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Ashlee Willis Floral takes the sneeze out of flowers with quality artificial arrangements

Sometimes when you say it with flowers, you also say it with a sneeze, watery eyes or an occasional prick of a rose's thorn.
 
Ashlee Willis has a solution: artificial flowers.
 
Two years ago, Willis transformed her hobby of creating floral decor using artificial flowers into a blooming business. And while some may immediately think dollar store when they think artificial flowers, Ashlee Willis Floral Decor looks as fresh and natural as real petals and greenery without the pollen.
 
"Everyone tells me they just love the look and design," says Willis. "Most people can't believe that they're not fresh flower arrangements."
 
Willis is on a quest to remove the stigma surrounding artificial flowers, as well as to bring affordable, maintenance free beauty to any home, office or special event. Her arrangements can be as small or large or as varied as most any bouquet ordered from a florist, and include roses, daisies, tulips, orchids and various accents and greenery.
 
Flowers are available primarily for rental, with some customers renting new arrangements each month for a "pick-me-up" for their home or office. Organizers and hosts of special events and parties also can enjoy the carefree setup and maintenance of Willis' arrangements, with no wilting, falling petals or drooping stems to detract from the ambiance.
 
"I just love the mood and memories flowers can create," says Willis. "I did a wedding recently where I surprised the bride with a bouquet that featured a charm of her mother who had recently passed away. The bride told me it was the best thing she ever had since she got to walk down the aisle with her mom and could keep the arrangement forever."
 
Willis runs her online business from home, and sometimes receives expert advice on arranging and color selection from her two toddlers. She hopes to move to a storefront once her kids are in school. Until then, she's planning to hire an intern or two to help out with her growing calendar of spring and summer events.
 
"I'm really into entrepreneurship," says Willis. "It's my passion."
 
Source: Ashlee Willis, Owner, Ashlee Willis Floral Decor
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
     
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Promotional video targets international visitors, helps build Lansing tourism

Numbers tell the story when it comes to the impact of tourism in Greater Lansing. And tourism watchers with the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau say those numbers will continue to grow as more organizations and individuals pick Lansing as their destination for events, attractions, or just plain R&R.
 
"Associations and sports are our bread and butter," says Tracy Padot of the organizations and travelers who chose Lansing for conventions, meetings and events. "But we're looking to attract more leisurely visitors to the community—including Chinese travelers."
 
Chinese and other international visitors, Padot points out, can be a unique source of tourism given that nearly 8,000 international students attend Michigan State University—with more than 6,000 being Chinese.
 
In early 2015, the GLCVB released a three-minute video that encourages Chinese viewers to consider visiting Greater Lansing. Produced through a partnership with Brand USA, the video features an on-camera host speaking in Chinese and sharing Greater Lansing visitor information in his own cultural style. Shots were taken across the region including the Michigan Historical Museum, Lansing City Market, the Lansing River Trail, the Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum, and other landmarks.
 
The videos are pat of an initiative by Brand USA to encourage international travel to the U.S., and were produced in cooperation with Travel Michigan. The piece is also being used for international market promotion in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and China.
 
Other recent information campaigns by the GLCVM included "Tourism Counts," revealing the 4.7 million annual visitors to the region, creating a $472 million economic impact, and supporting 6,400 local jobs.
 
"We have a lot of great conventions, meetings and sports tournaments coming to town this year, with some being new," says Padot. "It's should be a great year of events."
 
The GLCVM employs 25 full- and part-time staff, with two part-time positions going to full-time in the past year.
 
Sources: Tracy Padot, VP, Marketing Communications, Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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

UZoom Media unites with Michigan Creative to create premier agency

The merger of two small Lansing-based companies promises to make a big impact in helping other businesses meet marketing goals.
 
On March 5, Michigan Creative and UZoom Media will become one, with a focus on being a leading provider of creative and marketing services that include web, video branding and strategy.
 
"The merger will really help us speak to our message of being a company's marketing department," says Melissa Meschke, COO of Michigan Creative. "We can step in now and offer more diversified and enhanced services to all our clients."
 
Operating under the brand of Michigan Creative, the merged company will add additional expertise and services including complex marketing strategies, targeted social media campaigns, inbound marketing, buyer persona research, advanced search engine optimization, and search engine marketing.
 
Anne Craft founded UZoom media five years ago, and began working with Michigan Creative in 2014. The more projects she worked on with Michigan Creative, the more she said it made sense for the two to join forces and offer combined, client-centered services.
 
