Top Women Owned Businesses - 2017

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MARCH 15, 2017 In recognition of the West Michigan women-owned businesses adding strength and diversity to the local economy.

GRCC SECCHIA INSTITUTE FOR CULINARY EDUCATION Celebrating women who are building careers as chefs, personal chefs, pastry chefs, sous-chefs and more. Grand RapidsRapids Community College While Grand Community culinary graduates can be found College culinary graduates can at restaurants otherrestaurants, hospitality venues be found atand notable worldwide. manyresorts alumniand – like Lisa gastro pubs,But hotels, other Green, owner of Canal Street Café; hospitality venues worldwide, many Tracy Filipek-Murrell, owner of alumni – like Lisa Green, ownerHit of the Road and Jennifer owner CanalJoe; Street Cafe; TracyZirkle, Filipekof Jen the Ginger – are taking Murrell, owner of Chef Hit the Road Joe; advantage of the opportunities and Jennifer Zirkle, owner of Jenforthe world-class culinarians right here in Ginger Chef – are taking advantage West Michigan. of the opportunities for world-class Werner Absenger, Secchia Institute culinarians right here in West Michigan. for Culinary Education director, has aWerner great appreciation for director, the dynamic Absenger, SICE has and growing West Michigan restaurant a great appreciation for the dynamic scene. and growing West Michigan restaurant scene. “Behind all the different types of restaurant concepts – from food trucks to all microbreweries – are food “Behind the different types of entrepreneurs who bet on the fact restaurant concepts – from food trucks to microbreweries – are food entrepreneurs who bet on the fact that the

that the pros of starting, running and pros of starting, running and growing business in our community agrowing businessa in our community far outfar outweigh the cons,” weigh the cons,” he said.he said. With degrees in culinary arts and With degrees in culinary arts andas restaurant management, as well restaurant well as certificates management, for baking andaspastry arts, certificates in baking and pastry arts, personal chefs and craft brewing – the culinary arts, personal chef and craft Secchia Institute for Culinary Education brewing GRCC’s prepares –alumni forwell-rounded an ever-changing food industry. instruction in time-honored culinary techniques prepare alumni for the SICE’s well-rounded instruction in ever-changing food industry. time-honored culinary techniques ranks it among the finest culinary It’s no surprise that the Secchia schools in the United States, including Institute forRestaurant Culinary Education is listing Full Service magazine’s one of the finest culinary schools of America’s top 20 culinary schools. in the United States – named one Our alumni are industry leaders working of America’s top 20 culinary schools in notable fine dining restaurants, gastroby Fullhotels, Serviceresorts Restaurant magazine pubs, and more – in West among some of the largest and wellMichigan and throughout the world. known private schools in the nation.

Record participation leads to difficult choices


hat was hard.” So remarked one of the Grand Rapids Business Journal judges from southeast Michigan, as the others underscored her comment in agreement after the evaluations to determine Top Women Owned Businesses finalists. Grand Rapids Business Journal had record participation, with 129 nominations of area female business owners from the communities we serve. Of those nominations, 59 women participated in the process, divided by revenue categories. The Business Journal profiles the 29 finalists in this section with best wishes for their continued success. The Business Journal notes the number of businesses nominated this year that are owned by women under the age of 40 and notes the importance of its economic empowerment and its impact on the regional economy. Evaluations are based on business health and innovation; evidence of leadership within the areas of expertise; and evidence of good business practices. Tie-breaker points are awarded for evidence of leadership among women. We are grateful for the assistance of Carol Kirkland, Michelle Richards and Eric Larson as judges for this recognition. Kirkland built a family business, AVE Office Supplies, initially while working as medical transcription department director at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit. Her business was named to the 2009 Outstanding Women’s Business Enterprise Council-Great Lakes Division. She is a past president and board member of the National Association of Women Business Owners Greater Detroit Chapter. Richards has been the executive director of the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council in Ann Arbor for more than 20 years. GLWBC provides small business training, counseling, financing and other assistance

to women and minorities, and one of its programs is certification of women-owned businesses. In 2010, she was named the Women’s Council of Washtenaw County’s ATHENA Award recipient. Larson, CPA/ABV of Beene Garter accounting agency in Grand Rapids, has extensive practical and theoretical experience in the field of financial valuation, transaction negotiation, merger/acquisition representation and corporate financial analysis. He volunteered his time in confidential review and assurance of the business revenue categories and review. The Grand Rapids Business Journal Top Women Owned Businesses luncheon, recognizing nominees and finalists, will be held March 15 at Frederik Meijer Gardens, with networking beginning at 11 a.m. Grand Rapids Business Journal photographer Johnny Quirin will be available at 10:30 a.m. to take professional portraits of attendees. The luncheon keynote speaker, Rhonda Kallman, co-founded Boston Beer Company at the age of 24. The brewer of Samuel Adams quickly became the most successful craft brewery in the world — with a $3 billion market cap. She paved the way for women in the historically male-dominated beer industry, and the Institute for Brewing Studies honored her with the “Pioneering Woman in the Beer Industry” award in 1990. In addition to her many market innovations and workplace hiring and promotion of women, Kallman also is founder/CEO of the Boston Harbor Distillery and is a highly sought-after speaker. Carole Valade Editor, Grand Rapids Business Journal

