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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

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

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
 

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

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
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