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Entrepreneurship : Innovation + Job News

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Gr8 Lks: Time is money in an effort to clean and preserve the Great Lakes

For business owners under oath of their mission statement, the basis of their discipline is derived from the type of future they envision for their community. As this new age of consumers shift, and business owners are encouraged to use their principals and values as the face of their company, entrepreneurs are becoming more comfortable with allowing their cause to be at the forefront of their business model, as opposed to championing marketing that caters to money and consumption alone.

The newly founded Gr8 Lks apparel company based in Muskegon, co-owned by Andrew Mann and Pete Gawkowski, centers its ideals around the environmental well-being and sustainability of the Great Lakes. The clothing is constructed from both organic cotton and recycled materials, and for every consumer’s dollar that is spent, a minute of time is matched dedicated to cleaning up the shore lines and waters of the Great Lakes. Despite being a for-profit company, the partners pride themselves on their incentive to put their money toward a greater cause — one that can be monetized on a visible scale.

“Yes, we’re a for-profit, we are chasing the dollar because we’re chasing a sale, but you’re seeing it in action,” says Mann. “We’re not just telling you we’re donating, you physically see it because our business and our company is built on proving to the consumer that we are following through on our word.”

The idea for Gr8 Lks, Mann says, was a culmination of many things, ranging from his background in retail, and their overall interest in environmental sustainability.

Mann explains that although the Great Lakes are strongly associated with Michigan, one of their long-term goals is to bring awareness to other states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, and even Canada who, like Michigan, have an identity connected to the Great Lakes, but that is often left out of the conversation.

The number eight within their logo, Mann says, unintentionally represents the eight states connected to the Great Lakes; however, they hope to stretch their efforts beyond that.

Aside from their promise of matching every dollar to every minute, their goal is to continue pushing the agenda of environmental education, and to “bring in a group of people that’s big enough, so that we can make a big dent in this issue,” says Gawkowski.

Though the apparel-brand is still in its early stages, its impact is already evident — the reaping of an idea slowly coming into fruition.

“Last year, if my oldest son would’ve walked past a piece of trash, he probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it but now, if I walk down a street or the beach and he sees a piece of trash, the first thing he says is, ‘Dad can we pick that up?’” says Gawkowski. “I think that little things of just him learning that this could make stuff better in the future is a pretty big thing for me.”

Images courtesy of Gr8 Lks.

$50K contract renewal fuels Local First's goals of inclusion and equity

In July, it was announced that the City of Grand Rapids Economic Development Corporation (EDC) will renew its contract with Local First, the non-profit organization that works with businesses to develop their core values, reflecting that of the greater surrounding community. The contract renewal doubled the EDC’s commitment — from $25,000 to $50,000. These funds will be allocated toward the organization’s Good for Grand Rapids campaign.

Good for Grand Rapids is an initiative designed to develop and sustain progressive practices within local West Michigan businesses. One of their main approaches to beginning to integrate these practices is the Quick Impact Assessment, a tool that measures the type of social equity present in the workplace, and how it can be improved.

Through these newfound connections, Local First plans to work with larger employers to identify where they invest their money, and to maximize goods and services on a local level to circulate wealth and resources within the community.

“...addressing that systemic change is gonna create a big, huge wave effect, I think, and [will] start getting money in the hands of people who need it most, and who have businesses that they’re being intentional with,” says Local First’s program and fund development manager Hanna Schulze.

One of the focal points of the Good for Grand Rapids campaign is intentionality in all forms: financial, environmental, social, and more. Schulze says she recognizes a shift in consumer behavior, in which more people are becoming concerned about the moral makeup and practices of the businesses at which they spend their money.

“We have a huge amount of businesses that are owned by white, middle-aged individuals, and we don’t have a representative percentage of businesses owned by people of color, by veterans, by women, by the LGBTQ community, etcetera,” says Schulze. “That’s something that we’ve recognized through our work with locally owned businesses … We’re not only trying to change that by putting capital resources and social resources in the hands of communities of color, women entrepreneurs, etcetera, but also to address the businesses that already exist — how they can be more intentional with what they’re doing?”

She notes that although economic development is important, it is necessary to ask if the businesses built out of these already disenfranchised communities will be empowered or further excluded.

Using the results and resources gathered from the Quick Impact Assessment and Good for Grand Rapids campaign overall, Local First strives to make businesses more conscious of these issues, with the hope of putting more ethical practices into motion.

