MARCH 19, 2019 In recognition of the West Michigan women-owned businesses adding strength and diversity to the local economy.
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2 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS
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Bigger and better than ever
rand Rapids Business Journal’s recognition of women in leadership positions cannot be contained. This year’s event, which alternates annually with our 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan program, is expanding to cover a half day. It also has a new name: Women Who Mean Business. Why the change? Because you asked for it. The Business Journal surveys its event attendees, and most of the feedback is positive. Except for one area: networking. So, after years of hearing the same message, we will do something about that. The March 19 Women Who Mean Business event at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park begins with registration at 8 a.m. Coffee and continental breakfast will be available during that time. We’ll also have a photographer on hand to take your professional headshot, if you so desire, from 8-9 a.m. Another appeal from previous attendees was the request to learn more about the successful women in attendance. How do they do what they do and how did they get to where they are today? In answer to that, we’ve lined up a pair of panel discussions with some of West Michigan’s top female business leaders. The first panel, scheduled for 9:15-9:45 a.m., will focus on resources available to businesswomen in West Michigan. This panel includes some very recognizable names and organizations. Scheduled to appear are Bonnie Nawara, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women; Judy Welch, Michigan Women Forward; Sandra Gaddy, Women’s Resource Center; and Elissa Sangalli Hillary, Local First. Charlsie Dewey, a former Business Journal reporter and the current managing editor of Grand Rapids Magazine, will moderate this panel and lead the discussion.
After a short break, the second panel will convene from 10:25-10:55 a.m. This group includes the CEOs from some of West Michigan’s top businesses. Scheduled to participate are Tina Freese Decker, Spectrum Health; Meredith Bronk, Open Systems Technologies; Christina Keller, Cascade Engineering; and Tracey Hornbeck, Legacy Trust. Rachel Watson, Business Journal senior reporter, will moderate this panel and lead the discussion. The hope is that Women Who Mean Business attendees will learn from these leaders in ways that can help their own businesses and be applied to their own lives. While the name and format of this event have changed, the focus has not. The Top Women Owned Business awards will be handed out during the luncheon portion of the day. The pages in this supplement contain profiles of 33 businesses (and 35 women) who are some of the best West Michigan has to offer. Some of these businesses are well known in the community; some are not. All, however, are run by successful women who have inspiring stories to tell. There are four categories, ranging from under $500,000 in annual revenue to more than $3 million. A winner will be named in each category. Each of these 33 businesses already is a winner. And so is the West Michigan business community. Tim Gortsema
Editor Grand Rapids Business Journal
WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 3
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Event changes format, but not focus
rand Rapids Business Journalâ€™s event celebrating women in leadership roles in West Michigan has a new name and format. Women Who Mean Business is scheduled for 8 a.m.-1 p.m. March 19 at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. In previous years, the event was called Top Women Owned Businesses and featured an awards luncheon with a keynote speaker. This year, the event will encompass half a day and be anchored by a pair of panel discussions preceding the recognition of four women owned businesses in four financial categories. The first panel discussion will focus on resources available locally to women business owners and leaders. The second panel involves a discussion with four female CEO and their paths to the tops of their professions.
THE RESOURCES PANEL IS SCHEDULED FOR 9:15-9:45 A.M., FOLLOWED BY THE CEO PANEL FROM 10:25-10:55 A.M. THE LUNCHEON PRESENTATION BEGINS AT NOON.
WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 5
Resources panel Scheduled to appear on the resources panel are Bonnie Nawara, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women; Judy Welch, Michigan Women Forward; Sandra Gaddy, Women’s Resource Center; and Elissa Sangalli Hillary, Local First.
Elissa Sangalli Hillary
BONNIE NAWARA, CEO of GROW, has a strong connection to women business owners. “I was an ‘in-the-trenches’ business owner. I was always thinking on my feet and learning as I grew, and at times making critical decisions based on very few facts,” she said. “I learned a lot from my experience and understand how crucial it is for business owners to understand that they are not alone in making tough decisions. I brought this experience to GROW as its CEO for the past seven years and am happy to be able to share it …” Nawara also serves the national Association of Women’s Business Centers as board chair. GROW is one of the three Women’s Business Centers in Michigan. The organization serves West Michigan by offering professional advice, comprehensive services that support business assessment, planning, training and education, along with small business lending and microloans to women-owned startups throughout West Michigan.
JUDY WELCH JOINED Michigan Women’s Foundation, now Michigan Women Forward, in 2013 as executive director-West Michigan to expand and move forward existing programs across the state, as well as to implement engagement opportunities for donors and supporters through MWF’s Power of 100 signature group. She was previously vice president of the West Michigan region for Inforum and Inforum Center for Leadership for eight years, a professional organization focused on creating strategic connections and accelerating careers for women throughout Michigan and the Midwest. Prior to Inforum, Welch was manager of educational services with National Heritage Academies and also served as president of Uptown Cleaners, a family-owned and -operated business with 17 locations.
SANDRA GADDY, CEO of Women’s Resource Center, is a banking veteran with experience in helping organizations restructure, strengthen and grow both financially and strategically. WRC offers career coaching, skills training and certifications, access to job-search tools, wardrobe assistance via the Working Women’s Clothing Closet and a workforce re-entry program for incarcerated women and former inmates called New Beginnings. Her head for business helps, but Gaddy said she believes her skills “facilitating and cultivating relationships” is her greatest asset in leading a nonprofit. “You can learn the numbers, but building trust and the ability to cultivate relationships, that’s not everyone’s sweet spot,” she said. “But that’s extremely important to me.”
ELISSA SANGALLI HILLARY is committed to working at the leading edge of valuesbased capitalism, building sustainable local economies that put people first. As president of Local First since 2007, she has brought together nearly 1,000 businesses in West Michigan to collaborate in building a vibrant community that encourages sustainable business development. She is a consultant, speaker and thought leader who focuses on the significance of building social capital through the mutual investment of the local business, consumer, government and philanthropic sectors. Under these initiatives, West Michigan’s economy and brand has thrived, with nationally recognized growth and the birth of new industries. Among her many accolades is recognition as a fellow with the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and a B Corp Ambassador.
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CEO panel Scheduled to appear on the CEO panel are Tina Freese Decker, CEO of Spectrum Health; Meredith Bronk, CEO of Open Systems Technologies; Christina Keller, CEO of Cascade Engineering; and Tracey Hornbeck, CEO of Legacy Trust.
