The Jeremy Gonsior Group

Kristen Hadeed: Millennial expert writes book giving leaders “Permission to Screw Up”

Kristen Hadeed: Millennial expert writes book giving leaders “Permission to Screw Up”

If you aren’t familiar with Kristen Hadeed’s work yet, that’s okay, but understand she won’t be America’s best kept secret for much longer.

Hadeed started Student Maid, a Florida-based cleaning company recognized for a high-retention rate and positive work culture.

Using the lessons she learned as CEO and a viral Tedx talk, Hadeed then launched a successful speaking career, traveling the country and positioning herself as a Millennial expert.

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I first heard Kristen speak in 2015 and have kept in touch ever since.

She’s genuine.

Humble.

Helpful.

Oh, and uber talented.

Now, just as she promised, she’s releasing her first book: Permission to Screw Up. It’s available for pre-order this week before it hits bookstores everywhere on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

Hadeed was generous enough to answer a few questions about the book, which she says is a departure from the usual “leaders-should-be-perfect-before-they-lead-and-if-they-aren’t-they-can’t-lead” mindset.

1. What is your goal with this book?

As I grew my business, I read dozens and dozens of leadership and business books by people who seemed to have it all figured out. Though those books offered wonderful advice and had a major role in shaping me as a leader, none of them gave me any indication of exactly how hard leadership is. As an inexperienced leader, I needed to hear that I wasn’t alone: that other people messed up along the way just as bad as I was messing up. I needed to hear that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get it right on the first try every time.

This book is my whole story, warts and all. I didn’t want to write only about the good stuff, or just gloss over my mistakes and share only the lessons I learned in the hopes that they would be useful to someone else. I want leaders just starting out to read this book and think, “Wow. If she got it wrong that many times and she’s still managed to be successful, maybe I have a chance after all.”

I also want to inspire others to share their “whole stories” so we can ditch the idea that everyone has to be perfect. I used to think that asking for help or telling someone that hey, actually, things aren’t going so great was frowned upon. But it shouldn’t be: Leaders need help and support, too. I want people to be honest about where they went wrong so others feel more comfortable with being vulnerable and asking for help when they need it.

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2. Why do you think leaders feel the pressure to be perfect, have it all figured out, mistake-free?

Leaders feel that pressure because perfect stories are all we hear. Even though it’s become more common for leaders who have succeeded to say, “It’s OK to fail! It’s OK to make mistakes!” not enough of those leaders talk about their mistakes. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not fun to admit you handled something poorly, or made a decision that negatively impacted people. You fear that people will judge you or look at you differently.

There’s also a pressure to make people feel safe. Success and perfection–we think–are what make our people feel secure in their jobs and in their own futures.

But I’ve found that when I admit that I’m struggling, or when I tell my team that I don’t know how to solve something, it actually builds trust because I’m being vulnerable. My people know that I’m not putting on an act. And most of all, they want to help me.

Unfortunately, when leaders aren’t vulnerable and they pretend they have it all together, they make leadership seem less attainable to everyone around them. Their “perfection” makes people think, “I could never be a leader because I’m not like that person. I must not have what it takes because I don’t know what I’m doing.” We need to break the illusion that leaders must be perfect so that more people will step up.

3. How does it feel to see your name on the cover?! What did you learn about yourself writing it?

It’s still sinking in! I just got my first physical copy, and it’s just . . . amazing. I’m proud of it because I know I poured my heart onto every page. It took two and half years to finish (and I might have missed my deadline a few times).

When I first started writing, it was about getting the book done and hitting the deadline. But then it became about writing the right book, the one I wish I would have found on the shelf when I started my business. I realized that kind of book was really hard to write, but I stuck with it.

I became a perfectionist, which is kind of ironic for a book about screwing up, but I had to get the stories right. I would tell myself I wasn’t being vulnerable enough, and I’d challenge myself to take a story further and give more of the not-so-nice details. And sometimes, that meant painting myself in not the best light. But in the end, I’m glad I wrote the book that was hard to write instead of one that made me look good.

I’m a speaker and have been giving talks for years, but writing made me realize I could do so much better in my speaking. Before I started writing, I would always talk about success and all the lessons I learned. I wasn’t talking about my struggles or what I had to get wrong to learn those lessons. Writing this book helped me find the courage to be the real, imperfect me–and I like her way better!

Ready to buy the book? Pre-order it here!

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Mike Sanders: Family and friends “remember him in a big way,” rally to upgrade Grand Rapids basketball court

Mike Sanders: Family and friends “remember him in a big way,” rally to upgrade Grand Rapids basketball court

Elizabeth Sanders is an incredible woman, a former newspaper editor who inspired me and encouraged me and motivated me to become a better writer when I first set foot on the campus of Central Michigan University.

So it was no surprise, years later, when I heard she had married an incredible man – Grand Rapids native Mike Sanders.

They had quite a journey together.

Unfortunately, that journey took a difficult turn when Mike was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. After a courageous battle, he passed away in 2016.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Elizabeth, along with family and friends, decided Mike’s legacy had to be honored. Preserved. Remembered.

So they chose Wilcox Park, in Grand Rapids’ Eastown neighborhood.

Mike grew up playing basketball there, but the park’s court is in disrepair.

Not for long.