Despite the disproportionate amount of businesses and organizations that do not accurately represent the demographics of the Grand Rapids area, Good for Grand Rapids has slowly begun fostering a community of diversity and inclusion over the past few years. This includes assisting companies in their path toward becoming B Corporations, certified institutions committed to extending intentional practices beyond the workplace.

“Since Local First’s quick impact assessment and related programming began in 2014, the BCorp community has grown from three BCorps to 19 in the west Michigan community," says Schulze. "The community of BCorps was strengthened in part by the resources and engagement opportunities provided to the businesses by Local First.”

The sentiment behind this movement of social equity and intentionality is optimistic, as one of the goals within the agreement between the EDC and Local First is for half of the businesses in Grand Rapids to take the Quick Impact Assessment within the next five years.

“We have people throughout the city helping us with that goal, but that is one of the deliverables,” Schultze says. “We have specific deliverables: inclusion and equity. This means the intentional employment of people from the Black, Hispanic, and underserved populations, and that specifically is referring to a certain census tract that has higher unemployment rates and a lower per capita income rate.”

However ambitious of a goal this may seem, the consensus is that, because consumers are seeking out businesses whose moral ideals are in alignment with their own, it is forcing the head of businesses to evolve with their audience. Schultze explains that this idea of a world in which employer practices bleed into the real world, outside of the workplace, is “no longer conceptual.” More specifically, tools like the Quick Impact Assessment are providing businesses with the honest insight they need to become more sensible to the world changing around them.

Images courtesy of Local First.

Muse GR renovates an idea: From adult bookstore, to photography studio, to interactive art gallery

For the past 50 years, the building at 727 Leonard St NW housed a windowless, closed-off adult bookstore, of which its neighboring community was not a fan. However, over the past year, the building was purchased, renovated, and transformed into an interactive art gallery, now known as Muse GR, by Stephen Smith, who owns photography company Executive Visions and works in Grand Rapids Public Schools, and Taylor Smith, writer for the marketing and communications team of World Renew. The ribbon cutting was held on Friday, May 18th at 12pm.

Originally, Stephen says, the sole use of the building was for a photography studio that would be broken into three different spaces in which to conduct photoshoots.

“We saw the need for that because all the places [photography studios] that were open would close down after a while,” says Stephen. “I would interview the owners and they would say the overhead was too high. So that’s kind of how we got the idea—if we can leverage the cost by actually buying the property, as opposed to renting it out, then we wouldn’t have to be worried about closing down.”

Additionally, the couple wanted to create a space where everyone would feel comfortable.

“The need, I would say, came out of us being a part of different studios around the area and Stephen doing photography, and not feeling like we were always welcomed,” says Taylor. “Or, feeling like there wasn’t a community feel to these different spaces. We felt limited. We don’t want people to feel like they’re excluded.”

Throughout the process of reconstructing both the physical appearance and the conceptual use of the space, the two took business classes to perfect their business model, sought out an architect and construction company who best complemented how they wanted to bring their vision to life, and surveyed different photographers about their thoughts on the space.

Many of the resources and support they received were from local organizations, including Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses, who lent advice about navigating city policies and the commercial side of real estate, and Start Garden, who recently awarded Stephen and Taylor funding from their 100 Ideas pitch contest.

Eventually, the primary focus of the space shifted from being used as a photography studio, to being used for an art gallery and a place to hold events, workshops, classes, and more. Stephens says they want the community to generate ideas for events to host in the space in the future.

In the near-future, they are looking to collaborate with various artists, both local and national, to create a platform for pop-up art, live art, and speaker series.

Additionally, they hope to change the community’s perception of how they are able to create something of value to themselves and their community.

“There are things people want to change in the city or to add to the city, and they have the ideas, but they don’t realize they have the power to do it,” says Taylor. “So I just hope it encourages other young people to do what’s in their heart.”

On June 1, Muse GR will open its doors from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. to the public.

SLSA Creative Agency seeks to push the agenda of creativity

Last month, clustered in a sector of the Rising Grinds Café, were a handful of dreamy-eyed entrepreneurs and creatives, eager to learn about the outline, or as SLSA Creative Agency titled it, The Blueprint, of steps necessary to pursue your career. SLSA founder Shayna Harris talked about how the organization’s target audience—creatives, entrepreneurs, and millennials—often lack the funding for full branding of their ideas. Additionally, Harris invited speakers to share their takes on brand development, including founder of Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses Jamiel Robinson, and GRNow founder CJ Devries.

