE

Specializing in grilled meat, ribbed tips, pork chops, turkey knuckles, and chicken—here you can find homemade soul food with every side imaginable of greens, macaroni cheese, potato salad, spaghetti or black eyed peas. A locally owned restaurant, this joint is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11am-9pm or until thefood runs out. Catering is also available upon request.

 

Ma’Dear Soul Food – 817 Franklin Street SE

Serving up the award winning barbeque, the southeast community knows as Sandman’s, this joint serves up home-made soul food. The restaurant located near the corner of Eastern and Franklin street and serves barbeque every Wednesday through Saturday. Every Sunday, you can expect to be served their soul food specialty home made grilled chicken with barbeque and a side of warm mashed potatoes.

 

Irie Kitchen - 6630 Kalamazoo Ave SE

If you are looking for some local Jamaican delicacy, look no further than Irie Kitchen. They promise to provide you with healthy, non GMO food every time. They also offer vegetarian options filled with flavors unique to Jamaica. Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

 

Icons Coffee – 2433 Eastern Ave SE

Located in the Alger Heights neighborhood, this eclectic coffee shop features ice chai tea lattes, bubble tea, blackberry vanilla lavender lemonade shaken iced tea, and of course the all-time crowd favorite: a good warm cup of coffee. At this joint you can also find eight delicious Hudsonville ice cream flavors, D’arts Donuts, and bagels. Open Tuesday through Thursday 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays until 9 p.m. and Sundays until 7 p.m.

 



Go-Jo Ethiopian Cuisine
- 956 Fulton St E

Offering traditional Ethiopian dishes all served with Injerra, Ethiopian flatbread. Expect to get your hands messy if you want to enjoy your meal the traditional Ethiopian way. If you call ahead, you also also have the opportunity to observe an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, a daily tradition to welcome visitors. Vegan and vegetarian options are also available upon request.

 

Local Mocha Coffee – 96 Monroe Center NW, Suite 100

A downtown Grand Rapids stable, this coffee shop specializes in serving premium, fairtrade and organic coffee. Also offering fruit smoothies, home-made tomato soup and chili, delicious espresso drinks with homemade chocolate and caramel. Opened 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 

Malamiah Juice Bar - Downtown Market / 435 Ionia St SW | Suite #128

Located inside Downtown Market, this family-owned juice bar offers specialty juices and smoothies to help you glide with energy all day. Or, if you are recovering from a particularly long weekend, you can pick up a quick booster shot packed full of vitamins and minerals. This Juice Bar unlike any other juice bar, partners with local organization to hire and employ youth from the community and provide them with meaningful employment. Open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 



Boston Square Ice Cream & Café
– 1553 Kalamazoo SE

Looking for a new place to grab brunch? Visit Boston Square Ice Cream & Café and get a taste of their delicious Boston Big Breakfast of home-made eggs, pancake, sausage, and crispy hashbrowns. Breakfast and lunch are served all day. A welcoming feel to all visitors, expect to be greeted by cheerful staff. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday for Soul Food from 12 to 6 p.m.

 

Daddy Pete’s BBQ - 2921 Eastern Ave SE

Specializing in delicious, Southern, slow-smoked meats served with a homemade, finger-lickin’ BBQ sauce, Daddy Pete’s is a must-visit. You can also find their smoked meats at their food truck. Open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

 

Load-A-Spud - 2919 28th Street

Hungry for a loaded potato or a loaded tacos? Visit Load-A-Spud or schedule a delicious delivery of hearty potatoes and all the toppings you can think of. Offering delivery and catering or dine-in service—you can enjoy a loaded potato from anywhere. Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 12 to 8 p.m.


Creston Brewery - 1504 Plainfield Avenue NE

If you are looking to quench your thirst with a cold beer, or a cider on the northeast side of town make sure to check out this brewery. Featuring seven hot sauces ranging from mild spiciness to dangerously hot. Vegan and vegetarian dishes also available for those with dietary restrictions. It’s ample and beautiful space outside and in is just the perfect atmosphere to host your next work meeting. Open Monday through Thursday 12-11p.m., Saturdays 11-12 a. m., and Sundays 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.

 

If you are looking for more local black-owned restaurants, and businesses check out Grand Rapids Area Black Business (GRAAB) directory here. This list has been collaboratively compiled thanks to Jamiel Robinson, founder of GRAAB.
Let us know if we missed your favorite spot in the comments!


Michelle Jokish Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


Meet Rachael Miller: Full-stack developer who isn't afraid to represent

“Helping humans do amazing things has been embedded in software’s DNA from the very beginning. Becoming one of the people that enables that kind of human advancement was a no-brainer for me.” – Rachael Miller, Software Consultant & Developer at Atomic Object.
 
This week, we conclude our three-part series on local women in the tech industry who are taking strides to empower, create, and do good. Meet Rachael Miller, a transplant to Grand Rapids. Miller, originally from Oxford, Michigan on the east side of the state, moved here after completing her undergraduate studies to begin her career as a developer. 

Miller, a full-stack developer, has been coding for the past seven years, and credits her success in the industry to being exposed to technology's potential to help humans do amazing things.
 
At Atomic Object, Miller is what the small, West Michigan company calls a “generalist, in other words, the focus of her work falls under the umbrella of’ 'whatever the customer needs.’” A graduate from the highly competitive computer science program at University of Michigan, Miller has developed the expertise to work in each layer of software technology.
 
The developer extraordinaire stays in Grand Rapids because she wants to contribute to a small, local economy.
 
“There’s interesting technical work, there are growing local companies in need of talented technologists, and the economy is such that laying down roots with eventual homeownership doesn’t have to be a pipe dream,” says Miller “Having spent some time there, I can’t say as much for the West coast. I think that elements of the Silicon Valley culture can be unwelcoming, and even hostile to women."
 
“What makes that easier is having other people to ‘share the pain’ with," she adds. "if there are other women developers around, I don’t have to bear the weight of being the token women developer for all speaking engagements and outreach efforts.”
 
To help address the lack of representation of women in the field, Miller tries to be as visible as she is able to and get to know as many women in the industry as possible. By building relationships with other women, and talking about her own experiences, Miller believes she can be part of the solution through representation.
 
“I want to be visible as a representative, so that other women know they’re not alone,” shares Miller.
 
“There isn’t one way to be a developer,” she adds. By having a representation of diverse work styles, women and girls can have the opportunity to be different and get to see their approach to technology isn’t wrong. 

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Local firm Mindscape redefines marketing through relationship building

Mindscape, a 17-year old digital marketing firm located on Grand Rapids' West Side, has been upping its game with community involvement. Offering services that educate its clients, but also engaging community members for free, Mindscape is in hot pursuit of better digital marketing for everyone.

"We're always looking for opportunities to engage the community," says CEO Pete Brand. With this in mind, Brand developed various content marketing workshops for small business owners, nonprofits, and marketing professionals who want to make the jump from traditional marketing and learn "how to navigate the digital space effectively," says Brand. Mindscape also provides training for inbound marketing strategy.

In addition to paid training, Mindscape has expanded their educational opportunities to be accessible to all. "We made the decision that we'd like to teach other people as well so we can not just help the people that are paying us," says Brand.

Two years ago, Mindscape began facilitating Lunch & Learn events, in which interested community members can visit their West Side office for a free lunch and an hour of education on a particular topic in the industry.

This fall, Brand and his cohort will embark on an exciting new project as part of their Create & Execute strategy building program. Working with Grand Valley State University and Ferris State University, Mindscape will act as the go-between for recent graduates and nonprofits seeking digital marketing talent. "We do the matchmaking," says Brand, for organizations "who typically have limited resources and capacity internally to tap into digital marketing," he adds.

Contributing half of the cost of the nonprofit's participation in the program, Mindscape assists in developing a strategic digital marketing plan for the organization while at the same time mentoring the recent grad. At the end of this experimental program, the grad will have to then present their plan in front of the nonprofit's board of directors for approval. "We want to help the nonprofit and also hep the marketing student so they can stay here," says Brand.

All of these efforts are part of Brand's desire to reach to and improve his community. From carefully crafted educational programs to fun events like National Margarita Day at the Widdicomb building, Mindscape is making strides in their mission to spread the marketing love. "It's not just about the bottom line," says Brand. "It's about rolling up your sleeves and pitching in to the community that you're a part of."
 

Meet Joanie Davis: empowering girls to code for good

Continuing our three-part series highlighting local women in the tech industry, who are navigating often unwelcoming spaces to use their expertise and skill as developers for good, we present you, Joanie Davis from West Michigan and an intern at Collective Idea.

Davis was not always interested in the field of coding and web development, but after enrolling in a course in scientific computer programming at Hope College, where she is currently a senior, Davis was exposed to what she calls a “mixture of creativity, problem solving, and collaboration,” she decided to change her career course and pursue a major in computer science.  “I haven’t regretted it since,” shares Davis.

Because Davis is still growing her skills in code, she has not yet decided on her specialization. Davis has experience in back-end development, a kind of coding that handles database and behavior logic, and also has interest in front-end development, which focuses more on styling and user experience.

“Here at Collective Idea, I've had the opportunity to participate in the development process for web applications that help people plan and coordinate events, manage their company's resource usage, and event keep a better track of whether or not their own programs are running correctly,” says Davis.

For Davis, the biggest challenge is reminding herself that she has a place in the tech industry.

“Most of the guys have a self-confidence in their abilities that stems from messing around with computers since they were kids or young teens. I didn’t start being interested in computers until college and a lot of the time when I’m talking to guys who've been messing around with code for most of their lives, I struggle with the idea that I’ll never catch up to them,” says Davis.

Despite these barriers, Davis has found a place in an industry where she uses her skills to help create programs to help others.

Last summer, computer science professor at Hope College, Mike Jipping worked with Davis and three other students—Natalie Boardway, Joanie Davis, and Meredith Lind—to develop “Bilancio” an iOS application designed to help students with learning disabilities learn budgeting skills. The app is currently being used in Hope’s Ready for Life’s budgeting unit, the college’s program for college-age students with learning disabilities.

“Not every girl is going to want to be a developer, of course. But instead of assuming girls won't want to work with computers, we have to make it easy for them to explore this possibility, and decide for themselves if it's a career they want to pursue,” says Davis.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Look good, feel good, and do good–the Delasie ripple effect

Alongside her family, Rhoda Abena Klomega made the 5,477 mile journey across west Africa and the Atlantic Ocean to Saline, Michigan. The transition was difficult for Klomega who was faced with having to adjust to a new place, language, customs and traditions when she immigrated to the United States at eleven years of age. Experiencing challenges fitting in and acculturating to her new environment, Klomega began dealing with depression
.
For immigrants, the process of coming to a new country can lead to increase in stress and anxiety as they try to wrestle with understanding and being a part of a new culture while respecting and holding on their own customs and traditions from home. Amidst all the tumultuous changes, Klomega found solace through a sewing machine.

“One day in high school I decided to walk into my teacher’s room and ask for a sewing machine. My teacher told me I couldn’t take the one from school home, so the very next day she gave me her own sewing machine,” shares Klomega.

The very first time Klomega attempted to make an outfit, she asked her brother to trace her out on a piece of paper while she laid on the floor. Although the outfit did not come out the way Klomega wanted it to—this experience gave her the courage to keep on. 

“It became my escape. It became my release,” says Klomega.

As a young Klomega developed her sewing skills throughout high school, her reputation as a fashion designer followed her later on as a student of computer and information systems at Grand Valley State University. Gaining so much notoriety among her peers, Klomega took the leap and launched the brand “Delasie” under which she began selling clothes two years ago at different pop-up shops around town.

“Delasie means ‘the savior heard me’ in my father’s native dialect, ” explains Klomega.

Now Delasie has become much more than just a brand of clothes, it has become a tool of empowerment and education for Klomega, who wants to design clothing that can fit anybody.

“I want everybody to feel good, wearing my clothing, any ethnicity, age or size. I sew for everybody. If you have a body we can measure it and fit you in something,” shares the fashion-designer.
The patterns Klomega uses in the clothing she crafts are purchased directly from textile and supply companies from her home country of Ghana.

“I inquire about the naming of the fabric and I then get to decide if that’s the meaning that I want my clients to have when I create the clothing. I then educate my clients on what they are wearing,” shares Klomega.

After completing Spring GR Business Academy winning second place and winning the grand prize of $5000 at the Start Garden 5x5 competition in April, Klomega has been using the funds to help grow her business. As Delasie has grown, Klomega sees opportunity in using her brand to benefit mental health services for immigrant women in the community of Grand Rapids. In the fashion launch of “Nsubra,” a Ghanaian graphic fabric pattern that represents the ripple effect of a stone thrown in a water well, Klomega decided to donate a portion of the proceeds received at the fashion event this past Friday, July 28, to Arbor Circle’s programming.

“Arbor Circle has an art therapy program specifically benefitting immigrant women—which is exactly what I am,” states Klomega.  

As a woman, and an immigrant to this community, Klomega hopes other women create their own ripple effects as their pursue their passions despite any obstacles faced.

“The ripple effect was my teacher giving me the sewing machine – I want my clients to create a positive ripple effect. I want others to believe that challenges do not hold you down,” says Klomega.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Meet Kaitlyn Califf: Developer breaking down barriers for other women

Ever since the boost of the tech industry in the early 2000s, stories surrounding app developments, and the evolution of technology has been male dominated. Although the technology industry continues to be a white-cis-male dominated industry, there are women from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences who are working hard to ensure others have access to these spaces.

To explore this narrative, we begin this three-part series highlighting brilliant women who are developing apps, websites and turning ideas into screen realities with Kaitlyn Califf, a developer and marketing professional in Grand Rapids.

Califf, a woman of color, originally from Guatemala and raised in Muskegon, began her career as a developer after finishing a boot-camp course at Grand Circus C# Coding Bootcamp where she got to build a web application from scratch.

Califf believes it's not about what you know but who you know when navigating what she deems as an “unwelcoming environment.”

“For me, that means networking to meet those willing to mentor and guide you. If those in the industry are not open to creating this environment of inclusion, the industry will continue being a white-cis-male dominated industry,” shares Califf. The front-end developer stays in Grand Rapids because she sees the budding growth and opportunities here.

“I have been on the front line of this change and see great potential,” says Califf.

As the Project Coordinator for Vias Latino Market Consultants, Califf spends her days coding in HTML, CSS, and ASP.NET, and advocating to ensure other women and women of color have access to the tech industry. She does this by continuing to collaborate with Grand Circus and by serving as the Marketing Co-Chair for BL²END whose mission is to foster an environment of growth and belonging for young professionals of color in Grand Rapids. The young professional uses her skills towards the efforts of diversity and inclusion through non-profit organization and hopes her visibility encourages other girls to want to follow in on her foot-steps.

“It is all about creating an open environment where women and their talents are valued. Girls will not chose a career with more roadblocks than opportunities,” says Califf.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Ag Help: Optimizing connections between migrant workers and farms

Many of us have the privilege to not have to know where our food comes from. We don’t have to know about the hands who worked from sun-up to sun-down on our countries’ fields carefully selecting and inspecting the curves of the tomatoes that eventually end up decorating our lunch plates and filling our bellies with nutrients.

For eighteen years, Feliciano, Ivan & Sadoc Paredes worked alongside their father, mother, younger brother, and four sisters picking fruits and vegetables in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Michigan. Often having to rely on word of mouth, and outdated flyers to find work and faced with the unpredictability of whether the site would have appropriate housing for their family—uncertainties plagued the Paredes family from year to year as migrant farm workers. Not only was the network of work unreliable, but constantly having to be newcomers at every site proved difficult when trying to find support services like health clinics and education programs.

With their childhood history of farm work and familiar with the many barriers it brought, Feliciano wanted to use his passions for technology to ensure every migrant farm worker is well connected to a stable site of employment, housing, basic needs, and educational and health support services.

The project was born in 2011 with the three brothers, and it quickly took off when the three pitched the idea to one of the of the CIS app development classes in hopes that a student would be interested in helping them tackle the project. The project inspired graduate student, Xiaomei Huang, who immigrated from China, to take on the development of the app as her capstone project transforming the idea into a reality with AgHelp.

AgHelp is the name of the free application available for Android and Apple operating systems connecting farmworkers with agricultural employers, and support services near them.

“We wanted to address the needs for agricultural employers to attract more talent, so that they can harvest their crops, and to help farm workers find the local support services and work as they travel across the country and within their own state,” shares Feliciano Paredes.

“This helps increase a farmworker’s earning potential by allowing each to continue to earn money during downtimes at their home farm. A farm worker would do this by simply using AgHelp to find available agricultural work near them," says Paredes.

The app also provides the user with instant notifications of crop conditions to help every farm worker know what to expect when they arrive at the site, or know if they need to find work elsewhere.

“Farmworkers will feel more safe and secure knowing that they can locate support services, like migrant health clinics, migrant educations programs, legal assistance no matter where they go to find work,” says Paredes.

To help minimize any barriers, a user only has to provide their name and an email address to be able to apply for jobs, follow agencies and farmers, and use some of the other features of the app. The app also functions as a platform for employers to post their jobs.

“We've had some great reactions from farmers who say they are spending thousands of dollars a week pre harvest doing a kinds of recruitment, with poor results. They see this as an option for them to have access to a national pool of agricultural labor, they would never be able to connect with,” explains Paredes.

In addition, this app could function as another great tool for agricultural employers to use to help with labor crisis in Michigan and across the country, according to Adam Kantrovich from MSU Extension, program of Michigan State University providing expertise of the institution to communities, individuals, and businesses, who has been working with Paredes to expand their work across the state.

Currently the pair has been able to attract 10 employers in West Michigan, and a couple out of state who are eager to start using the app to post jobs.

To find more about this app please visit their site at www.aghelpusa.com.

Michelle Jokisch Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Catch The Wave and ride The Rapid: a faster, easier and more convenient way to ride

Coming to riders in early 2018, The Wave, a new tap-and go method, will offer riders a more simple, seamless, and cost-effective way of riding. The Wave is new smart technology available through the use of a smart card and a smart-phone application.
 
Every rider will be able to purchase a smart card for a small, one-time fee, then add funds through the app, website, phone, or at transit locations. In addition, riders will have the opportunity to add funds automatically by linking their bank account to their smart-card. Every smart-card can be registered online, giving riders balance protection in case of loss. Riders do not need to have a bank account to reload their card, as they are able to use cash to reload by visiting the Information Center at Rapid Central Station.  
 
For those riders who may be more tech savvy, or have a difficult time keeping track of a wallet and other small miscellaneous items, The Wave also offers the option of using a free smartphone application to tap and ride. The rider will be able to add funds to their account online and use the barcode on the application to get on the bus and ride.  
 
The Wave also introduces a capped fare for every rider, showcasing a more equitable way of riding the bus. The capped fare allows every passenger who is using the smart card or the phone application to work towards the cost of 1-day, 7-day or 31-day bus pass without having to up front the cost.
 
“With capped fare, each time a passenger taps their smart card or scans their mobile phone to get on board, they essentially buy their way towards the value of a period pass. Once they reach the dollar value of a day pass, 7-day pass, or 31-day pass, they are no longer charged for the rest of that period each time they board the bus,” explains Michael Bulthuis, Public Outreach Coordinator of Community Engagement for The Rapid.
 
The current system requires every passenger to pay the entire value of a period pass up front (day pass is $3.50, 7-day pass is $16.00, and a 31-day pass is $47.00), and the value is tied to the physical ticket. When the actual ticket is lost, or the magnetic stripe is damaged the rider loses the value on the card. This will no longer be an issue with The Wave as the value will be tied to a registered account. Riders do not need to have a bank account to register their card.
 
Riders will be able to purchase smart cards online, at the Rapid Information Center, Ticket Vending Machines at Central Station, at area Meijer, D&W, and Family Fare stores, and at various other retail locations located throughout the six-city region.
 
The pilot testing will begin late August and early September. Anyone who is a bus rider and at least 18 years old is encouraged to apply to test the program here. For more information on this new system and any questions on the new transition please visit The Rapid’s dedicated website to The Wave here

Michelle Jokish Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

New City Urban Café: Social enterprise empowers and builds community

In the fight for empowerment of community youth, New City Neighbors, an organization in the Creston Neighborhood working to build meaningful community and urban renewal projects for youth in the neighborhood, is using a social enterprise model to launch their newest endeavor, New City Urban Café and continue to empower youth from the Creston Neighborhood through employment and leadership development opportunities. New City Urban Café opened its’ doors on July 13 of this year, serving wood-fired pizzas, soups, and salads made by high school student staff from New City Farm produce. The cafe also features baked goods made by the New City Bakery program, a job skills and leadership training program for middle school students.
 
Overall, in 2016 New City Neighbors hired 29 high school students to work in the farm, the bakery and the after school program. The farm and cafe is employing 15 high school students this summer, and will employ six during the school year. Additional, high school students will be employed in New City Neighbors' elementary afterschool and summer day camp programs. 
 
“Our employment and leadership opportunities are the first building blocks for their resumes and college applications. Being employed in high school gives students greater hope for future job prospects and encourages them to stay engaged in their education,” shares Alaina Dobkowski, executive director of New City Neighbors.
 
For New City Neighbors, the social enterprise model is not anything new. When Lance Kraai was hired as Farm Director for New City Urban Farm in 2012, the farm was an empty lot behind Fourth Reformed Church. Kraai saw the promise of possibility and life in the land. He saw the empty lot as an opportunity to help employ youth from the neighborhood, grow, harvest and sell  food for their community.  

New City Neighbors is located in a United States Department of Agriculture designated food desert in Grand Rapids. In other words, a significant large number of the neighborhood residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.   
 
The farm uses the community supported agriculture model to sell produce to 180 shareholders, while offering customers the option to pay with food stamps and participate in the Double Up Food Bucks program.
 
“We are able to create opportunities for families to access fresh produce that is grown in their own neighborhood,” explains Dobkowski.
 
New City Urban Café brings it all to full circle, shares Dobkowski. By adding a kitchen into the farm programming, employed youth are able to complete their journey from seed to plate.
 
“Growing leeks is one thing, but growing, cooking, and eating leeks is another. We also wanted to incorporate more cross-age partnership and mentoring. By bringing the kitchen work of the high school students and adding it to the existing bakery program of the middle school students, New City Cafe provides a space for students of different ages to work together and learn from each other,” says Joel Schramm, Farm & Kitchen Manager.
 
For Schramm, the success of the program has been due to the social enterprise model that allows for a  diversification of funding.
 
“While we work hard to create and maintain relationships with donors, the revenue stream of our enterprises gives us a little more financial sustainability. It is also possible that constantly considering things with a business perspective has been one of the aspects of our organization that has made us lean and responsible with our money,” says Schramm.
 
At New City Urban Café, you can expect middle and high school students learning job skills to provide every customer with a high quality product, served in a professional manner.  Outside, you will see a three-acre working farm with high school students learning to grow, and harvest produce. Inside, you will find dozens of elementary youth studying, building relationships, and having fun.
 
New City Urban Café is open every Thursday until August 10, 12-6:30 pm. The café is located on 1226 Union Avenue NE.

Michelle Jokish Polo is Rapid Growth's On The Ground Editor. To connect with Michelle, you can email her at michellejokisch@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

MetaFi: Local App developed to track mental health

There’s an app for that! We have all heard it, and while most new apps are finding elaborate new ways for you to pony up cash through an addictive game, there are still new apps aimed at bringing traditional services into the digital age.

The co-founders of MetaFi, a self-awareness app that supports mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and body awareness, are looking to bring some aspects of counseling to the digital age. Rapid Growth caught up with both co-founders Benjamin Reisterer MA, LPC and Tom Engelsman to chat about their new app and how it works.

The duo chose to build an app around mental health and emotion tracking because of experience, a frustration, and desire to help.

Reisterer says, “I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice here in Grand Rapids at Mindful Counseling GR. I was noticing that a common theme that, regardless of background, reason for coming in, etc., most of my clients were engaging the vast majority of their experiences from the neck up. Most people had very little awareness of how their body experienced emotions, relationships, day to day activities, etc. So I often found myself helping clients cultivate and be more aware of their own mind/body connection and then being able to take that information to spur positive change in their lives.

The body can often give us clues before we are cognitively aware of what is going on. It's kind of like foreshadowing in a book or movie; it's not outright telling you what is going on, but if you pay attention, you can get a pretty good idea. So through doing this work, I found myself looking for effective tools and didn't really find much that I was liking. So the idea for the app was born through that.”

With such a complicated subject matter as emotions, it can be difficult to find an easy way for users to learn and effectively use the app, yet MetaFi has found a way.

Engelsman states “Via a simple interface, you can identify your primary and secondary emotions, and visually locate where they are causing a sensation on a map of a body. You then apply tags for categorization, and can also attach notes. Over time, this collected data is visualized into a complete picture of your history of emotions, in the form of graphs and heatmaps. You can also filter by dates and compare time periods.”

Learning to help ourselves can seemingly add more work to our day, but Reister says that there is a benefit to tracking your emotions. “Many of our problems stem from our reactionary (knee-jerk, unconscious, etc.) behaviors, thoughts, and feelings," says Reisterer. "The more we can cultivate self-awareness around how we are reacting, the more ability we have to make an intentional and authentic response to something."

Both co-founders have ambitious goals for their new venture as Reisterer says, “I think the biggest goal for MetaFi is that it becomes a well known, reliable, and personalized tool for people to begin to cultivate self-awareness and approach themselves and their lives more mindfully.” 

An app that could have the potential to be heavily used and gain notoriety would send most teams to Silicon Valley or New York, but Reisterer says if the app gains popularity, the team would stay based in Grand Rapids. “The biggest reason is that this is home. I am married with three kids and we want to provide some stability in a part of the country that we feel is beautiful and that we have made some great relationships in. Additionally, I love the way my career as a counselor in private practice has been built here and the clients that I am honored to sit with every day,” he says.

The MetaFi team is already hard at work for their latest update of features. “In the near future we plan to expand the analytics side of MetaFi, allowing more comparisons to real-world events; for example, an upcoming feature is the ability to correlate emotions with weather patterns. In the long-term, we aim to become the gold standard for emotion tracking and mindfulness,” says Engelsman.

You can find the app available for download here on iOS and Android devices

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Lajanae Smith: Local artist and filmmaker

Grand Rapids is full of talented young people from all fields. It can be difficult to get around the Beer City USA moniker that we have found for ourselves, but there are some young people who are pushing to make Grand Rapids known for more than just beer.

The film industry can be as tough and cut throat as Wall Street itself, and it takes talent, persistence, and the right connections to make a dent. We are lucky to have a growing group of young filmmakers in our growing city that have chosen Grand Rapids as their home base.

One such person is Lajanae Smith, so we caught up with her to find out more about her travels, work, and why she chooses Grand Rapids as her home base.

RG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

LJS: I say that I am a filmmaker: I write, produce content on a short scale, and freelance crew in film production for feature films. The long term goal is to become a director and I plan to direct a short I wrote late this year. In creative work, I am an ideas person and I like to exercise my imagination. When working in the music scene, I do public relations for three artists that are my clients.  Sometimes my worlds collide and I meet major artists, Ty Dolla $ and Lizzo for example, that I want to consider acting for a movie I’ve been developing for the last year and a half so that’s always a fun conversation to entertain, Lizzo was into it…

RG: Why Grand Rapids as home base?

LJS: Grand Rapids is where I was born and raised. It’s where the majority of my family and friends are and even though I love visiting new places, GR is home. Over the last few years major changes have been taking place (so much construction!). I’ve since learned that what may equal positive change for a select few isn’t always positive change for all. If I didn’t get my start here I would not see myself trying to start anything here. GR has not always been inclusive. I haven’t always seen the change I want to see as an artist here in my hometown. I laude Carbon Stories and laFEM for who and what they are and do. 

So perhaps because the infrastructure to feature films doesn’t seem as accessible here already, I feel the need to be part of the change I want to see. To create community surrounding that idea and make opportunities and avenues for those that remind me of myself and want to collaborate. For them to see those possibilities for themselves and to tell new stories. If nothing else really just to believe in people.

RG: What potential do you see in Grand Rapids?

LJS: Currently there seems to be a lot of potential in Grand Rapids if you’ve been in line awhile. It’s difficult to play the long game and have patience when it feels like you’ve been waiting 400 years just to live freely and expressively create sans boundaries. Grand Rapids seems ripe for great change with the new technologies and innovation already taking place. I see we’re building leaders and the culture is shifting to better reflect metropolitan cities. We believe in family and children here and I genuinely think our kids are the future. 

RG: When you’re not traveling and working, what do you do for fun around the city?

LJS: I bike, I read, I love studying my field, I watch a lot of movies, enjoy time with friends and family. I Love Downtown GR and Movies in the Park. We have a few weekly watering holes for filmmakers that I frequent to catch up with people. My work is my passion and purpose so it’s very fun for me to work on projects I care about when I’m home.

RG: What are you currently working on?

LJS: Currently my main focus is the creative arts company Cinema Bijøn Enterprise that I’m launching mid-August. I’m planning a community-wide business and movie pitch at Chez Olga in Eastown so it’s a bit unconventional and scary but I know it’s needed and I’m very excited. Chez Olga is opening on a Sunday just for that and customizing a brunch menu with me, so that kind of creative collaboration with minority women and immigrant business owners has been a total blessing. After that I hope to freelance on two films shooting in GR and then heading down to Atlanta to finally collaborate with The House Of June, an independent arts production company founded exclusively by black women. I’ve been developing two projects with them since late 2015.

RG: Anything else you would like to tell us?

LJS: My hope for opportunities in the city include sharing more of my experiences/narrative on a city/communal level. Specifically, what it was like to experience Sundance and SXSW and to work on the movie Mudbound. Just to provide context and hopefully inspire people that want to embark these journey’s that anything is possible! 

Mudbound is already on Netflix’s website here

Lastly, Open Projector Night at the UICA has been an awesome opportunity for new and experienced Michigan Filmmakers. Everything we show is actually required to have a tie-in to Michigan. The last big show of the year is August 16 and I’d love to extend a personal invitation to those that haven’t been but are curious to come check us out!


Catching up with Smith was a breath of fresh air for another long time resident of the city. She sees the city through different lenses and knows Grand Rapids intimately, so she can speak about it with both critique and love. 

The words of James Baldwin come to mind when hearing Smith talk about her hopes for her industry’s growth in Grand Rapids, where Baldwin says “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually” 

Smith dishes it out as it is, and chooses everyday to stay and make a change. This city is lucky to have one Lajanae Smith, let’s hope she succeeds in inspiring more just like her.

The date for Smith’s “Hollywood Pitch & Brunch” is August 13th and will go from 11AM-3PM at Chez Olga in Eastown

Smith’s company Cinema Bijon Enterprise is a creative arts company focused on producing avant-garde digital multi-media content by and largely for women of color. Launched in 2017, founded in Grand Rapids, MI. The mission is to bring celebratory, thought-provoking stories to life in order to improve the self perception and external opinion of people of color. Specifically Black women. Respecting diversity in order to change our world for the better. These are new stories. 

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Grand Rapids Coffee Shop Guide

When Grand Rapidians are not out at the nearest brewery, they can usually be found at one of the many coffee shops that continue to pop up across the city.

Here is a short guide to all the local shops serving up a different kind of brew. Roasted beans and sweet treats are the way to a freelancer's heart. That and of course, very strong wifi. 

The Sparrows Coffee Tea and Newsstand - 1035 Wealthy St. SE
Cozy environment with plenty of seating for a long work session. Just a few steps away from local restaurants and The Meanwhile bar for those marathon work sessions that go late into the night. Its new West Side location is soon to open its doors at 442 Bridge St NW.

The Bitter End Coffeehouse - 752 West Fulton
A long standing classic study and work spot on the West Side, few things have changed at this beautiful location that is situated in a century-old bank building. 

Madcap Coffee - 98 Monroe Center NW
The favorite spot for all the downtown movers and shakers. Madcap is beautifully designed from its exterior down to its tea serving boards and pots. With two other locations at The Downtown Market and at 1041 East Fulton St., Madcap is everywhere, and if for some wild reason you haven’t been inside, just explore your instagram feed. A friend in your group has likely instagrammed their latte art...this week. 

Squibb Coffee & Wine Bar - 955 Wealthy St. SE
You read the correctly...AND wine bar. Sure, The Meanwhile is on the other block, but when you are settling into a good book or on a killer work streak, why break it with walking out? Especially during a harsh Michigan winter. (It’s never too early to say Winter Is Coming in Michigan)

Lightfast Coffee + Art Collective - 944 East Fulton St.
A selection of tasty baked goods, chocolates and art is a recipe for success for this newer coffee shop on Fulton Street.

Lantern Coffee Bar & Lounge - 100 Commerce SE
Art, cozy environment and some of the comfiest seats to sit back, forget about work and concentrate on a strong brew.

Mayan Buzz Cafe - 208 Grandville Ave SW
A stone’s throw from Founder’s Brewing and The Rapid Central Station, Mayan Buzz has long been the home for marathon work sessions thanks to their early and late hours. If you’re looking for something more be sure to head on Thursday nights for their open mic nights!

Rowsters Coffee - 632 Wealthy St. SE
Clean lines in design, strong coffee and regular art showings from local artists. Rowsters recently opened the Rowers Club on the West Side at 616 West Fulton to expand access to their delightful brews.

Ferris Coffee & Nut - 227 Winter Ave NW
With locations on both the West Side and downtown in the Trust Building, Ferris coffee carries all the treats and brews you could need for a relaxing time. 

Lyon St. Cafe - 617 Lyon St. NE
It is hard to beat a coffee shop nestled in the border of Midtown, that sources its treats from Nantucket Bakery and has Martha’s Vineyard just a few doors down. An excellent spot to work, meet and to just lose yourself in a tasty cup.

As always, if we missed your favorite spot let us know in the comments!

R.I.P. Kava House for all those who remember...but also check out That Early Bird

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Images courtesy of The Bitter End, Rowster, The Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newsstand, Mayan Buzz Cafe, MadCap Coffee, Lyon St. Cafe, Lantern Coffee Bar & Lounge, Squibb Coffee & Wine Bar


 

Thom McGuire: Music, Movies, and Hustle

When people think of music scenes their thoughts go to Nashville, Los Angeles, Miami, but too often the Midwest is left out, or so it seems. Talent is certainly in every state and city, but it takes a certain other level of talent to spot and guide music talents to the next level. Enter Thom McGuire of McGuire & Associates.

Thom McGuire has been in the entertainment industry all his life. Born in Washington D.C., McGuire then moved around the country from coast to coast working on movie sets and for music labels. All this led up to his last move 11 years ago when he made his way to Grand Rapids.

McGuire certainly has the pedigree and chops of a music industry veteran. Tag on his uncanny likeness to industry titan Rick Rubin (it’s all in the beard!) and McGuire stands out in the local Grand Rapids music scene. McGuire has been managing talent off and on for years through McGuire & Associates and has specialized in taking talent from local to a regional stage and beyond.

Grand Rapids has certainly always had a healthy music scene, whether it was through traditional music venues or house shows, musicians have been filling this city with life for decades.

Before the inception of Founder’s Fest or even the Pyramid Scheme, there were shows held at the now defunct Skeletones and The Five-One. Both were all-age venues that served the alternative music in the early 2000s. With their passing, bands found venues and outlets through the DAAC (Division Avenue Arts Collective) and a growing number of smaller venues like The Upper Room

Local bands can also find their sound at house shows and smaller venues, and have carved out an even bigger local scene for themselves with events like the Lamp Light Music Festival which is comprised of a weekend of multiple house venues hosting a mix of local artists from the region. 

McGuire says, “The local music scene is needed and I certainly underestimated it when I move here from L.A 11 years ago.” McGuire has since begun taking on talent full time through McGuire & Associates and is looking to help bring local talent “from the street to the elite” as is the tagline for McGuire & Associates. 

McGuire recognizes and believes in the talent that Grand Rapids continues to turn out, so he has put one more iron in the fire, namely his new group West Michigan Industry Professionals.

“This city has so much talent, and it just keeps growing. If we all got out of our silos and worked together we can make so much more,” says McGuire about the meetup group, which he describes as a more relaxed might to get to know each other over a few drinks at a local bar. 

McGuire & Associates is available to take on talent for regional growth, providing management and booking services as well hourly as services.

With more people like McGuire turning their eye to Grand Rapids and West Michigan in general, it won’t be long before we will have to add music to our “Beer City” billboards. 

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Images courtesy of 
Thom McGuire.

The Matthew Agency: Modeling In the Heart of Downtown West Michigan

Are you Grand Rapids next top model?

The Matthew Agency, founded nine years ago by photographer Jerrad Matthew, has prevailed as the go-to talent and modeling agency in Grand Rapids. Throughout the years, the agency has increased its clientele base to include some of Grand Rapids’ top international businesses.

In a recent turn of events, the agency was acquired by local businesswoman Kelly Koning. When the opportunity presented itself, Koning could not pass up the opportunity. The acquisition will be a marked shift from her previous venture, a logistics company, where she ran the business with her husband.

“My previous experiences mesh with the needs of the Matthew Agency, alongside with my degree in international business and past work in Barcelona for global fashion brand Desigual, allow me a solid working foundation in the industry,” says Koning.

The Matthew Agency represents talent from Grand Rapids, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

“We take great pride in assisting our vendors with professionally scouted, diverse talent of age, ethnicity, and body size of today's communities. We seek to always represent ourselves well within this community and on all job sites,” adds Koning when asked about what the agency stands to uphold moving onward.

Since the acquisition was official at the beginning of June, Koning has had time at the reigns to analyze and set goals for the near future.

“We are scouting more models to join our agency and our open call will be next month, July 12, at our office in McKay Towers Suite 422.”

Koning says that on her list of objectives is to “..to be on the forefront of celebrating diversity, non-discrimination, and body positivity…a place that radiates positivity and celebrates everyone!” She adds, “We celebrate all types of beauty at The Matthew Agency and I hope that shows in our diverse base of models and talents currently signed.”

According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, U.S.-based women business owners generate $1.4 trillion in sales and employ nearly 7.9 million people.Also, more than 9.1 million firms are owned by women.

We ask Koning what, if any, obstacles present themselves for a woman business owner in West Michigan. “Owning and running a small local business takes a lot of fortitude and there are always hurdles that present themselves in growing and expanding. I am confident that by nurturing existing relationships [and] building new lasting relationships while continuing to be a leader in local talent, we can contribute to the vibrant and exciting growth in West Michigan. I believe so strongly in our Grand Rapids community and the power that lies in supporting local,” answers Koning.

You can follow The Matthew Agency on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with their handle @matthewagency.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Some Like It Hot: Outdoor Eats

Mother nature is certainly making up for lost time with the weather we have been having lately. Forecast shows that we will be enjoying this for some time to come.

So get out there and enjoy this beautiful weather with the best outdoor eating spaces our city has to offer.

Taqueria San Jose -1338 Division Ave S
Nestled in the heart of the southside. Offers authentic Mexican cuisine.

Sundance Grill - 151 Ottawa Ave NW
Right smack in the middle of downtown’s Center City.

Donkey Taqueria - 665 Wealthy St SE
Nestled in the Wealthy St Business district. Offers Authentic Mexican cuisine.

Creston Brewery - 1504 Plainfield Ave NE
Hard to go wrong with beer and an eclectic food menu.

Parsley Mediterranean Grill - 80 Ottawa Ave NW
An outdoor seating area with one of the best views of the city. Right across from the GRAM and Madcap Coffee.

Palace of India - 138 Fulton St E
Located right on Fulton Street. If you find yourself sweating from the spice, just grab a table outside and blend in with the rest of the city making their way through this heat.

Marie Catrib’s - 1001-1003 Lake Dr SE
Still offering some of the best deli meals in East Hills, or better known as the Center of the Universe.

The Old Goat - 2434 Eastern Ave SE
Located in the growing Alger Heights district.

Iron - 25 Ottawa Ave SW
Right in the middle of the Arena district. Offering contemporary takes on comfort food.

Slows BBQ - 435 Ionia Ave SW
Located in the Downtown Market.

Social Kitchen & Bar - 435 Ionia Ave SW
Located in the Downtown Market.

Terra GR - 1429 Lake Dr SE
A locally sourced farm to table restaurant nestled in East Hills.

Founder’s Brewery - 235 Grandville Ave SW
If you are reading this and you have not had a meal and drink on Founder’s outdoor seating, you are missing out on more than just a good time. You are missing a rite of passage for any Grand Rapidian.

If you have reached the bottom of this list and are currently scoffing, please join us in the comments section and share your favorite outdoor seating restaurants, food trucks, or secret summer bbq pop-ups across the city.

Happy Hunting!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Summer jobs roundup

Summer is here with it comes all the fun and games, but remember to always keep your eyes on the latest job opportunities.

Grab a cold drink, sit outside, and take a look at some of the latest opportunities the city has to offer.

Habitat For Humanity

Site Supervisor: The Site Supervisor oversees and works directly with volunteers and home
buyer families to provide instruction while ensuring site safety and producing a positive Habitat site experience. This position will also manage the warranty program with existing homeowners, as well as work on educational builds alongside students and instructors.

Send resumes by June 16, 2017 to hr@habitatkent.org

Neighborhood Resident Development Manager: The NRDM is called to serve as Habitat Kent’s “ambassador” to the community and serves as the communications liaison between the selected neighborhood and HFHKC. The Manager will be responsible for overseeing and implementing resident-driven community planning processes and neighborhood outreach and engagement strategies to ensure that the voice of the community is heard and their potential maximized to create a real and long-term impact.

Send cover letter and resume by Friday, June 16, 2017 to hr@habitatkent.org

Corporate Relations Manager: The Corporate Relations Manager seeks to build transformational relationships with corporate and business partners to further the mission of Habitat Kent. This position is responsible for building on an existing donor-centered data-driven strategy to prospect, cultivate, solicit, and steward gifts from corporate and business partners.The Corporate Relations Manager works closely in collaboration with the Resource Development team, Volunteer Services, and Gift in Kind to ensure business and corporate partners are being engaged on many levels, that Habitat is sharing meaningful stories, authentically thanking those who support Habitat Kent’s mission, and reporting successes and challenges. Habitat Kent’s Resource Development team is focused on a collaborative, organization-wide approach to fundraising with integrity, creativity, and transparency guiding our decision making.

This is a full-time exempt position. Please send resume/cover letter by Friday, June 30, 2017 to hr@habitatkent.org.

Managing Director of Operations: The Managing Director of Operations at Habitat Kent is a newly created position within the organization. The Managing Director will provide key leadership and overall strategic and operational responsibility for four key departments that make up significant components of the affiliate’s operations (Construction, Volunteer Services, ReStore, and Material Recovery).

Send resume/cover letter by June 30, 2017 to hr@habitatkent.org

Cultural Intelligence Center

Client Services Coordinator: The Client Services Coordinator will provide informative, helpful customer service for all customers, and administrative and day-to-day support to the company’s corporate segment and certification programs.

City of Grand Rapids

Administrative Analyst I - Neighborhood Connector: This position is responsible for providing a variety of administrative support services to a department head or other administrative position. The work includes providing staff liaison to the various departmental divisions and programs, outside agencies, and the media. The work is performed under the general supervision of a department head or administrative position. The employees may supervise subordinate support staff.

Apply here

Administrative Analyst II - Legislative: This is advanced professional work providing a variety of administrative support services to the City Manager or Assistant City Manager and department heads. The work includes providing staff liaison to the various city departments and programs, outside agencies, and the media. The work is performed under the managerial direction of the City Manager or Assistant City Manager.

Apply here

Administrative Analyst II Sustainability: This is advanced professional work providing a variety of administrative support services to the City Manager or Assistant City Manager and department heads. The work includes providing staff liaison to the various city departments and programs, outside agencies, and the media. The work is performed under the managerial direction of the City Manager or Assistant City Manager.

Apply here

Keep your resumes updated, your interview skills sharp, and your game up!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Elevator Up partners with SightLine Display to enhance digital offerings.

Design is all around us, whether it’s the phone we are reading this on, the car we ride, or even the shoelaces we tie every day (if you still wear velcro straps good for you! That’s a biomimicry design at its best.)

Design includes everything from the spacing on our steps, the material of the handrail, down to the stickers and signs we see at the grocery store.

For years companies like SightLine Display have designed and supplied consumer brands and retailers with effective retail signage for everything from produce to clothing. An entire sale can depend on the right signage. Whether the customer notices the colorful display, or is able to quickly see the price and find the best deal, it all affects the sale.

It may not sound needed or worthwhile, but during times when marketing is being pushed to smaller platforms like Snapchat with seconds of exposure, even older industries must adapt or die.

So will the small stickers and signage you see at department and grocery stores become tiny screens that flash prices and deals? Not exactly; those signs and stickers are purchased in bulk and are often purchased as a carefully designed set of signage systems for displaying inventory.

These sets can be incredibly dense and extensive, so imagine you are the owner of a small grocery store and you want to upgrade your signage for your new expansion, or you are the owner of a small chain of department stores and need signage for all your items in all of your stores.

If you think this is a tall task, imagine all the work it takes to design, organize, and then sell those signage systems. The work becomes even harder for the signage company when they seek to help the client make the best purchase and feel satisfied. Now this may all seem very uneventful and seem like the last business idea one would pitch—after all everyone wants to be the next Facebook, Google, or Snapchat. But for every every flashy startup,there is a silent giant like Oracle: a company that provides database management systems, essentially the equivalent of owning the construction company instead of the new popular restaurant.

SightLine Display recently reached out to local company Elevator Up to improve their offering and platform. Where once the options were displayed in large binders full of images to sift through, clients now have a streamlined experience to the full offering of signage solutions.

