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Moonsail North charts course to Okemos MARC

Two seasoned storytellers with a mindset toward community have set sail to help businesses and organizations build effective and budget-conscious communications.
 
In November, Rose Tantraphol and Scott Swanson marshaled their combined experiences as journalists and public relations professionals to launch Moonsail North: a community-minded communications consulting company.
 
After landing their operations in the Meridian Asset Resource Center (also known as The MARC) this spring, the two-member company will continue to assist clientele in educational, business and nonprofit circles, steadily building their presence as multi-disciplinary storytellers on a state and national level.
 
"Storytelling is at the heart of everything we've ever done," says Tantraphol. "Both neuroscientists and poets agrees that our brains crave stories. So whether it's through social media, earned media or otherwise, we're excited to work with people to share stories and connect us all to one another."
 
Specializing as writers, strategic communicators, and social media and digital specialists, the husband-wife team approaches every communication campaign from the point-of-view of discovering the best way to tell a client's story.
 
"We wanted a name that spoke to our inspirations and influences," says Tantraphol. "We both have a love for the arts and sciences, and we're big Radiohead fans. So we took our name from their beautiful song 'Sail to the Moon,' and combined it with the idea of a compass direction. It's all about viewing our work as a journey with our clients and helping them achieve what seems impossible."
 
Moonsail North's clientele includes the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the Michigan Biotechnology Institute, and the International Business Center Global Business Club at Michigan State University. The company donates a portion of their proceeds to local charities, and plans to hire an intern come summer.
 
Source: Rose Tantraphol, Co-Founder, Moonsail North
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

New academy for high schoolers peaks interest in insurance careers

High school students in Ingham County can prepare for careers in the growing insurance industry and earn college credit through a new one-year program unveiled by the Ingham Intermediate School District, Lansing School District, Accident Fund Insurance of America, and the Insuring MI Future Coalition.
 
Available to high school juniors and seniors, the Insurance Leadership Academy provides students the chance to learn about the insurance industry by attending classes three days a week at the Capital Area Career Center or Lansing Eastern High School. Students will also spend two days a week at Accident Fund Insurance where they will job shadow, participate in presentations, and learn job skills.
 
"The insurance industry is facing a future crisis since nearly 40 percent of our workforce in Michigan is 55 or older," says Lori Conartan, communications director for the Insurance Institute of Michigan. "We see a big need to attract young people to our industry."
 
One of the bigger challenges in building that future workforce, Conartan says, is changing the perception of insurance careers as boring or "last resort."
 
"But when they're able to look at it closer, they see the challenges and opportunities," says Conartan. "Jobs in insurance are rewarding because you're helping people. There are a wide variety of jobs, too, likes sales, accounting, IT and marketing."
 
Attorneys, fraud investigators and web masters also find employment within the industry. Mid-Michigan boasts about 6,800 jobs in insurance, as well as a 17 percent job growth in Eaton, Clinton and Ingham counties from 2010 to 2014. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 7.4 percent growth for insurance-related jobs in Greater Lansing from 2010 to 2020, while Michigan Labor Market Information reports an average annual wage of $55,000 for the tri-country area.
 
Conartan says the new Insurance Leadership Academy is a win all the way around.
 
"It's a win for students who are exposed to a great career," she says. "It's a win for the industry since students at a younger age are getting to know about careers in insurance. And it's a win for parents since the program provides nine free credits toward college."
 
The program is modeled after an Eaton County collaboration between Eaton RESA and Farm Bureau insurance. The Insuring MI Future Coalition members are the Insurance Institute of Michigan, Michigan Association of Insurance Agents, Michigan Association of Health Plans, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Life Insurance Association of Michigan, and Department of Insurance and Financial Services.
 
Sources: Lori Conarton, Communications Director, Insurance Institute of America
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

LEAP reconfigures, receives MEDC and city support

The Lansing Economic Area Partnership is springing forward with new directions that promise to take the region's entrepreneurial and business startup initiatives to a national level of prominence.
 
