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Team Drew ensures many happy returns through bottle and can recycling

Drew Choma is helping save the planet one bottle or can at a time. Some days, he's helping by the hundreds, picking up returnables that would otherwise stack up or find their way to landfills.


As the leader of Team Drew Bottle Service, the 24-year-old East Lansing resident collects hundreds of returnable cans and bottles from area businesses and homes each week and turns them in for deposit. His fee is half what he collects through the exchange of bottles and cans at local return centers.

"It's a fantastic service," says Justin Savage, owner of The Savage Agency Allstate Insurance in Haslett. "Drew saves us a bunch of time by picking up the dozens of bottles and cans that can pile up in our office. His service takes something off our plate and lets us focus on our business."

Savage is among a half dozen businesses and nonprofits in Greater Lansing that are ensured many happy returns through Team Drew. Most split the return on deposits 50-50. Some allow Drew and his team to keep 100 percent. In other cases, Team Drew donates the entire proceeds from a resulting bottle slip to the non-profit that amassed the paid-deposit returnables.

"He's an incredibly hard worker, takes pride in a job well-done, and enjoys what he does," says Janelle Choma, Drew's mother and business supporter. "He enjoys seeing and interacting with people, and he's happy and knows what he wants."

And, says Janelle, it's Drew's way to lead a self-determined life filled with purpose, dignity and happiness, as he faces the daily challenges of autism.

"We service a lot of businesses who have large loads," says Janelle. "We go to Lansing, Holt, East Lansing and Okemos. We mostly do businesses, but residences are an option, too. Sometimes people don't have time to take back bottles and cans, or maybe they just had a party or special event with a lot of returnables. We're here to help."

Drew attended Haslett High School, and focused on preparing for a job that would leverage his acumen for sorting, organizing and keeping things picked up and tidy. He tested his hand at recycling and found he liked the process. Over time, he steadily built the idea for a business, and formed Team Drew Bottle Service with the help of friends

"I like to recycle," says Drew. "We load up the car with bottles and go."


Fund Lansing draws on established platform to help startups

Entrepreneurs in Greater Lansing will find increased opportunities for funding through a new program initiated by the Lansing Economic Area Partnership.

Fund Lansing will leverage a global online crowdfunding platform called Kiva. The idea, says LEAP, is to increase funding for small business owners and startups across Ingham, Eaton, and Clinton counties.

"Adequate funding is a significant barrier for many of our regional entrepreneurs," says Tony Willis, Director of LEAP's New Economy Division. "It's one thing to get your idea molded and positioned for marketing, but without funding, even the best ideas can stall."

Willis says Fund Lansing is meant to fill that gap by opening doors to funding within the region and around the globe. The Kiva lending system, he explains, funds ideas by leveraging private loans and crowdfunding. LEAP is an approved trustee with an executed agreement with KIVA, and will help entrepreneurs with the application process, provide business advice, and assist in marketing private funding campaigns.

Ellis says the program involves a handful of simple steps. First, eligible borrowers apply for 0 percent interest loans for $500-$10,000. Approved applications move into a private fundraising phase in which the applicant asks 20 to 25 individuals in their personal networks to be the first lenders. After the private fundraising period, the loan goes public on the Kiva website and reaches hundreds of thousands of funders worldwide. Once goals are met, funds are distributed and repayment begins the following month.

One local municipality is taking the program a step further to make even more funding available to entrepreneurs in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties. With LEAP's help, the City of Lansing through the Lansing Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) will extend Kiva funding to eligible Lansing small businesses by matching loan funds raised by Kiva dollar-for-dollar.

"Fund Lansing is a great opportunity for small businesses in the region, and it's outstanding to see such an enthusiastic reception right out of the gate," says Bob Trezise, president and CEO of LEAP. "I want to congratulate and thank Mayor Schor for his visionary approach to capitalizing on this opportunity to further expand the program for Lansing businesses. We, of course, welcome additional proposals for creative implementations of Fund Lansing, and are looking forward to seeing this program grow."

Source: Victoria Meadows, Marketing, Communications and Talent Director, LEAP
Writer/Editor: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


LEAP offers entrepreneurs innovative tool for identifying helpful resources

Local entrepreneurs have a roadmap for navigating resources available in the Greater Lansing region through a new online guide launched in December through the Lansing Economic Area Partnership.