"I knew I had found a good fit," says Craft. "We're both about fostering entrepreneurship and the local economy, and believe we can do things collaboratively to get the job done for the client."
 
Michigan Creative was founded more than three years ago and operates out of the NEO Center at 934 Clark St. The newly-merged company has 11 staff that includes full-time, part-time and interns. By year's end, Michigan Creative hopes to transition at least three-part time employees to full-time.
 
To celebrate the merger, Michigan Creative and UZoom will host a 'Waiting for Spring' open house, Thursday, March 5, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the NEO Center. The open house will include live music, light refreshments and drinks. To RSVP click here. 
 
Sources: Melissa Meschke, COO, and Anne Craft, Chief Strategist, Michigan Creative
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
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YMCA of Lansing receives grant from Consumers Energy Foundation

A $30,000 grant from the Consumers Energy Foundation will help fund facility improvements to two branches of the YMCA of Lansing, and enable the nonprofit to continue expanding services that focus on health, wellness, and special needs of children, teens and adults.
 
 "Youth development, social responsibility and healthy living are part of our mission," says Cheri Schimmel, development director of the YMCA of Lansing. "We're grateful for support of the Consumer Energy Foundation in helping us reach our goals through our ongoing Capital Campaign."
 
Renovations to the Oak Park branch in South Lansing will include improvements to the childcare center and kids' gym. The Consumers Energy Foundation grant will also be used toward the creation of a recreational outdoor sports park on the branch's backgrounds.
 
The Oak Park YMCA opened in 1982 and provides childcare and recreational programs for the community. Estimates are that 82 children each week will be served by the branch's improved childcare center. About 250 children a week currently use the kids' gym, and will continue to use the improved facilities. The YMCA projects that about 3,000 youth will find a safe, controlled place to play through the new recreational outdoor sports park each year. 
 
At the Parkwood branch, funds will be applied toward extensive renovations to the wellness center and improvements of the indoor track. The Parkwood YMCA was established in 1961 and serves 13,000 people each month. About 750 scholarships are awarded each year to enable qualifying families and individuals to participate in programs and activities.
 
"The Lansing Y has been here for 137 years," says Schimmel. "We reflect the needs of the community and work to serve those needs."
 
The YMCA of Metropolitan Lansing has six operating units, including Mystic Lake Camp near Clare, and branches downtown, on Lansing's west side, in the Oak Park area to the south, in East Lansing, and DeWitt. The YMCA employs nearly 500 individuals, and serves nearly 16,000 memberships throughout the community.
 
Sources: Cheri Schimmel, Development Director, YMCA of Lansing
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Collaborative design project celebrates Lansing, raises funds for art education

From T-shirts, to stickers, to tongue-in-cheek humor, Lansing's grittiest, grassroots, art-driven promo company has ventured into fundraising—forever empowered by the #LoveLansing movement.
 
JiveOne5even—a collaborative art project started by Paul Vetne and Marcus Cottom—recently held it's very first fundraiser in the form of a #LoveLansing party at the Green Door. The event was organized to raise dollars for elementary art programs in the Lansing School District. After an afternoon of live music and activities involving local vendors, Cottom says the event pulled in about $3,600 to purchase art materials and fund scholarships for places like REACH and MSU SmART.
 
"We're going to try to do this on an annual basis," says Cottom, a Lansing native. "Both Paul and I are artists, so it was something we felt strongly about."
 
Cottom and Vetne launched JiveOne5even in the spring of 2014. The two came up with a handful of original designs, printed them on T-shirts, and ventured out to test the appeal through local festivals. The T-shirts caught hold, leading them to branch into stickers, buttons and other items that pay homage to the city.
 
While not Versace or Nike, Cottom says the JiveOne5even label projects a certain cache, and celebrates Lansing through an ironic, urban and respectful sensibility. Designs are created using elements from existing concepts—similar to how a rapper or DJ would build music from samples.
 
"Sometimes I think Lansing has a bad reputation," says Cottom. "You can look at it from the outside and say one thing, but when you live here, you see there's a lot of good going on. It's not just potholes and a big cement parking lot where GM used to be. It's a place full of people starting businesses and making music and art—all kinds of things."
 
JiveOne5even currently has eight designs that can be printed on T-shirts, stickers, buttons, and other small novelty items. Most are available through local stores on the East Side, East Lansing and near downtown.
 
