High Growth Happy Hour features local, diverse business owners

On June 11, Rapid Growth will partner with Comcast to bring Grand Rapids their annual High Growth Happy Hour. Read up on our talented small business owner panelists!
On June 11, Rapid Growth will partner with Comcast to bring Grand Rapids their annual High Growth Happy Hour. This FREE networking event, hosted by Creston Brewery, will invite guests to mingle with fellow professionals and community members before sitting in on a panel of local entrepreneurs, moderated by Shannon Cohen. Ahead of this exciting event, read up on this talented business owners and get a feel for what makes them tick.

Moderator: Shannon Cohen

Author and speaker, Shannon Cohen says that the number one emotional health question is “How Are You?” It’s a question that leaders are often afraid to answer truthfully.

“For me in my own life, there were seasons when I was winning in my career, with very visible clients but I was on “E” internally,” she says. “Doing research and reading, I started to realize I wasn’t an anomaly. In 2014, I started the blog. I thought only my husband was reading it, but it grew to 2,000 subscribers in one month. I was wrestling with this question, ‘Is it possible to lead and be well at the same time?’”

When coaching leaders, Cohen often found herself dealing with the “heart things” a leader was going through before the “head things.” Her work has blossomed into an inspirational product line that includes her book, "Tough Skin, Soft Heart," a leadership book about growing stronger, better, and wiser, as well as mugs, prints, journals, greeting cards, and a t-shirt that reads, “Girl, you have greatness in your bones.”

Cohen notes that people of color, and especially women of color, have even higher risk of leadership burnout. The everyday stress of living in an institutionally racist culture and the added stressors of trying to achieve success within that culture take a steep toll.

“There are universal struggles that everyone committed to being a success maker has to navigate,” she says. “Then you have the micro aggressions, implicit biases, blatant biases, and the traumas that women of color have to navigate. We must take care of our souls.”

In addition to writing and speaking, Shannon Cohen teaches at Grand Valley State University, co-founded Sisters Who Lead, and was listed among 2018’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan by the Grand Rapids Business Journal. She has also served in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and in a variety of organizations across the Midwest.

“We live with us. Who better to co-create your wellness? We don’t check in with ourselves until what we’re going through starts to showing up in our bodies or somewhere else,” Cohen says. “Don’t live at the intersection of 'got to' and 'don’t want to.' The magic has always been at the intersection of joy and purpose.”

Panelist: Yili Bornarski, Café Boba and Bamboo Studio

Yili Bornarski immigrated from China to the US in 1986. Although she had already completed a college degree in China, she enrolled at Northern Michigan University, where she met her husband. After moving to the Grand Rapids area in the '90s, Bornarski completed a second degree in business at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) while working and raising two daughters. Since then, she has not slowed her pace.

In addition to working full-time as Chinese editor for Amway, Bornarski runs Café Boba and Bamboo Studio. The delightfully eclectic Asian fusion café has a menu that includes traditional boba (bubble tea), barista-made coffee drinks, smoothies, and a lunch menu that includes dumplings and sushi. Bamboo Studio also hosts painting events and parties. Bornarski started the business for her daughter, but ended up in charge when she moved to Texas. Bornarski also serves as an interpreter for her husband’s business, which has many Chinese immigrants among its clientele.

Despite this more than full plate of activity, Bornarski makes time to volunteer with the West Michigan Asian American Association, sponsors and takes part in its Asian Festival, and serves on the boards of the Chinese Association of West Michigan and the Grand Rapids Chinese Language School.

“I believe that multicultural inclusion brings the workforce and community together,” she says. “I believe in it.”

Bornarski also makes time to help individual, immigrant entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.

“This is the person I am. I always like to help other people. When I came here, I see that I got help. Climbing up the ladder, you reach down and help other people, too,” she says. “I am passionate about helping immigrants, being their resource. When I go to any Chinese restaurant, they know me. When I sit down, any time I step in, they give me a stack of mail and say, 'Hey read this for me.'"

Bornarski notes that immigrant entrepreneurs don’t only face language barriers but also are inexperienced with laws and regulations. She offers this advice to all entrepreneurs, “Follow your heart and make sure to do it because you want to do it, not just for the money. See the bigger picture. Help the community.”