StartChart offers profiles and resources appropriate for various business stages. New and aspiring entrepreneurs will also find a useful set of exercises to help them get started on their business ventures. The guide is the latest tool and support system provided by LEAP through its New Economy Division to help nurture and grow a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Greater Lansing region.

"At LEAP, our goal is to connect our clients to resources throughout the region," says Tony Willis, director of the New Economy Division. "But we've seen that lots of folks don't know what we have to offer. We decided to address this by creating StartChart to help build awareness and visibility of these resources, and to help people make those connections."

StartChart is available in digital and printed form. Physical copies are available through Lansing area business incubators like the Allen Neighborhood Center and the East Lansing Technology Innovation Center. LEAP also put copies in the hands of organizations and groups like the Capital Area District Library, Delta Side Business Association and the Meridian Area Business Association. Plans are to expand distribution channels to include community centers as well.

StartChart, Willis explains, identifies and organizes resources by three business phases. Entrepreneurs will find resources charted along the idea, start-up and growth continuum, along with descriptions of each stage. LEAP also provides a profile of clients served within each phase so entrepreneurs can see an example of how resources and services may be applied.

StartChart joins other pieces in LEAP's entrepreneurial ecosystem including boot camps and seminars, The Hatch and The Hatching events, and the Lansing PROTO business accelerator. Willis says similar programs, tools and resources are typically found in major cities like Detroit, Columbus and New York—which places Greater Lansing in good company when it comes to fostering entrepreneurship.

"Our role in the New Economy Division is to create a culture and atmosphere where entrepreneurship can thrive in our region," says Willis. "At LEAP, we're mentors and dot connectors. That's why we say, 'Come talk with us. 'We can help you establish, develop and grow your business."

Source: Tony Willis, Director of the New Economy Division, LEAP
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.

 
 
 

Chocolate Tasting Adventure offers fine chocolates just for the tasting

Most people probably don't realize that adventure can reside in a square of chocolate. Janet Lee is ready to show that it can.

In early fall, Lee launched a business built from a long-time curiosity of gourmet and artisan food. Chocolate Tasting Adventure invites people to explore the world of fine chocolate through specially arranged events focused on chocolate tastings, pairings and education.

"I think I have always been someone who is adventurous by nature and always curious," says Lee. "I was also the little kid that wanted to eat dark chocolate when my friends wanted to eat milk chocolate."

About four years ago, Lee combined her affinity for learning with her passion for chocolate and began doing chocolate tastings as a sideline. Over time, word spread about her events that introduce people to handcrafted chocolates in a format that emulates wine and craft beer tastings. Realizing the demand, Lee set out on to formalize her Williamston-based enterprise in mid-2017, and to bring a new option for chocolate tasting to mid-Michigan.

"Chocolate Tasting Adventure is all about bringing that handcrafted, really fine quality chocolate you can't get anywhere else and helping people discover what it tastes like," says Lee.

Lee has held chocolate tastings at corporate or non-profit events, business meetings, bridal showers, weddings and other special gatherings. She advises on appropriate wine, cheese or beer to pair with particular chocolates, and enables clients to run their own one-hour events or enlist Lee's expertise as a chief chocolatier. Lee also provides guides on how to discern particular flavors and tasting notes, as well as background on the origin and ingredients of certain chocolates.

Clients can select fine chocolates from Lee's sister company Artisan Fine Chocolate. Varieties include vegan, organic, sugar free, single origin, and inclusion bars that feature ingredients like fruit, nuts and spices. Specially created collections are also available. All chocolates are crafted by artisans who source cacao beans from any of 27 countries, then grind, roast and temper the chocolate into bars.

Chocolate Tasting Adventure offers chocolate tasting kits online that include artisan chocolate bars, a chocolate guide, tasting dishes and notes. Holiday tasting and special event gift boxes are also available.

"Think of all the people who go to wineries and want to learn more about wines and how to taste them," says Lee. "This taps into that same kind of curiosity. Chocolate tasting is something unique and it's just a fun thing to do."