Tina Freese Decker
TINA FREESE DECKER is president and CEO of Spectrum Health, a $6.5-billion, nationally recognized health system that includes a medical group, health insurer and hospitals. She is focused on growth, innovation and strengthening community partnerships to best address health disparities and health improvement goals across the state of Michigan. Driven by her passion and empathy to improve health and make access easier for all, she has been instrumental in restructuring Spectrum Health into the expansive integrated health system it is today. During her 16 years serving Spectrum Health in various roles, Freese Decker has developed a reputation for her forward-thinking, visionary strategies, sound business acumen, successful execution, high integrity, authenticity and collaboration. Her depth of experience includes leadership roles in strategy and operations across the system. She is known as a change agent who has the judgment and experience to innovate and challenge the status quo, while thoughtfully focusing on high-value strategies.
MEREDITH BRONK HAS been with OST since 1998. She joined the company as a project manager and was promoted to chief operating officer for several years before being named to her current position. Her diverse work experience has created a blend of analytical and interpersonal skills that she brings to her leadership role at OST. Bronk understands the needs of a dynamic growing organization and leverages her leadership capabilities to bring creative solutions to clients while maintaining a positive organizational culture for her 200-plus employees.
CHRISTINA KELLER has served as president and CEO of Cascade Engineering since Oct. 1, 2018. Under her leadership, Cascade Engineering is focused on strengthening its core business of building excellence in plastics across a diversified platform of industries. Key strengths include exterior trim for commercial truck and bus, as well as seat backs for the office furniture industry. Cascade Engineeringâ€™s own products include the manufacture of more than 30 million roll-to-the-cart trash and recycle containers and a variety of plastic pallets and bins for the industrial and agricultural markets. Keller puts her 1,600 employees first and continues the legacy of sustainability and focuses on balancing the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.
AS PRESIDENT AND CEO of Legacy Trust, Tracey Hornbeck is responsible for all aspects of business, including strategic planning, profit and loss responsibilities, trust operations, corporate and bank compliance, information technology, accounting and financial reporting, forecasting, human resources, audit, risk management and board relations. She also leads the private trust bankâ€™s 20-member team of local advisers specializing in investments and wealth management. Before joining Legacy, Hornbeck built her career at Fifth Third Bank, most recently serving as regional chief financial officer and senior vice president. In this role, she had financial oversight for a multistate region of more than $16 billion in assets and more than 3,000 employees in Michigan, Indiana, Missouri and northwest Ohio.
WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 7
Dr. Sandy Dettmann The Dettmann Center President/CEO UNDER $500,000
r. Sandy Dettmann opened The Dettmann Center in 2014 and built the business “from the trash can up.” With “no business background whatsoever,” Dettmann said her new practice finally was able to make a significant profit in late 2017 when her daughter and only employee began working as the office manager. “Two Dettmann women are unstoppable,” she said. A little over seven years ago, Dettmann was living out of her car, eating her meals at Mel Trotter Ministries and re-learning her multiplication tables. She previously had obtained a medical degree from MSU and had a career that included a role as pediatric emergency services director for Butterworth Hospital, but that came crashing down with a series of chronic illnesses and a messy divorce, dur-
ing which her illnesses were framed as drug addiction and mental illness. Dettmann then had to deal with the stigma and resulting stereotypes attached to addiction and mental illness. Striving to protect others from the injustices she endured, Dettmann opened her center and now is a board-certified addiction medicine specialist, using medicationassisted treatment for those with opioid and alcohol addictions. Dettmann gives patients 24-hour access to her cellphone with the mindset that addiction is isolating and solid social support systems are sometimes lacking early in recovery. Dettmann recently was named president-elect of the Kent County Medical Society. She also is a board member for Network 180 and In the Image.
Autumn Fuchs Fuchsia Design Owner/interior designer UNDER $500,000
utumn Fuchs has a wide range of experience in the homebuilding world. With a background in construction management, the owner of Fuchsia Design not only designs homes but also develops electrical plans, plumbing diagrams and every minute detail that comes with building a luxury home. “It is not uncommon for me to be the only female on a job site with 100-plus men, and I love representing women in home building,” Fuchs said. Fuchs also stands out by holding a National Council for Interior Design Qualification certification, which she achieved in 2014. The NCIDQ, while not a requirement in Michigan to practice interior design, is the highest level of qualification in the industry. She said the exam required a combined
8 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS
eight years of education and professional experience, and she passed on her first attempt at an exam where 70 percent fail at least one portion on the first try. Aside from her professional accomplishments, Fuchs’ next greatest passion is community development in Grand Rapids, she said, and her goals are always the same. Fuchs said she believes in the “three I’s:” create a group where professionals feel inspired, important and included. “I believe that there is enough success to go around for every woman in Grand Rapids who’s willing to fight for it, and their success does not mean there is less to be had by me,” Fuchs said. “I love being a resource for others, a leader in these organizations and someone who is fostering communities that help develop West Michigan businesses to thrive.”
Jenn Gavin A Pleasant Dog Owner UNDER $500,000
ince its inception five years ago, Jenn Gavin said A Pleasant Dog has trained dogs for thousands of clients. In collaboration with their families and veterinarians, Gavin said the business provides “gentle, effective dog training using evidence-based, positive reinforcement practices.” Programs are designed for dogs living in urban environments and are intended to help owners learn to better communicate with their pets. Because she is a “proud mother of a child on the autism spectrum,” Gavin said she has built a significant portion of her business to train service dogs, especially for children with autism, but also for people with epilepsy, hearing loss, PTSD and balance issues. “I’m proud of the community of veterinarians, training professionals and pet own-
ers we’ve built to help improve the quality of life of people and their dogs,” she said. The business recently moved into a 4,700-square-foot building at 1430 Knapp St. NE, five times larger than its previous location. The business employs 10 people, including eight other trainers. “Our new location remains in the city but offers enough space to meet the growing demand for dog training,” Gavin said. Gavin is certified by Knowledge Assessed and accredited through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Gavin is a board member of the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission; a founding board member of Pleasant Hearts Pet Food Pantry, which provides pet food and supplies to needy families to help keep them together; and board president of the Midtown Neighborhood Association.
Marie La Mode Boutique Owner UNDER $500,000
iz Haan took a major leap of faith to start Marie La Mode Boutique. Her dream began as a small “mobile boutique” concept for which she took $2,000 out of her $5,000 bank account to buy a rack and $1,500 in clothing. “It was one of the scariest things I have ever done,” she said. “I believed in myself and this mobile boutique idea, but to take that money and use it toward a dream was terrifying.” It paid off in the end, and in less than two years, Haan was able to grow her initial investment into a storefront at 910 Cherry St. SE called Marie La Mode. In 2017, Haan started an event called Boutiques of Grand Rapids to bring together local, women-owned businesses. “I saw the amazing, woman-owned businesses in Grand Rapids, and I wanted
to create an event to bring us all together in a fun, supportive way,” Haan said. In its inaugural year, Boutiques of Grand Rapids had 26 businesses participating, including boutiques, hair salons, stylists and bakers, and about 300 women in attendance. Haan recently changed the name to Boutiques of West Michigan to broaden the impact of female business owners in the area. Her expectation is over 600 guests will attend the event. “Growing this event over time will allow people to see the impact the small business community has on the local business scene,” Haan said. “It also shows a unified local women-owned business community, which hopefully will spur growth in our business as well as allow people to see how working together is good for everyone.”
WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 9
PMSI Marketing & Social Media Founder/president UNDER $500,000
ristine Kletke founded her marketing business 20 years ago, and it’s still going strong. Kletke, president of Grand Rapids-based PMSI Marketing & Social Media, said the firm has grown by providing “inspiring” counsel and “scalable tools” to a wide range of clients that need strategy, business development, sales, communications and branding help. Some of PMSI’s clients have included the Thoracic Cardiovascular Institute, Fox Theater Maintenance Company, Leisure Living Management, HQ, Grand Rapids Institute of Performance, Michigan Headache Clinic and Granger Construction. Kletke was nominated for this award by four different individuals the firm has helped, either as paid clients or through pro bono work.
They all say the same thing: Kletke and her team are knowledgeable, passionate, innovative and go the extra mile for small business clients. “I hired PMSI to develop my logo and brand style guides,” said John Whitten, founder of Spark 43 Architects and one of Kletke’s nominators. “Not only did they do an incredible job with that, but they have gone on to be incredible advocates for my small business, as well, constantly approaching me with leads and collaboration opportunities. As far as I am concerned, this has gone above and beyond.” Kletke is a 2018 alumna of the Leadership Grand Rapids program, communications chair of empowerHER Leadership Retreat and a member of Inforum.
Mod Bettie Portraits/Naughty Bettie Owner/founder UNDER $500,000
hen Elise Kutt opened Mod Bettie Portraits, she discovered she had a “magical superpower”: making women feel comfortable and confident in front of the camera. Kutt founded Mod Bettie in 2014, specializing in vintage pin-up photography but has since branched out to offer modern style sessions, personal branding/professional headshots, family/generations shoots, maternity sessions, high school senior photos and commercial work. She does the shoots in her studio on the city’s southwest side, which is tucked out of sight on the fourth floor of a warehouse — exactly how she likes it. She said women can go there and feel safe knowing they won’t be stared at or judged. “Women come to me for all kinds of different reasons — some battling cancers, 10 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS
overcoming losses, celebrating accomplishments and some just wanting to try something new and kind of scary,” Kutt said. “These women leave transformed. … They trust me during very vulnerable moments of their lives, and I am more than honored to share this journey with every single one of them.” Partnering with Latesha Lipscomb, Kutt recently started hosting events in her studio, including the body positivity series “Let Them Eat Cake,” which won a 2017 Grandy’s Award for “Best Inclusive Event.” In June 2018, Kutt launched the private Facebook group #SquadBettie to focus on body positivity and female empowerment. In October, she opened a retail boutique inside her studio, Naughty Bettie, which sells European lingerie for the photo shoots and for women to take home.
Stingray Advisory Group LLC Owner UNDER $500,000
tingray Advisory Group LLC quietly has been working behind the scenes to propel aspiring business leaders to fulfill their professional dreams. Leandra Nisbet founded the company in 2013. It has been providing professional services such as legal and insurance consulting to help local entrepreneurs register over two dozen new business entities and launch new businesses, products and service lines. Nisbet has led her firm to assist with entrepreneurial education initiatives for local organizations, including the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Local First, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women and the Muskegon Innovation Hub. “We’ve helped our clients receive over $100,000 in funding through traditional and nontraditional lending sources,” she said. “Through our support and guidance,
clients have been able to grow their businesses, which has led to the creation of new jobs throughout the community.” In conjunction with helping entrepreneurs through her own business, Nisbet is a member on various boards, including Michigan Women Forward, Grand Rapids Inventors Network and Women’s Resource Center. In addition to serving on those boards, she is a mentor for Grand Valley State University’s Seidman Professional Mentorship Program. “I have a very intentional and deliberate focus on continually engaging with fellow young professionals, female entrepreneurs and the next generation of talent,” she said. “This can be seen through my community involvement, mentorships and hosting of interns.”
HourGlass Testing Solutions LLC Owner UNDER $500,000
or over 30 years, Andrea Owens has played a role in ensuring that our workplaces, roads and communities are safe. She has spent much of her career working in the drug and alcohol testing industry, and recently, she decided to use the experience she gained to open her own business. In 2013, she opened HourGlass Testing Solutions to both conduct on-site drug screening and provide educational opportunities to employers. Some of the on-site collection services she offers are lab-based drug screen collections, instant or rapid tests, breath alcohol collections, hair collections and oral fluid collections for HR, logistics and safety managers in the manufacturing and transportation industries. She is sharing her expertise with employers by training them to become drug
screen collectors and breath alcohol technicians. She also educates employers on policies, compliance and regulatory issues that affect productivity, job performance and safety. In addition to offering on-site collection and educational services, she also offers management of all or part of an employer’s nonmandated and/or Department of Transportation drug and testing programs as consortium/third-party administrators. On top of owning her own business, she is a medical billing instructor and success navigator at West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology. “Working with students to obtain careers in the health field — what a privilege it is to serve others,” she said.
WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 11
Kristin Revere and Alyssa Veneklase Gold Coast Doulas Co-owners UNDER $500,000
ristin Revere founded Gold Coast Doulas in 2015, and Alyssa Veneklase became co-owner in 2017. Since the business’s start, the number of its contracted doulas — women who support mothers through the pregnancy process and postpartum — has grown from four to 19. “We have been recognized in the business community for work that is often being considered a hobby rather than a career,” Revere said. Gold Coast Doulas was mentioned in Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss’s State of the City address for the 371 hours of volunteer work completed in 2017. Among that work, the business collected 18,963 diapers for Nestlings Diaper Bank in 2018, the third year of its diaper drive. Gold Coast Doulas was a Top Women Owned Business finalist in 2017. Revere
was a Business Journal 50 Most Influential Women awardee in 2016 and a 40 Under 40 honoree from 2009-12. Revere was voted No. 1 doula by Grand Rapids Kids in 2016 and 2019. Revere is a board member of the Michigan Political Leadership Program and a founding board member of Mothership, a nonprofit that provides training to health care providers and shares health information about best motherhood practices. Revere also is a Spectrum Health Foundation LEAD giving advisory committee member. Veneklase was voted No. 1 postpartum doula by Grand Rapids Kids in 2018. Veneklase volunteers for Healthy Kent’s Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders Coalition and its Infant Health Implementation Team. She also mentors young mothers for D.A. Blodgett - St. John’s.
TDJ TaxWorks Solutions LLC Owner UNDER $500,000
eannica Tibbs’ concern for the future of her three children and the legacy she would leave behind for them prompted her to start her own businesses. Tibbs is the owner of a tax business and also a catering company. She founded TDJ TaxWorks Solutions LLC in 2003, where she helps individuals with tax preparation and notary services. Since then, she has garnered much recognition, including in 2017 being audited by the Republic Bank & Trust auditors and being given the status of a five-star office, which is the most prestigious honor for any tax business. “I always wanted to leave something for my children as they have gotten older,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them telling me I could achieve anything, I wouldn’t have stepped out on faith and started my own 12 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS
tax prep business.” In August 2018, she founded J’Shanell Catering, which offers fruits, desserts and seafood. In addition to owning two businesses, she also has a full-time job as a revenue accountant at Inner City Christian Federation in Grand Rapids. ICCF is a nonprofit housing corporation, which, among other things, offers emergency shelter to families in hopes of them finding permanent homes in 30 days. “I believe I am a servant leader and here to serve as God would want me to do,” she said. “I would never ever have thought I could have my own business with my own set of keys and employees who look up to me for motivation.”
Gina VanTimmeren Gina’s Boutique Owner UNDER $500,000
ina’s Boutique has been a staple of downtown Grand Rapids since 2004, and owner Gina VanTimmeren has seen several downtown businesses set up shop and then pull up their stakes while hers has stayed strong. But greater than running a successful business is having the opportunity to help other women succeed, VanTimmeren said. “I have had interns that have gone on to open their own boutiques, and women in the community come for advice that I have been able to mentor to find their own success,” she said. Years of hard work and commitment to Gina’s Boutique also allowed VanTimmeren to take a year off — with her operations in the hands of her capable staff — after giving birth to her daughter, River. “I had processes in place, a great staff
and loyal clientele that made it all possible,” she said. Life for VanTimmeren is not all business, however. In addition to being a wife and mother, she has volunteered for years at Rays of Hope International and traveled to Haiti on several occasions. ”You can have a very successful business, but if you are not giving your family the time they need, then success might not be really successful at all,” she said. “Beyond that, I believe I am blessed to bless others. Because I have been given so much, I feel a strong responsibility to share what I have and care for those around me.” VanTimmeren also was named among the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s Top Women Owned Businesses in 2011.
Ashley Ward Hire for Hope Founder/owner/CEO UNDER $500,000
he cornerstone of Ashley Ward’s “socially conscious” recruiting firm is paying forward the help she got when exiting an abusive relationship years ago. Ward started Hire for Hope at the age of 27 in February 2017. The “women-owned and women-focused” firm focuses on recruiting executive talent for manufacturing and business-to-business services companies. So far, Hire for Hope has helped dozens of small and midsize businesses. When Ward meets with prospective clients, she shares her story of surviving domestic violence and explains the firm donates 10 percent of its revenue to Grand Rapids-based Safe Haven Ministries. Safe Haven provides emergency shelter and support services for women and children such as Ward and her infant daughter all those years ago.
With support from Safe Haven, Ward transitioned from unemployment to a job as a sales recruiter in 2013, which put her on the career path she’s pursuing today. “Through that whole transitioning period, I knew I wanted to somehow work for Safe Haven or partner with Safe Haven to give back to women who were in the same situation that I was who deserve a chance and who needed to find hope,” Ward said. It’s Ward’s 15-year plan to take the enterprise nationwide, opening branches in various cities that donate one-tenth of their revenue to anti-domestic abuse nonprofits. Ward is a board member for Safe Haven and a member of Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss’ Millennial Advisory Board. Hire for Hope was recognized as 2018 Startup of the Year by the American Business Awards in New York last June.
WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 13
Allegro Coaching Owner $500,000-$1.499 MILLION
eing a mother of four children with another child on the way is a full-time job by itself. On top of that, Kendra Bylsma also runs her own business, juggling motherhood while operating a full-time health and wellness business. Bylsma founded Allegro Coaching in 2009, which offers personalized wellness solutions to both individuals and workplaces. She has 34 employees on staff, which is made up of 80 percent women. Her employees include six full-time directors and a variety of health coaches, tobacco cessation coaches, personal trainers, dietitians, massage therapists and fitness instructors. With her team, Bylsma offers services to a variety of industries. The company works with over 30 local workplaces, including banks, manufacturers, trucking companies, higher educational institutions and ac-
counting firms. “We have helped hundreds of individuals transform their lives through healthier living, both at the workplace and our physical facility in Eastown,” she said. While being a mother and a full-time business owner, Bylsma carves out time from her schedule to be a studio/club owner committee member for the IDEA Health & Fitness Association, where she has been serving for three years now. “I am most proud of my determination, work ethic and tenacity to keep learning from failure, pushing the status quo and creating new programs that deliver real results,” she said. “Owning a small business is tough work but enduring and elevating through growing pains and setbacks has been one of the best tests of my character, vision and passion for helping others.”
Dr. Elizabeth Christopherson Christopherson Orthodontics Owner $500,000-$1.499 MILLION
r. Elizabeth Christopherson’s orthodontia practice is women-owned and entirely women-run. She purchased the practice from Charles Caldwell when he retired and named it Christopherson Orthodontics. With eight employees, Christopherson said her team does what it can to give back: They have volunteered at Kids’ Food Basket, run the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, housed the Salvation Army’s Angel Trees each holiday season and sent hundreds of pounds of Halloween candy from its candy buyback program to active military. Christopherson said her biggest achievement is helping patients obtain “functional, healthy and beautiful” smiles for people of all financial means, not just in Grand Rapids but around the world. She donates dental work locally through 14 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS
nonprofits and has donated services on five self-funded trips to Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. “Being able to relieve someone of dental pain, knowing that you are their only access to dental care, is an extremely rewarding experience,” Christopherson said. “Overall, this suggests that my biggest achievement is being entrusted to care for families here in GR and then taking the fruits of that and sharing it with others.” Christopherson is president of the Mary Free Bed Hospital Junior Guild, member of the West Michigan Dental Society Ethics and Peer Review and a volunteer for Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes. She also is a former founding board member of S.T.O.R.M. (Stop Trafficking of Resident Minors).
Renee Austin Wedding Owner $500,000-$1.499 MILLION
aggie Feil’s greatest achievement may be considered a failure to others, if not for the challenge she overcame. Just four years in business, the owner of Renee Austin Wedding gave birth to her first son, William, at an unprecedented time for her small business. “I’ll never forget the day, not just because it was my son’s birth, but because he was born nine weeks early on a Saturday, which happened to be one of my busiest Saturdays in March,” Feil said. Prior to that, Feil was known for working the floor, face to face with customers, but her son’s premature birth put extra pressure on her staff and led to four poor Google reviews for her store. “Of course, this doesn’t sound like an achievement,” Feil said. “It sounds like a failure, and yes, my store did fail that day.
EXCELLENCE. INNOVATION. EXPERTISE. Amy Ruis ’93
Art of the Table, Aperitivo
It failed because I wasn’t prepared for unforeseen circumstances such as premature labor.” But Feil wasn’t prepared to let failure beat her down. She took the time to email every single customer who walked through her door while she was in the hospital. She also credited her staff for not giving customers any excuses for the sake of her own privacy. “I do my best to be a positive influence and am proud to have a business that is so impactful on some of the most important moments to other women,” Feil said. “It does not fall short on me that my staff depends on me as well, and without my team, none of this would be possible.”
CONGRATULATIONS to each honoree recognized as a Top Women-Owned Business by the Grand Rapids Business Journal. You are truly
“Women Whom Mean Business” and an example to us all.
Kendra Bylsma ’03 Allegro Coaching LLC
Congratulations to Calvin College alumnae finalists for the 2019 Top Women Owned Business award.
Grand Rapids • Lansing • Detroit • Southfield Holland • Traverse City • St. Joseph WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 15
Management Business Solutions Inc. CEO $500,000-$1.499 MILLION
loriza Genautis is the founder and CEO of Management Business Solutions. She founded the company in 2006 with its primary goal of connecting the community through employment opportunities. Recruiters at MBS specialize in a variety of industries such as in accounting, finance, human resources, information technology, health care and administrative management to assist companies in finding potential employees who qualify to fill open positions whether they are direct hire, contract or temporary positions. MBS does not only work with employers but also with individuals who are on the job hunt by offering résumé assistance, alerts for open positions and preparation for job interviews. “Management Business Solutions advocates diversity and inclusion and sup-
ports supplier diversity initiatives,” she said. “MBS continues to grow with the alignment of service to the community.” In an effort to remain a fixture in the community and positively impact lives, Genautis said the firm purchased its own building and moved its operations and headquarters to a new location in Wyoming. “The new building allows us the ability to strategically grow the company,” she said. “Also, the property will allow MBS stability and continuity for business in the years to come.” Genautis also is the co-founder of Women In Successful Enterprises. The organization creates quarterly events to help women-owned businesses connect to other women-owned businesses and present resources and opportunities to grow their businesses.
Kohler Expos Inc. President/owner $500,000-$1.499 MILLION
fter 17 years of serving Kohler Expos Inc., on top of being a stay-at-home mom of three, Pam Glass took a leap of faith and bought the company in 2016. Although the acquisition moved quickly, Glass’s previous responsibility as a key decision maker for the company proved to make ownership a natural fit for her, she said. “Kohler Expos gives support to womenowned and women-focused businesses by providing a safe and tested venue for entrepreneurs to introduce their products and services into the market,” Glass said. “Dozens of products have debuted at our Women’s Expos prior to having high success in the state or national market.” While helping accelerate women-owned businesses, Glass also went to work growing and optimizing Kohler Expos. Within six months of taking ownership, Glass and
16 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS
her team, including her husband Randy and her daughter, Kaylee, moved the office from Grandville to Jenison, performed extensive renovations on the new location and hired two new part-timers. Kohler also switched accountants and attorneys to enhance organization, support and efficiency; updated its website to be more user-friendly; and implemented a new media buyer for all shows. “Many improvements were made in a short amount of time, leading it to new heights,” Glass said. “I view these improvements as a great achievement, especially all while managing and producing several successful expos.” “(Glass) was an excellent key employee for 19 years,” said Denise Kolesar, previous owner of Kohler Expos. “She definitely means business growth for many businesses.”
Urban You Owner/CEO $500,000-$1.499 MILLION
icole Gregory will tell you straight up she can’t choose between her three greatest career passions: marketing, real estate and building businesses. Fortunately, she hasn’t had to. A Marquette native who returned to The Mitten after 15 years riding the dotcom boom in California, Gregory is owner and CEO of Urban You, a Grand Rapids beauty bar and medical spa business with locations at Knapp’s Corner and on Wealthy Street. She also is managing partner and CEO of Urban Lab Ventures, a Grand Rapids private equity firm; founder and lead investor of Pinchgig, a tech platform in development that will let beauty industry professionals rent chairs by the hour instead of monthly; owner and CEO of Customs House, a real estate development company in Marquette that is converting a former customs house
for Canadian travelers into six luxury condos; and founder and minority owner of Organik Consulting, a local digital marketing and communications business. Gregory didn’t magically wake up one day able to juggle so many businesses. She put in sweat equity, sometimes failing along the way but always learning. “It’s probably all the failures that got me to where I’m at more than the big successes,” she said. “It was … ‘How do I do that differently? How do I negotiate this differently?’” Gregory aims to pass along that wisdom to her 25-plus employees at Urban You and through various informal mentoring relationships. She and Urban You CFO Barbra Homier are planning to open two more beauty bar locations in the Detroit area this year.
Jennifer Maxson Jennifer Maxson & Associates President $500,000-$1.499 MILLION
ennifer Maxson founded her consulting business in 2017 with a vision to enhance the credibility of leaders. She started Jennifer Maxson & Associates — based in Rockford as a spinoff of a previous firm, Varnum Consulting — to provide leadership development, executive coaching and presentation skills training to clients throughout the U.S. The business, which received certified woman-owned small business status in 2018, also offers private and public group programming such as workshops and networking. All of the firm’s services are underpinned by a common requirement: They have to drive results for the clients, Maxson said. And it seems to be working based on the response. “In the little over a year that we have
been in business, we have excelled beyond even our expectations,” she said. “Not only did we maintain our previous client base, but we also grew our business with existing clients while at the same time attracting new clients and increasing our geographical reach.” Gwen Bultema, who nominated Maxson for this award, said the help Jennifer Maxson & Associates provides is more than an objective; it’s “a way of life.” Maxson volunteers her time in the community as a board member of the Wolverine Worldwide Family YMCA, a mentor with the Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy at Grand Valley State University’s Hauenstein Center and as a Power of 100 Women committee member for Michigan Women Forward.
WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 17
El Granjero Mexican Grill Co-owner/catering coordinator $500,000-$1.499 MILLION
oming to Grand Rapids in 2005 was a second chance for Paola Mendivil. At the time when her family started operating El Granjero Mexican Grill, she chose to continue her education. Mendivil has been supporting the family business for over 11 years, while at the same time studying at Ferris State University and completing her degree in 2017. “I apply my knowledge in the decisions we make and have been responsible for the tremendous growth of our catering businesses inside the restaurant, making up to 25 percent of annual sales,” Mendivil said. After years in business at the same location, 950 Bridge St. NW, the Mendivil family noticed several lackluster reviews about the restaurant. While the food always was well received, the dining room left much to be desired.
“The building had been a fast food restaurant before and also another Mexican restaurant with a bar before my family took over in 2007,” Mendivil said. “Back then, we simply did new paint, but the same furniture remained.” Mendivil acquired a microloan in 2016 to finance the remodeling of the dining room. She also worked with an architect, contractor and business consultants to move the project forward. “Everyone loved the new dining room, and we were thrilled to be part of the vibrancy and growth Bridge Street businesses were experiencing at the time,” Mendivil said. The $60,000 renovation also was nominated as Best Interior Renovation Project for the 27th annual Business Awards by the Neighborhood Business Alliance.
Mary Ann Sabo
Sabo PR President $500,000-$1.499 MILLION
ary Ann Sabo began her public relations firm in 2003 as a one-woman show working in an attic office. Now, the firm employs six people and serves more than 50 clients. Some of Sabo PR’s clients include Warner Norcross + Judd, National Heritage Academies, Gerald R. Ford International Airport, Amway and Meijer Gardens Foundation. Among the firm’s services, Sabo has created a model of providing half-time communications support for the smaller municipalities of Kentwood, East Grand Rapids, Plainfield Township and Cascade Township, which don’t need a full-time employee but want stronger support than may come from hiring a part-time employee. “I am honored to be nominated,” Sabo said, “and to be one of the many women 18 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS
owners of small businesses who help power the economy of West Michigan.” Sabo is board president of LTAC Arts, the nonprofit arm of the Legacy Trust Award Collection, which sponsors artists for the annual local ArtPrize art competition, wherein she secured the organization’s nonprofit status, expanded programming and secured space to showcase work of artists with disabilities. As a board member for Purse Project, she has expanded support to provide purses and backpacks filled with needed supplies to women, along with their children, fleeing domestic violence or returning to work. Sabo also has served on the boards of the Grand Rapids Area Humanities Council, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, The House that Andy Built, and the GVSU Business Ethics Center.
Tracy VanderMeer Grand Connection Majority owner/co-founder $500,000-$1.499 MILLION
racy VanderMeer is majority owner and co-founder of a 20-year-old event planning firm that declares “creativity holds no bounds.” She co-founded Grand Connection in 1999 with a partner and is now majority owner of the Grand Rapids-based business, along with three co-owners. Grand Connection previously told the Business Journal the company was started to help clients set up meetings and events in Grand Rapids, along with all the travel arrangements that go with that. After rising customer demand, however, the company expanded from only serving businesses coming into the Grand Rapids area to “outbound” business, convention management and other services. The firm now offers “meeting, conference and event management services on
an a-la-carte basis, including venue selection, contract negotiation, coordination of transportation and hotel logistics, food and beverage management, décor, activities and creation of customized websites and online registration tools,” according to VanderMeer. Her team has a combined 145 years of experience and delivers more than 41,000 hotel room bookings per year, according to grandconnection.com. Leveraging a network of independent contractors, vendors and hospitality companies, Grand Connection is able to make possible 125 events per year for its clients, VanderMeer said. VanderMeer has 32 years of experience in event management and is a certified meeting planner and certified hotel sales specialist.
GRBJ 2019 Women-Owned Businesses
A Registration Management & Event Planning Company since 1999
Every event, no matter the size, should be a memorable experience reﬂective of your brand grandconnection.com
Congratulations Jennifer Maxson! And all 2019 Top Women-Owned Businesses Award nominees. You motivate us to reach higher, achieve more, and inspire others. Lead to the Max!
WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 19
Eastown Veterinary Clinic Owner $1.5 MILLION-$3 MILLION
ix years after opening in 2011, Lynn Happel’s Eastown Veterinary Clinic outgrew its 3,200-square-foot space. Last year, the clinic added more than 2,000 square feet, increasing the number of exam rooms from three to nine. The business began with three employees and now has 19, four more than when the expansion plans were underway two years ago. “My business has continued to grow and be a positive influence in the Eastown business and neighborhood community,” Happel said. “My employees are all women, and we work harmoniously and tirelessly to help our patients and clients share the best moments together.” The clinic offers multiple services, including wellness and preventive care, vaccinations, dental health and surgery.
Eastown Veterinary Clinic was a Business Journal Top Women Owned Business winner in 2015, and a finalist in 2015 and 2018 for the Grand Rapids Chamber’s Top Women Owned Business. Happel said she works to show her elementary-age sons how to be successful businesspeople. “I am an example to my sons of women leaders in the workplace and training them on the principles of business,” Happel said. Happel is board chair of the Uptown Business Improvement District. During her six years on the board, tax increment funds have increased from $3,000 to over $60,000 due to increased property values. She also is a board member of the Eastown Business Association.
HR Collaborative Founder/president $1.5 MILLION-$3 MILLION
eth Kelly and her firm make it their mission to offer “super-human resources” to their clients. Kelly founded HR Collaborative in 2014 with three decades of industry leadership under her belt, dating back to her hiring in 1983 as the first HR director for what was then a young company, Cascade Engineering. HR Collaborative leverages a team of about 20 employees as it helps organizations “align their people strategies to their business strategies.” The firm also acts as an HR director/ department for many small and midsize companies. Kelly said 83 percent of her senior leadership team and 69 percent of her employees are women. “We advance a mission that creates bet20 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS
ter places to work,” she said. “Our own environment for the people who work at HR Collaborative supports employees who are passionate about their profession and balanced in their work/life balance.” Kelly is dedicated to contributing to West Michigan via business investment and nonprofit sponsorships. She is a board member of Clark Retirement Community and Custom Profile Inc., and formerly served as board chair for the Women’s Resource Center. A certified senior professional in human resources (SPHR), Kelly is author of “The EE Gap: Human Resources for Small Business Success” (Black Lake Press, 2013). She has served as an adjunct professor at Calvin College and Davenport University and continues to serve as an occasional guest lecturer.
Temptations/Sweet Temptations/Skoops/The Front Porch/Fortino’s Owner $1.5 MILLION-$3 MILLION
elly Larson has given a lot of sweetness to the Grand Haven community. Starting as co-owner of the ice cream shop Temptations in 1999, she since has opened three others: Sweet Temptations, Skoops and The Front Porch. Her most recent venture is Fortino’s, a historic grocery store she bought in 2015 from the founding family. She employs about 75 people during the peak summer season. “My job title really should be teacher — our new hires usually haven’t ever worked anywhere else before, and we like to develop these young people and teach them how to work and gain responsibility,” Larson said. “Teaching these young people is probably my best (contribution) to my community.” In between ensuring West Michigan has
plenty of ice cream, Larson has given lots of time in other ways. “I’m so lucky to be running businesses that I love and to live in an awesome community that supports me,” she said. “I believe you have to give back, and if I can make my community just a little bit better by helping, then I’m obligated to do so.” Larson is on the steering committee of Tri-Cities Women Who Care, the board of Imagination Station 2.0 and the North Ottawa Community Hospital 100th anniversary celebration board. She has held positions as board chair of the Spring Lake Schools Foundation; board chair for the Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg; president for the Rotary Club of Grand Haven; and board member for the National Ice Cream Retailers Association.
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Lindo Mexico Restaurante Mexicano Owner $1.5 MILLION-$3 MILLION
ricelda Mata opened Lindo Mexico Restaurante Mexicano in 2000 and now employs nearly 40 people. Mata said her business is “more than business” — it’s part of the community, and she does what she can to make it better. While Mata has been on the boards of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women and One Wyoming, she said she tends to support the community by sponsoring events and creating others at her restaurant. The restaurant last year won a Good for Grand Rapids award from Local First in the Good for Employees category for employee investment, including development training and growth opportunity. “Our staff is very important to us, and so we invest in them as much as we can so they have the opportunity for a better fi-
nancial status,” Mata said. Her nominator said: “She is an example to follow. She shows us that when you set your mind to something, it can be done. She does a lot in the community and for the team at Lindo.” She’s won numerous awards, including Business of the Year and Business Person of the Year from GROW and from the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well as a LINC UP Community Service Award and recognition as a Business Journal Top Women Owned Business finalist in 2017. Mata was recently approved by the Small Business Administration for a $1.1-million loan for a new construction project yet to be announced. Mata also will be on the cover of the SBA’s Spanish National Resource Guide.
Aperitivo/Art of the Table Owner $1.5 MILLION-$3 MILLION
my Ruis said one of her greatest accomplishments was entering the retail industry. She founded Art of the Table, a specialty gourmet shop, in 2003. It’s a retail store that sells anything from everyday treats like ice creams and cookies to items for special occasions like tableware and wine. Aside from selling merchandise, she has intentionally used her business to give back to the community. On the second Tuesday of each month, 5 percent of the day’s sales are donated to a designated charity. Some of the nonprofit organizations that have been a beneficiary are Inner City Christian Federation, Exalta Health, West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Samaritas and Meals on Wheels Western Michigan, among others. A decade later, she founded Aperitivo, 22 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS
located in the Downtown Market. Aperitivo is a cheese and charcuterie retailer with a wine and beer bar. She said her most significant business achievement is building Aperitivo as a new business to complement Art of the Table, while also assisting planning and opening the Downtown Market and its core tenant group. But owning two retail businesses is not enough. Ruis also is studying to become a wine sommelier. “I truly enjoy having a varied career life,” she said. “From waiting on customers at a wine bar to ordering fun products for people to enjoy, to studying to be a wine sommelier to unpacking boxes and mopping floors. I enjoy being a part of my staff and enjoy that every day in my life is different and rewarding.”
Raquel Salas Guzman Avanti Law Group Managing member $1.5 MILLION-$3 MILLION
aquel Salas Guzman is living the American dream that is predicated on hard work and determination. After immigrating to the United States from the Dominican Republic at the age of 20, she learned English and went back to school. Salas Guzman earned her B.A. and later went on to graduate magna cum laude with her J.D. from the Michigan State University College of Law. With her educational success, Salas Guzman ascended to the top of her legal career by starting her own law firm. She founded Avanti Law Group PLLC in 2010, which is the largest woman-owned and minorityowned law firm in the state of Michigan. She has 25 full-time employees and attorneys who assist over 500 individuals per year with legal needs. Her firm offers legal representation to
businesses and individuals in a full range of interdisciplinary legal services. Some of the legal issues that Salas Guzman and her team address range from criminal defense to multimillion-dollar class action litigation on a national scale. “Most recently, we won a published Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in a case dealing with an international custody dispute of a minor,” she said. “The case involved the application of an international treaty, the Hague Convention, and is expected to be heard by the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., since the opposing party has filed a writ of certiorari in this case.” Salas Guzman also founded Guzman Legacy Rentals, which provides over 30 houses to individuals who do not have a home of their own.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE TOP WOMEN OWNED BUSINESSES
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Serendipity Media President $1.5 MILLION-$3 MILLION
s founder of a 16-year-old media and marketing company, Kasie Smith has faced many leadership challenges but hasn’t given up. Smith started Serendipity Media in 2002 with the launch of Groups Today magazine. Now, the company employs 15 people; publishes six magazines, including West Michigan Woman, five e-newsletters and three custom publications; manages six websites; and offers creative and marketing services on both print and digital platforms. One of her challenges began in 2012, when the firm saw 25 percent turnover in four months, followed by 31 percent turnover around 2014. Smith was trying to do it all — hire replacements, run the business, write, edit, design pages — and several of those activi-
ties were not in her wheelhouse. She met with a leadership coach whose advice she still relies on: delegate, trust your team with greater responsibility, mentor, increase transparency and develop emotional intelligence. Since implementing changes, Serendipity’s retention rate for the past two years has been 95 percent, Smith said. She also launched the firm’s philanthropic arm, Serendipity Cares, and the nonprofit has raised $161,412 over the past six years for breast cancer charities via the event West Michigan Woman Wine & Wig. Smith is vice chair of Inforum’s West Michigan Regional Council, advisory council member of Michigan Women Forward and a board member of Egypt Valley Country Club.