“Partnering with Elevator Up has helped us clarify our product and service offerings...This new platform makes our custom products and services available to a wider audience.” said Steve Cole, CEO of Sightline in a press release.

SightLine Display’s new e-commerce platform, that was developed in partnership with Elevator Up can be viewed here.

Elevator Up has formed an ongoing partnership to continue to enhance SightLine’s product and service offerings. Extensive customer experience research allowed Elevator Up to develop custom solutions for SightLine’s integrated inventory management. This paired with SightLine’s use of rapid prototyping has allowed the business to move forward at a new pace.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s Innovation and Jobs Editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Malamiah Juice Bar: Mobile Juice Bar For The Win

The news is not the only thing that is on a 24-hour cycle. As our city continues to grow and more transplants move to Grand Rapids, our city is staying up later and waking up earlier. Whether it’s a busier work schedule, events, or longer commutes, our time gets squeezed from different ends. Combine a busy schedule with a dash of stress, and you have the recipe for poor eating habits.

Surely there’s nothing wrong with a bit of comfort food every now and then, but it can be hard to stay healthy when we live fast lives and need food fast, but we don’t want fast-food. There is always the super trendy Soylent option for those on the tech vanguard, but with only two flavors, it can be lacking at times.

For almost four years, Malamiah Juice Bar has provided the downtown area with convenient fresh juices and smoothies. After a win at the local entrepreneurial pitch competition 5x5 Night last winter, the team is ready to launch their latest division of their business. A mobile juice bar will be hitting the streets soon to provide juice to those who find themselves just a bit out of walking distance from the Downtown Market.

Malamiah Mobile Juice Bar wants to provide its array of products to a wider audience by bringing the juice...literally.

We caught up with co-owner Jermale Eddie to get the scoop on the latest addition to the business.

When we last touched base there was talk of a food truck, why the change to bikes?

We recognized that the prize money that we won was just a drop of "juice in the cup" compared to the actual cost of a truck, equipment, and permits. We wanted to be true to the concept of "going mobile" like we stated, we just did it in a smarter and more economical way...kind of outside the box—like we normally do things. When it’s all said and done, we pitched, we won, we refined ,and we bought a bike! Juice + Bike = A Healthy Lifestyle Business that is visible in the community.

What area will you be covering with the bike(s)? Will you be riding it yourself?

At this time, I am piloting just this one bike to see how things go. I am able to post up at one location within the downtown area, but I can actually drive it around the rest of Grand Rapids. We originally planned to use our bike to attend special events. However, depending on the demand, we may be out and about more than we thought. We also hope to pop up on the Lakeshore and other area of West Michigan as requested. It’s a good way to test the market. We may also use it to get into some business, office, and home deliveries.

Will it have a regular route and time?

Not at this time, but we are about the community. If the community wants more Malamiah, then hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Email or stop in at our shop in the Downtown Market to let us know!

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the Mobile Juice Bar this summer as they ride through the city offering freshly squeezed juice.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Pop Up Shop: Can't Knock The Hustle

With nearly six months under her belt, entrepreneur Tova Jones has successfully launched her concept business that targets the e-commerce retail market.

A brick and mortar store for online retailers who want to offer a showing of their items, but either cannot or do not wish to rent a permanent space, The Pop Up Shop is a common occurrence in major markets, and Jones has taken the concept and added her own approach as she brought it here to Grand Rapids.

When asked what inspired Jones to create the Pop Up Shop, she responds “I got the idea actually from owning a plus size e-commerce clothing business. I noticed that when I was a part of vendor opportunities I made more money because the consumer could feel the product, try it on, and meet the face behind the brand. I looked high and low in west Michigan, actually Michigan period to find storefront space that could be rented out to sell product short term, and had no luck. So my husband and I decided to be the change that we wanted to see. We found a great downtown location and the Pop Up Shop became a reality.”

Jones’ location at 315 S. Division places the Pop Up shop right in the Avenue for the Arts along many other local businesses. She says the Pop Up Shop has hosted “...bridal pop up shops, bakery pop up shops, a Detroit-based African Clothing brand, lularoe pop up shops... we've had CD releases, handcrafted jewelry, and even a dog Treat Pop up shop! We also have community meetings in our space and small listening parties.

The options are limitless. We are hoping to attract businesses who are looking to add pop up shops to their branding and business model. And more artists, we would love to see our space used as a small gallery. Our goal is to help expand the brands of e-commerce business owners artist and musicians.”

Although the location offers a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs, it also gives Jones the opportunity to interact with an array of different businesses. “I love seeing the excitement in their faces when the talk about their businesses. I love bouncing ideas about how to have a successful pop up shop and even easing some of their concern. I just love the synergy,” says Jones.

The Pop Up Shop is now taking bookings for June-August. To schedule a walkthrough, you may visit their website at www.popupshopgr.com or you can email the team at grpopupshop@gmail.com with any questions.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

The Women's Resource Center: Providing pathways to self-sufficiency and success

We all enter the workforce at different ages and with different backgrounds. There is of course the tale of a young Warren Buffett and his paper route where he displayed a high business acumen at such an early age. The young Buffett made sure to write off his bicycle on his taxes because of its use during his paper route.

Now, we all know what that young boy grew up to be, and the legend he has become. The Oracle of Omaha is now worth just under $74 Billion and is considered to be one of the world’s most savvy businesspeople. No one would deny that Buffett was born with an innate gift for business, but we cannot overlook the time and systems of privileges that allowed him to use his full talent and hard work to achieve and overcome.

It is very easy to look at those from our community that have fallen on hard times or were born into systems of perpetual structural violence and disadvantage, and not see talent, potential, or passion. Yet it is there, and time and time again we are reminded of those of us that rise from adversity. In big ways and in smaller ways, whether it is a mega star like Oprah Winfrey or a home grown star like Latesha Lipscomb, the talent is there alongside all the barriers.

Grand Rapids is fortunate to have a team of dedicated and talented people at the Women’s Resource Center, and a newly named CEO in Sandra Gaddy. The proverb states it takes a village to raise a child, yet in many ways when we live in community with each other it should be better said it takes a village to raise a person.

When entering or re-entering the workforce it can feel daunting and scary, and many try to go at it alone not knowing that no one ever makes it completely on their own. Behind every successful person there is a long story; the successful stand on the shoulders of their mentors, coaches, sponsors, family, network, and friends.

This is what the Women’s Resource Center provides for its members, and they take it to heart. Newly appointed CEO Sandra Gaddy refers to herself as the newest member of the team, and speaks about how it takes the entire team, at times other program members, to empower each and every woman in the program.

Gaddy says “Our purpose is simple yet powerful. We empower local women to become economically self sufficient and improve their lives through career development, meaningful employment, and powerful growth.”
Servant leadership shows itself at the core of this amazing team, where they have several pathways aimed to empower and uplift women.

The Empower Pathway “..helps women who are in a life transition to move toward economic self-sufficiency by providing career and life skill development” states the organization’s website, and is provided by professional staff Career Coaches.

The Women Mentoring Women Pathway provides “caring volunteer mentors who offer one-on-one advice and encouragement while developing a personalized plan of action with each participant.” states the organization’s website

The New Beginnings Pathway operates with the “understanding that incarceration presents unique challenges for future job seekers, and provides enhanced gender-responsive mentoring services to women at Kent County Jail pre-release and up to 18 months post-release. Offering one-on-one and/or group mentoring, employability assessments coupled with individual employment development plans, employability and life skills workshops, job placement and retention assistance, and strength-based case management services to connect returning women with collaborative community partners for substance abuse and mental health treatment, education/training, housing and basic needs, and other services critical to their successful community reentry.” states the organization’s website.

If these programs were not already multi-faceted, the center also provides: a business center, computer classes, resume coaching, a seeking employment together- support group, interviewing techniques, resume writing, personal finance management, a working women’s clothing closet - where you can pick out a full work outfit, a divorce information workshop, and a scholarship program available for the women participating in the intensive program and is designed to assist women in becoming economically self-sufficient.

Gaddy adds “Not everyone comes to the Resource Center at the same time and place in their lives and careers,” so the center has a diverse set of resources to overcome the barriers and challenges that women often encounter.

I have no doubt of the quality of work that the Women’s Resource Center provides, but I do know that a team can always use more players for the long game. If you fancy yourself a leader or a skilled teammate, consider looking at the growing talent at the Women’s Resource Center and reach out to the team to learn more how you can continue to lead by having a hand in inspiring and growing more leaders.

If you want to become a participant or are unsure if the Women’s Resource Center is right for you and would like to learn more please reach out to the team here. Take Gaddy’s words to heart “We empower local women..”, and indeed they have, are doing so, and will continue to do so.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Underground shows and podcasts: The new way to discover music and the artist's that make it

Startups have been shaking things up for decades. We see them more visibly now and refer to them as startups, more prominently tech startups, but they have always been at the core of innovation in our society.

The startup is of course comprised of individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset, strong work ethic, and passion. These are our society’s disruptors, innovators, and most unique individuals.

Grand Rapids is no stranger to entrepreneurs, but the latest wave of innovators usually look towards the San Francisco Bay, NYC, or even secondary markets like Austin or Boulder. Still, even among the innovators, there is unique innovation and radical thinking.

Enter those transplants that come to Grand Rapids that thrown down roots to collaborate and innovate to fulfill their passions. This passion drives them to face failure everyday, and the slate can be wiped at any moment.

Necessity is the mother of innovation, and our city is beginning to fill with talented individuals eager to make Grand Rapids their canvas.

The concept of a house show is not new, but at its core is the spirit of innovation. Where a house show does away with the traditional venue and all the fees that come with it, and instead uses a house as the venue for a more economical and intimate production. The same is true for podcasts. With high barriers of entry for both venue shows and radio broadcasting, entrepreneurs sought ways to get out their material. In the same vein, our city has seen a growth of house shows, to the success of The Lamp Light Music Festival and the rise of more Grand Rapids based podcasts, like Super Hungry The Podcast.

Virginia Anzengruber, host of Super Hungry The Podcast, has made Grand Rapids her home base and has begun to use different ways to reach a wider audience and provide unique content.

This past weekend, Anzengruber hosted a secret pop-up show and podcast on the Southside of the city where she hosted local rapper Lady Ace Boogie of “Feel Good Music” fame. The mix of an interview and a live show was punctuated by questions from the audience and performances of unreleased material for the lucky few.

When asked about why the she used the unique format, Anzengruber replied: “I love the intimacy of house shows, and am inspired by the people of at SoFar Sounds (Sounds from a Room), who curate some of the best and most intimate shows I've ever been to. I wanted to sort of recreate that vibe with this event. The small, intimate audience brought the exact atmosphere I was hoping would organically happen. I think it really comes across in the recording.”

The show was intimate, allowing the audience to see and hear Lady Ace Boogie in ways that a traditional venue could not grant. Under the advisory of local music mainstay Thom McGuire, president of the West Michigan Entertainment Industry Professionals, Anzengruber presented a viable new formula for the growing underground music scene in Grand Rapids. With advisory from McGuire, who himself worked with the band Journey, it seems that Anzengruber’s efforts will be well guided.

Anzengruber added: “I've been to tons of house shows...I knew it was something I wanted to do, and I think Lady Ace Boogie is such a dynamically talented performer that I knew we'd be able to create something special. Having an audience's energy to pull from really makes a difference. It's like any live show—it only exists between the people who were actually there.”

Though a singular experience, Anzengruber did capture the entire event for her next episode of Super Hungry The Podcast, which will be dropping soon. With a great show in the books we asked what was next for Anzengruber as she seeks to continue to expand formats she tells us:

“I’m currently in the funding/pre-production phase for my next project, an expansion of the Super Hungry brand. While the podcast focuses on the lives of working, or "Not-So Starving Artists"; the new project, a six-episode YouTube series, is called Super Hungry: Conversations from the Kitchen and will explore the intersection of food and storytelling. Highlighting some of the best and most inspired chefs in our nation’s mitten. Super Hungry: Conversations from the Kitchen will dissect and engage the viewer in the ephemeral Art of the Meal. I'm also going to be offering my Podcasting 101: The Basics and Podcasting 201: The Details workshops again through a collaboration with Avenue for the Arts.

Grand Rapids is mixing it up, and you will miss out if you don’t stop and smell the roses. The person next to you in the coffee shop or on the bus could be the host or creator of the city’s underground scene.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

BedBud alarm: Put an end to sleeping in

Our weather is here, then there, then back again. What is consistent is that we are having longer days of sun. The morning at 7 a.m. looks a lot different then it did a few months ago, and like the saying says, early to bed early to rise makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise. I’ve been waking up at 4:45 a.m. for a while now and I still haven’t seen my wealth grow. Maybe the growth in my wisdom will make me realize how wealthy in experience I am. Afterall, I was paid in experience from all those internships!

Whether it is waking up early for health reasons, for productivity, or because you absolutely have to get to work, you most likely utilize an alarm clock. The alarm clock is simple, it always tells the time, and at certain times it alerts you of that time. The problem here really is us, the human variable. We whine, we procrastinate, and we don’t wake up the first time! The solution is really simple: sleep earlier and get enough sleep, and you will naturally wake up on time.

Oh if it were only that easy, so inventors see a problem to fix. They toil away and look for the most effective solution. Some are very effective but are not so, how can we put this delicately...they are not the way you would imagine waking up peacefully from a deep slumber.

Enter the BedBud Alarm, the latest device from the now Grand Rapids-based company AtLast Industries.

President of AtLast Industries, Don Rhoads says “The BedBud Alarm allows the user to finally take control of their morning routine. Many individuals have the drive to wake up and start their mornings, but have the terrible problem of hitting the snooze and going back to sleep.”

So here is how it all works: you place the BedBud between your mattress and boxspring, let it calibrate its sensors to the weight of the bed, and then just pull out the easy-to-use app to set your weekly alarm schedule.

No need to set eight different alarms to wake you up! We all know someone who does this...or maybe it’s you!

Excited to give it a try? AtLast’s press release tells us that “the Kickstarter campaign will go live May 2017. The best way to make sure that you get the early bird pricing is to go to our website sign up for our newsletter. Anyone signed up for the newsletter prior to launch and who backs the BedBud within the first 48hrs, will be up for a chance to win a free run of the product!”

Summer seems to be trying to peek its head around the corner, so don’t miss any more sunlight and get up early!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Envoy secures Grand Trunk to B2B Platform

Local company Envoy has been making the news lately with continued growth and moves to their new space on the westside. The local business community is happy to hear that Envoy is back in the news again with another exciting announcement!
From Envoy’s press release: “Grand Trunk, makers of renowned adventure, travel, camping, and beach accessories, has adopted Envoy as its B2B platform.”

This is great news for the ever growing business community in Grand Rapids, as another startup continues to show strong and steady growth.

Envoy is a technology company providing innovative wholesale B2B software solutions for content and commerce, and is designed to help footwear and apparel companies create dynamic content, increase sales, grow their wholesale channels, and raise their market strategies.

From Envoy’s press release: “Grand Trunk will be using Envoy Core to unify their B2B processes and fuel growth, while providing valuable feedback on the specific demands a growing company will have for its B2B platform.”

"Our new Envoy Core offering is really exciting for us. It's an opportunity for growing companies to take advantage of the same powerful tools and benefits found in our enterprise edition. Envoy Core gets these growing brands out of using an xls sheet to capture orders and a PDF to tell their story, and gives them a destination to invite their buyers into a modern purchasing and showroom experience," says CEO Jon Faber.

With similarities to Swedish-based, but Grand Rapids present software company Configura, Envoy has found an elegant solution to a problem within an industry that has been previously overlooked. In a Jobsian approach, Envoy has simplified an antiquated process that tech has overlooked and that businesses have not noticed could not only be improved, but revolutionized.

If you are reading this news and are currently living in Grand Rapids, our city is shaking things up!

If you are a Grand Rapids expat reading this elsewhere, then you might want to reconsider that move. Grand Rapids is showing little sign of slowing down.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Tallysheet: Clearing out the Headache from Clearing out your stuff

The weather is getting nicer, and you are a little late on your spring cleaning. You call your friends and they are in the same predicament. Thank goodness for friends! So you all decide to gather up your extra things you have from your spring cleaning and have a big sale!

If you have ever managed a multi-seller garage sale, you already know the headache that this can bring. If you have never managed one, just take a look at the image below for the nightmare that awaits you.

That is all in the past thanks to a West Michigan based startup, husband and wife duo Holly and Brian Anderson, otherwise known as Tallysheet.

“The traditional process of tracking how much each seller has earned in a multi-family garage sale is really time-consuming and antiquated. It usually involves peeling price tags off each item and sticking them on a poster board or notebook. Then adding up all those tags at the end of the sale. I kept thinking ‘There has to be a better way to do this!’" says Holly Anderson.

After hearing and experiencing the same problem again and again within their friend group, the Andersons decided to do something about it. Brian, a VP at local digital agency Brightly, and Holly, a Project Manager at Haworth, put their skills together to knock out an app ideation, creation, and launch in record time.

Sitting down in May of last year to ideate and prototype, they worked throughout the summer during their free time and were able to launch by September 2016.

The app does it all and with slick design for simple user interface. When asked about their favorite feature they created for the app the Andersons said, “I love that multiple cashiers can each be using their own phone to simultaneously checkout customers, and they can be anywhere in the garage—not stuck at a table behind a cash box.

Another great feature is that cashiers can run real-time reports at anytime to see how much they've earned. After all the hard work of pulling the garage sale together, it's really rewarding to see that total going up!”

You would expect these features and design type to be a product of a Silicon Valley startup or a top prospect fresh out of Y-Combinator, but we have the talent right here in West Michigan.

The app has seen the most installs and growth in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. It is safe to say that this app has gone global, showing that West Michigan has more than just manufacturing under its sleeve.

So we asked the Andersons if this cool new app is meant for just garage sales and they let us know that “in addition to garage sales and estate sales, we've seen people use it for all kinds of multi-seller events like craft sales, bake sales, fruit and vegetable stands, and multi-level marketing parties and shows [e.g. ThirtyOne bags, Premier Jewelry, etc.]. We've found that it's applicable across a broad market of sales events.”

Well you heard it here first folks, put away the dry erase board and the cash security box, and jump into the future with Tallysheet!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

5x5 Night: On the road at The Downtown Market

If you haven’t made your way out to a 5x5 Night by now, I feel bad for your back; it’s been achingly supporting the rock you’ve been living under for the last 5 years. Truly painful. We have some great chiropractors here in the city that can take a look at that.

This past Tuesday was another installment of Start Garden’s 5x5 Night: On the Road series. The team headed down to the Downtown Market with five contestants to hear their pitches, rub elbows with the entrepreneurial community, and to of course eat and drink amazing offerings from the market.

This installment had a bit of everything. The pitches included a board game, a community development, a fashion line, a food company, and a mobile app.

Nathan Straathof presented his idea “Unlabeled: Blind Beer Tasting Game” where cards were matched to flights of beer to taste and show off your fledgling Cicerone skills.

Maurice Townsend presented his vision for “Motown Square,” a community of affordable and mixed-use housing on the southside of the city.

Rhoda Klomega presented her business “Delasie,” a fashion line emphasizing fitted clothing that lifts your confidence.

Hannah Johnson presented her business “Spera Foods,” a nut-alternative food that uses a tasty root vegetable called the tigernut.

Jeffrey Boore presented his untitled idea for an app that provides meal planning and grocery shopping, and is also a cooking guide.

Each presenter drew the audience in with their charisma, and impressed everyone with market research, but it may have been the fashion model line up that did it for Klomega and her fashion company, Delasie.

The judges awarded Delasie with the coveted check for $5,000, provided by Start Garden, and an additional $5000 in legal services from Varnum LLP, a Michigan law firm based in Grand Rapids. The $5000 in legal services will go a long way in helping this fashion startup grow as they seek to hire new staff due to continued demand and growth.

If you missed this installation of 5x5 Night you can’t afford to miss the next one. Be sure to stay updated here for the next event!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Podcasting 101: The art of listening and conversing with Virginia Anzengruber

Do you have a long commute? A boring job? Insomnia? It’s likely that you have filled that never-ending void in time by listening to a few podcasts, and if you have only listened to a few, or none at all, you are missing out on a whole new world of storytelling and journalism. We are living in the golden age of storytelling, in the form of both television and podcasting, and life has been good.

 

Our ever growing city has already sprouted its own podcasts that have garnered cult followings: The Have Company podcast, West Michigan Indie, and Entrepreneurial Gold, to name just a few. To add more fertilizer to the soil, this past Wednesday, April 26, Virginia Anzengruber, host of Super Hungry the Podcast, shared her podcasting knowledge, thanks to a partnership with the Avenue for the Arts. Anzengruber is one of the founding members of Snowball Studios, the commercial and podcasting wing of the Grand Rapids-based Snow Monster Studios.

 

“I think that the accessibility of podcasts, like many other art forms, has made them so popular. You can listen to them on your phone, online, or download them like music. There are so many that are directed at such specific interests that it's like curating conversations and lessons to your exact taste.” says Anzengruber

 

The free event took place at Snowball Studios, located at 222 Division Ave. South. Where a panel of podcasters Lucy Diamond, Mary Harrington, and Darren Gibson from both Women Libs and Southpaws respectively, fielded questions and shared their experiences with the packed room.

 

Anzengruber, who now lives in Grand Rapids, brought her talents from her home state of Florida to Los Angeles, where she started Super Hungry the Podcast, and has since brought on such guests as Aaron Carter, Tom Wilson, Jim O’Heir, and Brian McKnight...yes, that Brian McKnight!

 

“I feel that for me personally, podcasting has helped me hone my voice and point of view," Anzengruber says. "I've always been a mouthier sort of gal, and I love that I've created a show that is my exact voice and taste, and that people are actually listening and enjoying it. It's such a thrill to connect with fans and listeners, whether that be live shows or on the internet. I am absolutely in love with having a genuine connection with other people, and Super Hungry the Podcast has made that so much easier for me to do that.”

 

Since the last comedy boom, aspiring comedians started to look at where Saturday Night Live and Late Night hired from. All signs pointed to Improve Olympics (iO), The Groundlings, Upright Citizens Brigade, and Second City. All these comedy troupes soon became the farm teams for the comedy big leagues as soon as the blueprint was out.

 

As they grew in popularity, comedy troupes began experiencing a new phenomenon...corporate types. Gasp! These suit and tie types started popping up more and more at comedy troupes and open mic nights. The Freakonomics of the phenomenon was that companies started realizing the valuable skill set that stand-up comedians and improv-sketch comedians were forming. These same skills were needed by their CEOs, vice presidents, and executive level employees. So off to the dark comedy cellars they went!

 

In the same vein, companies challenge their middle management and leadership to go through career development to improve productivity and effectiveness. To be an effective leader you need a few distinct qualities, including the ability to actively listen and the ability to be intentional. Coincidentally, these are also the qualities that make a great podcast host.

 

A podcaster must be able to listen actively, take mental notes, read tone changes or facial queues, be comfortable one-on-one, and be able to carry the conversation. All good qualities for a manager or supervisor right?

 

Anzengruber encourages those interested in podcasting, saying, “Don't be afraid to use your voice. Once you find it -- use it. The worst that can happen is that someone will disagree with you. The best thing that can happen is that you can connect with someone.”

 

Wednesday's event was completely attended by would-be podcasters, whether they planned on starting a storytelling podcast (more murder mystery please!) or an aftershow podcast (The Wire: we need it; contact me; I will co-host) or they were looking to increase their already growing podcast base. As was the case for the ladies of This Podcast is Haunted who attended the event. "It was so good to see that there are other people doing the same thing and trying to grow," says Jen Vos of This Podcast is Haunted.

 

Curious to learn more about Anzengruber’s work? You can check out her podcast here.


Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Bust out the shades: Ten ways to make the most of this spring in (and around) Grand Rapids

Michigan weather can be quite capricious, but lately it has been consistently feeling like spring is here to stay.

 

So put away the boots, heavy coats and wool socks, and bust out the shades, sneakers and short sleeves. Spring has arrived, and we have the must-hit spots and activities for you during this warm weather.

 

West Michigan Trails and Greenways

With such an extensive network of trails at our disposal it would be a shame--no, a crime--if you did not find your way to the trails this spring. Walk, bike, run, or even skate your way out there! If you are looking for a closer ride you can launch from Riverside Park on the north side of the city or you can head to the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail from the west side.

 

Taqueria San Jose

This taqueria’s aesthetic is hard to beat. A throwback to the diner drive-in days, Taqueria San Jose is always packed as soon as the temperature heats up. Right off of both the Rapid 1 or Silver Line route, this southside gem will not disappoint. Find your way inside the cozy restaurant to make your order, but be sure to save a seat outside to get the full experience. Want to check out other restaurants where you can soak in the sun while eating? This comprehensive list has tons of good suggestions.

 

Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium - Grand Rapids Public Museum

This choice might sound counterproductive, but just hear me out for a bit. These tickets are just $5 ($4 if you purchased a general admission to the museum), which is a drop in the bucket compared to the $58 million price tag SpaceX is asking for a ride into the stars. Just a quick walk over the bridge into the westside will literally take you into a whole new world. (OK, so figuratively, but as close to literal as possible. Asymptotically close for all you math nerds out there!)

 

Spoke Folks

So you are reading all this spring goodness, and you go into your garage to untangle your bike from the heaping mess and realize it needs more than just a little air in the tires. Or maybe not; maybe you are super organized, and your bike has its own place and is good to go. We can’t all be like you, Karen. No one has the time, because we fly by the seat of our pants! Well, the Spoke Folks are a handy crew of people who believe in teaching you how to fish instead of handing you one. They will help you fix your own bike, and they have all the tools and supplies you could need. The charge is just $5, and you get access to the entire kingdom; all other parts are seriously affordable, so you won’t break the bank. Head on over and be sure to give all the amazing people at Spoke Folks--Jay, Martel and Morgan, just to name a few--a high five when you see them.

 

Grand Rapids Parks

Get out to your local park! Our city boasts 74 city-owned parks with over 1,600 acres available. If you want to play futsal (futbol de sala, or street soccer) or just watch the local skill tear up the court, head on over to Garfield Park on the southside or Lincoln Park on the westside. If getting lost and walking in nature is more your thing, you can’t beat Riverside Park or Huff Park on the north end. With Riverside Park flooding beautifully, it transforms the whole landscape into a new park. Like having two parks in one!

 

CKO Kickboxing

Not feeling quite ready to frolic around in the fields of blooming flowers? Well, head on over to CKO Kickboxing to jump start your spring, but be warned this team means business! Each trainer brings a bit of a twist to the mat, but what is certain is that you will leave with a complete body burn. You will kick, you will punch, you will sweat (more than you thought was possible), and yes you might ask yourself is it over? Their Triple Play package is perfect for testing the waters; at $20 for three classes (45 minutes to one hour each) and a pair of gloves, it’s hard to pass up!

 

Spring Runs

Still wanting to make good on that New Year’s resolution to stay fit? Grab a friend and sign up for these upcoming races in our city. Support Title IX and women in sports and head to the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon on Sunday April 23 with your mom, grandma, girlfriend, or any other powerful women in your life. Come out and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the country’s largest 25K road run, the Fifth Third River Bank Run, on May 13. Want to do more than just run? Head to the Grand Rapids Triathlon on June 11. If you’re looking for something a bit more laid back, you can “run through dreamy colored foam” and “snap whimsical photos with giant unicorns” at the Color Run on July 29 (yeah, we know that’s a summer event, but you can purchase cheaper early-bird tickets through April 26).

 

Festival of the Arts

Long before ArtPrize, in 1969, Alexander Calder’s “La Grande Vitesse” was installed in front of Grand Rapids’ City Hall and inspired the city’s first Festival of the Arts. This event, the biggest art event the city had ever seen, jump-started a revival of the arts in Grand Rapids and has gone onto become the free three-day soiree of creativity that draws hundreds of thousands of people to our downtown. This year, Festival will be celebrated on June 2, 3 and 4 and will feature several stages of performances, a juried regional arts exhibition, dozens of food booths run by nonprofit organizations, and more.

 

The first-ever Grand Rapids Asian Festival

This inaugural one-day event will feature food, art, music and more from the Philippines, Korea, India, China, Vietnam, and other countries across Asia. Guests will have a chance to join origami and chopsticks workshops, as well as interactive dance performances representing Bollywood, Laos and more. Plus, you’ll have the chance to see a variety of entertainment, Taiko drumming, martial arts demonstrations, and a karaoke contest and party with DJ Ace Marasigan. Feel free to bring the whole family, as there will be an interactive kids’ area. For the adults, there will be a beer tent selling both local and Asian brews. The festival will be free and open to everyone.

 

Tulips, tulips and more tulips!

Gather the family together and head to the week-long Tulip Time Festival in Holland, a nationally renowned celebration of Dutch culture that features parades, an arts and crafts fair, tulip trolley tours, a carnival, a Dutch market, live music and dance, and more. The festival runs from May 6-14.

 

Have a few nuggets of your own that you are willing to share? Let us know in the comments! Have a seriously awesome spot but are not willing to share it? Well, I have only this to say to you:

 

I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for a prize, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you tell me your secret spot now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for that secret spot, I will find it, and I will tell everybody.

 

(Confused? Go here.)

 

Until next time, stay moving, stay cheap, stay curious.

 

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram


Summer science camps: Van Andel Education Institute makes learning fun for local students

We are rounding that spring corner, and before you know it we will be right in the middle of summer! If you found yourself scrambling this spring break for educational activities for the little ones, we are here to make sure you are prepared for the summer. The folks at the Van Andel Education Institute have a plenty of programs to help fill up your kid’s, and entire family’s, summer.

“Kids love hands-on science. They enjoy getting messy, seeing how things work, and exploring,” says Terra Tarango, director of the Van Andel Education Institute.

The institute will be offering two summer camps geared towards students in fourth through seventh grades.
The fourth and fifth graders will be joining the “Animal Survivor: Pill Bugs, Newts & Geckos, Oh My!” program.

As part of this week-long day camp, students will explore the world of animal adaptations, including studying animal behavior, observing structural traits and discovering what helps animals survive in the wild. Plus, the youngsters will have the chance to learn about a variety of species, including invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles, through hands-on exploration.

“The students love getting to interact with the different animals we have in the lab,” Tarango says. “They have seen geckos and bearded dragons, but most of them have never been able to hold them, so they can’t wait to get their hands on them and learn about their survival mechanisms and habitat preference.”

There will be two sessions held, with the first running from June 26 to June 30 and the second starting July 17 and wrapping up July 21.

The sixth and seventh graders will get to dive into the “Environmental Forensics: What’s in the water?” program.
As part of this, students will “explore solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental concerns,” the institute explains.

Also a week-long day camp, this program will allow the children to “discover how oil spills, chemical contamination and other threats to water quality affect our environment.”

By using hands-on investigations, learning water monitoring techniques and working with peers, students will brainstorm how to protect Earth’s water.

“In this camp, students study real-world challenges to our water resources, giving them a strong foundational understanding of water quality and environmental influences,” says Tarango.

There will be two sessions held for this as well: one from July 10 - 14 and the second from July 24 - 27.

The cost for each of these summer camps is $185. For more information, head on over to the VAEI site for registration.

Not ready to take the full dive just yet? The institute has a great weekend option for you and your little ones to dip your toes into. Science on Saturday provides a great exposure to science for those who might not be ready to take the plunge. The program is $20 for teams of a student and an adult, but financial assistance is available. Space is limited to 16 teams per session, so be sure to contact the institute at information@vaei.org or call 616-234-5528 to register.

There will be a session for first and second graders at the end of this month so be sure to reserve your spot as they tend to fill up quickly!

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
 

To address racism in hiring, poverty & more, Grand Rapids launches Racial Equity Initiative

Grand Rapidians often hear their city’s stories of success: the beer industry that’s bringing in tourists from around the country, the manufacturing sector that’s making a comeback, the almost endless string of accolades naming Grand Rapids as one of the best places to raise a family, buy a house, and more.

 

But there are other stories that aren’t as often heard, even though they’re being told: those of the city’s residents living in poverty. Those of the people struggling to find work. Those of the families who can no longer afford the rent for the home in which they’ve lived for years, or decades.

 

More than a quarter of Grand Rapids’ population -- 26 percent -- lives at or below the federal poverty level (about $24,000 for a family of four), and that number climbs even higher in communities of color, according to statistics from the U.S. Census. About 45 percent of the 42,000 African Americans residing in the city live in poverty. The unemployment rate climbs to about 53 percent in predominantly black neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. Approximately 35 percent of Hispanic residents are living in poverty and are facing a 27 percent unemployment rate.

 

The staggering unemployment and poverty rates for people of color has led to Grand Rapids being ranked as one of the worst cities for African Americans in the entire country. While the median income for white individuals in the city is about $77,000 per year, it is $22,000 for black residents. Of the nearly 16,000 businesses in Kent County, just 5 percent are owned by individuals who are black, according to the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses.

 

“Grand Rapids continues to be a tale of two cities, where neighborhoods in 17 census tracks -- home to roughly a third of our city’s population -- have 48 percent of their residents living in poverty,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said during her State of the City address last month. “These neighborhoods are more racially and ethnically diverse than the city as a whole. These neighborhoods are economically unstable with low median household incomes and high unemployment.”

 

To address racism and racial disparities in the city, Bliss and the city officially launched the “Grand Rapids Racial Equity Initiative,” which the mayor announced during her State of the City and which has landed $300,000 in support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF).

 

The city announced this week that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will provide a three-year, $300,000 grant for the initiative that aims to increase job creation and employment and create an action plan for racial equity in the city. The program will focus on the 17 census tracks cited by Bliss during her March speech. These communities are identified by WKKF as “neighborhoods of focus,” or areas that are facing higher rates of poverty and unemployment than the rest of the city. The neighborhoods included in these census tracts include Madison Square, Baxter, Garfield Park, Roosevelt Park, the South East Community, and Heartside, among others.

 

“The initiative will convene stakeholders to create specific action steps that increase equitable employment and reduce racial disparities in the city, create a digital Racial Equity Dashboard for community transparency and accountability, and identify ways for community stakeholders to work together form community-wide impact,” the city says in a press release issued this week.

 

With this initiative, Bliss said the city will “work hard to strengthen our partnerships” with such organizations as the NAACP, Urban League, Hispanic Chamber, Greater Grand Rapids Racial Equity Network, The Right Place, The Source, WMCAT, GROW, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the West Michigan Small Business Development Center, and others.

 

The WKKF funding will cover the costs of hiring a facilitator for the initiative and hiring an “evaluation and data partner to track and publish program outcomes,” according to the city. Additionally, it will cover the costs associated with trainings, strategic planning sessions, community roundtables, and other public outreach.

 

“The Grand Rapids Racial Equity Initiative will strengthen our efforts to eliminate racial disparities in our city,” Bliss said in a press release. “We know that without racial equity we cannot be prosperous as a community.”

 

Dr. Bill Pink, the vice president and dean for workforce development at Grand Rapids Community College who will take over as the school’s president on May 1, will serve as the co-chair of the initiative with Bliss.

 

“This effort is something that’s been a growing initiative from the mayor’s office and the city of Grand Rapids wanting to make sure, from the city’s perspective, we’re doing all we can to promote racial equity in our city,” Pink said in an interview with Rapid Growth.

 

The soon-to-be president of GRCC said the data that stems from the initiative will not only help to inform the city on matters of racial equity (including, for example, how racism prevents people from being employed), but it will help the college as well.

 

“Some of our students are in these neighborhoods, and this gives us more information so we can make more informed decisions,” said Pink, who has long done equity work, including chairing a national conference on the future of African-American education in the U.S. and conducting equity and diversity training for teachers and organizations. “This will give us more data for us to find out more about our community… This is the work that will inform us enough that we can make lasting change.”

 

Part of that lasting change will stem from some honest and difficult conversations about racism and racial bias in the Grand Rapids community, including dialogue about policing after five unarmed African American boys were stopped at gunpoint by police last month.

 

“Anything in terms of what we see in Grand Rapids that we want to address will be on the table,” Pink said in regards to community conversations about police bias. WKKF noted that racial equity work not only strengthens communities but makes policing more effective.

 

“Police forces that reflect the diversity of their communities can improve communications and foster cultural understandings that lead to both safer neighborhoods and stronger police-community relationships,” WKKF wrote. “There is more opportunity for trust and transparency when the community sees a police force that includes members of their community.”

 

While the WKKF grant will last for three years, this work must be at the forefront of city policy -- and continued by residents throughout Grand Rapids, officials said.

 

“It’s not just a task force or initiative that drives changes; people drive change,” Pink said. “The folks who are a part of this great city are the people who will be the main players in this.”


“This is all of our work; this is how we take care of each other,” Pink continued. “This is how we take care of our city. It’s ambitious for us, and it’s a positive move. But it won’t mean a thing if we as a whole can’t grab a hold of this.”

Streamlining passion: Good Ink is making fundraising a whole lot easier

They say there is an app for everything, whether it’s ordering a ride through Lyft or now getting a quick mortgage approval through Rocket Mortgage. No problem is too big or too small for internet entrepreneurs to tackle.

 

The team at Michigan Awesome , a screen printing shop based in Holland, Michigan, found themselves working with friends, family and the community quite often on the same kind of project. People would come into the shop and bring t-shirt designs for a fundraiser they were hosting. There would be a back and forth on design implementation, logistics, and payments that would add stress to the whole process. It wasn’t simple; it wasn’t letting their customers concentrate on what they were passionate about: the causes for which they were fundraising.

 

After helping dozens of clients with fundraising campaigns for adoptions, schools, teams, youth groups, and more, they realized they could serve a greater number of clients if the process was streamlined.

 

Team member Kevin Watson recalls it best. “Organizing campaigns, designing shirts, spreading the word, collecting funds and delivering shirts was a lot of work,” he says.

 

So, the team of four got to working on creating a platform that would automate and simplify the stresses of running a t-shirt fundraising campaign, and just like that Good Ink was born.

 

When asked what is at the heart of Good Ink, Watson replies that “Good Ink is set out to simplify the t-shirt fundraising process. We want to remove the roadblocks and make it as easy as possible to turn your good intentions into a huge success. We all want to make a difference, but have limited time.”

 

Watson says that a process that would take 20-plus hours of an organization’s time now just takes a few minutes on the Good Ink website. “No more collecting checks and driving around town to deliver shirts. No more fronting a lot of money in hopes of a good return,” Watson says in regards to how the website really takes care of everything.

 

Good Ink is free to use for organizers, and the purchase/donation process wrapped with the individual delivery makes it easier to sell more products and make more money for the causes closest to your heart.

 

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.


Comcast partners with Boys & Girls Club of Grand Rapids to bridge city’s digital divide

With every passing year, access to the internet becomes more necessary for daily life. Whether it is for work or personal use, a lack of reliable internet access places a person or family at a distinct social, and potential economic, disadvantage.

 

Comcast Cable (Xfinity) has been taking action to mitigate this problem with its “Internet Essentials” program.

 

This Comcast-funded initiative offers low-cost internet access for a little under $10, plus monthly tax; internet ready computers for about $150, in addition to monthly tax; and free digital literacy training. Michelle Gilbert- VP Public Relations, Comcast Cable Heartland Region says “Internet Essentials is our answer to helping bridge the digital divide, which is arguably a high priority for our country. The more families we can help get access to the Internet at home, the more possibilities we open up for them.”

 

The program was originally created to meet the needs of families with school-aged children with at least one child eligible for the National School Lunch Program, a federally subsidized program that provides free and reduced-price meals to students from families living at or below 130 percent of the poverty level. For example, 130 percent of the federal poverty level translates to a $2,633 monthly income for a family of four. In Grand Rapids, nearly 16,000 Grand Rapids Public Schools students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in the 2015-16 school year, the most recent data available, according to state statistics.

 

This past July, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Comcast announced that public housing and HUD-assisted residents living in Comcast’s service area would be eligible to apply for the Internet Essentials program.

 

As part of the Internet Essentials program, Comcast in West Michigan partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth to host five free digital literacy classes for local residents that aim to bridge the digital divide.

 

This first digital literacy class will teach students the importance of social media privacy settings, how to react if approached by a stranger online, and how to recognize and report cyber bullying.

 

Gilbert adds that, “social media is a big part of our kids’ lives, so it’s important to teach them how to use it safely and responsibly”

 

It will be held this Thursday, April 6 at 1:30pm at the Boys & Girls Club of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth, located at 235 Straight Ave NW. For more information about the class, contact the Boys & Girls Club at 616-233-9370 ext. 110.

 

The Internet Essentials program was launched in 2011, and since then Comcast has connected more than 38,000 homes in Michigan, including 5,200 in Kent County, to the web. Internet Essentials doesn’t require a credit check, installation fee or contract. The service provides speeds of up to 10 megabits per second, and in-home Wi-Fi is included.


Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Human trafficking in West Michigan: How Ferris State University is fighting modern-day slavery

Human trafficking is a deeply rooted problem that’s growing in Kent County, and throughout Michigan, according to human rights advocates. As an increasing number of people are forced into modern day slavery, leaders across Michigan, a state that has more trafficking victims than almost anywhere else in the country, are determined to combat this epidemic.

The Ferris State University Coalition Against Slavery and the Professional Convention Management Association Student Organization are holding a two-day public “Conference on Human Trafficking Awareness” from April 5 to April 6 at the FSU University Center, located at 805 Campus Drive in Big Rapids, Michigan.

FSU conference attendees are welcome to register for one or both days and will learn more about trafficking, signs of exploitation, root causes, the trauma experienced by a person who has been exploited, and tips for keeping family and friends safe through cyber security.

Day one will be held on Wednesday, April 5 in the University Center Ballroom from 7:00pm-9:30pm. It will include a presentation given by Jason Otting and the Women in Cyber Security Student Organization titled “Fighting for the Silenced: How Cyber Security Can Curb Human Trafficking.” The evening will conclude with a screening of “The Long Night” by Tim Matsui and Media Storm Productions.

Day two will be held on Thursday, April 6 in the University Center from 9am to 4pm. For a small fee ($15 for students; $30 for non-students), registrants will attend breakout sessions, enjoy a catered lunch and participate in a panel discussion with guest speakers, including Carmen Kucinich, FBI Victim Specialist; Nikeidra Battle-Debarge, Wedgewood’s Manasseh Project Coordinator; and Jane White, Chair of the Michigan State Human Trafficking Task Force.

Human trafficking: A growing problem

The FSU conference comes at a time when there has been a nationwide push to address human trafficking. In the last weeks of his final term, former U.S. President Barack Obama declared January 2017 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline’s website defines trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will.”

Human trafficking continues to be a growing problem in Michigan. In 2016, 246 human trafficking cases were reported in Michigan alone, The National Human Trafficking Hotline saw a 37.5 percent increase in calls in 2016. Of those 246 cases, 191 were sex trafficking cases, 30 were labor trafficking, eight were sex and labor, and 17 were not specified. The majority of the victims, 216 individuals, were female, and 29 were male, according to Polaris, an organization that works to eradicate human trafficking.

While 246 cases were reported in Michigan last year, advocates say the actual number of trafficking victims is far higher. It’s difficult to gauge how many people are being trafficked in the region, but Women at Risk International, a Wyoming, Michigan-based nonprofit that’s working to eliminate human trafficking, reports there could be as many as 2,400 minors who are currently trafficking victims in West Michigan -- and that number doesn’t take into account the women and men forced into slavery. People of all ages are subjected to the horrors of trafficking, though the U.S. Department of Justice states that the average age of a victim of sex trafficking in the country is 13, with 12 being the average for a boy and 14 for a girl.

Trafficking touches all corners of Michigan, and the group Hope Against Trafficking notes Michigan was ranked as the second highest state for the number of sex trafficking victims in 2015.

“Over the last decade, criminal dockets have detailed tragic accounts of children sold for sex at truck stops, servants held in captivity and forced to clean for free, and women forced to enter the sex industry and provide profit for their traffickers,” Michigan’s Human Trafficking Commission states in a 2013 report. “From urban centers like Detroit and Grand Rapids to rural communities in the state’s Upper Peninsula, reports of trafficking have made headlines. Cases like these vividly illustrate the need for a comprehensive response to this crime.”

While Michigan has strengthened its laws regarding human trafficking in recent years, communities such as Kent County is facing a growing problem, according to the Kent County Human Trafficking Task Force, which first convened in March 2015.

“Like others, our community possesses characteristics that can be easily exploited by traffickers in what is, at its core, a highly lucrative commercial enterprise,” the task force writes, citing West Michigan’s agribusiness sector as a draw for labor traffickers and truck stops and rest areas dotting well-traveled highways as “attractive places for sex traffickers to sell their victims.”

“Our local hospitality industry has grown as our region becomes an increasingly popular location for large-scale events and national conventions,” the task force writes. “Hotels — filled with guests frequently coming and going and often unfamiliar to hotel staff — provide convenient, temporary cover for traffickers looking to service sex workers.”

Additionally, the task force notes that “the socio-economic conditions that can make people vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking in the first place are widespread in our community.”

“The economic growth Kent County has experienced in recent years remains stubbornly out of reach for thousands,” the group writes. “One in six people in our community lives in poverty. With few economic options, adults and children alike are often coerced into dangerous situations to simply put food on the table and a roof over their heads.”

How you can help

As an everyday citizen, there’s much you can do to help fight human trafficking, from lending a hand financially to just keeping an eye out for signs that someone may be a victim.
 
