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Innovation & Job News

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ITEC grows programs, community partnerships and staff

It’s been a busy year for ITEC, Lansing’s Information Technology Empowerment Center. Since the non-profit moved into their headquarters at the Foster Community Center a year ago, the organization has added one part-time and two full-time employees, not to mention a host of new programs and partnerships.
 
“We’ve been growing by leaps and bounds,” says ITEC Executive Director Kirk Riley. “All of ITEC’s programs are done by contract individuals. One any given day, the number is about ten contractors that are doing programs here at the Foster Community center and out in the community.”
 
In addition to their afterschool programs and Everyday Digital classes, which teach novice computer users basic computer skills, ITEC has partnered with a number of local organizations to expand their programming, including the YMCA of Lansing, Lansing Community College and the City of Lansing. 
 
A recent partnership with the Lansing School District will soon bring a new afterschool math program, iMath, to fourth and sixth grade students. 
 
“It’s a major undertaking by ITEC,” says Riley, “a new direction and new program.” 
 
In addition, ITEC has partnered with the City of Lansing’s Office of Community Media, working with Michigan Creative to provide the educational component of Lansing Public Media Center's efforts. ITEC has also started a small operation in Flint in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, Flint Community Schools and the Northeast Village Neighborhood.
 
“We rely on and benefit from our partnerships,” says Riley. “We are all about being stronger by working together. Without other organizations’ contributions, ITEC would not able to do what we do.” 
 

State of Fitness grows staff, renovates workout space

State of Fitness brought a new kind of workout to East Lansing when they opened their doors more than two years ago. The training-focused facility has been growing ever since, and has recently completed a major renovation. 
 
“When we first moved into the facility it was beautiful, and it was already built out really well for a gym,” says State of Fitness Trainer Justin Grinnell. “But the way we train our folks is different than your traditional gym.”
 
A 2,000 square foot space in State of Fitness has been transformed into a field turf area, where a variety of training and exercise can take place. Grinnell also swapped out some of the facility’s more traditional cardio equipment for newer, more cutting edge machines. The renovations represent an approximately $40,000 investment. 
 
“It’s been great,” says Grinnell. “People like that they have more space to workout in. We have a lot of fun. It’s like an adult playground here.” 
 

Gone Wired becomes The Avenue Cafe, to add up to seven staff

A favorite local hangout on Lansing’s Eastside has received a makeover and new identity. After eight years as the Gone Wired Café, the business has added a bar, alcohol sales, an entertainment stage and a new name: The Avenue Café. 
 
“Eight years ago, most bars and most restaurants didn’t have wifi,” says Alex Rabe, bar manager at The Avenue Café, “but now that name is kind of stale; it kind of promotes something that everyone has.” 
 
With the new amenities and services, The Avenue Café is seeking to instead promote several things that make the venue unique, such as a selection of Michigan beers on tap, using local produce in their updated menu and retaining their reputation as a great place for groups to meet for studying, meetings or fun. 
 
“We’re thinking about doing beer dinners soon,” says Rabe. “We’re working with the breweries to have a line up of beer to build a menu around.” 
 
The Avenue Café’s staff is changing as well. The café traditionally maintained a staff size of five to six employees, but are now increasing those numbers to 12 to 15. The Avenue Café also features new entertainment, such as live bands, open mic nights and film screenings. 
 

Michigan Economic Center at the Prima Civitas Foundation to support "green" and "blue" economies

Michigan’s  “green” and “blue" economies will soon be getting a boost from a new advocate, The Michigan Economic Center (MEC). The MEC will operate through the Prima Civitas Foundation (PCF), organizing citizens and leadership around strategies for economic growth.
 
Heading the new initiative is John Austin, President of the Michigan State Board of Education and a non-resident Brookings Institution Senior Fellow. Austin will join PCF in making MEC an independent policy and action organization. 
 
“We started talking and thought it would be natural for me to focus on these issues about a year ago,” says Austin. “And we decided, ‘Hey, let’s do it together.”
 
The MEC will begin by diving into such projects as building support for emerging sectors and technologies through education, research and development; helping to implement an urban innovation strategy as proposed by the Brookings Institution and Public Sector Consultants for Business Leaders for Michigan and capitalizing on Michigan's “blue economy.” 
 
“One of our greatest economic assets is our water, in multiple ways,” says Austin. “We can make and export water efficiency projects. We can be the center of clean water research. We have an incredible piece of real estate in our waterfronts. People around Michigan are starting to see that water is a magical resource that we have.” 
 
