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Meet Kaitlyn Califf: Developer breaking down barriers for other women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ag Help: Optimizing connections between migrant workers and farms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SkyBox Cloud makes the move from Reno to Grand Rapids

It’s home sweet home for the husband and wife team of Tim and Shelly Averill, the chief technical officer and chief executive officer (respectively) of SkyBox Cloud LLC, as they move their headquarters from Reno, Nevada to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

SkyBox Cloud is a provider of  secure and reliable offsite server hosting, application hosting and cloud backup for small to enterprise sized companies. “We fill the gap for companies looking for something different than Amazon, Google or Microsoft Azure. We work with our clients, review their infrastructure and then build it. It ends up being a turnkey solution,” says Tim Averill.
 
He says his company provides consultation in the front end, so they can design the best possible plan for their clients. He adds that many of SkyBox’s customers once owned their own server systems and then made the switch to SkyBox’s  monthly service plan when they understood the hidden costs of power, cooling, hardware and software maintenance, floor space, personal property taxes, and obsolescence.  “We build custom solutions,” Averill notes.

Averill, a native of Grand Rapids, says the catalyst for the move was simply to be closer to family and help care for his mother. However, a move to the Midwest was always on the couple’s radar.  “We had plans to hit this market: Chicago, Grand Rapids, Detroit; my family situation only accelerated the move,” he explains.

SkyBox Cloud serves customers in a wide variety of industries. The company owns server farms in Tier 4 data storage facilities in Sacramento and Dallas that have several levels of entry security and redundancies that prevent interruptions due to loss of electricity, internet connections and cooling. Established in 2011, SkyBox has seven full-time employees at offices in Reno, Nevada, two locally, and a team of about 20 subcontractors in the United States and internationally.

Averill says the industry continues on a very positive growth curve. “There is a lot of opportunity. For example, security concerns continue to grow and grow. Even though people are more aware of security risks, many people don’t realize  the extent how high their risk is.”

He says they are currently looking for office space in or near downtown and should be ready to announce the location in the first quarter of 2017. Once moved, they will be looking to hiring administration, sales and engineering positions. 

To learn more about SkyBox Cloud, you can view their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Help wanted: Exploring (and landing) a design career in West Michigan

Rapid Growth Media recently published a story about all the interesting work being done locally in designing for the world of connectivity, aka the Internet of Things (IoT). For many folks, working on connected devices is not the first thing you might think of when considering a career in design.

Design can mean different things to different people, and it is often a bit misunderstood by individuals without industry familiarity: parents with children exploring careers, students in high school or college figuring out what to study, and even some teachers and career counselors. It’s easy to imagine the conversations. My kid wants to be a designer, what’s that mean?  Fashion? Interior design? Are there jobs?

The truth is design is more interesting than mystifying. It is just that the breadth of careers, areas of study and specialization create truly unique career choices with different skill sets.

Grand Rapids is home to many organizations in many different industries that have robust design teams and can provide very interesting, well paying, and creative careers.

Rapid Growth Media asked Ken Krayer, Director of Design West Michigan, and John O'Neill, President of AIGA West Michigan and the Principal and Creative Director of Conduit, to provide a little perspective as to what a career in design might mean.

(Plus, we highlighted three great companies with job openings for designers, which you can check out at the end of the article.)

RGM:  What are “design jobs”?

KK: “Design jobs” cover a broad range of opportunities and industries, including, but not limited to, communication design, product design, fashion design, interior design, furniture design, sustainable design, experience design, sound design, architecture, information design, and even food design. Many of these disciplines include specialization opportunities, such as type design, as well as collaborative, cross-disciplinary opportunities. Designers often move within and across disciplines over the life of their careers.

RGM: What is the job forecast within the design industry over the next five to 10 years?

KK: We are seeing a brighter spotlight on design, especially here in West Michigan, as more and more companies are placing design at the center of their business strategies. Many Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) design graduates who could pursue careers elsewhere choose to stay in the area because of the robust opportunities that exist here.
 
RGM: What would surprise people (non-designers) about the design industry and design careers?

KK: Most people who are not designers are surprised at the breadth and depth of career possibilities in design. Other professions often cross over with design due to the interdisciplinary power of design. Some examples of these are photography, engineering, research, marketing, and design management. Design thinking gives non-designers the tools and skills needed to develop and apply iterative solutions to problem solving.

