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MSU startup TheraB receives funding from medical investment firm

A new medical device that will change the way families treat infant jaundice is one step closer to market thanks to a partnership between a Michigan State University startup company and a medical investment firm based in Michigan.
 
Conceived by MSU students and nurtured through the MSU Innovation Center, TheraB Medical Products, Inc., received $150,000 this spring in pre-seed stage funding from Quantum Medical Concepts. The funding, says CEO Ryan Jankovic, will be applied toward product development, further strengthening TheraB's ability to provide a product that offers an intimate and cost-effective method of treating jaundice in newborns.
 
Jaundice is caused by bilburin—a high level of pigment in the blood that causes the skin to look yellow. In newborns, the still-developing liver may not be able to remove bilburin from the blood, resulting in infant jaundice. Traditional treatments for newborns may involve therapies that separate mothers and babies, including light therapies and bulky non-portable blankets.
 
The SnugLit Portable Phototherapy Blanket treats infant jaundice by providing the blue light needed to help the newborn break down bilburin molecules. The wearable swaddle also facilitates skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, and other essential elements of mother-baby bonding.
 
"We've worked to make SnugLit easy to use so parents can have the treatment they need for their infant and also be able to conduct their daily activities," says Jankovic. "The blanket can be used both at home and in the home for mild cases."
 
The idea for the SnugLit blanket resulted from a student research project, and was developed with extensive feedback from healthcare professionals. TheraB was founded in 2014 through the MSU Innovations Center, won several pitch and startup business competitions, and has been featured on a variety of local, regional and national media. Jankovic says the coming year will involve final fundraising and product development, with the first products expected to be available in 2016.
 
Source: Ryan Jankovic, TheraB Medical Products, Inc.
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Entrepreneur returns home to grow social media company

When Courtney Maki was ready to graduate college and start her career, it was as if the stars aligned when she landed a job in social media.
 
"I fell in love with social media," says the now business owner of a growing social media company in Lansing. "I've always been social, so to have the opportunity to connect with people world-wide is just an amazing feeling."
 
Maki has transformed a passion that started with Disney and an Atlanta-based TV network into a small business focused on social media strategy. She founded Glow Social Media in Atlanta in 2012, then leveraged the virtual qualities of the business to move back to Lansing in November 2013. Since her homecoming, Maki has remained true to her nature, renewing old acquaintances and cultivating social media networks for a variety of businesses and organizations in mid-Michigan.
 
"Atlanta was a good place to start a company," says Maki. "But Lansing is a good place to grow one. There are not a lot of other firms here that offer exactly what we do."
 
Glow specializes in developing brand awareness, generating inbound traffic, and encouraging product and brand adoption through the use of social media. Maki's company also provides marketing and public relations services that support a company's mission, and ensure consistency in voice while building a social media network.
 
Maki says that Glow doesn't just post to blogs or websites or to social media platforms. Her staff, she says, essentially function as the social media leg of a company's marketing department, coming up with content and strategy that reflects the products, services, community work, and other key features of the business.
 
"We have a team of specialists with niche expertise," says Maki. "You might not get that if you hire a social media specialist right out of college."
 
Glow works within a variety of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Google Plus. The company also specializes in LinkedIn, providing optimization services for clients.
 
"We're here to help the community," says Maki. "And one of the best ways to help as a social media specialist is to help individuals in the community find jobs and be successful."
 
Glow recently began inhabiting a brick-and-mortar residence on the second floor of the Co:Space in REO Town. The 15- by 15-foot office at 1146 S. Washington provides just enough seating for Maki and her three employees, plus access to shared conference and meeting spaces. 
 
Source: Courtney Maki, Owner, Glow Social Media
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

ASK continues growth curve, solidifies focus on IT services

Mike Maddox's story of entrepreneurship started when he assumed leadership of a 10-year-old IT company in 2004. Since then, he has overseen the transformation of ASK, leading the Lansing-based company toward a path of growth and expansion that coincides with the rebirth of the Capitol City.
 
In 2013, ASK marked its 20th anniversary by adding 1,700-square feet onto their Lansing office on Sovereign Drive. Today, 27 people work in the 6,000-square foot facility, with six being new hires as of 2014.
 