Tony Willis will serve as the director of the recently reconfigured New Economy Division, moving from his previous post as manager. Willis will run RING—the Lansing region's entrepreneurial system—while Quin Stinchfield will oversee the TIC and Runway as the new manager of business incubation. Stinchfield will also be responsible for continuing the expansion of incubators throughout the Lansing region.
 
The reconfiguration of the division enables LEAP to introduce an aggressive series of programs designed to increase the likelihood of startup businesses and entrepreneurial culture. Among those programs are FundLansing—a tri-county loan program with an entrepreneurial focus. Two others include the rebranding of 3D Lansing to Lansing Proto, and new curriculums for the TIC and Runway.
 
"The reorg will allow LEAP to better handle the needs of our entrepreneurial community," says Willis. "We have laid a great foundation over the past few years, but with this new structure and development of great programs, we can really begin to accelerate the growth of new companies."
 
In other restructuring news, Karl Dorshimer was promoted to director of business development. LEAP COO Steve Willobee will also assume more day-to-day management responsibilities for the New Economy Division in addition to providing leadership in the business development arena.
 
Continuing to garner strong support from MEDC, LEAP will use the $100,000 annual incubator grant to contract a high-tech startup specialist to run the Lansing Regional SmartZone and target the growth of high-tech, startup businesses. Additional MEDC grants include $65,000 to support The Runway as well as $70,000 for development of an "accelerator region" surrounding the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State University.
 
"The funding and support from MEDC only continues to affirm our region is not only posed for success but is a leader in innovation for the state," says Willis.
 
The City of Lansing also proposed additional funding for LEAP that would be applied toward adding one staff person at LEAP to work on City of Lansing projects.
 
Sources: Tony Willis, Director, LEAP New Economy Division
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Life as a Zebra supports groundbreaking research at University of Toledo Medical Center

The Life as a Zebra Foundation is adding some different stripes to their ways of raising funds, increasing awareness and advocating for the prevention, treatment and research of hard-to-diagnose invisible illnesses.
 
In April, LAAZF will welcome world-recognized expert Dr. Blair Grubb and his associates from the University of Toledo Medical Center as speakers and special guests at the 4th Annual Benefit Concert for Invisible Awareness and Research. Grubb's visit, says co-founder Katie Dama Jaskolski, represents a new partnership that supports the medical center's groundbreaking research into postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome—or POTS.
 
"This research project has the potential to improve the lives of so many who suffer from the often debilitating and life-altering disease," says Jaskolski. "It's a dream come true to have the chance to work with Dr. Grubb in order to make a difference in the lives of so many."
 
Jaskolski says that most of the proceeds from this year's gala will be allocated to Grubb's research only—a departure from previous LAAZF galas that supported multiple foundations. Anything beyond the targeted goal of $10,000 will be applied toward funding general operations for LAAZF—a non-profit supported by volunteers and charitable donations.
 
Grubb is considered a leader in the discovery and use of new approaches for the treatment of POTS—a debilitating disease that causes dizziness, sudden fainting, and an inability to carry on the basic functions of daily life. In 2015, Grubb was named one of the America's Top Doctors by Castle Connolly.
 
Jaskolski and her sister Allie Dama founded the Life as a Zebra Foundation in 2012. Each had lived with debilitating symptoms while searching for correct medical diagnoses. Dama Jaskolski has been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and POTS, while Dama was diagnosed with polyarteritis nodosa vasculitis.
 
The 4th annual gala will be held April 11 from 6-11 p.m. at the MSU Kellogg Center. The evening includes cocktails, appetizers, a silent auction, presentations and headliner acts including pop/Americana artist Noah Guthrie from Glee and Boston-based singer-songwriter Chris Trapper of the band The Push Stars. For tickets or more information, click here.  
 
Sources: Katie Dama Jaskolski, Co-founder, Life as a Zebra Foundation
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Alchemy Detroit brings timeless tailoring to The Runway

Shelley Van Riper spent years looking for the perfect blazer. Now she's bringing her finds to The Runway.
 