PUBLISHER John H. Zwarensteyn: EDITOR Carole Valade: MANAGING EDITOR Tim Gortsema: COPY EDITOR Tom Mitsos: ONLINE EDITOR Chris Ehrlich: STAFF REPORTERS Charlsie Dewey: Pat Evans: Jesse O’Brien: Rachel Watson: STATE LEGISLATIVE REPORTER Capital News Service: CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Jeffrey Gitomer, Paul A. Hense, Brian Long, Bill Rohn, Bill Roth, Ardon Schambers NEW MEDIA, DESIGN & PRODUCTION MANAGER Scott Sommerfeld: ART COORDINATOR Kelly J. Nugent: DESIGNERS/PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS Melissa Brooks: Kristen Van Oostenbrugge: Robin Vargo: CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Michael Buck, Jim Gebben, Johnny Quirin GENERAL SALES MANAGER Randy D. Prichard: ADVERTISING SALES MANAGER Jenn Maksimowski: ADVERTISING SALES CONSULTANTS Jennifer Collins: Craig R. Rich: Blake Stezskal Bri Rodriguez: ADVER. SALES ASSISTANT/ COORDINATOR Karla Jeltema: CIRCULATION & MARKETING MANAGER Scott T. Miller: MARKETING & EVENTS COORDINATOR Madison Mabin: CIRCULATION & MARKETING ASSISTANT Katrina Peshka: FINANCE & ADMINISTRATION MANAGER Pamela Brocato, CPA: ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT Tina Gillman: RECEPTION/CLERICAL SERVICES General Inquiries:, TO ORDER REPRINTS Karla Jeltema:, (616) 459-4545





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Amy Ruis

Owner/Co-owner Art of the Table/Aperitivo $0-$1.49 MILLION


hen Amy Ruis opened Art of the Table in 2003, she was hoping for a different type of party store than what had previously graced the Wealthy Street Corridor. Now, more than 13 years later, the district is thriving, and Ruis played no small role in its revitalization. Ruis has sat on the Wealthy Street Business Alliance board for those 13 years and served in every role available. Art of the Table proved to be so successful that in 2013, Ruis opened her second endeavor, Aperitivo. While heaping more onto her plate, Ruis said having two stores has helped her learn more about managing time, people, inventory and all that comes with operating two businesses. “It’s been a great three years so far there, and business continues to grow at both lo-

cations,” Ruis said. “It makes me even more inspired to continue our growth.” Ruis has been a fixture in increasing the viability of Grand Rapids, currently serving on the Uptown CID Board as chairperson and on the Grand Rapids Community Foundation Board of Trustees. Previously, she served on the board of Local First, the Grand Rapids Downtown Market board and Heritage Hill Neighborhood board. Ruis already has received numerous plaudits for her successful entrepreneurship, including from this publication, recently having been named the Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty distinguished alumni for 2016. “I love working hard in and with and for Grand Rapids, as it continues to thrive and become even more of a top-notch city,” Ruis said.

Beth Kelly

Managing Partner HR Collaborative $0-$1.49 MILLION


ome of the most visible leaders in Grand Rapids were brought to West Michigan by HR Collaborative. The human resources management firm helped John Ball Zoo secure President Peter D’Arienzo and First Steps Executive Director Annemarie Valdez. Other clients of HR Collaborative include The Right Place, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., Experience Grand Rapids, Frey Foundation, city of Grand Rapids and Heartside Ministry. “Our clients continue to grow significantly as their talent management systems have matured, and we have helped companies create and fill hundreds of jobs in West Michigan since 2013,” Managing Partner Beth Kelly said. “We continue to focus our efforts on helping small employers and nonprofits hire and retain the best talent to 6 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL TOP WOMEN OWNED BUSINESSES

strengthen their position and work in our community.” Not only is the firm owned by a female, but 19 of the company’s 20 employees are women, as well. HR Collaborative was a Business Journal Top Women Owned Business finalist in 2014. Kelly currently is a trustee at Clark Retirement Home and a board member at Custom Profile Inc. She formerly was chair of the Women’s Resource Center from 2007-10. “We take the responsibility of our position as a women-owned business to set the example of business growth and success for other emerging female entrepreneurs,” Kelly said.

Beverly Wall

CEO Languages International Inc. $0-$1.49 MILLION


everly Wall wants to be an inspiration for up-and-coming female entrepreneurs. So, she leads by example. In 2003, Wall purchased Languages International, a flailing company at the time. Within a year and a half, she had turned the company around, leading to a 200-percent increase in sales. In the past year, Wall realized she needed to diversify her customer portfolio and began the lengthy process of approval to bid on federal contracts. And she continued to engage with local female business owners to help them get “unstuck,” so they can achieve their goals of business success. “Women of all ages need role models who are reachable and available to help the next generation of women business owners,” Wall said.

Currently, Wall sits on the board of SurClean Inc. as treasurer, is a trustee on the Grand Rapids Township Board and a commissioner on the Michigan Women’s Commission. She also is president of the Davenport University Donald Maine Advisory Committee, president of Community Rebuilders and previously served as secretary of Susan G. Komen Michigan. Wall previously has been honored by the Business Journal as a Top Women Owned Businesses finalist in 2009, ’11, ’13 and ’15 and as the overall winner in 2007. She also was named one of the Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women in 2006, ’08, ’10, ’14 and ’16.

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Carol Chase & April Hulst Partners Chase Bylenga Hulst, PLLC $0-$1.49 MILLION


hase Bylenga Hulst is unique in the legal industry, because the firm is led by two women among the three partners. In a profession that often sees few women at the top, the female partners and attorneys at Chase Bylenga Hulst are leaders in the industry. Carol Chase started her career in the male-dominated area of bankruptcy law and built a reputation for herself that she brought with her when she co-founded her firm six years ago. “Bankruptcy law is a male-dominated area of practice, which the female attorneys at our firm have been able to successfully break through,” she said. With six years under its belt, Chase Bylenga Hulst has expanded beyond bankruptcy law to also include litigation, probate, estate planning, tax and business law.