In the past 11 years, ASK has evolved from a reseller of large mainframe systems to a provider of managed IT services. Sales revenue has increased 340 percent, while the number of staff has grown by 300 percent. Those numbers reflect the company's broadened focus beyond Mid-Michigan to one that serves customers statewide. And since many ASK customers have national and international operations, ASK's reach stretches overseas, providing service and expertise on several continents.
 
"Today's business looks completely different," says Maddox, ASK president and CEO.  "Our business is based on services and consulting, with very little based on hardware."
 
In the last year or two, ASK has strengthened its focus on managing, remediating and keeping IT infrastructures running for clients. ASK also boasts a fully-staffed engineering department dedicated to cyber security solutions and to reducing and managing risk.
 
Maddox attributes his company's success to letting the client's best interests guide every decision. That approach, he says, has led to a client retention rate of more than 95 percent, something he says is nearly unheard of in the IT business.
 
"Culturally, our people want to be part of building something that will last forever," says Maddox. "That motivates them more than anything, and makes ASK a really fun place to work."
 
Mike Maddox recently received an entrepreneurial award from the Greater Lansing Business Monthly for his ability to build camaraderie, take innovative risks, and foster growth in a Lansing-based business.   
 
Sources: Mike Maddox, President and CEO, ASK
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Rough Draft Solutions provides strategic writing and editing for small businesses

Amanda Washburn understands what a blank screen is all about. She's a writer.
 
Armed with that core knowledge, Washburn decided she would help others fill the void and fine-tune what they had started. So in January 2014, she filled her virtual red pens and sharpened her cyber pencils and set in motion a business that provides strategic writing, editing and marketing solutions for small businesses.
 
Rough Draft Solutions works with clients to identify objectives, create content strategies and take customer relationships to the next level. Washburn says she can jump in to craft messaging, tweak and organize concepts, and get points across through the most cost-effective and efficient communication channel. Whatever stage a company is at with a project—be it a blank slate or communications in process—she's there to help.
 
"I realized that many small or local businesses don't have anyone doing marketing for them," says Washburn. "So while they may be doing great things and making great products, no one really know about the value of what they're providing."
 
Rough Draft Solutions has worked with about 25 clients including engineering firms, insurance agents, financial advisers, web and graphic designers, health care organizations and city administrators. In each instance, Washburn sits down to tailor solutions through a content-marketing toolbox that includes blog and web posts, newsletters, press releases, social media, and internal communications.
 
Washburn breaks her services into three key phases: strategizing, creating and polishing. She says she firmly believes that there is no one-size-fits-all marketing tactic or plan, and adds that she can jump in at any point of the process.
 
"We're specialists in helping businesses communicate in authentic and engaging ways," says Washburn. "Anything that has to do with writing, we'll do it."
 
While currently a one-person shop, Washburn plans to take Rough Draft Solutions to the next level. She's currently looking to hire interns over the summer and to build a for-credit internship program.
 
Sources: Amanda Washburn, Rough Draft Solutions
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Urban farmers create community supported kitchen at The Avenue Cafe

Some say it's all in a name. That's certainly the case for a new venture between an herbal tea start-up and a popular entertainment venue on Lansing's East Side.
 
Beginning in late May, HerBlends of Plenty will begin running the kitchen at the Avenue Café at 2021 E. Michigan Ave. Branded Abundance at the Avenue Café, the new culinary operation will offer farm-to-table dining through a community-supported kitchen. Co-founders Kirk Green and Patti Akley also plan to expand The Avenue's hours to accommodate a teahouse with a breakfast and lunch menu.
 
"We love this location and are invested in the East Side through our urban farms," says Green who cultivates herbs in the Urbandale neighborhood. "There's lots of potential to support farm-to-table fare, and there's a need for a tea house in Greater Lansing, too."
 
Green says The Avenue will continue to offer craft beers and host shows in the evening. The only difference will be the availability of food prepared by HerBlends of Plenty Executive Chef Jason Jones from locally-source ingredients.
 
Green and Akley are working to partner with local producers fresh produce, eggs and humanely-raised meats. The two plan to meet with farmers in advance of their growing and production seasons to establish baselines for supplying goods.
 
"It's part of the community supported kitchen model that we haven't seen a lot in this area," says Green. "Our goal is to keep costs low and provide meals at a more affordable rate."
 