Sandi Frost Steensma Kennari Consulting President/CEO $1.5 MILLION-$3 MILLION
ennari Consulting has helped several hundred nonprofits advance their missions over the past 12 years while multiplying its own success and impact. The business, founded by Sandi Frost Steensma, is a full-service fundraising consulting firm in Grand Rapids. It aims to go beyond the narrow options offered by most consultants of either annual fund development or campaigns. Steensma’s firm offers services that fill the gaps, such as cultivating donors and engaging stakeholders to prepare the nonprofit for campaign launch and supplying staffing horsepower to handle the resulting “surge of work” that nonprofits otherwise might not be able to cover. Kennari Consulting has helped clients raise more than $250 million through campaigns and achieve increases in annual fun24 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS
draising since its inception, supporting the growth of organizations in the areas of social services, education, the arts, health care and more, Steensma said. The firm also continually responds to market needs, she said, by growing its skill set, listening to clients to determine further unfilled needs and continuing to leverage a network of partnerships and connections to bring about greater results. Kennari Consulting has 15 staff members and serves about 90 nonprofit clients per year. The firm gives back 10 percent of its annual revenue to various nonprofits “because we believe in what they do,” Steensma said. Steensma serves on the board of trustees for Lake Superior State University. Previously, she was chair of the Kent County Board of Commissioners.
Jennifer Wehler Plymouth Road Animal Clinic Owner/veterinarian $1.5 MILLION-$3 MILLION
ennifer Wehler became owner of Plymouth Road Animal Clinic in 2016 at the age of 32, but the veterinary hospital had been a part of her life since childhood. “Our family brought our pets here,” Wehler said. “In high school, I shadowed Dr. Lemke, the prior business owner. During college, I worked at the clinic cleaning kennels and caring for patients.” Wehler went to work for Plymouth Road in 2009 after graduating from Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She said it was always her plan to someday own the clinic. Since becoming owner of Plymouth Road, the clinic’s sales and standing in the local community have both risen dramatically, Wehler said. Wehler pointed to Plymouth Road’s multiple awards as proof of its success.
The clinic won “West Michigan’s Favorite Veterinary Clinic” and Nextdoor’s “North Cheshire Neighborhood Favorite Veterinarian,” both in 2018. The clinic also won third place for “Best in the West” in 2018. “These honors mean a lot to me, but what truly inspires me is how Plymouth Road Animal Clinic has become a local household name, and our client loyalty and satisfaction has never been higher,” Wehler said. In keeping with the empowerment of women, Wehler said she is proud to employ an all-women staff and reward them periodically with bonuses, trips to the spa, trips to football games and more. Additionally, Plymouth Road is planning to break ground on a new, 6,800-square-foot building in 2020 to accommodate its continued growth.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE TOP WOMEN - OWNED BUSINESSES With sincere appreciation for your leadership and for all of your contributions to the community, thank you!
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WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 25
Deb DeGraaf DeGraaf Interiors President/owner OVER $3 MILLION
eb DeGraaf became the second-generation owner of DeGraaf Interiors during a time of great economic uncertainty. When her father laid out his retirement plan, the U.S. economy was on the cusp of what would be known as the Great Recession, but two years after he retired, DeGraaf and her brother, who holds minority ownership in the company, took a leap of faith and opened the company’s third retail location on East Paris Avenue SE. “Many thought we were crazy, but we had faith and an amazing team that we knew this location would be successful,” DeGraaf said. Last year, DeGraaf Interiors expanded its East Paris location for the second time, and the company’s overall sales have grown from $8 million to just over $20 million.
“I feel as a woman leader and owner in a predominately male-led industry I have been able to offer a perspective that is more in line with the female consumer we are servicing,” she said. In 2011, DeGraaf Interiors was chosen to represent Michigan as the sole member of the National Flooring Alliance. “This was a true honor and still remains one of the most beneficial groups we have yet to be a part of,” DeGraaf said. New NFA members must be leaders in their particular markets, with sales of $10 million or more and must be recognized by both manufacturers and other dealers as having a track record for high integrity. Additionally, any prospective NFA member must have 100 percent approval from every existing member.
Menda Wright and Ann Vidro Creative Studio Promotions Co-owners OVER $3 MILLION
reative Studio Promotions aims to help companies remain relevant in their respective industries. In 2012, Ann Vidro and Menda Wright founded the marketing company, which specializes in creating promotional products that carry business brands, whether it is printed shirts, embroidered bags or engraved awards. With Vidro’s past operational and technology background and Wright’s 20 years of experience with large corporate clients, they have managed to grow their client base and garner national recognition while doing so. The company made it on the Inc. 500 List of America’s Fastest Growing Companies in 2016, ranking 447th. “It’s not just a number to us but instead an indicator of our amazing team,” they said. 26 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS
“You don’t grow a company that fast alone.” A graduate of Davenport University, Vidro is a board member and secretary of the Davenport Alumni Association Board of Directors, which is responsible for connecting, celebrating and representing Davenport University alumni. She has been serving on the board for 10 years. Vidro also is a former board member and treasurer of the Grand Rapids Initiative For Leaders, which is a faith-based organization dedicated to strengthening leaders through training to better serve their communities. Wright has served two years on the Premier Group Network Board. She currently serves as the director and events committee co-chair. Premier Group Network is an alliance of suppliers and distributors of promotional products.
CMU alumnae! Congratulations to Kristin Revere, ’96, Kristine Kletke, ’98, Gina VanTimmeren, ’02, Autumn Fuchs, ’10, and Liz Haan, ’12, for being named in the Top Women Owned Businesses by Grand Rapids Business Journal. Kristin, Kristine, Gina, Autumn and Liz are all outstanding examples of CMU’s dedication to graduating leaders ready to put their stamp on the world.
cmich.edu Central Michigan University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (www.hlcommission.org), a regional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. CMU is an AA/EO institution, providing equal opportunity to all persons, including minorities, females, veterans and individuals with disabilities (see cmich.edu/ocrie) 3794343 2/19
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