The firm also has grown from its two founding attorneys, Chase and Steve Bylenga, to seven attorneys, including its third partner, April Hulst. Hulst specializes in bankruptcy, estate planning, probate and general civil litigation. She came to the firm from Chicago, where she managed a local office for a multi-state bankruptcy firm. Chase said she is proud of the “collaborative work atmosphere” at the firm and the flexibility it is able to provide. Chase continues to be recognized for her work. She was honored last year with the Distinguished Colleague Award from the Debtors Bar of West Michigan and the Nims-Howard Civility Award, presented by the Federal Bar Association of the Western District of Michigan Bankruptcy Section.

Catherine Lazarock President Symplicity Communications $0-$1.49 MILLION


atherine Lazarock wasn’t joking when she predicted in 2007 she’d have an office in Paris someday. The comment at Symplicity Communication’s ribbon cutting wasn’t too farfetched, as she launched Simplicity International LTD in the United Kingdom in October 2016. “I’m in the process of launching and will be focusing on sales in England in 2017,” she said. “My goal still may be to have an office in Paris, but now, that dream is much closer to reality with our London office.” The telecommunications firm was selected as a Super9 Cloud Certification Program by California-based Intelisys Communications, a master agent providing engineering support and training to clients nationwide. Nine out of 2,400 agents were selected in the inaugural class.


Symplicity Communications was a 2011 honoree of Corp Magazine’s Best of Michigan Business and 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For. The firm also is a three-time finalist for EPIC Awards’ Top Women Owned Business and has been nominated by various other organizations, such as Ernst & Young, Michigan Small Business Development Center and the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs. Lazarock chose a tough time to launch her business having to navigate both early entrepreneurship and the Great Recession at the same time, but she’s happy with the decision now. “I’ve built a reputation as a leader with an excellent integrity that has grown beyond the West Michigan market,” Lazarock said.




Floriza Genautis

CEO Management Business Solutions $0-$1.49 MILLION


loriza Genautis is the founder of Management Business Solutions, a certified Women Business Enterprise and Minority Business Enterprise company. Genautis is committed to attracting diverse candidates to her professional staffing firm which, in turn, helps her serve clients in several industries looking to develop an inclusive and diverse workforce. Genautis started her company after spending over 20 years in the professional staffing industry, including 10 of those working in the areas of accounting, finance and human resources. She recruited clients for some of the biggest names in the tech industry, including Hewlett Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, Applied Materials and McAfee. Despite her years of experience, opening her firm in Grand Rapids was not with-

out challenges. “We opened our door during a down economy, where, for the most part, our clients are downsizing employees in their organizations as opposed to hiring,” she said. But, Management Business Solutions overcame the challenging times and, today, has seven employees, as well as clients in public and private entities in the areas of government and manufacturing. It also has signed a two-year contract with the city of Grand Rapids. “Compared to our competitors, we have seen organizations either close their doors or downsize employees in their organization,” she said. Genautis said she is proud to have been able to provide no-buy-in ownership opportunities to two employees, and she has a third employee on the ownership track.

Jennifer Sowers Owner/Optometrist Caledonia Vision Center $0-$1.49 MILLION


f Jennifer Sowers had never planned to go into business for herself, imagine her surprise when, just one year after graduating from college, she found herself the sole owner of a practice more than 30 years old. Fresh out of the Michigan College of Optometry, Sowers was lined up to become an optometrist at the practice where she worked. But shortly before graduating, the job fell through. And Sowers had to pivot. Fortunately, Sowers connected with Richard Coryan, who was planning to sell his practice in the near future, at a networking event. After several meetings, Sowers reached a deal to purchase the practice founded by Coryan. Though she was fresh out of school, Sowers’ previous managerial experience in the field helped her to secure a loan, and 10 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL TOP WOMEN OWNED BUSINESSES

in July 2016, she became an entrepreneur like her father and grandfather before her. “Now that I am a business owner, I’m able to give every patient the kind of customer service and health care I want for my own family,” Sowers said. A graduate of Grand Valley State University, Sowers received her Bachelor of Biomedical Science and worked at several practices prior to going to school for her doctorate. While attending graduate school, Sowers gave birth to two children and, despite her new duties as a young mother, graduated with highest honors in May 2015. “The way I lead my business is an example to pass on values of service and community to my children,” Sowers said.

CONGRATULATIONS 2017 Top Women Owned Business Award Nominees for West Michigan 950 28th St. SE Suite 200B Grand Rapids, MI 49508 616.257.9577

Lighthouse Property Management was founded in 2003 with the intent to become a provider of world-class service in the property management business. Our innovative business model integrates the customer service and management disciplines of the institutional property management industry at a local level. This unique approach and our commitment to hiring the very best professionals have resulted in strong business growth and our long-lasting tenure in the area, making us one of the most respected and trusted local property management companies. Areas We Serve: Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Rockford, Heritage Hill, Holland, Muskegon, Allendale, Grand Haven, Wayland

Kathy Dennison Adrianse Owner/Broker Lighthouse Property Management $0-$1.49 MILLION


athy Dennison Adrianse believes everyone deserves a safe and affordable home, and she’s made that her mis-

sion. Dennison Adrianse opened Lighthouse Property Management in 2013 and focuses on providing C-class housing. She said the majority of Lighthouse’s clients are working class and low-income renters. The challenge is worth it, according to Dennison Adrianse, who said her staff of eight “amazing and empowered” women is committed to “exceeding expectations while helping people with their most intimate part of their lives, housing.” Lighthouse boasts 1,400 units in West Michigan and, last year, opened its second office, located in Muskegon. From the new office, Dennison Adri-

anse said Lighthouse is turning its attention on one of West Michigan’s most blighted communities, Muskegon Heights. “We have a proud history of seeking out locations where we can create the greatest impact,” Dennison Adrianse said. Her work is paying off. In 2014, Lighthouse won an award from the National Apartment Association for best property owned by an independent property owner. Dennison Adrianse said she is especially proud to have built her company with the help of a staff of women. Dennison Adrianse has demonstrated a long commitment to housing. She formerly served on the boards of the Property Management Association — as president and on the legislative committee — and on the Rental Property Owners Association’s legislative committee.