JO: Michigan has a surprisingly robust design community, with jobs in industrial design, architecture, interior design, branding, and UI/UX. In certain fields, such as industrial design, we have more designers per capita than any other state, and these designers make about $10,000 more annually than similar positions in other states.

RGM: Looking at your crystal ball, what and where will the design jobs be in 10 to 20 years?

JO: The law of truly large numbers states that even a small percent of a large number is a large number. China now has 400 design programs and over 10,000 designers graduating each year, so we are no doubt going to see China come onto the international design scene in the next 20 years. However, I still feel that our rich design heritage and world class design institutions have a lot to offer, so it should be interesting.

RGM: What are great sources for information about careers within the design industry?

KK: For any specific statistics on design, I would suggest you see the 2016 Creative State Michigan Creative Industries Report. A copy of the report can be viewed here. Design careers are included within the overall category of creative industries.
 
In addition,for more information on design in our region, visit the Design West Michigan website. Membership is free. You can sign up for our mailings on the web site. Design West Michigan is part of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University.
 
Design jobs in West Michigan

Are you actively looking for a great job in design?  Here are three very successful, interesting and different companies that currently have job openings.

Ben Smith at Designvox shared an opening for a Web Designer. Check out the job description here.

The team at Visualhero and OST are looking for a senior user experience designer. Find out more here.

If you are interested in working at a larger company, Kedron Rhodes is putting together a design team at Gordon Food Service. To learn about applying, go here.

For more career opportunities, AIGA West Michigan keeps a job board updated here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Tech Tales: New website tells the stories of West Michigan's technology scene

"There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them."

OK…referencing the tag line from an iconic 1950s police drama seems a bit random, but the sentiment is true. There are countless very interesting untold stories about West Michigan’s tech sector, and Mike Sudyk is determined to get the bottom of it.

Sudyk is the vice president of operations of the EC Group International, a Comstock Park-based firm that builds software teams for product-based software companies, and he is the force behind GR Tech List, a website that features video-stories about local tech scene and companies.

The inspiration (and purpose) of GR Tech List is a bit counterintuitive. It comes from Sudyk’s interest in helping share the story of the EC Group— which he thought was best done by telling the story of other companies in the broader West Michigan tech community.  “Being a local company around since 1999, we have actually had a very little number of clients in West Michigan, and it was only until recently that we started to invest in the local tech scene. We started to get more involved with networking and realized that there is a lot of cool stuff going on in Grand Rapids. It seemed unfortunate to not have more awareness to what was going on.”

When it comes to storytelling, video is the tool of choice for Sudyk, especially when your recent marketing hire is very creative and has ton of experience with film and video.  “We had seen that video is such a powerful medium for storytelling, and that is what drove us to hire a full time creative director,” Sudyk says, referring to Maria VanDyken. “She does all our video production, and, having gone through the process ourselves, we know the value but also the pain of having to figure out how to tell your story. We realized that we can offer this to the tech community to hopefully bring more awareness to the region, as well as get us plugged into these companies to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.”

Sudyk describes the GR Tech List as a side project for the EC Group, and he is letting the project grow organically before making definitive plans for the site’s next steps.  “We would like to see it grow so that it becomes the go to spot for people to get an idea of what is going on in the Grand Rapids tech scene,” he explains. “Eventually there is an opportunity to drive potential investors to the site, as well as talent that the region needs to stay competitive. I believe in the old saying that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ so the opportunity to build the region is a net positive to everyone here.” 

To date, there have been 10 videos filmed and eight videos posted on the site.  Sudyk says his team identifies potential companies to profile, typically small to mid-size tech firms and everything is provided free of charge.  “The reaction has been really positive so far,” he says. “The companies are very happy to have been featured, and they have been actively promoting the site to their networks. We have not done a significant amount of general promotion of the site as of yet but are planning to in the next two months to drive traffic to the site.”

Sudyk says GR Tech List is designed to be a win-win. For the EC Group, “it plugs us into the community, builds our brand awareness, opens up new opportunities, and helps us keep a finger on the pulse of the region.”  For the greater tech sector, “the vision is to spotlight how great West Michigan is and that it is a place that technology companies are flourishing and then to help facilitate the growth of the region.”