The community kitchen allows customers to buy shares at the beginning of the summer and receive a set number of seasonal meals per week. Members can opt for dine-in or takeout. Non-members can purchase meals, too, but at a slightly higher rate. A mini-farmers market outside The Avenue is also being planned.
 
HerBlends of Plenty recently launched a crowd funding campaign through Indiegogo that will run through April 29.  The goal is to facilitate pre-orders and to raise fund to help the transition to The Avenue.
 
Abundance at The Avenue Café will occupy about 1,000 square feet of the 7,000-square foot facility, and will be run by six staff from HerBlends of Plenty. 
 
"We may redesign things a little up front to make things more restaurant friendly," says Akley. "Our hope is to make for a more mixed clientele while retaining the space as amazing venue for musicians."
 
Sources: Kirk Green and Patti Akley, Co-founders, HerBlends of Plenty and Abundance at the Avenue Cafe
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Prima Civitas and MEDC join forces to boost Michigan's economy

Prima Civitas and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation have formalized their longstanding working relationship through a cooperative agreement aimed at promoting economic development throughout Michigan.
 
Signed earlier this spring, the agreement sets the stage for broader collaboration on ongoing projects or those in the works.
 
"We felt it was important to formalize our relationship and work to continue to improve Michigan's economy," says Arnold Weinfeld, CEO and board chair of Prima Civitas. "The more formal relationship will allow us to expand our services across the state and work with more partners involved in the same type of work."
 
The two organizations will continue to collaborate on worker recruitment and training, as well as projects that support businesses in creating and retaining jobs. Other key efforts will encourage the export of Michigan products and services, and foster private sector involvement and support for the state's economic development.
 
Prima Civitas and MEDC are currently coordinating the Michigan Supply Chain Innovation Summit slated for this August. The conference provides a forum for thought leaders to explore innovative business solutions within the supply chain, and to showcase Michigan's logistical assets and resources.
 
Other ongoing collaborations include rebuilding the cut and sew industry; assisting, retraining, and securing employment for displaced professionals; and building and maintaining a statewide internship initiative.
 
Prima Civitas is a nonprofit community and economic development organization supported by Michigan State University, the C.S. Mott Foundation, and other partners. The organization promotes collaborative relationships across government agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector to promote the state's economic growth.
 
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is the state's marketing arm and lead advocate for business development, talent and jobs, tourism, film and digital media incentives, arts and cultural grants, and overall economic growth. The MEDC offers a number of business assistance services and capital programs for business attraction and acceleration, entrepreneurship, strategic partnerships, talent enhancement, and urban and community development.
 
Sources: Arnold Weinfeld, CEO and Board Chair, Prima Civitas
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Move In Move Out saves left-behind items from the landfill

That sofa, chair or other furnishing left behind when clearing out from a college apartment or dorm doesn't have to be destined for the dumpster thanks to an innovative moving and charitable giving service founded by students.
 
Move In Move Out provides free pickup services for unwanted furnishings and household items that are still useable and in good repair. Donated items are then cleaned and stored in an area warehouse, and resold to incoming students or residents in the fall. All proceeds go to support local charities, or to provide basic operational support for the company.
 
"We're not out to make a profit," says Rachel McCloskey, president of MIMO. "Our goal is to make our community a better place by reducing waste."
 
Founded two years ago by students at Northwestern University, MIMO opened an East Lansing branch in May 2014. Kevin Ye, an entrepreneur working through the Hatch, became acquainted with Northwestern MIMO founder Steven To through a mutual friend, and set things in motion to bring the concept to the MSU campus.
 
McCloskey says the company grew from two to six staff in 12 months, with dozens of volunteers who assist during the moving and sales period that runs from May through August. About 1,200 tons of potential waste was hauled or transformed into reusable goods during the first year.
 
"We welcome anyone who wants to donate or buy anything," says President Rachel McCloskey. "If you donate, we provide the pickup. If you purchase items in our warehouse, you provide the hauling or we can arrange to have it hauled for you for a small delivery charge."
 
Move In Move Out services can be requested online. Items for sale can be viewed and purchased at warehouse and storage facilities on Abbot Road near Chandler Crossings. Most items for sale are between $15 to $20 with prices topping out at $50. In the first year at MSU, MIMO sold about 200 items with about 100 remaining household items donated to the Salvation Army or Goodwill.
 
Sources: Rachel McCloskey, President, Move In Move Out
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

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, U.S. Green Building Council, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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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