Kristin Ekkens Founder/Owner C3 Consulting LLC $0-$1.49 MILLION


ristin Ekkens has been leading initiatives to improve workplace inclusion for 15 years. In 2012, she started C3 Consulting LLC to help organizations with culturally diverse talent and customers achieve their goals through cultural intelligence. C3 Consulting uses tools and strategies to “bridge cultural and linguistic gaps, develop inclusive leaders, unite global teams and retain diverse talent.” Ekkens’ services include providing keynote addresses, online or in-person cultural awareness workshops, and in-depth solutions for organizations to improve the cultural intelligence of their workforce. Ekkens provides mentorship and coaching to women, people of color and entrepreneurs to “live life to their full potential.” Some of C3’s clients include Spectrum 12 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL TOP WOMEN OWNED BUSINESSES

Health, Ferris State University, Michigan State University, Pine Rest Christian Health Services and Dan Vos Construction. Ekkens’ workplace learning initiatives have received multiple awards and gained the attention of “ABC World News Tonight with Charles Gibson.” Ekkens said she is most proud to have been a part of the Latino Talent Initiative with Ferris State University that was led by Carlos Sanchez. “In 2013, Carlos came to me with a vision for an initiative that would inspire and empower Latinos who are or aspire to be leaders in West Michigan,” Ekkens said. Ekkens said four cohorts and nearly 80 participants later, “this initiative is driving a systemic change that positively impacts individuals and families, our community and our local businesses.”

Kristin Revere Co-owner Gold Coast Doulas LLC $0-$1.49 MILLION


old Coast Doulas collected 2,275 disposable diapers, 40 packs of wipes, 127 cloth diapers, 71 cloth inserts and $250, which made it Kristin Revere’s proudest business achievement. The collection was for Nestlings Diaper Bank of West Michigan and was to celebrate the company’s one-year anniversary. By September, the doulas firm had sales of nearly $40,000 in its first year and operates with six subcontractors. A doula is a woman trained to assist others in childbirth. Gold Coast Doulas was the first such agency in Grand Rapids. Since its launch, they’ve attended 34 births and supported five families as postpartum doulas. “My business partner, Karlye (McNeely), and I started out with a dream of better supporting families during this vulnerable

time,” Revere said. “We are changing what was once considered a hobby into a career. I can’t wait to see what we are able to accomplish in Year 2.” Gold Coast Doulas was awarded the top doula from and was the most referenced childbirth class in 2016. Revere also is vice president of Lansingbased Vanguard Public Affairs. Revere currently serves on the West Michigan Steering Committee and is a regional board member of the Michigan Political Leadership Program and is the entertainment chair of the Waterfront Film Festival. Revere received the 2010 Outstanding Leadership Award by the Progressive Women’s Alliance and was a 2015 Business Journal Top 50 Influential Woman.


Proud to be in the company of great talent

Being named to the list of Top Women Owned Businesses shows your entrepreneurial spirit and we’re proud to have been a part of your success. Kathy Dennison Adrianse ‘97 Veronica Kirin ‘09 Sara Knoester ‘11 Kelly Larson ‘95 Catherine Lazarock ‘96 Karen Scarpino ‘89 Jennifer Sowers ‘08

Creating Great Places to Work

Beverly Wall ‘87

Your positive impact is far reaching. That’s the Laker Effect. TOP WOMEN OWNED BUSINESSES GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 13

Leandra Williams Owner Stingray Advisory Group LLC $0-$1.49 MILLION


tingray Advisory Group, a professional services firm, opened in 2013 to serve clients throughout Michigan. The company helps those looking to start a business as well as existing small businesses in need of marketing concept development and implementation, strategic planning assistance and financial review. Owner Leandra Williams said within about three years, the firm has assisted more than 30 clients, helped launch 10 businesses and secured $85,000 in funding for clients. During that time, she said she served as a mentor to three individuals and a guide for three interns, all while growing her firm’s “footprint.” “I am proud to report having increased sales year over year,” she said. “Stingray Advisory Group helps women

entrepreneurs, business owners, students and aspiring entrepreneurs on a regular basis. I am passionate about my clients and the communities we serve.” Williams is director of development for Grand Rapids Young Professionals, an advisory council member for the Michigan Women’s Foundation and the sole female board member and treasurer of Grand Rapids Inventors Network. In 2016, she graduated from the Young Nonprofit Professional Network’s Build Your Own Momentum program. In 2015, she was a Young Nonprofit Professional Network of Grand Rapids Advocate Award nominee and a Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Young ATHENA Award nominee. She also is president of the Grand Rapids Area Professionals for Excellence group.

Lindsay Rademacher Owner & Holistic and Sports Chiropractor Balanced 4 Life Chiro Wellness Center $0-$1.49 MILLION


indsay Rademacher takes pride in her work. As a chiropractor, no work satisfies Rademacher more than when she and her staff of three at Balanced 4 Life Chiro Wellness Center can help a patient recover, despite the patient’s struggles with visits to other specialists. Rademacher formerly operated Gaslight Family Chiropractic in East Grand Rapids from 2009-15 before relocating and opening Balanced 4 Life Chiro Wellness in Cascade Township. The office offers a variety of services, including chiropractic care, applied kinesiology, nutrition testing, cold laser and scar therapy, custom orthotics and homeopathy. Prior to Gaslight Family Chiropractic, Rademacher started practicing sports and holistic chiropractic care in 2006.