As the owner and founder of Alchemy Detroit, Van Riper was invited to hang her entire collection at The Runway starting this spring. Her line of classic and professional chic includes blazers, scarves and tees—all designed for women with an eye for timeless tailoring.
 
"I have people from age 20 to 65 wearing my pieces," says the Detroit-based designer. "It's classic, and timeless and versatile, and for the professional career woman, stay-at-home mom or the matriarch."
 
Van Riper spent 20 years building a career in the corporate world before leaving to found her women's wear label. Alchemy Detroit, she says, draws inspiration from men's wear with sophisticated, subtle touches that provide feminine appeal.
 
"I wore suits to work every day before corporate casual," says Van Riper. "Even then, I would wear a blazer even if it was with jeans."
 
Van Riper says she struggled with finding simple, classic pieces with clean lines and timeless quality. Sometimes, she says, she even went to men's departments at high-end stores to have them tailor a suit with the same details and craftsmanship she saw in men's suits.
 
While Van Riper eventually found a way to dress for success, she found herself constantly yearning to return to the creative discipline she had first pursued in college: fashion design.
 
"Fashion design never left me," says Van Riper who had switched her major and chose a business track. "It was my core."
 
Last year, Van Riper resigned from her desk job and put together the elements she needed to launch Alchemy Detroit. She devised a business plan, traveled to the garment district in New York, and made the connections she needed to create patterns, source materials, and tailor and produce her first products.
 
Van Riper says working with Lansing's Runway will enable her to make similar connections in Michigan, and provides a creative environment where she can mix with other fashion designers.
 
"I'm really honored to be hanging there with other Michigan designers," says Van Riper. "The Runway is a really exciting opportunity to bring people together to share resources, information and ideas."
 
Sources: Shelley Van Riper, Owner, Alchemy Detroit
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale attracts more investors, continues to innovate

Matthew Jason has had little rest since he and Jeremy Sprague opened up their Lansing-based micro-brewery in the Allen Market Place.
 
Since October, Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale has operated a pop-up taproom on Wednesdays and Fridays, offering craft beer for take-out sale in 32-ounce howlers and 64-ounce growlers.
 
The community-owned operation, says Jason, has grown significantly in the six months at the market. More people have become investors, and more beer festivals have invited Jason and Sprague to share their Lansing-made brews this summer and fall. Beer aficionados can also enjoy Sleepwalker ales at local places like Taps 25 and the REO Town Pub, as well as select bars in Kalamazoo and Chicago.
 
"We're hoping to move into a brick and mortar facility by the end of the year," says Jason. "We've been looking at some locations, but a lot depends on what's ready and when we're ready to commit."
 
So far, Jason and Sprague say that are two-thirds of the way toward their minimum goal of the $125,000 they need to make the move—thanks to the generosity of community investors.
 
For now, Sleepwalker continues to create unique beers that feature local ingredients, particularly those from farms in the Urbandale district. Several signature beers feature locally-sourced honey and lavender, and Lansing roasters Craft and Mason and Bloom have provided specialty coffees for a double-edged brew.
 
"We value these types of collaborations because it makes for a better product and supports local businesses," says Jason. "It's a win-win, and reflects our philosophy on community-ownership."
 
Sleepwalker enjoys pushing the boundaries of beer styles by conjuring up a Belgian-style beer with raisins and prunes, brewing an IPA with Japanese hops, and reviving a historic Polish beer that's 100 years old. Piwo Grodziskie, Jason explains, is made from smoked malt wheat, and comes from a region where his ancestors had lived.
 
"We like to innovate, draw upon European traditions, and do different things," says Jason. "That's a hallmark of American craft beer. We take our dream-play motto to heart, and like to inspire and inspire others."
 
Sources: Matthew Jason, Co-owner, Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Inaugural leadership program looks to attract and retain Lansing talent

A new leadership initiative through the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce will help the Greater Lansing region identify, develop and retain the next generation of community leaders.
 