With the Blueprint, the first of many in a series of workshops in brand building, she aims to provide others with a foundation of skill sets for pursuing their career. However, The Blueprint is only one of a multitude of ways in which SLSA is trying to serve the community of Grand Rapids.

SLSA Creative agency is an organization functioning much like a public relations firm, focusing on the branding and marketing, creative design, and event production of persons pursuing a career in the creative field.

“The name, SLSA, is our promise to our clients that we work on the branding and marketing side, that we promise strategy to prolong longevity, style, and ambition,” says Harris. Simply put, the mission “is to keep creatives, creative.”

The idea for SLSA was born out of a need to pave the way for more creative pursuits in Grand Rapids. She explained that because there are a lot of creatives in the city who do not have access to resources for developing their brand, the organization strives to become that resource which, at times, is challenging.

“There’s no other businesses to really collaborate with,” Harris says. “When you’re the only one creating an agency that says, ‘Hey, I just want to support you,’ you’re doing a lot of digging.”

“This is what Grand Rapids lacks, so I just finally decided [on starting the organization] because I’ve seen a lot of my friends leave to go to L.A. and Chicago because there’s just more opportunity there for creatives. Whether you rap, you sing, you write, you paint—whatever it is—there’s just no lane for it here.”

The team is made up of three women, Harris included, who hone in on the organization’s ideology of versatility and diversity. Harris takes on the responsibility of meeting with clients and coming up with strategies to figure out what direction their brand needs to go in, another visually brings to life the campaign for the brand, and the third typically handles the demands of human resources and business development. Together, the three range in skills, physical appearance, and age, in order to create a triad of perspectives.

“We want the creatives in our community to feel supported, so when I bring people to my table for SLSA, I want that represented and I want our clients to see that represented, and I want the creatives that we highlight to feel welcome, even if they don’t look like me,” Harris says.

In the next couple of months, SLSA seeks to extend their efforts into a physical space, where they hope foster an environment for collaboration amongst other creatives within Grand Rapids.

Photos courtesy of SLSA Creative Agency.

Working in the City: Angela Nelson

As we get into the full swing of this new year with our new resolutions and goals we at Rapid Growth are set to continue to bring you stories from the heart of our city. 

We kick of this year with a powerful woman who keeps a blistering pace of work and activities throughout the city. We were able to chat with Experience GR and 616 Grand Production’s Angela Nelson about how she spends her days, what she is working on, and get serious with career talk.

RG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 

AN: I’m a proud native of Flint, Michigan—born and raised. When I moved to West Michigan in 1998, I knew very little about this side of the state...I’ll always be a Flintstone.

I’m a lifelong learner and will always have a love for problem solving, but early on in my career I knew I equally had a passion for people. This passion eventually led to a career change and I discovered a role that would change the course of my career for the better.

RG: Where do you work and how are you involved in our local community?

AN: I currently work at Experience Grand Rapids, an organization that markets Grand Rapids as a destination to visitors, which includes the leisure traveler, group tours, and conventions attendees. This past March, after working at Amway for ten years, I was hired as the first Vice President of Multicultural Business Development. I am primarily responsible for leading our community relations, workforce development, and diversity and inclusion initiatives.

My dear friend, Milinda Ysasi-Castañon encouraged me to apply and said, “Angela, it’s as if they wrote the job description just for you.” I applied, and the rest is history, literally and figuratively.

My community involvement has always been a function of my jobs, but it goes much deeper for me. I really enjoy coalition building and supporting community initiatives that make sense given my passions and skill sets. I’ve begun to really focus my talent, time, and treasures on issues advocating for women and girl empowerment and voter empowerment/get out the vote efforts. 

I co-chair a non-partisan collaborative called PROACTIVE, which stands for People Reaching Out and Coming Together Increasing Voter Engagement since 2004. We bring other non-partisan groups together during major election cycles to do voter registration, education, and engagement.