Building a chiropractic practice in West Michigan takes work, but Rademacher said with dedication, the efforts of balancing a career and family life can be fulfilling. Rademacher was nominated for Top Women Owned Businesses by Gold Coast Doulas owner Kristin Revere, who has used Rademacher’s chiropractic services since 2010. Revere also shares space with Balanced 4 Life Chiro Wellness Center in a building on Cascade Road. “She is committed to making a difference in the lives of her patients and is especially focused on women’s health, which is why I decided to share an office with her,” Revere said. “She balances her career and family very well and is an inspiration to me.”

Mary Ann Sabo President Sabo PR $0-$1.49 MILLION


hen Mary Ann Sabo began her second career, she started from the top — on her own, in an office in her attic, with a handful of clients. Now 14 years later, Sabo PR boasts a ledger of 45 clients, a staff of seven and a large, loft-style office space, complete with photo studio. “We have achieved excellent growth while managing to maintain a stellar relationship, both with the media and with our clients, in an industry that often struggles for respect,” Sabo said. The Sabo PR clientele list includes clients from a variety of industries, including professional services, health care, municipal, education and nonprofits. In some cases, work is provided to those nonprofits on a pro bono or reduced rate, Sabo’s way of

giving back to the community. In addition to her entrepreneurship, Sabo also serves as president of the Legacy Trust Award Collection, which hosts annual arts competitions for adults with disabilities. Previously, she’s served on the board of the GVSU Business Ethics Committee, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities Inc., and Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services, formerly Deaf Inc. A graduate of the University of Tennessee at Martin, Sabo also has her master’s in English from Ohio State University. She previously has worked as an awardwinning reporter with The Grand Rapids Press and a partner at Lambert, Edwards & Associates. She was previously honored as a Top Women Owned Businesses finalist in 2015.

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Mercedes Lopez-Duran Owner El Granjero Mexican Grill $0-$1.49 MILLION


ith Tacos El Ganadero weeks from going out of business, Mercedes Lopez-Duran had to act quickly. The owner informed employees, and Lopez-Duran knew her 15-plus years of restaurant experience in Mexico could be useful. She and her husband were determined to save the company and the jobs of the restaurant’s employees, as new jobs would be hard to come by in 2007. The couple has since divorced and Lopez-Duran is now the sole proprietor of El Granjero Mexican Grill (the former owner had a condition to change the name and menu). Today, the once struggling business has sales near $1 million — without a liquor license — with 20 employees. The restaurant was the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Most

Promising Business in 2009 and was named the Best Mexican/Caribbean Restaurant in Grand Rapids by the Michigan Restaurant Association in 2011. El Granjero was nominated in 2014 for Best Woman Owned Business of the Year by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, which named it the 2016 EPIC Minority Business of the Year. El Granjero Mexican Grill’s female leadership doesn’t stop with Lopez-Duran, as employee Paola Mendivil is a board member of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women and communications coordinator of the Latino Community Coalition. “We serve as an inspiration and role model to other women-owned businesses within the Hispanic community,” LopezDuran said.

Rhoda Kreuzer President Partners In Action Inc. $0-$1.49 MILLION


espite suffering through financial hardships during the Great Recession, Rhoda Kreuzer credits Partners In Action’s aggressiveness through the period as to why the firm is experiencing growth today. The professional services firm specializes in leadership consulting and team training and has seen steady growth since the recession, including its best year last year, finishing nearly 15 percent better than the previous year. The firm isn’t just growing in revenue, but geographically, working in five states outside of Michigan and with a company headquartered in London. Kreuzer wants to put West Michigan at the forefront of minds when talking about leadership. “It is our goal for West Michigan to be16 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL TOP WOMEN OWNED BUSINESSES

come the place to go for strong leadership — to raise the bar on leadership practices,” she said. Kreuzer embodies the firm’s mission. She was a 2014 ATHENA Award finalist and was a Business Journal Top 50 Influential Women in West Michigan winner in 2008 and 2016. Kreuzer also received the 2012 Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs Leadership Award and was the alliance’s member of the year in 2001 and 2002. She is the vice president of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women and chairman of the West Michigan Public Purchasing Allies. “Being a leader means that you are not only serving the interests of your own business, but serving the needs of your team, your community and having a significant impact on others,” she said.

Congratulations to these Top Women Owned Businesses! We are especially thrilled to celebrate those women who have been supporters of and involved with GROW. Together we empower more women to launch, advance and sustain their businesses.

Sandi Frost Steensma, president/principal consultant of Kennari Consulting Floriza Genautis, CEO of Management Business Solutions Celebrating Top Women Owned Businesses, and Helping Create Beth Kelly, managing partner of HR Collaborative More of Them Veronica Kirin, owner of GreenCup Rhoda Kreuzer, president of Partners in Action Inc. Mercedes Lopez-Duran, owner of El Granjero Mexican Grill Elizabeth Rosario, owner/attorney of Grand Rapids Law Group PLLC Amy Ruis, owner/co-owner of Art of the Table and Aperitivo Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women Sandra Slager, president of Walters Seed Company 25 Sheldon Blvd SE, Suite 210 | Grand Rapids, MI 49503 Sheila VanZile, owner of Watermark Insurance Services | 616-458-3404 Beverly Wall, CEO of Languages International Inc. Leandra Williams, owner of Stingray Advisory Group LLC Gricelda Mata, owner/president of Lindo Mexico Restaurant Inc. Karen Scarpino, president of Promotional Impact/Green Giftz Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women

Our mission is to help women take the next step, empowering and supporting them with professional, high-quality training, business counseling, access to capital and guidance for the lifetime of their business. Learn more about our programs at

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Robyn Allison Owner The Rental Company $0-$1.49 MILLION


obyn Allison is the owner of The Rental Company, which provides everything from tents to flatware for a variety of events in West Michigan. Allison bought the company out of bankruptcy in 2004 and has been growing it into a thriving business ever since. The Rental Company employs eight fulltime staff members and 30 additional employees during peak event seasons. Allison said one of the things she is most proud of is being able to offer good-paying jobs to young people — many of whom are employed for the first time. “If young people are not given opportunities to have good-paying jobs with a lot of responsibility, they will not learn to stretch as individuals and realize their potential,” she said. She also is a firm believer in giving back.