Source: Marcus Cottom, Co-Owner, JiveOne5seven
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
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Lansing-based target marketing firm rebrands and increases outreach

A targeted media firm in Lansing recently rebranded as it reinvigorates its mission to harness the power of data to drive sales, growth, and donations for businesses and organizations.
 
Shortly after the calendar turned over to 2015, Change Media Group transformed from the previous Michigan Blueprint Strategies, and set out to expand its reach and track record to a broad base of clientele.
 
"We wanted to communicate that we're a targeted media firm that can help clients adapt to the changing media landscape," says CEO Amanda Stitt. "Our rebranding shows who we are, and communicates that we are working with clients outside of Michigan, too."
 
Stitt says that Change Media integrates sophisticated data and targeting with the most up-to-date tools and technology to help organizations adapt to a dynamic media landscape. The way people consume news, information, and media is ever-changing, she adds, and can leave organizations with more limited resources outside the communication loop.
 
"We saw there wasn't a lot of help out there for non-profits and small- and mid-sized businesses," says Stitt. "We see ourselves as strategists, designers, writers, data scientists and storytellers that can help you find your audience in an incredibly targeted way."
 
Stitt and her husband, Ryan Irvin, launched Change Media in 2012 under its original name. In three years of business, the company has grown from a handful of clients to about 60. Services include research, data analysis, custom audience modeling, targeting, digital advertising, website and video creation, direct mail, graphic design, data visualization, and general consulting.
 
Change Media relocated from a smaller downtown office to the NEO Center at 934 Clark St. in the summer of 2014. The move, says Stitt, helped accommodate the addition of two new staff members. Stitt projects the small company will grow from six employees to about 10 staff by the end of 2015.
 
Source: Amanda Stitt, CEO, Change Media
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Grand Ledge park may expand to offer increased recreational opportunities

A signature park in Grand Ledge that is home to the unique sandstone and quartz rock formations that gave the city its name may soon double in size.
 
The city of Grand Ledge signed an agreement in late January to purchase 3.5 acres of undeveloped land that borders the west edge of Oak Park. The purchase of the land enables the city to offer additional recreational opportunities and increased access to the ledges, while also protecting the environment and natural features of the park.
 
"The expansion shows our city's continued commitment to incorporate and recognize recreation and public space as critical infrastructure in attracting and retaining families and residents," says Adam Smith, Grand Ledge city administrator. "Quality of life is the bottom line."
 
Smith notes that the expansion is contingent on funding to offset the cost of the acreage being offered for sale by Terry Hanks. The city has applied for funding through the Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund. If approved, the grant would fund 70 percent of the $48,000 sale price, with the city paying the remaining $19,000. Hanks, city officials say, is offering the property at considerably less than the fair market value.

The new acreage would expand the now seven-acre park by nearly 50 percent. The current park is located on a northerly bluff that overlooks the Grand River, and offers shaded picnic and wildlife viewing areas within a canopy of red and white oak, sugar maple and black cherry trees. The sandstone formations which front the river are an attraction for hikers, nature enthusiasts, and for recreational rock climbers.

Parks and green space are an important aspect of life in Grand Ledge, with Oak Park being one of nine parks or recreational facilities owned by the city.
 
"One of the great things about Grand Ledge is you have the ability to go from a downtown urban setting to parts of our community that resemble being in northern Michigan," says Smith. "The ledges are a part of that."
 
Source: Adam Smith, City Administrator, City of Grand Ledge
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

SBAM connects businesses with job seekers through cutting-edge recruitment platform

A new cutting-edge job-matching technology recently introduced by the Small Business Association of Michigan through a partnership with WorkFountain can help businesses streamline the recruitment process by connecting them with prospective employees.
 
The SBAM Talent Exchange uses sophisticated matching algorithms to connect employers to candidates based on skills, interests and requirements. Employers who join the exchange create an account and are walked through a series of questions that help them identify the type of employees needed for a particular job or jobs. The system then searches through a pool of job seekers and presents seven candidates for each position specified by the employer.
 
"It's basically a match.com for employer and employees," says Sarah Miller, director of marketing for SBAM. "Candidates are presented to you based on specific job titles to education to skill set—whatever you specify."
 
SBAM says that the talent exchange focuses on small- to mid-sized businesses since companies with 500 or fewer employees are responsible for a sizeable amount of hiring. Just over half of the private sector jobs, and nearly two-thirds of the nation's net new jobs in the past decade-and-a-half, have been created by businesses that range from 1 to 500 employees, according to figures reported by SBAM.
 