The e-commerce company is booking events from now through May. Click here for more information or email Janet Lee here.

Source: Janet Lee, Chief Chocolatier, Chocolate Tasting Adventure
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

 
 
 

Such Video evolves into Render Studios

No company can do business for 36 years without amassing history, going through business cycles, and experiencing how clients and consumers change. That longevity, too, comes with a company's ability to continually look ahead and envision what can be.

Since 1980, the Lansing-based Such Video has specialized in video production and motion graphic content. In mid-September, the company took a bold step forward and rebranded to Render Studios—complete with a new mission and vision for the company.

"Our rebranding is a reflection of how we've been seeing our change happening," says Karen Stefl, principal and producer at Render Studios. "It's been an evolution for us, and this represents a re-energized focus on what really matters."

Render Studios will continue to provide strategic creative video for clients, with a special focus on clients and partners who influence economic development and care about their impact on the world. The new mission, Stefl says, serves as a roadmap for the company to concentrate on working with clients who recognize the power of video as a medium for change.

Stefl started at Such Video 22 years ago. Since then, the company has evolved from creating video that relied on huge broadcasting budgets or tens of thousands of VHS tapes being mailed. Today, she says, content is more accessible, and audiences are more savvy and distracted.

"Those factors mean we have to have an elevated creative approach," says Stefl. "We have to think about the strategy behind the 'wow.' Our new brand reflects how we build community with our target audience and how we answer our client's needs."

The company will remain rooted in Lansing's Old Town and continue along the path of producing content from the heart of Mid-Michigan. The new brand comes with a renewed commitment to strategic community change in Greater Lansing and beyond. Render Studios employs six people, including founder and co-leader David Such.

"This shift is affecting how we'll interact, who we'll work with and what we'll do," says Such. "When you're around for 36 years, people think they know you. Render Studios marks a true change for us. People might not know us the way they think they do. We're thrilled to introduce our new brand."

Source: Karen Stefl, Principal and Producer, Render Studios
Writer/Editor: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Former ArtPrize piece installed on Lansing River Trail

Walkers, bikers and runners on Lansing's River Trail are discovering philosophical pathways through a new set of directional signs installed in late August through the city's public art program.

Designed by Lansing visual strategist and designer Ben Graham, "Sign Language" consists of seven individual signs that present positive, uplifting statements. Messages such as "Peace & Love," "Smell the Roses," "No Whining," "Aspire," and "Be Happy," appear on signs in the traditional shapes, sizes, and colors of those used to direct traffic.

The idea behind the work, Graham says, is to encourage people through simple assertions. He says an installation resembling directional traffic signs was a perfect medium for presenting positive messages.

"I became very intrigued with traffic signs as a communication device," says Graham. "We follow and pay attention to what they tell us without even thinking or knowing we are. They give us a command and we just do it. And they take us where we want to go and are very successful for the most part."

"Sign Language" was featured at ArtPrize 2015, and was noticed by a board member of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership. Graham says he was later approached by LEAP to permanently install the artwork on the River Trail beginning at Impression 5 and stretching north along the Grand River.

"This is a great piece that makes a strong statement, and inspires really interesting conversations," says Bob Trezise, President and CEO of LEAP. "It's the kind of piece that works to shift us away from the antiquated 'rust belt' moniker that doesn't match with where we currently are."

The acquisition and installation of "Sign Language" was coordinated through LEAP's new place making pilot program ENGAGE. Funding was provided by the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau's Greater Lansing Destination Development Foundation.

Source: Ben Graham, Visual Strategist and Designer, Ben Graham Group
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Belle Row Boutique reshapes business, combines online and pop-up shopping

Devon Bradley launched her clothing boutique in a traditional brick-and-mortar fashion. Today, she's transformed her business into a combination of online sales, pop-up shops and girls night out events that reach markets in multiple locations.

Belle Row Boutique moved to a new service model after a three-year run in a small retail space on E. Lake Lansing Road. As her shop captured the interest of fashion-minded customers from areas like Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and southeast Michigan, Bradley decided to make a bold move. She closed the physical shop in early 2017, pushed traffic to her online storefront, and upped the number of creative on-the-road shopping experiences she offered.