Leadership Lansing will offer both established and emerging leaders the opportunity to receive extensive training in leadership skills as well as to gain a greater understanding of how community institutions shape the region's quality of life.
 
The eight-month initiative begins in October 2015 and is currently enrolling up to 30 participants for the inaugural year.
 
"We really wish to encourage a wide range of participation that is reflective of our diverse economy in Greater Lansing," says Kristin Beltzer, LRCC executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "Leadership Lansing offers terrific opportunity for large and small businesses to develop their talent."
 
Participants will engage in seven workshops over the course of the program. An overnight retreat will acquaint them with key institutions, industry sectors and business leaders that make up the fabric of the Greater Lansing region. Workshop themes include leadership influence, education, healthcare, home-grown entrepreneurship, engagement and quality of life, and creating a vision for the future. Training on specific leadership skills will be part of each workshop.
 
Certified and credential leadership instructors Ross Woodstock of Kolt Communications and Susan Combs of Susan Combs Coaching and Consulting will facilitate Leadership Lansing. 
 
Combs says the new Lansing program will draw from the best practices of leadership programs across the state, and build an appreciation of the resources that are unique to Greater Lansing—including state government, associations, and Michigan State University.
 
"Our hopes are that participants will walk away with a broader understanding of our community, as well as specific leadership skills that they can put into practice in their organizations," says Combs. "Programs like these help people see the big picture and make connections across sectors."
 
Sources: Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce; Susan Combs, Owner, Susan Combs Coaching and Consulting
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Williamston Theatre purchases building, secures home in community

They asked. The community responded. Now they have a permanent home.
 
In late 2014, the Williamston Theatre became the official owner of the building at 122 N. Putnam Street. Previous owner Steve Zynda was ready to sell, and gave the group an offer they couldn't refuse.
 
"Steve offered it to us for far less than what it was worth," says Development Director Emily Sutton-Smith. "He also said he would match anything we raised from donors to make the sale possible."
 
In just two months, a solid handful of donors and supporters stepped forward to help cover the $150,000 sale price. It's a move, says Sutton-Smith, that will take the theatre to the next level while affirming the place of theatre in the community of about 3,800 residents.
 
"Owning the building puts us on firmer footing and makes us realize that we are well-established and respected," says Sutton-Smith. "We have amazing supporters and donors. They inspire us to continue doing the work we're doing."
 
While the group had rented the building from Zynda since 2006 for just $1 a year, Sutton-Smith says having the building as an asset opens up new venues for capital improvements and grants.
 
"We have some large projects coming up in our five-year plan," she says. "They're things that aren't very sexy but are important to fix, including brick work, windows and roofs. But we're balancing it with smaller projects, too, that will make our theatre space better."
 
The Williamston Theatre occupies 7,542 square feet, including a basement, first floor performance area, and second floor offices. The theatre seats 100 patrons with performances taking place on a 15-by-15 foot black box stage. The first floor also features two lobbies, with the back lobby serving as an art gallery with works by local artists.
 
The Williamston Theatre was recently awarded grants from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) and the Capital Region Community Foundation. The theater was also recognized by the American Theatre Wing as one of the most promising young theatre companies in the country.
 
Each season, the Williamston Theatre provides dozens of job opportunities to Michigan theatre professionals, both on stage and off, including apprenticeship opportunities to recent college graduates.
 
Sources: Emily Sutton-Smith, Development Director, Williamston Theatre
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Mason Farmer's Market expands vendors, hours and season

Mason's Farmers Market will start its 11th season doing what it does best. They'll just do it with more.
 
From July through October, the market will bring more vendors, more entertainment and events, and a longer schedule to Maple Street in downtown Mason. And the hope? To attract even more shoppers interested in fresh food, produce, and the farmers who bring it to market.
 
"It's a great way to spend the morning," says Jeff Collar, the new market master. "You learn a lot. Get to talk to farmers. And get excellent produce. It gives you a chance to get out and meet other people, too."'
 