Allison created the Compassion Connection Program, a program where The Rental Company staff votes on three to four nonprofits that will receive support in the coming year. The selected nonprofits benefit from volunteer hours, in-kind donations and monetary donations throughout the year. The Rental Company’s success extends beyond itself. The company partners with many other local businesses, such as wedding planners and photographers. When Allison is not engaged in The Rental Company business, she is working to help Eagle Crest Charter Academy, where she serves as president of the school’s board and as treasurer of Sylvia’s Place Domestic Violence Shelter.

Sandi Frost Steensma President and Principal Consultant Kennari Consulting $0-$.149 MILLION


ennari Consulting knows how to leverage public-private partnerships, which sets it apart from competitors in the area of fundraising consultation. “Many fundraising consultants can help clients find grants. Many can also help them raise money for a campaign. But our innovation in the field of public-private partnerships continues to lead to new and exciting opportunities for West Michigan that would not have been possible without our innovative approach and unique skill set,” Sandi Frost Steensma said. Some of those projects include: the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Gateway Transformation Project, Grand Rapids Public Schools Transformation Plan, the Grand Rapids Whitewater Project and the Cherry Health Heart of the City project. Frost Steensma brings two decades of 18 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL TOP WOMEN OWNED BUSINESSES

experience in the public sector to the table, including serving on the Kent County Board of Commissioners. Since its founding in 2007, Kennari Consulting has grown to 10 employees and serves more than 60 nonprofit organizations with consulting and direct services each year. It has helped clients raise over $200 million through campaigns and increase their annual fundraising. Kennari also is committed to creating a pipeline of talent with fundraising expertise. “It is critically important that each senior level professional take it upon him or herself to teach and train the next generation so that highly impactful organizations can be sustained well into the future,” Frost Steensma said.

Sandra Slager President Walters Seed Company $0-$1.49 MILLION


andra Slager is a second-generation female business owner in an industry where those credentials are atypical. Slager worked at Walters Seed and Nursery, the company founded by her father in 1958, as a part-time and full-time employee from 1983-95, ordering packaging, machine packaging, receiving inventory and shipping. When the company split divisions in 1996, Slager became partowner of the seed side of the business, and her entrepreneurship began. In taking over Walters Seed Company, Slager went on to develop the company’s retail line of seed starting kits, supplying them to independent retailers, gift shops and large chains, such as Target, Ace Hardware and Orchard Supply Hardware. A member of the American Seed Trade

Association, Advertising Specialty Institute and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, Slager has received numerous awards for the product line she developed. The past two years, she has been the back-to-back winner of the American Manufacturing Award for best new packaging at the National Hardware Show and also was honored for customized retail branded product/packaging at the 2014 and 2015 Suppliers Achievement Award. The Business Journal honored Slager as a Top Women Owned Businesses finalist in 2015. “The agricultural market has very few women-owned companies,” Slager said. “I have enjoyed developing our retail product line with beautiful botanical graphics that set us apart.”


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Sheila VanZile

Owner/Queen Watermark Insurance Services $0-$1.49 MILLION


welve years ago, Sheila VanZile set off on her own. Armed with the idea of starting an independent insurance agency with a concierge approach to business and more than 25 years of industry experience, she took the leap, leaving behind a regional executive position to achieve her dream. And as her own boss, VanZile gets to set her own rules — so she’s not only the owner of Watermark Insurance Services, she’s also the “queen.” In 12 years, VanZile has grown her company to five employees and established a successful firm that provides services in 10 states. “Having the ability to not only create five jobs but also nurture a business environment that supports my staff’s need to balance their families’ needs with their

work demands has been an important achievement,” VanZile said. In addition to her entrepreneurship, VanZile also sits on the boards of the St. Cecilia Music Center and the Cascade Community Foundation. Previously, she has served as board president of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts and on the development committee for the Humane Society of Kent County. VanZile also is a member of the GROWestablished business division and was previously honored by the Business Journal as a Top Women Owned Businesses finalist in 2011 and 2013 and as one of the Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women in 2016.

Tracy George Managing Member Floral Ave Promo $0-$1.49 MILLION


racy George launched Floral Ave Promo, a certified Women Business Enterprise, two years ago and already has seen its sales triple. George has hired five employees in that time — most of them former stay-at-home moms who have returned to work. George said providing working mothers with a flexible place to work is important to her. “Floral Ave Promo is extremely passionate about empowering women,” George said. “Specifically, women who have taken time off from work to raise children. We have given this untapped workforce — namely stay-at-home moms — a new opportunity in the work place. George isn’t just giving women an opportunity to rejoin the workforce, she also has created a culture that supports 20 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL TOP WOMEN OWNED BUSINESSES

working parents. She said families come first at Floral Ave Promo, 927 Floral Avenue. “We’ve removed the feeling of guilt if you have a sick child at home,” she said. Offering flexible schedules, part-time and job-sharing positions has paid off. George said the company is nearing $1 million in sales, and she expects this upward trajectory to continue. Floral Ave Promo looks to local Grand Rapids vendors when doing business, such as screen printers and embroiderers. George also is involved with the Grand Rapids community. She sits on the Keystone Community Church board and serves on the Family Promise Capital Campaign Committee, which was responsible for raising funds to move the organization into a new facility.