"We know that finding qualified talent is one of the most significant challenges for businesses," says Miller. "This technology is a good resource for finding the talent, and can save businesses time, money and resources."
 
Members of SBAM can join the talent exchange for $35, while job seekers can register and post their credentials for free. About 53,000 potential employees have already joined the talent exchange which is available to SBAM members state-wide.
 
SBAM serves about 23,000 small businesses that range from accountants to appliance stores, manufacturers to medical, and restaurants to retailers, in all 83 Michigan counties. Approximately 1,300 businesses of SBAM's membership are in Ingham County.
 
Source: Sarah Miller, Director of Marketing, Small Business Association of Michigan
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

The Errand Man helps busy professionals reclaim leisure time

While everyone talks about the secret to work-life balance, it can sometimes be the little everyday tasks that threaten to tip the scales.
 
Enter The Errand Man—a man with a mission to help people reclaim and transform otherwise hectic hours into sensible leisure time.
 
"I know what's it like to be juggling so many things that you feel there's just not enough hours in the day," says Skip Lare, a retired career Coast Guard officer and human resource executive. "I used to feel that way, but now I'm here to help people with those everyday tasks that can eat up all your spare time."
 
Lare started his personal concierge service in August. His goal? To be the extra hands people sometimes need to keep up with the pace of modern life. He's there to pick up that bike at the repair shop, deliver garden mulch, and do weekly grocery shopping. No task or errand is too small or too large. He'll find a way, he says, to make it work.
 
"Wouldn't it be nice to be able to shoot me a text asking me to pick up eggs, bread and milk so you can avoid yet another trip to the store on your way home?" Lare asks. "I can do that."
 
Lare got the idea for The Errand Man from his daughter, and set out to model his business after concierge services he had seen in metropolitan areas like Detroit, St. Louis and D.C. He runs errands, shops, and provides pick-up and delivery services for both individuals and businesses. He's also there to help transport or do everyday things for the elderly. Lare is licensed, insured and bonded, and a mobile notary. Above all, he says, he's among one of the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs: senior citizens.
 
"I like helping people out because now I have the time to do that," says Lare. "I can do things last minute or at a scheduled time. If you need something done, I can help."
 
Source: Skip Lare, Owner, The Errand Man
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Lettuce Live Well weighs in with free nutritional programs

Kelly Zielinski has a losing proposition that promises to be a winner for Greater Lansing.
 
As the co-founder and president of Lettuce Live Well, Zielinski and her business partner Ashley Logan got Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero to "weigh in" and launch Lansing Loses a Million at his recent State of the City address.
 
The free initiative, Zielinski explains, is modeled after a program in Oklahoma City in which city residents pledge to lose a combined 1 million pounds. Participants can log into a website to track food and calorie intake, fitness, blood pressure, body measurements and other wellness indicators. The Lansing program also offers participants the chance join online groups or community activities for additional support.
 
"We're looking to get as many people signed up as possible," says Zielinski, mentioning that more than 400 people are already on board. "It's ongoing, so there's no end date. We figure it will take a few years at least to lose a million."
 
Lansing Loses a Million is just one part of Zielinski's efforts to provide free community resources focused on nutrition and wellness. She and Logan founded Lettuce Live Well in July 2014 to provide nutritional and fitness coaching to groups and individuals through pre-arranged sessions at community centers, businesses and other public sites.
 
Lettuce Live Well also holds educational grocery store tours that provide advice on how to buy healthy foods on a budget. Each participant receives a $10 gift card to spend toward a meal that includes all five food groups. The program is supported through the national Cooking Matters at the Store Program, with tours conducted at local ValuLand, Meijer, Wal-Mart and Aldi stores.
 
"I'm just incredibly passionate about nutrition and want to help people," says Zielinski who learned about nutrition from volunteering at food banks and interning with dieticians. "There's not a lot of free nutritional resources out there. But more important, eating is the most important thing we do every day, and sometimes no one shows us how to do it properly."
 
Lettuce Live Well is a volunteer organization supported by sponsors. As programs and initiatives grow, Zielinski hopes to move into a brick-and-mortar location by late spring, and to add to her roster of more than a dozen volunteers and business interns.
 