"One of the fears of closing my brick-and-mortar store was that I would lose contact with my customers," says Bradley. "But now that I'm doing more pop-up shops, it allows me to keep and have that interaction which was the favorite part of my business."

Bradley describes her boutique as a trendy women's clothing shop that carries premium denim, dresses, coats, sweaters and plush staples. Shoes and accessories round out the eclectic mix of exclusive, feminine designs at prices that range from $20 to $80. A fashion enthusiast, Bradley handpicks each item with fashion vendors, and typically only purchases one to two items in each size. That, she says, ensures each customer walks away with something unique.

Since early 2017, Bradley has held regular pop-up events at The Runway in Lansing. It's a way, she says, that her online customers can come in and try on items to get a feel for the fabric and fit. Bradley stocks each event with her total inventory so a customer can buy what they like on the spot. She also features a special sale rack at each event that includes items that don't appear on her website.

"This model has been really beneficial," says Bradley. "I can travel around more and expand my market."

Bradley has grown her inventory from 25 vendors to nearly 100 in three years, and regularly travels to fashion shows to check out new and exclusive clothing lines. To discover a pop-up event, browse available fashions, or to schedule a girls night out with Belle Row Boutique, click here.

Source: Devon Bradley, Owner, Belle Row Boutique
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Silver Cafe to Go brings Airstream nostalgia to outdoor events

Jaisy Spinazzola was en route to band practice when her trek took her in a different direction. There, catching the sun by the side of a country road, was the magic bullet that would change her way of life: A vintage Airstream.

Within days, Spinazzola had gently convinced her partner Eric McVay to add a third dimension to their business as the acoustic duo Fringe. McVay would become a master at barbecue. She would summon her culinary talents and acumen for small business. Then, with the 1970s Airstream in tow, the two would combine music and food at public and private events--both local and statewide.

Silver Cafe to Go launched in 2015 and has been steadily picking up acclaim from Williamston to the Upper Peninsula. McVay and Spinazzola remodeled the interior according to health code and other regulations, while retaining original interior features like the stove and oven. Spinazzola even went in search of late 1960s and early 1970s utensils and small appliances to evoke the period flair of the 29-foot trailer.

"It's just beautiful," says Spinazzola. "It's mostly wood cabinets. All of the hardware is mid-century modern. There are Jetson handles on the stove and olive green cabinets. And we added a dark teal blue to bring out the color of the wood."

Based out of McVay's hometown of Fowlerville, Silver Cafe to Go goes on the road for weddings; birthday and retirement parties; flea markets, fairs and festivals; and other family- and friend-based events of 100 or more people. The trailer has also appeared on approved business sites in Williamston. Customers can walk up and enjoy the signature barbecue, as well as sides that change with the seasons including mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, cranberry stuffing and pasta.

"I love to cook, so it's very creative," says Spinazzola. "And we've also incorporated his mom's recipe for chili. It's kind-of southern."

Spinazzola equipped the Airstream mobile diner with a collection of outdoor chairs and plaid blankets. Depending on the event, Spinazzola packs orders into picnic baskets, and provides customers with blankets and chairs to enjoy their meal al fresco. Spinazzola and McVay also occasionally perform—she on vocal and guitar, him on bass—featuring original compositions and covers in the pop-acoustic vein.

"There's never a dull moment," says Spinazzola. "I was previously a hairdresser, and was so accustomed to meeting people. This is another great way to do that."

Silver Café to Go can be booked for events six to eight weeks in advance with more information here. Spinazzola says the diner has the capacity to serve up to 500 people per event, and occasionally hires staff to help with larger events.

Source: Jaisy Spinazzola, Co-owner, Silver Café to Go
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Thriftique combines quality with thrift for unique shopping experience

Although the sign on the outside of Atalie Buyck's shop is somewhat new, everything inside isn't.

In early summer, Buyck finally decided to hang a shingle on the front of Thriftique—a business she moved to REO Town about three years ago. She'd been carrying the professionally-made sign in and out of her shop most days, remembering how it had attracted attention at her previous location near S. Cedar and Holmes.