I am also the President of the Grand Rapids Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. We are a black letter Greek organization whose mission is committed to the constructive development of its members but with a primary focus of social change in the black community. Our local chapter will be celebrating the 50th year of our charter in November. 
It’s a very exciting time for the work that I’m doing, but I stand on the shoulders of so many in this community that I’d be remiss to think that I’m doing this alone or without the understanding that so many have come before me.I simply see that what I’m doing is continuing the work of those silent and not so silent giants in this community.

RG: Why did you decide to start your own business?

AN: 616 Grand Productions is my baby. I announced the start of the company on June 18, 2016, but the first event, which was wildly successful, didn’t take place until July. 616 Grand Productions is an events management and production company that produces fun and affordable experienced-based events. We strive to create experiences that you can readily create on your own, integrating the latest and trendiest technologies like our Silent Disco event during ArtPrize last year. Each event always has a giveback element where either proceeds from a ticket or a flat donation amount is given to the selected charity. One day I aspire to compete as the only minority and woman owned production company in the city.

The reason that 616 Grand Productions even came to be is because after leaving Amway, I made so many amazing community connections during my grant making and community relations tenure at Amway, and I simply didn’t want to let them go.

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

AN: As a young black woman in Grand Rapids, I have been relatively successful in my career. But I’ve been dealt my share of obstacles, road bumps, workplace microaggressions, and more. However, I have been able to overcome these things by focusing on the one person I can control, which is me. 

A few thoughts, mantras, quotes I live by:
  • In the recent words of Oprah during her acceptance speech at the Golden Globe awards, “Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” I’m learning to not only speak my truth, but to live my truth.
  • I want women of color to better support each other, especially black women. We are often the most vilified group of people, so the last thing we can afford is not to support one another. I love the work that Shannon Cohen and Pat VerDuin are doing with Sisters Who Lead and their work to “amplify the longevity, wellness, and leadership of female leaders of color within West Michigan.”
RG: What has been your career path, growth, and obstacles?
AN: Some would wonder how does one make such a drastic switch, and I will say each time it was in God’s plans for me. He’s opened every door that I’ve been able to walk through.

My technical undergraduate degree coupled with my MBA and my solid 15 years of work experience has equipped me to do my current job.

My first career job was at Mercantile Bank. I worked there for a total of five years in a combination of roles from the IT intern to Customer Service Rep back to a technician in the IT department.

I worked at Amway for a total of 10 years, starting as a grant maker, responsible for managing the funding local non-profits to my last job as an Assistant Brand Manager for the Amway Brand Opportunity in Amway North America.

The most valuable lesson that I learned while working for Amway was to be more strategic about my professional development. Hard work doesn’t go unseen, but it’s the smart workers that get rewarded.

The last stop on my career journey is now with Experience Grand Rapids. And I’m loving it. I value the relationship I have with the leadership team and the staff. I’m looking forward to seeing the fruits of my labor come to fruition this year.

As for obstacle, generally the only obstacle I’ve ever faced is my own feeling of inadequacy. The fear of not being good enough or smart enough in comparison to my competition. But each time that I’ve leaped into my next role, I leaped with only my mustard seed faith. I was reminded by a friend that, “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” When I heard that, I immediately began to thank God for increasing my territory and putting me in the path to receive what he’s already blessed me with. 

This level of confidence is new for me, but I’m embracing one day at a time.

RG: What plans do you have for your business this year?

AN: 616 Grand Productions is still a startup business that requires much more nurturing. I am ready to take it to the next level. I’ve jotted down some goals of launching a website this year and hiring a few interns to support the bandwidth of work that I’m just not capable of supporting. I have to decline work because I simply don’t have the personal bandwidth, so it’s time to bring people that can help execute my vision for the business but also add their own spin on things.

Anyone can follow 616 Grand Productions on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @616grandprod. As well as subscribe to a newsletter via Facebook.

This Friday, January 12th Nelson will be hosting a Girls Night Out private movie screening of Proud Mary in partnership with Magic 104.9 and Celebration! Cinema. Come out this Friday at 6:00 pm for the pre-party in the wave room with the movie starting at 7:55 pm. Tickets are on sale now at www.celebrationcinema.com or email info@616grandproductions.com for more information.

Experience GR hosts the largest events calendar on www.experiencegr.com. They can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat @ExperienceGR  and on Instagram here. Lastly, be sure to read the blog The Insider Experience for a great way to keep up to date on all the great places to eat, stay and play in 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.

Images courtesy of Angela Nelson.

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.

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.
 

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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
 

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
 

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
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