To learn more about the EC Group, you can visit their site here.  View the GR Tech List site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Grand Rapids company designs award-winning app for workforce development

The C2 Group, a Grand Rapids-based web design and development company, has announced the launch of an award-winning  application.

The KentuckianaWorks Career Calculator is a web based, career focused application that  uses a variety of local and national datasets, such as the  Economic Modeling Specialists International, U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET Web Services, and the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, to make job and career searches easier, faster and more effective. The app was designed by The C2 Group in conjunction with KentuckianaWorks, the career training arm of the Louisville, Kentucky metro government.

The new app helps users such as students, career counselors and adults looking to transition into another career easily search real-time labor data by occupation, education and income. The app translates the data into easy-to-understand visualizations that helps users identify trends and opportunities to make better career and academic decisions.  “This is the centerpiece for a workforce development initiative,” says Brian Beaupied, marketing communications manager at The C2 Group.

In June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors recognized KentuckianaWorks, the city of Louisville, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer with a 2016 National Education Pathways with a Purpose Award and, with it, a $100,000 grant based on the success of the career calculator.

Beaupied says The C2 Group has worked extensively in higher education and was chosen for the project after submitting a request for proposal.

The C2 Group is a full-service web development company, designs and builds web, mobile, and custom application. For more information on the company you can view their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

GR's Varsity News Network adds founder of The North Face to strategic advisory board

Grand Rapids-based Varsity News Network (VNN) has announced that Kenneth “Hap” Klopp, founder of The North Face, will be joining VNN’s strategic advisory board effective immediately.
 
Klopp is the founder of the outdoor brand The North Face and served as the CEO for 25 years. In addition to his role at VNN, Klopp is currently an Operating Partner and Advisor at VO2 Partners.
 
Ryan Vaughn, VNN founder, says that adding Klopp to the advisory board is an important chapter in the story of the growing news network, which offers hyperlocal high school sports content to millions of readers across the country.
 
Vaughn explains the relationship with Klopp began about two years ago through an introduction from a VNN investor. At that time, Vaughn says Klopp was intrigued by VNN but took a wait­-and-­see approach to the startup. “He has a sports background and an appreciation for the difficulty for what we are doing,” Vaughn says. “He has seen other companies trying to consolidate the fragmented high school market and has seen them fail.”
 
However, after VNN continued to grow, hitting business milestones and attracting investors, Vaughn was able to make a successful pitch for Klopp to join his advisory board. ”He knows people throughout the sports industry, has many contacts in the media and has a lengthy background in building startups,” Vaughn notes of the new board member.
 
Besides Klopp’s incredible network and experience, Vaughn notes it is his expertise in branding where he might have his biggest impact on VNN. “It’s a big commitment on his part and an important part of the the evolution of VNN,” he says. “As we have grown, we’ve figured out many things about our business. Now we are growing from a startup to a company, and in the next few years we will be scaling to build a national consumer brand.”
 
As the industry’s first comprehensive communication platform, VNN is the exclusive web/mobile platform for more than 10 percent of all U.S. high school athletic communities, reaching over 7 million passionate fans across 40-plus states (adding 8,000 fans daily) with exclusive, hyperlocal high school sports content. To learn more about VNN, you can visit their site here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Collective Idea expands Holland, Michigan office, adds jobs

Collective Idea, the Holland, Michigan software design and development firm announced its office expansion with a grand opening celebration in mid-June, showcasing its modern, high-tech workplace in the heart of downtown Holland at 44 E. 8th St.

Daniel Morrison, CEO, says the firm’s office space is almost 4,400 square feet, which is double the previous space and adds more functionality. “The biggest addition is more breakout space,” he says. “We’ve added three small conference rooms for one to four people to meet or have video calls, phone booths for private conversations, and a second large conference room. Our main workspace is an open plan, so the addition of more quiet spaces was a design goal. We also have more open space to spread out during the day.”

The expanding space is needed to accommodate the growth. “In the last six months, we’ve brought on two junior software developers, one senior software developer, one designer, one marketer, and two interns.  We’ll likely be growing the team by one or two more people before the end of the year. Depending on the need, we may add more.”
 