"They say that signage can be 80 percent of the business," says Buyck. "I've always believed that mantra but I hadn't been living it. I did notice a huge difference when I finally had the sign put up, and people saying to me 'I didn't even know you were here.'"

A peek through the picture window at 1137 S. Washington reveals a well-curated mix of collectibles, vintage clothing and housewares. It's a blend that lends itself to a niche Buyck calls "departmentalized thrift"—or quality, reclaimed items organized in aisles and on clean, tidy shelves.

And while she has at least 200,000 items in the storefront that once housed the long-time biz Betty's Buttons, Buyck can tell inquiring customers exactly what she has and point to where it is.

"I hand-pick the majority of my merchandise," says Buyck. "I do a lot of estate buying, and I'm a salvage picker. I pick up anything I think is unique or cool, and I have people who come trade things, too."

Buyck says the backbone of her business is to redo, reuse and recycle. She wants to teach people not to be so hasty with their spending, and to slow down, shop around and look for something that's secondhand or can be reused. What's more, she's in to the boutique side of thrift, providing a heavy dose of customer service and sales that complements her merchandise.

Buyck says she learned the boutique side of the thrifting biz from her grandma, Rachel Green. Originally from Mexico, Green had a passion for secondhand goods that she curated and gave away through frequent trips to poor areas of Mexico and Texas.

"She taught me a passion for quality," says Buyck. "She really invested time in showing me how to find quality in secondhand goods and resale items like linens, dishes and clothes."

Buyck grew up on the Southside and graduated from Michigan State University in 2000 with her bachelor's in criminal justice and psychology. She got into thrifting about 10 years ago working at the previous University Resale Shop on Homer near Frandor. She eventually purchased the store and all its contents, sold off the goods, and founded Thriftique.

Buyck moved to REO Town in 2014 after moving twice: first from a location near Old Town, and the second time from a location on S. Cedar.

"Being here is awesome," she says. "It's historic and near downtown and the space is just right," she says. "When I first got here, it was a little sparse, but now with all the new developments, it's the place to be."

Source: Atalie Buycks, Owner, Thriftique
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


On the Rocks climbs ahead of competition with delivery service

The owner of a local, independent party store believes being small allows him to compete in a big way—particularly when it comes to getting out in front of the chains with the delivery of alcoholic beverages.

Beginning April 1, On the Rocks began delivering products to customers—in keeping with the growing trend for personalized delivery of food and other consumables. Owner Rocky Singh began transporting products from store-to-door just three days after the Michigan law went into effect that allowed expanded in-state retailer privileges regarding shipping and delivery of alcoholic products within the state.

"Being small allowed us to implement delivery as soon as it was available," says Singh. "It is a service that benefits customers, and no app, membership or subscription is needed."

On the Rocks will deliver to locations within six miles of the store, which is located in the Carriage Hills Shopping Center at the intersection of Hagadorn and Lake Lansing Roads. Singh says he started the program to provide top service to customers.

"We treat everyone like family, and just like in the TV show, Cheers, we get to know everyone's name," says Singh. "The majority of our customers live close. We're convenient for them. And, because we're small, we have time to get to know our customers and what they like. If we don't have what they want, we order it."

On the Rocks attests to carrying every single bottled Michigan beer, and can order keg-only Michigan beers on request. The party store also carries more than 3,000 wines and every artisan option available in the liquor book. Customers will also find an assortment of soft drinks and mixers, snacks, bulk candies, and every day staples on the shelves of the 4,000-square foot store.

Singh opened the store in October 2014 and employs three full-time and two part-time staff. Two full-timers have been added since the store opened.

Delivery is available Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Orders for same-day delivery must be received an hour before the service concludes for the day. Delivery is free for orders $40 or more, and $10 for orders under $40. Orders are placed by phone, and customers must provide a valid driver license number and payment information at the time of the call.

Source: Rocky Singh, Owner, On the Rocks
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


Recruitment Management Consultants adds three jobs, eyes expansion

An IT recruitment and consulting company headquartered in East Lansing continues to expand its abilities to match qualified talent with area businesses with the addition of three new employees.

Two of the three new staff at Recruitment Management Consultants will be based in East Lansing, while the third will work from the Novi branch of the small business on the rise.