  • There are numerous signs that may show someone is being forced to have sex or work against their will, a list of which you can see here and here.
  • If you are a victim, or you think you know someone who is, call the Kent County Human Trafficking hotline, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 616-726-7777.
  • You can also call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
  • There are numerous groups in West Michigan that support human trafficking victims, many of which accept donations and/or volunteers. You can see a list here.
  • Increase awareness by talking to your friends neighbors about trafficking, donate items that trafficking victims and their children need, and more. See the numerous ways to help at the Wyoming, Michigan-based Women at Risk International.

The Conference on Human Trafficking Awareness will be held April 5 and 6 at Ferris State University’s University Center, located at 805 Campus Drive in Big Rapids, Michigan. Pre-registration is required and will close Monday, April 3 at 11:59pm.

Additional reporting by Anna Gustafson

Straight from the farmer’s mouth: Support local agriculture at Saturday’s Growers Fare

Coming this weekend is the farmer’s market to end all farmers’ markets.

The West Michigan Growers Group, a consortium of farmers that became a nonprofit in January, is partnering with Michigan State University Extension and the Downtown Market for the 2017 Growers Fare: CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] Open House, which will give our local residents a chance to connect with, and support, area farmers. The third annual event will bring a coalition of more than 10 farms to the Downtown Market’s second floor banquet ballroom from 10am to 1:30pm this Saturday, March 25.

Market vendors will offer food samples that have used local farm produce. Along with being child-friendly, the event is geared to families seeking to support locally grown food. Those who attend Saturday’s gig will be able to get more information about, and sign up for, CSAs, programs that allow residents to purchase fresh produce from local growers. Along with produce shares, select vendors will also be offering milk and egg shares as part of their CSAs.

Farmers will provide demonstrations and be eager to field questions from any newcomers to the CSA model. The farms range from distances as far away as Kent City and Ada and as close as the south side of Grand Rapids.
The farms that will be represented this weekend include:
The event will be a great chance to ask farmers about their practices, pricing and products they offer. All WM Grower’s Group farms are committed to bringing sustainably grown products to their local communities.

While the Growers Group is a relatively new nonprofit, it has operated as a farmer-to-farmer organization since April 12, with the group meeting for monthly potlucks and farm tours in order to exchange ideas, tools and organize shared labor and other costs.

Be sure to come on down to the Downtown Market this Saturday and poke your head in and learn about the food that is being grown locally right from the...farmer’s mouth.

For more information about Growers Fare, visit www.wmgrowersgroup.org.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Citizen Labs: How a group of data geeks, developers & designers are making GR more transparent

During a time in our country when the topic of government is in most headlines, there is a group in Grand Rapids that is connecting everyday citizens with civic data. Started by an all-volunteer group of developers, designers, data geeks, and others, Citizen Labs was founded in June 2016 with the mission to connect Grand Rapidians with open data and open source technology to improve their communities.

Founding members Jace Browning, Max Dillivan, Traci Montgomery, Lee Mueller, Brandon Klotz, Joel Anderson, and Allen Clark formed Citizen Labs to provide a greater transparency to the civic data -- data from public institutions, like the city government or the police department -- that often feels tangled within inaccessible formats, such as what can be convoluted city websites.

The team has successfully finished two projects in its short existence. The group provided a short description of the completed projects:

Open Budget: Grand Rapids: Launched on June 6, 2016, the Open Budget project promotes a deeper understanding of the city budget of Grand Rapids, so that citizens, officials, and other stakeholders can engage in more informed dialogue about how the city of Grand Rapids currently works and how it should in the future.

Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation Investments: The GR Parks Project launched September 2016 and uses open source OpenStreetMap and data from the city of Grand Rapids to show the parks of the city of Grand Rapids, the tax dollars invested in each park thus far, and details of updates made. The investments in our parks were made possible by dedicated property millage for capital and pool operations, and major repair and rehabilitation of parks and playgrounds that residents of Grand Rapids voted in favor of on November 5, 2013.

Currently the group is still looking over possible projects to take on as a team in 2017. Meet ups are used to work on personal projects or to pitch group projects as well.

The group meets every other Tuesday inside The Factory; these events are free and open to the public. Members say that newcomers do not need to have robust tech experience, but rather have a desire to use data to help our city.

The membership now consists of programmers, designers, planners, community leaders, data geeks, and idea makers, but they encourage diverse backgrounds. Citizen Labs understands that diversity of thought is necessary for innovative solutions. Clark mentions that, “We are looking to grow and connect more with the community for sure in the upcoming year.”

Being technology inclined, a majority of the group’s work is done outside of the meeting times. Their projects and information can be found on their Github page, or you can join the groups conversations on Slack.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
 

Well Design Studio has big plans for the future, but they won't forget where they came from

Tucked away in a small office inside the Ledyard Building in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids is the home of Well Design Studio.

Recently, Rapid Growth had a chance to sit down and chat with the Well Design team to talk about the origin story of this design and communication studio that focuses on working with nonprofits and small local businesses.

RG: How did Well Design Studio start?

WD: Well started January 2015. The founding team was just Josh Leffingwell and Amar Dzomba, and in October 2015 we brought Tyler Doornbos in as a partner. He was owner of North Sea Studio, and he brought his clients to our company. That is maybe when Well started in its current form as a full service creative agency.

RG: What drives the studio? What is Well Design’s mission?

WD: We are all pretty entrepreneurial, so we really try to bring that mindset to the orgs and businesses we work with. When we work with an organization or company we like to get to know the organization as if we are the executive director or CEO. We learn about the funders, the donors, the constituents, and stakeholders. We really take the time to understand what produces for the client — what their constituency needs are, what they respond to, how they think. We can sometimes come off a bit imperious, I think — we kind of assume an opinionated role, where we are constantly asking the client, “if it’s not producing a benefit for you, why are you doing it?”

From that we begin to craft a plan, develop messaging and identify productive channel, and create beautiful design. It is that in-depth process that I think makes our company unique. We aren't looking at a campaign just for the campaign, we’re understanding it from the various perspectives and taking that approach to creating everything we do.

RG: There can be rough waters out here for smaller design studios. How have you had to adapt?

WD: Well started out as an agency that focused exclusively on nonprofits. The goal was to help nonprofits and the community through better design and communications.

We knew that nonprofits were struggling by usually only having pro bono designers work on their work. We knew that pro bono often means work that is temporary... it doesn't understand the needs of the organization or more importantly; it doesn't understand the organization's constituents. We wanted to help them create design and messaging that understood the people they serve. That level of market research is very rarely done at the non-profit level, and it's not because of money... it's often because they don't know that they need it.

We learned that if we can better speak to the audience of the client, they can do better outreach to their constituents and further serve the community.

However, over time we realized that nonprofits are not the only ones who support the community... seed, small and medium-sized growing businesses are important for any region. So we started working with for-profit businesses that are looking to grow and bring jobs to their community. We quickly learned they are similar to nonprofits in budget and their need to understand their audience.

RG: What kind of work does the studio do?

WD: We do back-to-front communications. We do design, messaging, marketing, web development, user experience and user interface design, human-centered design… our studio wants to do it all — in large part because of that entrepreneurial mindset. Plus, we have a small but crazy good team of designers, developers, and copywriters who are really talented with a really diverse set of skills. Those diverse skill sets make our team really collaborative and allows each person to have a hand on nearly every project.

RG: What is the culture like around the office?

WD: In our work, our culture is to push our clients. We get excited when a non-profit is willing to move past what people expect of them. Nonprofits are safe by design. They don't want to offend anyone because that person may be a donor some day — and non-profits often get flack for taking risks or challenging the safe day-to-day operational model that people expect. We understand that, but we also know that every nonprofit (and for profit for that matter) is fighting for air time, for funders or customers, for volunteers or talent, so they need to stand out. You can't have a traditional annual report, you can't use traditional fundraising asks — you can't just expect what is failing before to work just because you have someone polish it with better hierarchy and type. You have to challenge yourself to look beyond what you've done, or what your peers are doing.

We get excited about helping all of our clients push past what other comparable organizations are doing. Whether that is through design or messaging, we help them to stand out and most importantly, produce the outcomes they’re looking for.

Around the office, it's kind of a mix between laid back and intense. There’s a really collegial culture… everyone in the office is a friend, obviously due to our intensive team building program of arcade basketball and video games (okay, really just FIFA). None of us have worked for another studio so we don't know what it's like elsewhere, I guess. We’ve always been people that wanted to do our own thing. We all really like it, or at least we think the employees do, because everyone sticks around.

RG: The design field in Grand Rapids is really lacking diversity and inclusion. Thoughts?

WD: If firms are going to be able to compete in the long-term they will need to have diverse teams, because all of our communities are more diverse. Agencies need to value people of color. If you're hiring a copywriter and that person is Latinx and speaks Spanish, they not only bring more value from a work perspective, but they also bring a new perspective to the agency — they deserve to be paid according to the huge value they bring into the firm.

We work with a number of black-owned businesses, and nonprofits that serve people of color. Every design or tech company likely does. We understand that we have a responsibility to work with a team that understands those communities. For instance, when we do messaging for the Latinx community, we know that we need copywriters who not only speak Spanish, but understand the specific vernacular used by the people we are speaking to. Most firms speak about “translation” — we talk about Spanish-language copywriting.

RG: What do the next five years hold for the studio?

WD: We want to grow a lot in the coming years. We are looking at doubling this year, and again next year. Once we break through the current growth ceiling, we have aims to be counted among the top boutique design firms in the area.
On the side, the agency also runs a few projects like Beer O'Clock GR (the best damn happy hour site in the world) and Featherlight (hands-off websites that help professional academics build their personal brand affordably).

We plan on these projects experiencing considerable growth in the next 12 to 18 months. We are serious about building a culture and company that values entrepreneurial thinking and produces projects that expand what we do beyond just a fee-for-service agency. Plus, getting out of our collective comfort zones makes us better at producing results for our clients at Well, since we learn an enormous amount by doing on our side projects.

RG: What is right around the corner?

WD: We are always excited about working with some of our long-term clients like the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Kids Food Basket, HQ, and Challenge Scholars (Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Grand Rapids Public Schools).

But we also are doing all the design for AIGA West Michigan’s Design Week (March 25 to April 1) and we'll be doing all the design for this year's Friends of Grand Rapids Parks' Green Gala.

We have a big campaign rolling out for Friends of Grand Rapids Parks shortly that we can't talk about yet, but we are crazy excited about that. FGRP told us to create a fun fundraising campaign for them and let us run with it; that is the kind of work we love.

This amazing city of ours continues to produce hard working and talented professionals like the team at Well Design. Let’s hope this becomes the new norm, instead of the exception.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Job hunting? These tips will help your search

Searching for a new job? The prospect of a new job can be exciting (and daunting), so here are some tips to aid in your search for your new gig or career.

These recommendations can be applied pretty much across the board, no matter what job level you’re seeking or the type of career you’d like to land. Whether you’re an aspiring yogi, programmer or recent college graduate, having a method to the madness that is job hunting will always give you a leg up on the competition.


Just like any good athlete will do and tell you: don’t get ready; stay ready! Be sure to always have a current resume, always be building new contacts and strengthening old ones. As well as always learning and seek growth opportunities.

Be present in the work you are doing. You never know when you will have to ask for a recommendation. As the saying goes, find the work you love and you will never have to work again. This is very true. Although you may feel pressured to take the first high paying job that comes across, remember that a job is not necessarily a career -- and a career must cohabit with your personal life.

Increase your network. It’s not all about business card swapping; rather, aim to build meaningful relationships with a greater diversity of people. These relationships will help when searching for and securing new job opportunities. A cursory search into famous business, movie, or historical figures will show you that. Grand Rapids groups that can help you with networking include Equity DrinksBLEND and Drinks & Digital.

Do you have a mentor, coach and sponsor? Do you know the difference?

Non-profit organization Catalyst states it elegantly: “A coach talks to you; a mentor talks with you; a sponsor talks about you.”

A coach will help guide you through your career development. You can have more than one coach, and they do not necessarily have to be from your same career field.

A mentor is there to help you navigate your career choices. This relationship is often limited to fewer people, and many people often settle on one person as their mentor. Your mentor does not necessarily have to be from your career field, but having one that does often deepens the relationship and the wisdom that they provide.

A sponsor is like your promoter; they are someone in your career field that has a senior or influential status that can speak on your character, skills and experience. A sponsor must be in your career field to be effective in promoting who you are to other higher level professionals.

These relationships must be built over time and are driven by you. It can take time to find a mentor, whereas coaches can be found by asking a senior professional directly. A mentor will take time and energy to build and show that the relationship will benefit both parties. Finally the sponsor can often take more time, especially if you are still in an early development stage in your career. The first step starts with asking.

This may seem intimidating or formulaic at first, but it is a natural consequence of successful people. To add to the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” it was also definitely not built by a single person. Behind every successful person there are countless people who have helped along the way, whether they are coaches, mentors, sponsors, contemporaries, or friends. The importance of knowing that you are not alone, and that you cannot do it all alone, is the first step in the right direction.

Volunteering, internships and side jobs are a great way to build skills, networks and experience, with the latter allowing you the extra income to build up a savings. To learn more about volunteering opportunities in and around Grand Rapids, you can go here and here for internships.

Nothing is more awkward than a cold email to a loose contact for a recommendation letter. It’s not about being a wanderer or a job nomad, but rather always following your passion and building yourself up. Some jobs will help add to your skill set, others to your network, and most to your experience, while some others are missteps. It’s OK to have a plateau where you gain your bearings and just maintain your career; life isn’t all about work. Life is meant to be lived!

Check out some of these local job boards and see if they pique your interest. If you are searching your mind for who your coach, mentor, or sponsor could be no need to rush. It takes time to build.

StartUp Jobs

City of Grand Rapids Jobs

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.


Smashing glass ceilings: The women running Grand Rapids

March 8 is International Women’s Day, and the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington have called for a “Day Without a Woman” to coincide with an international women’s strike. This united effort is meant to recognize “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system -- while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job security,” as the Women’s March website states.

“We recognize that trans and gender nonconforming people face heightened levels of discrimination, social oppression and political targeting,” the website goes on to say. “We believe in gender justice.”

Similar to the Day Without Immigrants and the Women’s March, the event is a chance to stand up for those in our society who have been, and continue to be, marginalized and oppressed. As part of the event, individuals can participate by: women taking the day off from paid and unpaid labor and all people supporting small, women- and minority-owned businesses.

“Let’s raise our voices together again to say that women’s rights are human rights, regardless fo a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age, or disability,” the organizers write.

The women of our city are indispensable, and without them our very functioning would jolt to an immediate full stop. Let us take the time to recognize and honor the amazing women of our city.

Just a few of the remarkable women that work tirelessly to run our city government include: Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly, Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear, Economic Development Director Kara Wood, Planning Director Suzanne Schulz, Managing Director of Administration Services Mari Beth Jelks, 311 Custom Service Manager Becky Jo Glover, City Clerk Darlene O’Neal, and City Attorney Anita Hitchcock.

Below are more brilliant women who are not always in the spotlight but help shape, run and push our city forward every day. This list, of course, could go on almost endlessly, and we’d love to hear from you about the women who aren’t on here in the comments below.

Adriane JohnsonChief
Creative Director at Rebellious Creative, Membership Director at AIGA West Michigan

Andrea Napierkowski
Owner of Curly Host, Founder/Host at Doc Night

Anel Guel
Community Engagement Organizer at the City of Grand Rapids

Breannah R. Alexander
Director of Strategic Programs at Partners for a Racism Free Community

Denavvia Mojet
Board Member of Equity PAC

Heather Duffy
Exhibitions Curator at Urban Institute for Contemporary Art, Founding President of Throwbactivists

Kelsey Perdue
Program Manager at Grand Circus, Co-Chair of Equity PAC

Keyuana Rosemond
FitKids360 Program Coordinator at Health Net of West Michigan, Board Member of Equity Drinks

Kiran Sood Patel
Managing Editor of The Rapidian

LaTarro Taylor
Community Relations Coordinator at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.

Lis Bokt
Executive Director of The Geek Group National Science Institute

Lisa Ann Cockrel
Director at Festival of Faith & Writing, Managing Director at Calvin Center for Faith & Writing.

Lorena Aguayo-Marquez
Adult Education at Grand Rapids Community College

Lydia VanHoven
Creative Team Leader at Meijer, Adjunct Professor at Kendall College of Art and Design, Co-founder of Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival

Michelle Jokish-Polo
On The Ground Editor at Rapid Growth Media

Milinda Ysasi-Castanon
Executive Director of The Source, Cofounder at The Latina Network of West Michigan

Rebeca Velazquez-Publes
Director of Programs at Health Net of West Michigan, Board Member of Equity Drinks, Cofounder at The Latina Network of West Michigan

Samantha Przybylski
Welcome + Inclusion Specialist at HQ

Shorouq Almallah
Director of Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation

Steffanie Rosalez
Program Director at Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities - Cook Arts Center

With women still earning on average 79 cents for every dollar a man makes, there is still much work to be done -- even if the gender pay gap has shrunk over the decades. Grand Rapids can count itself lucky to be the home so many talented women.

Let's continue to recognize, honor and work harder for all the women in our lives who have given so much, been denied more, and have been compensated even less. The time is now.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.


The little space that could: Snow Monster Studios aims to make GR a hub for filmmakers

If you were to walk down South Division on First Fridays, a monthly event on the first friday that is aimed at promoting businesses in Avenue of the Arts down Division, you might just miss or stop short of an amazing little space doing a great many things. In the words of the android David in the 2012 mystery sci-fi film “Prometheus,” “Big things have small beginnings.” No other phrase is more apt once you get the opportunity to tour and speak with a little team with big ideas.

The location is 222 Division Ave. South, and the team is Snow Monster Studios. This handful of young creatives from around the city and country have one thing in common, media. David Prindle, co-founder of the studio and co-working space, describes it best when he says, “We are a bunch of people trying to make awesome stuff; I make movies; other people here make podcasts, film in VR (virtual reality); and we have someone that makes props.”  

A quick look around Snow Monster’s space shows the DNA of the team. This is not the place that you bring your $8 coffee and “update your blog.” This space is raw and functional, with a secret compartment room for quiet work.

“Snow Monster Studios is the film division of our group and Snowball Studios is the podcast and marketing arm of our space,” Prindle explains.

Prindle himself teaches at Kendall College of Art & Design, runs the Snow Monster space, and works on his own projects that include an ambitious, fully immersive animated VR film. A natural maker with curiosity, Prindle sees the film industry as antiquated and full of middlemen that impede the process of innovation and art. He hopes to secure funding for his film project soon, and when asked to explain why he chose such a complex project, he replies, “Because it’s hard, no one has done it before. That’s what excites me. I can have fun figuring it all out, and still make an awesome movie.”

His ambition does not end there. Prindle aims to grow Snow Monster Studios into a bigger space that he hopes to design and build himself: a place with an audio and film studio, a co-working space, and a learning environment. He wants to get the knowledge that he has into as many hands as possible. His dream is to help make Grand Rapids a hub for filmmakers, but he is acutely aware that the makeup of the industry needs to change.

“When we don’t bring in different people, we lose out on talent,” Prindle says, describing the homogeneity of the film industry.

“I want things to change; I want to bring jobs to our city; I want to make sure people learn new skills,” Prindle adds as he talks about his vision for Snow Monster Studios.

The space is currently available for memberships, although some have already moved in, and some of the benefits of joining the space are as follows:
 
  • First consideration for hire when Snow Monster Studios receives paid work.
  • Powerful rendering machine
  • Motion capture software and system
  • Access to film equipment
  • Reservation of studio
  • Photography space
  • Event space reservation

With memberships on a six-month or 12-month agreement and price ranging from as low as $30 for students and $250 for 24/7 access, the studio is highly competitive given the co-working landscape in Grand Rapids.

Snowball Studios itself will be having its launch party this Thursday, March 2nd from 6-9pm and will be a great chance to meet the entire team and tour the amazing little space they have literally carved out for themselves on South Division.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
 

Game on! National sports event to draw tens of thousands of visitors to Grand Rapids

The 2017 State Games of America host title could have gone to sunny San Diego or Virginia Beach, but the Great Lakes State showed up to claim that moniker this year.

On its 10th anniversary, West Michigan Sports Commission President Mike Guswiler and the rest of his team are bursting at the seams with excitement to bring this event that draws tens of thousands of visitors to Grand Rapids. This national event will replace the 2017 Meijer State Games- Summer Games.

The State Games of America is a biennial four-day event that will run from Aug. 3 through Aug.6 and attracts well over 12,000 athletes from more than 40 states and Canada. Athletes who have previously won medals at their own respective Summer Games state competitions are invited to this national event. These athletes participate in over 50 sports competitions throughout the course of the games, with spectator numbers tripling at 30,000 spectators. This single event has the potential to impact our region’s economy to the tune of an estimated $9.5 million.

“This year we’re combining our State Games with the State Games of America, and that’s going to bring three to four thousand more athletes on top of our regular 8,000. It’s like the Olympics for sports in our state, and the premise is that all ages and all abilities can participate,” says Guswiler.

While the two primary venues will be the Van Andel Arena (which will host the opening ceremonies) and the DeVos Place Convention Center (where the event’s “Athlete Village” will be), athletes will be competing at venues throughout a multi-county area. As we all know with hungry athletes come hungry bellies, and our city’s extensive food variety should be prepared to take the onslaught of an army of 12,000 people who have spent their days doing everything from synchronized swimming and soccer to judo and kickball. Armed with tamales, tacos, barbecue, gyros, ramen, and kielbasa, our region’s local restaurants can expect a good summer.

The event registration will be open to all ages and abilities, although team sports will require athletes to register as teams. Registration info will be coming soon.

With all this coming excitement to the region you might ask yourself, what is the West Michigan Sports Commission? Well, it is a non-profit that, according to a press statement, “works to identify, secure, and host a diverse level of youth and amateur sporting events to make a positive impact on the economy and quality of life in the region.” The WMSC, founded in 2007, has booked 568 sporting events and tournaments that attracted 880,000 athletes and visitors, generating $240 million in direct visitor spending to the region.

Although the group operates in Kent, Ottawa, and Muskegon Counties, its primary focus is in the Kent County - greater Grand Rapids area. Michigan had the Great Lakes State Games in the late 80s and 90s, which were bolstered by government and some private funding, but the model was unsustainable and it shuttered.

The National Congress of State Games, which runs the State Games of America, started when governors sought to activate their populus formed, but the government funding dried up as handoff from one administration to another became difficult and the vision for the games became cloudy. Through all this history, the WMSC and many other states have formed a resurgence in youth and amateurs sports throughout the country.

Even with the securing of the 2017 State Games of America, the WMSC team is still hard at work to bring even more events to our region. The work never stops, and here are just some of the events that are already booked for the rest of the 2017 year:
 
When asked if WMSC is looking to expand their reach into less traditional sports, Guswiler states “Oh yes, we have looked into BMX, standup paddle-boarding, even drone racing and e-gaming sports. It’s all on our radar. Our effort is to market this destination for youth and amateur travel sport.”

So, be sure to lace up those sneakers, find all the spandex in your closet, and start warming up for this summer’s State Games of America coming to Grand Rapids.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Falling in love with programming: Django Girls inspires women to join the tech world

I came across a Facebook post the other day of a room full of women learning to code, and thought how great it was that we were getting another boot camp. Programming (or coding) has been a hot topic for a few years now, with new coding boot camps springing up across the country. Grand Rapid itself is getting its very own boot camp this spring when Grand Circus-Detroit finishes its expansion to the west side of the state; its first class is set to launch in late March.

I looked further into the post only to realize that it was not a coding bootcamp, but something just as exciting. After some Facebook investigating, I found out it was a coding tutorial that went into the weekend. The group responsible for this weekend coding blitz was Django Girls. They are an international non-profit organization that helps people of all backgrounds to learn how to to code using Django (an open-source framework written in the programming language Python).

If you’ve tuned out already, don’t worry: that is about as heady as the coding talk will get here.

So, I reach out to Django Girls and ask if they have time to meet and chat more about their story. We decide to meet at every downtown freelancer’s office, a coffee shop with strong brews and wifi. I’m welcomed by three of the organizers: Rachell Calhoun, Josh Yuhas and Jace Browning. They are three of a total of five total organizers for Django Girls: Grand Rapids.

Calhoun starts off with the history of Django Girls. “It started in 2014 during a Django conference in Berlin by two Polish women, Ola Sitarska and Ola Sendecka,” she explains. Calhoun comes from a recent nine-year stint in Korea, where she was a member of the local Django Girls chapter. She says their mission, like their website, is simple and to the point:
 
  • Inspire women to fall in love with programming.
  • Support and mentor those that want to continue their programming after the workshop.
  • Build a revolving community: students become mentors.
  • Help increase the presence of women and individuals from underrepresented groups in the tech field.
  • Create a safe, non-threatening environment in the local tech communities.

The rest of the group chimes in about how their approach to every participant is to treat them as if they don’t know anything about computers -- down to where to find the startup bar, so that this way no one feels left behind. You can move as fast or as slow as you want without feeling pressured. Django Girls are not here to run code alongside a room of people, rather they are here to help guide them every step of the way.

Their first event in Grand Rapids was hosted at the beginning of February, and it filled up. They like to keep the ratio to about one volunteer to every two participants. The coding workshop is structured around a tutorial for building a blog. I ask, why a blog? Can’t anyone go to a free website to get their own pre-made blog website? Yuhas chimes in, saying, “It touches all the pieces of code you need to learn. It’s not about just building a piece of software, but about learning the basics of the language as well. A blog covers a lot of what a beginner will need to know to move on to bigger projects.”  

The event starts on a Friday, lasting three hours to get everyone set up. You only need a laptop and enthusiasm to join, and the team will provide the rest of the software needed. The team of volunteers and instructors spend the time making sure all software is installed and that you are ready for the next day.

Saturday is a full work day, an eight-hour marathon, not a sprint, to the end of the tutorial. As a local chapter of Django Girls, the team has access to tutorials and resources they can use to host these workshops. During the day, they make sure to give the participants food breaks, resting periods and plenty of encouragement in the form of hand-clappers. Every participant is given one to celebrate finishing a section.

What’s next for the Django Girls team? Where do inspired new programmers go after they attend their first event? The team tells me that the international Django Girls organization has plenty of more tutorials and resources to offer. Calhoun herself was part of many tutorials while teaching in Korea. The team is always there to support weekend coding projects through a Slack channel or coffee meetups. The plan is to have more events and tutorials as interest grows.

Yuhas tells me that “Django Girls is perfect for Grand Rapids since it already has Bitcamp in the ecosystem. Django Girls wants to help underrepresented women in the community, because if you look at any of the agencies in the city, women may represent one or two of a total of 70-plus employees. There’s something wrong with that; there’s a lot of talent being lost there.”

In furthering their mission, the Django Girls team are very aware that they need effective marketing and strategic partnership to ensure thorough community outreach. They are already looking to collaborate with other events organizations to further enhance outreach for underrepresented women in the West Michigan area.

Calhoun mentions in closing that she was an English teacher before learning to code, and that she never paid for a formal coding education. She now helps lead the Django Girls team and is herself employed in the tech sector, making a living on what she taught herself to do.

The Django Girls team would like to invite you to stay tuned to their website to join their next coding tutorial event. Come for the coding, but stay for the clappers.

Photos courtesy of Stoneburner Media

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
 

Business with a conscience: How Symposia Labs is changing GR’s marketing landscape

On a windy afternoon I head inside a downtown coffee shop to sit down with Timothy Haines, the founder of Symposia Labs, a digital marketing and advertising agency, to chat about industry, ethics, and the growing Grand Rapids market.

The Symposia team is fresh from a ribbon cutting ceremony for their new Grand Rapids office that opened on January 31 of this year. In their move from Holland to Grand Rapids, they found a location just a few blocks east of downtown at 255 Washington Street.

As with any good story, I sit back and ask Haines about where it all began. Not surprisingly, the Symposia Labs story starts like many tech company stories: at home with employee number one, Haines.

“At first it’s all trial and error,” Haines says after I ask him if the company was always in digital marketing. “You take the work you can get, and you’re not sure who you are. Do you build websites? Are you in marketing? Do you do design work?”

Haines tells me that at first the company approached work by specializing in social media, and after some time he began to pivot to digital marketing as a whole. He explains it best when he says, “We’ve found that our approach has three components: technology, people, and business… and to do digital marketing right you have to understand all three. Not just those concepts individually, but also how they interact.”

I tell Haines how many non-business owners, or people outside of the industry, might look at Facebook advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), Google ad words, and so forth as millennial hogwash. Timothy replies with an elegant explanation. “Digital marketing is like a lense on a camera; it enhances what you see on the subject.”

So I ask him, what does Symposia Labs do? “ We execute and design digital design strategies,” he replies, clarifying that his team operates a bit differently than others. They of course have the cool office, telecommute option, and laid-back culture, but they differ in how they interact with their clients. Symposia Labs does not a have a large swath of clients across West Michigan, rather they opt to have a smaller portfolio of clients with whom they work closely.

“We work on retainer and mold ourselves around our client’s team to get the best results for them,” Haines says. In a city with more and more freelancers and small design shops, it can be hard to find a business with a conscience. A business that isn’t after billable hours, but rather a strong working relationship.

Haines credits the large, and growing, Grand Rapids market for his approach. “There’s enough pie for all of us here,” he notes. As part of his company’s move, they share a space with local design studio Kmotion Design to accommodate the few clients that need a bit of everything, including a custom website from the ground up. Symposia Labs has found what they are great at, honed their expertise, and expanded their network to include business friends to assist with the excess work load.

I follow up Haines’s thoughts about business with a conscience and ask him about the lack of professionals of color in tech and if he has this in mind in his hiring practices as Symposia Labs grows larger.

“Absolutely, we moved here from Holland for a chance, albeit still small, at greater diversity in our work,” he says. I mention how important it is for people of color to see representation in different business fields, and Haines points to the design landscape in West Michigan, sighs and says, “I know; you look around and it’s white guy, white guy, white guy, white guy, white guy, and you know there’s something wrong there.”

I’m surprised to hear Haines be so natural and at ease when speaking truth to these issues, especially because of what midwest decorum normally dictates. It’s refreshing to hear a person of privilege be so honest about their privilege and actively seek answers. We move on to speaking about operating from a place of intentionality and how we must be intentional if we want to help.

He brings up an example of his time in Holland, when he knew few people in the digital marketing space, and how he wanted to expand his network but also share and learn experiences and techniques in his field. Without an approachable resource to turn to, he started what is now Drinks and Digital, an event where professionals interested in digital marketing can meet up and talk a bit of business over drinks.

Haines mentions that it has evolved to a become a bit of a pool of prospective applicants where many of his hires have come from. His team is still ramping up after their Grand Rapids launch, and they will be searching for another team member to come on board as project manager within the next few months.

As he takes the last drink of his coffee I remind him that I discovered his agency on Facebook. His eyes light up, and he goes for his phone and says, “ I bet it was the latest Facebook ad we put out that you saw! We practice what we preach!”

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Speaking out: Women in tech tackle (lack of) diversity in their field

As Grand Circus ramps up its Grand Rapids launch, the company hosted a panel discussion with all women in tech. I mention specifically a discussion with all women in tech instead of a discussion about women in tech because of how each woman framed their professional experiences that night.

If you weren’t able to make it out to Start Garden on Wednesday, Feb. 8, you really missed out. As packed as we all were in the main room, there was spillover space in the far back, and it was worth the standing to hear the gems powerful messages that each panelist brought to the stage.

Grand Circus gathered an array of professional women in tech from around the city. There was Emily Carbonell-Ferguson of Mighty in the MidwestBecky VandenBout, an independent freelancer; Beth Zuke of Amway; and Andrea Napierkowski of Curly Host, a Grand Rapid-based firm that specializes in Wordpress websites.

To a standing-room-only crowd, panelists spoke about their experiences in the tech field, their opinions on what it means to be a woman in tech, and what they hope to see in the field.

As the night drew on, panelist Andrea Napierkowski found herself behind the mic more and more, adding wit along with some much-needed candid answers to the mostly male room.

When posed with the question, “how do we empower women to succeed," Napierkowski’s replied quickly, saying, “To say that women need to be empowered feels as if we as women do not already have what it takes to do the work. I disagree with that; I think we as women already have what it takes to do the job. What is happening is that we are being overlooked.”

After a brief pause, Napierkowski pressed on to declare, “It seems to me that what the industry needs to be doing is educating our male counterparts as to why they need diversity and inclusion. We women aren’t the problem.” A quick look around the crowd showed a room filling with smiles, nodding heads of agreement, and attempted slow claps, surely paused by the prospect of hearing more from Napierkowski. It was clear that this response summed up the feelings of many in the room.


After the event I took some time to sit down and chat with Napierkowski to further the conversation she championed on the stage.

We hit the ground running and started talking about her strongest response during the panel discussion, and I ask her how she has come to that point of view. Napierkowski tells me that it was not something she came into the field thinking about. “It was actually a surprise to me when I came to the realization a few years ago that there weren’t many women in tech,” Napierkowski adds.

She recounts how she came into the industry really by chance. “It started with one project I gained through a connection; I was coming into all this from international relations and political science background.” Napierkowski shifted careers from her college major to working in the food service industry to building websites. I asked her if she didn’t grow up programming or building websites, what then was her dream job?

“My dream job was to come into people’s houses and clean and organize everything, then make them an amazing meal from whatever was in their kitchen...that never materialized," Napierkowski replies.


I ask her about her prior perception of the tech industry and how it is unusual that she was unaware of the gender gap. “I hit the ground running; I became so involved with my work. I come from a family of very thoughtful learners. We all dive deep into our work and passions” Napierkowski responds.

Napierkowski’s  learning and working approach is different. “Starting off, I had to do everything myself, often taking work and learning it on the go. I picked up a lot of skills, so by the time I had enough work that I had to begin hiring people and collaborating, I realized how advanced I’d become.”

“I imagined everyone in the industry was like me, or better," she elaborates. "You see, I would start a project and have to collaborate with others and realize that they hadn’t touched design, or marketing, or user experience, or backend code. So it made collaborating a bit more difficult; I had to search harder for collaborators that I could work with well.”

Collaboration can be difficult, so we talk about the biggest roadblock to her collaboration process.

“I have worked with very talented programmers who pride themselves in building sites from the ground up," she says. "The sites end up meeting exactly what the client asks for, but they are impossible to figure out on the backend, and makes any adjustments or maintenance tedious.”


Napierkowski adds that her "goal isn’t to make my clients dependent on me. I want them to run their business and use the site flawlessly. I try and make it easy enough for them to update and adjust as they need.”

I point out that I see this trend, coming from small design shops in Grand Rapids, of building a business with a conscience. I ask her if she would describe her business in this way and she replies, “I love my work and clients, don’t get me wrong, but my hope is to not have to see them after the project is done. My work has to be good enough to not break. I actually encourage my clients to try and break it!”

Napierkowski tells me that a website has a life of about two to three years, and that her work quality of work stands the test of time so well that most clients return for their updates and rebuilds.

“There is this idea in the industry that the higher the price the better the quality," she says. "I sometimes take on clients who currently have a custom site that cost them nearly double my rate and I have to go in and fix the mess.”

I press Napierkowski to see if she is willing, or has in the past, arbitrarily raised her bid to get the project, and she sighs, saying, “No, it just doesn’t make any sense. The goal is to get them up and running, I just don’t have time for anything else.”

Napierkowski and I stay and talk longer about tech, client war stories, and the latest films we want to see. In full disclosure I have known her for some years now, but in a different capacity. I have been part of her documentary film club since returning to Grand Rapids some years ago.

Her vast network, kindness, and ever-curious mind have helped to build an impressive roster of clients. Her welcoming approach of having people into her home to orient themselves in the city has always been refreshing in this ever-growing metropolis.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
 
Photos courtesy of Start Garden

Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center students raise more than $1K to help rebuild Rising Grinds Café

One by one, hundreds of students file into the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center’s cavernous gym this past Friday, filling the space with a sea of colorful book bags and talk of the impending weekend. They do the things kids do when they gather together: they laugh; they braid each other’s hair; they excitedly wave to friends, parents and teachers as they wait, winter hats in hand, to exit the school doors and welcome the weekend. Like every Friday afternoon, they cover the school’s wooden floor to bid adieu to an eventful week and cheer on each other’s accomplishments. There is much to celebrate this past week: children’s birthdays, students’ artistic feats, lessons on Martin Luther King Jr., and more.

On this day, however, something different is happening. Today, the students will learn how much money they raised for Rising Grinds Café, a coffee shop that, after nearly three years in the making, was set to soon open its doors at 1530 Madison Ave. SE before it burned to the ground this past November. And they will present a check to the folks behind the café, who are working to rebuild the space that is slated to empower young adults from the Madison Square community with employment and training opportunities.

“We’ve been talking about Martin Luther King and one person making a difference,” GRCDC Principal John Robinson, whose school, located at the corner of Wealthy Street and Lafayette Avenue, is situated about a mile and a half from Rising Grinds, says to the students. “You have a voice, and it’s so important to hear from all of you.”

Then, the students, who spent the past month holding a drive to collect change for the café, are told how much they have raised: $1,090.10. It’s a number that brings cheers and gasps from the students -- after all, it’s hundreds more than many of them expected. And it was done almost entirely by collecting change (plus a few $10 and $20 bills).

“I feel like I’m going to cry; I’m so touched,” says Justin Beene, who, along with his brother, Nathan Beene, is working to reopen Rising Grinds, which lost more than $50,000 worth of equipment and donated materials in the blaze. “It was devastating for me -- it was a three-year process of trying to get a cafe that everyone could own, where everyone could feel comfortable.”

Nathan Beene too tells the students what a difference their efforts have made -- for their morale and, of course, for the café itself.

“This is a perfect example of what it really means to be a community,” Nathan Beene says. “With all of your help and support, we will rise from the ashes again.”

Nathan Beene’s daughter, Tayden, a 9-year-old student in the fourth grade at GRCDC, is the mastermind behind the fundraiser: she was the one to call for the school to step in and help. Following Tayden’s original call to action, Sheryl Veeneman, a parent whose son, Hunter Veeneman, 11, attends the school, helped build upon the idea, suggesting the students conduct a drive entailing collecting change. All of the school’s 264 students immediately got involved, doing everything from scouring couch cushions to keeping an eye out on the street for change and more, and their efforts were incredibly successful. (Plus, as a reward, all of the students will receive a much-anticipated pizza party with food from Eastown's Harmony Brewing.)

“It felt really important to me,” Tayden says, explaining her desire to launch the fundraiser -- an initiative she told her father about on Christmas. “If the café didn’t open, it would affect the community.”

Veeneman echoes these sentiments, explaining that when Hunter, her son, told her about the fire, “it broke my heart.”

“We’re such a community-driven school that something like this is very devastating,” Veeneman says. “I said, ‘Let’s do a penny drive -- I thought we’d get a couple hundred dollars. When I heard how much we we’d raised, I cried.”

That the students poured so much of an effort into this has inspired Nathan and Justin Beene, along with everyone behind Rising Grinds, a project from the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation -- a collaborative entity created by Bethany Christian Services, Tabernacle Community Church and Double O Supply & Craftsmen Inc. With the café, the Beenes say they want to focus their recruitment efforts on disenfranchised members of the community: for example, individuals in foster care and immigrants and refugees. Alongside decent wages, the café would offer such benefits as a social worker to assist with housing and other issues, enrollment in the Center for Community Transformation’s GED program, and more.

“We grew up in this neighborhood, and to see the kids have a voice and make such an impact, it’s powerful,” says Nathan Beene, the director of operations at Building Bridges Professional Services, an initiative also from the Center for Community Transformation that focuses on employing disenfranchised youth. “One voice really can make a difference.”

“That the kids got to witness Tayden having this idea and it becoming a reality, it says, ‘I matter; I have value,'” Beene continues.

If you're interested in learning how you can help support Rising Grinds Café's rebuilding efforts, please visit their Facebook page here or call Rosie at Rising Grinds at 616-224-7409. You can also visit the Center for Community Transformation at 1530 Madison Ave. and enjoy a cup of coffee at the Rising Grinds incubation site.

Cheap thrills: How to explore downtown Grand Rapids without breaking the bank

This article is the first installment in Rapid Growth’s series covering ways to explore our city’s incredible neighborhoods without breaking the bank. This week, we head downtown. Don’t let the new, shiny buildings fool you: there’s still plenty of ways to have fun and not spend a ton of dough.

There’s nothing better than an unexpected day off. So, what is there to do around the city if you have an entire free day to spend? Michigan winters can snow on your parade a bit, but it can also unexpectedly, and quite literally, brighten up your day.

First things first, text your best friend and see if they’re available. If you’re a first time day-off adventurer, it may be best to tag team the day with a friend. For all others going solo, bold or otherwise, don’t forget to grab your headphones and make sure your favorite music and podcasts are all downloaded and synced while you still have some strong wifi at home.

If you’re fortunate enough to live inside the city limits, grab your bus pass and check the Transit app for the next bus headed downtown. If you live outside Grand Rapids, or you don’t have a bus pass, grab those keys and head downtown.

This is where you might be asking yourself: why should I take the bus? I have a car with gas to burn and a need for speed. Allow me to answer your question with the following: Slow down, fast and furious, it’s an adventure so try something different; don’t waste your day/money looking for parking, and finally use the free time to hang with your friend or sink into your favorite podcast.

So, the best place to start is at the Downtown Market. If you don’t have bus passes, mosey up the hill to the Silver Line stop on Division near Wealthy and purchase a day pass ($3.50 for an adult). Head back down into the market and grab a hot chocolate and pastry from either Field & Fire or the market’s newly arrived Madcap. As you munch away, put together a loose plan of what you feel like doing. It’s a day off, so don’t stress on packing the day with activities. Travel from spot to spot and let your mood guide you through the day. Heck, I’ve spent whole afternoons riding the same transit line back and forth in major cities just listening to music, and popping out just for snacks -- and I don’t regret a second of it. Here, with your $3.50 day pass, you can kick back and relax while getting to be a tourist in your own city.

When you’re finished with breakfast, head down Ionia, past the bridge underpass and then take a right to pop back up onto Division, where you should be sure to head into any of the Avenue for the Arts shops. Walk into Parliament the Boutique and check out the team’s latest crafts, or just admire the cat it in all its orange glory.

Cross the street to check out some music at Vertigo, and be sure to find a favorite artist in the stacks. Then browse nearby in the same genre and see if you can’t find something that catches your attention. I have found plenty of new favorite artists this way. You can snag plenty of music for under $10 -- including some amazing vinyl finds for $1. Just have your headphones ready for an impromptu album listen right there in the stacks.

Now, if you’re still feeling chill from the Vertigo vibes, take a walk down the street to the UICA and catch a noon film ($4 for members, $8 for non-members). Heads up: for discounts to places like the UICA, check out a Michigan activity pass with your public library card.

Don’t feel like sitting for an entire movie? Keep those legs moving and wander around the city streets, soaking in architecture, art, more art, and history with self-guided (read: free!) tours. Be sure to take this free interactive tour of GR’s Civil Rights history. Created by Kent Innovation High students, the tour includes 12 stops that provide insight into incredible achievements by our city’s African American residents and organizations, such as Helen Claytor, who fought tirelessly for racial justice and was the first black woman to serve as president of the Grand Rapids YWCA.

And, if you’re hanging out on a Tuesday, be sure to head to the Grand Rapids Art Museum -- you’ll be able to get in free all day. (You can also bypass admission costs on Thursday evening from 5-9pm.)

Want to move your feet in a different direction? Head north and keep the tunes blasting because you’ll be catching the Dash North (free and no bus pass needed) to Higher Ground Rock Climbing for some fancy footwork. Be sure to get off the dash near the 6th street bridge and walk on over to Higher Ground. Get set up for your climbing session and let it rip. Pro tip: having wireless headphones will let you turn your climbing session past 10 and straight to 11. (At $22, which includes a day pass and all the rental equipment, this is the most expensive thing on our list -- but you can stay there for as long as your feet can keep climbing.)

So you’ve rocked it at Higher Ground, and now your stomach is clamoring for food. Cross the street and start walking down to the Dash stop right on the corner of 6th Street and Monroe. Be sure to get off right before the bridge underpass. When you’re off the bus, head down to the Silver Line stop, heading south and get off at the Wealthy Street Station to walk back to the Downtown Market.

If your head is spinning from these transfers you can always get out your phone and hail a Lyft, so if your stomach is roaring it’s best to tame the beast and head to food quickly!

Now that you’re back at the Downtown Market, head to Slow’s BBQ. Get the small, $3 pit smoked beans and watch as they kindly fill it to the brim with beans and small chunks of barbecue meat. Walk over to Field & Fire and buy the smallest bread available to help slop up the delectable beans and sauce. Turn around and grab a cold can of guava juice from Rak Thai, then head upstairs into the greenhouse seating area to soak up the sun while it’s still up.

So you’re back where you started, and you’ve had a full day. Congratulations on your mini-adventure, but there’s still hours left on your watch and the night is young. Do you double down and head back out or call it a day? Let us know in the comments how you would continue your mini-adventure, or if you would like to hear our second half of our day off adventure!

Until next time, stay moving, stay cheap, stay curious.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Giving back: A guide to volunteering in Grand Rapids

Giving back through volunteering does more than just help the organization that receives your efforts. It expands your mind, extends your network, creates new friendships, and in some cases gets you into events for free!

Check out our roundup of some of our local organizations that are easy to sign up for, have lots of programming, and are really fun. (Click on the name of the organization for the groups' information on volunteering.)

Of course, this is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the many wonderful groups in our area who are looking for volunteers. Please feel free to share who you love supporting in the comments below.

Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA)
Become a docent (a guide) to expand your knowledge, improve your speaking and presentation skills, and gain access to nationally recognized art. Remember, nothing beefs up your dinner party conversation more than a little insider art information from the latest exhibit.
Training Required: Yes



Grand Rapids Main Library & Branches
Whether it’s special events, helping with the Summer Reading Program, or assisting the Grand Rapids History & Special Collections Department, you will be able to find a great way to give back to your community. The Main Library’s Instagram account is a great example of how to make learning cool and funny. See their post from Aug. 2 for a good chuckle.
Training Required: No

Organizations serving refugees in Grand Rapids
Michigan has long been one of the top states to welcome refugees in the country. Here in West Michigan, we are fortunate to have numerous organizations serving those who come to the United States as refugees, including: the Refugee Education Center, Bethany Christian Services, Samaritas, Thrive: A Refugee Support Program, and Justice for Our Neighbors. At these various sites, you can lend a hand by doing everything from helping individuals settle into their new lives immediately after they move here to furnishing apartments and more.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

The Grand Rapids Community Media Center (GRTV, WYCE, Rapidian, and Wealthy Theatre)
The aspiring PEGOT (Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) training ground of Grand Rapids, this local organization has it all, from spinning records to ushering seats. If you happen to volunteer at the Wealthy Theatre you’ll find yourself being treated to a free pop, popcorn, and a free seat if any are open. That’s a hefty reward given that a night at a normal cineplex will cost you at least $20.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.



Friends of Grand Rapids Parks

This is the perfect choice for the green thumbed citizen. Our city parks can always use a little TLC whether it’s spring, summer, or fall. Did I mention they have a Citizen Forester program? There’s no official patch for your jacket arm sleeve just yet, but they do have other neat FGRP swag!
Training Required: No, Offered

Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
If you find you need to break out of your bubble, then check out the Hispanic Center. Located on the southwest side of the city, this organization welcomes volunteers from all skill levels. Although speaking Spanish does help, it is not required. Experts say the best way to learn a language is through immersion!
Training Required: No

Grand Rapids Ballet
This is the only professional ballet company in Michigan, and we have it right around the corner. To witness extraordinary people defy gravity and push the human body to its limit, you’ll want to grab a seat of your own with your volunteer discount.
Training Required: No

Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
Building sets, sewing costumes, helping with props, and that’s just on stage! If you rather stand away from the limelight, the theatre has plenty of other off-stage opportunities. But beware, once you get a taste for the lights and glow, you may begin to hear the stage calling!
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

Well House
You can increase access to safe, affordable housing in Grand Rapids by lending a hand to this nonprofit that purchases vacant, boarded-up houses in the city and brings them back to life to provide housing for our homeless neighbors. Work in their garden, help fix up homes and more.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

The Grand Rapids Red Project
For more than a decade and a half, this organization has been dedicated to improving health, providing health resources, and preventing HIV, accidental drug overdose, and Hepatitis C. Volunteers are always needed to help build a stronger community, including to work during the Walk To End HIV, World AIDS Day, and more.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

Grand Rapids Art Museum
Be a docent, assist in the gift shop, or help with the youth or family programs. Pick anything from the list of opportunities; any one of the options will bring you up close and center to world renowned art.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

Autism Support of Kent County
From friendship support groups for children and teens with autism to free movie screenings for families, there are plenty of ways to get involved with this nonprofit. The group holds monthly family activities for anyone affected by autism, and they’re always looking for volunteers for these events.
Training Required: No

Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities
With its Cook Arts Center and Cook Library Center, the Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities aims to empower and enrich the lives of youth who live in the Grandville community. (Recently, for example, GAAH teamed up with the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan to offer teenagers the chance to paint a gorgeous public mural on Grandville Avenue.) Both centers depend on student and community volunteers to run their many classes and programs, including their Teen Leaders in the Arts, Girls Rock! Grand Rapids, and more.
Training Required: Depends on what you'd like to do.

West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology
Are you tech savvy? Want to work with some seriously talented teens? There’s some very fun ways to volunteer with WMCAT, an organization that does everything from empower the city’s teens to affect social change through design thinking to provide free job training for underemployed adults.
Training Required: Yes

Grand Rapids African American Health Institute
Volunteer with this nonprofit to help promote health care parity in the city’s African American community. Through advocacy, education and research, the organizations ensures that all residents have access to excellent health care.
Training: Depends on what you’d like to do.

Kids Food Basket
One in five children in Michigan experiences hunger, but the Grand Rapids-based Kids Food Basket is changing that with its Sack Supper program, which ensure thousands of our community’s children can receive nutritious evening meals that their parents often cannot afford. This is a great organization to volunteer for as an individual or a group -- you can do a wish list drive, help with the sack suppers, raise money through school dances or benefit concerts, and more.
Training: No

Dégagé Ministries
There are more than 1,200 volunteers who give their time to Dégagé, and the organization is always on the lookout for more. This group plays a big role in supporting our neighbors who are homeless, providing services like transportation, funding for prescription co-pays, appointment scheduling, meals, showers, storage space, trips to places like Lake Michigan and Whitecaps games, and an overnight women’s shelter. There are endless volunteering opportunities, from taking people to a baseball game to hosting movie nights, when you’ll have a chance to get to know your homeless neighbors better.
Training: No

HQ
A drop-in center for youth ages 14 through 24 who are experiencing homelessness, HQ gives teens and young adults a place to rest, connect with resources and spend time with friends. Volunteers provide a huge range of services at this center, which provides individuals everything from meals and showers to help with job searches and housing, and a whole lot more.
Training: Yes

Your local neighborhood association
Want to see something in your neighborhood change? Or have an idea that you think could make your area even better? Throughout the city, there are numerous neighborhood associations that would love to see volunteers help with a huge range of activities: street festivals, community meet-and-greets, official association meetings, and a whole lot more. You can find contact information for your neighborhood association here.
Training: No

Catherine’s Health Center
This nonprofit, community-based health facility offers medical care to low-income, underinsured residents -- and support from volunteers is vital. Right now, they have opportunities for primary care professionals, registered nurses, health coaches, computer assistants, and more.
Training: Yes

Literacy Center of West Michigan
One in eight adults in West Michigan struggle with low literacy. The Literacy Center of West Michigan offers a variety of literacy programs for adults, and volunteer tutors are needed to work with adult learners. You’ll get to meet people from all over the city -- and globe -- who will enrich your life as much as you enrich theirs.
Training: Yes

Whether you’re looking to get more involved in our city or fulfill that New Year’s resolution of spontaneity be sure to bring a family member, a friend, maybe even a date! Just don’t forget to snag a picture and tag these great organizations online before you leave!

Their fingers on the pulse of Grand Rapids, GRNow's new owners roll out big plans for website

What’s going on in Grand Rapids this week? Well, for starters: the Lumineers are playing at the Van Andel Arena, internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei’s exhibit opens at Meijer Gardens, the Grand Rapids Symphony is performing a live score for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and there’s the USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships -- not to mention about a billion other things.

It’s no secret that Grand Rapids’ cultural and entertainment scene is exploding, with everyone from international superstars (think: Kanye and Garth Brooks) to local celebrities (Vox Vidorra and Lady Ace Boogie, to name a couple) providing the soundtrack to our city, the debut of a nearly constant stream of new restaurants and bars, venues like 20 Monroe Live and Studio C opening their doors, and, of course, arts and music festivals that have landed the city in headlines across the country.

With everything that’s happening, it’s become an almost daunting question: What should I do tonight? This weekend? This spring (or on the strange winter days when it feels like flowers will be blooming at any second)? CJ DeVries and Jeff DeLongchamp want to help you answer that.

DeVries and DeLongchamp, both longtime Grand Rapidians, purchased the website GRNow.com from the former owner, Josh Depenbrok, last August, and the duo have been unrolling ambitious plans to make it, as DeVries says, “the most comprehensive list of events” in the city, from sports happenings and live music to art openings and theatre performances -- and everything in between. Plus, the website features bloggers covering Grand Rapids’ food, fashion, city living, and art scenes.

“Both CJ and I are big Grand Rapids fans; we’ve been here for a long time,” says DeLongchamp, who also co-owns ELK Brewing and owns ElectionSource, a Grand Rapids-based company that provides election products and services nationwide. “That we can provide a media outlet for everybody, one place where everybody can go and not just list events but find events that are going on is exciting. We want it to be the place to go. If you’re going out on the weekend, we want this site to be the site you go to.”

Like DeLongchamp, DeVries, who founded and owns Innovative Social Exchange MKTG, a Grand Rapids-based creative marketing firm, says she was thrilled to take on a new role as co-owner of GRNow.com.

“With my marketing company, I had used GRNow from the advertiser perspective, so I got to see how powerful it is,” DeVries says. “It made me believe it’s such a great platform; it helps local businesses grow. And I used it personally, so when I found out Josh was getting out, I was like, hands down I want to do this. It’s really neat that Jeff and I get to have something that I’ve really looked up to.”

The site, which DeVries and DeLongchamp are planning on growing, currently has about 10 people working for it, and the two owners are set to unveil a new GRNow.com website this year, apps they’ll soon be beta testing, and more content.

“The apps will have features that people are really going to like,” DeLongchamp says, hinting that the upcoming applications will be event-heavy. “There will be some very fun things, and I think they’ll be used immensely.”

Plus, DeVries notes that they will in the near future launch a show during which they’ll talk about upcoming happenings in the city. For the program, she’ll be partnering with former Second City comedian Joe Anderson -- who’s set to soon open a new downtown comedy club in Grand Rapids.

With all of this new movement from DeVries and DeLongchamp, the work that Depenbrok invested in the site and the site’s massive social media presence (it has more than 70,000 Facebook likes and nearly 32,000 Twitter followers), GRNow’s reach is skyrocketing -- its recent 2017 development roundup (written by Rapid Growth’s former publisher, Jeff Hill), was seen by 135,000 people, for example. With those kind of numbers, DeVries says the owners are hoping the site’s weight will translate to major support for the city.

“We’re using this medium, this platform, to help charities, and we’re very much trying to collaborate with other businesses,” she says.

As connoisseurs of events, restaurants and more in GR, DeVries and DeLongchamp shed some light on some of their go-to favorites in the city.

What's your favorite restaurant/bar?

DeLongchamp: ELK is number one. And we have great restaurants: Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, The Chop House -- those are two favorites, but there are so many great local restaurants, so many places to eat, like Electric Cheetah, in Grand Rapids; it’s unbelievable. We have a lot of great food in this area; it’s changed so much over the past 25 years I’ve been here.

DeVries: My favorite place to eat is Little Africa; it’s awesome. My other favorite restaurant is whichever the next one I’m going to try -- I love the fact I can walk out of my office and see a new place opening up. But we have to understand even if there’s a new place, we still have to patronize the places that have made Grand Rapids what it is.

What upcoming event are you excited about?

DeLongchamp: The 12th annual Winter Beer Festival at Fifth Third Ballpark in February. [Tickets for the festival’s Saturday event on Feb. 25 are sold out, but brew lovers can still snag a spot on Friday, Feb. 24 here.]

DeVries: The Yoga Dance Party and Brunch at Lions & Rabbits, Huntin' Time Expo at DeltaPlex Arena, Cookies and Canvas at Cheshire Kitchen, and the USAC Fat Bike Nationals at Indian Trails Golf Course.

What’s your favorite hidden gem in Grand Rapids?

DeVries: Dime and Regal -- they have very minimalistic jewelry; they want you to be able to have artwork but at moderate prices. Nothing in the store is over $75, and there are local artists. Also, Goodwill has an upscale boutique, reBlue; it’s amazing.

DeLongchamp: There are so many. If you’re looking downtown, there’s so many neat little niches. The SpeakEZ -- Eric Albertson, who owns it, has done a great job with that place.

Literary sensibility: Books & Mortar and Congress Elementary partner to provide books to students

When Chris Roe and Jonathan Shotwell opened Books & Mortar in East Hills this past fall, they knew they wanted their passion for books, reading and literacy to translate to support for the inclusive, empathetic and caring community that surrounded them.

So, when many of their customers would relay their fears about the incoming administration in the days leading up to the presidential inauguration, Roe and Shotwell began to think: what could they do to showcase, and lend hands to, a community that thinks globally and acts locally? In the face of a divided nation, what could they do to continue the unity sewn by so many in their neighborhood and city?

To answer these questions, they looked to their neighbor: Congress Elementary.

Roe and Shotwell have just announced that they are partnering with Congress to create a fund that will provide books for every student in March, books for teachers and school workers, and other financial support for a wide range of literacy opportunities.

“We were getting people all day who are very down about the climate of the country and the administration,” Roe says. “We thought, ‘We should be promoting the little things that we can do.’ We felt helpless, but there are so many things that keep us going forward in our community. Congress is in the backyard of the store, and we’re both huge public school advocates.”

Essentially, Books & Mortar will be partnering with Congress “for forever,” Roe says, explaining that the fund is meant to support the elementary school with any of its literacy programs and goals. In the coming months, the fund will pay for books -- chosen by the teachers -- for the entire student body, and, come May, every fifth grade student will get to go to the store and select a book for free. Additionally, the fund will provide books for the teachers, and the shop will keep educators’ book dream lists on file, allowing customers to purchase, at a discounted price, books that the teachers want.

“At the most rudimentary level, this is about making a value statement and saying, ‘These children and this school have a huge amount of value in this community,” Roe says. “It’s really just about putting out there that the school matters. It’s as simple as people coming to the store and realizing there’s a really great school resource in this community.”

A big component to this partnership is an emphasis on it being just that: a partnership.

“We really want this to be a mutual relationship; we’re giving to Congress, but Congress already gives so much to the community,” Roe says. “Congress is putting out all these children, teachers and families that are awesome assets to this community.”

And, Roe says, they’re looking forward to seeing how their work with Congress, and the community at large, continues to grow.

“When we started [Books & Mortar], we always wanted to be part of the community,” he says. “This is the first step; we’re really excited about this. This is a tangible way to respond to the state of the union.”

To support the Congress Elementary literacy fund, you can make a donation of any amount at the store, located at 955 Cherry St. SE. When you donate, you can put your name and a thoughtful message on a recycled paper heart that Books & Mortar are using to fill the shop's windows. On March 1, there will be an all-day event to kick off March Is Reading Month, and the store will be having special discounts for those who donate to the fund that day.

For further information, 
email Books & Mortar at info@booksandmortar.com, call 616-214-8233, visit its website, and follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

With a nod to neighborhood history, Creston Brewery kicks off beer branding competition

Flash back to the turn of the 20th century: Creston wasn’t yet named Creston; instead, it was often referred to as the North End or the Fifth Ward. The area, a working class community of Grand Rapids, was growing, its streetcar line running on Plainfield Avenue attracting hotels and shops to the neighborhood populated by immigrants from places like Ireland, France and Poland. Not long after the dawn of the new century, in 1905, residents formed the first neighborhood organization in the city -- and one of their first orders of business was to select a new moniker for their area, a community wanting to reclaim its pride after being tarnished in the press as the “Bloody Fifth” following a series of crimes.

A year later, in 1906, the Citizen’s Committee announced in the Evening Press newspaper that they would award $10 to the individual who came up with a winning name for the neighborhood. The names came in: Pride of the City, Shanahan Heights, Riverside, and others. So far, no Creston. Then, hundreds of people arrived at the then-Shanahan Hall (now the Rezervoir Lounge) to select the new name. A community leader, A.W. Morgan, suggested the name Creston (or, at the time, Crestown) -- which, as we know, was the name that stuck.

Now, more than 100 years later, the recently opened Creston Brewery, is getting inspired by its neighborhood’s history and is turning to its residents to help it with its own branding campaign. Beginning Feb. 1, the brewery owned by Scott Schultz, Vincent Lambert, Molly Bouwsma-Schultz, and Cailin Kelly is launching a branding competition for its flagship beer, GRale. Through Feb. 28, artists are welcome to submit entries that will be the artwork for t-shirts, posters and labels for bottles and cans.

“Creston founded itself on competition and community, and we wanted to honor that with a competition with artwork for our first Grand Rapids beer, the GRale,” says Andrea Bumstead, the sales and events coordinator at Creston Brewery.

Following the end of the submission period, an artist committee made up of some of the city’s most highly respected artists and art influencers, including Tommy Allen (also Rapid Growth’s publisher) and Miranda Krajniak, the executive director of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, and the brewery’s owners will select the top 10 branding entries. From March 10 through March 29, the final entries will be displayed on professionally printed posters, and the public will get a chance to vote for their favorite design. To be eligible to make your pick, you’ll need to make a purchase in the brewery’s taproom in order to get one vote. And if you order a pint of the GRale, you’ll get an additional ticket to vote.

Come April 3, all participating artists will be invited to join the community for an unveiling party of the final pick. The winner will land a $250 gift certificate to the brewery, their artwork will be displayed on bottling labels for GRale (as well as on other merchandise), and more.

For those who are interested in participating, you’ll probably want to know what the GRale is -- if you haven’t already imbibed.

“More than being our flagship, it’s our very definition of our approach to beer: flavorful, distinctive and as antagonistic as it is approachable,” Creston Brewery writes in a press release. “How’s that? Well, it’s all about the ingredients. We start with a base of pale malts and oats to deliver a chewy and rich medium body with a beautiful hazy golden color. Then we add just the right combo of superstar hops -- Michigan Nugget, Simcoe, and Citra -- to provide big flavors of citrus, mango, and pine with a beautifully balanced bitterness that we can only refer to as ‘righteous.’ With our beautifully fruity house yeast strain rounding out the flavor profile, we dry hop with more Citra hops to make this an absolute aromatic masterpiece to experience.”

In other words, you’re probably going to want to grab a drink to get your creative juices flowing.

Some basic details about the contest:
 
  • Submissions will be accepted from Feb. 1 through Feb. 28
  • You may submit artwork to andrea@crestonbrewery.com.
  • Artwork will only be accepted if the image is 72 DPI or higher and is submitted in a 10x10 format size or smaller.
  • Do not send images of your artwork that have been framed or contain watermarks.
  • Files should be titled in the following format: name, art title and medium used (example: ScottSchultz_OilPastel_GoldenSubmarine).
For further information, you can email Andrea Bumstead at andrea@crestonbrewery.com.

Justice is manufactured here: Q&A with Janay Brower, founder of Public Thread

If you know Janay Brower, you know of her passion for people, community and justice. So it should be no surprise that her new business venture combines a very strong commitment to people, community and justice.
 
Public Thread is located is located at 906 South Division. The business produces quality cut and sew products for clients and provides pre-production services: design, sourcing of fabrics and notions, prototyping, sample making, and pattern-making.
 
Like many startups, Public Thread has a fascinating backstory. Unlike many startups, however, the vision is not as much about fast growth, profits and expansion; rather, it is about developing a sustainable business model, making quality products with a local workforce and creating living wage jobs.
 
In this interview with Rapid Growth, Brower dives into the story behind behind Public Thread.
 
RGM: When was your business officially started?
 
JB: I researched and worked on Public Thread for three and a half years before we launched. We started actually producing sewn goods for clients in June 2016.
 
RGM: How long were you thinking about this idea? What was your inspiration?
 
JB: Public Thread generates from many parts of my life. I grew up in Grand Rapids, went to GRPS and moved out to the suburbs in the middle of high school. I experienced two very different cities within the same geographic area -- one that had significantly more people of color and was under-resourced and one that was almost all white and highly resourced. This shift in location and culture opened my eyes to systemic inequalities and planted the seeds that opened up my world view to orient towards justice work.
 
After college, I worked for more than 11 years doing systems change and public policy work for vulnerable children and families at both the City of Grand Rapids and through the Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness. What I saw at a systems level, mirrored by experience as a young person, was that, similar to many cities in the U.S., there are two different communities operating simultaneously -- and they are not equal. As I navigated through my work in the public and nonprofit sectors, I was continually challenged as to how I could put my values into action in a concrete way. How could I utilize my life experiences and what I have learned in my profession and thread them together? A common theme I kept seeing was the incredible need for living wage jobs and getting away from secondary systems that are not addressing root causes.
 
I researched and talked with a lot of people, finding out that there are so many talented people in GR and across Michigan with skills to design, sew and make things, but those skills are underutilized. I found out that less than one percent of the clothes we wear were designed by a person of color. I found out that a lot of small businesses need assistance with production in order to grow, and that there is a significant movement to re-shore apparel production in the U.S. Along with all that, I and many others I know and have met want to buy clothes, accessories and gifts that were made locally. We want to support domestic production and living wages. We want to build a stronger connection to the people that make the garments we wear every day. We want to be part of the solution and not wait any longer for someone else to do it. And so from all this, Public Thread was born.
 
RGM: What is your 'elevator pitch' for Public Thread?
 
JB: Justice is manufactured here. Public Thread is a social enterprise that offers small-batch cut and sew product manufacturing in Grand Rapids. We believe that being able to live in our own supply chain is critically important. Therefore, we pay living wages for our employees to make high quality, quick turn-around, sewn products right here in Michigan. We assist designers and businesses with product design, sample making and production of their sewn products. We also produce our own Public Thread line of products made with non-traditional textiles. We work in partnership with area breweries and community organizations in order to prevent materials from ending up in our landfills (because textiles/apparel are third biggest input into our landfills in Kent County).
 
RGM
: On your website you speak of building community. How does your business fit into the growing West Michigan "social entrepreneurship" community?
 
JB: We are working with a number of apparel or sewn product businesses in order to create a functional system and foundation across the supply chain to be able to grow all of our ability to design and make sewn products here in West Michigan.
 
RGM: So, early on, what have your learned so far? Have you changed any of your original assumptions about this type of business?
 
JB: Seriously, what haven't I learned? It’s crazy hard! I have definitely learned that it takes a village to launch a business. One of many challenges is that I really like doing work that has a positive impact on people, the environment and hopefully on the larger systems involved. These elements are not how most businesses lead into their work since so many are only oriented towards how much money they can make. It has been challenging to navigate a system that has become so focused on one thing to the detriment of the other elements. In particular, in this industry (cut and sew, apparel), the profit is made by squeezing labor. In order to make that $5 t-shirt, someone in the supply chain had to take the hit. That means if we value other humans and the planet, it requires a shift in thinking and in our purchases.
 
Public Thread was created to be a different kind of manufacturer -- one based on the triple bottom line (humans, the earth and money all matter). But we cannot do our work alone. We need designers, small businesses and end consumers that use their precious resources to be part of the solution. And now, seven months in, we are incredibly thankful for the amazing partner businesses, organizations and people that believe in Public Thread and have continued to invest in it with their time and resources. They are part of our inspiration every day.

RGM: Thank you Janay! 
 
Check out more details at www.publicthread.co
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

A culinary adventure: Blue Ribbon Farms carves out specialty niche with rabbits

Rabbit farmers. Rabbit farming. Free range rabbits.   

These aren’t necessarily the first things that come to mind when looking for the new agricultural businesses in the area. However, sometimes it is the unexpected ideas that can turn into something very special.

Blue Ribbon Farms is owned and operated by Chris Pabst and Jason Courtade. It was established in 2014 and is located on 8th Ave. in Marne, Michigan.

Jason Courtade says the inspiration behind Blue Ribbon Farms is not all about about rabbits; it is about creating awareness of alternative, healthy food sources and production systems.  “We want to change the way food is produced by making it healthier, flavorful and more sustainable.  Rabbits are just the first step in our long term goals.”  

The fact that rabbit is not readily available at local butcher shops or a staple at local restaurants is a big part of the business opportunity for Courtade. “Rabbit is, and has been, popular in many other countries for a very long time. Rabbit has been tested to be extremely lean, low in calories, and high in protein,” and it contains a high moisture content, he explains. “It really is as versatile as chicken.”
 
As Blue Ribbon Farms ramp up production and marketing efforts, there are a few early adopters where you can purchase their product. “Currently, customers can find our meat at Sobie Meats on Remembrance and A Gemmen & sons (The Meat Market) in Allendale. We are also currently looking to expand in West Michigan.”

As far restaurants go, Courtade is anticipating several local restaurants to feature their rabbits. “Spring is a popular time to put rabbit on the menu and we are currently working on finalizing the restaurants that we’ll be partnering with,” he says.

Beyond supplying local butchers and restaurants with their product, Courtade says Blue Ribbon Farms has a multifaceted business model.  “Supplying, fresh, local rabbit is our first priority,” he says. “It is not just about growth, but providing the freshest and highest quality rabbit meat with great service to our customers. We have aspirations to expand through sustainable means as well as teaching others how to raise their own meat rabbits. Additionally, rabbits provide some of the best manure available. Marketing it to the home gardener will be one of our next projects this spring. We have used it in our own gardens and have seen incredible yields from our plants that we hadn’t seen in previous years without manure. It’s a natural, proven way to encourage growth.”

Ultimately, where the rubber hits the road when it comes to rabbit farming comes down to consumers being open to try something new. When it comes adding rabbit to your home menu, Chris Pabst says there really is nothing fear, especially with their meat. “The taste of the ‘domesticated’ meat rabbit can be described as a mix between chicken and pork,” Pabst says. “There is no ‘gamey’ taste in the domesticated meat rabbit that we produce. Several times a year we sample rabbit meat at Sobie Meats for people to try. Feedback has always been excellent.  We encourage people to give rabbit meat a try; typically people are very surprised as to how excellent it tastes and the moistness of the meat.”

For those still a bit squeamish about rabbit, Pabst has shared a few recipes. “We have experimented with many different recipes that have been proven to be winners at our houses and with some of our customers.”

1. Ground rabbit meat – just like ground beef, but rabbit.  We use this for taco meat, burger patties, spaghetti meat sauce, etc.
2. Rabbit Chicken Sweet Italian Sausage – Available at Sobie Meats; a fantastic lower fat sausage option
3. Smoked Rabbit – Whole rabbit with Tim’s Blend Dry Rub (available at Sobie Meats). Smoke in smoker using maple or cherry wood.  Meat pulls off bone effortlessly.
4. Rabbit Loin Medallions – Bite size rabbit meat cubes wrapped cross grain with Sobie’s Homemade Thick Cut Bacon held with a toothpick. Cook on a smoky grill.
 5. Deep Fried Rabbit – Start with a fully broken down rabbit and dredge in egg, then roll pieces in Skeeter’s Lemon Mustard Light Batter Frying Mix (available at Sobie Meats). Fry in peanut or grapeseed oil at temperature between 350-375 degrees fahrenheit for about five minutes or until golden brown.
6. Grilled with dry rub.

To learn more about Blue Ribbon Farms, you can visit their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Entrepreneurial Gold podcasts highlight diverse group of entrepreneurs & creatives in West Michigan

Ricardo O’Neal and Holly Young are looking for gold. And when they find it, they want to share it with the world.

The gold the talented duo is mining are nuggets of wisdom and fresh inspiration from a diverse range of local entrepreneurs, creatives and thought leaders in West Michigan.

The plan to share these nuggets of gold begins with a live interactive event and then through a series of podcasts. Pure entrepreneurial gold.

Holly Young, the organization strategist at The Aurikk Brand Movement Group (Aurikk BMG), the creative team behind the Entrepreneurial Gold Podcast series, answered a series of questions from Rapid Growth about their company and inspiration behind the series of podcasts.

RGM: First, tell us about your company.

HY: The Aurikk Brand Movement Group is a collective of gifted creatives with a passion to build brands through consistent and effective strategy, design and engagement elements. These three core elements, we call SDE, all play off one another to scale and strengthen brands. This includes strong strategic work as a foundation supporting growth and customer retention; design work (logos, web sites, info cards, etc.) to gain attention and build interest, and ultimately, build the all important customer retention through engagement. We've been around for three years as Aurikk BMG. Our team is small yet powerful and effective. We've got our creative branding guy, Ricardo O'Neal; two graphic designers, Jake Karadsheh and Edwin Anderson; and organizational strategist, Holly Young.  The team works out the Blue 35 building located at 35 Oakes St SW.

RGM: What was the inspiration for the Entrepreneurial Gold Podcasts, and what do you hope to accomplish?

HY: We know West Michigan has a strong and powerful entrepreneurial spirit. People have brilliant business ideas everyday, and the ecosystem to support entrepreneurial endeavors in GR is becoming stronger every day. Entrepreneurial Gold stemmed from the gap we see in the Grand Rapids entrepreneurial community in the areas of diversity -- not just racial diversity, also gender, religious, orientation, and even business ideas. Our mission is to deliver valuable nuggets of entrepreneurship designed to help shape, strengthen and scale brands. We plan to build a diversified networking forum, create an educational business media outlet dedicated to assisting entrepreneurial growth and economic equality in the Grand Rapids/West Michigan region, and unearth the richness of our community through sharing stories of why failure isn’t the end of the world, but a motivational push towards success.

RGM: Besides your team, who else is involved with the podcast project?

HY: We have strong support from Scott Brew of Adtegrity (38 Commerce St. SW) as our primary sponsor. From the very first conversations about this idea with Scott, he was bought in as he sees the same solvables -- we don't use the 'P' word, problems, at Aurikk -- and was eager to be at the forefront of supporting the Entrepreneurial Gold movement.
 
RGM: Where and when can people check these out?

HY: The beauty of the Entrepreneurial Gold live podcast experience is in the ‘live’ part. Interested individuals can come to the actual events and be a part of the experience. There is a networking component and live Q&A with the speakers to truly make the audience a part of the movement. We host these events at multiple locations throughout the city, with our initial launch hosted at The Factory. Entrepreneurial Gold is a mobile event designed to make sure we are inclusive of all communities in the Grand Rapids area, so we will pop up at various locations across the city. The recordings will be uploaded onto Stitcher, SoundCloud, and iTunes within 48 hours of recording. As the Entrepreneurial Gold movement grows, so will the platforms hosting the podcast.

RGM: How do you select the panelists?

HY: We are actively and intentionally looking for a diverse set of speakers. Successful entrepreneurs representing various business ventures and backgrounds who are willing to share their journey (successes and failures) and be fully open and engaged with our audience; speaking from a place self-assured transparency and prepared to give away some of the valuable Entrepreneurial Gold nuggets integral in propelling their journey to success. We are really looking for individuals who understand the significance of participating in something game-changing and thought-shifting.

RGM: Why the podcast format?

HY: This is our first foray into the podcast world. We have plenty of guidance from skilled sound engineers to help along the way. We chose the podcast platform over other communication avenues (blogs, Facebook, etc.) because they are so mobile and easy to use. Whether listening during one’s commute, doing the dishes, or just cleaning out the inbox in the evening, listening to a podcast is something people can do anytime while still in motion. While we will still use other written platforms to support and share the message, we are excited about the inclusive nature of the live podcast experience and getting more people involved in the conversation and entrepreneurial movement than just the interviewer and guest speaker.

To follow the when and where of the next live Entrepreneurial Gold Podcast experience, check out their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Sales of electric cars drive job growth at LG Chem

LG Chem has emerged as a significant job creator in Holland, having added 140 new jobs in 2016 to a team that now tops 450 members. New positions for the business that produces lithium-ion batteries for the auto industry include technical operators, journeymen electricians, and engineers.

Fueled by the rapid growth in electric car sales, LG Chem accelerated its growth in 2015 and expects continued job growth in 2017.

Nick Kassanos, LG Chem MI president, says his company is in the “hiring mode” in 2017. He acknowledges the tight job market in West Michigan, but he notes LG Chem is a terrific opportunity for individuals looking for careers, not just jobs in an advanced manufacturing environment. “The challenge is always finding people,” he says. “The unemployment rate in West Michigan is below the national average. But we offer an opportunity  for individuals wanting to grow, build a career and work in an interesting industry.” 

LG Chem produces lithium ion battery cells for electric and hybrid vehicles, including the award-winning Chevy Volt. In November, LG Chem added the production of battery cells and battery packs for the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, the first-ever hybrid minivan. The Holland plant manufactured over six million battery cells in 2016, enough for more than 30,000 vehicles, and is expected to produce even more in 2017.

LG Chem Michigan Inc. (LGCMI) manufactures large, lithium-ion polymer battery cells and battery packs for electric vehicle and energy storage applications. LGCMI is a wholly-owned subsidiary of LG Chem, a South Korean company that has global operations focused on basic materials and chemicals, IT and electronic materials, advanced materials, and energy solutions. LG Chem is part of the LG Group.

For those interested in a career at LG Chem, visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

The Ferris State Digital Animation and Game Design program gains national recognition

The Ferris State Digital Animation and Game Design (DAGD) program could easily be one of West Michigan’s best kept secrets.

Of course, it is not a secret, but, unless you are directly involved with the program, you probably would be surprised by the success and scope of this innovative initiative.

Let’s review a few facts.

The program is nationally recognized. The Ferris DAGD program was recently ranked number 16 by the Princeton Review in its 2016 rankings of the top 50 undergraduate schools worldwide for game design instruction (the list includes institutions in the United States, Canada and abroad). This is the second consecutive year for Ferris’s number 16 ranking, which is based on factors such as lab facilities, academic offerings and starting salaries for graduates of the program.

The program is focused on helping students to become successfully employed after graduation. The DAGD program was designed by industry professionals  to teach students the entire spectrum of skills needed to be successful in the digital animation and game design industry. Among the industries the DAGD program helps prepare students for include film, game design/asset creation, medical visualization, educational software and game/animation development. DAGD program coordinator David Baker is an award-winning media producer, animator and educator with extensive background in media production and animation. He has produced projects ranging from instructional videos to children's CD-ROM games for organizations such as the Children's Television Workshop, MTV and Amway.

This emphasis on the gaming industry translates to big career opportunities for the students. After all, from an economic standpoint, the gaming industry had total revenues of $23.5 billion in the U.S. in 2015 -- an increase of five percent from 2014, according to Forbes.

The program is designed to not only help students gain the needed skills to be successful, but also help them post-college, with a very active and supportive alumni group, a network of digital animation employers and access to an online portfolio where students can share their work with the world.

But the real magic of the DAGD program is best understood from a student’s perspective.

Rapid Growth was able to interview Emma Alvarez, 17, a graduate of the West Michigan Aviation Academy and current DAGD student, via email.

RGM: When did you start the program?

Emma: I started at Ferris this fall (of 2016) at the age of 16.

RGM: Why did you choose this program?

Emma: I was originally planning to go to Western Michigan University to pursue Biomedical Engineering, but around May of this year my mother showed me a video on Facebook of this new Ferris University program. After watching the introductory video for the program, I was immediately hooked. I have always had a passion for art and video games, so the collaboration of the two that the program created was a perfect fit for me. I have always appreciated video games for their visual aspects, such as intricately animated environments and the graphic design behind game's UIs (user interfaces). Not only would this program allow me to expand on my own personal creativity, but it would also be training me for one of the most booming career fields in the current time: game design. How could I not want to be part of such an innovative and immersive program right in my own city? I did not even think twice about applying to the program.

RGM: What excites you about this program?

Emma: Frankly, everything about this program excites me. Though, if I had to make a choice, I would say the aspect that excites me the most is the opportunity to be able to join the VR (virtual reality) community. Day by day, the VR community is expanding and discovering new and innovative ways to bring its audience into a whole new side of gaming that they could not have ever imagined. It amazes me that the gaming community is experiencing such an awesome way to delve into their online interfaces, and it excites me even more that I could be part of the VR game making process. It has always been a dream of mine to create video games, and now this program has taken my dream and raised it a level, going beyond what I could have imagined.

RGM: What do hope to do after you graduate?

Emma: After I complete the program, I would like to start off working as a graphic designer at a video game studio, as well as doing PR (public relations) work for various companies. As I work my way up, gaining experience and networking, I would then like to see myself be able to start my own video game company that focuses on rebooting classic video games into VR versions, as well as creating new video games for the VR scene.

Well done Ferris State University. Well done.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

The Fresh Food Fairy takes a rewarding dip in the Dolphin Tank

Known as the “Fresh Food Fairy,” Hether Frayer is on an epic journey that includes Michigan-grown kale, unique spices and oils, and swimming with dolphins.

The Kalamazoo-based Frayer is an evangelist and educator for eating healthy.  Whether she is riding her stationary blender-bike to make smoothies at farmer’s markets or pitching her Kaleamazoo Chips (Michigan-grown kale flavored chips) to investor groups, retailers and business plan competitions, she is 100 percent focused on educating people about the benefits of eating healthier and maybe most importantly, having fun doing it.

Frayer, the founder of Fresh Food Fairy, an organization that advocates for good nutrition -- particularly among children, says she began producing and selling the kale chips with the hopes of funding scholarships for her nutrition education programs.
 
One such program included an extensive tour of the Kent County District Library system in 2016.  “I go wherever I'm invited,” Frayer says. “Last summer the Kent District Library hired me to visit 10 of their branches with my ‘Fresh Food is Fun’ presentation, followed by bike blender smoothies.  It was a great opportunity to visit the greater Grand Rapids area - I really enjoyed it.”

But back to swimming with dolphins. 

On Nov. 10, Frayer was in Grand Rapids to participate in the Michigan Women’s Foundation Dolphin Tank and Entrepreneur You Business Plan and Pitch Competition at Grand Valley State University, where she presented her vision for Kaleamazoo Chips.
 
“I’ve been meaning to write a business plan for Kaleamazoo Chips for three years, and the Entrepreneur You Program finally gave me the incentive and support to do that,” she explains. “As a result, I'm in a better position to make decisions about where the business should be headed next. The business plan was 60 percent of our score for the competition, and the pitch was 40 percent. Varnum Consulting in Grand Rapids donated "Speak Up and Be Effective,” a full day course to all 10 participants in the program to help us learn how to pitch. That was extremely valuable and will be helpful with all of my Fresh Food Fairy presentations as well.”

Frayer’s pitch ended up being spot on as she won $5,000, which will be used to fund in-store demos (especially at Whole Foods) and to hire a salesperson.

After the pitch, Frayer was asked what else she needed to keep moving forward and the answer was simple: connections. “I would like: businesses/corporations who have wellness fairs and other wellness initiatives who might be interested in bike blender smoothies. Schools, after-school programs, and events that would be interested in Fresh Food Fairy programs and specialty food/grocery stores and delis that have a customer base who appreciate healthy and locally produced snacks.”

To learn more about the Fresh Food Fairy and Kaleamazoo Chips, you can view Frayer’s website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Comcast leads a $2.8 million expansion of its fiber-based network in Kent County

A modern day riff on the old proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” could be, “it takes fast internet to build commercial development.”

 It wasn’t always the case, but, for the most part now, commercial and industrial developments need fast and reliable internet to service to attract and retain tenants, which in turn means jobs.

That’s one reason why the Comcast Business announcement of its $2.8 million expansion of its fiber-based network in Kent County that will add nearly 33 miles of fiber to 496 buildings housing 844 business tenants in a nearly six-square mile radius surrounding the Gerald R. Ford International Airport is a pretty big deal.

Rachel Sal Jansheski is real estate associate for Realvesco Properties. Her company is both a tenant and a property manager and agent for several of the businesses located in that area. She says there were limited options for companies when it came to speedy and reliable internet access in the area surrounding the airport. Which, if you had an industrial business such as a warehouse, was not a major problem, but for companies looking for affordable office space with access to the airport, not having reliable service could be a deal breaker. “The main complaints we had from 2011 to 2016 with companies looking for space in this area were the limited options and limited speed for internet access,” she says.

The proactive build approach will equip office spaces with high-speed broadband services that are capable of delivering up to 100 gigabits-per-second (gbps) of network capacity. The build-out will provide businesses access to a comprehensive portfolio of high-performance ethernet, internet and advanced voice solutions that will help meet the day-to-day demands of organizations requiring large amounts of bandwidth, looking to link multiple sites or branch locations, or planning to connect their offices to a third-party data center. The project marks the largest single concentrated fiber expansion Comcast has ever undertaken in West Michigan.

Comcast is one of the nation’s largest video, high-speed internet and phone providers. It maintains a strong presence in the West Michigan community. In 2015, the company invested nearly $925,000 in the form of grants and PSAs to nonprofits, scholarships to high school students, and community sponsorships.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

Daddy Pete's BBQ opens to-go shop on Eastern Ave, ready to smoke year-round

If you are dreaming of barbecue -- beef brisket, pork butt, ribs, smoked chicken -- for Christmas this year, you are in luck. Daddy Pete’s BBQ is coming to town.

The local food truck, Daddy Pete’s BBQ, has added a brick-and-mortar location to their lineup in Grand Rapids and will celebrate with a grand opening on Thursday, Dec. 15, from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm.

The 1,200-square-foot Daddy Pete’s ‘to-go’ location is housed at 2921 Eastern Ave. SE and has been open since its Nov. 25 soft launch. They plan on maintaining a weekly schedule of Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 am until 7:00 pm.

Daddy Pete’s BBQ, known for its classic, old-school, wood-burning rotisserie smoker and ‘low and slow’ cooking technique, has been in business since 2012.

Like many entrepreneurs, owners Cory and Tarra Davis began small, cooking from their kitchen for catering gigs and then moving to a food truck, all the time building a stellar reputation and a loyal following.

With a pending grand opening and hundreds of pounds of briskets and pork butts smoking, Rapid Growth was able to catch up via emails with the Davis duo while they took a short breather over the weekend.

RM: What does a brick-and-mortar mean to your business model? 

Daddy Pete’s: The food truck/concession trailer was not able to be opened year-round, therefore, the business was not well-equipped to take advantage of the many off-peak dining and catering opportunities. Daddy Pete’s capacity to serve would increase considerably if it were able to serve its customers year-round and expand catering through a larger brick-and-mortar kitchen.

RM: We’ve been following your soft opening; it appears you got a lot of support from other BBQ "brothers and sisters.” Anything unique about the BBQ scene in West Michigan? 

Daddy Pete’s: Here, in the north, the predominant cooking style is 'high and fast,’ meaning the use of high heat, which cooks the meat fast. There are a handful of others who utilize the 'low and slow' cooking style, using wood as their heat source. A number of us who follow the ‘low and slow’ cooking style have developed a kinship. Although the field of BBQ can be competitive, when it has come to being supportive of each other, we know there is a group of pit masters and business owners who band together.

We have been blessed to have so many friends, customers and businesses who have supported and helped Daddy Pete's from the very beginning of our very humble start to now that it would be hard to single out any one person or entity. We are just thankful to each and every one of them who have helped in any way to get where we are today.

To keep current on Daddy Pete’s BBQ news you can follow them on the web at http:// daddypetesbbq.com. They can also be followed on FaceBook at https:// www.facebook.com/DaddyPetesBBQ/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ DaddyPetesBBQ and on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/daddypetesbbq/.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

WYCE provides the soundtrack of West Michigan at Rosa Parks Circle

Grand Rapids has always been hip to everything local, so it is only fitting that our own community-sponsored radio station, WYCE 88.1FM, will now be providing the soundtrack to the city.

Thanks to a  partnership with the city of Grand Rapids Parks Department, when you are at Rosa Parks Circle and there is music being played through the speaker system, it will be a live stream from the West Side studios of  the Community Media Center and WYCE. 

The program, which began precisely at 7pm on Dec. 2 (following the lighting of the Christmas tree), was the result of multiple conversations that station manager Quinn Mathews had with the team from Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. “Since I began working with WYCE, I’ve been wanting to team up with community partners,” Matthews says. “We are the only radio station that plays local and regional music, and we want to spread the world.”

This program follows the introduction of GR Live, a live radio program happening every Thursday at noon in downtown Grand Rapids and broadcast live over the air on WYCE 88.1 FM.

Matthews sees this type of programming helping to not only to broaden the audience for WYCE, but most importantly showcasing the area’s vibrant  music scene. “We are all thrilled here.  As visitors come to town, or business men and women head to lunch, you will be given the soundtrack to 'a world of music' at West Michigan Community radio as you make your way through our growing downtown."

To learn more about WYCE, you can visit its site here.

(Full disclosure: The author of this story is a volunteer programmer for WYCE. Uncle John is on air every other Saturday night from 6:00pm-9:00pm.)

First photo: The WYCE Team Kicks off Music at Rosa Parks Circle. From left to right are: Gabriella De La Vega (“El Mundo Musical” on WYCE), Johanna Jelks (GRCMC), The Professor (WYCE programmer), Nina Capri (WYCE programmer), and Quinn Mathews (Station Manager WYCE).
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Pillow talk: Grand Rapids companies brightly and TR Data Strategy launch home decor business

For anyone who follows the work of the local creative and design firm, brightly, on Facebook, you might have noticed a series of posts in your news feed announcing the launch of a new “side project” called Tyg Décor shortly before Thanksgiving.

Rapid Growth was able to contact Larry Faragalli, the CEO at brightly, to get the lowdown of this new project, which he described as a partnership between brightly, TR Data Strategy, and one of their clients in the fabric and decor industry. 

For the purposes of this interview, questions are being answered by Larry Faragalli, CEO at brightly, and Matt Anderson, Partner at TR Data Strategy.

RGM. What's the new side project that brightly is working on?

Larry: Tyg Décor is a home decor business founded on the idea that accessories can be the star of your home. You don’t need to buy new furniture or repaint a room to change the feel; even something as simple as a well-made pillow can be transformative to a space. We’ve got decadent fabrics, vibrant colors, and a multitude of patterns that are ahead of the average fabric market fashion. We think there’s value in being able to constantly refresh a space with the seasons and so we’re launching the first subscription service for pillows, like Stitch Fix or Birchbox. Subscribe and each quarter and you will be delighted with seasonally fashionable pillows to dress up a room.

RGM: Who else is involved in with this project?

