Page 1

Entrepreneuring the Future


Vol. 6 Spring 2014


The Secret to Talent Retention in West Michigan

NEU TEAM executive director KEVIN McCURREN operations manager SHOROUQ ALMALLAH affiliate instructor DR. TIM SYFERT

entrepreneur in residence SAMUEL HOGG

WORDS OF WISDOM #UnsuccessfulEntrepreneur “A successful entrepreneur in training.” #FollowMe “There is always a better way!” #Innovation “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” -Mark Twain #SteelHeadHippie “Two wrongs don’t make a right. But three rights, make a left.” -Ty Webb, Caddyshack

sprout lab director JULIE COWIE

#SproutLab “Eat every meal as if it were your last.”

graduate assistant ALAINA CLARKE

#Entreprenartist “The handwritten word is powerful and brings with it a sentiment that is lost within the obsession of immediate gratification.”


#SurvivalOfTheFittest “You can’t win the game if you continue to play by the rules.”

editor MICHAEL KURLEY marketing coordinator JUSTIN HERD graphic designer ANNA DORSEY digital media designer SAMUEL GING

#BeBold “Opportunity doesn’t favor the meek” #StartUp “The crops taste better when you harvest them yourself.” #TruthInMotion “I believe we’re along for the ride.” #ParticularAsCanBe “It’s only contagious when it’s viral.”


contents 3



By Samuel Ging

By Kevin McCurren 4








NICARAGUA By Dr. Tim Syfert




By Tony Helmholdt

By Michael Kurley 9




SOLETICS By Michael Kurley

By Vanessa Gore 11




By Sam Hogg

By Dr. Stanley Samuel 12



ALL THINGS WEAVED By Ulandra Reynolds





LETTER FROM THE DIRECTOR The Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation: a Montessori for Entrepreneurial education, created by Italian educator Maria Montessori, is an educational approach that emphasizes independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development. Legos, crayons, books, iPods, and even paper and pencil all have one thing in common, they promote learning. They are the necessary tools for different types of learners. Each tool allows a different type of learner to be effective in their natural environment. The same is true of the staff and educators here at The Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. They encourage everyone who walks through our doors to think outside the box, believe in their dreams and create from the heart. Talent and an entrepreneurial mindset connect entrepreneurs. Some aspects are hardwired, i.e. gumption or to live with uncertainty. Others are skills that can be developed and molded, such as execution, organization and idea generation. Gumption is an innate quality to stay motivated and persist through any challenge. A person can be taught to be confident. They can be taught how to speak in front of large groups. They cannot be taught to continue when no one has faith in their idea. They cannot be taught to go to another investor when the first, second, and thirtieth say, “No.” Their gumption is what they depend on to succeed, but their organization is how they succeed. Organization is not as easy as it sounds. A person can be taught steps to become organized. In school, students are taught to write

page 3

down their homework, complete the assignment and turn it in on time. In many cases, this does not occur. There is a disconnect between writing the assignment down and completing the task. The same is true of entrepreneurs. Many people have great ideas, but they do not know how to implement those ideas. They do not know how to build their own independent system that will continue to work for them, not against them. Organization leading to implementation is key. We often are the first step toward the entrepreneurial ecosystem that is developing in Grand Rapids. CEI is a Montessori for entrepreneurs: a place where entrepreneurs go to learn the process of new enterprise creation. We are proud to enable entrepreneurs to follow their dreams, test their organization and showcase their talent. Sincerely, J. Kevin McCurren Executive Director Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation

Kevin McCurren Executive Director Author’s Footnote Kate Streit is a new project coordinator for CEI and an experienced high school teacher. She co-wrote this letter and shares an educator’s perspective.

CALLING As a visual artist, if you want to sell your work, is it necessary to have a conceptual body of work and “production line” of smaller, less expensive works? Or do you think these can coexist/not be mutually exclusive?


Jenn Schaub

Taylor Cole Greenfield

Krzysztof Lower

Stephanie Chisholm

I make small stuff and sell it to be able to afford supplies to do whatever I want. Generally I sell enough craft based work to make prints and give away whatever I want as presents. But I am not trying to make a living off of it and would employ a totally different stragegy if I was.

I make small things but don't think of them as being separate - everything is on a spectrum.

I think this conversation might go along the lines of audience or founder. Because, from what I understand, most grant or institutionally funded art projects would probably favor less object oriented art making (performance, community work, etc.) while the consumer/collector obviously wants to purchase "things."

It helps to break the barriers between "this" kind of art and "that" kind of art. And we are the ones in charge of that breaking, thankfully. If one adjusts their understanding of what is truthful or real concerning their process, then one can always be engaging in something preferable and concerns about sacrifice or guilt in abandonment can remain a non-issue. There are no art gods watching us. We can do whatever we'd like. Making things not such a big deal usually allows clarity to come forth and therefore, a solution can be easier found or put into practice.

Elyse Welcher

Tom D Duimstra I have done both over the years. Only because it has become more difficult to sell my "real" artwork. For instance, I did tiny prints of original work and had my wife make them into necklaces, which actually sold quite well. She also sewed cloth prints of my paintings onto purses which also sold well. And at the moment, I do these five dollar post-minimalist art cards that have been selling well. But the danger lies in the fact that no matter what, it feels like a compromise. It is not anything I would do if I did not need the money for my family. It is also dangerous for your credibility and respect as a serious artist and all that. Best case scenario, get a teaching degree and become art prof so you can do the art you were meant to do and still survive. That's my two cents worth.