"Our new talent staff helps to meet our clients' growing demand for qualified technical talent," says Adrienne Moulton, RMC marketing and communications specialist. "The IT field is very tight, especially with unemployment at a 10-year low in Lansing."

The two IT recruiters joining the East Lansing team are Joel Maurer and Rachel Given. The third, Nathan Bristow, will join the Novi team after recently graduating from Michigan State University.

Recruitment Management Consultants was founded in 2010 by Jim Beiermeister and Jamie Lytle, and is headquartered at 321 W. Lake Lansing Road. In the last seven years, the company has grown its staff by 38 percent year-over-year to 12 employees, with eight of those working in East Lansing.

Moulton says the company's expansion mirrors the unwavering growth of the information and technology market and the need for qualified IT candidates to fill vacant positions. Company clients include major insurance companies, universities, Fortune 500 companies, and small businesses, including start-ups. The company is eyeing a third office in Grand Rapids in 2019.

Recruitment Management Consultants has been honored as one of the Top 50 Companies to Watch on the 2016 Michigan Celebrates Small Business list. The company was also a 2015 and 2016 Inc. 5000 awardee.

Source: Adrienne Moulton, Marketing and Communications Specialist, Recruitment Management Consultants
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Lansing City adds kick to mid-Michigan with professional futsal team

The fast and the furious has come to Lansing's in a big league way.

Futsal—or the official indoor version of soccer—has established a foothold in the metro area with a growing fan base for the professional team and youth academies for attracting and developing ongoing talent.

"If you enjoy fast-paced action that is high scoring with a lot of exciting moments packed into an hour and 20 minutes, you'll like futsal," says Jeremy Klepal, owner of Lansing City Futsal. "We've never heard of anybody who's come to watch that has said this isn't their cup of tea. That's why we've grown our fan base so much. Everyone just loves it."

Lansing City Futsal opened its 2017 professional summer season June 23 on its home court at Aim High Sports Complex near Dimondale. The team plays five games at home and five away, and competes against six pro franchises on the East Coast, including Baltimore, New York, New Jersey, Boston and Philadelphia. During playoffs, the team also takes on competitors from the West Coast. The winter season is more regional, with competitions among teams from Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus and Detroit.

Futsal is played five-on-five on a hard surface like a basketball court. Differences from outdoor soccer include a smaller court—which adds to the faster, goal-driven play—and a smaller, weighted ball with less bounce height.

Klepel is among 16 Lansing City players, which includes athletes from Grand Rapids, Lansing and across the state, as well as a student from Liberia. Several of the players have represented the U.S. in international competitions.

Born and raised in Grand Ledge, Klepel learned the game at an academy in Flint, then went on to play in Brazil. And while he was offered a contract in Sao Paulo, he decided to come back to Lansing and bring the game to Michigan.

The team practices from a training facility at a 7,000-square foot space in the Prudden Tech Center. The training facility is also home to the Lansing City youth program, which trains both girls and boys age 9 to 18 for summer and winter futsal seasons.

"Lansing is in a growing stage as a city," says Klepel. "And I think those conditions lend themselves well for a spot like futsal. We have a diverse culture here in Lansing, and the game is very popular in a lot of different cultures. That bodes well for us."

For dates and times of home games at the Aim High Sports Complex, visit www.lansingfutsal.com.

Source: Jeremy Klepal, Owner, Lansing City Futsal
Writer Editor: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Smart Homes Smart Offices intelligently grows with automation boom

Smart is as smart does when it comes to a growing technology provider in Okemos, Michigan.

Founded in 2001 by company CEO John Gilluly, Smart Homes Smart Offices has grown from a staff numbering in the single digits to one that employs 22. Three of those employees were added in the last year, joining engineers, project managers, IT specialists, sales personnel, installers, administration and leadership.

"Our sales are increasing and we're looking to add up to 10 more staff within the next few years," says Joel Childs, sales engineer. "We'll also be looking for a new space since we're outgrowing our current one."

Smart Homes Smart Offices specializes in a variety of home automation systems. The company also offers a multitude of software and hardware solutions and network installations for an equally broad range of businesses from home offices to larger corporate companies.