“We’re always on the lookout for good people, even when we can’t hire them,” Morrison continues. “We also don’t limit ourselves to the local market. We currently have four employees in other states, and we’ll grow that segment.”

Like many local companies in the tech sector, recruiting and retaining talent remains a priority in order to stay competitive. Morrison says his firm takes a very employee- and family-centric approach to creating a corporate culture. “We work very hard to treat our people well and empower them,” he says. “We keep salaries competitive and have a great and growing benefits package that takes great care of them and their families. For example, our health insurance plan currently has more of our employees’ children on it than it does our actual employees. We focus not on silly perks, but on cultivating a good work/life balance. We do all of this because we want to build a company that will be around longer than any of us.”

‘A rising tide lifts all ships’ is a perfect adage for Morrison’s perspective on the importance of growing the technology sector in the region. “We have a real opportunity to give West Michigan a national reputation as a tech hub,” he says. “There are a lot of talented people and companies here already doing amazing things, but we just need to be better at talking about it to the wider world. As a great place to live, we’ll be able to attract and retain a lot of people to this area. There is such a great entrepreneurial spirit in West Michigan, and if we keep that momentum going, we’ll show that tech hubs aren’t just on the east or west coast.”

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Business is booming at JR Automation: Company expands, adds jobs

Bryan Jones, CEO of JR Automation Technologies,  sums it up succinctly: “We work in cool industries on cool projects. It is unlike what anyone is doing in the world.”

The Holland-based JR Automation Technologies is a global leader in custom automation solutions for a variety of industries, including automotive, aerospace, medical device, pharmaceutical, food processing, construction, and more. The company which was founded in 1980, has been on a high growth trajectory since 2009 and has recently announced their intention to expand operations in Holland by investing $5.6 million, which will  create 250 new jobs in the area over the course of the project.

Jones says an improving economy, advances in technology and JR Automation’s culture and team environment have played key roles in the firm’s growth. “An expanding economy certainly has helped our business, but our success is much bigger than that,” he says. “Changing and improving technology is making it possible to do more. Process developments are changing the way that we build cars, airplanes, and any number of everyday products.  All of these developments generally need intelligent, intuitive systems to be viable.”

The new jobs that are being created through their recent expansion will be filled by both new graduates and seasoned veterans. “We are looking to hire individuals ranging in experience: new college grads to seasoned professionals in a variety of disciplines and skill sets. Mechanical, electrical and process engineers, controls engineers, software engineers, project managers, machine builders, machinist, fabricators, service technicians. JR is a very technically diverse team, and we will continue to add in all areas,” says Jones.

Despite the competition for this type of talent, Jones is very optimistic that his company offers an interesting opportunities for job seekers. “JR is unique in that we bring so many different talent sets together in a respectful, enabling work environment for the purpose of solving problems and building solutions that are bigger than what any one discipline or talent set could ever accomplish on their own,” he says. “We get to see the results of our efforts on a daily basis in the construction and run-off of systems that can be hundreds of feet long and cost multiple millions of dollars.”

Jones says  the technology being developed and used is industry leading. “It’s cool stuff,” he says. “We build things that move and make and manufacture and that are unlike anything else in the world. What could be more fun than that to someone who gets into building things and making things work? And while all that is happening, there is a true team atmosphere supporting one another and making the work days enjoyable.”

Several economic development organizations have played a role in JR Automation’s recent expansion, including Lakeshore Advantage, Holland Charter Township and the MEDC.
 
Those interested in employment at JR Automation should visit http://www.jrauto.com/careers.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids' Varnum law firm dedicates second $1 million in free legal services to entrepreneurs

When the employees of Varnum, a 128-year-old law firm in Grand Rapids, first began considering how they could support a still floundering economy five years ago, they quickly came to a conclusion: their attorneys would offer free legal services to small businesses that needed the help. And they would do that to the tune of $1 million.

So, for the past half decade, Varnum has done just that with its MiSpringboard program, providing the free legal services to 220 small companies and entrepreneurs across the state, including 24 in Grand Rapids, 33 in Detroit, 33 in Ann Arbor, and 10 in Kalamazoo, among others. In Grand Rapids, for example, OXX Products and The Gluten Free Bar, among others, have worked with the law firm.