Larry: I learned about the Tyg Décor conceptually while traveling in Palm Springs with Matt Anderson of TR Data Strategy, a data strategy firm we work with both closely and frequently. One of their clients in Connecticut has significant exclusive access to premium fabrics from around the world, and TR Data Strategy believed there was a prime opportunity to create a direct-to-consumer brand in the home decor space.  We both agreed that data driven decisions and strong user experience would be the backbone of delivering the brand online and decided to formalize the arrangement. Through joint investment, both financially and through service contributions, we worked to create a new joint venture business.

RGM: How long have you been working on it?

Matt: We’ve been working on Tyg Décor on and off for most of this year. Funding the business took longer than expected. Then we made half a dozen trips to source fabric, make hundreds of prototypes, dial in the manufacturing and fulfillment processes, and install the technology that makes it all work. And now we’re live, just in time for the holiday shopping season.

RGM: What attracted brightly to this project?

Larry: One of brightly’s core missions is investment in product businesses, whether they’re technology based or not. We’ve invested in a few businesses thus far across several categories that are less consumer facing, and we wanted to dip our toe in the water of the consumer space. We’ve had great experiences working with the folks at TR Data Strategy, and generally love unique businesses that provide some kind of delight or value in a fairly accessible way. I think there’s a lot of possibilities in the category.

RGM: When it comes to the pillows, where does the actual work get done?  (sourcing, sewing, fabric design and shipping)

Matt: Tyg Décor is a distributed company. Our partner in Connecticut spent the better part of five years scouring the globe finding overlooked sources of super premium fabrics, which we now source domestically. Design takes place here and in Connecticut. We cut and sew in a terrific factory just over the border and ship five days a week from Eagle Pass, Texas. And we manage the business right here in Grand Rapids.

RGM: What are your plans for marketing Tyg Décor?

Matt: Home décor is highly visual, engaging, and fun, which makes it a great fit for social sharing. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. We’ve been working on partnerships with high profile home design blogs that we look forward to announcing next year. And through the end of the year, we’re giving our friends and family (and their friends and family) the chance to earn free product and other prizes for spreading the word. We’re extending that offer to Rapid Growth readers. You can get started at http://friends.tygdecor.com.

Larry: Outside of the methods Matt mentioned, we’ll be doing a fair share of traditional advertising over time as well. We believe the market is hungry today for a company like Tyg Décor, and we intend to do all the marketing necessary to build a national and international brand

RGM: How big of an opportunity is Tyg Décor? Do you envision adding products beyond pillows?

Matt: Decorative pillows alone is a billion dollar industry in the U.S., but our vision is bigger than pillows. Be on the lookout for other innovative products we plan on launching next year.

RGM: Tell us about the name: Tyg Décor.  Any special significance?

Larry/Matt:We were looking for a name that was fresh, short, memorable, and most importantly, not already taken. When we learned that “Tyg” is Swedish for “fabric”, which is the heart and differentiator of all of our products. It seemed a fitting choice.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

It's a chair. It's exercise equipment. It's both! It's Stow Fitness!

The Greek philosopher Plato is credited as the inspiration of the English language proverb “necessity is the mother of invention.”
 
For Jason Burt, the Spring Lake inventor behind Stow Fitness, it is not so much about necessity but rather personal frustration.
 
Fitness enthusiasts, Burt and his wife were expecting child number three and were living in a four bedroom house. The extra bedroom was used as a fitness room. With the arrival of their daughter, the fitness room became a bedroom and the exercise equipment was relegated to the basement. “No one wanted to work out in the basement,” Burt says.
 
So the exercise equipment moved upstairs, and the yoga balls, benches and weights became fixtures in the T.V. room, where you could work out and watch shows or listen to music. “But that always bugged me,” Burt says, recalling having to step over and around the equipment.
 
To fix that ‘bug,’ Burt decided to do something about it and invented Stow Fitness: a high quality living room recliner chair, with built-in fitness equipment. Think Transformers, the heroic autobots that can quickly change from a car to a giant robot. But in this case, the living room recliner simply transforms into fitness equipment and then back into a chair when the workout is done.
 
Stow Fitness is Burt’s first invention. The idea had been incubating for about six years, with serious product development work in the last two years.
 
To take the final step with his invention, Burt has just launched an ambitious Kickstarter campaign, with the hopes of raising $100,000 that will allow for a some final engineering and pay for tooling.
 
Burt says several markets exist for these chairs, including residential and commercial use, such as the hotel market, where room space is at a premium.
 
The Kickstarter campaign features great savings on the chairs, which are expected to retail at $1,599, with reward levels beginning at $999 that include the chair. (There are also multiple lower levels of support for Stow Fitness).
 
To learn more about Stow Fitness, you can follow their Kickstarter Campaign here, or visit their website here and Facebook page here. All Stow Fitness products are made in the U.S.A.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Thinking outside the box: Axislab brings 3D printing to Grand Rapids in new downtown office

In October 2015, Rapid Growth Media shared the story of Aaron Brown, a business owner that easily falls into the category of “unsung hero.”

Now, just a little more than 12 months later, Brown is making some significant changes with his 3D printing business, Axislab, that will allow him to secure the future for his family and continue his work with the e-NABLE community, a group of volunteers (including Brown) from all over the world who are using their 3D printers to craft free 3D printed hands and arms for those who need them.

RGM caught up with Brown two weeks ago.

RGM: For those not familiar with the 3D printing industry, describe the work Axislab does and who are the customers you serve?

AB: In short, Axislab is a Grand Rapids-based 3D printing service center, with focuses on production, education and consulting. Companies and individuals can come to us with a concept, or a CAD (computer-aided design) model to be 3D printed, and we will run the parts for them on one of our machines at an hourly rate. We also offer classes for new 3D printer users to learn the basics of both 3D printer operations and intro to designing parts for 3D printing. 

When it comes to the customers and clients we work with, this actually brings to light one of my favorite things about 3D printing, and the potential of this technology in a nearly limitless universe of industries. While our core focus is business-to-business prototyping, working with companies to turn proof of concept designs into physical objects, we are equally as passionate about helping individuals turn their project ideas and inventions into something they can physically hold in their hands. We have worked with everyone from product designers, architecture students, hobbyists, toy designers, even a confection artist who wanted to make custom shaped chocolates from food safe silicone molds. It's really exciting never knowing what project, or idea we may be working on next.

We also pride ourselves on the work we do with educators and youth groups around Grand Rapids. Getting 3D printers into as many schools as possible, and seeing the students get excited about designing and creating their own 3D printed ideas, has been a driving force for Axislab since day one.

RGM: When was day one?

AB: We opened the doors to our Axislab retail store at the beginning of 2015; we are just about to wrap up our second year as a Grand Rapids-based small business.
 
RGM: Why the move downtown?  How will this help (and change) your business?

AB: The brand new address is 560 5th St NW.

The closing of the Standale location was actually a difficult decision to make. Operating a full-time and open-to-the-public retail location can be quite costly at times. And, to be honest, there were quite a few months where the business did indeed pay for itself; there just wasn't anything left over to support myself and my family. I had to make the decision to shift away from the more casual walk-in type atmosphere and move into a nice office environment, with classroom and client meeting rooms to work consultations by appointment.

It's actually a really nice move, We found a great location very close to downtown out of a shared business space, which reduces the overhead quite a bit. Here we will be able to operate in a more personal and professional environment. We are continuing all normal operations, with the exception of selling machines and materials. We are no longer going to run as a retail store. Our website, Facebook and phone number will all remain the same.

RGM: Although we covered the e-NABLE group last year, give us on a update on the organization.

AB: E-NABLE is a worldwide group of volunteers, using 3D printing and the power of goodwill to design, test, and donate free of charge assisted hand and arm devices to limb-different children all over the globe. This is an organization I have volunteered with since close to the beginning. I found e-NABLE very early on, while I was myself fairly new to the world of 3D printing. I downloaded one of their very early open sourced hands, mostly as a test for myself to see if I could do it. I had no idea that first hand would alter the course of my life from then on. I have since printed and donated nearly 60 devices, including our amazing and newer Team Unlimbited arms that fill a huge need for children missing more than just a hand, up to the elbow. Being an e-NABLE member has truly helped to showcase the true power and potential of the world of 3D printing.


E-NABLE has always been a personal and loved side project for me. As long as I can maintain the business side of Axislab, and cover costs, I will never stop melting plastic for all the right reasons.

RGM: Please share any numbers that can help tell the impact of the e-NABLE group

AB: E-NABLEhas been around since 2013; as of this past month, e-NABLE has soared past 9,000 members globally, and donated over 2,000 devices to kids and families! All 100 percent free of charge, all thanks to our amazing and dedicated volunteers.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

First Lady Michelle Obama presents WMCAT with national award

There is big news.

There is REALLY BIG news.

And there is this.

First Lady Michelle Obama invited the 12 winners of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award to the White House on November 15th to recognize their programs’ effectiveness in developing young people’s learning and life skills by engaging them in the arts or humanities.

One of the winners, one of only 12 in the country, is Grand Rapids’ own West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT). 

The award recognizes the country’s best after-school and out-of-school creative youth development programs for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment. The 12 awardees—chosen from a pool of more than 251 nominations and 50 finalists—were also recognized for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.

Representing WMCAT at the event  was 17-year-old WMCAT alumnus  Keloni Seawood-Walton.

Daniel Williams, executive director at WMCAT, says that Seawood-Walton was the perfect choice to represent WMCAT. “She embodies the work we do at WMCAT,” he sais. “She attended all four years while in high school and completed the labs. She then stayed with us and also apprenticed at Ambrose.” 

Seawood-Walton became a part of WMCAT while attending Grand Rapids Montessori School and graduated in spring 2016. She now is working part time as an apprentice at WMCAT’s Ambrose Print Shop while attending Grand Rapids Community College.

Williams says this recognition is reflective of the entire WMCAT community: staff, instructors, mentors, students and supporters and will impact organizations throughout the country by showcasing the opportunities that exist to invest in creative youth development programs. “This expands our ability to share the work we are doing,” he says. “It takes our program to the national stage and showcases what is going in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

This recognition is built on years of hard work. Since 2005 the WMCAT Teen Arts + Tech Program has engaged more than 2,000 high school students in studio experiences in fine arts, technology and design. The impact is illustrated through 95 percent of WMCAT teen students graduating high school on time and 85 percent being accepted to college. This past year, 90 percent of teen students said WMCAT makes them believe they can be successful in college and career.
 
The Teen Arts + Tech Program at WMCAT is grounded in design thinking and project-based learning. In partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, WMCAT has empowered teens through learning studios, such as photography, ceramics, and leadership by design. WMCAT encourages teens to elevate their voice and affect social change by applying their skills learned in the programs. Now in its 11th year of programming, WMCAT has helped more than 2,000 teens to achieve both academic and personal success. 

The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the nation’s highest honor for out-of-school arts and humanities initiatives that celebrate the creativity of the United States’ young people, particularly those from underserved communities. This award recognizes and supports excellence in programs that open new pathways to learning, self discovery, and achievement. Each year, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards recognize 12 outstanding programs in the United States, from a wide range of urban and rural settings.

Recipients receive a $10,000 grant and the opportunity to visit the White House and accept the award from First Lady Michelle Obama. Awardees also receive a full year of capacity-building and communications support, designed to make their organizations stronger. In addition, 38 exceptional youth-focused arts and humanities programs across the United States receive a Finalist Certificate of Excellence.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Put on your dancing shoes: The DanceOff returns to the Pyramid Scheme to raise money for Well House

“Life's a dance; put on your dancing shoes; take a chance.” That lyrical snippet of Steve Winwood’s minor hit does a very nice job of summing up the coolness that the third annual DanceOff will be bringing to the Pyramid Scheme on Dec. 10.

Jonathan Williams, creator of the DanceOff, says the event has raised nearly $10,000 over the last two years for Well House, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that provides safe, affordable housing to individuals who are homeless. He expects the same type of success in 2016. 

Williams says all dance styles are welcome, and the event is now open to all ages.  So, whether you breakdance, swing, free style, tap, cha cha, waltz, rumba, merengue, samba, salsa, Charleston, jitterbug, Carolina shag,  disco, tango, or foxtrot -- or you prefer mashing, skanking, doing the electric boogaloo, flexing, robot dancing, or vogueing, you are welcome.

Basically, if you got moves: bring it.

The event is designed to bring together some of Grand Rapids’ best dancers for a head-to-head  battle to crown the ultimate dance champion.

Doors will swing open at the Pyramid Scheme on Dec. 10. The top dancer, as selected by a panel of professional dancers, will be awarded a grand prize of $500, and proceeds from ticket sales benefit Well House.

To enter the DanceOff, contestants must submit a three-minute video of their best moves at www.thedanceoff.co or audition in-person at the Pyramid Scheme on Nov. 15 from 7 to 9 p.m. Contestants need to pre-register online and will be asked to submit a three-minute clip of their music. Contestants who make the cut will compete on stage at the main event on Dec. 10.

The DanceOff is seeking experienced and diverse dancers of all ages and all dance styles. Although Williams is a bit modest with his dance moves (“I like to keep it simple with the two step and some finger snapping for good measure”), he does promise some amazing performances.  “We have had everything from: contemporary, modern, tap, and hip hop -- what surprises me every year is the hidden dance talent in Grand Rapids.”

Tickets for the Dec. 10 event are $10 and can be purchased online at www.thedanceoff.co.

Video trailer for Dance-Off: https://youtu.be/-0_echOfPFE

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Photo credits:  Dave Burgess | Studio 616 Photography

 

Coming soon: Malamiah Mobile will deliver healthy juices, smoothies and a whole lot of inspiration

Malamiah Juice Bar’s “Malamiah Mobile” concept was the winner of  $5,000 investment from the October 5x5 Night business pitch competition.

Created by husband-and-wife team Jermale and Anissa Eddie, Malamiah is a juice and smoothie bar focused on healthy living and giving back to their community. The business is located in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market.

Malamiah Mobile is an added riff on the company’s brick-and-mortar business that will help the Eddies’ take their products and their message of healthy living and service to the community on the road.
 
With the $5,000 investment, the Eddies will begin the process of obtaining a used mobile truck and such equipment as an under-counter freezer, under-counter refrigerator, sinks, a generator, and decals to brand the truck, as well as any needed permits to get Malamiah on the road. The company also received an additional $5,000 in legal services provided by Varnum.

Jermale Eddie says the 5x5 Night is a big step in the next growth phase of their business. “It will enhance what we already do and in a more efficient way,” he explains.  Eddie says catering represents about 15 percent of his current business, but he often has to turn down opportunities because he does not have the capacity to prepare products on site. “With Malamiah Mobile, we will be moving to catering 2.0. We will be able to handle newer, bigger events.”

Eddie also says adding a food truck provides the business with an opportunity to extend their core belief in serving the community by allowing them to have more visibility and a bigger presence in Grand Rapids’ neighborhoods. 

Additionally, it will allow his business to pilot new services, such as a delivery program to hotels and large employers and eventually a mobile education lab with a sound system and projector that they can use to educate communities, including children of color, about the importance of a healthy diet, local food systems and entrepreneurship. “Kids can’t be what they don’t see,” Eddie says. “We want to make being an entrepreneur in the inner city cool. I want kids to say, ‘If he did it, I can do it.’ I want them to see that I was a just a guy with a vision and a concept and I made it happen.”

Eddie says his plan is for Malamiah Mobile to hit the road in the spring of 2017.  He envisions the truck design to have a “farm fresh, local feel with an urban twist.”

To follow Malamiah Juice, you can join their Facebook page here or website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Photo credit: Start Garden
 

Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids to honor city's unsung heroes

When you think about what fuels an organization what comes to mind? Now think about an organization like Habitat for Humanity of Kent County or the Grand Rapids Art Museum – when you think about nonprofit organizations, who do you attribute success to? In the sector we have perfected the art of thanking donors who provide the financial support to allow us to do the work that we do. We’ve even allowed ourselves to recognize people and organizations at large when they have done, relatively speaking, extraordinary things. What we continue to fail at doing, however, is recognizing the extraordinary efforts of individuals in organizations who ensure that the work is done and done well.
 
The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids recognized this problem eight years ago with the creation of the YNPN.GR Leadership Awards. Each year, the organization recognizes the efforts of individuals who go unnoticed because we know that in the sector of do-gooders it’s, more often than not, hard for people to take a moment to press pause and celebrate the work that they’ve done to move the needle on issues that effect the outcomes of those in the communities we serve.
 
There are eight awards that recognize 40 individual efforts to achieve excellence and impact in the nonprofit sector. The Advocate Award will go to an individual who is always advocating for their cause. The Breakthrough Award will go to an individual or organization whose work has led to a new method, idea, or process that has positively impacted the community and/or discovered a new solution to a complex problem within the nonprofit sector.

The DoGooder Award is an exemplary volunteer. The Dorothy A. Johnson Excellence and Achievement Award honors a seasoned leader in the nonprofit sector who consistently sets an example for the next generation of nonprofit leaders. The Exemplary Executive Award will go to an exemplary young nonprofit executive director. The Good-To-Great Award will go to an individual that has moved an organization or program from good to great. The Unsung Hero Award will go to an individual who has positively influenced a nonprofit organization from behind the scenes with positive attitude, a willingness to help, and a commitment to excellence but often goes unrecognized. And lastly, the group recognizes a young professional that excels in their work with the Young Nonprofit Professional of the Year Award.
 
On November 16, 2016 the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids will honor 36 individuals whose contributions help energize the nonprofit sector in ways that are significant but not always recognized. Come join the organization at St. Cecilia’s Music Center at 6pm as they recognize the individuals who fuel the important work this sector does and learn more about the 2016 Leadership Awards Finalists here.

Breannah Alexander is Director of Strategic Programs at Partners for a Racism-Free Community in Grand Rapids. When she is not designing programs that get people talking, she is fiercely advocating for and elevating the narratives of women and girls through women reVamped. She is also co-chair of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids board.

Independent film exploring the front lines of entrepreneurship in America to be shown in Holland

When asked for the inspiration behind the decision to help organize and sponsor a film documentary about entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs, Ryan Wenk, marketing manager at Worksighted, says it is “long story.”

Actually, it is a very entrepreneurial story. You see an opportunity, and you start to hustle.
 
“I came across a trailer for the film, and, being from Detroit, I thought it would be awesome to bring to West Michigan,” Wenk says of the film that focuses on Detroit-based startups. Wenk first pitched the idea to the management at Worksighted, an information technology services firm headquartered in Holland, and then to his contacts at Start Garden and Lakeshore Advantage, both of which quickly signed on as sponsors. And, voila, “Generation Startup” will be showing at the historic Knickerbocker Theater in Holland, Nov. 9, from 6pm to 8pm. The screening will be followed by a discussion and munchies at Collective Idea in Holland.

What is Generation Startup all about? Here’s the official description:

“‘Generation Startup’ takes us to the front lines of entrepreneurship in America, capturing the struggles and triumphs of six recent college graduates who put everything on the line to build startups in Detroit. Shot over 17 months, it’s an honest, in-the-trenches look at what it takes to launch a startup. Directed by Academy Award winner Cynthia Wade and award-winning filmmaker Cheryl Miller Houser, the film celebrates risk-taking, urban revitalization, and diversity while delivering a vital call-to-action—with entrepreneurship at a record low, the country’s economic future is at stake.” To learn more about the film, you can click here.

Wenk says the documentary is for business owners, administrators, students, and professionals looking to learn more about entrepreneurship, make connections and be inspired.
  
Besides debuting in Holland, the film will be shown in Grand Rapids as part of a monthly film series sponsored by Start Garden. Check out their calendar of events for details on dates and times. 

To register for the show, you can can go here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Cultured.GR launches to examine and celebrate Grand Rapids' fine arts scene

Cultured.GR is a new digital publication focused on telling great stories, providing thoughtful criticism and celebrating the visual and performing arts culture of Grand Rapids.
 
The two entrepreneurs behind this new venture are Marjorie Steele and Holly Bechiri, both of whom have deep roots in the cultural, creative and media scene in West Michigan. For five years, Bechiri served as The Rapidian’s managing editor until her recent departure, and Steele has worked as a freelance writer and communications consultant with startup experience, as well as a reporter at The Rapidian during Bechiri’s tenure.
 
The inspiration behind cultured.GR is grounded in the seismic changes to the media landscape over the last several years. When is the last time you have read a newspaper? Or read any serious, visual and performing arts criticism? These are the stories that today’s traditional news sources rarely cover in any detail or with any expertise.
 
Steele says cultured.GR represents a new media business model for the area. It will have an NPR-style revenue support: corporate sponsorship, individual support and grants -- and it’s focus will be 100 percent on the Grand Rapids art scene. “We are designed to support the art community and it is a community effort,” she says. “The sponsorship will come from the local non-profits that we serve.”
 
However, and this is a big however, sponsorship does not mean that these organizations get coverage. “It is not pay-to-play model. It’s a very important part for us and sponsors. This is not a cheerleading platform,” Steele stresses. She explains cultured.GR will not shy away from writing negative reviews, even if it is from an event hosted by a sponsor -- which is exactly what the sponsors want. “Arts criticism is welcome. In fact, our sponsors say, ‘We want you to bring actual art criticism and honest discourse to the readers.”
 
Initially, cultured.GR will be focused on Grand Rapids and its environs, and its content will cover the fine arts. “Our coverage will be on arts and culture, not arts and entertainment,” Steele says. (Sorry, no Kanye or Garth Brooks reviews.) “We have other media that do a good job of covering those types of events." 
 
Both Steele and Bechiri will be providing content, as well as local freelance journalists. “It’s not been a problem finding writers and photographers. We have great voices in the community. If you can’t go to the opera but want to read a serious review, we have writers that have expertise in writing those types of events.” Bechiri says besides commissioned content, there will be opportunities for submitted op-ed pieces.
 
Stories will be added to cultured.GR on an ongoing basis, and there will be a Thursday email sent to subscribers providing an overview of the upcoming cultural events in West Michigan.
 
To learn more about cultured.GR, you can visit their site here or Facebook page here
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News editor

Experience Grand Rapids adds staff to welcome visitors pouring into our city

So, what’s going on?

“Oh, you know we've got to find a way. To bring some understanding here today.”

Thanks Marvin Gaye, but when you are looking to visit Grand Rapids or book a convention downtown and want to know “what’s going on,” the people you really need to meet with are from Experience Grand Rapids (EXGR), the city’s official destination marketing organization.  

Because, if you are making a decision to spend millions of dollars on a convention, bringing hundreds (or thousands) of people from out of town, you need a whole lot of interesting things going on. 

The good news is that we have that covered. Our city has become a true destination for national conventions and conferences. The demand has increased to the point  that Experience Grand Rapids has just announced the addition of Larissa Karimwabo (event coordinator) and Maria Liddil (events specialist) to its events.

Karimwabo brings an extensive background in events and logistics. She previously worked with the West Michigan Sports Commission, assisting with the State Games of Michigan (winter and summer) as well as several ancillary events. She has also worked on planning the annual symposium for the National Congress of State Games. 
 
In her position at EXGR, Liddil manages small events, promotional purchasing, and projects for larger events. She is a graduate of Grand Valley State University and has previously worked in data management roles. She is also an accomplished local artist whose work has been on display at Wealthy Street Bakery, The Electric Cheetah, and charitable events. 

Kim Rangel, EXGR Director of Events, say her team handles more than 75 events annually and explains that although her job is by no means easy (event marketing is very competitive), selling Grand Rapids is not all that hard. “It is cool to show off all the different experiences we have in Grand Rapids and everything they can do here while visiting. Of course we are Beer City, but we have history, art, education, museums, hotels, restaurants. It’s really just a matter of asking what do they want to see, and we show it to them.”

Rangel says that the sales cycle in her industry is unique and a long-term process, ranging from three months to three years -- so having a talented team that can build long term relationships with clients is critical. Looking forward, Rangel says 2017 is right on track, with several large conferences in the books. “We have a number of great conventions booked in 2017, including Bruhan Maharashtra Mandal of North America with an estimated 3,400 attendees and the National Environmental Health Association with an estimated 1,000 attendees. These groups represent a combined direct spending of $6 million.”

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

GRCC Psychology Department's Speaker Series tackles the elephant (and donkey) in the room

Trump supporter: “What the h*ll are you thinking?”
Clinton supporter: “How can you even consider supporting…”
Third party supporter: “What planet are you on?”

Whether it has been at work, in a coffee shop, over a beer, or on social media, we have all heard variations of these types of comments, ad nauseam, in 2016.  

As divisive and exhausting as this year’s election is, you have to admit: it’s not boring. 

If you are interested in taking a deeper dive into the “why” of political partisanship in this year’s presidential election cycle, you might want to check out the first topic of the  2016-17 season of Grand Rapids Community College's Psychology Speaker Series.

Dr. Frank Conner, chairman of GRCC's psychology department, will discuss "The Psychology of Political Affiliations: Are Donkeys and Elephants Really that Different?" from 1-2:30 p.m. this Thursday, Oct. 27. All presentations in this speaker series are free, open to the public and held in room 168 of the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center at 151 Fountain St. NE.

Dr. Conner says the talk is apolitical. It is not meant to convince you to support one party over the other; instead, it is simply about being able to understand other people’s point of view, even if it is radically different than yours. “It’s about being more objective, accepting and understanding of people who are different from you,” Conner says. “The fact is different people view the world differently.“

The genesis of the talk is born from Conner’s research background and curiosity. “I am really curious about the continuing political divide. What is causing this separation?”  He says his research background is in socio-cultural psychology, which tries to understand individual differences and how we influence others, as well as how others influence us.

Conner says developing an understanding of individual differences is not only important in political discourse, but also plays itself out in the workforce when people have to work in cross-functional teams while solving problems. Each individual, whether they are an engineer, accountant, or marketer, will approach the problem differently, and it is only through understanding another’s point of view that the team will be able to arrive at the optimal solution.

The GRCC Psychology Department Speaker Series is in its ninth year. It was started to enhance the Psychology Department at GRCC and provide students a “four-year institution” experience and an opportunity to learn, be challenged and push their world view. Other talks scheduled include:
  • "The Emergent Use of Virtual Reality in the Treatment of Psychological Disorders" by psychotherapist and software developer Thomas J. Overly from 1-2:30 p.m. on Nov. 30.
  • "Understanding the Neurobiology of Drug Addiction in Humans through the Study of Animals" by Bryan Singer, a research fellow and lecturer at the University of Michigan, from 1-2:30 p.m. on Feb. 16.
  • "Introduction to Mindfulness: Exploring the Science and Practical Application" by April Hadley, social worker and instructor at the Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness, from 1-2:30 p.m. on March 22. 

As stated above, all presentations in this speaker series are free, open to the public and held in room 168 of the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center at 151 Fountain St. NE.

For more information about the series, contact Conner at (616) 234-3612.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

SkyBox Cloud makes the move from Reno to Grand Rapids

It’s home sweet home for the husband and wife team of Tim and Shelly Averill, the chief technical officer and chief executive officer (respectively) of SkyBox Cloud LLC, as they move their headquarters from Reno, Nevada to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

SkyBox Cloud is a provider of  secure and reliable offsite server hosting, application hosting and cloud backup for small to enterprise sized companies. “We fill the gap for companies looking for something different than Amazon, Google or Microsoft Azure. We work with our clients, review their infrastructure and then build it. It ends up being a turnkey solution,” says Tim Averill.
 
He says his company provides consultation in the front end, so they can design the best possible plan for their clients. He adds that many of SkyBox’s customers once owned their own server systems and then made the switch to SkyBox’s  monthly service plan when they understood the hidden costs of power, cooling, hardware and software maintenance, floor space, personal property taxes, and obsolescence.  “We build custom solutions,” Averill notes.

Averill, a native of Grand Rapids, says the catalyst for the move was simply to be closer to family and help care for his mother. However, a move to the Midwest was always on the couple’s radar.  “We had plans to hit this market: Chicago, Grand Rapids, Detroit; my family situation only accelerated the move,” he explains.

SkyBox Cloud serves customers in a wide variety of industries. The company owns server farms in Tier 4 data storage facilities in Sacramento and Dallas that have several levels of entry security and redundancies that prevent interruptions due to loss of electricity, internet connections and cooling. Established in 2011, SkyBox has seven full-time employees at offices in Reno, Nevada, two locally, and a team of about 20 subcontractors in the United States and internationally.

Averill says the industry continues on a very positive growth curve. “There is a lot of opportunity. For example, security concerns continue to grow and grow. Even though people are more aware of security risks, many people don’t realize  the extent how high their risk is.”

He says they are currently looking for office space in or near downtown and should be ready to announce the location in the first quarter of 2017. Once moved, they will be looking to hiring administration, sales and engineering positions. 

To learn more about SkyBox Cloud, you can view their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Help wanted: Exploring (and landing) a design career in West Michigan

Rapid Growth Media recently published a story about all the interesting work being done locally in designing for the world of connectivity, aka the Internet of Things (IoT). For many folks, working on connected devices is not the first thing you might think of when considering a career in design.

Design can mean different things to different people, and it is often a bit misunderstood by individuals without industry familiarity: parents with children exploring careers, students in high school or college figuring out what to study, and even some teachers and career counselors. It’s easy to imagine the conversations. My kid wants to be a designer, what’s that mean?  Fashion? Interior design? Are there jobs?

The truth is design is more interesting than mystifying. It is just that the breadth of careers, areas of study and specialization create truly unique career choices with different skill sets.

Grand Rapids is home to many organizations in many different industries that have robust design teams and can provide very interesting, well paying, and creative careers.

Rapid Growth Media asked Ken Krayer, Director of Design West Michigan, and John O'Neill, President of AIGA West Michigan and the Principal and Creative Director of Conduit, to provide a little perspective as to what a career in design might mean.

(Plus, we highlighted three great companies with job openings for designers, which you can check out at the end of the article.)

RGM:  What are “design jobs”?

KK: “Design jobs” cover a broad range of opportunities and industries, including, but not limited to, communication design, product design, fashion design, interior design, furniture design, sustainable design, experience design, sound design, architecture, information design, and even food design. Many of these disciplines include specialization opportunities, such as type design, as well as collaborative, cross-disciplinary opportunities. Designers often move within and across disciplines over the life of their careers.

RGM: What is the job forecast within the design industry over the next five to 10 years?

KK: We are seeing a brighter spotlight on design, especially here in West Michigan, as more and more companies are placing design at the center of their business strategies. Many Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) design graduates who could pursue careers elsewhere choose to stay in the area because of the robust opportunities that exist here.
 
RGM: What would surprise people (non-designers) about the design industry and design careers?

KK: Most people who are not designers are surprised at the breadth and depth of career possibilities in design. Other professions often cross over with design due to the interdisciplinary power of design. Some examples of these are photography, engineering, research, marketing, and design management. Design thinking gives non-designers the tools and skills needed to develop and apply iterative solutions to problem solving.

JO: Michigan has a surprisingly robust design community, with jobs in industrial design, architecture, interior design, branding, and UI/UX. In certain fields, such as industrial design, we have more designers per capita than any other state, and these designers make about $10,000 more annually than similar positions in other states.

RGM: Looking at your crystal ball, what and where will the design jobs be in 10 to 20 years?

JO: The law of truly large numbers states that even a small percent of a large number is a large number. China now has 400 design programs and over 10,000 designers graduating each year, so we are no doubt going to see China come onto the international design scene in the next 20 years. However, I still feel that our rich design heritage and world class design institutions have a lot to offer, so it should be interesting.

RGM: What are great sources for information about careers within the design industry?

KK: For any specific statistics on design, I would suggest you see the 2016 Creative State Michigan Creative Industries Report. A copy of the report can be viewed here. Design careers are included within the overall category of creative industries.
 
In addition,for more information on design in our region, visit the Design West Michigan website. Membership is free. You can sign up for our mailings on the web site. Design West Michigan is part of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University.
 
Design jobs in West Michigan

Are you actively looking for a great job in design?  Here are three very successful, interesting and different companies that currently have job openings.

Ben Smith at Designvox shared an opening for a Web Designer. Check out the job description here.

The team at Visualhero and OST are looking for a senior user experience designer. Find out more here.

If you are interested in working at a larger company, Kedron Rhodes is putting together a design team at Gordon Food Service. To learn about applying, go here.

For more career opportunities, AIGA West Michigan keeps a job board updated here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Carvers: There's a new butcher in town

There's a new butcher in town.

Or more accurately, there is a new butcher at the Downtown Market.

Carvers: Grand Rapids’ Finest Meats, opened for business Oct. 7, becoming the newest tenant inside the Grand Rapids Downtown Market Hall.

Carvers will feature the traditional products you expect to find in a neighborhood butcher store, plus a little more. Cases will be packed with a variety of high-end meats (beef, pork, poultry, lamb, etc.) at an “approachable price” (more on this later). Beef options will include a full line of 100 percent grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef as well as high-end Kobe options. Heritage Kurobota pork, pork belly, unique house-made sausages, and organic, free-range chickens will also be available year-round. 

Carvers too will feature a full-service kitchen with made-from-scratch items, including a $5 burger feature, chicken wings, pastrami and corned-beef sandwiches, and  a full-service deli, where customers can customize their own grab-and-go sandwiches and salad bowls, made to order by deli specialists.

The founder of Carvers is none other than Jeff Butzow, the culinary impresario behind Fish Lads, a Downtown Market anchor.

Between fish mongering and opening his new business, Butzow is very busy but Rapid Growth managed to catch up and ask a few questions about Carvers via email.

With your experience at the market, why is Carver's needed after the previous butcher closed?  Are you going to be doing anything different?

Folks shopping at the Downtown Market have missed the option of having fresh meat, on-demand. We’ve listened to customers for the past several months and put together options that will hopefully satisfy everybody. From a line of grass-fed beef that’s never been treated with antibiotics or hormones to American Wagyu beef to heritage pork and organic chickens, we’re trying to reach consumers who are seeking sustainable and delicious options. We also have a full-service deli that features a full line of nitrate- and nitrite-free lunch meats and charcuterie.

What does "approachable price" mean? 

Because meat products come in greater quantities and are easier to cross-utilize than high-end seafood, we’re able to pass along cost savings to consumers. Our menu features a $5 burger made from high-end beef we grind in house from our steak trimmings. Customers will be able to pick a sausage from the case and get it grilled right then from the kitchen. We know consumers have expressed surprise at some of the prices in the Downtown Market, and we want to show that this is an experience open to anyone regardless of income level.

Are you working with any local (or regional) farms for the meats?

We are proud to be retailers of Otto’s chicken and turkey, from their farm in Middleville. Our pork comes from DeVries in Coopersville, and is excellent. But, like Fish Lads, we’ve strived to reach across the globe to source the very best products for consumers that fit with our commitment to quality and sustainability. For example, our grass-fed beef comes from Australia, and we selected them as our provider because of their ability to consistently provide diverse selections of antibiotic- and hormone-free cattle.

How many jobs will Carvers be "carving" out?

We have added eight new staffers, and been able to create more hours for our Fish Lads crew. We are currently hiring, and encourage anyone interested in joining our growing team to come down and apply.

What are the similarities and differences between Fish Lads and Carvers?

Carvers is essentially an extension of the Fish Lads experience, just meat-centric. The same front-of-house staff that serve customers at Fish Lads will extend their reach down the counter to Carvers. We’ve hired experienced butchers that know their meat and will serve as great resources for customers, whether they’re looking to try out a new cut of meat, or simply want a new recipe to spice up their dining routine. We aim to serve the highest quality products without pretense.
 
For more information about Carvers, you can check out their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Tech Tales: New website tells the stories of West Michigan's technology scene

"There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them."

OK…referencing the tag line from an iconic 1950s police drama seems a bit random, but the sentiment is true. There are countless very interesting untold stories about West Michigan’s tech sector, and Mike Sudyk is determined to get the bottom of it.

Sudyk is the vice president of operations of the EC Group International, a Comstock Park-based firm that builds software teams for product-based software companies, and he is the force behind GR Tech List, a website that features video-stories about local tech scene and companies.

The inspiration (and purpose) of GR Tech List is a bit counterintuitive. It comes from Sudyk’s interest in helping share the story of the EC Group— which he thought was best done by telling the story of other companies in the broader West Michigan tech community.  “Being a local company around since 1999, we have actually had a very little number of clients in West Michigan, and it was only until recently that we started to invest in the local tech scene. We started to get more involved with networking and realized that there is a lot of cool stuff going on in Grand Rapids. It seemed unfortunate to not have more awareness to what was going on.”

When it comes to storytelling, video is the tool of choice for Sudyk, especially when your recent marketing hire is very creative and has ton of experience with film and video.  “We had seen that video is such a powerful medium for storytelling, and that is what drove us to hire a full time creative director,” Sudyk says, referring to Maria VanDyken. “She does all our video production, and, having gone through the process ourselves, we know the value but also the pain of having to figure out how to tell your story. We realized that we can offer this to the tech community to hopefully bring more awareness to the region, as well as get us plugged into these companies to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.”

Sudyk describes the GR Tech List as a side project for the EC Group, and he is letting the project grow organically before making definitive plans for the site’s next steps.  “We would like to see it grow so that it becomes the go to spot for people to get an idea of what is going on in the Grand Rapids tech scene,” he explains. “Eventually there is an opportunity to drive potential investors to the site, as well as talent that the region needs to stay competitive. I believe in the old saying that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ so the opportunity to build the region is a net positive to everyone here.” 

To date, there have been 10 videos filmed and eight videos posted on the site.  Sudyk says his team identifies potential companies to profile, typically small to mid-size tech firms and everything is provided free of charge.  “The reaction has been really positive so far,” he says. “The companies are very happy to have been featured, and they have been actively promoting the site to their networks. We have not done a significant amount of general promotion of the site as of yet but are planning to in the next two months to drive traffic to the site.”

Sudyk says GR Tech List is designed to be a win-win. For the EC Group, “it plugs us into the community, builds our brand awareness, opens up new opportunities, and helps us keep a finger on the pulse of the region.”  For the greater tech sector, “the vision is to spotlight how great West Michigan is and that it is a place that technology companies are flourishing and then to help facilitate the growth of the region.”

To learn more about the EC Group, you can visit their site here.  View the GR Tech List site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Goat creamery wins $50K business plan competition, readies to expand production

The winner of this year’s $50,000  Momentum Business Plan Competition is Kandy Potter, founder of KandyLand Dairy, the first and only Grade A-licensed goat creamery in Michigan.

Potter beat out four other contestants who also pitched their ideas to a panel of judges and live audience at West Shore Community College’s two weeks ago.

Potter is a fourth-generation Michigan farmer who got three rescue goats in 2008 and started making cheese and yogurt for family and friends. This quickly expanded, and she is managing a herd of 100 goats today.

With the $50,000 Momentum grant, Potter is ready to rock. The funds will allow her to expand and build an on-site creamery at her farm and allow her to produce cheese and yogurt locally and at increased capacity, as well as add bottled milk to the product lineup through the addition of a pasteurizer, milk chiller and bottling line. The creamery also will contain walk-in coolers, an aging room for more elaborate cheeses, and a small retail store. Part of the facility will include an observation area for visitors to see everything happen, from pasteurizing to cheese making and milk bottling. Once the creamery is complete, it will be the only goat farm in Michigan selling bottled milk and drinkable yogurt.

Potter began processing her cheese and yogurt at The Starting Block, a non-profit kitchen incubator in Hart. “The Starting Block was great, and I was able to get my license,” she says. “Sales were phenomenal from the start, and I outgrew The Starting Block. Business has exploded all over the state.”  Potter now sells at farmers markets in Ludington, Manistee, Frankfort, and Muskegon; grocers such as Hansen Foods in Hart, Port City Organics in Manistee and Biercamp in Ludington; and restaurants such as Shay's M22 in Onekama, Iron Works Cafe in Manistee and Big Hart Brewing Company in Hart.

KandyLand Dairy follows such other Momentum participants as Stuart Family Organics,  Love Wines and Starving Artist Brewery (the 2015 Momentum winner), making the Ludington area an emerging hot spot for artisan and handcrafted foods and beverages.

Launched in 2015, the Momentum Business Plan Competition awards one business entrepreneur a prize of $50,000 to start or move an early-stage business to West Michigan’s Mason County. Funded by Pennies from Heaven Foundation and administered by the Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce, the competition is open to eligible independent for-profit or non-profit ventures with a viable business idea, plan or invention, or existing organizations or companies with less than $100,000 in sales or revenue annually.

To learn more about KandyLand Dairy, you can view their site her or their Facebook page here. For more information about the Momentum Business Plan Competition, you can visit its website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

SpringGR trio collaborates to launch new line of cosmetics

With a little help from his friends, Juan Autrey, founder of J. Autrey Cosmetics, celebrated the launch of his new product line of lipsticks.

Autrey teamed up with fellow SpringGR graduates Latesha Lipscomb (Posh Entertainment; I Got Face Cosmetic Concierge) and Nicholas Dean (Dean Catering) to throw a private launch party on Friday celebrating the release of his new products.

Autrey has been working on his line of lipsticks since 2011, experimenting and creating his unique colors from his home. He launched his first products to sell in 2013. and, then, with the help of SpringGR in 2014, formalized his business plan and energized his efforts to build a sustainable cosmetic business. 

For the launch, Lipscomb’s company, Posh Entertainment, planned, promoted and hosted the event, while Dean’s company catered the party.

Autrey says his products are unique, featuring very distinct colors.  He says he purposely chooses women of all ethnicities as models, who help highlight the universal appeal of his lipsticks. Currently, Autrey says his products are manufactured and packaged in New York and are available through his website.

Arlene Campbell, SpringGR business coach, says this type of event is a great example of the networking and mentoring that SpringGR encourages.  "This collaboration is distinctive because of the cohort model that we use in SpringGR,” Campbell says. “These three businesses have teamed up to launch J. Autrey Cosmetics. It shows the power of collaboration to get someone started in their business. Juan won the people choice award and has worked hard to use his social capital to connect to others to launch his cosmetic line.  SpringGR would like to help expand Juan’s networks as well.”

SpringGR is an entrepreneurial training, networking and mentoring resource for individuals interested in starting a business or scaling their current venture.

You can learn more about SpringGR here and J. Autrey Cosmetics here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Ferris State University helping students to succeed in college with Promesa Summer Success Program

Getting ready for college is hard. Layers and layers of hard.
 
There is an increased rigor in classes. Pressure to study and score high on ACTs. Of course, there is confusing paperwork, forms and even more paperwork for admissions and financial aid. Once that is done, you just have to figure out where to live, meal plans,possible roommates, juggle family and work, and the list goes on and on.
 
Now, you take those layers and wrap it around students and families for whom attending college has not always been an expectation, and you have a good idea of why programs like Ferris State University’s Promesa Summer Success Program are playing an important role in West Michigan.
 
The free program is part of FSU’s Woodbridge Promise Summer Success program – a college prep program that focuses on getting high school students ready for post-secondary education through development classes, ACT readiness, and an overall college level awareness upon graduation.
 
Students interested in enrolling in Promesa must possess a 2.50 cumulative high school grade point average and have ACT sub scores that place them into both Ferris developmental courses (MATH 110 and READ 106). Applicants must be recommended by their high school. Accepted students must commit to an eight-week long program of half-day instruction during the summer following their junior year.
 
The program, which is in its fourth year has grown from 16 students from the Grand Rapids area only to 60 individuals from the Grand Rapids, Holland and Hart/Shelby areas this past summer.
 
Although the program is open to any student, the program was designed with a focus on the Latin@ community. Kaylee Moreno, Director of Latin@ Students at Ferris State University provides perspective and a little background. “FSU looked at Latin@ rates of students entering college, and they were low. We researched where large pockets of these students were living and began targeting those schools.”
 
Moreno says for many of these students, college is not on their radar. "Latin@ students in general are first generation. Access is to college is not discussed or viewed as a possibility,” she says.
 
To identify these students, Moreno says they take a very hands-on and personal approach. "We work with community leaders and the schools to identify students on the edge but are not being engaged. They are just on the brink of being eligible for college. "
 
Promesa combines fundamentals of algebra, college reading methods and college study methods with a cultural infusion by partnering with community organizations such as the local school districts, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, LAUP (Latin Americans United for Progress) and the Believe2Become Program.
 
Like the program’s name, the results have been promising, according to data shared by Moreno. The 2016 cohort of 60 participants produced 57 “successful completers” – a 95 percent success rate. And for the last three years, students from the Hart/Shelby area have posted a completion rate of 90 percent, while Holland has a program finisher rate of 88.24 percent. Grand Rapids has seen 84.09 percent of its students complete the program since 2013.
 
The most recent data available shows that 21 Promesa students from the 2014 cohort group were enrolled in post-secondary schools – six at Ferris and the remainder at other four-year institutions and community colleges. And 24 students who participated the 2015 program have been accepted to Ferris for the 2016-17 academic year.
 
To learn more about the program, you can visit their the FSU site here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and News Editor
 

Grand Rapids entrepreneur launches campaign to support better health & good night's sleep

Have you ever been curious about how inventors think?  The work, passion and process behind bringing a product to the market?  Or, maybe, just about how to get started?

If the answer is yes, a great place to start is to spend a few minutes with Grand Rapids' Rebecca Tyke, a longtime entrepreneur and inventor who has just launched a Kickstarter Campaign for her newest business and product,  the iSleepFit System and the iSleepFit Posture Belt. 

RG: Is this your first invention?

RT: As marketing director at 2/90 Sign Systems, I’ve been involved heavily in product ideation and design. My father, Charlie Tyke, revolutionized the sign industry in 1978 when he designed the first sustainable sign system; instead of throwing the sign away when the message changed, it allowed the user to replace the graphics instead. My father also designed one of the first garage door openers with an integral lighter fixture while working for Stanley Tools, but he is best known as the creator of Little Tikes.  As you can see, I’ve been raised in a solution-driven environment, so this venture is in my blood.