Childs says the company's goal is to be the go-to people in Mid-Michigan for IT needs. The company team completely engineers all products including lighting, audio and video controls, HVAC and security system controls, video conferencing capabilities, or the home theater experience.

"There are other IT companies around the state, but we're one of the few that offers every service," says Childs. "Be it commercial or residential, we do it all. Others just specialize in a few things."

Most of the company's commercial clients fall within the scope of bigger companies like insurance, automotive, medical or dental practices, distribution centers or warehouses. On the residential side, staff assists with installing smart systems related to thermostats, appliances, security and surveillance in new homes, or in upgrading existing homes with cutting edge systems.

"Everyone is getting on board now with smart systems," says Childs. "Four years ago, people weren't sure. Now it's more of the norm."

Childs cites a 1 million growth in sales since 2013 as an indication of the increasing popularity of smart systems for residential and commercial use. The company currently occupies a 2,200-square foot office near the heart of Old Okemos on the Red Cedar River.

Source: Joel Childs, Sales Engineer, Smart Homes Smart Offices
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Companies join forces to provide a la carte professional services

Four like-minded businesses in Lansing have merged their thought processes to form a new approach to delivering marketing and consulting services to nonprofits, small business and second stage companies.

In May, AKEA Web Solutions, CJBuck Consulting, Glow Social Media and UnoDeuce Multimedia unveiled 2nd Brain Collective—a collaboration of four partner companies. The collective offers clients the ability to engage with any or all of the four partner companies through a unique pay-only-for-what-you-need service offering.

"We witnessed a lot of agencies that have built their successes on an all or nothing bill," says Schmidt. "But a lot of the folks we work with aren't necessarily ready for full service."

Schmidt says 2nd Brain Collection takes a more a la carte style by offering clients the ability to pick the service or services they need from four providers. Each company maintains their independent operations but shares and refers clients based on perceived needs.

"Each of us has collaborated with each other in different ways in the past," says Schmidt. "The best analogy is we're now like The Avengers—each of us is an individual, but we come together to solve a major problem."

While focused on problem-solving, messaging and storytelling, the 2nd Brain Collective also concentrates on connecting businesses and building community. Among the methods and venues the collective devised are the networking event The Drinking Lunch and the information-driven 2BC Podcast featuring professionals and industry experts.

Source: Paul Schmidt, Communications Director, Meridian Township
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Michigan Creative commits to work-life balance with on-site daycare

Michigan Creative has brought in a new generation to add to the quality of work life. And right now, CEO Brian Town says the company's new team members are learning to walk before they can run.

In February, Town made good on his commitment to provide and pay for in-office day care when two members of his leadership team came back from maternity leave. He set aside a room in the company's new digs in REO Town, hired a nanny, and equipped the space with essentials for infant care and comfort.

Since then, Melissa Meschke and Jenn Putmon have been bringing their babies to work three out of five days a week. And while focusing on career, the two new moms can enjoy the assurance of quality day care and strive for the work-life balance essential in today's world.

"It's a way for me to give back more to the people who have got us to where we are today," says Town. "We eat lunch with the babies. We play with the babies. When we're having a hard day, they're a good distraction."

Town founded Michigan Creative six years ago, incubating his small marketing agency through the NEO Center on Lansing's north side. Then, as now, Town's guiding principle includes surrounding himself with great people who care about the company and clients, and providing for their happiness and satisfaction through the company's culture.

Michigan Creative moved to REO Town around the spring equinox. The goal, Town says, was to be part of the area's positive growth and creative energy. Town's staff regularly supports local merchants and food and beverage businesses as a means to re-energize their creative work that involves video production, web services, digital marketing and design. And with a location at 1149 ½ South Washington, it's never more than a block from their 1,500-square foot, second story office flat to small businesses like Blue Owl Coffee, Saddleback BBQ, Izzo's Pub, Vintage Junkies and The Nook.

"We wanted to follow the artists, follow the local businesses, and be part of a community," says Town. "We feel that if we can be a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the positive growth in REO Town, we'll be happy."

Michigan Creative has 10 employees, with half of those being added in the last 12 months.

Source: Brian Town, CEO/Owner, Michigan Creative
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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