"When we started the program, there was no data to suggest how well used it would be and no clear pathway to connect with the entrepreneurs who might make use of it," Varnum Chairman Dave Khorey says. "We just knew that despite the downturn in the economy, the startup community seemed to be expanding. We decided to help by providing some of the legal services associated with starting a business."

As the law firm witnessed the program playing a crucial role in growing Michigan as a hub for entrepreneurship, including providing major support for businesses owned by immigrants and people of color, attorneys wanted to continue it, and Varnum recently announced it will again provide $1 million in free legal services to small businesses over the next five years.

“We see startups willing to stay in Grand Rapids and make it their home, as opposed to go to an area that’s labeled as entrepreneur friendly, like Austin or Silicon Valley,” Varnum attorney Luis Avila says. “Grand Rapids is getting that reputation. People are staying here and deciding to make Grand Rapids their business’s home. This is the kind of stuff that, when we first launched the program, we could only dream of.”

The attorneys provide a wide range of services, from help with ownership structure to contract writing and intellectual property work, and more. Over the years, Avila says Varnum has noticed a definite trend: an increasing number of high tech businesses are seeking their help.

“As the entrepreneurial system has changed in West Michigan, so has the client demographic that’s approached us,” Avila says. “We’re getting a lot more high tech entrepreneurs and a lot more sophisticated entrepreneurs.”

Varnum attorney Matt Bower stresses the role emerging technology has played as a driving force in the exponential growth in Michigan’s startup industry.

"The growth in startup activity started with the tech community coming together in the form of meetups and co-working spaces to talk about what was going on and share ideas and resources," Bower says. "Then there was a corresponding rise of early stage investors in the state, closely followed by the state's own investment in startups through grants and enhanced SmartZones. When you have a strong community, funding sources and support of the state, the entrepreneurs respond."

Still, if you own a business that’s not high tech, don’t be dissuaded from reaching out for help, Avila stresses.

“We opened to this up to anyone; it doesn’t matter if you’re a dog walking service, or you’re the next high-tech Google,” says Varnum attorney Luis Avila. “As long as you have a business plan together and a solid idea, come to us and we’ll help you.”

As Varnum’s MiSpringboard program grew, they began collaborating with numerous community partners along the way, including GR Current and the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, for which Avila serves as the president. Such partnerships, Avila says, have been crucial to being able to access business owners from throughout the community.

For example, last month, the Hispanic Chamber had its first ever business pitch competition, during which 20 companies came and pitched ideas in an attempt to win cash prizes through the chamber. As part of this, Varnum offerd the top five finalists a “guaranteed set of legal services through the MiSpringboard program,” Avila says.

“Through the Hispanic Chamber, we’re saying, ‘We want to be able to help you,’” Avila says of minority-owned businesses.

Over the next five years, Varnum attorneys are hoping their MiSpringboard prgram will prompt other organizations to follow in their foosteps.

“I hope this program inspires other organizations, whether they’re banks or service providers or whatever they may be, to consider an entrepreneur-friendly route, to say, ‘We want you, entreprenerus,  here in the long run. You’re better for our city, for our economy,’” Avila says, pointing out that this kind of community effort will draw additional dollars to the city and state.

“Venture capitalists are starting to take note of Grand Rapids, and they’re taking notice that this is a community-wide effort,” Avila says. “The more organizations that can do this, the more venture capitalists are willing to invest their money.”

To inquire further about the free legal services, call Varnum at 616-336-6000. For further information about the program, you can also visit the MiSpringboard website here.

“The biggest thing we want people to know is this is available to them,” Avila says. “Come talk to us; let’s see what works for you. The money is there, come and give us a call and take advantage of this.”

The Midwest Tech Mentoring Program building bridges byte by byte

It was bitter cold outside when Jonathan Jelks and Alvin Hill IV officially launched The Midwest Tech Mentoring Program at the Grand Rapids Art Museum on Feb. 11.
 
But, inside, it was 'en fuego.’ 
 
The kick-off was on fire with optimism, ideas and plans to prepare more young men and women for careers in technology.
 
The venue was packed. The audience was diverse: parents, students; educators; tech, business and nonprofit professionals; entrepreneurs; and representatives from local government. Young and old.  They all gathered to learn more about an initiative that promises to connect inner city youth of color to the career opportunities within the knowledge and creative economies.
 