Panelist: Jermale Eddie, Malamiah Juice Bar

A popular speaker and founder of Malamiah Juice Bar, Jermale Eddie loves sharing how he made his business dream come true.

“Really pray about it. Talk to others who are entrepreneurs or in the same field. Make sure that you really want it because it is very, very hard,” Eddie says. “Starting your own business looks better from the outside. It’s very hard work to maintain it.”

After completing a degree from Grand Valley State University, Eddie moved to Texas where he worked with Impact United Methodist Church, Lamar University, and the University of Phoenix. After returning to Grand Rapids, he spent time as Grand Rapids Urban League director of education and on the board of Junior Achievement of Michigan. Currently, he serves on the Downtown Development Authority board and is director of Reaching-In (Discipleship) at Madison Square Church: Ford Campus. He is also a founding member of BL²END (Business Leaders Linked to Encourage New Direction).

Over the years, Eddie has won many awards, including the Grand Rapids Area of Black Businesses 2014 Emerging Business Award, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce 2015 Epic Award; and the 2016 WAVE Award for customer service. Despite the accolades, Eddie has found that being a business owner of color has raised additional challenges.

“One the biggest is trying to get my product in the hands of larger organizations and companies around town as a vendor. They may not return a call. Or, they think we’re too small,” he says. “Little do they know many of their employees and clients already do business with us. So, they are the ones missing out.”

Eddie got hooked on the nutritional benefits of juicing in 2012. With the encouragement of his wife, Anissa, he opened Malamiah Juice Bar.

“One thing that I try to let everybody know is, everything we do as a business is built on the foundation of love—love for community, love for neighbors, love for our product, and love for our employees,” he says. “Essentially all of our beverages are made with love. The events we take part in are for the love of people. We love our employees and our customers. That’s the secret ingredient of all that we do.”

Panelist: Maria Erazo, Maria Erazo Enterprises

Financial and branding strategist Maria Erazo works with entrepreneurs, authors, and speakers to help them develop a plan, clarify their message, and launch their dreams.

“You don’t just go out and start something,” she says. “You have to have the passion to develop, learn, and acquire all different sorts of skills, not just sell something. We need to give people not just the money, but help them develop the right skill sets to be successful.”

The broad-based skill-set she brings to her clients didn’t come from a book or a program. At age 15, Maria immigrated to the United States with a ninth-grade education. She worked hard at a series of factory and restaurant jobs before finding employment with an insurance agency. In 2011, she opened her own agency. Her performance earned her accolades as the company’s top ranking agent in the country. When people starting coming to her for advice at succeeding in their own businesses, she found her true gift.

“I was writing my first book, a biography, "In Search of My Father," about my journey and immigrants. At the same time, I had my business. I realized I had not a lot of skills to run a business and be successful at it. So, I started taking a lot of trainings in marketing, team development, psychology, and business management,” she says. “I started receiving clients for coaching, teaching them the things that I had learned. When I coach people who are Hispanic, I bring that perspective of ‘both sides of the fence.’”

When working with Latinx clients, Erazo find their first obstacle is fear that they cannot achieve success. The second is a lack of knowledge about all the good resources the Grand Rapids community has to offer.

“There is a lot of help available in this community,” she says. “ [Many in the Hispanic] community are not mentally ready to reach out and accept the trainings and help that is available.”

Now the author of five books, Erazo resides in Grand Rapids with her husband, Giovanni, and their three children. Her weekly columns in local Spanish newspaper, El Informador, focus on personal development, business training, and how these two broad topics intersect.

“My true passion was and has been coaching and teaching people,” Erazo concludes. “I want to bring them my perspective about challenges and opportunities that the Hispanic community faces.”

Join us at Creston Brewery on Monday, June 11 from 6-8pm for food, drinks, and a panel of savvy small business owners from Grand Rapids, featuring: Jermale Eddie of Malamiah Juice Bar, Financial Strategist/Business & Brand Coach Maria Erazo, and Yili Bornarski of Cafe Boba, with moderator Shannon Cohen. This event is FREE, but please RSVP!
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