In 1999, I co-founded Olympia 2000, where we took a basic name sign and branded it with licensed logos, called Persona. Licenses were cost prohibitive, and we found were not necessary for alumni fundraising and university department usage so 2/90 absorbed the product line and we still actively market it today. In 2011, my father, Charlie Tyke, looked at some of our sign equipment not being utilized and created a product called 3StepArt, a line of dimensional artwork custom created in three steps: design, color and size. Again, we took advantage of the existing distribution of 2/90 Sign Systems and offer it as a product to facilities for branding.

RG. What was the inspiration for your newest invention and business?

RT: My son, Chase, woke up with a kink in his neck and his chiropractor attributed the problem to sleeping on his stomach. When the doctor said he didn't know of any products that could help him change his sleep position, he jumped on the internet and found a recommendation to put a ball in the front pocket of a T-shirt. The idea was good, but it didn’t account for his stubbornness, so Chase moved the T-shirt over and continued his bad habit. Raised in a family of entrepreneurs, he asked me to help him design a solution that would keep him from rolling onto his stomach while he slept. I set out to design a product that could not only help him, but adapt to address all kinds of ailments caused by sleep positions, and the iSleepFit Posture Belt was born.

RG: How long was this product in development?

RT: Once I realized the product helped Chase, I wondered if the pain I suffered from since a bout from cancer could be sleep related. I took an extra prototype and changed it to promote back sleeping. I was amazed how much better I felt the next morning. I began telling our story, and soon learned we were not alone; poor sleeping habits wreak havoc on our bodies and impact the way we feel all day. So I joined the Grand Rapids Inventors Network in April of 2014 and did a product review to get input from professionals. I was told by a lot of people to plan on twice the cost and time. And they were right, but it was worth it!

RG. What were your biggest obstacles and how did you overcome them?

RT: Even though I was raised in a manufacturing-driven company – marketing and sales are my passion – my biggest obstacle was finding someone to take my design requirements and bring my vision to life. I went through a couple of product designers, but the journey lead me to Cesar Santana and World Resource Partners in Byron Center. Cesar took my product design and tweaked it for mold production. WRP then handled the sourcing of mold production and manufacturing. They are the perfect fit for me; they handle the manufacturing and fulfillment, which allows me to concentrate on my strengths of marketing and sales.

RG: What are your long-term goals for this product?

RT: Our vision is to create a fitness movement to make sleep a conscious part of healthy living. Our company name, iSleepFit System, expresses our goal to provide a “system” approach to sleeping fit. Good sleep is the foundation of good health. The iSleepFit Posture Belt is our first product designed to improve health through better sleep. Our mission is to educate and equip so people get more out of the time they sleep. When you do something for eight hours, it’s going to make an impact – we want to help make it a positive one.

RG: How is the Kickstarter campaign going to help?

RT: Our campaign is a little different than others in that we have already invested a lot of time and money into research, patent and registration fees, product design and tooling. We are all set to place our order and are using this platform as a pre-sale tool to gauge product demand based on the campaign’s success.
Kickstarter offers a unique platform to launch a product. The marketing opportunities are priceless verses just opening an e-commerce site. The exposure and support verify the need for a product like our Sleep Posture Belt and a fitness movement like iSleepFit System.

To learn more about the iSleepFit System, you can go here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and News Editor

Grand Rapids company designs award-winning app for workforce development

The C2 Group, a Grand Rapids-based web design and development company, has announced the launch of an award-winning  application.

The KentuckianaWorks Career Calculator is a web based, career focused application that  uses a variety of local and national datasets, such as the  Economic Modeling Specialists International, U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET Web Services, and the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, to make job and career searches easier, faster and more effective. The app was designed by The C2 Group in conjunction with KentuckianaWorks, the career training arm of the Louisville, Kentucky metro government.

The new app helps users such as students, career counselors and adults looking to transition into another career easily search real-time labor data by occupation, education and income. The app translates the data into easy-to-understand visualizations that helps users identify trends and opportunities to make better career and academic decisions.  “This is the centerpiece for a workforce development initiative,” says Brian Beaupied, marketing communications manager at The C2 Group.

In June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors recognized KentuckianaWorks, the city of Louisville, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer with a 2016 National Education Pathways with a Purpose Award and, with it, a $100,000 grant based on the success of the career calculator.

Beaupied says The C2 Group has worked extensively in higher education and was chosen for the project after submitting a request for proposal.

The C2 Group is a full-service web development company, designs and builds web, mobile, and custom application. For more information on the company you can view their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

6.25 Paper Studio celebrates five years of downtown retail

The retail industry is full of challenges: razor thin margins, finding great employees, having the right location (high traffic, good parking, affordable lease) and successfully competing with big box stores, brick-and-mortar businesses and web-based behemoths like Amazon. Being a retailer in downtown Grand Rapids is basically the same, except probably double the challenges. Maybe even triple. 

Without a thriving retail culture downtown and with rents more in line with service industry (financial and legal firms, restaurants, etc.), existing downtown Grand Rapids retailers need to be super resourceful, extra scrappy, extremely good with what they do -- and always find ways to have a little fun. Basically, the 6.25 Paper Studio story.

So, when 6.25 Paper Studio turned five years old last week, Abbey Fowler, owner and operator, threw a party and celebrated their success with their employees and customers. Damn right! 

The business first called MoDiv, the downtown retail incubator, home for two years and then moved to its present location at 40 Monroe Center three years ago. Fowler says there has been a lot to reflect on since opening up downtown. “Overall in the past five years, retail downtown has been up and down,” she says. “Things were promising when MoDiv opened (in September 2011), but quickly took a lull for awhile. We've lost some substantial retailers (such as VanHoeks Shoes and Schuler's Books).”

Despite the ups and downs, Fowler says she feels that downtown retail is more of an up than a down now. “The best change for retailers like myself is the growth of downtown dwellers,” she says. “With the new Mortan House, 616 Properties, The Waters Center, Arena Place, The Rowe, and more in just the last couple years, we see new customers every day that recently moved downtown (often from bigger cities like Chicago) with the desire to experience the city not as a destination, but as a home and community.
 
“I see this shift with the upcoming plans for Arena South and the West Side, but also in the small changes like the expansion of Grand Central Market and The Apothecary, the renovations at Madcap, the rebrand of Divani -- my favorite spot, and the fact that small retailers like myself, Gina's Boutique, The Vault of Midnight, Old World Olive Press and more are still holding strong,” she continues.

Fowler says that one secret to her success has been her blending of her brick-and-mortar location (which sells a wide variety of gifts) with her fast growing wholesale line of branded greeting cards.  “The retail side allows for decent cash flow and the opportunity to hire a larger staff that can also support the wholesale business,” she explains. “But, most importantly, our retail business  is what allows us to connect with the community and feel part of the local economy. If we only had a wholesale business, we would have no public presence in Grand Rapids and, in my opinion, feel isolated.” 

Besides the sense of community, her storefront also serves as a working laboratory that is driving her wholesale business. “In our niche of greeting cards and gifts, having the retail store also gives us the opportunity to test our wholesale product before selling to other stores,” she Fowler says. “The wholesale side of 6.25 Paper has grown significantly since our current brand launch at the 2015 National Stationery Show. We signed on about 30 stores from that show and are now in over 100 boutiques around the world, plus a national chain. Growth of the wholesale business is the most scalable part of our company, and I'm focusing much of my own attention there.”

Fowler says she works with both local and regional designers and illustrators to create her greeting cards and currently employs four employees. 

To learn more about 6.25 Paper Studio, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

 

Beer and business: GRCC's Fountain Hill Brewery responds to industry's growing hiring needs

Beer City needs beer employees — and who better to provide high quality education and training for our metropolis’s brewing and food operations than Grand Rapids Community College and the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education?

The Craft Brewing, Packaging and Service Operations Certificate is the school’s response to the industry’s growing hiring needs that go beyond solely understanding the brewing process and includes mastering the entire brewery operation that is needed to run a successful business.

The certificate program includes fieldwork experiences and an internship at a brewery or brewing-related operation. Course topics include brewing, fermentation principles, packaging, labeling, merchandising, marketing and operations management — including laws and tax regulations.

Amy Koning, Associate Dean of Operations, says industry partners, including many of the largest brewers in the city, were the catalysts for the program at a time it became apparent that the rapid growth of the industry and the demands of the job market far exceeded the supply of trained workers. With a highly successful culinary arts program that is routinely named one of the best in the country and established connections with the restaurant industry, GRCC’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education was a logical place to design and offer a program.

The centerpiece of the Craft Brewing, Packaging and Service Operations Certificate is a fully functional brewpub, The Fountain Hill Brewery, which is operated by students enrolled in the program which began in the summer of 2016.  “The brewpub is a lab, just like the Heritage Restaurant,” Koning says, referring to a restaurant run by culinary students. “Students are in class when they are brewing and serving when the brewpub is open.”

The program is two semesters long and  includes an internship for completion. Koning says the next cohort is full, with 18 students enrolled. There is currently one full-time instructor and two part-time faculty serving in the program.

The Fountain Hill Brewery is open to the public but has limited hours.

Hours of operation are:

5:30-7:30 p.m. on the following Thursdays/Fridays

Fall 2016
  • September 22-23, 29-30
  • October 6-7, 27-28
  • November 3-4, 10-11, 17-18
  • December 1-2
Winter 2017:
  • January 19-20, 26-27
  • February 2-3, 9-10
  • March 16-17, 23-24, 30-31
  • April 6, 13-14

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

Help wanted: Must be interested in making a difference in the community

Are you interested in helping to end homelessness in Grand Rapids? How about making sure the West Michigan business community grows and local neighborhoods thrive? Or being in a classroom and shaping the next generation of citizens?

If any of these descriptions describe you, check out these three organizations that have openings for jobs that can make a significant impact in the community and in the lives of people throughout our area.

1. Well House is growing and looking for a Chief Operating Officer.

If you interested in being an agent of change in the community and being part of an organization that is tackling the issue of homelessness in an innovative way, Well House Executive Director Tami Vandenberg has the job for you.
 
“This is an incredible opportunity to help shape the future of Well House and the movement we are building to change the conversation around homelessness in our community,” Vandenberg says. “This position will interact with a wide cross-section of the city including people living on the street, elected officials, funders and service providers. A rare opportunity to have lasting impact in people's lives as well as the city's housing future."

For more information, you can view the application here and the Well House website here.

2. The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has two new leadership positions posted.

If you are  interested in economic development and being part of the team that has significant impact on West Michigan’s business growth and success, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has recently announced  two new opportunities to join its senior leadership team. The two available positions are Vice President of Talent Development and Vice President of Marketing & Communications.

You can view the jobs here and learn more about the Chamber here

3. The GVSU Charter School Portfolio has multiple job openings in both east and west Michigan

If education, teaching and learning is your passion, Erin Abel has a series of job openings in the GVSU Charter School Portfolio that might be what you are looking for. “We’re the first accredited charter authorizer in the nation,” Abel notes. Beyond the intrinsic value of working in education, Abel explains there are significant professional and personal development opportunities. “What you get working at a GVSU charter school: M.Ed tuition reimbursement, free professional development, a statewide support network, and career satisfaction,” Abel says.

You can view the employment opportunities through the GVSU Charter Portfolio here.

If you’re looking for a new career or position, keep an eye on our jobs and innovation section. Rapid Growth will be highlighting other interesting jobs across many sectors in the upcoming months.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Women of the web: Girl Develop It to support, grow community of female programmers in West Michigan

Becky VandenBout and Shelby Tieche make things happen -- both at work and in the community.

VandenBout is a freelance software developer and Tieche is a front end developer at BizStream. They use code to make things for a living.

They are now using coding to build and support a community of women programmers in West Michigan as co-founders of the Girl Develop It (GDI) Grand Rapids chapter.

GDI is a national nonprofit organization that exists to provide affordable and accessible programs to women who want to learn web and software development through hands-on instruction. GDI targets women 18 years and older who are interested in exploring a career in software or are looking for a career change. Classes range from introductory to advance level software development skills.

Tieche says her motivation to spend her energies on starting the chapter is simple. “I am passionate about code, and being a female in the industry I want to encourage women to make a career in coding,” she explains. 

The local chapter will reflect the interests of the members, says Tieche, as they will have the freedom to create different courses -- all based on listening to the local members. “We will mold it to what the community wants,” Tieche says.

Tieche recommends you sign up for their email list to receive more information on how to become involved with GDI GR by filling out this form. You will then be sent more information based on the interests you identify, as well as newsletters and reminders for future classes and meetups.

To get started, the first meetup is scheduled for Wednesday, September 14th from 6:00pm-8:00pm at The Factory downtown and will be focused on everything GDI, as well as what the vision and goals are for the Grand Rapids chapter. They will also be announcing the schedule for upcoming classes and social events as well. These meetups will be held every second Wednesday of the month.

To RSVP to this meetup, check out the Meetup page at https://www.meetup.com/Girl-Develop-It-Grand-Rapids/events/233536292/.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

GR's Varsity News Network adds founder of The North Face to strategic advisory board

Grand Rapids-based Varsity News Network (VNN) has announced that Kenneth “Hap” Klopp, founder of The North Face, will be joining VNN’s strategic advisory board effective immediately.
 
Klopp is the founder of the outdoor brand The North Face and served as the CEO for 25 years. In addition to his role at VNN, Klopp is currently an Operating Partner and Advisor at VO2 Partners.
 
Ryan Vaughn, VNN founder, says that adding Klopp to the advisory board is an important chapter in the story of the growing news network, which offers hyperlocal high school sports content to millions of readers across the country.
 
Vaughn explains the relationship with Klopp began about two years ago through an introduction from a VNN investor. At that time, Vaughn says Klopp was intrigued by VNN but took a wait­-and-­see approach to the startup. “He has a sports background and an appreciation for the difficulty for what we are doing,” Vaughn says. “He has seen other companies trying to consolidate the fragmented high school market and has seen them fail.”
 
However, after VNN continued to grow, hitting business milestones and attracting investors, Vaughn was able to make a successful pitch for Klopp to join his advisory board. ”He knows people throughout the sports industry, has many contacts in the media and has a lengthy background in building startups,” Vaughn notes of the new board member.
 
Besides Klopp’s incredible network and experience, Vaughn notes it is his expertise in branding where he might have his biggest impact on VNN. “It’s a big commitment on his part and an important part of the the evolution of VNN,” he says. “As we have grown, we’ve figured out many things about our business. Now we are growing from a startup to a company, and in the next few years we will be scaling to build a national consumer brand.”
 
As the industry’s first comprehensive communication platform, VNN is the exclusive web/mobile platform for more than 10 percent of all U.S. high school athletic communities, reaching over 7 million passionate fans across 40-plus states (adding 8,000 fans daily) with exclusive, hyperlocal high school sports content. To learn more about VNN, you can visit their site here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

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

Final Jeopardy question.

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

[ queue final Jeopardy music ]

What is Creative Studio Promotions?

Correct you are.

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

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

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Young fashionistas launch new venture through Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did you start the club?

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

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

When do you hope to begin selling?

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

What type of products are you making?

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

What's most exciting about fashion design for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

'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.

Rockford software firm's construction app named one of the year's best

A Rockford-based software company, JobFLEX, has been recognized by TSheets for developing one of the top 10 construction apps of 2016.
 
The app, designed for the construction industry and sales professionals to do on-­site estimates by giving easy access to material lists and pricing, even without Wi-Fi, was named the “best app for estimates and bids.”
 
Kim Phillipi, founder and CEO, says the construction industry has lagged behind using technology, especially in the field. The company’s new app focuses on speeding up the estimating process. “The frustrations were the ability to deliver estimates in a timely manner,” he says. “Consumers are more demanding and expect everything faster and to be delivered online and over their phone or tablets.”
 
Philipi says that, with his app, estimates can easily be delivered within 24 hours. He says in the past, this might have taken a month or more.
 
JobFLEX, which was founded in 2009, has a 12-person team and is currently looking to add more developers to its staff. Besides designing software, the company also has a construction division, Greenfit Homes.
 
Since launching in beta last year, the the app has had more than 3,000 downloads, routinely lands on "best of lists" and is being used by more than 400 contractors.
 
To learn more about JobFLEX, you can view their website here.

And to learn more about why JobFLEX was chosen for the award, visit the Construction App Awards website.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

The scootin' life: West Michigan-based Micro Kickboard brings fun to city commutes

Anyone with kids knows that scooters are really cool and a whole lot of fun. Less known, however, is that scooters are increasingly not just for kids. In fact, they are for the whole family and are rapidly finding a growing niche for adult commuters in urban markets.

Just ask Julie Hawksworth, president of Micro Kickboard, the U.S. distributor of Micro, a growing business located 5090 Kendrick Ct SE, Grand Rapids.

From Hawksworth’s perspective, scooters are the perfect mode of transit for urban living. They can connect the last mile of a commute, from a  bus or a train, to the office that is about twice as fast as walking and multiple times more fun.
 
“We first discovered the Micro brand while living  in 2003,” she says. “Walking our daughter to  school, we spotted a commuter on a scooter and fell in love (with the scooter). At first glance, we could see the design and quality were exceptional, and that day we ordered the first of what would become many Micros for our family. We immediately loved that it was fuel-free, foldable, and incredibly smooth-gliding. We also loved how it turned our 20-minute walk to school into a 10-minute scoot. Riding our Micros also was fun; we rode to restaurants, to school and to the park.”

After living in the United Kingdom, Hawksworth and her husband, Geoff, had the opportunity to move to Michigan, and they felt there was an opportunity to not only share their love of scooters with the U.S. market, but to build a solid business.
 
“In 2007, events conspired to take us from the U.K. to the U.S., where the Micro brand was in transition. With the help of Micro HQ in Switzerland and our friends from Micro UK, we started Micro Kickboard to distribute Micro products in the USA, where the quality of Micro's design and manufacture was already taking scooting to a new level, for adults as well as children,” she says. “As the official U.S. distributor for Micro, we make the products available via our website (microkickboard.com) and via a variety of specialty stores across the U.S., including lifestyle, baby, sporting, bike, travel, and toy. You also can find Micro at a handful of museum shops, most recently at the [Museum of Modern Art in New York].“

Business is definitely on the upswing, especially with the adult scooter market. “Three to four years ago, people would laugh about adults using scooters, but it is now much more normalized. The quality is exceptionally high, and it feels like an adult activity,” says Hawksworth.

To support the growth, Micro Kickboard has several job openings.  The 15-person firm is looking to add three new positions: web developer (experience with e-commerce preferred), business development (researching new markets and urban transport trends) and order processing/sales support.

Hawksworth says working at her company will be fun, creative and collaborative. “As Micro's family in the U.S., our team here in Grand Rapids is united by a passion for scooting the great outdoors,” she says. “When we founded Micro Kickboard, we made it our goal to work to be as good as the products. Given the almost non-stop innovation coming out of Switzerland, it is a continual challenge. We try to improve each and every day, which makes the work fun and the fun work.”

You can learn more about Micro Kickboard here. 

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Virtual reality therapy: How one Grand Rapids center is changing the way we treat mental health

The canyon before me is expansive, with dramatic red and orange cliffs that continue for as far as the eye can see. Perched on a narrow strip of rock, I glance over the edge of the platform upon which I stand and immediately look back up. There’s no doubt about it: that’s a long, terrifying decline.

Before I get too queasy, I take off the large, black glasses strapped to my head and give a laugh of relief: I am in an office. And there are no cliffs.

The canyon I had seen is part of what’s known as a “virtual reality exposure system” at the VR Therapy and Counseling Center at 1618 Leonard St. NE in Grand Rapids, and that specific scene was used to help a client who had a fear of heights and was planning on going on a canyon hike with his wife. While being monitored by a therapist, the client immersed himself in a scene of which he was terrified, again and again traversing the narrow cliffs of the canyon until he eventually overcame his fear of heights.

“We use it with phobias a lot,” VR Therapy and Counseling Center owner and psychotherapist Thomas Overly says of the clinic’s virtual reality setup. “We worked with the guy who came in with the extreme fear of height; we’ve treated people for anxiety, PTSD. We have people come in, we interview them and we customize the [virtual reality] program to meet their needs.”

Since January 2015, when Overly launched the business that was first born as a research project for his graduate program at Grand Valley State University, he, another therapist and two computer programmers have worked to offer virtual reality therapy to everyone from veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to businessmen and women with social anxiety, and individuals suffering from depression and eating disorders, among others.

For each client, Overly, who was a computer programmer before becoming a therapist, creates the virtual reality program they’ll use for their hour-long sessions, which, while they use a new technology, are typically covered by insurance because they use a well-known form of treatment known as exposure therapy. In other words: a client repeatedly faces their fear, in a safe environment, until it no longer plays a debilitating role in their life. Except here, instead of talking through their fear, as would happen in traditional exposure therapy, individuals are able to tackle their anxieties, phobias and more in a far more realistic environment, all while their heart rate is monitored by a therapist to ensure they don’t become dangerously anxious. Once they engage in the virtual reality program, they then will spend their remaining time talking about it with a therapist, after which the programmers can tweak the setup so it coincides with what the client needs as they progress and heal.

“A lot of studies were done with veterans and soldiers” that have shown the efficacy of virtual reality therapy, Overly says. “Guys don’t always like sitting down and talking about their feelings. This lets them work through it using a hands-on approach. They get to actually confront their fears.”

Now, in addition to the current system, the center is poised to launch another virtual reality program called a “behavioral rehearsal system,” which will use virtual reality and facial and full-body motion tracking to allow the therapists to interact with clients by controlling characters with the virtual environments the programmers create for them. Translation: the therapists can become any character necessary to help the client.

“I can play every role with them: I can be a little girl, an old man, any race,” Overly says.

The center extrapolates on this, writing that, for instance, “if a teen is having difficulty in school settings, we will be able to place him or her in a virtual school setting where he or she will be able to learn more effective interpersonal skills, with our therapists taking on the roles of other children, teachers, etc. The system will use voice modulation, along with motion tracking, in such a way that any therapist will be able to control any character within the simulation in real time, mapping all movement and communication in a way that matches the specific character being controlled.

“For instance, if a female teenager were having difficulties interacting with her peers, our therapists will be able to take on the role of any other teenagers in the simulation, regardless of age, sex and physical characteristics,” the center continues.

While all of this work being done by the center has not always been easy (the up-to-date technology isn’t cheap, and Overly has had to invest much of his own money into the business, for example), but it is beginning to pay off. The center’s available therapy sessions are routinely filled, with their days often including 12 hours of clients, and this kind of cutting edge treatment has caught the eye of business innovation experts. The center was recently named one of six grand prize winners in a national competition aimed at startups, the Comcast Business’ Innovations 4 Entrepreneurs contest. As a part of this contest, VR won $30,000 and a trip to the Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia in August, when Overly will meet with a series of experts on finance, business planning, operations and technology, growth strategy, and marketing.

“This is huge for us,” Overly says of the award. “We get to upgrade our technology, and we want to get this technology into other people’s hands. We want to train them and help them use this.”

For more information about VR Therapy and Counseling Center, you can visit its website here.

Photos courtesy of VR Therapy and Counseling Center

Grand Rapids' Varnum law firm dedicates second $1 million in free legal services to entrepreneurs

When the employees of Varnum, a 128-year-old law firm in Grand Rapids, first began considering how they could support a still floundering economy five years ago, they quickly came to a conclusion: their attorneys would offer free legal services to small businesses that needed the help. And they would do that to the tune of $1 million.

So, for the past half decade, Varnum has done just that with its MiSpringboard program, providing the free legal services to 220 small companies and entrepreneurs across the state, including 24 in Grand Rapids, 33 in Detroit, 33 in Ann Arbor, and 10 in Kalamazoo, among others. In Grand Rapids, for example, OXX Products and The Gluten Free Bar, among others, have worked with the law firm.

"When we started the program, there was no data to suggest how well used it would be and no clear pathway to connect with the entrepreneurs who might make use of it," Varnum Chairman Dave Khorey says. "We just knew that despite the downturn in the economy, the startup community seemed to be expanding. We decided to help by providing some of the legal services associated with starting a business."

As the law firm witnessed the program playing a crucial role in growing Michigan as a hub for entrepreneurship, including providing major support for businesses owned by immigrants and people of color, attorneys wanted to continue it, and Varnum recently announced it will again provide $1 million in free legal services to small businesses over the next five years.

“We see startups willing to stay in Grand Rapids and make it their home, as opposed to go to an area that’s labeled as entrepreneur friendly, like Austin or Silicon Valley,” Varnum attorney Luis Avila says. “Grand Rapids is getting that reputation. People are staying here and deciding to make Grand Rapids their business’s home. This is the kind of stuff that, when we first launched the program, we could only dream of.”

The attorneys provide a wide range of services, from help with ownership structure to contract writing and intellectual property work, and more. Over the years, Avila says Varnum has noticed a definite trend: an increasing number of high tech businesses are seeking their help.

“As the entrepreneurial system has changed in West Michigan, so has the client demographic that’s approached us,” Avila says. “We’re getting a lot more high tech entrepreneurs and a lot more sophisticated entrepreneurs.”

Varnum attorney Matt Bower stresses the role emerging technology has played as a driving force in the exponential growth in Michigan’s startup industry.

"The growth in startup activity started with the tech community coming together in the form of meetups and co-working spaces to talk about what was going on and share ideas and resources," Bower says. "Then there was a corresponding rise of early stage investors in the state, closely followed by the state's own investment in startups through grants and enhanced SmartZones. When you have a strong community, funding sources and support of the state, the entrepreneurs respond."

Still, if you own a business that’s not high tech, don’t be dissuaded from reaching out for help, Avila stresses.

“We opened to this up to anyone; it doesn’t matter if you’re a dog walking service, or you’re the next high-tech Google,” says Varnum attorney Luis Avila. “As long as you have a business plan together and a solid idea, come to us and we’ll help you.”

As Varnum’s MiSpringboard program grew, they began collaborating with numerous community partners along the way, including GR Current and the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, for which Avila serves as the president. Such partnerships, Avila says, have been crucial to being able to access business owners from throughout the community.

For example, last month, the Hispanic Chamber had its first ever business pitch competition, during which 20 companies came and pitched ideas in an attempt to win cash prizes through the chamber. As part of this, Varnum offerd the top five finalists a “guaranteed set of legal services through the MiSpringboard program,” Avila says.

“Through the Hispanic Chamber, we’re saying, ‘We want to be able to help you,’” Avila says of minority-owned businesses.

Over the next five years, Varnum attorneys are hoping their MiSpringboard prgram will prompt other organizations to follow in their foosteps.

“I hope this program inspires other organizations, whether they’re banks or service providers or whatever they may be, to consider an entrepreneur-friendly route, to say, ‘We want you, entreprenerus,  here in the long run. You’re better for our city, for our economy,’” Avila says, pointing out that this kind of community effort will draw additional dollars to the city and state.

“Venture capitalists are starting to take note of Grand Rapids, and they’re taking notice that this is a community-wide effort,” Avila says. “The more organizations that can do this, the more venture capitalists are willing to invest their money.”

To inquire further about the free legal services, call Varnum at 616-336-6000. For further information about the program, you can also visit the MiSpringboard website here.

“The biggest thing we want people to know is this is available to them,” Avila says. “Come talk to us; let’s see what works for you. The money is there, come and give us a call and take advantage of this.”

Cooking up dreams: Small business owners find space to flourish at Downtown Market incubator kitchen

As physicians, Monica Randles and Andrew Maternowski have a deep understanding of what it means to be healthy  — and the critical role food plays in your well-being. Longtime locavores who would regularly support area farms, the couple realized, after they and their two children became vegetarians, that while they could find plenty of healthy, West Michigan-grown produce, they couldn’t find the same for locally made substitute meats.

“We started looking at alternative meat options for vegetarian/vegan eating, and it became obvious to us there weren’t really super healthy options,” Randles says. “There were a lot of chemicals or processed products. We wanted to see what we could make for ourselves that are healthy and delicious, and we ended up making vegan sausages using walnuts, hazelnuts, brown rice, and quinoa. Any sausage is really a vehicle for seasoning, so we could have a hot Italian sausage, a breakfast sausage, which are super healthy and very flavorful.”

The couple started working on their recipe around 2010, and in July 2014 they founded Nutcase Vegan Meats, at which time they knew they needed a commercial kitchen to continue making their line of sausages. A friend recommended connecting with the Downtown Market’s incubator kitchen, which provides space, cooking and packaging equipment, and business development assistance for food start-ups and entrepreneurs.

“They really helped us,” Randles says of the kitchen, which now houses 21 businesses, ranging from Bloom Ferments, which makes kombucha drinks, and coffee company Prospectors Cold Brew to D’Arts Donuts and soul food spot Southern Smoke. “They’ve been really critical with education and mentoring for the business. We didn’t know what to do in terms of hiring employees or looking for additional staff and support and licensing. They’ve been a big source of information.”

It’s those kind of reviews that Whitney Lubbers, who manages the incubator kitchen, is thrilled to hear. After all, she says, in a city awash with an entrepreneurial spirit, it’s crucial that small businesses owners with limited funds are able to access space to flourish.

“A place like this is so important,” Lubbers says as she sits in her office overlooking the kitchen, an expansive sea of stainless steel equipment that’s used practically around the clock by businesses for everything from frying donuts to slapping labels on bottles. “If they’re not successful here, in the kitchen, they’re not losing everything they have" because they don’t have to invest in an often incredibly expensive brick and mortar site.

One of the few incubator kitchens in West Michigan, the space at the Downtown Market allows businesses to work with Lubbers to make sure they have a viable business plan, and they have immediate access to the Michigan Small Business Development Center, which helps owners on a range of topics, including the county and state licensing processes.

“They’ll really walk you through the process; you can take the ServSafe course so you understand food handling and regulation,” says Randles, whose business now sells their vegan sausages at about a dozen places throughout the state, including at spots like Kingma’s Market, Nourish Organic Market, and Horrocks Market in Grand Rapids. “The incubator kitchen helps you understand the process well prior to having a state inspection. We can’t say enough good things about the incubator kitchen; we wouldn’t be where we are now without them.”

Many of those who go to the incubator kitchen do so based on recommendations, as Randles did, and the space has grown from housing six businesses when the Downtown Market first opened in the summer of 2013 to the current 21 businesses. For Lubbers, that’s indicative of  a need for shared commercial space for entrepreneurs. The kitchen has five distinct areas: pastry, packaging, catering, production, and prep, and the hourly rates to use these spaces vary on a tiered system, depending on what equipment one needs to access and financial need (there are three choices: market rate, support rate and scholarship rate). Plus, the market offers owners access during “non-peak hours” (10pm-6am), which also makes the price drop.

“It was important to us to offer this as soon as the Market opened, to have something that would support small businesses in the city,” Lubbers says. “We saw a need to foster this entrepreneurship; we’re able to accommodate a lot here.”

Of the businesses that have worked out of the kitchen, one, Cultured Love, has “graduated,” or grown out of the space, and two others, Bloom Ferments and Prospectors, are soon poised to leave. While at the incubator kitchen, Prospectors inked a deal with Meijer that places their product in more than 200 stores throughout Michigan and the Midwest.

Sydney Dennison, who runs Masen James Bakery with her mother, Clarice Dennison, and works out of the incubator kitchen, says the communal space has given them a chance to live out a dream.

“My mom has always had a passion for baking,” Dennison says. “For her whole life, people would say, ‘Oh, you won’t make any money that way,’ and so she went and got her Master’s degree in business leadership and works at a hospital now. But every since I was young, I knew she had a talent for baking, and I wanted her to do what she loves. You only have one life; you may as well do what you want. So, I said, ‘Show me how to bake; show me how to do this.”

Dennison notes that it’s not just having the space itself that helps, but that owners have a chance to share words of wisdom with other entrepreneurs.

“It’s a great way to connect,” she says. “We’re sharing the kitchen with a ton of different businesses, and people do collaborations with other businesses all the time. We’ve done things with Prospectors. We feed off of each other; we give each other great exposure.”

For more information about the incubator kitchen, visit its website here.

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
 

Cheers! Downtown Market launches free summer-long happy hour series

As the temperatures begin to rise outside, the Downtown Market is raising its glass to cooling things down inside.

The market is launching a free “Happy Hour Libation Lectures” series this Thursday, May 5, and the weekly event that runs through August will give Grand Rapidians a chance to learn the ABCs of mixed drinks, beer, whiskey, and more. The classes, which run from 5-6:30pm at the Downtown Market every Thursday through the end of August, will be taught by folks from local distilleries and breweries and will range in topic from greenhouse-infused mixers and cider cocktails to “the martini debate” (Gin or vodka? Shaken or stirred? The debate will rage on in a very delicious way.).

“We wanted to give smaller spirit and beer producers a mouth piece in Grand Rapids,” Jenney Grant, the culinary and beverage manager at the Downtown Market, says, noting that several of the businesses involved have recently opened, such as Big Hart Brewing. Others won’t debut until later this year, including 18th Amendment of Muskegon, which is slated to open its doors in late fall or early winter. Other businesses involved in the series include:Long Road Distillers, Gray Skies Distillery, Our Brewing Company, and Uncle John’s Cider.

“This is a chance to promote smaller businesses,” she continues. “I know what you need as a small producer to be successful, and that’s to be able to tell your story and share your passion. This celebrates the things we love about Grand Rapids — that entrepreneurial spirit and getting to watch businesses become anchors in our community.”

Plus, Grant notes, the series is emblematic of a city that is increasingly dedicated to keeping its dollars local.

“People want to support local,” she says. “We’ve seen that with food and beer and now distilling and cocktails.”

The first lecture, which will start at 5pm today, Thursday, May 5, is titled “How To Use Your Cocktail Books,” and the kick-off event will focus on the book “Tequila Mockingbird,” which, as you can imagine, is chock full of drinks with a literary twist — think cocktails with names like “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita” and “Vermouth the Bell Tolls.”

Other upcoming events this month include “The Martini Debate” on Thursday, May 12, “Beer 101” from Big Hart Brewing Company on May 19, and a crash course on the Scandinavian spirit Aquavit from Long Road Distillers on May 26. To see the entire schedule, please go here.

Photos courtesy of the Downtown Market

Reduce, reuse, recycle (and repeat): Study spells out environmental opportunities in West Michigan

When it comes to recycling, West Michigan — and Grand Rapids in particular — are outshining other regions of the state, but there’s still much that needs to be done here, according to a new study.
 
The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum and Grand Valley State University released a study last week (which you can download here) that characterized the economic and environmental opportunities available through recycling, composting and other waste diversion strategies.

According to the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, the report, titled Economic Impact Potential and Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in Michigan, estimates the total material value of municipal solid waste disposed in Michigan landfills and incinerators at as much as $368 million per year. If all material of value was recovered and sold to the market, it would have an estimated total economic impact of up to $399 million per year, and and employment impact of up 2,619 jobs.

Staggering numbers

Daniel Schoonmaker, director of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, provides some insight into how, and why, individuals, the public sector and the private sector in West Michigan are actively engaging in recycling efforts.

Rapid Growth: What can individuals do to help increase the recycling rate?

Daniel Schoonmaker: To a certain extent it depends on where you are. You can do a lot more in West Michigan, especially Grand Rapids, than you can in many other parts of the state.

To start, the standard advice of reduce, reuse, recycle applies. An estimated 40 percent of garbage in West Michigan is easily recyclable most anywhere with curbside service. We can have a substantial impact on the recycling rate just by taking advantage of the available infrastructure.

In Grand Rapids, an individual can divert up to 84 percent of their waste with some additional effort, a lot of it routine tasks such as donating clothes and furniture or recycling electronics and hazardous waste. Food waste and compostable paper (eg: napkins, pizza boxes) are arguably the only challenging categories, due to the extra effort and expense of composting. Organicycle is really a local treasure with the curbside compost service it offers in Grand Rapids. I doubt people realize how unique that service is in Michigan.

Obviously, purchasing behavior and use can have a significant impact. The majority of garbage are limited-use consumables: nondurable goods, packaging and food waste. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Plus, seek out products that use recycled and recyclable material.

RG: What are the opportunities for the public sector to help increase the recycling rate? What is not being done now?

DS: It's hard to answer this as it's fairly hyper local. The scenario is a little different in every municipality, and what works swimmingly in one community might be impractical in another.
But if there is a universal need for the public sector, it is to prioritize this as a goal.

One of the bigger takeaways from our study is that under current conditions the economic case is limited to a handful of high-value materials, even when you factor in indirect costs such as environmental impact. The public sector needs to have a role in promoting waste diversion as a public good and to work with the private sector to make it more viable. Grand Rapids is a good example of this, as Kent County Department of Public Works has set the pace for the region with its recycling center and educational programs.

Put another way, the public sector needs to set a good example in policy and practice. If nothing else, having recycling available in public buildings helps to normalize the activity.

Through the governor's recycling initiative, the state is putting a good deal of effort into market development and supportive public policy, which have generated a lot of publicity and interest. Electronic waste and organics are conspicuous opportunities on that scale.

RG: What about the private sector? Where do you see opportunities? Are there business opportunities? Or is it just good citizenship?

DS: To a degree, but at the base level it is being a good corporate citizen and employer.  It's positive branding for customers and workers. Regardless of what industry you're in, the absence of recycling will be noted. I'm not aware of anyone that has changed jobs due to a lack of recycling, but I know employees can find a lack of it off-putting, even backward.

The quickest path to an increased recycling rate is for more companies to start recycling. The lowest hanging fruit is to increase the number of businesses recycling their cardboard boxes. It's plentiful, valuable and easy to recycle. All you have to do is find a spot for a dumpster or baler.

In sufficient quantities, recycling will pay for itself through scrap sales and reduced waste fees. Going into this study, the expectation was that any business that could derive revenue from its waste was already doing so, but that's clearly not the case.

From a service standpoint, there are definitely opportunities for entrepreneurs, and we've seen a number of those in Rapid Growth. Folks like Organicycle, New Soil, Spurt, My Green Michigan, and Cocoa have helped create a commercial compost industry. Greener Grads, Rapid Group, Goodwill, ATR, and Valley City Electronic Recycling are all doing really cool things in their niches.

Our research looked at the economic value of disposed material in the current situation. We need to start looking at waste as a resource, and this is a step toward that.  An estimated 42 percent of the material has market value if we were to sell it through existing channels. This would be a local source for raw material if we were to shift to a more circular economy. Developing that further, there are limitless opportunities for alternatives that would retain greater value across the lifecycle.

It's a similar discussion to what we're seeing with energy right now.  There is a lot of value to be found from alternatives and efficiency.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs New Editor
 

Barley, BBQ & Beats: A fundraiser wrapped in a party, surrounded by whiskey, food & music

Hospice of Michigan’s new event, Barley, BBQ & Beats, is certainly not your traditional fundraiser. Instead of black ties, white wine and classical music, it will be whiskey, barbecue and rock and roll. 

The fundraiser and community celebration will showcase whiskeys distilled in Michigan, along with barbeque from a “who’s who” of local pitmasters and live entertainment, including performances from Domestic Problems, Mid-Life Crisis and Big Dudee Roo.

Barley, BBQ & Beats will be held in the Van Andel Arena from 5-9 pm on Saturday, May 21. Proceeds will benefit Hospice of Michigan’s open access program, which provides hospice care for anyone needing it. Tickets are $35 (you must be at least 21 to go) and attendees will be able to sample barbecue from leading pitmasters, sip on specialty cocktails and listen to some great music.

Barbara Anderson, manager of philanthropy at Hospice of Michigan, says the event is inspired by the John Clay Memorial BBQ & Rib Cook-off, an annual May event  (May 13 this year) held by the Clay family in support of Hospice of Michigan, which has grown in popularity since its inception 15 years ago.

Since the barbecue scene in West Michigan is booming, the hope, Anderson says, is that the John Clay Memorial event will be the annual lead-in to a week-long celebration that ends with Barley, BBQ & Beats, perhaps opening the door for other philanthropic food, drink and music efforts. “We found that barbecue was becoming more popular than our other fundraising events,” she says.

Anderson says that there is a “great need to be creative and catch people’s attention” when it comes to fundraising. She says events are a great way to capture attention and have fun at the same time. Anderson says the organizers hope to raise $250,000 for Hospice of West Michigan and their open access program.

To buy tickets or for more information, please visit hom.convio.net/bbbfestival or contact contact Alex Wilson at 616.356.5288 or awilson@hom.org.

Hospice of Michigan is the original – and largest – hospice in the state. The nonprofit cares for nearly 1,800 patients each day, raising more than $5 million each year to cover the cost of care for the uninsured and underinsured.
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor
 

Music, glorious music: GR Live is ready to blast off on April 28

WYCE 88.1FM is launching a live radio program named GR Live beginning Thursday, April 28 at the House of Music and Entertainment (known as H.O.M.E.) inside The B.O.B. This program will occur every Thursday at noon for 19 weeks and conclude on September 1. It is free for the public to attend and will be broadcast live over the radio at 88.1FM and streamed online at WYCE.org.

“It’s going to be super cool. A big win to get the city promoting music on the same level as beer, food, and art,” says  AJ Paschka, WYCE station manager.

Super cool is an understatement. It’s freaking awesome.

GR Live will be hosted by WYCE programmer and musician Quinn Matthews (who began championing the idea last summer). The one-hour program will feature live music performances, interviews and calendars that will inform people of musical events in the city of Grand Rapids. The program will also be recorded and made available to the public at ExperienceGR.com.

“The creation of GR Live allows Grand Rapids to collect performances, interviews and calendars and use them to promote music as a thing to go out and experience when the convention visitors and tourists come into Grand Rapids,”ť says Paschka. Effectively, this means that the local music scene is very important to the city’s brand, growth and vitality. “Our city is becoming a music destination,” he adds.

Paschka says music lovers can expect an eclectic and wide-ranging  lineup of local and regional musicians. “There is so much good music in this town. It is very much part of the downtown resurgence,” he continues,ť citing the immense popularity of the Pyramid Scheme, The Intersection, The B.O.B., and concerts at Van Andel Arena and Frederick Meijer Garden. “Music always brings in the largest crowds,” Paschka says.

Taken as whole, Paschka says music, like craft beer and arts, can be a primary engagement strategy for organizations marketing Grand Rapids as a place to live, work and play.

Besides providing a boost for local musicians, Paschka says this is big boon for WYCE. “This will help us grow our audience. We’ve always supported local music, so this is a nice evolution.”  Paschka also gives a shout out the The Gilmore Collection as a long time supporter of the radio station and home to the House of Music and Entertainment (H.O.M.E.).

Paschka encourages musicians to contact Matthews directly (via Facebook) to learn more about being featured on GR Live. You can also follow the program on ExperienceGR and WYCE.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 
 

When it comes to defending against cyber attacks, Trivalent Group is named one of the country's best

Trivalent Group, a West Michigan-based leader in managed IT services, cloud, business continuity, and network services, has been named a WatchGuardONE Platinum Partner by WatchGuard Technologies, an international leader in network security.

Why is this important? Well, for one thing, it’s a scary world out there, and the products utilized by WatchGuard Platinum Partners help protect companies and their customers from some nasty people.

Consider the following information shared by Brad Andrus, manager of market development at Trivalent Group. 
.
According to a report issued by cyber security firm Symantec, businesses of all sizes are increasingly under direct threat of cyber attack and security breaches. 

A few findings from the report:

- Last year, 43 percent of all cyber attacks targeted businesses with fewer than 250 employees.
- There were more than 430 million new and unique pieces of malware (an umbrella term referring to such hostile or intrusive software as computer viruses, trojan horses, spyware, adware, and more) in 2015, up 36 percent from 2014.
- In 2009, there about two million pieces of malware, which was considered overwhelming — and now there more than 430 million. That's more than a million new pieces of malware getting written each and every day.
- More than an estimated 75 percent of all legitimate websites have unpatched vulnerabilities; flaws that make it easier to be hacked.
- The total number of identities exposed from all intrusions jumped 23 percent to 429 million in 2015. But Symantec believes the true number is much higher, at more than a half billion.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“The shifting focus of attacks have been on small and medium sized businesses,” say Andrus, who notes it’s at these organizations that hackers can more easily access confidential and proprietary information.

WatchGuard’s Platinum level is by invitation only, and it represents the company’s recognition of those partners who ultimately provide the highest level of network security expertise and consistent experience to WatchGuard’s end customers. Trivalent Group is one of only seven WatchGuard partners in the United States to earn and to be awarded Platinum status.

The recent recognition goes hand-in-hand with other efforts by Trivalent Group to help educate businesses and organizations about these types of threats.

For example, the firm works with Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan and the West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium to host the Grand Rapids Cyber Security Conference. This link contains the full agenda and speakers from last year to give you an idea of the scope of this event. Planning is already underway for the next conference, which is scheduled for October 5, 2016 at GVSU’s Eberhard Center in downtown Grand Rapids.
 
To learn more about Trivalent Group and WatchGuard, you can view their websites here and here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

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,”ť 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
 
 

Caffeine City: Madcap CEO's first place prize showcases coffee's rising star in Grand Rapids

Madcap Coffee’s CEO, Trevor Corlett, took first place in the Eastern Conference Barista Competition two weeks ago. 
 
With the highest score in the country, Corlett is now qualified to continue on to the United States Barista Championship (USBC) semi-finals on April 14-17 in Atlanta, Ga.
 
Big deal, right? Well, yes, it is.
 
The specialty coffee industry is big business, and, arguably, it is as important to building the Grand Rapids brand as is the craft beer scene. The city now features dozens of independent specialty coffee shops where business and community intersect.
 
Corlett says these events are where the top 1 percent of coffee producers and processors in the country have a stage to showcase their talents and dedication to being the best of the best.
 