Collar is applying ideas and making connections from what he learned by attending training for market masters put on by the Michigan Farmers Market Association. He volunteered to manage the Mason Farmer's Market after long-time market master Elaine Ferris retired. As a vendor and recent retiree from a food service career, Collar is well equipped to oversee operations and explore new ways of doing things.
 
"We're looking to feature a farmer or grower every week," says Collar. "They'll be able to showcase what they're doing and who they area. We want our customers to get to know the farmers at the market, and we want to make sure farmers get to know their customers, too."
 
To date, the Mason Farmer's Market has 12 to 15 vendors slated to participate—up from seven vendors in previous years. Collar says the major emphasis will be on produce, with some vendors also offering crafts and baked goods.
 
"It's a farmer's market after all," laughs Collar. "We want it to be a combination of foods."
 
The Mason Farmer's Market will kick off July 11 and run through the second or third week of October. Hours of operation are Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
 
Sources: Jeff Collar, Market Master, Mason Farmer's Market
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Modern Cut Apparel frees designers from production side of business

Two friends with an inclination for entrepreneurship are helping fashion designers stick to the drawing board by providing production and fulfillment services that can cut into a designer's creative energies and time.
 
Founded in January by Jonathan Arias and Joe Abanto, Modern Cut Apparel sources production for brands and merchandise lines. With business operations in East Lansing and production capabilities in Peru, the end-to-end fulfillment house can deliver most any article of clothing or textile-based merchandise based on specifications set by the artist or brand.
 
"We want to reach out to designers and artists in the Mid-Michigan community who have an idea, but are constrained by the realities of production," says Arias. "We want to help take the limits off and allow artists to be as crazy and creative as they want to."
 
Modern Cut Apparel works with brands that have a solid, growing customer base, and that create products they would feel comfortable buying or wearing themselves. The company has produced lines of T-shirts and caps, including several Peruvian brands and an American brand named Population Dynamo. Items are crafted and manufactured from the company's facility in Lima, Peru, and shipped back to the U.S.
 
Arias and Abanto grew up together in Miami. Arias moved to Lansing a year or two ago to pursue his law degree at Michigan State University. Abanto moved to the Lima, Peru, to open a shop in the fashion and textile district. The two friends kept in close contact, and as their studies and careers evolved, they began to see a natural fit for a business that combined their talents and ingenuity.
 
"Brands are plentiful," says Arias. "Most of us can name a dozen. But what most of us can't do is to name the fulfillment houses that get the products done. Our goal is to be one of those sources and fulfillment houses."
 
Arias runs the company's business operations from his home office while Abanto manages production and fulfillment in Peru. The company received initial support and consultation from the Hatch—East Lansing's student-oriented business incubator.
 
"Our immediate goal is to establish a presence in Mid-Michigan," says Arias. "The business community is amazing here. The entrepreneurial culture is so robust." 
 
Sources: Jonathan Arias, Co-founder and Owner, Modern Cut Apparel
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

New film studies degree program premieres at MSU

The legacy of film and a growing presence of blockbuster filmmakers in Michigan spurred Michigan State University to premiere a new bachelor's degree program in film studies.
 
Housed in the College of Arts and Letters, the program welcomed its first 11 students in January 2015. Sites are set on ramping up to 80 to 100 degree candidates in the next few years.
 
Courses will be taught by seven core MSU faculty who are also award-winning filmmakers, and will provide students with training in production, history, theory and criticism of the cinema. The program will also equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to give back culturally and artistically to their communities.
 
"We're committed to growing the program and making it a vibrant component of MSU and East Lansing," says Program Director and Assistant Professor Josh Yumibe. "We want to contribute to expanding culture and the arts in East Lansing and to bring cinema back to downtown."
 
Yumibe adds that the new film studies program comes at a time when the accessibility of affordable digital filmmaking tools continues to push filmmaking beyond the boundaries of Hollywood. Targeted occupations for graduates will include film production, film criticism, arts management, advertising, public relations, software development and educational programming.
 
Film studies have a rich tradition at MSU, producing alumni like Sam Raimi of "Evil Dead" and "Spiderman" fame. The program, says Yumibe, will distinguish itself through its broad global dimension and opportunity for students to pursue screenwriting and film production in conjunction with the study of film.
 
"We're committed to thinking globally in terms of film and technology," says Yumibe. "And we're training students to think on their feet by teaching them to write, read and speak thoughtfully about what they're working on."
 
Yumibe says MSU is formalizing internships with several film festivals and film offices. The program also recently welcomed the Toronto-based experimental filmmaker Mike Hoobloom as part of the program's filmmakers in residence series.
 
In addition to the new bachelor's degree program, students can earn minors in film studies, fiction filmmaking and documentary production, and pursue concentrated studies in TV, cinema and radio.
 
Sources: Josh Yumibe, Director, MSU Film Studies Program
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

MHSAA teams with Sparrow to transforms care of student-athletes

The Michigan High School Athletic Association and Sparrow are teaming up to keep student-athletes fit, healthy and in the game through a partnership that draws on the knowledge and skills of experts from both organizations.
 
With Sparrow named the official health system of the MHSAA, players, parents, coaches and administrators will have instant access to the region's health care experts on student-athlete related issues such as training, nutrition and concussions.
 
"It will draw attention to health and wellness and improve communication and safety," says Jack Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA. "There's such a blizzard of information out there that this will help sort it out and communicate things clearly with schools, administrators, coaches, parents and athletes."
 
Roberts says the partnership builds on the capacity of MHSAA to address daily questions the organization receives about the health and wellness of student-athletes. The partnership will also tackle key concerns of school sports safety including those related to health histories and screenings, head trauma, heat and humidity, and the heart.
 
Sparrow offers programs for athletes at all levels and includes primary care physicians, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and athletic performance trainers. The health system will lend its expertise to the MHSAA through "Ask the Expert"—a feature on the MHSAA website which connects users directly to Sparrow caregivers. Experts from Sparrow will also be onsite at MHSAA tournament events to answer questions and discuss sports medicine issues.
 
"It's rare for an organization like ours to have a connection like this with a health care provider," says Roberts. "And it's unprecedented for us to have a year-round, comprehensive partnership with all sports."
 
About 1,500 high schools and middle schools—both public and private—are members of the MHSAA. Roberts says that in a typical school year, the MHSAA will receive up to two or more questions a day on issues that range from skin-related concerns to injuries to playing conditions that can affect health and wellness.
 
Based in mid-Michigan, Sparrow has more than 10,000 caregivers and is a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network.
 
Sources: Jack Roberts, Executive Director, MHSAA
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Bubble soccer bounces into Lansing

Sometimes, being in a bubble isn't all that bad. Damon Grace will tell you.
 
Grace is the guy behind bringing bubble soccer to Mid-Michigan. The European phenomena popularized by the Internet has bounced, rolled and settled in East Lansing, offering the soccer-inclined at any level the chance to knock around on the playing field.
 
Bubble Soccer Detroit opened a branch at 210 Abbot in East Lansing after the West Bloomfield native and MSU student launched his business from the Hatch. Grace says the office rents out all the equipment anyone would need to play the high-energy, hilarious sport with friends or coworkers.
 
"It's basically contact soccer with a twist," says Grace. "You can do flips and hit the ball super hard. It brings in a huge crowd all the time and everyone wants to play."
 
Grace says he and his business partner Luke Andrews supply the bubble soccer balls, referees and all the setup and teardown for birthday parties, graduation events, corporate meetings, bachelor or bachelorette parties, fundraisers, and other occasions suitable for the rousing, camaraderie-building sport. Plastic bubbles are inflated onsite, and worn by players like a circular backpack of bubble wrap.
 
"It can get a little hot when you're inside the bubble, but there's a hole at the top so it's not too bad," says Grace. "It's really fun and exciting and seems safer than regular soccer."
 
Since coming to Lansing in December 2014, the two-person company has coordinated more than 20 bubble soccer events. Customers play the event on basketball courts, in gyms, on soccer fields or in backyards. Grace says one group even held a competition on a stage. Leagues and other partnerships are in the works with the Hope Sports Complex and Lansing Soccerzone.
 
"Our goal is to go national," says Grace. "We want to have events across America, and tournaments and leagues everywhere. We've found that few people have ever seen it before and once they do, everyone wants to play."
 
Sources: Damon Grace, Owner, Bubble Soccer Detroit
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Cuts and Convos provides haircuts and hope to Lansing homeless

When you look good you feel good. Most everyone has heard that. Jonathan Arias took it to heart.
 
In November, Arias founded Cuts and Convos, a Lansing nonprofit that offers beauty and barber services to low-income residents. Arias also provides legal, health and spiritual information to the people he serves—all during or immediately following their hair cut and styling.
 
In just four months, Arias and a cadre of volunteers have cut and styled hair for nearly 70 people through the Lansing City Rescue Mission, Cristo Rey Community Center, Haven House and Homeless Angels. Services are scheduled every-other-week or once a month. On occasion, speakers from local nonprofits or pastors provide the "convos."
 
"Many of the people we meet haven't received any tender loving care in a while," says Arias. "That's the beauty of what we do."
 
Arias says he came up with the idea for Cuts and Convos by combining his passion for justice with his long-time hobby of cutting and styling hair. After discussing the project with classmates and instructors through the MSU College of Law, Arias realized the value his blended service could bring to both individuals and the community.
 
"Sometimes the biggest barrier to employment is not being clean-cut and well-groomed," says Arias. "Our services can help give someone a shot at getting their foot in the door."
 
Arias says his greatest reward is hearing how the services of Cuts and Convos have changed someone's life or perceptions. A high school student, for instance, received compliments instead of taunts after Arias and other volunteers cut and styled her hair. And two men told him how their job interviews had led to employment after Cuts and Convos helped them prep with a shave, hair cut and coaching.
 
"We cut people's hair and we listen to their stories," says Arias. "We feel it gives them hope to know that regardless of where you've been, someone cares about you and wants you to feel good about yourself."
 
Sources: Jonathan Arias, Founder, Cuts and Convos
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Bootcamps hit the ground running for Lansing startups

Bootcamps aren't just for the military or fitness industry anymore. Organizations of all shapes and sizes are putting people to the test with rigorous curriculums or programs designed to build skills and acumen quickly.
 
Lansing's entrepreneurial sector joins the mix. In February, The RING—Lansing's Innovation Network powered by LEAP—partnered with a handful of organizations to host a second year of bootcamps for startups. Seeking to build on the effectiveness of the inaugural year, bootcamp organizers restructured the format from two weeklong sessions to a series of six, one-day bootcamps in 2015.
 
Tony Willis, manager of business acceleration at LEAP, says the bootcamps are a product of like-minded organizations on a mission to nurture Lansing's entrepreneurial ecosystem. Those organizations include the Small Business Development CenterMichigan Creative, MSU Innovation CenterRough Draft Solutions, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
 
"We just threw out the sketch paper and asked ourselves what would make sense for our demographics here in Lansing," says Willis. "By working together we identified subjects that are important for entrepreneurs to master for success."
 
The first educational bootcamp for 2015 focused on branding and marketing, and featured presentations from industry leaders that ranged from connecting key small business development resources, techniques, trends, social media and video marketing, public relations and content creation. Nearly 40 people attended the event held in the 300 Room, located between the Technology Innovation Center and The Hatch incubators in East Lansing. Participants included new startups, established companies, and future entrepreneurs.
 
"Our overall outcome for all our bootcamps is to enhance and increase the knowledge base of our entrepreneurs," says Willis. "At the end of the year, we want participants to be able to say they've increased their business, they've identified things to improve on, and they've taken action that will help move them ahead."
 
Topics covered in upcoming bootcamps include creating business plans, legal issues, investment strategies, contracts and proposals, and attracting and working with lenders. A full slate of workshops and topics can be found here. 
 
Sources: Tony Willis, Manager of Business Acceleration, LEAP
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.
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