Dr. Valencia Agnew

Owner Adolescent & Family Behavioral Health Services $0-$1.49 MILLION


n four years, Valencia Agnew’s mental health practice has grown from one to eight therapists and zero administrative staff to two. The practice, Adolescent & Family Behavioral Health Services, also bought an office building at 2566 Woodmeadow Drive SE in Grand Rapids, doubling its office space and allowing room for more growth. Agnew’s path to psychology was not a straight line. While she said she always was drawn to helping people, she didn’t at first follow her dream to be a therapist because, as a sensitive person, she feared the emotional toll it would take. “I’m such a crier,” Agnew said in a 2012 Business Journal story. “I thought I should probably pursue something else.” But as Agnew traveled through a career in accounting, the psychology profession

continued to call to her. She went back to school, earned a doctorate and opened her practice in May 2012. As the only female African American to own a private mental health practice in Grand Rapids, Agnew said she is “proud of the things I have achieved in a short period of time because lives have been changed.” Her practice is accredited in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), designed to help those with borderline personality disorder and offers adolescent, family and couples therapy. Agnew also helps clients suffering from trauma and self-injury. In 2015, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Agnew to the Michigan Board of Psychology. She also serves on the St. Stephen Catholic School board and was a past board member of the Michigan Lupus Foundation.

Veronica Kirin Owner GreenCup $0-$1.49 MILLION


s the owner of a small business, Veronica Kirin took it upon herself to pass on the lessons she learned. A graduate of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, the GreenCup owner began teaching classes at GROW earlier this year and took part in a round table at SpringGR. “I continue to frame my work and the work of my team around helping others,” Kirin said. “Much of our work comes packed with mentorship or coaching, even when it’s not requested, because I want to see fellow business owners succeed.” This year also marks the transition for GreenCup, a digital design firm, to focus on nonprofit organizations, the industry where Kirin’s career started. The firm has four employees and packages support services in bulk hours, so small businesses don’t worry about “unused funds,” which

are rolled over. Kirin served as a board member for the Midtown Neighborhood Association from 2012-14 and helped launch Midtown on Tap, a community festival celebrating local food, drink and music, now in its fourth year. She currently is writing a book, “The Untold Stories Project,” and hosts a podcast, Degrees of Separation. She currently is on the membership committee of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, which recently took over the programming operation of Kirin’s organization, Fuse West Michigan, started in 2014 to promote West Michigan design work. Kirin is a 2010 graduate of Rising Women Leaders and received a 2009 Congressional Gold Medal for Service. She also was recognized nationally with the Spirit of Service Award.




Ann Vidro & Menda Wright Co-owners Creative Studio Promotions $1.5 MILLION AND OVER


ounded in 2012, Grand Rapids-based Creative Studio Promotions was named one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. in its short lifetime. The advertising and marketing company was named to Inc. magazine’s 2016 “500 | 5000” ranking, earning spot No. 447 out of 5,000 for 853 percent growth in the past three years. Creative Studio was one of 27 Michigan companies to appear on the list. Started by Ann Vidro and Menda Wright, Creative Studio helps clients develop and maintain brand strategies through screen-printed, embroidered and other promotional products. Vidro and Wright have more than 30 years of combined experience in the industry and emphasize eco-friendly and U.S.made products. They have supplied branded merchan-

dise to clients such as Gun Lake Casino, Spectrum Health and Priority Health. Wright said their firm has a niche: It creates “e-stores” for its client companies, which allows them to order more branded giveaway merchandise online for immediate shipment. Rachel Taber, of Priority Health, said Wright and Vidro have been the health insurer’s longtime vendors. “I can’t say enough about how these ladies embody every good value as business owners, including exceeding expectations (and) excellent customer service,” she said. Creative Studio has been a Certified Women Owned Business from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council since 2013.

Elizabeth Rosario Owner Grand Rapids Law Group PLLC $1.5 MILLION AND OVER


lizabeth Rosario is a woman who set her goals at an early age — because if she hadn’t, she likely wouldn’t own two businesses. Rosario dropped out of high school during her sophomore year when she learned she was pregnant. But rather than giving up, the birth of her daughter strengthened her resolve, pursuing and receiving her GED and at the age of 18, starting her first business, Unico Income Tax, a small tax preparation firm. She went on to complete her bachelor’s degree while running the business as a full-time mother, growing Unico to 1,600 clients. With so much growth, Rosario realized her clients would need a lawyer — so she went to law school. She joined Grand Rapids Law Group PLLC in 2012 and, by 2014, was the lone 22 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL TOP WOMEN OWNED BUSINESSES

practitioner remaining. But again, she worked to build her business. By 2015, she hired her first associate, and the next year, she hired her second. In September 2016, Rosario completed the accomplishment she’s “most proud of” — purchasing a 4,500-square-foot commercial building where she will merge both of her businesses under one roof. In addition to owning a pair of businesses of her own, Rosario also helps her husband run his restaurant — “Therefore, I feel like I run three businesses all at one time,” she said. “Elizabeth is a role model for all single mothers,” said Cascade Engineering’s Jose Ayala, who nominated Rosario for the Business Journal honor.

Gricelda Mata

Owner/President Lindo Mexico Restaurant Inc. $1.5 MILLION AND OVER


indo Mexico Restaurant is known for its fresh and authentic Mexican dishes. Owner and President Gricelda Mata, who moved to the U.S. from Michoacán, Mexico, when she was 11 years old, opened the first location at 1292 28th St. SW in Wyoming in 2000. Mata opened another location in 2015 at 1742 28th St. SW. “I have worked hard, as has my brother, Cris, our head chef, but we also have been blessed not just with the support of the Hispanic community, but the entire community,” Mata said in 2015. “They represent our customers and are the reason we are able to celebrate and embrace our continued growth.” In 2016, Mata won the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Business

Person of the Year Award and the LINC UP Community Service Award. She also was a Women Connect honoree and a Celebration Cinema! Celebrated Service Award finalist. Lindo Mexico was awarded the 2015 Hispanic Business of the Year Award by the Hispanic chamber and the 2015 Business of the Year Award by Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women. Mata said the restaurant stands for “family” and is “community-minded.” Last fall, the Lindo Mexico team participated in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention. “We do many things outside of these four walls,” Mata said. “Myself and my employees love taking care of our customers, but employees have personal lives, too.”