Jelks introduced a variety of speakers, including Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, all of whom were enthusiastic supporters of the program.
 
"Our mission is to educate, engage and to expose inner city youth to the world of technology and the opportunities available in the tech industry in Grand Rapids,” he says.
 
Jelks envisions a program that features hands-on learning (software development, coding, program management and design) and mentorship with local tech professionals.
 
"We want to teach kids about about the benefits of becoming an IT professional and/or tech entrepreneur,” Jelks explains. “We also want kids and parents alike to walk away with a thorough understanding of what it will take from an education standpoint to be able to take advantage of the creative economy."
 
There is still much work to be done, but Jelks and Hill plan to launch the formal program in May 2016.
 
"We will be fundraising to get the equipment needed to run our program and to hire our staff,” Jelks says. “We are recruiting mentors from Grand Rapid's tech community. We will be going out to Silicon Valley in March to meet with different tech companies to learn about the ‘Diversity in IT’ programs that are working and receiving support."
 
To learn more about the program, including contact information and how to get involved, you can follow their Facebook event page here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Photos by Tricia Leigh Jackson / Start Garden

UIX Blog: Competition breeds creativity in West Michigan

Several of the people and organizations UIX has covered in the past have entered and found success in different business competitions. These competitions each have different parameters and ends to promote, but they share a commonality in that the most innovative and well-planned out ideas rise to the top.
 
Here in Grand Rapids, 5x5 Night and Start Garden, projects of Rick DeVos, were topics when UIX launched in 2013. In December 2015 we featured 5x5 Night winner Liz Bartlett, of KNITit, and Start Garden tenant Oxx, Inc. Even ArtPrize has led to sustainable efforts covered in UIX, like Nick Rudolfski's work with the Zero Waste Zone and Water Share.
 
The Wege Prize, a contest focused on sustainable business models in West Michigan schools, was a feature in April 2014, and has been host to individuals featured in UIX stories, too. FusionGrow, an indoor planting project, took first place in 2014, and a local loop farm design by Western Sustainers won in 2015.
 
In January 2015 UIX covered Vanessa Gore and Soletics, a company that makes electrically enhanced, solar powered garments for people with certain conditions. Soletics had taken part in 11 business competitions by the time they were featured in Rapid Growth Media. Over the course of its first year, Soletics participated in six business competitions, including the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge, the Green Light Business Model Competition, the Great Lakes Entrepreneur's Quest, and the International Business Model Competition.
 
In the 2014 MWest Challenge, where Soletics took second place and $10,000, RefuTea, a tea company that helps refugees, won the Social Venture award. RefuTea also won a 90-second pitch competition at Grand Valley State University, and represented the school at the TCU Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Business Plan Competition.
 
That's not to say that competitions like these are the only thing driving innovation in the region. Our archives are filled with plenty of people and companies that have growth in many different ways. But, the pattern that exists is clear, and West Michigan is certainly all the better for the ideas these contests foster.

Urban Innovation Exchange highlights the people and projects transforming West Michigan through sustainable efforts. To see more UIX stories, you can check out the entire series here. Have thoughts or ideas about UIX? Contact UIX Grand Rapids Editor Matthew Russell at matthew@uixgrandrapids.com.

C2 Group looks to build excitement for high tech careers

C2 Group will host six high school students as part of the Kent Intermediate School District's (KISD) Groundhog Shadow Day Program on February 2.

The KISD program is designed to help introduce and prepare students for careers in a wide variety of industries.  Students may choose from one of up to 300 roles to shadow for a day to gain a better understanding of the industry, day-to-day operations and responsibilities, and educational requirements for obtaining successful employment.

At the C2 Group — a Grand Rapids-based, full-service web experience provider — students will learn about careers in the software industry and gain hands-on experience with software design and development while building a mobile app.

Brian Beaupied, marketing communications manager, says this is the second year for C2 Group to participate  in the program and the first in their new location, 560 5th Street NW, Ste. 100 (the Grand Rapids Furniture Campus). He says the firm is committed to supporting community efforts to expose more high school students to the tremendous career opportunities within the tech sector.
 
"It’s important because we need to do our part in building excitement and awareness for careers in the high-demand technology field,” Beaupied says. “Our participation in programs like Groundhog Shadow Day can provide students with actual hands-on experience in a field of their interest, as well as invaluable mentorship from some incredibly talented professionals."

C2 has been in its downtown, westside Grand Rapids location for almost four months. Previously, they were based out of Grandville. The move was made to accommodate the needs of a growing agency. Beaupied says the new location has almost 2,000 more square feet and is designed to support the creative needs of a tech workforce. 

Beaupied says the firm is in the hiring mode.
 
"We’re always interested in talking to qualified candidates for any position (designers, developers, CMS specialists, project leads),” he notes. “We currently have 28 employees with a goal of growing our team by 30 percent during 2016."   Current openings can be found here:http://c2experience.com/about/

For more information about C2 Group, visit www.c2experience.com or follow them on Twitter (@thec2group).

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Grand Rapids company Appropos launches software to simplify online campsite reservations

Camping is supposed to be a bit rustic, but that doesn't mean that making an online reservation at a campground needs to be like starting a fire with two sticks and a piece of birch bark.

Grand Rapids-based technology company Appropos has announced the launch of an Appropos-designed software, Campspot , that will streamline, simplify and optimize online campsite reservations at select Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts around the country.

The software was developed for RezPlot Systems, LLC, an industry leader in campground management, and Northgate Resorts, the owners of RV camping properties, including several Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts.

Northgate Resorts CFO, Caleb Hartung, says the need for a new reservation management program was self-evident by anyone who has made campground reservations in the past, and in the case of Northgate Resorts an important part of the growth strategy.

"As we acquired RV resorts with their existing reservation systems, nothing met our needs,” Hartung says.

In fact, he says the whole online reservation system "was a miserable experience." Hartung says Campspot was developed with a superior front end design and a vastly improved user experience.

Mari-Megan Moore, senior UI/UX designer at Appropos, describes Campspot as "modern and responsive" and says it gives the camping customer a very simple and streamlined way to reserve sites from any device. It will also allow campground owners to better manage their sites for profitability through smart bookings, discounts to encourage longer stays and repeat reservations. It also gives them the ability to introduce other products and services such as firewood, pie irons and s’mores, golf carts, hot tubs, and more.

The launch was recently announced at the annual Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Symposium and Trade Show  in Cincinnati last week.

Appropos is a Grand Rapids tech company that was formed in 2012. It employs 22 people and serves some of the largest U.S. and international companies. Learn more about Appropos at www.appropos.com.

Written by John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Grand Rapids Mobile Monday Chapter relaunches

Linda Daichendt, executive director of MTAM (Mobile Technology Association of Michigan), the parent organization behind the Grand Rapids Mobile Monday chapter, says new leaders are in place to reestablish the organization. "The original chapter launched in 2011 with a volunteer leadership group and met quarterly for a while," she says. "However, due to relocations and job changes, the original volunteer group had to step aside and the chapter went on hiatus until MTAM could find a new volunteer organizer."

The new Steering Committee Chairperson is Al Juarez, Director of Business Development at RX Networks. Arrangements are also being finalized for a host sponsorship from Priority Health, where the group will meet on a monthly schedule on Monday evenings. (Visit their Meetup site here for meeting times and subjects.)

Daichendt says the timing is perfect for the group to become active again: "There is a very vibrant mobile and wireless technologies community in West Michigan; from mobile app development to wireless charging to use of wireless technology in surgery and much more."  

She says the organization draws from a wide variety of business and technology professionals. "Mobile Mondays have very broad appeal and the audience changes based on the topic being presented," she says. "If the topic is focused on something related to the 'how-to's' of mobile app development, you're likely to see a very large contingent of mobile developers, UX/UI specialists, graphic designers, etc." Likewise, if the topic is focused on mobile applications and healthcare, you would likely see CEO's, CIOs, hospital tech staff, and doctors alongside tech experts who want to work with the healthcare industry.

There are currently four active chapters in Michigan (Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing and Grand Rapids) with over 2900 members state-wide. Information about Mobile Monday Michigan can be found at http://MobileMondayMichigan.org.

Daichendt says Juarez is still seeking additional volunteers to assist him on the organizing committee. If interested, contact Juarez through the Meetup site.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
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