A succinct version- both are important in balance! As Taylor Cole Greenfield said, it’s a spectrum. The conceptual stuff is what makes the wow factor- it is the magnet that draws people in, and in turn, helps form an emotional experience and connection with your work. The little items, the tiny bits of the world you’re making, people can afford and feel like they are a part of your magic without breaking the bank.

Abbey Blodgett I do my small stuff to earn money which can buy me more tools to later on down the road, make new works and over time I'd like to see them in more galleries, magazines, books, etc. The smaller stuff I see as more of a "gateway" to helping me do the larger stuff down the road. They are both fun, I just hope to balance it out eventually.

we asked, they responded

ACCOUNTABILITY REPORT Empowering Entrepreneurship It’s official, the entrepreneurial culture is taking root in Grand Rapids, and great things are starting to happen. In 2009, The Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation commissioned a study of entrepreneurship, that compared Grand Rapids to other metropolitan areas across the United States. The findings from that report indicated that Grand Rapids lacked in new business creation and a supportive entrepreneurial culture. As a result of that study, the community rallied and launched various programs in order to increase entrepreneurial activity in the region. In 2013, the Empowering Entrepreneurship report went through an update to see what progress had been made. According to the study, “Grand Rapids has made significant progress in bringing entrepreneurial firms the the area. Further policies to attract specialized talent from abroad and attracting more capital will help to foster the growth of entrepreneurship in the region.� The results also indicated that the West Michigan area has built significant momentum on the cultural front. In fact, it now ranks as one of the top regions in the state for entrepreneurial action. With this culture in place, the community will be better positioned to bring in and retain young, highly skilled talent.

page 5

TESA Over the summer, forty high school students from across the state of Michigan came to Grand Valley State University and took part in the 7th annual Teen Entrepreneurship Summer Academy (TESA). Over a one week period, the students formed teams and went from the beginnings of an idea all the way to a professional five minute business pitch. Throughout the course of the camp, the students learned about effective teamwork, the Business Model Canvas, how to go through a feasibility study, and what investors look for in a pitch. The program also allowed these students to get in front of current entrepreneurs and organizations that helped them build their network. The judges for the competition, several entrepreneurs from around Grand Rapids, judged the teams on the feasibility of their idea, the coherence of the pitch, and the ability to start their project for less than $1,000. The winning team, a group that developed a plan for an outdoor movie theater in Grand Rapids, won the $1,000 prize.

Idea Pitch Competition Over forty five students took part in the 9th Annual Idea Pitch Competition hosted by the GVSU Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Judged by local business experts, students had ninety seconds to make a convincing argument that their business idea was worth investing in. The first place winners, Matthew Freundl and Jake Dykstra, took home $1,000 with their idea of integrated display helmets for welders. Justin Herd took second place and $750 with his project of a single serve bowl and strainer in one. Autumn Modena and Jenna Petersen were our third place winners and received $500, launching a tea shop that employs local refugees.

Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition

Grand Valley State University talent is beginning to make waves across the state and nation. This year, GVSU placed teams in three international business competitions and four statewide competitions including the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. The four teams that participated in the 2013 AMIC were Lindsay Noonan, Vanessa Gore, and Michael Kurley of Soletics, Justin Herd of OneBowl, Ulandra Reynolds and Kayla Jones of All Things Weaved, and Jason Sissing and Michael Kurley of ReFashion. Soletics won first place with a prize of $25,000 in the student competition. Soletics creates smart outdoor athletic gear for skiers and snowboarders that utilizes thermoregulation technology. The first place winner for the company segment also happened to be Grand Valley affiliated. GVSU alum and former Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation staff member, Ryan Vaughn, won $500,000 for his venture, Varsity News Network (VNN). VNN is developing an for high school athletes and teams.

page 6

Over the past several years, Grand Rapids has grown by leaps and bounds. This has nothing to do with the expansion of city limits, the increase in population density or the rate at which GDP is growing. We are talking about a shift in the way the Grand Rapids community associates and comes together in a way to solve problems. Even more, the “ecosystem” of Grand Rapids has become more diverse and has begun to mature into something that can only be described as compelling because opportunities for young people have begun to spring up at an increasing rate. Compelling because individuals are willing to try new and risky things without the fear that they will be judged or considered an outcast in the community. This ecosystem is culturally and ethically agnostic. It includes everyone from artists and lawyers to philanthropists and students and everything in between. The case for Grand Rapids becoming an economic and cultural power in Michigan and the United States is growing every day. Recently, the Grand Rapids area ranked No. 1 on Forbes’ list of “Best Cities for Raising a Family” and the Huffington Post named the city a top global travel destination for 2014. Economically speaking, the region is expected to be among the top in Michigan for job growth and creation. However, these national rankings and statistics only tell part of the story. Grand Rapids has an ever-increasing income gap and poverty is a daily reality for many Rapidians. While jobs are being created at an increasing rate, the average wage is not increasing comparatively, and in some cases not even keeping up with inflation. While this is bad news, there is hope. In terms of analogies, Grand Rapids, and almost any city, resembles an individual building. A building needs architects to plan the layout. It needs lawyers and experts to make sure it is in construction compliance, and potentially the most important part, the building needs engineers to actually build it. A good friend and former colleague told me something particularly insightful; He explained that entrepreneurs are engineers of the business world. They are the ones who are on the ground getting their hands dirty and building things after the groundwork has been laid. Sometimes they build small, but sometimes entrepreneurs build giants, like Amway. New buildings require tenants, which in this analogy represent jobs. This “building” in the business world is what will help lift Grand Rapids out of the socioeconomic inequality that it is experiencing. Consider this: since the economic downturn in 2008, new firms have accounted for 64% of all new job creation in Grand Rapids. This means that entrepreneurs born out of the recession are responsible for employing nearly two in every three individuals since 2008. That statistic is particularly telling for several reasons. The first is that entrepreneurs now feel safe taking risks and growing here. The second is that the community is starting to embrace innovation as a pillar in daily life. The third, and arguably most important, is that businesses are actually being created.

Talent Retention

in Grand Rapids

page 7

“There has never been a better time to start a business in Grand Rapids.”

The community and entrepreneurs are working together to make things happen, not just talk about making things happen. Much of this change in the way jobs are created can be attributed to the ecosystem mentioned earlier. Ecosystems are vital and necessary for building an entrepreneurial climate. Everyone can recognize that Silicon Valley (the most prominent and talked about entrepreneurial ecosystem) became what it is now because of tech entrepreneurs. Grand Rapids doesn’t have tech at the level of the Valley, but it does have something just as important. Our “X” factor is design and design centered thinking. We are the home of some of the most innovative and successful design firms in the world, especially in the furniture industry. Human centered design is the differentiator for Grand Rapids, which can be seen in the way this community embraces it. The city has the Medical Mile, which is home to some of the foremost upcoming life science startups. These two things are what drive our ecosystem, in addition to the support network already in place. With the unconventional venture capital firm, Start Garden, the incubator GR Current, and the Grand Angels actively investing, funding availability is getting easier to access for entrepreneurs. The MI-SBDC and The Right Place are working to provide invaluable human capital and technical resources. Because all of these groups work together, there has never been a better time to start a business in Grand Rapids. What is so special about this ecosystem? The entrepreneurs are getting younger and younger. The Millennial generation has taken it upon themselves to be self-starters and take more risks, and this community is recognizing and embracing that. Millennials are starting to realize that the Grand Rapids startup scene might just compare to going to Chicago for a corporate job. As the reigning winner two years in a row as Beer City USA, the home of the Grand Rapids Griffins, and West Michigan Whitecaps, there is a lot to keep this younger generation around. In order for Grand Rapids to realize its potential in the coming years, it is important to continue to embrace these young people as leaders in the city and community. The spread of awareness needs to continue so that people can understand why it is a fantastic time to live in this community, and more importantly what they can do to help it grow and become something truly special.

Michael Kurley Co-Founder, Soletics

page 8

THE FEMALE entrepreneur it is wonderful to see the ladies here!�

page 9

he “female entrepreneur” - a rare gem in my experience of the male-dominated startup world. My company, Soletics, is comprised of two women and one man: Lindsay Noonan, myself, and Michael Kurley. It never crossed my mind how rare of a combination that is until our team was about seven months into our venture. We were invited to the semi-final round for the International Business Model Competition at Harvard University. Just moments before our pitch, one of the competition coordinators came over to wish us luck. He ended his pep talk with, “and it is wonderful to see the ladies here!” I looked at him with a bit of confusion until I scanned the room. Out of 100 + competitors, there were only eight women including Lindsay and I. It was in that moment that I realized what a rare commodity the female entrepreneur is. Statistically speaking, women account for a mere 7% of CEOs in the startup world. Last year, 14.3% sat in executive positions at Fortune 500 companies, and 25% of those companies had no women serving in these roles at all (2012 Catalyst Census). Why is it that women entrepreneurs and business executives are so few and far between? According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2012 Women’s Report, women don’t think

they are capable of launching their own businesses and are content to leave that to their male counterparts. This generally comes from a lack of confidence and fear of failure. Sharon Vosmek, leader of Astia (Silicon Valley-based company for women entrepreneurs in high-growth businesses), cites several challenges in getting women to think as entrepreneurs. The first is inspirational. Societal pressure prohibits women to strive towards high-growth entrepreneurship. She goes on to say, “Women, particularly those older than thirty, have a lack of cockiness, and I wish they had more of it.” Another issue stems from the fact that even today there is a gender bias that women "aren't meant to lead.” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, took a shot to that argument by saying, "That little girl [on the playground] isn't being bossy. That little girl has executive leadership skills." A great story of female success comes from Jane Wurwand of Dermalogica. Jane emigrated from the UK with her now husband and business partner after a less than perfect childhood. Jane’s father passed away of a heart attack when she was only two years old forcing her mother to return to work in order to provide for four children. Jane’s mother taught her the importance of self-reliance and learning how to do something. It is crucial to have a

transportable skill so that if something tragic happens, like the loss of Jane’s father, then one is not lost. Jane went straight to beauty school after high school to be a skin therapist. She had no formal college education, started her company with only $14,000 and is now a multimillionaire. Jane still holds true that “self-reliance is critically important, especially for women.” The opportunity for self-reliance in women is becoming increasingly apparent in these modern times. No more are we burdened to marry for money or status. Women have the power and freedom to make their own success. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “No kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.” Women are making great strides in the field of entrepreneurship, but is it enough? I think not. It is time we turn that 7% into 50% or more.

Vanessa Gore Co-Founder, Soletics

page 10


& Coaching

Focus on the Students, Not the Technology I recently had the pleasure of watching our talented students compete in the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition– hands down the largest entrepreneurial event in the state. Not only did three of our four teams make the semifinals, one team – Soletics – took down the top prize of $25,000. As the de facto coach of our Grand Valley State University teams, I was tracked down after the event for an interview. The PR team behind the competition described GVSU’s success as a great underdog story and asked me what made the difference in our preparation. They were startled when I quickly said, “we focus on the students.”

It may seem trivial to some, but it is the truth. It is easy to view GVSU as an underdog – the school has few technical graduate programs, miniscule research and development budgets, and virtually no tech transfer or intellectual property support. I, however, view that as a wonderful advantage to the undergraduate entrepreneur. As larger schools fight tooth and nail to feed the research monster and the accompanying commercialization services needed to support it, GVSU can invest resources into our talented students to pursue their own ideas. Instead of being lost in a “sea of innovation,” students at GVSU get direct faculty and

administrative support to pursue their ideas as part of their education. Take Soletics for example. This team didn’t just happen to find their way down to Detroit for the competition and had a good day. This team has been holding regular meetings with GVSU mentors and advisors for over a year. They developed a product with support from local design and product development firms. They enrolled in a class specifically targeted at getting businesses launched. They’ve competed in and succeeded at local and national collegiate competitions, from GVSU to Harvard. Nearly all of this activity was supported by GVSU in some way, whether it was the mentorship supported by my position, a class focused on entrepreneurship, or gas and hotel money to hit the road and compete. As GVSU aims to drive a stake in the ground as a fantastic place for undergraduate entrepreneurs, I’d encourage us to continue to embrace this “focus on the students” mentality. As I made my way back from the competition last week, I chuckled to see the GVSU billboard along I-96 of the “Find Within” campaign, ironically featuring one of the actual student competitors. It is easy to forget that message among the technology transfer hype of larger, better funded research institutions, particularly when the state views its universities as economic engines. I’d argue that the product of this institution will always be students, not inventions, businesses or licensing revenues. They will always be the best investment.

Samuel Hogg CEI Entrepreneur in Residence

page 11



experience how concepts become reality in a day...






Justin Herd, a senior at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), is creating a product that will make college students’ lives easier. It’s called the OneBowl. It is a microwave-safe single serving bowl with a built-in strainer. The bowl allows users to cook, strain, eat, and store their food all in OneBowl. For college students living on Ramen Noodles, mac and cheese, and spaghetti, the OneBowl is designed to be the only bowl they will ever need. Justin is graduating with his bachelors in business administration in marketing with an emphasis in sales in April of 2014. He currently works as a student intern at the Richard M. and Helen Devos Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He is also a leader for the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) at GVSU. Since he was twelve

years old operating a small grass cutting business, he has known he wanted to be an entrepreneur. In his spare time, Justin enjoys backpacking, cinema, and water sports. Justin came up with the idea for OneBowl, not surprisingly, while trying to strain his Ramen Noodles without a strainer. Recently, he placed second at the 2013 GVSU Idea Pitch Competition to win $750. Since then, he was a semifinalist at the CEO National Pitch Competition and a finalist in the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. He was also awarded a $5,000 investment from Start Garden. Justin has filed for a provisional patent on this product and plans to sell the OneBowl in retail stores and online. To find out more information, go to

Family Business Attracts & Retains Next Generation Talent Differentiation According to a recent Forbes article, “Fears of the Family Owned Enterprise” by Bill Millar, family owned enterprises are challenged by the perception that there is limited upward mobility in working for a family firm. This perception that “family members will always run the show” can be harmful to recruitment and retention. The article states that in a recent Forbes study on talent retention called “The Talent Imperative,” 47% of private company executives believe that being a family business can be harmful to recruiting efforts, and 55% of family owned business executives believe this perception actually does harm talent acquisition. Many family businesses in West Michigan have been able to overcome this perception. Whether it’s adapting corporate culture to fit the needs of top talent or providing a professional work environment filled with non-family management, there are many ways to ensure the family business is a great place to work as a family member or non-family employee.

page 17

Differentiation is one way a family owned business can attract talent from larger competitors. “In order to attract the top talent I needed, I hired a respected industry leader and differentiated ourselves from the competitors. We ended up creating and cultivating a corporate culture that top talent would be attracted to and thrive in,” said Kaitlyn Disselkoen, 2nd Generation and Director of Sales and Marketing at GR Outdoor. Disselkoen’s family business had to compete with national and international competitors for talent. By standing out as a great place to work, her team was able to get the talent needed to grow.

Professionalizing the Family Enterprise

Many family businesses today have a flat organizational structure. There is not a clear upward career progression especially for those early in their career. Matt Schad, 4th Generation and Director of Marketing and Business Development at Nucraft Furniture agrees,

but then reflects that retaining senior management is “not as difficult.” He attributes this retention of senior non-family management to being a professionally run, financially healthy, growing organization that offers new challenges to its management team. “All of us had significant experience working in large, professionally run organizations before we came to work at Nucraft and I think we all see the benefit of importing many of those practices where they fit a smaller organization.”

Independent Board of Directors

Another national family business bestpractice is for the family business to create an outside board of directors comprised of non-family industry leaders. The board should be an entity trusted by the family and the management team, with knowledgeable and objective board members. The use of an independent board can help when identifying and training top talent, and analyzing who will be the next leader and whether that

person will be family or non-family. When Matt Schad and his wife were considering their career options, they looked at the family business because of Schad’s experience with the Board. “While we were in DC, my dad put together a Nucraft board of directors, and had put me and my brother on the board, along with three other independent board members. Through that process, I had gotten to know the company and the people very well.” When the time came to make a decision to stay in D.C. or move back to Grand Rapids, MI to work in the family business, Schad’s decision was made partly due to the knowledge gained by participating with Nucraft’s Board of Directors.

Professional and Personal Growth and Development

Allowing your employees to develop and sharpen their skills, is very attractive to top talent moving from larger cities. When asked why she returned to Grand Rapids and left a successful career

in sales in Chicago, Kaitlyn Disselkoen, said, “I wanted to learn more about all aspects of business than just how to be a good manager and publisher of three magazines. I could learn more overall by working with my family.” Kaitlyn returned to Grand Rapids in her mid-twenties to learn her family’s billboard business. “I worked really hard and long hours in Chicago and working for someone else. I saw returning to West Michigan as a great opportunity to work just as hard for myself and my family.”

family friendly.” At Nucraft, “many managers (including Schad) from larger companies find they have more time to spend with their family and friends when they join the company.”

Family Friendly Environment

Ellie Frey Zagel is the Director or the Family Business Alliance (FBA) based here in West Michigan. The FBA exists to help family businesses succeed generation to generation. Ellie can be reached at

Last, when thinking about attracting and retaining talent, family businesses understand family. They understand their employees want to work hard and make a difference at work, and then go home to spend time with their family. When Schad moved home with his family after starting a legal career in Washington DC, “Diana and I knew we had to make a choice: go all in on the DC lifestyle and continue working long hours, or try to find career paths that were more

Ellie Frey Zagel Family Business Alliance, Director

page 18


We need to be more inclusive of diverse cultures and talents,�

Grand Rapids Art Museum Director and CEO

Dana Friis-Hansen

page 19

Why do you feel it is important for entrepreneurs and artists to connect? While most people would assign entrepreneurs to the realm of business, and connect artists to culture—at two ends of a spectrum—I strongly believe there are many connections between the two. In fact, there is a lot to be shared between the two, because any successful artist is pushing at the boundaries of standard expectations of their media and style—think of Leonardo Da Vinci, Renaissance master, Picasso, inventor of Cubism, or Jean-Michel Basquiat, who started as a street artist in the 1980s who moved on to canvasses that are now treasured. An entrepreneur, too, is breaking the rules or asking big questions. When I moved to Grand Rapids, I was thrilled to learn that GRAM was the site of “5x5 Nights,” events that were the precursor to StartGarden—here the public could come to hear about new local business ideas and meet the entrepreneurs. Another example of this crossover creativity is Rob Bliss’ lip-dub videos, a carefully-orchestrated creative endeavor that celebrated the city and the humanity found here. Under the roof of the art museum, too, should be a safe space for artists or entrepreneurs to meet up, and breathe in the creativity that is in the air.

What distinguishes an artist from an entrepreneur? I believe both are grounded in creativity, innovation, and inspiration to do something never done before, but their trajectories are directed on different pathways—artists to objects, events, performances, etc. and entrepreneurs towards an enterprise or service.

What barriers exist between entrepreneurs and artists? While I don’t believe there should be any barriers between artists and entrepreneurs, these are tribes that don’t necessarily travel together… but they each should seek places for crossover, to explore shared concerns, to come together and solve problems, or just create together. I think “maker spaces” might be areas of connection for both, or collaborative “start-up weekends” or ArtPrize.

What makes young people want to leave Grand Rapids? Grand Rapids isn’t for everyone, and when you are young, it’s a good time to head out of town and cross borders, take risks, explore the world, see new things, meet new people, and embrace new experiences.

What keeps young people in Grand Rapids? Among the young people I encounter, many who came here because of the strong local colleges and universities, there is an appreciation of GR as a livable city, with cool neighborhoods, a lively downtown, and adjacent warehouse districts. They also find a nurturing attitude for creative communities and start-ups focused on art, design, food, craft, beer, services, and collaborative activities. Employment opportunities are important--there is a wide spectrum of companies to work at—or consult for—in a variety of different exciting, growing fields including furniture, media, tech, and health. We’re beginning to build an infrastructure around exchange of ideas, support for business incubation and acceleration, and community engagement. I’ve been here for almost three years, and I feel GR is a great place for creative, ambitious, directed people.

How do you think Grand Rapids should retain young talent after graduation? We need to be more inclusive of diverse cultures and talents—they are here but we need to build more bridges, and mix it up—this is happening with groups like BLEND or LINC. West Michigan can’t provide something to fit everyone’s needs as they grow, and it shouldn’t try…but you can always come back at some point in the future! I think that Grand Rapids is growing and acquiring attractive institutions, such as ArtPrize, the Downtown Market, the expanded offerings of GVSU, Kendall College of Art and Design, MSU College of Human Medicine, etc. that make it an exciting platform for young people to find their own successes.

Interview by Sam Ging Digital Media Designer

page 20

Entrepreneurship in the Arts

page 21

In the winter of 2009, I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, with an emphasis in metalsmithing and jewelry. Within any art program, there is always a strong emphasis on conceptual work and because of this, artists do not always consider the importance of art as an enterprise. That said, there was a class titled “Business Practice for the Artist” designed to teach students how to move forward with art after graduation. The course offered a valuable starting point with lessons on how to prepare taxes, how to approach galleries or shops, and tips on how to price artwork, in addition to a few marketing techniques. However, I was still oblivious to the business model canvas, how to raise capital, how to effectively market myself, and what was really involved in running a business. Since there was no concentration on product development, pricing was still a foreign language and marketing simply meant having a website. Shortly after graduation, I designed a jewelry line and soon expanded into the art show circuit. I dove right into production just wanting to make art and sell it. Unbeknownst to me, I had become an entrepreneur. At first, because of the emphasis put forward in college, I struggled with the aspect of my work not being “conceptual” enough. I felt almost ashamed of my product, like a disservice to my degree for wanting to create a jewelry line that was purely sellable. However, I have learned that it is not

“As artists, it is important to remember that there is nothing un-artistic about making money.

page 22

“Artists are pools of creative power and some are looking to make a living off what they love the most.” true. Even though I may still struggle with that

can start to bridge the gap of sustainability, business,

concept today, I know I am not the only one. As

and the arts to foster a vibrant community.

artists, it is important to remember that there is nothing un-artistic about making money. For some artists, selling work is justification that

Grand Rapids has a strong commitment on buying locally made products to support local businesses. I believe that in this instance, many

what they are creating has value. Artists often get

forget that artists are local businesses as well,

criticized for their high pricing. This pricing may seem

whether it is the ballet, the symphony, the theatre, or

unreasonable to the public, which means it is

the artist run shops along South Division. The arts

important to raise awareness for those who do not

are an integral part of creating culture, which is often

know the process of an artist and their work. A great

taken for granted. Art is a viable product to invest in,

deal of time and effort goes into their creations. The

not only because it supports the local economy, but

only person that is producing, selling, advertising,

because it creates and attracts tourists as a

and managing his/her “business,” is the artist. When

destination spot. In turn, this will help artists see that

people purchase art, they are not only buying

creating collaboration between art and business does

something aesthetically pleasing but they are

not constitute “selling out.”

investing their money into that artist. They are

Artists have spent significant time developing

investing into the artist’s education. They are

skills just like everyone else who is dedicated and

investing into the artist’s business. They are investing

talented in their respective fields. Sure, being an

into the artist’s passion.

artist looks fun, and it is; however, it is also a lot of

I recognize that there are real differences between

hard work and long hours for a potentially small

how art and business function. There are many

monetary return. Why would artists put themselves

people to weigh in on what this collaboration should

through this? The same reason entrepreneurs begin

look like and personally, I need business skills but not

new ventures: because they are passionate,

in the same way non-artists do. Artists can and need

dedicated, and determined to follow their dreams.

to create a new model for a business that caters to

Artists are pools of creative power and some are

their specific needs. Instead of competing against a

looking to make a living off what they love the most.

business environment that is not conducive to the

For the many artists who seek to push their creations

needs of artists, we can frame the environment in a

into the marketplace, the time has come to coin a

way that is advantageous. Once this happens, we

new idea: entreprenartists.

Alaina Clarke Artist, Owner & Designer Grace Face Designs, LLC

page 23

Entrepreneurial Experience in Nicaragua

“I have never experienced such a challenge,”

I did not think that it would take a trip to Central America for me to fully understand how to truly embrace the concept of “possibility.” But it occurred when I accompanied seven U.S. industrial designers to the small town of Esteli Nicaragua as part of a program at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) called the Applied Global Innovation Initiative. Along with Chris Hoyt, an industrial designer from Herman Miller, I was assigned to work with two female college students, who had a new product concept they wanted to develop and manufacture. One of the women described a cousin who works in a factory. She shared how most factory workers wake up early in the

morning to cook hot meals for breakfast and lunch. Their lunch is placed in a container, stored in a purse or bag under their workstation, and eaten along the curb outside the factory more than four hours after it was prepared. Lunches are almost never eaten hot, much less warm. The two student entrepreneurs wanted to provide a lunch container that could keep a meal hot from the time it was cooked until the time it is eaten. The two women, Chris Hoyt, and I had one day to design, source materials, and discover a manufacturer. We had another day to have the product fabricated and ascertain product and manufacturing costs. Then on the third day, present a business case and plan to their faculty and local business people. In my career as a product designer and developer, I have never experienced such a challenge as our team did in Nicaragua. We were shown a rough prototype that was made with housing insulation as a means to insulate and keep food warm. Plus, our design and sourcing timeframe was compressed over a weekend. As a team, we developed the preliminary design but then split the next steps due to time constraints. My task was to select and locate insulation materials and the rest of the team went into the town to find a seamstress to assemble and sew the product.

page 24

I was at a loss of how to keep food warm for four hours or more. But when I took a break and went into the kitchen, I spotted a small Mylar balloon. Immediately I recalled using a Mylar blanket at a running event to keep warm. I then went into the town to find a medical facility that used emergency blankets of the same material or a florist that sold balloons. None of the medical facilities were familiar with the material or emergency blankets. But, I finally found a florist who sold me several round Mylar balloons. The team reconvened and we discussed the Mylar insulation and how to incorporate it into the design. We then developed a list of materials for production and went into town to source materials. With components in hand, we met with our seamstress to discuss how to manufacture it. Initially our seamstress told us the Mylar could not be sewn. But, with some insistence and ideas from the team, she was able to complete our design. Our two student entrepreneurs made their presentation on the third day and demonstrated their new product that held a meal that stayed warm for over four hours. And, small-scale production was established with the seamstress adding an additional sewing machine and another seamstress. Never did the team doubt we could deliver a viable product for production. “Possibility” drove our actions and decisions even though finding an

page 25

insulation material was questionable and a manufacturing solution was not known at the time we completed our design. Nicaraguan entrepreneurs need to know that they can imagine new ideas and make them a reality. Our Nicaraguan team now knows their product is possible and they are planning on placing their first order for production sometime this month. GVSU, along with other West Michigan schools, are beginning to provide opportunities for local student entrepreneurs to explore the concept of “possibility” around their new product or service ideas through competitions and soon with a new business incubator. With these initiatives, student entrepreneurs will be able to more easily transition from student entrepreneur to business owner within the growing and successful Grand Rapids entrepreneurial network.

Dr. Tim Syfert Affiliate InstructorGrand Valley State University

Torke Electric Vehicles Tony Helmholdt

Growing up with Legos, I found myself always building contraptions for amusement when I was young. I quickly found out in my later years that my fabrication skills were extremely valuable. Some years later while taking automotive classes at Grand Rapids Community College, I discovered the astonishing inefficiency of the gasoline engine. I remember raising my hand in class and asking, “Only fifteen percent of the energy in your gas tank actually turns your wheels? Where does the rest go?” This led me down a rabbit hole of unbelievable discoveries and all night, red-eyed Google searches. After much research I landed on the most promising path, the battery electric vehicle (BEV, or EV for short). I immediately formulated a plan, and drew out sketches for my first fully electric motorcycle. I had just enough spare time and money to convert a 1975 Yamaha. I was able to assemble a vehicle that uses no gasoline, requires no oil changes, re-charges for fifty cents of electricity, and is over ninety percent efficient! All I could think was why

aren't the big car companies doing up a meeting with them. I drove my this? I continued to ride the motorcycle there to prove it worked. motorcycle often, racing it at local We then discussed what needed to tracks to prove its feasibility. This be achieved and how to go about it. was also ironically the Spring of The team at GR Current was just as 2008, the economy was crashing excited as I was! I then continued and gasoline prices were unstable, I networking at Start Garden, fishing decided to risk everything. I quit my for funding at every chance, even job at Tesla Motors, sold my stocks, handing out business cards at and invested everything intersections to into building my people questioning company, Torke Electric “This led me down my silent motorcycle. Vehicles. GR Current has a rabbit hole of While assembling been by my side in unbelievable the first production every aspect of the prototype I knew my business. They have discoveries,” funding would not last. helped me network in I had networked with ways not possible, others at Start Garden in Grand invited me to tech conventions, Rapids that had told me about the aided with legal and monetary GVSU GR Current small business advice. I wouldn't have got this far incubator. I wasted no time setting without them.

page 26

SOLETICS 2014 marks the beginning of a new revolution in wearable technology. It will begin to permeate our lives and provide unbridled access to all sorts of content around the world. With all of this development happening in consumer electronics, there has been conspicuously little development in the space of apparel. Shirts, jackets, and gloves are coming out with newer, slightly more efficient materials, but nothing innovative, and nothing that acts to remedy consumer pain points in an effective manner. Soletics is doing something to change that. The company is developing systems that will auto-thermoregulate the body. Basically Soletics’ systems will be able to integrate with existing apparel to keep the body comfortable no matter the activity level or temperature outside. It is Soletics’ vision to become the leading integrator of wearable

page 27

technology and apparel in the world. The company is taking unique approaches to provide consumers with a new outlook on what their apparel can do for them. Soletics is currently run by three students out of Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business: Michael Kurley, Lindsay Noonan, and Vanessa Gore. The team has been together since late 2012 where the company was formed in an entrepreneurship class. The company’s plan is to have gloves, which are the first products, ready by Fall of 2014.

Michael Kurley Co-Founder, Soletics

The Growth of Science & Technology Dr. Stanley Samuel is a recently transplanted entrepreneur to the west side of Michigan from Ann Arbor. He is the co-founder and CEO of OcuSano, Inc. and a mentor at GR Current, an incubator for high tech, emerging tech, life science and medical device startups. He has a unique ability to bring together ideas or technologies from disparate fields and apply them towards commercialization. OcuSano, Inc. – such an example – is developing the next generation of drug delivery technologies to make chronic treatments in ophthalmology, chronic pain management, and oncology safer and affordable for patients. OcuSano’s core technology, which was invented by Dr. Samuel, could have meaningful impact on the landscape of healthcare costs. His greatest strength is his ability to fuse a rigorous training in science and technology with a natural acumen for business. It’s a rare and necessary skill that takes a strong understanding of scientific principles in biology, chemistry, engineering and finds commercial application through a keen understanding of economic principles, consumer needs and a knack for strategy, networking, fundraising, team building, and negotiations. Dr. Samuel’s graduate education at the University of Michigan’s Biomedical Engineering Department and research training at the University of Michigan Medical School provided him with all the elements of scientific rigor. Additionally, while in graduate school, Dr. Samuel, interned for two years as a part-time Associate with a Management Consulting Firm followed by five years as Managing Director for Arodaim Group, an investment management firm he founded. This mix of education, training, and experience equipped him with the foundational skills required to spark and lead a business venture. The role of a life science entrepreneur often requires an ability to see how technologies that are currently used for completely unrelated applications

can be brought together to form an innovative application. OcuSano, Inc. is the product of such a vision. A fortuitous dinner meeting with the research director of a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company is what birthed the idea for its sustained-release drug delivery system. The director presented the need for a compelling drug delivery technology in ophthalmology to treat posterior eye diseases. Dr. Samuel saw how various compounds and processes he had used in his graduate research and post-doctoral training – for extraneous applications – could be combined to develop an encapsulation technology for ophthalmic drugs. His research and training had given him the ability to recognize that this technology could be theoretically viable. His business skills and acumen served in drafting a compelling business plan, raising capital, and assembling a capable team within two months. The team turned Dr. Samuel’s idea, based on theoretical principles, into a validated concept and is now marching the product down the FDA approval path. Dr. Stanley Samuel sees science and technology as the engine for sustainable job growth and economic vibrancy. His passion and vision is to be a valuable part in positioning West Michigan as this engine: one that eventually serves as a model for other regions around the United States.

Dr. Stanley Samuel Co-founder & CEO of OcuSano

page 28

The word "entrepreneurship" was a foreign concept to me three years ago, but the essence of entrepreneurship - creating value - is a burden I've gladly carried throughout my life. All Things Weaved did not start as a company, it was a way to prove that minorities and women could compete well. After winning the 2013 GVSU Business Plan Competition, I gained a new sense of confidence. Winning cash was great, but winning non-African American supporters for a company that curates African American hair products was mind blowing. I had a responsibility to create value for these supporters. The first thing I had to do was stop talking about All Things Weaved. I spend 50% of my time listening and watching our ecosystem. We believe excellence is in the details, and we operate with an infantry mentality. The rules of entrepreneurship simply don't apply to our end users and customers, so we break them with unconventional methods. We spent 6 months working in a cash-based retail store catering to African American women to test and experiment with our messaging and branding because we aren't afraid to get our hands dirty. In the 9 months since winning the competition, we have tested ten different websites, entered four competitions, negotiated our first sales, began building our mobile app, ran experiments to test user acquisition costs and learned a lot along the way. We still have a long road ahead of us, and being an entrepreneur is definitely not as sexy as it looks from outside, but I can't imagine doing anything else. As we continue to grow we would like to invite you along for the ride. Email us at to stay in the loop.

page 29

ALL THINGS WEAVED Ulandra Reynolds Founder All Things Weaved

Entrepreneurial Resources in West Michigan LINC Business Incubator

Start Garden

LINC is a community development corporation that

Start Garden is turning Michigan into an ecosystem

provides services to Kent County, and is involved in a

where a thousand ideas can get started. Start Garden

host of projects and services that reach families,

is a Grand Rapids based seed venture firm that

houses, businesses and neighborhoods at large.

invests financial, intellectual and social capital into

LINC’s mission is revitalizing neighborhoods through

very early stage ideas & startups.

authentic engagement, stimulating economic

development, expanding housing opportunities, creating affordable housing, and developing

The Michigan Small Business Development

leadership and capacity of residents and grass-roots

Center (SBDC)


The SBDC provides a full range of services to growing

businesses that includes strategic needs assessment market analysis, ongoing strategy development,

Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy

financial analysis and access to capital.

Center (MAREC)

MAREC is an economic development initiative of the City of Muskegon, the Michigan Economic


Development Corporation and Grand Valley State

(Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women)

University. MAREC provides renewable energy

GROW offers entrepreneurial training, counseling, and

testing facilities to companies and universities across

networking opportunities provide you with the tools

the state.

you need to start, run, sustain, and expand your


The Goei Center - International Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence (I.C.E.E)

Grand Valley State University Center for

The Goei Center provides a modern facility, focusing

Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI)

on women and minorities, and a networking platform

The Richard M. & Helen DeVos Center for

for small businesses to be successful. The Goei

Entrepreneurship & Innovation at GVSU supports

Center and the I.C.E.E. aims to help create new jobs

entrepreneurial growth via two objectives: talent

and grow the local economy by acting as a communal

development and support for businesses. It offers

hub for businesses, networking and innovation.

quality research and programming, innovation

collaborations, creative resourcing, and information services in the field of entrepreneurship.

GR Current

GR Current supports the creation of real solutions for high-growth industries such as health and life science, alternative energy, advanced manufacturing, agricultural processing, and defense by providing state-of-the-art wet labs and office incubator space; Laboratory Access; funding, and mentoring

Photo Credit Samuel Ging (cover, pg. 1, 5, 8, 9, 12-16, 28) Adam Bird (pg. 17) Dr. Tim Syfert (pg 25) Alaina Clarke (pg. 27) page 30

neu spring 2014 L. William Seidman Center 50 Front Ave SW Suite 1127 Grand Rapids, MI 49504

NEU Magazine Volume 6  

As its name implies, NEU (German for “new”) is all about what’s new–and what’s happening–in West Michigan’s entrepreneurial community. It is...

NEU Magazine Volume 6  

As its name implies, NEU (German for “new”) is all about what’s new–and what’s happening–in West Michigan’s entrepreneurial community. It is...