"This competition is an arena within the specialty coffee market where you find yourself at an event where everyone is very passionate about the product,” he explains.
 
Success in the competition says as much about the company where a barista works as it does the specific skills of the barista.  This was Corlett's ninth time in the this competition but his first time landing the top honor.
 
"These competitions are important for the company,” he says. “It challenges you to work on skills. We believe working in coffee can be a lifelong career. It's great exposure and makes you better at your day-to-day job."
 
Ryan Wojton, Madcap’s café manager, finished ninth place in the Eastern Conference and qualified to compete in the United States Brewer’s Cup Championship, which highlights the art of manual coffee brewing. Corlett says another team member also participated but did not qualify for the next stage.
 
Each of Corlett's drinks highlighted Amparo Botina’s coffee from the Narino Region in Southwest Colombia. Her coffee was featured in Madcap’s Colombia Tasting Series, and this is Madcap’s first year buying coffee from Amparo.
 
Corlett's Signature Drink: “Almost Perfect”
  • Glass smoked with cinnamon and cherry bitters
  • 1ml of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 shot of espresso made with Amparo Botina’s coffee
  • 1ml of small batch grenadine
  • Stirred well, garnished with a freeze-dried strawberry, and served in a  2.5oz coupe glass
For more information about the competition, you can visit the site here.  For more information about Madcap, you can visit their site here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

The Midwest Tech Mentoring Program building bridges byte by byte

It was bitter cold outside when Jonathan Jelks and Alvin Hill IV officially launched The Midwest Tech Mentoring Program at the Grand Rapids Art Museum on Feb. 11.
 
But, inside, it was 'en fuego.’ 
 
The kick-off was on fire with optimism, ideas and plans to prepare more young men and women for careers in technology.
 
The venue was packed. The audience was diverse: parents, students; educators; tech, business and nonprofit professionals; entrepreneurs; and representatives from local government. Young and old.  They all gathered to learn more about an initiative that promises to connect inner city youth of color to the career opportunities within the knowledge and creative economies.
 
Jelks introduced a variety of speakers, including Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, all of whom were enthusiastic supporters of the program.
 
"Our mission is to educate, engage and to expose inner city youth to the world of technology and the opportunities available in the tech industry in Grand Rapids,” he says.
 
Jelks envisions a program that features hands-on learning (software development, coding, program management and design) and mentorship with local tech professionals.
 
"We want to teach kids about about the benefits of becoming an IT professional and/or tech entrepreneur,” Jelks explains. “We also want kids and parents alike to walk away with a thorough understanding of what it will take from an education standpoint to be able to take advantage of the creative economy."
 
There is still much work to be done, but Jelks and Hill plan to launch the formal program in May 2016.
 
"We will be fundraising to get the equipment needed to run our program and to hire our staff,” Jelks says. “We are recruiting mentors from Grand Rapid's tech community. We will be going out to Silicon Valley in March to meet with different tech companies to learn about the ‘Diversity in IT’ programs that are working and receiving support."
 
To learn more about the program, including contact information and how to get involved, you can follow their Facebook event page here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Photos by Tricia Leigh Jackson / Start Garden

Simms Electronics: Changing the world, one project at a time

Simms Electronics is a great example of a small company working on big ideas that turn into very smart products. And there is a very good chance you never of heard of them.

Simms Electronics is located at 3230 Broadmoor Ave. The firm designs and manufactures sophisticated IoT electronics that serve a wide variety of commercial products in the industrial sector.

IoT, which is the abbreviation for Internet of Things, refers to smart products that are connected to the internet.  Examples in the consumer market are home appliances and light fixtures that are connected and controlled by smart phones. In the industrial setting these products could include sensors for carbon monoxide and monitors to help control energy consumption in large commercial settings.

Matt Simms, the president of the five-person engineering firm, says the company keeps a low profile and is not able to share details about many of their projects, but he is committed to attracting and retaining software design talent to Grand Rapids. Simms says the IoT market is really growing and shows no signs of slowing down.
 
"We have several projects in the pipeline and will shortly be announcing new job openings,” he says.

Working with a  small company is a great opportunity for an engineer or software developer that values job variety, Simms notes.
 
"We are always working on different opportunities, with different products, in different markets and different industries,” he says. “You are not stuck working on one product for several years. It is great experience."

To learn more about Simms Electronics, including job opportunities, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Elevator Up expands to new office, looks to add six new jobs in 2016

Peter Drucker — otherwise known as the founder of modern management — was certainly correct. The 21st century job market will be dominated by knowledge workers. 

Large companies, small business and startups are all looking for software, design and engineering talent. The challenge for these organizations is that demand for these positions continues to surge beyond supply. The opportunity for these organizations is to create a unique workplace that provides value to both clients and employees.

Grand Rapids-based Elevator Up, a  local design and development firm, is a great example of a small business that is finding success by serving clients and creating an interesting workplace.  In 2016, the firm is expected to roughly double its team with the addition of a product manager, UX designers, software developers, and project managers. The company also recently added a 1,300-square-foot office space on the fourth floor of 38 W. Fulton Street to anticipate the growth.

Tori VanDragt, studio manager credits the hiring of Marty Byle, in July 2015 for playing a big role in the firm’s growth. Byle is the first person at Elevator with a sole responsibility for business development, and his work has paid off with multiple new projects and clients.

VanDragt, says keeping up with the growth in a tight job market can be daunting, but Elevator Up continues to find ways to expand and add new staff.
 
"There is a lot of demand for talent in the technology industry and finding enough qualified candidates has been a challenge,” the studio manager says. “We must get creative with our hiring techniques and in the culture and benefits we offer as a company."

VanDragt says being purposeful in creating an organizational culture is key in finding the right people.  She cites the entrepreneurial and collaborative culture at  EU, where the team has opportunities to build and launch products internally and where everyone works directly with clients as two important aspects of their culture. 

She also cites the firm’s emphasis on community service and engagement as being very a shared value.
 
"Most of our current employees are very involved in the tech community, from giving talks at local meetups to actually starting and/or running meetups,” she says. “If there is an event that I want to attend during the workday, I don’t have to worry about getting permission, it is already encouraged. We’re given flexibility in our schedule to be a part of this community."

To learn more about Elevator Up, including open positions you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor



 

Ladies and gentlemen, the stories you are about to hear are tasty. And true.

Arguably, the most interesting scene that is happening right now in West Michigan is the craft beverage and food scene.

It's not only creating a tremendous economic impact (much in the form of a slew of new openings, including micro breweries, restaurants and food trucks, as well as catering operations and artisan food products), but it maintains a constant buzz through social media channels and is at the heart of weekend plans, lunch meetings and our region’s appeal to out-of-town visitors.

At the heart of this scene are the foods and beverages being made and served.  But the soul of this scene are the stories behind these ventures. The founders, the recipes, the craftsmanship, the supply network and the work.

At least that is what photographers Steph Harding and Scott Meivogel believe.

The food loving, craft beer drinking, picture taking, story telling,  enterprising duo have teamed up to form a new business venture called Ash & Ink Media. Their goal is to provide media and brand guidance for individuals in craft industries across various marketing and communication platforms.

Ash & Ink Media offers photography, social media management, storytelling content, print materials, logo and identity design, video and website design services: Everything that is needed to tell a comprehensive story about craft  brands.

Meivogel says the storytelling genre is really "taking off.” He says brands, especially in the craft food and beverage industry, have great origin stories and are in terrific positions to engage and connect with customers with the quality of their products and the passion behind the production.
 
"People care about their food,” he says. “Many of us want to know how the food is made and where it came from. For example, it is not just the brewery and brewer, but it is the hop farm and malt house that makes for a great experience."

Both Harding and Meivogel have a tremendous amount of experience and passion for these industries. Harding’s professional photography has focused on the beer and restaurant scenes. She also owns MittenBrew.com, where she contributes her photography to news coverage surrounding Michigan beer, spirits and cider. (Full disclosure: Steph Harding is also a contributor Rapid Growth Media.)

Meivogel spent years photographing the breweries and restaurants in Cleveland, Ohio before moving to West Michigan with the goal of growing in that field. Together, they have 20 years of experience in professional photography.

To learn more about Ash & Ink Media, you can like their Facebook page here or visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

GVSU computer science students develop app to keep Millennials in West Michigan

This wasn't your parents’ class project.

Thanks to a  partnership between the City of Grand Rapids and Grand Valley State University (GVSU), a team of senior students developed an app that is designed to attract and retain college graduate Millennials here in Grand Rapids.

The student team consisted of Ryan Banaszak, Brent Bouwkamp, Chris DeNeef, Trent Keusch and Cameron Lewis. Together they developed the free app, called YGR, that features a host of Grand Rapids-based companies, stores, restaurants, transportation, and entertainment options that collectively showcase the community.  The capstone project was developed under the direction of GVSU Professor David Lange, School of Computing and Information Systems.

The app provides the user with a wide range of reasons why someone should consider Grand Rapids as a place to build a career. Community assets are featured within six subsets which include: entertainment, community, jobs, living in Grand Rapids, networking, and government.  

Lange says this class project is consistent with his class assignments and his teaching philosophy, where students work on real-life projects.
 
"Students get a lot out of these projects,” he says. “It's a bridge between the classroom and the real world."
 
He notes the classroom can help refine technical skills, but that is only part of being a successful software developer.
 
"These projects feature real world scenarios,” he explains. “Plans always change. They need to learn how to adapt.”

This particular project began with a class initiated by former Mayor George Heartwell to present recommendations for how the City could better attract and retain college graduates — a class that followed the release of a  2013 study by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce which reported Michigan was losing a significant number of its younger residents to other states following college graduation. The students presented the City Commission with 10 recommendations, including the development of a new smartphone application.

Besides the market research and app development, the students had to complete the process to make the free YGR app, which is available in the Android Play Store and the Apple Store.

Writer: John Rumery, Jobs and Innovation Editor
 

UIX Blog: Competition breeds creativity in West Michigan

Several of the people and organizations UIX has covered in the past have entered and found success in different business competitions. These competitions each have different parameters and ends to promote, but they share a commonality in that the most innovative and well-planned out ideas rise to the top.
 
Here in Grand Rapids, 5x5 Night and Start Garden, projects of Rick DeVos, were topics when UIX launched in 2013. In December 2015 we featured 5x5 Night winner Liz Bartlett, of KNITit, and Start Garden tenant Oxx, Inc. Even ArtPrize has led to sustainable efforts covered in UIX, like Nick Rudolfski's work with the Zero Waste Zone and Water Share.
 
The Wege Prize, a contest focused on sustainable business models in West Michigan schools, was a feature in April 2014, and has been host to individuals featured in UIX stories, too. FusionGrow, an indoor planting project, took first place in 2014, and a local loop farm design by Western Sustainers won in 2015.
 
In January 2015 UIX covered Vanessa Gore and Soletics, a company that makes electrically enhanced, solar powered garments for people with certain conditions. Soletics had taken part in 11 business competitions by the time they were featured in Rapid Growth Media. Over the course of its first year, Soletics participated in six business competitions, including the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge, the Green Light Business Model Competition, the Great Lakes Entrepreneur's Quest, and the International Business Model Competition.
 
In the 2014 MWest Challenge, where Soletics took second place and $10,000, RefuTea, a tea company that helps refugees, won the Social Venture award. RefuTea also won a 90-second pitch competition at Grand Valley State University, and represented the school at the TCU Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Business Plan Competition.
 
That's not to say that competitions like these are the only thing driving innovation in the region. Our archives are filled with plenty of people and companies that have growth in many different ways. But, the pattern that exists is clear, and West Michigan is certainly all the better for the ideas these contests foster.

Urban Innovation Exchange highlights the people and projects transforming West Michigan through sustainable efforts. To see more UIX stories, you can check out the entire series here. Have thoughts or ideas about UIX? Contact UIX Grand Rapids Editor Matthew Russell at matthew@uixgrandrapids.com.

French auto & aerospace manufacturer taps Grand Rapids for first North American Innovation Center

As the auto industry hit a downward spiral of historic proportions about eight years ago, Hutchinson, a global automotive and aerospace innovator and manufacturer, was, like companies across the world, faced with an economy in which they were hemorrhaging major money.

Hutchinson’s Grand Rapids site, which has been operating in the city for 30 years and which was previously known as Paulstra CRC, “was in bad shape, losing millions (of dollars),” says Cedric Duclos, Hutchinson North America president and CEO.

“I was sent here to find solutions; we knew the easy way was to shut it down,” Duclos says of his arrival in Grand Rapids. “But that’s not the right choice. You have so much talent and experience here.”

Hutchinson, which employs about 300 people in Grand Rapids and operates 96 sites in 23 countries across the globe, did not leave the city — instead, it stayed, and the company is now in a far different position than the one in which it previously found itself. Last Wednesday, Hutchinson debuted its North American Innovation Center, also known as the 616 Fab House, which occupies 13,400 square feet of a renovated 100-year-old factory at 460 Fuller Ave. NE.

“We’re here eight years later and are a leader in this market,” Duclos says at the 616 Fab House’s grand opening on January 20, which was attended by more than 170 guests, including Hutchinson Global President & CEO Jacques Maigne, The Right Place Inc. President & CEO Birgit Klohs, and state and city leaders.

The space is the company’s second innovation center; its first, 507 Fab House, was designed by the legendary Gustave Eiffel and is located near Hutchinson’s Paris world headquarters. Housed in a factory that was once the Corduroy Rubber Co., which made parts for Detroit’s auto industry, the Grand Rapids venue was chosen because of “its central location to major clients and vendors” and is dedicated to “research, development and innovative thinking for all of Hutchinson’s divisions,” according to Hutchinson.

The Fuller Avenue site includes a mix of meeting rooms, videoconferencing technology, interactive showrooms with product and robotic displays, a fabrication lab and 3D printer center, a training and conference center, a board room, breakout and lounge seating, banquet facilities, and more. The interactive product display area shows all the products made by the company’s North American operations. For example, there are replicas of an airplane fuselage, a full-size automobile and military tank treads with actual Hutchinson parts inserted.

Duclos notes that about 70 local companies participated in renovating the new space, which sits on Hutchinson’s 30-acre Grand Rapids campus and which previously served as a storage facility.

“This facility is over 100 years old, so it’s full of footsteps from the past,” Duclos says. “In fact, if you look closely at some of these floors, you can still see those footprints. We felt it important to keep some of those footsteps visible, not just as a way to reflect on the past, but to also use it as a reminder that it takes the footsteps of many people to create things, to innovate, to collaborate, to create. Perhaps in another 100 years people will be standing here, reflecting on the historical changes this innovation had for our company, for our city and region, and for our state.”

The company’s decision to not only remain in Grand Rapids but open a world-class facility to drive global innovation “speaks highly for the region’s community,” says Klohs, the president and CEO of The Right Place, West Michigan’s leading economic development corporation that has assisted thousands of companies to invest more than $4 billion in capital and create more than 40,000 jobs throughout the region.

“It sends a message that says a company of this importance has chosen Grand Rapids,” Klohs says, noting that a global group like Hutchinson will draw other major companies to our area, including Boeing, Chrysler, Fiat, and many more.

“They can come to Grand Rapids and see the creativity that comes out of this company, and also this community,” Klohs continues.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, who was unable to attend the grand opening because she was at the Mayors’ Conference in Washington D.C., sent her congratulations via a recorded message.

“The city of Grand Rands is very proud to have a longtime business such as Hutchinson invest in our city, particularly in our manufacturing and technology sectors,” she says. “This innovation and dedication to advancing research and development is exactly what the city of Grand Rapids need to be a leader in this country.”

Photos courtesy of Hutchinson

Anna Gustafson is the managing editor at Rapid Growth. Connect with her on email (AKGustaf@gmail.com), Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Holland, Michigan-based Worksighted adds two new positions, anticipates multiple job needs in 2016

Worksighted, an IT services company based in Holland, Michigan, hired Wilhelmina Korpi as an account executive for the sales team in Southwest Grand Rapids and Jodi Owczarski as an account executive responsible for building the Worksighted client base in the Lakeshore region.

The Vice President and Director of Sales, Mike Harris, says the recent hires reflect the firm’s continued growth. Harris says the company anticipates hiring up to 30 more people in 2016. However, Harris says that attracting new talent is just one part of the firm’s strategy to serving their customer. He says Worksighted is keenly focused on retaining existing talent and creating a corporate culture that inspires creativity, innovation and customer service.
 
"We work hard to keep our people,” Harris says. “It's as important as keeping a customer". 

Harris cites several programs in place, including ongoing technical and managerial training, an open culture that empowers their employee to solve problems and a commitment to work-life balance.
 
"Our founding team are entrepreneurs and we give our employees the ability to act like entrepreneur,” he explains. We give them the ability to impact the change within our organization."

Founded in 2000, Worksighted provides responsive, innovative, and strategic IT services to businesses seeking an IT partner. Find more at worksighted.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Room to grow: Grand Rapids to host craft beverage workshop

The Craft Beverage Education Association will bring its one-day educational workshop targeting individuals interested in learning more about the craft beverage industry to the Grand Rapids Doubletree Airport on February 12.

Craig B. Rashkis, program chair, says the workshop is geared towards helping both new craft beverage business owners and entrepreneurs considering entering the market to navigate the complexities of industry.
 
"This is a highly regulated industry,” he says. “Many startup issues are the same in every business, but this industry introduces a whole slew of issues that are unique to the craft beverage industry."  

Rashkis says the material covered in the workshop is applicable  for anyone considering — or in the early stages of establishing — their own craft beverage business. 

It is full-day, hands-on workshop with discussions focusing on the entire craft beverage industry.
 
"We are not focused on one area, instead we are covering issues for breweries, wineries, distilleries, meaderies, and cideries,” Rashkis says, noting that someone can have a great recipe and is highly skilled in making their product, but they lack the business acumen or experience to turn their interest into a successful business.
 
"You know how to make the product, but what about everything else?” he asks. “Once you are running a business, you realize you need to start thinking like a business person."

Speakers include representatives from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, distributors and producers who have recently begun operations in Michigan, and groups focused on legal and insurance issues.

The Craft Beverage Education Association (CBEA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping its members from the wine, beer, spirits, cider and mead industries navigate the business of craft and artisanal beverage productionRegistration and programming information are located at www.craftbeverage.org/workshops. 

This will be second time this workshop has been held in the country. The Grand Rapids workshop is supported by Experience Grand Rapids, Promote Michigan, PR Pirates, and members of the Michigan Brewers Guild, Michigan Wine Council, Michigan Craft Distillers Association and Michigan Cider Association. 

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

A bow-dacious idea inspires new business

Pat Gaines was a little frustrated. 

She wanted to buy the perfect bow tie for her grandson's Valentine’s Day picture. She had a specific color scheme and style she was looking for but after searching far and wide, she had to settle on a tie that was, at its best, just OK. "I could not find anything satisfactory and I went to multiple places, including several specialty clothing stores,” says Gaines, a Grand Rapids resident.

After a short reflection, Gaines decided enough was enough. She knew she wasn't the only person looking for the perfect tie, especially with weddings and graduations coming up in the spring, so she decided to make ties herself. "I had the skills to make the ties myself, so I did,” she explains.

It did not take long before she began getting orders, primarily through word of mouth, for her ties from friends and family.  From there, she made contact with a local tailor, who asked Gaines to make her custom ties for entire wedding parties.

And that spring (2015) was the humble beginning of Pat Gaines’ entrepreneurial journey and business, All Tied Up by Pat.

The operative word there is 'beginning,’  because Gaines has big plans and a support network to make it happen. Knowing she needed some assistance to create a profitable and sustainable business, Gaines decided to enroll in SpringGR, an entrepreneurial training, mentoring and networking program.
 
"It was a great resource,” she says. “I found out about it through friend. I had a ballroom dancing program scheduled on the same day so it was SpringGR or ballroom dancing. SpringGR won."

Gaines credits the program with keeping her on track, helping her to develop her plan, and keeping her motivated and accountable. "Chris Mathis was my business coach with SpringGR;  meeting with him on a weekly basis has really broadened my business horizons,” she says.

Moving forward Gaines says her plan is to polish her branding and launch an ecommerce site within the next six to 12 months. Her goal is specialize in custom made men's neckwear, not just bow ties, and have a wide variety of stylish products "from the low end to the high end.”

In the meantime, if you are interested in viewing her work or placing an order, Gaines says to contact her directly through her Facebook page, All Tied Up by Pat.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

C2 Group looks to build excitement for high tech careers

C2 Group will host six high school students as part of the Kent Intermediate School District's (KISD) Groundhog Shadow Day Program on February 2.

The KISD program is designed to help introduce and prepare students for careers in a wide variety of industries.  Students may choose from one of up to 300 roles to shadow for a day to gain a better understanding of the industry, day-to-day operations and responsibilities, and educational requirements for obtaining successful employment.

At the C2 Group — a Grand Rapids-based, full-service web experience provider — students will learn about careers in the software industry and gain hands-on experience with software design and development while building a mobile app.

Brian Beaupied, marketing communications manager, says this is the second year for C2 Group to participate  in the program and the first in their new location, 560 5th Street NW, Ste. 100 (the Grand Rapids Furniture Campus). He says the firm is committed to supporting community efforts to expose more high school students to the tremendous career opportunities within the tech sector.
 
"It’s important because we need to do our part in building excitement and awareness for careers in the high-demand technology field,” Beaupied says. “Our participation in programs like Groundhog Shadow Day can provide students with actual hands-on experience in a field of their interest, as well as invaluable mentorship from some incredibly talented professionals."

C2 has been in its downtown, westside Grand Rapids location for almost four months. Previously, they were based out of Grandville. The move was made to accommodate the needs of a growing agency. Beaupied says the new location has almost 2,000 more square feet and is designed to support the creative needs of a tech workforce. 

Beaupied says the firm is in the hiring mode.
 
"We’re always interested in talking to qualified candidates for any position (designers, developers, CMS specialists, project leads),” he notes. “We currently have 28 employees with a goal of growing our team by 30 percent during 2016."   Current openings can be found here:http://c2experience.com/about/

For more information about C2 Group, visit www.c2experience.com or follow them on Twitter (@thec2group).

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Grand Rapids duo launches community job board to help workers connect with side gigs

There weren't any fireworks, kazoos, noisemakers or revelers singing “Auld Lang Syne” when Naybr launched on January 1. There was nothing fancy, just a simple Facebook post thanking friends for their encouragement and support, which seems very appropriate since Naybr is designed to make it easier and safer to get simple jobs handled.
 
Naybr is a Grand Rapids tech application company founded by Michael Weitzman and Nate Harr.
 
The team launched their first product, Naybr, a web-based community job board where users post and/or accept side jobs in their local area. For example, a quick search on the site this week showed jobs in the Grand Rapids area for office cleaning, a safety officer and more. The platform coordinates all communications, payments and feedback.
 
Harr says he first began thinking about the concept in 2014 and began working with Weizman to design the software for the service. He says they are aiming to improve the experience for both the individuals who want to have side jobs completed and for those looking to earn a little extra money doing this type of work.
 
"There was no way for people get small jobs completed that was easy and safe,” Harr says.
 
Harr says their platform is significantly different than other services, such as Craigslist and Angie's List, describing Naybr as being more like Uber and Airbnb.
 
"We track the entire job process for both the worker and the poster,” he explains.
 
At this time, Naybr is focused on facilitating small side jobs, primarily projects that are outside and exterior to the home.
 
"These are not services that require licensed professionals,” Harr says, although he adds they are considering these type of services in the future.
 
The next step for the Naybr team is to create a native app for mobile platforms and to explore funding and development through a startup incubator.
 
To learn more, follow their Facebook page here or visit their website here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 
 

Barrel art rises from Bad Moon Studio

John Timmer says a friend asked for his help to make a table, and it did not go well.
 
"It was a miserable experience,” he says.

However, Timmer found the process was intriguing, so he gave it another shot, this time designing and building coffee tables from 10 beer barrels sourced from Founders.
 
"The experiment worked," Timmer recalls.
 
With the success of his experiment, Timmer opened Bad Moon Studio in 2014 and began crafting a wide variety of products repurposed from beer barrels, including end tables, coffee tables, growler racks, and, most recently, lighting. He says his products are a fit for both home and business settings.
 
Timmer takes an unorthodox approach to his craft. "I do not draw out anything. I like to start building and let the piece come together as I build it,” he says. “No tape measures." He refers to his tools as old school and simple as he describes bending steel over logs to create the shapes he needs.
 
Bad Moon Studio is located in Jenison, Michigan and is open by appointment only.
 
"It's a working space, not a showroom," Timmer explains. He says he works on custom orders and has some inventory that can be viewed on his Facebook or Instagram pages.  He also currently has a couple of his new lighting designs on display at Bridge Street Electric.
 
For contact information, you can visit their Facebook page or website, although Timmer says his primary marking platform is Instagram.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Brush Studio GR expands to downtown Grand Rapids, adding six new jobs

Heather Callahan, founder of Brush Studio GR,  says her team has been "very blessed and very busy" with her business in East Grand Rapids. 

So busy, in fact, that in just over three years, she needs to expand to a second location to accommodate her growing customer base.

Brush Studio GR is an instructional art studio focused on creating a unique and fun atmosphere for building creativity. Brush Studio offers open paint sessions, general classes, private parties and corporate team building events.

Callahan says the the downtown location will primarily serve corporate and group events, as well as instructional classes, while the East Grand Rapids location will be focused on "family fun" events.
 
"We found that we were increasingly hosting bachelorette parties, baby showers, team building and corporate events at our East Grand Rapids location, and that doesn't always mix well with moms and dads having their young children using the space,” she says.

Callahan anticipates that Brush Studio Grand Rapids will open its new 2,900-square-foot space at 50 Louis St NW sometime in February 2016.

Brush will also be adding six new employees and instructors to the team, for a total of 11 employees.  

For more information about Brush Studio and their classes, please visit: https://www.brushgr.com/.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

American Char awakens: May the smoke be with you

It's been over six months since Chef Len Towne closed up his popular barbecue restaurant in West Olive, Michigan and gave his smoker a short respite.

But the wait is over. American Char is reopening and is ready to bring the "char" to Zeeland, Michigan. 

The new location will be at 6394 Adams Street, in the former ice cream shop, Village Dippers.  American Char will feature a wide variety of traditional barbecue fare: smoked wings, brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and specially sausages. 

Customers will order at a counter and then can use any sauce that beckons to their palate, including an Alabama white sauce, Carolina mustard sauce, and Memphis-, St. Louis- and Texas-style sauces. Towne says American Char will feature multiple side dishes made from scratch, with the majority of vegetables being sourced from local farms.

Towne says the decision to open in Zeeland was a natural extension of his restaurant career.
 
"Zeeland is a good community,” he says. “I had a breakfast space there and have a following so people know my work."

Even with numerous barbecue restaurants being open in West Michigan,Towne feels the market remains strong.  "People want barbecue year around now. Not only is it the perfect summer food, it is a taste of summer in the winter.  Plus I love protein."

Besides barbecue, American Char will also feature Sherman's Ice Cream and will be serving "amazing shakes,” plus other ice cream treats.

American Char is located at 6394 Adams Street in Zeeland and is expected to open in mid-January. The winter hours will be Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 9 pm. Towne says he anticipates to be open seven days a week in the summer.  He says he will employ between seven and 12 employees.

There will be inside seating for about 44 to 48 people with additional deck seating in warmer weather.  Customers can order for pick up and catering. Towne uses a custom-made portable wood burning smoker, using primarily hickory and Michigan cherry.

To follow American Char, you can like their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

New nonprofit wants to inspire youth to 'stand up for something'

Dissent: to differ in sentiment or opinion, especially from the majority.

Dissent is not always easy — especially for youth, who might not have the confidence, experience or communication skills to express their opinions and take a leadership role with their peers and in their communities.  And that is the simple inspiration behind the new nonprofit, Dissent.

"The youth voice needs to be heard" says Branden Pecor, founder of Dissent.  "Students need to learn how to contribute to the conversation. How to use their voice in front of adults and stand up for something."

Pecor says she was inspired to start the organization after her years of being involved in education management and program assessment. She observed there were several after school programs focused on youth development, but very few were teaching leadership skills.  "There weren't very many opportunities for hands on leadership training in ways that are interesting and engaging."

Dissent will initially focus on two programs. 

The first is a student-run board ("our teens run the show") that will work on creating fun events that bring attention to social justice issues.  Pecor says one example is the upcoming caroling event to end youth homelessness on December 17, when the group is trying break a world record for most carolers.

Another program Dissent is developing is a series of youth led and designed workshops.  In development is a manufacturing workshop, "fashion design for revolution,”  that will bring attention to the manufacturing processes within the design industry. The workshop will educate on better processes and then eventually provide students the opportunity to make and sell products using ethical and sustainable processes.

Dissent became an official 501c3 in December 2014, and Pecor says she has been steadily working on scaling the organization. She recently participated in the Spring GR program, graduating last month. She says the experience was extremely important and helped her get in front of more people and develop an ongoing coaching and mentor network. 

To learn more about Dissent, including how to get involved, you can visit their website here and like their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

It's back: Startup Weekend West Michigan returns to Grand Rapids

Startup Weekend West Michigan (SWWM) is the ultimate entrepreneurial muse.  It is 54 hours of pitching, prototyping, creating, developing, building, bonding, collaborating, and networking with over 150 aspiring entrepreneurs. Through osmosis alone, you can't help but be inspired.

The event is scheduled for January 15-17 at Kendall College and is being organized by individuals from emerge West Michigan, GR Current and Kendall College of Art and Design.

Lead organizer and marketing director at emerge, Samuel Ging, says SWWM is a perfect fit for West Michigan's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
 
"With the help of Startup Weekend participants, we want to create an environment where entrepreneurs can take risk, make purposeful connections and engage with a community that can push their idea forward,” he says.

Ging says the event is designed to get a ton of work and innovation done using the constraints of time.
 
"Participants of the at Startup Weekend have 54 hours to work through creating a pitchable business,” he continues. “You have literally 54 hours to go from an idea to an early stage venture." 

This year, the program is also serving as a feeder in the regional MWest Challenge, a collegiate-based business plan competition.  Ging says last year, Kayla Ita worked through her business concept, Re.Fresh, at Startup Weekend and went on to win the MWest Challenge.
 
"At Startup Weekend, her team went from an idea to working through the business model canvas, creating a business plan, to building a prototype, to creating a pitch deck,” he says. “Her company won $5,000,  three months later at MWest."

The program is part of a national organization that hosts similar events around the world every weekend. It is in its seventh year here and is open to anyone to participate. The program flows from business pitches, team formation and planning on Friday night to development all day on Saturday and Sunday morning.  The event culminates with final business pitches before a panel of judges on Sunday afternoon.

Throughout the event, there will speakers and business mentors available to help teams overcome any hurdles they might be experiencing. 

A big emphasis of SWWM is on learning and networking.  If your idea is not selected to move forward on Friday night, you are expected to stick around and pitch in by joining a team that is working on a project you find interesting.

To register for the event, click here. To learn more about the event, click here.

Lead sponsors are emerge West Michigan, GR Current, KCAD, Start Garden, and GVSU CEI.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.
 

A flair for everything Oaxacan

At the Spring GR network-wide Pitch Night and Graduation Celebration, Nancy Quero closed her presentation with why she felt compelled to start her business.
 
"We were raised to love our culture, and because of that, I decided to start Guelaguetza,” she says.

Guelaguetza is an online business and offers handmade clothing from Oaxaca, Mexico. The designs are made by local artist from Mitla, Mexico and Mexican designer Guadalupe Quero, Nancy's sister.  The business also sells unique accessories made with natural stones, wood, shells, and other materials from the region. 

Quero says not only are the designs and materials traditional but so is the process to make the clothing and accessories.
 
"Most of the clothing have handmade embroidering, crochet or designs made in artisanal looms,” she says. “This kind of clothing you can only find in the region of Central Valleys, one of the eight regions of Oaxaca".

Quero's mother,  Humberta Ramirez and sister, Guadalupe Quero, both live and work in Mitla, Oaxaca and are part of the Guelaguetza team.
 
"My mother is my main supplier with the authentic line,” Nancy Quero says. “A couple years ago my sister joined when she graduated as a designer. Helping them motivates me to keep promoting my business."

Currently, Quero sells the products through special shows like the Hispanic and Mexican Festival at the Calder Plaza or the Fourth of July Festival in Grandville. You can can visit the Facebook page, Guelaguetza Authentic & Exclusive Designs, to check out some items posted and then contact Quero by email or phone to place an order.  The plan is for an e-commerce store to be open in Spring 2016.

As for the name, Guelaguetza, it comes from the language of the Zapotec, an indigenous people of Mexico. Quero says it means an interchange between cultures.
 
"I picked this name because I wanted to have something original that keeps reminding me my roots and my culture,” she says.

To follow Guelaguetza, join their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 
 

Support network emerges to help Syrian refugees in West Michigan

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead

Sam Attal is a committed citizen and advocate for Syrian refugees in West Michigan. His reason is simple.
 
"I am involved because I am a Syrian-American, and because of the scope of the calamity that fell on the Syrian people,” Attal says.

Attal, who is a pathologist, says there are a handful families in West Michigan that are informally supporting the agencies bringing Syrian refugees to Grand Rapids.  He says there is a lot to do and opportunity for anyone who wants to make a significant difference in the community
 
"Most of our support is by assisting the agencies in cultural, social and religious matters,” Attal says. “We try to befriend the settled families and make them feel welcomed and at home. We try to show the refugees that there is hope for the future and provide role-models to them by connecting them with successful expatriates. We make sure the kids are adjusted and doing well at school and in their neighborhood."
 
He says also they provide some material support, but those resources are limited.

Attal says both Bethany Christian Services and Lutheran Social Services are the agencies taking the leadership role locally.  He says volunteering through these groups is fairly straightforward. After background checks and some training, you can have make an immediate impact.
 
"You can befriend a family and become a mentor, an English instructor, a driving tutor, or just assist the families with the multitude of skills that they need to learn to become productive citizens,” Attal says.

One important focus for Attal is helping the refugees to find employment as soon as possible.
 
"Finding jobs is essential,” he says. “It changes their lives dramatically.  They feel that they are part of the community and they are also giving."
 
He says language can be a barrier, and many need coaching as they seek to re-enter the education system, which is an ongoing service need.

Attal estimates there are 10 refugee families in the area now that represent just over 70 individuals. He says there are plans for more families to be settled here but it is unclear when this might happen.

You can contact Bethany Christian Services here and Lutheran Social Services here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Traditional pit barbecue finds a home on West River Drive

Keith Hall, owner and pitmaster of The Grilling Company, prefers not to get into any debate about what is traditional barbecue and what is not. Instead, he just does his own thing and lets his wood pile, his customized Texas built wood barbecue pit and his smoky and tender briskets, tell the story.

"I only use wood in my pit,” Hall says. “This is what I do." The Grilling Company recently celebrated their grand opening on West River Drive with a ribbon cutting ceremony in mid-October, after a two-month soft launch.  Before opening a brick and mortar location, Hall had been catering from his home in Cedar Springs for almost four years.

The Grilling Company features barbecue takeout and catering. They specialize in many traditional barbecue items: pulled pork, chicken, sausage, ribs, burnt ends, and brisket, plus a wide variety of made-from-scratch side dishes. Hall says all seasonings and sauces are also his own creation.

Hall estimates he goes through about two cords of apple wood per month in his custom built trailer and pit, which he recently hauled back from Whitney, Texas. (For the record, a full cord of wood has a volume of about 128 cubic feet. That is a lot of wood.)

"I left Grand Rapids at 5:00 p.m. on a Thursday and was back cooking in Grand Rapids on Saturday,” he said.  A round trip of almost 3,000 miles made in less than 48 hours.

The Grilling Company has a team of four employees, along with several seasonal and event staff.

The Grilling Company is located at 6231 West River Drive NE.  You can view their website here and join their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Modustri makes a sweet move

Hostile takeovers might make business headlines, but there is nothing sweeter than Modustri's recent friendly takeover.

The Grand Rapids-based tech company that designs and builds digital measurement tools for the heavy equipment industry was faced with space and growth challenges: too many new hires and not enough room.

So, the company, which is based at 38 Commerce Avenue SW, made an offer to the owner of their next door neighbor's business that was preparing to close, Sissy’s Sweet Shoppe. Modustri would take over her lease payments in October and purchase more than 180 pounds of candy she had in her inventory. A sweet deal.

Brian Steketee, founder and CEO, says that once the additional space was acquired, the second order of business was what to do with the almost 200 pounds of candy in inventory? He pulled his team together for a little brainstorming session.

"How can we turn this into a positive event for everyone?" he asked.

One idea quickly resonated.

"How cool would it be if we could send it to the troops?"  The answer? Very cool.

Modustri donated all the candy to Operation Gratitude, an organization that creates care packets for overseas military. The team spent an entire day packing the candy into 14 extra-large boxes that were later shipped out. Steketee attributes much of the sales and job growth to a recent strategic alliance  with Caterpillar, the construction machinery and equipment company based in Peoria, Illinois.

"We've been hiring so fast, it's been hard to keep up,” Steketee says.

He says the firm has six new hires this fall and more job openings waiting to be filled. He anticipates the 30-person firm will grow to 54 employees in 2016, and he categorizes these as all great, well paying jobs: developers, mobile and UX designers, and back office administration help.

To learn more about Modustri, you can check out their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Local health care sites land grants to help provide services to uninsured and underinsured families

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan presented $60,000 in Strengthening the Safety Net Grants on Tuesday, November 17 to four Grand Rapids clinics that provide health care services to uninsured and underinsured families in Kent County.

The recipients of the Strengthening the Safety Net Grants are: Baxter Community Center, which received $15,000 to support its dental clinic; Catherine’s Health Center, which received $20,000 for medical service enhancements; Health Intervention Services, which received $15,000 for dental services; and Oasis of Hope Center, which received $10,000 to support its medical services.

Kim Kratz, a senior health care analyst at Blue Cross Blue Shield says the grant program is in its 11th year and has become an important part of these organizations' ability to serve their clients. She estimates the grants have a five-time multiplier impact on the amount of services that are provided.

"All the grants support  operations,” Kratz says.  “All four organizations use volunteers to help with administration so they are able to leverage the grants to provide more services.”

According to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, more than 150,000 Kent County residents are uninsured or underinsured. Combined, Baxter Community Center, Catherine’s Health Center, Health Intervention Services, and Oasis of Hope Center provided free or low-cost medical care through 17,500 primary care and 3,000 dental visits in 2014. The health centers assisted patients in obtaining 4,400 free or low-cost medications and helped 5,500 people enroll in a health plan.

Written by John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Grand Rapids company Appropos launches software to simplify online campsite reservations

Camping is supposed to be a bit rustic, but that doesn't mean that making an online reservation at a campground needs to be like starting a fire with two sticks and a piece of birch bark.

Grand Rapids-based technology company Appropos has announced the launch of an Appropos-designed software, Campspot , that will streamline, simplify and optimize online campsite reservations at select Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts around the country.

The software was developed for RezPlot Systems, LLC, an industry leader in campground management, and Northgate Resorts, the owners of RV camping properties, including several Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts.

Northgate Resorts CFO, Caleb Hartung, says the need for a new reservation management program was self-evident by anyone who has made campground reservations in the past, and in the case of Northgate Resorts an important part of the growth strategy.

"As we acquired RV resorts with their existing reservation systems, nothing met our needs,” Hartung says.

In fact, he says the whole online reservation system "was a miserable experience." Hartung says Campspot was developed with a superior front end design and a vastly improved user experience.

Mari-Megan Moore, senior UI/UX designer at Appropos, describes Campspot as "modern and responsive" and says it gives the camping customer a very simple and streamlined way to reserve sites from any device. It will also allow campground owners to better manage their sites for profitability through smart bookings, discounts to encourage longer stays and repeat reservations. It also gives them the ability to introduce other products and services such as firewood, pie irons and s’mores, golf carts, hot tubs, and more.

The launch was recently announced at the annual Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Symposium and Trade Show  in Cincinnati last week.

Appropos is a Grand Rapids tech company that was formed in 2012. It employs 22 people and serves some of the largest U.S. and international companies. Learn more about Appropos at www.appropos.com.

Written by John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Hook a Sista Up provides support for women entrepreneurs

Hook A Sista Up (HASU) is a local networking group focused on entrepreneurship, collaboration and helping women be more successful with their businesses and careers.  Its mission is to help women entrepreneurs launch their business ventures faster and sustain them longer through collaboration and mentorship.

Linda Otterbridge is the founder of HASU. She started the organization just over two and a half years ago. She says there was a need for an organization that addressed the unique needs of professional women. "Women have several interesting challenges, especially around time," she says. "They juggle home, kids and careers."   

Otterbidge says the group has monthly check-ins that provide accountability checks based on previous goals and also serves as a platform to set new business goals. HASU also hosts member events for women entrepreneurs interested in starting a new venture and has programming for existing business owners focused on sustainability and growth.

All members are expected to "collaborate not compete" says Otterbridge. "The main blueprint for the group is connecting the sisterhood of women entrepreneurs."

The meetings are typically $10 to attend and there is a $75 annual fee for membership.  More information, including meeting times, programming and locations, can be found on the website here.  

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

DanceOff benefiting Well House returns to the Pyramid Scheme

Grand Rapids' best dancers will once again go head to head in a battle to crown the ultimate dance champion on December 3. Back for its second year, the event awards the top dancer with a grand prize of $500 while proceeds from ticket sales benefit local nonprofit, Well House. Last year's event raised $4500 for Well House.

Jonathan Williams is the founder and organizer of The DanceOff. Williams, who also is one of the organizers of Failure Lab, says the inspiration behind the event is pretty simple: "I always wanted to organize a dance off." He says his dream became a reality when Tami VandenBerg, director and founder of Well House, welcomed the idea as a fund and awareness raiser for her program and then gave him the green light to organize. "The Well House is a very progressive nonprofit and Tami is the perfect partner," Williams says.

Live tryouts for the event were November 9th at the Pyramid Scheme. Dancers still can enter The DanceOff by submitting a 3-minute video of their best moves at www.thedanceoff.co. DanceOff contestants who make the cut will compete before three judges and a packed house on stage at the Pyramid Scheme at 8 p.m. on December 3. Two rounds will lead to a final dance battle that determines the final winner. The Dance Off welcomes experienced and diverse dancers who are ready to give an upbeat and exciting performance.

Tickets for the event are $10 and can be purchased online at www.thedanceoff.co. View a video trailer for DanceOff 2015 here. 100 percent of proceeds go to support the programming at Well House.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

I'll toast to that! Experience Grand Rapids announces Cocktail Week GR

Add one part artisanal spirits, one part growth in craft distillers, top it off with talented bartenders and you end up with the first ever Cocktail Week GR, celebrating Michigan craft spirits from November 11-22. Shaken, not stirred.

The week was designed and created by Experience GR as a way to showcase the growth in the artisan spirits and local distillers. In their research, Kate Herron, community development manager, says that with the success of marketing Grand Rapids as a craft beer destination, they also found a parallel opportunity to market the region as a "craft cocktail" destination. "The Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild helped us learn about the industry," Herron says. "We found there is a different market that enjoy craft cocktails."

The campaign's tagline is "sip local" and throughout Cocktail Week GR, participating local restaurants will offer two Michigan cocktails and a shared-plate appetizer for $25 or less as well as menu items paired with Michigan-distilled spirits. Participating restaurants, menus and cocktail-related events will be updated regularly at http:/www.CocktailWeekGR.com.

Cocktail Week GR coincides with additional celebrations of spirits at the annual Wine, Beer and Food Festival, taking place at DeVos Place Convention Center from November 19-22.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

Make no bones about it: Encoris is on the grow

Encoris is a five-year-old, Holland, Michigan-based company that specializes in the design and manufacturing of clear, custom skeletal models that are used by medical device companies like Stryker Orthopaedics, Johnson and Johnson, and Medtronic to educate and promote implant devices in the medical field.

The firm recently moved to a new manufacturing and design plant at 3612 128th St. in Holland, Michigan, specifically for enhanced manufacturing capabilities and efficiencies that Jim TenBrink, vice president of marketing & sales, says are needed following some successful trade shows and customer meetings in Europe. "Europe has really taken off," TenBrink says. "They do not make clear bone models and found our company through Internet search."

TenBrink says the company recently participated in a medical device show in Germany, where interest was high: "We're close to partnering with a German company, with 1500 distributors worldwide, that want our clear bones in their catalog." He says another company in Italy, a business incubator for inventions, also loved their products and they are in the process of crafting an agreement for an alliance.

In just four years from startup, the company has almost topped $1 million in sales and is expected to grow by 35 to 40 percent in 2016 based on expansion into European and teaching hospital/university market segments.

TenBrink says all of the Encoris products are designed and made in West Michigan by the company's 17 employees and contract designers using CAD engineering and design, 3D printers and hand sculpting to create the master molds.

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

Source: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids Mobile Monday Chapter relaunches

Linda Daichendt, executive director of MTAM (Mobile Technology Association of Michigan), the parent organization behind the Grand Rapids Mobile Monday chapter, says new leaders are in place to reestablish the organization. "The original chapter launched in 2011 with a volunteer leadership group and met quarterly for a while," she says. "However, due to relocations and job changes, the original volunteer group had to step aside and the chapter went on hiatus until MTAM could find a new volunteer organizer."

The new Steering Committee Chairperson is Al Juarez, Director of Business Development at RX Networks. Arrangements are also being finalized for a host sponsorship from Priority Health, where the group will meet on a monthly schedule on Monday evenings. (Visit their Meetup site here for meeting times and subjects.)