Source: Kelly Zielinski, Co-founder and President, Lettuce Live Well
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

The Runway receives MEDC grant to develop cutting-edge curriculum

The state's first and only fashion business incubator will begin offering cutting-edge training and educational activities to fashion start-ups thanks to a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
 
The $65,000 grant to the Lansing Economic Development Corporation will enable the development of strategic and sustainable curriculum for The Runway—curriculum that LEAP says will nurture the growing fashion industry across the state.
 
"The Runway is the catalyst to start the conversation about the fashion industry in Lansing as well as state-wide," says Quin Stinchfield, manager of business incubation for LEAP. "It's a way to help people coming out of our various fashion programs stay in the area and build a business."
 
Curriculum and training, Stinchfield says, is key to the success of The Runway, located inside the renovated Knapp's Centre in downtown Lansing. Potential partners in curriculum development and delivery include fashion programs through Lansing Community College and Michigan State University, Michigan Fashion Proto, the MSU Alumni Association, Detroit Garment Guild Group, Michigan Garment Industry Council, and other fashion-focused organizations across the state.
 
Workshops under construction include pattern making, draping basics, fashion sketching and various studio sessions that help people refine and learn garment-making skills.
 
"We're working to put a curriculum in place that no matter what stage you're at, there's a offering or piece that you can gain knowledge from," says Stinchfield.
 
Other educational and knowledge-based activities supported through the grant include a web-based library, a monthly speaker series, an international fashion exchange program, and quarterly trainings on equipment. Some activities will be open to the public. In addition, Foster, Swift, Collins, and Smith PC—one of The Runway's key sponsors—will be on site twice a week to provide legal services to members of The Runway.
 
"We want to be able to provide a full package to help someone launch a company," says Stinchfield. "When we say we want to bring retail back to Lansing, this is among the great ways and methods to do it."
 
Source: Quin Stinchfield, Manager of Business Incubation, LEAP
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
 
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

East Lansing engagement platform gives public a voice anytime, anywhere

A new online civic engagement platform recently launched by the City of East Lansing provides citizens another venue for public participation in local government.
 
City officials and staff say they will use e-Town Hall to garner public feedback on posted topics, including redevelopment projects, environmental initiatives, and more. Citizens can input comments for a set period of time that will later be considered by city officials and staff in decision-making processes. The platform site will include information on each posted issue to enrich online comments and provide citizens increased opportunity for civic engagement.
 
"Much like the public comment period during East Lansing City Council meetings, this civic engagement platform will provide our citizens with an opportunity to voice their opinions on a variety of city-related topics," said East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas. "A great advantage of this new online tool is that citizens can share feedback anywhere, anytime and don't necessarily have to take the time to attend a meeting to have their voice be heard.”
 
The first two topics posted through e-Town seek public feedback on downtown visioning and the future of the Bailey Community Center. City staff will update the platform with new topics on a regular basis.
 
Peak Democracy, a non-partisan company based in California, developed the online platform with the mission of broadening civic engagement and building public trust in government. About 100 cities and counties nationwide are using the platform, including Arlington County, Va.; Saint Paul, Minn.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Salt Lake City, Utah.
 
Source: George Lahanas, City Manager, East Lansing
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Training for fledging farmers finds support through USDA grant

A recent grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will enable Michigan State University to continue helping small farmers get their start through a variety of training programs.
 
As part of the $750,000 grant, the MSU Student Organic Farm will expand its Organic Famer Training Program in partnership with the Michigan Food and Farming Systems and the Center for Regional Food Systems.
 
With roots dating back to the early 2000s, the MSU Organic Farm has trained 112 new farmers, with participants ranging in age from 18 to 63 years old.
 
"There's really no typical student anymore," says Denae Friedheim, recruitment coordinator and instructor for the farm. "We have people who have worked on farms and are pretty sure they want a career in agriculture. We also have career shifters who are craving a connection to the land."
 
The 15-acre certified organic farm is home to the first year-round Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in Michigan, and offers an intensive training program that prepares the next generation of organic farmers. Programs start in March and run through mid-November. Up to around 17 students are accepted each year, with applications still open for the 2015 season.
 
Friedheim says the farm grows produce year-round through hoop houses. The program also added livestock to the mix, allowing students to participate in the lifecycle of pigs, turkeys, geese, chickens and cattle. Some animals, too, "assist" with the annual cropping system, cleaning up residue and rooting the field once a crop is spent.
 