The MEC has also received a $225,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to implement an initiative called "Michigan Dream Restored," which will develop policy proposals to help Michigan better support investments in economy-growing public assets. 
 

MSU to receive $45M to support African scholars

Engagement in Africa is nothing new to Michigan State University, having more than 50 years of history working with students and organizations there. Now, MSU has announced it will deepen its ties with the continent as a partner with The MasterCard Foundation on its $500 million education initiative, The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program.
 
“The MasterCard Foundation did a preliminary scan for universities that were actively involved in Africa,” says MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “They wanted to make sure the students could go back home and tap into existing networks. Because of MSU’s fifty-year history in Africa, we were selected to submit a proposal.” 
 
The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program’s goals are to provide talented, financially disadvantaged youth with access to high-quality education. MSU is the only institution in the Midwest to be a part of the program. The school will receive $45 million to support 185 scholars throughout the nine-year program, including 100 undergraduates and 85 master’s degree students. Six African students – four graduate and two undergraduates – have already begun their work.
 
President Simon says MSU’s participation in the program is not only beneficial to Africa, but also to the Greater Lansing region. 
 
“We already have about 200 students form Africa,” says President Simon. “It’s also important to think about the connections we’ve made over the years to Africa and their emerging economies. There will be a number of business opportunities that can evolve through this network.” 
 
MSU will host the more students than any other of the six U.S. partner institutions. The university will also organize an annual conference for scholars.
 

REACH teens build rhino sculpture for Potter Park Zoo

Just when it seemed like Potter Park Zoo was as fun as it could possibly be, the artists of REACH Studio Art Center’s Teen Open Studio program found a way to make Lansing’s local zoo even better. Last week, Potter Park officials and REACH unveiled a new, eight-foot sculpture of a rhinoceros made by the teens themselves.
 
“Toward the end of REACH’s spring classes,” says Marketing Coordinator for Potter Park Zoo, Payal Ravani, “one of [REACH Outreach Coordinator Jeana-Dee Rogers’] students mentioned that it would be nice to do an art project at Potter Park Zoo. Jeana-Dee called me to see if it was something we would be interested in, and of course it was.”
 
The unique rhino sculpture was constructed by nearly 20 Lansing-area teens out of such materials as bicycle rims and tubes, polyurethane expanding foam, chicken wire, PVC pipe, ultracal and more. 
 
“The zoo takes great pride in exhibiting art at Potter Park,” says Ravani. “It’s a natural fit, seeing as the park has plenty of space to offer and a captive audience nearly every day. Placemaking means creating spaces that people feel connected to, and we are proud that Potter Park is one of those places.” 
 
The joint project between Potter Park Zoo and REACH was made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts, City of Lansing, Youth Action Committee of Capital Region Community Foundation, Lansing Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Arts Council of Greater Lansing and the staff and volunteers of REACH Studio Art Center Community Art Projects.
 

Local martial arts expert launches world's first online martial arts school

Martial arts expert Chief Master Richard McDowell knows there is an array of things that prevent people from attending training, even if they want to learn martial arts. 
 
“People don’t have the time anymore to go to a school,” says McDowell, “And some people may be too shy to come to class. But they still want to learn, they want their kids to learn”
 
McDowell created a solution for those obstacles by creating the first online martial arts school, Martial Arts Online University.
 
“We made it very affordable,” McDowell says. “You train at your pace, not anybody else’s. If it takes you six years, if it takes you six weeks, that’s up to you.”
 
The school gives students of all ages and in any location the opportunity to train up to black belt level. Twenty-five instructors – nine of whom are in the Lansing area – teach video courses available in 13 languages. As students become ready to test for the next level belt, they simply submit a recorded video to the master instructors for evaluation. 
 
“You can also download everything to be a black belt, and never have to test,” McDowell says.
 
The unique online school began this month and already has students in Canada, Europe and Jamaica, as well as throughout the United States. Here in Lansing, the Westside Community YMCA serves as the home for Martial Arts Online University, as the setting for the filming of the course videos, as well as the location where 60 students attend non-virtual classes.
 

Williamston tanning salon changes hands, creates three jobs

After taking time off from her career as an entrepreneur to spend more time with her children, Kelly Driver was looking for a new opportunity. When she noticed that a tanning salon on Grand River in Williamston had closed, she saw her opportunity. 
 
Driver and her oldest daughter purchased and re-opened the 900 square foot Bronzed Tanning Salon in the spring and have been busy serving the community ever since.
 
“We’re pretty competitively priced,” says Driver. “It’s very homey in here. We don’t try to push stuff on people, so people are just really comfortable here.” 
 
One of the things most people don’t realize about tanning, says Driver, is that it’s not all about cosmetics. Bronzed Tanning serves a number of clients who tan for medical reasons. 
 
“I have several people in here for psoriasis and eczema,” Driver says. “We try to educate people, whether they’re here for health reasons, or to have a healthy glow.” 
 
Bronzed Tanning Salon currently employs Driver and her two daughters. She hopes to expand the salon’s services to include hydromassage. 
 

MSU diverts 9,320 lbs. of recyclables to achieve first time zero waste event

An annual Michigan State University event became an unprecedented zero-waste event in August when 9,320 pounds of recyclables were diverted during the 2012 Spartan Spectacular cookout.
 
"Since the beginning we have been working hard to educate participants on how to lessen waste at the event,” says Diane Barker, sustainability officer for the Residential and Hospitality Services Sustainability Office. “The goal for the event was to continue to challenge ourselves and look for ways to reduce our waste and see how we could divert more waste then the previous year.” 
 
More than 11,400 students attended the August 28 cookout, which had recorded between 35 and 40 percent of recyclables diverted in years past. With the help of more than 100 volunteers, the RHS Office was able to achieve a 96 percent waste diversion rate. The Zero Waste International Alliance standard for zero waste is 90 percent or higher.
 
“A team of campus professionals from Residential and Hospitality Services, MSU Recycling Center, and our Anaerobic Digester Research Center worked together to lay plans and expedite a green event at Spartan Spectacular and lessen the waste,” says Barker. “The zero waste event was a result of a lot of collaboration and planning.”
 
An estimated 3,500 pounds of food waste collected at the event was taken to MSU’s Anaerobic Digester in the MSU Dairy Barn. According to Barker, the RHS Office plans to continue to use the Spartan Spectacular as an annual opportunity to educate students on recycling and waste diversion.
 

DRM Genesis celebrates 10 years, expansion and 10 new jobs

Ten years ago, Re'Shane Lonzo learned firsthand about the need for a local quality home healthcare provider. When her friend’s daughter suffered a severe injury, she watched her spend countless hours caring for the girl without sufficient help. Though Lonzo worked full-time for Lansing Community College, she couldn’t help but volunteer to help. 
 
“After two years and about 2,500 hours of volunteering, my friend said, ‘Re'Shane, you should start your own company,’" Lonzo says. “I researched the thought, obtained the proper insurances, and 10 years later here I am.” 
 
Now with 50 employees and more than 40 clients, Lonzo is celebrating her tenth anniversary of her company, DRM Genesis with additional growth. She added 10 employees over the last year, and expanded the company with a new office in Warren.
 
“We were introduced to a physician there with 30 plus years of experience and he was looking to add another discipline to his office complex, says Lonzao. “It was a great opportunity for us and that office is actually growing at a faster rate than our Lansing office.” 
 
In addition to DRM Genesis’ growth, Lonzo started the DRM International Learning Center in 2007.
 
“Once we got into the groove of hiring healthcare staff to work with our clients, we realized there was a need for more healthcare training,” she says. “What better way to ensure that you have the most competent, compassionate home healthcare employees than to train them?”  
 
Now celebrating its fifth year, the school now trains between 200 and 250 students per year.
 

Friendly Heating & Cooling adds two positions, focuses on marketing

Friendly Heating and Cooling is now in it’s eleventh year in Lansing and is entering a new phase. Owner Michael Sobczyk has escalated his social media presence and is now looking to hire a new technician and a sales person to help manage the new work. 
 
“We’re a pretty small company, but we’re looking to grow a little,” says Sobczyk. “We’ve had a website since 2001, but we’ve never done much with it. We’re trying to get our feet wet with marketing and social media.”
 
In addition to his recent social media effort, including his informative heating and cooling blog, Sobczyk believes his growth can be attributed to the quality of his work, which he backs up with a unique, three-year warranty.
 
“We’re the only company in Lansing that offers a three-year warranty on parts and labor,” Sobczyk says. “We’re confident in knowing we’re going to do the right job, and we want our customers to feel confident that they are getting the best repair.”
 
Sobczyk hopes the additional technician and salesperson will help him manage his growing clientele, as well as allow him to continue his new focus on marketing. 
 

Cameron Tool adds two new jobs, looks to further growth

Something new has happened at the Cameron Tool Corporation. The tool and die company that was founded in 1966 has a backlog of work that will take them into the New Year. 
 
“We’ve never had that,” says Carey Oberlin of Cameron Tool. “There are probably a couple of reasons. One is that in 2005 and 2004, there were a lot more die shops. Now there are not as many. Also, the car companies are putting out some new models.”
 
The increase in work has the company adding new positions. Cameron Tool has recently added two new positions and will look to add additional jobs as needed. 
 
“We’re looking to bring on a couple of people on the floor,” Oberlin says. “It’s very specialized, so the people we usually look for are experienced.” 
 
One way Cameron Tool is able to find experienced employees is by training them from within with their apprenticeship program.
 
“Manufacturing is a strong industry,” says Oberlin. “It’s a great way to earn a living. We offer apprenticeships to students so they can grow with the company.”
 
Cameron Tools’ apprenticeship program goes back to the beginning of the company’s history. In fact, the current owner of the company began his career there as an apprentice. 
 

Sparrow Children's Center begins music therapy with digital music

The idea started with a simple concept. 
 
“Everybody enjoys music,” says Erin Darnell, registered nurse at Sparrow Children’s Center in Lansing. That includes those who are sick and in pain. In fact, Darnell and her colleagues are working on proving the hypothesis that music can be therapeutic for pediatric patients.  Thanks to a donation from Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, Sparrow is now offering young patient access to iPods, iTunes libraries and laptops. 
 
The music therapy program first started from a conversation between Darnell and a colleague who attended a conference last year on alternative ways to deal with discomfort. Massage and music therapy were a part of that discussion. A presentation to the Sparrow Foundation led to the MSUFCU grant that helped get the plan off the ground. 
 
“Currently we have 2 iPod Touches and a laptop,” says Darnell. “We use iTunes gift cards so if there is a kid who comes and says, ‘This my favorite song,’ we have the ability to get it for him.’”
 
Darnell and her colleagues are currently gathering data to demonstrate the impact of the music on patients. She hopes the program will continue to grow. 
 
“It’s already bigger than what we expected it to be when we had this little idea anyway,” she says. “The more that can come from it, the better.” 
 

MSUFCU to award $25,000 for winning startup idea

Area entrepreneurs could get a real boost from a new contest from Michigan State University Federal Credit Union. The startUP Challenge will award up to $25,000 to an entrepreneur in the tri-county with a winning business plan. 
 
“A lot of our members are MSU students and they are the most entrepreneurial generation and we believe in supporting all our members to achieve financial security and their dreams,” says Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer for MSUFCU, April Clobes. “This program is designed to help individuals looking to start their own business to have some assistance in achieving their dreams.”
 
In order to win, participants must complete an application, business plan and video pitch. The top five entries will have the opportunity to present their business ideas to the startUP Challenge committee, which will be comprised of local experts. According to Clobes, the committee will be open to business ideas from a wide array of industries.
 
“We wanted to be appealing to all the business startups from creative to scientific,” Clobes says. “The prize is substantial enough to attract individuals that could manufacture something, be a scientific patent for food or medications, or to create an art studio. The possibilities are endless and we are excited to see all the ideas.”
 
Individuals in need of assistance with their entry or business plan are encouraged to contact LEAP for help. MSUFCU is also introducing the startUP Loan Fund, which allows entrepreneurs to apply for loans up to $15,000.
 

Incu-BaKe expands presence into Lansing City Market

Incu-BaKe was started with the intention of helping young culinary businesses grow. As it’s been doing that, the incubator kitchen has been doing some growing of it own. This month, the business added to its operations a new space in Lansing City Market. 
 
One of the biggest joys in owning this business has been helping to spread the word about the delicious products that are made here,” says Marcy Bishop Kates. “I've talked with City Market personnel a few times over the past six months or so, and now just seems like the perfect time.”
 
The 100 square foot Incu-BaKe space can be found between the Waterfront and Uncle John's Winery and will feature products made by Incu-BaKe businesses. The location will be staffed by Kates and her assistant, as well as the occasional presence of the producers themselves. 
 
“I am particularly excited about those day when our producers are there. They will be our ‘Meet the Producer’ days, and we will have sampling and other specials,” Kates says. “I expect that our product line will be somewhat seasonal, and somewhat fluid, just by the nature of our being a kitchen incubator. Of course, I'm also very excited to be able to talk about the entrepreneurial services here at Incu-BaKe!”
 
The Incu-BaKe space debuted at the City Market last weekend and will celebrate it’s grand opening this week. Shoppers will find an array of products there, including "take and bake" casseroles, salsas and sauces, granola, spice mixes, snack items, jams, jellies and baked goods. 
 
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