Daichendt says the timing is perfect for the group to become active again: "There is a very vibrant mobile and wireless technologies community in West Michigan; from mobile app development to wireless charging to use of wireless technology in surgery and much more."  

She says the organization draws from a wide variety of business and technology professionals. "Mobile Mondays have very broad appeal and the audience changes based on the topic being presented," she says. "If the topic is focused on something related to the 'how-to's' of mobile app development, you're likely to see a very large contingent of mobile developers, UX/UI specialists, graphic designers, etc." Likewise, if the topic is focused on mobile applications and healthcare, you would likely see CEO's, CIOs, hospital tech staff, and doctors alongside tech experts who want to work with the healthcare industry.

There are currently four active chapters in Michigan (Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing and Grand Rapids) with over 2900 members state-wide. Information about Mobile Monday Michigan can be found at http://MobileMondayMichigan.org.

Daichendt says Juarez is still seeking additional volunteers to assist him on the organizing committee. If interested, contact Juarez through the Meetup site.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Family Promise of Grand Rapids announces 'A Journey Home' campaign

Family Promise of Grand Rapids is hosting a press conference and ribbon cutting celebration Thursday, November 5 at 10 a.m. to celebrate their new location at 516 Cherry St. SE and to announce their $2 million fundraiser.

Cheryl Schuch, executive director, says the new facility is a needed step forward for the organization to keep up with the increased problem of homelessness among families with children in Kent County. "The old facility was rented and expensive. It did not allow us to serve individuals with disabilities and there were no spaces for private meetings with families or respite spaces for young children‚" she says.
 
Schuch says the fundraiser is designed to pay off the new building's mortgage and to support and grow the three key programs serving their mission: Pathway Home, an innovative shelter program in partnership with Mel Trotter, where existing space was repurposed into family space; Partners in Housing, a "mini-habitat" program, where manufactured homes are rehabbed and used by families with housing needs; and the continuing development of their After Care program, where Family Promise staff work to stabilize families and keep them in their homes (and schools) long term.

The fundraiser is chaired by community leaders Laurie Beard (Grand Rapids Region President, Old National Bank) and Carl Jandernoa (Vice President, 42 North Partners).

Schuch says that in 2009, they were servicing five homeless families at one time and now they are providing service to 60 families at the same time. She says there were almost 3000 students in Kent County schools who were homeless last year and with a successful campaign there will be a 200% increase in shelter capacity.

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Collective Idea and the culture of calm

Since the beginning of the year, Collective Idea, a Holland, Michigan-based software development consultancy, has added eight software developers and designers to its team.  

That is no small accomplishment. Besides growing revenue to sustain eight new jobs, finding and hiring qualified, creative tech talent when seemingly every organization in the region is looking to add software developers and designers is very impressive.

Daniel Morrison, founder, says that although it's true that the market for software professionals is competitive, West Michigan technology firms are well positioned to compete on a national level for talent. "The software industry is a very competitive market right now nationwide. Silicon Valley can tempt people with high salaries, but we are easily competitive when you factor in our quality of life and low cost of living," he says.  

Morrison says that besides the relatively low cost of living and high quality of life in West Michigan, he also has purposefully created a culture where creative people can do great work and find the elusive work-life balance. "We have a culture of calm which is different from many startups, which can be manic," he says. "We work hard, but go home at night and take vacations. We are valuable to our clients because we do great work and don't burn out. We take care of our employees by offering a strong work-life balance, great benefits and investment in their continuing education." Recently the firm added a small fleet of bicycles for the team to use around Holland for trips to the lake or area restaurants and festivals.

Collective Idea's newest team members have come from all over the country with a variety of backgrounds of interests and talents. They include Dana Jones, Laura Mosher, Brianna Onken, Ray Brown, Mike Kopchick, Joshua Kovach, Ben Lambert, and Jon Stokes.  

Equally important to its culture, Morrison says finding the right fit and mix of qualified programming talent is essential. "Without a doubt, the more diverse people you have on a team, the better the team executes," he says. "Our industry skews heavily toward white males, so we're always excited when we can bring underrepresented groups into the mix. That said, we didn't do anything specific to hire women; we simply didn't limit ourselves to people who fit a stereotype."

Founded in 2005 by Morrison, Collective Idea creates innovative software experiences for multinational companies, small startups and everything in between for organizations around the country.

For more information at www.collectiveidea.com

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Varsity News Network adds software product expert and readies to launch VNN 2.0

Varsity News Network (VNN), has announced the addition of industry veteran and software product expert, Lucian Taylor, as vice president of product. Taylor has more than 20 years experience leading software teams at technology companies including Rosetta Stone, Microsoft and Autodesk.

Using a couple of sports analogies, the addition of Taylor could be considered the equivalent of a college landing a five-star recruit, and VNN founder Ryan Vaughn attributes the hiring success to a team effort.   

"We have a very talented internal recruiting team, led by Bob Barber and Hallie Dorsey, who led a comprehensive, nationwide recruiting search for this position," Vaughn says. "We had a number of amazing candidates, but Lucian really rose to the top, particularly when he visited Grand Rapids and had a chance to bond with our team."

Taylor will be responsible for directing VNN's current product lines and lead development of VNN 2.0, the company's new product initiative. Taylor says VNN 2.0 will allow for many more users to contribute and greatly increase community engagement.

"VNN's first-generation platform was a huge step forward in making an Athletic Director's life easier," Taylor says. "With VNN 2.0, we'll reach beyond the Athletic Director. We'll fully engage coaches, athletes, parents, and fans. The entire community that rallies around the excitement of local school sports. We'll introduce four new products that work together to increase community."

Taylor is excited about the prospects of living and working in Grand Rapids. "I think Grand Rapids is a great place for innovative companies and people. There's a great work ethic here that comes, I think, from a grounded, stable social culture and a midwestern sense of family and commitment. There's even a west coast, complete with dunes and beautiful sunsets!"

VNN provides high school athletic departments with a digital communication platform, enabling schools to seamlessly distribute critical information and promote school athletic teams. The Grand Rapids-based firm has 40 employees and taps into a network of 50 independent contractors.  

For more information about VNN visit www.varsitynewsnetwork.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Meredith Bronk on work-life balance, career success and happiness

How can a person who runs a $160-million-dollar business, with almost 200 employees and offices in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis and London, England, maintain any semblance of work-life balance?

It's pretty simple. It starts with purposefully making time to be happy.

Meredith Bronk, CEO and president of OST, was recently recognized as one of the top 50 women entrepreneurs in America by Inc. Earlier, OST made the Inc. 5000 list for the 9th consecutive year, highlighting the company's 83 new hires and three-year average growth rate of 57 percent.

Besides her responsibilities and success at OST, Bronk is also very involved in the community, serving as a board member of United Bank and the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. She is a committed mentor to other business professionals and is a wife and mother to three active girls, ages 15, 13 and 11.   

So with schedule like that, how do you maintain any semblance of work-life balance?

Bronk credits her commitment to the "happiness challenge" to achieving balance in her life. She says she was introduced to the program while in the Executive MBA program at Notre Dame, and now makes the five tenets of the challenge part of her daily and weekly routine. "The 'happiness challenge' has five habits; regular exercise, meditation, journaling, daily acts of gratitude and random acts of kindness, she explains.

Bronk recommends these five habits for anyone needing a system to find balance in their lives. She acknowledges that it does take time and discipline to make these part of your daily and weekly routines, but the key is to make a commitment. "To get started, you take and practice what you can" and over time there will be a transformational effect, helping you become "the best version of yourself" both at work and at home.

To learn more about OST you can visit their site here. You can also read about their recent recognition by Inc. here and here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Ed-tech startup Kickstand has new interface to take on reading literacy

Ed-tech startup Kickstand is rolling out something new: EdifyK4, the new interface for the company's flagship product Edify. It's designed as part of a grant that was awarded by the Michigan Department of Education for the development of at-risk, early reading challenge systems using tools that will help teachers throughout Michigan to identify and provide resources to those students who are not reading proficiently at grade level.

The new interface is an easy-to-read dashboard. It went live on September 30 and is being rolled out to several school districts in Michigan targeting K-4th grade.  

EdifyK4 features checklist assessments, comprehension rubrics, reading lessons, educational resources, 24/7 access and real-time feedback for students, teachers, administrators and parents. To keep students engaged, game-like elements have been incorporated to capture their attention and make learning fun.

Ruth Hester, elementary education specialist with Kickstand and former teacher, says the EdifyK4 interface brings together the entire educational ecosystem by capturing assessment data with an easy to use and understand dashboard: "I was an elementary teacher and I had to keep track of all the different tests, assessments and personal notes using binders, folders and spreadsheets, which I manually needed to update - when I had time." She says with EdifyK4, all this information is now consolidated and ready to view in real time.  She says parents can also view this information through a mirrored portal, also in real time, so they can be completely engaged with their child's learning.

Kickstand, LLC is an education technology startup company, founded by Tom Bieniewicz and Scott Goldberg. Its products are are similar to an individualized learning management system but are designed to serve multiple stakeholders, teachers, students and parents as they interact in the classroom and at home. Edify and the new release of EdifyK4 provide courses in science, math, social studies and English language arts.

To learn more about Kickstand, Edify, and EdifyK4, you can view their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

 

SalesPad growing, "always in hiring mode"

SalesPad might be one of the fastest growing, most innovative West Michigan software companies you've never heard of before. Which, according to Jeremy Boogaart, general manager, used to be okay with them but isn't so much anymore.

With continued projected growth and ongoing hiring needs in a very competitive market, Boogaart says it is time to share their story to a broader audience. "We used to fly under the radar but after ramping up the hiring process and adding about 49 people in the past year, we decided it was time for people to know more about us," he says.

SalesPad makes innovative business software. The company has a suite of 13 products for a wide variety of enterprise level, business management activities. Boogaart says the company was founded by Matt Williams in 2004 and the firm now has 120 employees and is  "always in hiring mode."

"We never stop hiring", he says. "We always runs ads and we currently have open jobs in sales, support, and development." Boogaart describes the SalesPad culture as "collaborative" and says it is quite different than many development and consulting development shops.  

"We are a full-time software development shop with our own products. We focus on team work. We provide a lot of training, opportunities for ongoing learning and group development, all in an open office environment. Plus, we have fun." He says with their commitment to training, it is a great company for new college graduates,

Besides adding to the local economy, SalesPad is also helping to showcase Grand Rapids to people from around the country. The firm recently hosted a three-day conference in downtown Grand Rapids, bringing in around 250 customers, the majority of whom were from outside of West Michigan. "We had to block about 800 nights at hotels. We had brewery tours, golfing and ate at various restaurants throughout the city," he says. "Many people attending did not know what to expect in Grand Rapids. They were surprised with the cool vibe." This was the second year for the conference and the firm is already planning for 2016.

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Rebranding complete, Freshwater Digital is getting innovative

2015 has been good for Freshwater Digital. Very good.

The five-year-old digital signage and media production firm has been riding a significant growth wave in the past year and shows no sign of slowing down.

Just in the last several months, the firm has moved into a new office and warehouse space (almost doubling its previous footprint) to occupy 25,000 sq. feet, hired eight new people (now a total headcount of 14), released its own proprietary software, acquired and integrated a digital gaming company, and finished a complete rebranding.
 
And to think: less than four years ago, the founders of the company were working out of their homes.

Jon Dodge, EVP of business development, says the growth is a result of a blend of their core business expansion, a great team and new opportunities: "We've had fantastic growth in last two years. We have a very talented team and we recently added a vice president of product development."

Dodge describes Freshwater's core business as retail digital signage, but he says the firm is always looking for innovative ways to expand. "We are moving beyond just content on a screen. We now have different platforms to provide better communication with the consumer," he says.  

Dodge points to the firm's recent acquisition of the digital gaming company, "Extreme Ring Swing", (extremeringswing.com) as an example of moving beyond traditional digital signage to create a better customer experience. Dodge says that this product is a creative and engaging way to help their clients promote products and also increase sales by enticing customers to spend more time in an establishment.

With the growth and commitment to new product development, the firm just completed a complete rebranding including a name change (Freshwater Digital Media Partners to Freshwater Digital) and a revamped logo and website. The firm is planning an open house in early November to showcase its new location and its production and product development labs.

To learn more about Freshwater Digital you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Nitro Cold Brew, the official coffee sponsor of ArtPrize, hits the streets

Riddle me this. What looks like a dark beer, tastes like a stout, is served cold out of keg but is not a beer? Give up?  

Well, it's not much of a riddle, especially since Nitro Cold Brew is gaining traction and brand awareness quickly these days, but it is worth noting that in Beer City, U.S.A., there's a new beverage in town and it is not a craft beer.

Kirby Watson, president of Direct Trade Coffee Club, says the nitrogen-infused, cold brewed coffee is a phenomenon and is quickly trending throughout the country. Watson says he was personally inspired by the nitrogen coffee movement in Austin, TX, and he felt there was an opportunity to do the same thing in Grand Rapids.

He says the brewing process is fairly complex but the end result is worth the time and effort. "The nitrogen gives it a nice creaminess, he says. "The people who taste it say it is a bit like a stout. A creamy stout." Watson says the product is caffeinated so it can serve as an afternoon or evening "pick me up" but it also has about half the acid of hot brewed coffee, serving a market for coffee lovers who aren't able to enjoy the beverage because of the acidity.

Watson says his cold brewed coffee will be a viable product throughout the year and adds a better option to 'last call". "We think people will drink this all year round" he says. "We envision people drinking it at bars as the last drink of the night."

Introduced just over 10 weeks ago, Watson says you can find the product at Hall St. Bakery, Wealthy St. Bakery, Long Road Distillery, Lyon Street Cafe, Bartertown and the UICA.

And thanks to a very unique distribution model, you can also find Nitro Cold Brew being served from a series of specially outfitted trikes in downtown Grand Rapids during ArtPrize: "We built up four trikes and we will be rolling around ArtPrize throughout the event. Just flag us down."

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids unleashes the flavors of Latin America

Bienvenido a Grand Rapids!

Luna, the new Latin American-themed, full-service bar and restaurant located at 64 Ionia Ave. SW, opened its doors last week and will soon be opening the eyes and taste buds of the local food community to something very distinct and flavorful.

After working on the concept for almost two years, Mario Cascante wanted to bring something unique to the Grand Rapids food scene. While working with Rockford Development to identify a location, an opportunity opened up on Ionia Ave. SW and Cascante was ready.

While remaining true to his roots (Cascante is a native of Costa Rica), he says the new spot will also be "distinctly different" than his first venture, Tacos El Cunado at the Downtown Market.  

Cascante says Luna will feature meals that are prepared with the flavor profiles of Central and South America. Because of the breadth of spices, foods, and techniques in this type of cuisine, Cascante is reluctant to generalize about the menu but he says customers can expect a different type of spice level, "flavorful but not too spicy" and very different takes on traditional street foods like tacos and flautas.

However, he says the menu will also feature stews, vegan fair and South American-style steaks. "This is not a continuation of Tacos El Cunado. It will be a very different vibe and atmosphere. You can sit down and enjoy your meal. The flavor profile will be Latin American and it will be very refined and approachable."

Besides the unique menu, Cascante said Luna will feature a very good wine list, a "thoughtful" beer list and and interesting cocktails.

Cascante says he anticipates 30-40 jobs to be created with his new restaurant; he has several openings and encourages individuals to apply online here.

You can learn more about Luna here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

 

Degage Ministries voucher program provides meals and more

Heartside neighborhood homeless organization Degage Ministries has a dignified solution to help visitors respond to downtown panhandlers during ArtPrize: Help them. And the best way to help them is to direct them to a place where they are assured of getting help.

Marge Palmerlee, Degage executive director, says the organization developed a voucher two years ago in response to requests from those in the community who had had questions on the best way to help someone who approached them for money. "We all want to be caring people but wise stewards of money." Palmerlee says. She says the voucher program helps to not only direct someone to a place where they can have a meal, but also get additional help for whatever problems the individual is experiencing.

A $2 voucher can be used for a variety of services, ranging from the purchase of a full meal, storage in a locker for a week, a hair cut, a pair of warm socks, and much more.  Palmerlee says the staff in the Resource Office will work with individuals to find solutions to other needs they may have.

With the opening of ArtPrize this week, Palmerlee knows the city will experience a tremendous surge in visitors, so Degage is looking to be more proactive with increasing the awareness of their voucher program. The vouchers are available for purchase by contacting kim@degageministries.org or calling (616) 454-1661. You may also purchase them here by selecting "Purchase of $2 Vouchers" from the designation drop-down list and they will be mailed to you.

Besides making the vouchers available for purchase, Palmerlee says the the organization has provided several hundred of its Degage Vouchers to Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. Ambassadors so they can hand out to guests for their use.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Fuchsia Design builds a foundation for growth with national certification

Autumn Fuchs has many reasons to celebrate the first anniversary of her residential interior design firm, Fuchsia Design. Besides successfully building a strong client base in year one, Fuchs also joined a very elite club when she became one of only a few residential designers to become NCIDQ certified (National Council for Interior Design Qualification).

The NCIDQ certification process is a three-day exam consisting of two days of multiple choice and a 10-hour-long drafting exam. It tests on things like mechanical systems, electrical, accessible and sustainable design, codes, and building practices. Fuchs says that NCIDQ is not a requirement for interior designers, but she wanted to set the bar very high for herself and differentiate her business from the competition. "For me, it is important as a interior designer to have the highest level of certification in the  industry," she says. "It really sets me apart from other design firms."

Fuchsia Design specializes in residential projects and targets both new home and deep renovation ("taking homes down to studs" says Fuchs). She says her typical clients are individuals who are excited about the entire design process and have a strong vision for what they want to accomplish. "My clients value design and are excited about their home. They know what they like and enjoy collaboration."
 
Besides building Fuchsia Design, Fuchs also facilitates a networking community for designers, West Michigan Interior Designers, which has grown to over 150 members to date.  "I always believe the interior design industry can achieve more when we work together" she says.

In the very near future, Fuchs anticipates taking her business to the next level when she hopes to add 5-10 designers to her team.

To learn more about Fuchsia Design, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Straight from the heart, Reyna's Gallery is getting down to business

Reyna Garcia is an artist, social activist and businesswoman. She opened Reyna's Gallery in 2014, has participated in two ArtPrizes and the DisArt Festival, and been involved in a number of events where she has exhibited or spoken. "I've been doing art for many years, first in Mexico, and then for a number of years in New York City where I coordinated the Mexican Cultural Project," she says.  

Garcia says her inspiration is rooted in her background and her passion for social justice: "I especially enjoy using art to represent the needs and the plight of Latinos and of immigrants, both through the art itself, and also through the forums through which my art allows me to speak and give voice to these causes."

Recently, Garcia participated in the SpringGR consulting and mentoring program in order to strengthen the business needs of being a working artist and running a gallery. She credits the program for helping her to not only develop a business plan but also helping her to create a network of business professionals that can help her manage and grow her gallery.  

"The SpringGR counselors are my coaches," she says. "They are helping me connect with more people so I can run my gallery as a business". Garcia says that one of the first outcomes of her class will be the launch of a website, sometime in October, where she can display and sell her work.

In the meantime, Garcia sells at various events and creates custom pieces as requested or commissioned. You can view her work on her blog  or Facebook page.

"My goal in art is for my art to touch the hearts and minds of the viewer" says Garcia. "The art expresses my most deep passions, memories and experiences, and I think it does for many viewers who have seen it as well."  

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

And the winner of $50,000 is...

Andy Thomas, Starving Artist Brewing!

Thomas is the winner of the inaugural Mason County Momentum Business Plan Competition. His "nanobrewery" beat out four other competitors to win $50,000, which will be used to grow his business in Mason County.

A long-time craft beer enthusiast, Thomas has a wide variety of experience working in the industry including stints at the Jamesport Brewing Company, being certified as a craft beer judge, and as the founder of a local home brew club.

Thomas currently operates a small-batch brewery on his home property in Scottville, where he brews a handful of rotating beers for local distribution as well as contract brews for two Ludington restaurants. His business model is focused on controlled growth. He says  phase one of his business plan has been based on generating local sales through kegging, for which the demand is already exceeding supply,

The winning pitch as delivered by Thomas was focused on launching phase two of his business plan, which includes purchasing additional brewing equipment, building out addition space, and expanding distribution beyond Mason County. Thanks to a partnership with Grand Rapids-based Alliance Beverage Distributing, Starving Artist will be able to sell beer from Kalamazoo to Traverse City, and as far east as Lansing once he builds capacity.

Thomas is very optimistic about his business and the burgeoning craft beer scene in Mason County and has plans for growth beyond phase two. "Once our recipes are solid and our fan base is strong, we plan to expand into bottling and canning."  

Although Starving Artist Brewery is not a brew pub the brewery is open for tours by appointment. Call 231-794-1399 and leave a message. "People are always welcome to stop by. Just let us know when they are in the area so we can set some time aside,‚Äù says Thomas.  

The brewery is located at 624 S. Stiles, Ludington. Thomas also owns and operates the Ludington art gallery A.M. Galleries, hence the moniker Starving Artist.

To keep up with the latest for Starving Artist Brewery, follow their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs news editor

Spring GR alumnus, Alfield Reeves Photography, explores Grand Rapids people and events

Alfield Reeves Photography is a Grand Rapids-based photography business. The owner and operator is, naturally, Alfield Reeves, a native of the west coast African country of Liberia.

Reeves, who has lived in Grand Rapids most of his life, bought a camera while in college and fell in love with taking pictures. "After starting my photography page on Facebook, a friend of a friend saw some of my work and asked if I would do their wedding," Reeves says. "Since then I realized I could start a business and make a profit off of it. Never in my lifetime would I have imagined that I would start a business, let alone a photography business."

Reeves says he specializes in fashion photography, events, and portraits. He recently started a photo series called #ThePeopleOfGrandRapids (found on Instagram) where he explores downtown Grand Rapids. "I just talk to people and hear their stories, passions, interests and lives," he says. Reeves says this project led him to be asked to do a week-long Instagram takeover for Grand Rapids Magazine.

He says enjoying photography is only a small part of running a business. To help him build a stronger foundation, Reeves just completed Spring GR, a training, mentoring and networking program. "Spring GR helped me tremendously," he says. "It opened my eyes to a lot of things I wasn't thinking about as a business owner, such as controlling my costs, building a team, understanding my niche and other avenues to expand my business."

You can learn more about Alfield Reeves Photography through his website, Facebook page or Instagram.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Up, up and away with Worksighted

A Holland-based IT Services company, Worksighted, has made the Inc. 5000 fastest growing American companies list for the fourth consecutive year. It's a remarkable feat considering their humble beginnings 15 years ago.

Worksighted was founded by Mike Harris and Matt Nguyen in a basement with two employees and three customers. It now employs 44 full-time staff, including 28 engineers.

In the past year year alone the firm moved ahead 154 places on the Inc. 5000 list and their revenue increased 41 percent from $4.9M to $6.9M with a doubling of sales in the Grand Rapids market.

What's driving the growth? It's pretty basic, says Harris. "Honestly - it is the fact we have such an incredible team," he says. "We have the right people in the business and incredibly high employee retention. Nothing magic about it."

Harris says that, with the growth, they are always looking for the right people. He says anyone interested in working for Worksighted should go to the career page of their website and submit their resume.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

 

It's a family affair at Creations by Jodi

You name it and Jodi Hardiman-Redmond can create it.

Creations by Jodi is the family-owned and operated business that helps people celebrate the special events in their lives. The business specializes in creating customized chocolate treats, gourmet cupcakes and other sweet treats.  

"Each one is unique," says Hardiman-Redmond, "and all are named after my grandchildren."  One speciality of the shop is chocolate-covered fruit: "All of our fruits are hand-dipped. Every piece." She says the process takes time, but the attention to detail is worth it.

Hardiman-Redmond says she started the business about 15 years ago, doing only a few jobs, but the demand has grown every year and she is now poised for a move to a brick and mortar location. "I have a vision for the business that I am following," she says. "I customize all our products and people trust me to work their business."

Until the move to a store front, the best way to contact Creations by Jodi is through her website. You can also follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Local Kickstarter campaign aims to preserve voice of the silent generation

It has the all the makings of an epic adventure: travel the 50 states to interview individuals born before 1940 and create an oral (and digital) history of the world before laptops, the web, wi-fi, smart phones and tablets. All it needs is a little kickstart.

Veronica Kirin, entrepreneur and web designer, is the creator of the Untold Stories of the Silent Generation Kickstarter campaign, which launched on August 20. With a goal of $5,000, the money raised will help fund Kirin on her travels throughout the United States.

Kirin, who has an anthropology degree, will interview, photograph and record the volunteer participants in the program. Each interview will feature a series of fourteen standard questions designed to explore a perspective about life before and after the technology revolution. It's a perspective that is rapidly vanishing as the "silent generation" ages.  As Kirin collects the data, the content is made available on her website. Once the project is completed, the interviews will be a part of book to published in 2016.

Kirin says she was inspired by a NPR show that stated many children today don't know the meaning of a telephone pole. To date, Kirin has already interviewed over 30 individuals in five states. She says that, so far, every interview is different but one common denominator is how these individuals feel that interpersonal communication has changed. "Many of the people I interviewed are a little worried about the loss of communication skills," she says.  

From a personal perspective, Kirin says the project has been transformational especially as it relates to her own choices: "Relying on instant messaging and texting, I've realized how far I have separated from friends." She says she now spends more time meeting in person or having long phone conversations.

Kirin also wants to encourage families of the interviewees to be aware of the history as she welcomes requests for the materials collected so they can be shared with preceding generations.

The project relies on nominations for interviewees, which are currently being accepted on the website. Participants must be over the age of 75 and willing to be interviewed in person. Interview questions and the oral release form are displayed on the website.

To learn more about the Kickstarter campaign, which ends September 19, you can visit the site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Great food and customer service are the secret ingredients for Lindo Mexico

When you have great food and great customer service, it should be no surprise that business is good. Very good.

The popular Mexican restaurant, Lindo Mexico, will be moving to its third location in the last five years, having continually outgrown each preceding location.

The new building for Lindo Mexico is currently under construction at 1742 28th St. SE in Wyoming. It previously was the home to Ponderosa restaurant. The opening is scheduled in September, pending final approval of a liquor license, almost five years to the day they opened in a small location on the corner of 28th St. and Clyde Park.

Gricelda Mata, owner and founder, says the new location is significantly larger and gives her the opportunity to add a full service bar, a bigger kitchen and more seats. In addition, Mata says there will be at least "4-5 new jobs" added.

Mata says Lindo Mexico has a few "Tex-Mex" offerings on the menu, but the real focus is on traditional Mexican food, made with fresh ingredients, inspired by her birthplace in Michoacan, Mexico.

Besides the great food prepared by her brother, Chef Cris Campos, Mata attributes her restaurant success to exceptional customer service. "I am very strict with the hiring," she says. 'We stress customer service at all times."

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New career assistance program launched by coLearning and TEKsystems

The Factory and TEKsystems have announced a partnership that will provide financial and career assistance to those taking The Factory's coLearning courses.

coLearning classes blend technology and design. They feature instructors who are "industry experts" says Aaron Schaap, founder of The Factory. "These are the people you want to become. They have working knowledge from doing it day in and day out." Courses range from Design Thinking and User Experience Design to Content Strategy, Modern Web Development and Software Development.

Schaap says over 200 people have already completed coLearning courses. He says the program is designed for individuals who have been in the workplace for a few years but understand the rapid pace of change in the economy necessitates constant career vigilance. "These individuals are realizing what they graduated with is not what is needed," he says. "They have a lot of knowledge but not skills."

TEKsystems has been involved with coLearning since the launch of the program in 2013. The new partnership gives TEKsystems a bigger role as they now will be offering career assistance (customized career planning, resume building, interviewing tips, job placement) and financial reimbursement for completed courses and successful employment.  

To learn more about the program, including enrollment, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids-based US Signal opens new division, adds jobs

US Signal is launching the Professional Services team, a new division that will focus on data transfer and migration.  

The team can serve as an extension of a client's IT staff and assist with infrastructure assessments, installation and building of virtual environments, migration to the cloud and training as needed.

Adam Kessler, director of information systems, says the formation for the new division came simply from listening to their customers: "A big reason we created this new group was from talking with customers. We discovered a gap in what we offered and what was needed," Kessler says. "Our customers needed services wrapped around our infrastructure."

Kessler says with the new division US Signal has already added new jobs and he anticipates more openings in the near future. "As a service department, the product is the people. As we onboard more customers, we plan to grow head count," he says.

US Signal has over 14,000 miles of lit fiber and metro rings in 23 tier-one, tier-two, and tier-three markets. US Signal's product portfolio includes colocation, disaster recovery, security and cloud hosting services to complement its network offerings.

For more information about US Signal click here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Cheers! Warner Norcross & Judd launches Craft Beer Industry Group

Warner Norcross & Judd LLP has launched a new Craft Brewery Industry Group, becoming one of the first law firms in Michigan to provide an integrated team approach for the multibillion-dollar craft brewing industry. The group is designed to help hops processors, breweries, bars and restaurants navigate a complex regulatory environment and manage all the issues that come with "growth."

The industry group is chaired by Ian R. Kennedy. He says one of the compelling needs for businesses within this industry revolves around governance decisions. "The biggest needs we are seeing are associated with managing startup businesses and expansions," Kennedy says, "how the entities are formed and the business structure. Going forward it is about figuring out expansion: how to access capital, issues with financing and partnering with other service providers."

Kennedy says the "sheer explosion" of growth makes this a very interesting industry to work with: "We've seen huge jumps in production in the last 20-25 years."

He says the growth and popularity is easily seen in many different parts of the supply chain. "You walk down a beer aisle in a retailer now, and it's like a wine aisle, with so many different brands to select from," Kennedy says.

While Kennedy does not necessarily see another major craft brewer like Founders or Bell's emerging (although he does not rule it out), he says there is still plenty of opportunity for growth within the craft beer sector. "I don't know if we'll see another giant emerge but there is a strong  presence for local beer in local communities," he says. "There are still plenty of niches to inhabit."

The group is a new subset of Warner's Agribusiness & Food Industry Group. Michigan brewers who have already begun working with the firm include Arcadia Brewing, BarFly Ventures, Founders Brewing Co., Perrin Brewing and several more.

Warner Norcross is a corporate law firm with 230 attorneys practicing in eight offices throughout Michigan: Grand Rapids, Holland, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Macomb County, Midland, Muskegon and Southfield.

To learn more about this group, you can check out their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Inforum moves to Blue35, prepares to hire Director of Corporate and Member Engagement

Inforum, a statewide professional organization focused on accelerating careers for women and boosting talent initiatives for companies, has moved its West Michigan office to Blue35 in downtown Grand Rapids.

Inforum offers a portfolio of leadership development programs for women to hone their leadership skills and advance their careers. These programs serve a broad range of women in different stages and types of careers, from nonprofit professionals to emerging and rising corporate leaders, tech entrepreneurs, veterans, and corporate board leadership.

As an organization where networking and collaboration are central to its mission, Jacqueline Wiggins, COO of Inforum, says the the move to downtown Grand Rapids from the southeast suburbs is significant. "It is very important that we move into the downtown area," she says. "We've been looking for a suitable location for several years. Blue35 is an incredible location."

Wiggins says that since opening their downtown branch in March, the new location has even changed the way they do business in West Michigan, specifically encouraging them to showcase their office setting and do more events in-house. "With all the amenities and services offered by Blue35, we now are hosting meetings instead of going to other locations," she says.

Wiggins also says that the organization is in the process of hiring a full-time Director of Corporate and Member Engagement, who will be working out of the Grand Rapids location but with state-wide responsibilities: "We know the importance of having someone in the community."

Besides Grand Rapids, Inforum has an office in Detroit, where the organization was founded in 1962. To learn more about their work, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Startup accelerator launches, announces new executive director

Rebecca Stein is the new executive director of emerge Xcelerate, an early-stage accelerator for startup companies focused on technology (hardware and software) and social impact.

Xcelerate is a six-month program that provides selected startup companies with $20,000 of funding, access to legal and accounting services, maker spaces, industrial and graphic design services, and business and industry-specific mentoring. The program culminates at a Demo Day, where each entrepreneur presents their idea to the investment community and the public in order to build interest and attract follow-on funding. Xcelerate will work with a cohort of 6-8 startup stage businesses every six months. Applications for the first cohort began July 15.

emerge West Michigan is a public-private partnership encompassing 13 counties in West Michigan. emerge programs include five distinct services:  the emerge Web Portal, which provides online access to resources for entrepreneurs regardless of physical location; 5x5 night, an entrepreneurship competition where idea-stage businesses compete to win $5,000 of seed money; emerge Incubate (previously called GR Current), a membership-based entrepreneurship community with shared space and access to resources for startups; emerge Mentor Connect, which helps entrepreneurs leverage the experience of talented senior executives; and emerge Xcelerate,

Stein describes the program as an ecosystem specifically designed to serve entrepreneurs at various phases with their business. "Someone with an idea can begin at web portal and then move to a 5x5 Night or apply to the incubator," she says. "After that they can access our mentor program and the accelerator." Stein says there are no prerequisites to when a business can access the services.

Like all ecosystems, the emerge programs are also part of a larger community, and Stein says their program was created to complement other entrepreneurial initiatives in the community, such as StartGarden's Seamless Accelerator.

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Power Up! Local organizers looking to connect with the tech sector

The Chinese proverb "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" is an apt description for the work Jonathan Jelks and AJ Hills IV began on July 21st at the Baxter Community Center.

The duo organized "Power Up," a technology fair designed to explore the opportunities for entrepreneurs, young people, women and minorities to find jobs and careers within Grand Rapids technology sector.

Over 100 people attended the event, which featured a series of speakers from the local business community along with representatives from organizations and companies such as Atomic Object, eMerge West Michigan, Grand Rapids Innovation Academy, SoftwareGR and Fathom, LLC.  

In announcing the event, the organizers said the tech fair was heavily inspired by the Forbes article that ranked Grand Rapids, Michigan in the top 10 worst places for African Americans economically.

Jelks says that addressing the needs of those underserved and under-represented in the tech sector is a process. He says that currently, there is little interaction between the African American community and the tech community. He says that solving the problem is a combination of increasing awareness, education, advocacy and making the right connections with the right minded people.

"It needs to be a holistic collaboration," says Jelks. "We are working to connect young people with opportunities to learn code outside of school and increase partnerships. We want this community to be more aware of internships and jobs in this sector." 

Moving forward, Jelks and Hill will be organizing another tech fair and also will be exploring alliances, especially educational. He says they are in the process of creating a more formal platform to launch these events, but in the meantime, you can keep updated through the non-profit, Endless Opportunities.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Owners of Byron Center Meats launch new business to connect family farms to consumers

Steve and Laura Sytsma are the owners of Byron Center Meats. Since 1946, their family has been working with local farms to process and sell high quality meats.

The Sytsmas had an idea last year. In a world where corporate farms dominate the landscape through their massive distribution channels, high-volume production practices and ubiquitous advertising campaigns, there had to be a better way for family farms who are committed to sustainable agriculture to tell their stories and give customers access to higher quality meats.

Like many entrepreneurs, Steve Sytsma took the natural next step with his idea: He sketched it out on a napkin.  

Armed with a napkin sketch and a belief that there is a better way to raise, process and sell meats, Steve then met with a team from CQL. They began developing a business model and platform that allows consumers to order bundles of custom processed meats while at the same time directly connecting with the farms and farmers where the meat is raised.

Having launched in June, HarvestBox is a stand alone business from Bryon Center Meats, but Laura Sytsma says they use their expertise, reputation and facilities to run the business. "We've been custom processing meat for almost 70 years."

With HarvestBox, she says they created a transparent process for consumers, so they can better understand the many different benefits of supporting local farms. "The meat comes here and is hand processed," she says. "We then hand pack and ship out from our facility."

Sytsma says they are very selective with their partners and only work with farms that follow sustainable and natural practices. Videos and direct communication links are embedded in the site so there is a level of trust created that's similar to the experience at a farmers' market.

Sytsma says that their family has no background creating and operating an online business, but working with the team from CQL they have been able to pull all the components of a web-based business together -- marketing, branding, and ecommerce -- so that they can focus on what they do best: building the relationships with the farms (and farmers) that meet their standards and custom processing the meats.   

Operationally, she says that typically the orders are shipped on a Monday and, depending on the address, are delivered within five days. All the meat bundles are vacuum packed in specially designed boxes with dry ice to ensure that the meats are always frozen upon arrival, no matter the delivery location. Because the meats are sold in bundles, the consumers can expect a variety of cuts with each order, all clearly labeled.  

To learn more HarvestBox, visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

 

Degage Ministries and Paul's Moms' Cookies partner up FTW!

How's this for a winning partnership? The Heartside mission, Degage Ministries, partners with Paul's Moms' Cookies to provide job, business and life-skills training to women who are part of Degage's Open Door Women's Center. As part of the program, the women are learning the process of baking cookies each week and are running a booth at the Rockford Farmers' Market with the proceeds benefiting the center.

And, of course, the end customer gets to enjoy a delicious artisan cookie. #FTW.

Pauls' Moms' Cookies is a business started by two moms with the goal of raising money for a charity. Marge Palmerlee, Executive Director at Degage, said they were approached to partner with the company: "Chris Mason and Cindy Knape, are the women who started the business. We created a pilot program that pays an hourly rate through the summer. The goal is to give women the skills like salesmanship and how to run a business so they so they can get a job after the program is over."

Through the partnership, former Open Door patrons work alongside the founders of Pauls' Moms' Cookies through various parts of the operation, including baking, operations and selling. Kristie Newkirk is one of the two women working with the program and says it has been a terrific learning experience. "I learned how to work together with othe r people and how to trust," she says. She says selling at the farmers' market has made her get out of her comfort zone and talk to people she normally wouldn't be interacting with.

After the summer program, Parmerlee is very optimistic about the future. "Right now we are just at the Rockford Farmers' Market but we are looking to grow," she says. "Our goal is [to] hire more women for the program."

To learn more about the organizations involved, you can view their sites here and here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Four-year anniversary gives Doorganics something to celebrate

Business is never easy, especially for startups. So there was a lot to celebrate at a Wlicox Park "birthday party" when Doorganics recently hit its four-year mark.

Mike Hughes, founder of Doorganics, took the time to outline several of the company's milestones since launching in 2012. "We have now have 10 employees, two of which are new, full-time jobs in the last six months," he says. "We've also been able to move all our part-time employees to more hours, almost 30 plus hours per week."  

Hughes says that new products, services and technology are driving growth: "When we introduced our online ordering software in 2013, it changed the game." He says they went from about 70 deliveries per week to over 500 deliveries per week (as of April 2015).

He points to new product lines, including deli items such as popular organic salads, and says he is getting ready to test meal kits, which include a kebob set featuring prepped, locally sourced meats, veggies and skewers, which then can be assembled quickly for a grill out.   

With the growth, Doorganics has never lost sight on its mission of making fresh, local and organic foods accessible while supporting the local producers. Hughes says many small farms are growing along side Doorganics such as Lettuce Boy Farm, Jacob's Acres and In Harmony Farm.

What's next for Doorganics will most likely include a new building. "We want to stay in the city of Grand Rapids and be part of the momentum and stay true to our roots but our current building can't hold us," he says. Hughes says his team is actively looking for a new site and should have an announcement in the next six months.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

Michigan Good Food Fund launches, ready to serve and grow the food industry

If you consider yourself a "foodie," you should be very interested in this story. No, it's not about the latest sandwich or food truck, but it is about a new program that can provide the resources to help everyone who is involved in building the businesses that aspire to provide healthy food production throughout Michigan.

The Michigan Good Food Fund (MGFF) is a public-private partnership loan and grant fund that provides financing and business assistance to healthy food production, distribution, processing, and retail projects that benefit underserved communities throughout Michigan.

Oran B. Hesterman, CEO of Fair Food Network, says the fund will serve a variety of needs within the supply chain: "from real estate to operations to renovation." He says the fund will work with pre-revenue entrepreneurs and existing businesses, providing not only grants and loans, but also technical assistance through workshops and webinars. The only caveat is that participants must be a Michigan-based business.

To help spread the word about MGFF, the organization has been on the road, hosting a series of launch events throughout the state.

Paul Krumpe of Grand Rapids-based Cultured Love participated in one of the launch events for the Michigan Good Food Fund. Cultured Love produces specialty sauerkrauts made with 100 percent organic ingredients, a business that Krumpe founded with his wife Jodie in 2014.

Krumpe says the fund has the potential to significantly help small producers grow their markets by providing the resources to increase processing and helping them "sell more product." He says the key is to get small producers to the point of profitability and sustainability, where the owners then can spend more time on  on training, education and creating systemic changes so that everyone can have access to "good foods."

For more information about MGFF go to http://www.migoodfoodfund.org.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New competition looking for the next great retail entrepreneur

Do you have an idea for a retail business but need a little help to get started? The Shops at Westshore (formerly Westshore Mall) would be interested in hearing from you.

Set Up Shop @ The Shops is a competition, similar to Shark Tank or American Idol, that will grant the winner one year of a six-year lease term free of cost, plus over $10,000 in media, marketing and operational support from local businesses.

Jean Ramirez, General Manager, says the competition is relatively rule-free and wide open with only one basic requirement: "We are looking to bring in a new concept for Holland."

Ramirez says there are multiple organizations that are involved with both judging and support including Lakeshore Advantage, Colliers and the MI-SBDTC. "The winner will have all the different tools to start a new business."

The panel of judges features several retail veterans. It is comprised of Greg Erne, The Shops at Westshore; Jennifer Owens, Lakeshore Advantage; Steve Jackson, JCPenney; and Mark Ansara, Colliers International | West Michigan.

All local and regional entrepreneurs desiring a storefront are encouraged to apply at: theshopsatwestshore.com/setupshop.

For more information, including timeline, key dates, rules and a detailed outline of the grand prize, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs

Spring GR coaches, connects, and inspires entrepreneurs

There are a variety of services for entrepreneurs in West Michigan but none quite like Spring GR, a hands-on program that provides guidance from idea to ongoing support beyond launch.

Attah Obande is the lead business consultant and hub coordinator at Spring GR. He says the program began as pilot in March and now is ramping up for a sustained presence in West Michigan. "It started as a pilot program to serve and grow entrepreneurs in the community," he says. "We have a lot of talent here and why don't we grow it?"

Obande says the curriculum is based on a successful program that was launched in Chattanooga, TN. He says Spring GR can support any idea but it is really designed to help individuals who are looking to start lifestyle businesses that serve the community where they live and individuals who might be embracing self employment for the first time. "Most of the participants in our program have no business plan or experience," he says.  

The program is 12 weeks long and has one topic per week, focusing on business basics, target markets, cash flow and financials. The  heart of the program, however, is what happens after the entrepreneurs get the business started: "We commit to the entrepreneurs to be an ongoing resource. We work to connect these individuals with other community support."  

Obande, who recently served as a judge for the new 5x5 Night, says the program is designed to complement other programs that serve entrepreneurs in the community, such as GROW, Restorers; to enhance the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem and not duplicate other programs.

Obande says the ideal class size is 10-15 people and the cost for the participant $100.   You can view the first graduation class of Spring GR here and learn more about the program here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

$50,000 business plan competition beckons entrepreneurs to northern Michigan

The Momentum Business Plan Competition will award one entrepreneur $50,000 to start (or relocate) an early-stage business in West Michigan's Mason County.

John Wilson, founder and program backer, says the competition has several objectives beyond helping a business, including attracting creative and visionary leaders to the region. "When you have high-energy thinkers and are attracting that type of person to your city, you can have a huge impact not only with their business but within the community. People are often more important than the business," he says.

Wilson says the competition is wide open with few restrictions. However, they are looking for businesses that will be selling their products and services beyond Mason County: "We want businesses that can generate revenue inside and outside of the area."

Launching a business in a smaller market has several advantages. "We have a great collaborative community," says Wilson. "People work together here. It's a tight-knit community that supports the small business side."
 
Administered by the Ludington & Scottville Chamber of Commerce, the Momentum Business Plan Competition is open to any eligible independent for-profit or non-profit venture with a viable business idea, plan or invention; or an existing organization or company with less than $100,000 in sales or revenue annually. Eligible contestants can upload a business plan to momentumstartup.org until July 31, 2015. Entrance requirements and rules also can be found on the contest website.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids welcomes a celebration of community theatre

Grand Rapids is hosting the National Community Theatre Festival, AACTFest, from June 23- 27 at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and Grand Rapids Civic Theater.

It's a pretty big deal.

Jill Patchin, AACT conference coordinator, says AACTFest will be welcoming hundreds of visitors from around the country to Grand Rapids, all in celebration of community theatre.  "We will have twelve theater companies from all over the United States and the U.S. Armed Services," she says.

Patchin estimates that somewhere between 400-500 people will be taking part in the conference in various roles, the majority of whom are visiting Grand Rapids for the first time.

AACTFest is a program of the American Association of Community Theatre and features the winning theatre productions from across the country and U.S. Armed Services, educational experiences, workshop opportunities and networking opportunities for theatre enthusiasts.

Patchin says the winning productions had to advance through a series of competitions to reach the national event. Now, the companies will be competing against each other in a very unique format. "There is not enough time for a complete production, so the the group starts in a 10x10 space and they have ten minutes to build a stage, 60 minutes to perform, 10 minutes to strike the set." The shows are then judged by three national theatre experts.

All community theatre performances are open to the public and continue throughout ACCTFest. Patchin says the performances will be family friendly, but some might be challenging for younger children.

For a full schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, visit www.AACT.org.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs New