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Young Professional Spotlight: Brandy Arnold

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was once asked “When will there be enough women on the Supreme Court?” Justice Ginsberg quipped “There will be enough women on the Supreme Court when there are nine.” The Supreme Court of the United States consists of nine justices. The question then is, when will there be enough women in leadership in Grand Rapids? There will be enough when all positions of leadership are filled by women.

The future is decidedly female, and our city’s future is in good hands. 

Of all the many strong women leading our city, we had the pleasure of catching up with Kid’s Food Basket’s very own Brandy Arnold. 

RG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? (Are you from the area, how do you identify, etc.)

BA: Oh you know, 30-something young professional. From a teeny tiny town about two hours north of Grand Rapids called FreeSoil. Yes, that’s the real name. You can Google it. I moved down here 15 years ago to go to GVSU and never left.

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

BA: I work at Kids’ Food Basket as youth and inclusion specialist. In this role, I engage schools, students, and families that we serve; work a bit in fund development; and co-lead our equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives. I hear from students about their favorite items in their Sack Suppers, nutritious evening meals we serve in schools where 70 percent or more of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch. I hear from parents who say ‘thank you, it’s one less thing I have to stress about this week’ because they’re trying to figure out how to pay rent, keep the lights on, and keep the car running to get to work and after all that, sometimes there’s just not enough money for groceries.

We’re moving into an exciting new phase of programming with the addition of urban agriculture.

Our capital campaign right now is to build a new headquarters, giving us more space that is vital to serving schools currently on our wait list. The campaign will also support the farming of nine acres of land to grow produce for our Sack Suppers while connecting kids to where their food comes from through experiential learning. The great thing is that we’re able to increase the variety of produce that kids are introduced to. It is very empowering for students to help grow and harvest produce that is going to end up in their Sack Suppers. There is agency and ownership in that. I see food as a catalyst to explore economic justice, environmental justice, and racial justice. We have to be honest about systems that result in unequal access to food, especially healthy food, and work to reform them. Food is also community. It can bring people together, and that is the beautiful part.

I’m also involved in my neighborhood through the East Hills Council of Neighbors and serve on the board of The Spoke Folks, a nonprofit that’s connecting people to affordable, reliable bikes and providing cycling education so that all people no matter their cycling experience, background or economic status can ride safely and with confidence.

RG: Let's talk Grand Rapids. Are the city's culture and people supporting you as a person of color, and as a woman? Where can the city improve to attract more young talented professionals of color?

BA: There have been some important improvements in this area. Racial equity is being talked about in a way that was not happening when I first moved here. I’m grateful to many of our city leaders, Mayor Bliss, the City staff, and Commission for prioritizing this. It feels like we’re on an exciting precipice. There’s a buildup of energy, planning, and intention I don’t think we’ve seen before. But we as a city are still afraid to get uncomfortable. Many white people are afraid to give up a bit of their privilege to create a meaningful shift in our culture. I realize the benefit in meeting people where they are, but people of color in this city are travelling way too far for that meeting. We’re tired. POC who aren’t from here recognize this as soon as they move here, and it’s why many don’t stay.

I do feel supported, and it’s because I’ve found my spaces and my people. I’m incredibly grateful for this. There are some really great spaces, businesses, and initiatives being spearheaded by POC in GR, they just doesn’t always get as much publicity. Thank you to Rapid Growth for prioritizing some of it in your publication. It’s hard to know where your people are and where your safe spaces are as POC in this city, especially if you’re new. 

Recently, I sat down with a couple WOC who are fairly new to the city and I’m asking what are you interested in, where can we can we get you plugged in, where can you find the support you need. Because they’re telling me ‘I work and go home.’ They don’t have that connection yet. Supporting each other in those one-on- one ways can work on a smaller level. On a larger level, I’m not sure what the solutions are, to be honest. There are some really great programs and identify groups in GR that are supporting POC like Latina Network, Black Women Connect, Transformational Leaders Program, Latino Talent Initiative, Sisters Who Lead, and BLEND, among others. Let’s make sure employers are aware of those programs and can connect their staff. Let’s look to DC, Atlanta, Oakland, New York City, and others to see what they’re doing to support thriving multi-cultural spaces and places. More access to financial capital for POC to build those spaces and places. I’m looking forward to seeing some of the progress of new Start Garden initiatives. Less residential segregation–easier said than done, I know. More organizations and business should have cultural competency and bias training to create better workplace culture for diverse staff.

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

BA: Intersectionality. Identity is so complex. I feel so fortunate to come from my family. It gives me such perspective. I’m biracial, as are two of my siblings and quite a few of my nieces and nephews, and we span the spectrum in terms of physical features and experiences. I talk to my one niece about what it means to her to be Afro Latina. I talk to other family members about the complexity of being biracial, but presenting as white. I talk to others about what it means to live life when people are thoroughly confused about your racial identify and make it their mission to put you in a box no matter how uncomfortable it may make you. For me, I’ve spent the last five years really diving into what it means to be a black woman, a biracial woman, and claiming all of those. Because I can. It was empowering to recognize that no one can define my identity but me.

I studied the Civil Rights movement quite a bit in college and what was amazing to me is the way that black woman were the backbone of the Movement. And for many of them, being black was their focus. They were not showing up in droves in the Women’s Rights Movement. It did not feel like it was for them. It did not recognize the heightened oppression of being both black and a woman. We’re still seeing this today. I struggle with any movement or person that can’t recognize intersectionality in a real way.

RG: What has been your career path, growth, and obstacles?

BA: I spent six years after graduating at a job that was fine, but wasn’t ultimately what I wanted to be doing. I’ve always had a passion for social justice and community building. I realized I wasn’t fulfilling that passion in a real way, and decided to shift my career into the non-profit space as well as getting more involved in the city.

My biggest obstacle so far also led to my growth. I think we’ve all heard it’s about who you know, and this is maddeningly true for Grand Rapids. I had the hardest time getting an interview, even after going back to school and getting my master’s degree. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even get so much as a form rejection email. I realized if I was going to stay here, I was going to need to hustle hard. Networking does not come naturally for me–it’s very energy depleting and can feel disingenuous. I try to do it in a way that works for me. I worked for a while as a freelance writer and put those journalist skills to use. I found people that interested me, that I admired, that were doing work that I wanted to get more involved with and asked them if we could get coffee, lunch, a drink so I could hear more about their story. I was on a mission! And I think it paid off. I still do it all the time. Having people that were connected to Kids’ Food Basket put in a good word for me when I applied made a difference. I’m thankful to all those I look to on a daily basis to help support my growth. An area that I’m focusing on is growing my leadership skills and supporting and connecting others, especially POC, so I can pay it forward a bit.

RG: What plans do you have for your career/projects/personal goals this year?

BA: This is a year of slowing down and zeroing in. I worked hard to get plugged into this community and there are so many important organizations and movements to get involved with that I have a hard time saying no. But I’ve been spreading myself too thin, and I’m really resonating with the phrase ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup.’ At Kids’ Food Basket, we talk about growth years and planning years, as we’ve grown so explosively over the last decade. You have to prioritize planning just as much as growth, and this year I’m slowing down, I’m planning, I’m learning, I’m figuring out how my skillset best matches with personal fulfillment and doing good–both personally and professionally. I need to get more grounded in home. I kind of live like I might move tomorrow, so 2018 goals are about getting some art up on my walls, staying home a bit more, keeping a couple houseplants alive.

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

BA: Yes! Don’t sleep on our youth. I’m fortunate to be in our schools quite a bit through my role at Kids’ Food Basket and I am in awe of the beautiful talent and drive these students have. Just a couple weeks ago I was talking to three fourth grade girls in a robotics program. They were describing their most recent project, and I couldn’t understand half of what they were talking about. I was like ‘hydro what now?’ I loved it. These kids are so smart, but they need us.

Please, give a couple hours to mentor, speak in a classroom, donate resources schools might need, volunteer and financially support organizations like Kids’ Food Basket and so many others that are helping meet basic needs, support public education. These students are our community’s future and deserve the whole community’s support.

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

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

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

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

Lajanae Smith: Local artist and filmmaker

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

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

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

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

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

RG: Why Grand Rapids as home base?

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

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

RG: What potential do you see in Grand Rapids?

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

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

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

RG: What are you currently working on?

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

RG: Anything else you would like to tell us?

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

Mudbound is already on Netflix’s website here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young fashionistas launch new venture through Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities

With apologies to Art Linkletter, kids are doing the darndest things today.  For example, launching a business.

And forget lemonade stands; we are talking big dreams and ambitious goals, like starting up a fashion design business.

World, meet the three friends who have formed The Fashion Sisters: Michelle, Victoria and Laila, ages 11, 10 and 6, respectively.

The story behind the The Fashion Sisters is a testament to the philosophy and the work being done at the Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities’ (GAAH) Cook Arts Center, which provides free arts programming, from music and dance to theater and pottery, to give children and adults in the Grandville Avenue area an opportunity to develop a deeper appreciation of the arts.

First, the story. GAAH has a Summer Arts and Learning program. It is open for children ages five to 12 and has a series of rotating activities. Each year they have a theme. The theme for 2016 was “the future you,” so the GAAH team led discussions on colleges and brought in speakers to discuss careers.

Steffanie Rosalez, program director at the Cook Arts Center, said one the girls told her she wanted to be a fashion designer, so they brought in a textile and graphic designer, Becky Prevette, to talk to the kids.

After Prevette’s talk, Rosalez says she was approached by some of the girls who were inspired and wanted to do more with fashion. “We want to start a fashion design club and make clothes to sell,” the girls told Prevette, who said: “That’s why we are here.”

Now, this is where the program philosophy of GAAH kicks in. “We give the kids responsibility, and they drive the programming. They work as autonomous teams and, budget or no budget, they find ways to get things done.” Rosalez asked the children what they needed to make their design club happen, and they said sewing machines, fabrics and an instructor. Since the Cook Arts Center has sewing machines and access to fabrics already, all they had to do was to ask Prevette to get on board, to which she readily agreed.

With that settled, the club decided on a name, The Fashion Sisters, and now are working hard to take their passion for fashion to a new level. “The girls are coming in early and staying late, alway working away to develop inventory and working through the process of starting a business,” says Rosalez.

Despite their busy schedules, Rapid Growth was able to secure an exclusive interview with The Fashion Sisters.

Why did you start the club?

"We met at the Cook Arts Center summer camp and just started talking about fashion, and then decided we should be partners together." - Michelle

"Yeah, because we make a great team." - Victoria

When do you hope to begin selling?

"Probably in two weeks. And we want to have sewing lessons for younger kids." - Victoria

What type of products are you making?

"Bags, skirts, bows, bandanas, chokers. Just the new stuff that's trendy right now." - Victoria 

What's most exciting about fashion design for you?

"You just get to be yourself and turn it into something very special." - Victoria

"For me, what's most exciting about fashion is that I like making clothes, and I want to learn how to so that one day one of the super stars might wear my design on the red carpet." - Michelle

The Fashion Sisters are planning to launch a Facebook page soon, but in the meantime you can follow their progress at the Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities page
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

'Good Neighbor Orientation' connects GVSU students to West Side neighborhoods

The common narrative is as old as the hills. Students start school, move into neighborhood rentals, party, go to class, party, finish the semester, and go home. Students come and go and often get a bad rap that they could care less about getting involved or about getting to know longtime residences, appreciating the neighborhood’s history or supporting the local businesses.

Not so fast.

For many Grand Valley State University students, when they attend their student orientation on August 25,  they will have an opportunity for a very unique learning opportunity: an opportunity to totally flip that narrative and participate in an ongoing dialogue on what it means to be a good neighbor.

Thanks to an invitation from GVSU to participate in the student orientation program, the WestSide Collaborative, two local neighborhood associations and several  local nonprofits will share with students a little history of the West Side and provide encouragement and simple ways to get involved in the community outside of GVSU as part of a program called the “Good Neighbor Orientation.”

Sergio Cira-Reyes, project director at the WestSide Collaborative, says the orientation is an important initiative meant to engage students and help better integrate them into the local neighborhoods.  “The narrative has always been that students are coming into the community and displacing long time residents,” he says. Instead, Cira-Reyes wants to inspire students to learn more about the West Side, engage them in serious discussions about economic development and gentrification, and ultimately help them discover their voice so they can speak up and express their opinions. “We want students to be part of this community and they should be part of the discussion,” he says. “We see them as future leaders in our neighborhoods.”
This event comes at a particularly crucial time, with “mom ‘n pop” shops giving way to larger developments and rents continually rising. In an article Rapid Growth published late last year, Andrew Sisson, of the WestSide Collaborative, explains the tension behind the changes occurring on the West Side.
“Currently the market rate for a studio apartment is about $1,000 a month,” Sisson says in that article. “That’s bringing in wealthier residents, and that means people living here are being forced out. About 40 percent of those living in these neighborhoods have incomes below the poverty level. People with children are having a hard time renting, because kids are hard on a house and the new owners don’t want to rent to them. And those who lost their houses in 2008 to foreclosure — the majority of those were sold to investors with cash, buying up single family housing and turning them into rental homes.”

During the orientation students will listen to peers who live and work in the West Side and be pitched on different ways to get involved.  There will also be a table in the back with representatives from West Side organizations to welcome students to the community and provide background information on their work. The program will end with a walking tour of the West Side with specific stops at local organizations and dinner.

Ultimately, Cira-Reyes hopes that students will begin to understand their impact on the West Side community and be inspired to get involved and make a difference.

The 'Good Neighbor Orientation' will take place from 7-9pm at GVSU's downtown campus on August 25 . For more information, including how to register, please go here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Music, glorious music: GR Live is ready to blast off on April 28

WYCE 88.1FM is launching a live radio program named GR Live beginning Thursday, April 28 at the House of Music and Entertainment (known as H.O.M.E.) inside The B.O.B. This program will occur every Thursday at noon for 19 weeks and conclude on September 1. It is free for the public to attend and will be broadcast live over the radio at 88.1FM and streamed online at WYCE.org.

“It’s going to be super cool. A big win to get the city promoting music on the same level as beer, food, and art,” says  AJ Paschka, WYCE station manager.

Super cool is an understatement. It’s freaking awesome.

GR Live will be hosted by WYCE programmer and musician Quinn Matthews (who began championing the idea last summer). The one-hour program will feature live music performances, interviews and calendars that will inform people of musical events in the city of Grand Rapids. The program will also be recorded and made available to the public at ExperienceGR.com.

“The creation of GR Live allows Grand Rapids to collect performances, interviews and calendars and use them to promote music as a thing to go out and experience when the convention visitors and tourists come into Grand Rapids,” says Paschka. Effectively, this means that the local music scene is very important to the city’s brand, growth and vitality. “Our city is becoming a music destination,” he adds.

Paschka says music lovers can expect an eclectic and wide-ranging  lineup of local and regional musicians. “There is so much good music in this town. It is very much part of the downtown resurgence,” he continues, citing the immense popularity of the Pyramid Scheme, The Intersection, The B.O.B., and concerts at Van Andel Arena and Frederick Meijer Garden. “Music always brings in the largest crowds,” Paschka says.

Taken as whole, Paschka says music, like craft beer and arts, can be a primary engagement strategy for organizations marketing Grand Rapids as a place to live, work and play.

Besides providing a boost for local musicians, Paschka says this is big boon for WYCE. “This will help us grow our audience. We’ve always supported local music, so this is a nice evolution.”  Paschka also gives a shout out the The Gilmore Collection as a long time supporter of the radio station and home to the House of Music and Entertainment (H.O.M.E.).

Paschka encourages musicians to contact Matthews directly (via Facebook) to learn more about being featured on GR Live. You can also follow the program on ExperienceGR and WYCE.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

It's back: Startup Weekend West Michigan returns to Grand Rapids

Startup Weekend West Michigan (SWWM) is the ultimate entrepreneurial muse.  It is 54 hours of pitching, prototyping, creating, developing, building, bonding, collaborating, and networking with over 150 aspiring entrepreneurs. Through osmosis alone, you can't help but be inspired.

The event is scheduled for January 15-17 at Kendall College and is being organized by individuals from emerge West Michigan, GR Current and Kendall College of Art and Design.

Lead organizer and marketing director at emerge, Samuel Ging, says SWWM is a perfect fit for West Michigan's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
"With the help of Startup Weekend participants, we want to create an environment where entrepreneurs can take risk, make purposeful connections and engage with a community that can push their idea forward,” he says.

Ging says the event is designed to get a ton of work and innovation done using the constraints of time.
"Participants of the at Startup Weekend have 54 hours to work through creating a pitchable business,” he continues. “You have literally 54 hours to go from an idea to an early stage venture." 