Students in the program learn through hands-on management and decision-making, and are given the opportunity to use and operate farming equipment. Experienced teaching staff and faculty guide students through the creation of a business plan that can be the basis of a real world farm once the student graduates.
 
"Everything we do on this farm serves as a model for our students," says Friedheim. "We try to do things as close to a regular farming business as possible."
 
The MSU Organic Farm has six full-time teaching staff as well as about a dozen part-time staff, primarily students.
 
Source: Denae Friedheim, Recruitment Coordinator and Instructor, MSU Organic Farm
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
 
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

St. Vincent's partners with Firecracker Foundation

A limited number of child survivors of sexual trauma will have access to therapeutic services through a new partnership between the Firecracker Foundation and St. Vincent Catholic Charities. The services are free and available to children whose families would not otherwise be able to afford high-quality, consistent care.
 
"This is one more step in helping us make valuable services available to people who lack the financial resources," says Tamra Johnson, community relations and marketing director for the Lansing-based St. Vincent's. "We are looking to serve as many children as possible."
 
The program began January 1 and is already serving one client. St. Vincent's provides therapists with specialized skills for working with survivors of sexual trauma, while the Firecracker Foundation provides funding supported through community donations. Clients may be referred to St. Vincent's through the Firecracker Foundation, or may call St. Vincent's directly for information on how to access services.
 
National statistics reveal that one in three girls and one in six boys will experience sexual trauma before the age of 18. Of those children, many will be among the 25 percent of children who live in poverty in Michigan. Further statistics reported by the Firecracker Foundation indicate that the lifetime economic burden of child abuse is estimated to be about $124 billion for communities across the United States.
 
"We are excited to partner with a local organization that is an essential resource to so many in need," says Tashmica Torok, executive director of the Firecracker Foundation. "This collaboration will help us extend treatment and prevent the consequences of untreated trauma for some of the youngest survivors in the tri-county area."
 
Torok says donations from the community will be crucial to sustaining the services of the Firecracker Foundation and the partnership with St. Vincent's.
 
"Every little bit helps," says Torok. "We hope to raise $65,000 by the end of 2015."
 
To learn more about services and how to apply, call St. Vincent's at 517-323-4734 or visit the Firecracker Foundation here. 
 
Source: Tamra Johnson, Community Relations and Marketing Director, St. Vincent Catholic Charities
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
 
Got a story idea for Capital Gains Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Swim Lively has legs as fashion-minded athletic and leisurewear

Thoughts of spring break or summer fun can be warming but also chilling when thoughts of pulling on a swimsuit come to mind.
 
Fine artist and sculpture Mary Gillis set out to take the edge off that shared anxiety by creating a swimsuit she felt comfortable wearing. Her design ended up being much more than a swimsuit, and became the platform for Swim Lively—her new Lansing-based business located in The Runway in downtown Lansing.
 
"I frequently travel and loved everything about it except putting on a swimsuit," says Gillis of her sojourns to sunny climes. "It seemed logical that a lot of women wouldn't want to wear a bikini or a typical swimsuit. I thought someone would design a comfortable suit, but no one did."
 
Gillis went to the drawing board combined elements of athletic and leisure wears and created a suit that can be worn for swim, yoga, sports, recreation or leisure. Made from high-tech fabric, the retro-styling provides more coverage in the hips and thighs with a chic, slimming silhouette. Side-zippered legs open to hips for lounging by the pool or beach, while options for bodice and back styles add to the figure flattering fits.
 
"I wanted to create something that was both athletic and chic," says Gillis. "I also wanted the structure of the suit to accommodate different body types by offering what I call the perfect fit equation."
 
Gillis made her first prototype suit in January 2014 and took it on a test run to Cabo. She said that so many women asked about her suit and where they could get one that she decided to take the plunge and launch the brand.
 
Gillis was among the inaugural members of The Runway in the renovated Knapp's Centre. She makes her own digitized patterns, sources materials, and works with a Michigan manufacturer who cuts and sews the suits. Swim Lively maintains a small inventory of suits in simple sizing from S, M, L and XL at the Runway store, with most sales directed online.
 
"Swim Lively is a sculptural art form I didn't anticipate getting into," says Gillis, whose work has been exhibited internationally through public, private and corporate collections, including Lansing's Accident Fund and the Board of Water and Light. "But I'm a visual problem solver. It goes with my DNA."
 
Source: Mary Gillis, Owner, Swim Lively
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
 
 Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.
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