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Karen Scarpino

President Promotional Impact/Green Giftz $1.5 MILLION AND OVER


aren Scarpino believes in “thinking big.” She is the founder of sister promotional products companies Promotional Impact and Green Giftz, established in 1997. Scarpino has tripled the companies’ downtown presence in the past year, moving from a 2,000-square-foot space in the Brass Works Building to a 6,000-squarefoot building acquired at 532 Ottawa Ave. NW in September. Over the years, she has expanded the companies’ operations into direct manufacturing of custom-designed products overseas and importing them into the U.S. for businesses like Herman Miller and Bissell, and servicing, selling and shipping goods all over the world. Green Giftz created a line of “earthfriendly products” designed and manufac-

tured in West Michigan, turning scraps from unused seating fabric into promotional products. These projects contribute to Scarpino’s triple bottom line of planet, people and profit. Scarpino’s efforts have been recognized with a 2016 A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau. In 2015, ’13, ’11 and ’09, she was a finalist for the Business Journal’s Top Women Owned Businesses recognition. Other past awards include the 2014 Best of Business Grand Rapids Advertising Agencies and the 2013 101 Best & Brightest Sustainable Companies. Peggy Murphy, of Hungerford Nichols CPA + Advisors, said she nominated Scarpino for this award because Scarpino is “driven” to help local businesses thrive.

Kelly Larson

Owner/President Temptations, Skoops, Sweet Temptations, The Front Porch, Fortino’s $1.5 MILLION AND OVER


elly Larson said her biggest achievement has been “to grow and diversify” over the nearly 30 years she has been in business. With five lakeshore holdings to her name, Larson also has honed her expertise in candy, treats and ice cream. Larson opened Temptations, a homemade ice cream shop on Grand Haven’s Chinook Pier, in 1989. In 1993, she bought Skoops, another ice cream shop. At the time, Skoops served broasted chicken and hard-serve ice cream. But the business was struggling. Larson revamped the menu, started making ice cream from scratch, launched a new marketing strategy and improved the speed of service. She was rewarded with sales that “quadrupled in less than 10 years,” she said. In 1999, Larson started Sweet Tempta-


tions, known for its homemade treats. It was “a place to bring together our stores’ ice cream and candy-making operations and provide a year-round retail outlet for our treats,” she said. The business grew and eventually moved to the Grand Landing development in Grand Haven. Larson acquired The Front Porch, an ice cream and treats shop founded in 1974 in Spring Lake, in 1999. Then, in 2015, Larson purchased Fortino’s, a Grand Haven gourmet foods store founded in 1907. The store now specializes in selling nuts, chocolates and Michiganmade products. Larson has received numerous awards from the city of Grand Haven, the Chamber of Commerce of Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg, and the National Ice Cream Retailers Association.

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Kelly Rossman-McKinney CEO and Principal Truscott Rossman $1.5 MILLION AND OVER


self-described “pioneer,” Kelly Rossman-McKinney started her public relations and public affairs firm Truscott Rossman in 2011 after having worked in the field from home since 1988. At the time, Rossman-McKinney said there were no other women-owned “issue management/communications” firms in her hometown of Lansing. Now, the agency has offices in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing and employs 32 people. “I have a passion for serving our clients and helping them achieve their goals,” she said. “It (has) also been my pleasure to support the mentorship of hundreds of young public relations professionals and interns throughout the years, with many of them moving on to secure signature PR positions throughout the state and beyond.”

In addition to serving clients such as Erhardt Construction, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring, Truscott Rossman also has provided pro bono work for Kids’ Food Basket, Heart of West Michigan United Way, the State Games of America and Camp Blodgett. Rossman-McKinney created an annual networking event in Grand Rapids called Wonderful Women, and she serves on the boards of the Michigan Women’s Foundation, the Citizens Research Council, Olivet College and the Michigan Chamber Foundation. Several times, Rossman-McKinney received the biennial MIRS/EPIC-MRA Most Effective Public Relations Professional award.

Sara Knoester

President Mixed Staffing & Recruiting $1.5 MILLION AND OVER


n just over four years, Sara Knoester took her business from one employee and a net loss of $26,000 to more than 240 employees and $1.5 million in revenue. Mixed Staffing & Recruiting, founded in 2012, was born out of Knoester’s determination to offer better job opportunities to women and minorities. “At Mixed Staffing, we focus on people and quality,” Knoester said. “We think of ourselves as less of a typical staffing company and more of a career matchmaking company.” The Certified Women-Owned Business has three divisions: Professional Staffing and Recruiting, Diversity Staffing and Recruiting and Inclusive Staffing and Recruiting, all of which recruit, educate and train workers and connect employers with a diverse talent pool.


In addition to finding and placing office workers and light industrial and skilled laborers, the firm focuses on providing opportunities for military veterans, exoffenders and others facing employment barriers. Recently, Mixed Staffing won a Local First LocalMotion Award and, in 2016, was an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year nominee; in 2015, it was a Business Journal Top Women Owned Businesses nominee. Knoester was named one of the Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty honorees in 2012. Knoester serves as a varsity volleyball coach at Ottawa Hills High School, a Kids First committee member at D.A. Blodgett - St. John’s, a committee member at Hope Network, and a volunteer at Endless Opportunities and Grand C.I.T.Y. Sports.


congratulates Kristin Revere, ‘96, and Lindsay Rademacher, ‘01, on being “Top Women Owned Business” honorees. CMU’s 220,000+ alumni are proud to call Lindsay and Kristin members of the Chippewa family.



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