This year, the program is also serving as a feeder in the regional MWest Challenge, a collegiate-based business plan competition.  Ging says last year, Kayla Ita worked through her business concept, Re.Fresh, at Startup Weekend and went on to win the MWest Challenge.
"At Startup Weekend, her team went from an idea to working through the business model canvas, creating a business plan, to building a prototype, to creating a pitch deck,” he says. “Her company won $5,000,  three months later at MWest."

The program is part of a national organization that hosts similar events around the world every weekend. It is in its seventh year here and is open to anyone to participate. The program flows from business pitches, team formation and planning on Friday night to development all day on Saturday and Sunday morning.  The event culminates with final business pitches before a panel of judges on Sunday afternoon.

Throughout the event, there will speakers and business mentors available to help teams overcome any hurdles they might be experiencing. 

A big emphasis of SWWM is on learning and networking.  If your idea is not selected to move forward on Friday night, you are expected to stick around and pitch in by joining a team that is working on a project you find interesting.

To register for the event, click here. To learn more about the event, click here.

Lead sponsors are emerge West Michigan, GR Current, KCAD, Start Garden, and GVSU CEI.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Family Promise of Grand Rapids announces 'A Journey Home' campaign

Family Promise of Grand Rapids is hosting a press conference and ribbon cutting celebration Thursday, November 5 at 10 a.m. to celebrate their new location at 516 Cherry St. SE and to announce their $2 million fundraiser.

Cheryl Schuch, executive director, says the new facility is a needed step forward for the organization to keep up with the increased problem of homelessness among families with children in Kent County. "The old facility was rented and expensive. It did not allow us to serve individuals with disabilities and there were no spaces for private meetings with families or respite spaces for young children‚" she says.
Schuch says the fundraiser is designed to pay off the new building's mortgage and to support and grow the three key programs serving their mission: Pathway Home, an innovative shelter program in partnership with Mel Trotter, where existing space was repurposed into family space; Partners in Housing, a "mini-habitat" program, where manufactured homes are rehabbed and used by families with housing needs; and the continuing development of their After Care program, where Family Promise staff work to stabilize families and keep them in their homes (and schools) long term.

The fundraiser is chaired by community leaders Laurie Beard (Grand Rapids Region President, Old National Bank) and Carl Jandernoa (Vice President, 42 North Partners).

Schuch says that in 2009, they were servicing five homeless families at one time and now they are providing service to 60 families at the same time. She says there were almost 3000 students in Kent County schools who were homeless last year and with a successful campaign there will be a 200% increase in shelter capacity.

To learn more about Family Promise, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

New restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids unleashes the flavors of Latin America

Bienvenido a Grand Rapids!

Luna, the new Latin American-themed, full-service bar and restaurant located at 64 Ionia Ave. SW, opened its doors last week and will soon be opening the eyes and taste buds of the local food community to something very distinct and flavorful.

After working on the concept for almost two years, Mario Cascante wanted to bring something unique to the Grand Rapids food scene. While working with Rockford Development to identify a location, an opportunity opened up on Ionia Ave. SW and Cascante was ready.

While remaining true to his roots (Cascante is a native of Costa Rica), he says the new spot will also be "distinctly different" than his first venture, Tacos El Cunado at the Downtown Market.  

Cascante says Luna will feature meals that are prepared with the flavor profiles of Central and South America. Because of the breadth of spices, foods, and techniques in this type of cuisine, Cascante is reluctant to generalize about the menu but he says customers can expect a different type of spice level, "flavorful but not too spicy" and very different takes on traditional street foods like tacos and flautas.

However, he says the menu will also feature stews, vegan fair and South American-style steaks. "This is not a continuation of Tacos El Cunado. It will be a very different vibe and atmosphere. You can sit down and enjoy your meal. The flavor profile will be Latin American and it will be very refined and approachable."

Besides the unique menu, Cascante said Luna will feature a very good wine list, a "thoughtful" beer list and and interesting cocktails.

Cascante says he anticipates 30-40 jobs to be created with his new restaurant; he has several openings and encourages individuals to apply online here.

You can learn more about Luna here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor


Grand Rapids welcomes a celebration of community theatre

Grand Rapids is hosting the National Community Theatre Festival, AACTFest, from June 23- 27 at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and Grand Rapids Civic Theater.

It's a pretty big deal.

Jill Patchin, AACT conference coordinator, says AACTFest will be welcoming hundreds of visitors from around the country to Grand Rapids, all in celebration of community theatre.  "We will have twelve theater companies from all over the United States and the U.S. Armed Services," she says.

Patchin estimates that somewhere between 400-500 people will be taking part in the conference in various roles, the majority of whom are visiting Grand Rapids for the first time.

AACTFest is a program of the American Association of Community Theatre and features the winning theatre productions from across the country and U.S. Armed Services, educational experiences, workshop opportunities and networking opportunities for theatre enthusiasts.

Patchin says the winning productions had to advance through a series of competitions to reach the national event. Now, the companies will be competing against each other in a very unique format. "There is not enough time for a complete production, so the the group starts in a 10x10 space and they have ten minutes to build a stage, 60 minutes to perform, 10 minutes to strike the set." The shows are then judged by three national theatre experts.

All community theatre performances are open to the public and continue throughout ACCTFest. Patchin says the performances will be family friendly, but some might be challenging for younger children.

For a full schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, visit www.AACT.org.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids photo editing firm grows business locally and globally

Many small businesses do not readily embrace globalization. In fact, some see globalization as a threat to their efforts. But Chris Palmer views it much differently. "PhotoUp is prime example of how globalization can have a real positive impact. It's globalization done the right way," he says.

Palmer is the CEO of PhotoUp, a web platform that brings together real estate photographers with professional photo editors. It was founded by Kristian Pettyjohn in 2012, with Palmer joining soon afterwards.

The firm's value proposition is two pronged: PhotoUp helps real estate photographers be more productive and efficient with their time, and it helps photo editors in emerging markets stay in their native country, earn a fair wage and continue their education.

From the perspective of a photographer, Palmer outlines the business dilemma: "A real estate photographer I talked to could not do (photograph and edit) more than four homes a day. He was stuck, tapped out at three to four homes a day. How do you grow your business that way?"

By using his firm's services, Palmer says a photographer can grow his or her business significantly by having someone else handling the editing, often times overnight.

Second, PhotoUp utilizes a team of professional creatives in the Philippines. Palmer describes his team of "Photoshop wizards" as being "high capacity, very creative, computer savvy." He says many of the employees in the Philippines are students and are paid market wages and take advantage of PhotoUp's employee benefit programs that provide resources to help build stronger communities and funding for ongoing education and training.

The decision to use the Philippines for a home base was partly the result of Palmer's direct experience of living and working in the country and his interest in using business as a tool for social enterprise. "Many students and professionals I met could not find good jobs in the Philippines but wanted to stay," says Palmer. He says many of these creative and talented individuals had to leave the country to find work, often in other industries not related to their career interests.

The PhotoUp team reflects its global mission. There are 20 employees in the Philippines, two in Grand Rapids (the company's headquarters) and two in other parts of the U.S. 

Confident that the demand for for higher quality, digital real estate photography will grow, Palmer says he anticipates hiring sales and customer service help in the summer of 2014.

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Mutually Human Software and GR Makers create new creative space, now accepting founding members

Samuel Bowles, VP at Mutually Human Software, describes their new relationship with GR Makers as "the intersection of atoms and bytes."

GR Makers is a community of makers and tinkerers co-founded by Casey DuBois. They have been meeting on a weekly basis at the Warehouse in Jenison, Mich. Here, members work on projects of their choice using available equipment such as 3-D printers, wood working machines, and equipment for light metal work.

With the acquisition of GR Makers by Mutually Human, the organization will soon have a new home and access to more equipment and technology. 

Bowles explains the dynamics, saying, "We are taking them to the next step. We will use Mutually Human resources to turn it into something long-term and sustainable."

For Mutually Human, Bowles says the relationship is very strategic. "We feel that devices and hardware are the future of our business. By partnering with GR Makers, it gives us an opportunity to play at the boundary of hardware and software."

Bowles says the community will be run as a for-profit space, which he says is the business model for other successful maker spaces across the country. "They are the ones that are thriving across the nation. They have best tools, most members, and most traction in the market place. We want to be like those places."

The makers lab will be located at the Mutually Human offices at 401 Hall St. It is scheduled to be open in two to three months with an initial space of 3,000 sq. feet. Bowles says they are currently accepting applications to become a founding member, which can accessed here.

To learn more about Mutually Human, you can visit their site here. To learn about GR Makers, you can view their site here.

Source: Samuel Bowles, Mutual Human Software
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

The evolution of a design firm

Peopledesign is a successful consultancy design firm that calls Grand Rapids home. But from a business perspective, the world is its oyster.    

According to Kevin Budelmann, president, the firm services a global customer base and, in recent times, has been going through a subtle shift in the type and intensity of services it is providing. At the same time, it is applying a different filter to building its team, featuring three recent hires.

Budelmann referenced  the term "hour-glass economy" to describe one aspect of Peopledesign's new focus towards a more strategic type of consultancy requiring longer and deeper relationships with their customers going far beyond traditional design and branding services. 

"The hour glass economy refers to people in the middle that are being squeezed. For us, we felt an element of design has been commoditized and it has forced firms to move in one direction or the other.  We became strategic," he says. Budelmann mentions advanced research, sales training, and executive level strategy as examples of new services that Peopledesign is now providing to their clients.

At the same time, Budelmann says their organization is going through a natural transformation with their approach to recruiting and hiring within their firm. "In the early days, we have hired people like us, with a more traditional design background," he says. "These days, we are more interested in hiring different people with divergent backgrounds. How can we fill more gaps? How can we have a more robust offering to our clients?"

To learn more about Peopledesign, including their portfolio and job opportunities you can visit their website here.

Source: Kevin Budelmann, Peopledesign
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News editor

Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner returns to Grand Rapids with healthy hopes

Audrey Czerew prefers to be referred to as a traditional Chinese medical practitioner, but acknowledges that for most westerners, especially midwesterners, an "acupuncturist" will most likely be the familiar term used by people to describe her work.

Czerew, an Aquinas graduate attended Bastyr University for her Master's in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, has zig-zagged across the country over the last decade, setting up successful practices in Pullman,WA. Grand Rapids, MI and Portland, OR,  Now Czerew is back in Grand Rapids since October 2010 and  is steadily building her practice again.

Although national certified, Czerew states that Michigan is one of the very few states that does not have a state certification for acupuncture. "Michigan is not a popular place to practice acupuncture" she states, counting only 7-8 other practitioners in the area. "Out west, insurance agencies cover it. It is very mainstream. People have acupuncturists like they have dentists.  Here, most people haven't had it before".

Czerew cites multiple benefits of traditional Chinese medicine but allows that the western model of health care typically focuses on the problem . "People call me with a problem.  They want to get it fixed. Make the pain go away" which Czerew says can be done but states that if someone was suffering some pain for six months, it might take six months to provide comfort using acupuncture or other techniques.

However, Czerew says the real beauty of the Chinese model of medicine is in preventive health and it should not be used as a last resort,  "the number one benefit is preventive medicine. It is  kind of like a massage.  I can pick up more subtle imbalances through regular visits and help prevent more chronic problems".

Czerew is confident that Michigan will soon have certification which will help her practice grow. "Within five years I hope the state will pull together licensure, which will allow for insurance companies to recognize the treatment.  When insurance companies cover, more people will use it".

To contact Czerew you can find more information here.

Source: Audrey Czerew,  MSAOM, L.Ac.
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Local non-profit seeking experienced attorney

Over the past summer, six interns working with Michigan Migrant Legal Assistance Project, Inc (MMLAP) spent time doing outreach in the migrant worker community. What they found was a level of domestic violence much higher than was anticipated.

MMLAP, also known as Migrant Legal Aid, is a non-profit organization funded to provide legal assistance to migrant and seasonal farm workers. It is the primary legal service provider for farm workers in the state of Michigan.

Using the information discovered by the legal interns, MMLAP was "facing a massive intake of new clients" with an added layer of complexity due to the immigration issues that go beyond family law. To meet the demand, Executive Director Teresa Hendricks began the process to hire a an experienced Spanish-speaking attorney with a background in immigration.

According to Hendricks, funding for this new position has been aided by several local foundations including the Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF). Laurie Craft, program director at GRCF, views this a great example of solving a complex problem through collaboration as she identified the Hispanic Center, Legal Aid and the YWCA Domestic Violence Center as playing key roles in this future hire.

With the addition of this attorney, MMLAP will have a staff of seven full-time staff who handle anywhere from 500-1100 cases per year.  

Source: Teresa Hendricks. Laurie Craft

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Writer
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