In partnership with the Eastown Community Association, the city of Grand Rapids, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Elizabeth set up a fundraising page on Patronicity with the goal of raising $12,500 by Nov. 10.

They raised it in three days.

Now that Mike Sanders Memorial Court is totally happening, I had to find out exactly how incredible Mike was. Elizabeth was more than happy to explain why.

1. Talk about what Mike was like on and off the basketball court. He seems like a guy people can’t stop talking about. Why was he so special?

I rarely played one-on-one with Mike because he was too highly skilled for me. We played a lot of HORSE and PIG just for fun and he taught me a lot about shooting and how to control the ball. I was not very good and at times during our marriage I was reluctant to play because I hated getting beat over and over, but he could always charm me into playing with him and we did have a lot of fun and silliness with our games. As for on the court – from the stories that our friends tell over and over again, he was highly competitive, did not like to lose, and was a good teammate and hard opponent. We have countless stories from friends that played with him and he had many friends that played with him since high school.

“Offense is where he shined. He had a high release on his shot… so that it was almost unblockable and he could shoot off the dribble,” said Owen Curry, a childhood friend. “… He straight up got buckets! He didn’t need the offense to run through him but he bailed many a team out. If your offense wasn’t going well you could give it to Mike… he could always get a shot off and he was pretty consistent.”

They remained friends, so that has to tell you something, but he was a tough player. He played ball several times a week depending on his schedule, from private leagues to pick-up games and lunchtime at the local YMCA. For a while when we lived in Wisconsin, he was a youth coach and that was one of the most fulfilling and happiest times of his life. That WAS who he was. He was a coach – on the court and off. He had a broad view, was very intelligent and had a lot of great vision for the people he loved. He was able to see goals and how to achieve them. It was difficult for him when people did not agree with his vision and that sometimes caused conflict.
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He was big in personality and big in stature. He was a weight-lifter and an athlete, and people often thought he was taller or bigger than he was in real life, because he left that impression. He had a huge smile and big hands and would often shake hands with the opposite hand clasping your shoulder with a big grin. He inspired warmth and enthusiasm and made people believe they were capable of great things. He was great at mentoring and helping people to see their potential. He could also be infuriating because he loved to play devil’s advocate to make a point. He was well-read and could discuss and debate many subjects.
It is hard to encompass all that he was – like anyone else, he had many layers — but if I had to sum it up, I would say he was loyal, complex, enthusiastic and dedicated – he was the best kind of over-the-top, because he meant every word of his bold statements – even if he changed his mind – when he was in the moment he was dedicated to his truth and his belief. These things made him an incredible human being, husband and friend. He liked getting his own way, but he was generous and loving and always wanted the best for the people he loved and helped them get it if he could. 

2. How was the journey for you once Mike was diagnosed with cancer?

I would love to say that I was always loving and giving and patient and the best caregiver a person could have – and I will say I was close, but the truth is that when someone is diagnosed with cancer, then terminal cancer, you are still a couple with the same highs and lows – they just mean so much more. You have your same strengths, you have your same faults. You have your same fights – but everything had a heightened significance.
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My anxiety sky-rocketed and though I was able to continue to care for him — but it was sometimes a challenge. I did my best to do what he needed and provide the best life possible for him. I made my life about him, about his schedule and his needs – diet, medication, doctors, surgeries, treatments – but still sometimes it was difficult and my impatience could get the best of me. He handled what he could when he could, but his abilities ebbed and flowed with his health. There were several hospitalizations and times that I was responsible for much of our life and there were times when he worked and socialized and handled his illness himself. That part varied greatly, but we always supported one another.
At first, we planned to move out of state, to follow a promotion he had just earned. I sold my business and began driving him across four states every week or two to help him with his job. He continued working through his surgery that removed two of his quad muscles and his first of three rounds of chemo, he even finished his master’s degree while on chemo.
When we found out he was terminal but we did not know how long he had, he wanted stability for me so I started working again. When work was too overwhelming with my anxiety, I went on short-term disability and then FMLA to care for myself and then for him. He helped me handle my anxiety and I started seeing a counselor regularly. It was a very difficult time, but we made the best of it. We saw friends and family, we had times together. We worked out and walked our dog as much as possible. He stayed active as long as he possibly could, exceeding many people’s expectations. I followed his lead and tried to care for myself as well, continuing to run with friends and by myself for self-preservation.
He was an inspiration in the way he tried to take care of himself and I tried my best to do the same. We were a team and our goal was to take care of one-another. We did it the best we possibly could. Now that it has been more than a year since he died, I can see much more clearly the sacrifices we made for each other, and just how much we put each other first in so many ways. 
It was a significant time in my life because we got to be each other’s whole world and every thing we did was for each other. I did all I could to keep him alive and as healthy and happy as possible, he did everything he could to shield me from his pain and prepare me for the time I would be without him.
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It was a difficult but also beautiful and sacred time. We loved each other deeply and said all the things that needed to be said. We left few stones unturned in our lives and our relationship and we were extremely close and intertwined for the majority of the time that he was sick. Right before he was diagnosed, we renewed our vows for our 10th anniversary and it has been a source of pride to me that we stuck to those vows – for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.
We had always been close, but his illness made us closer, and I know for certain that we loved each other deeply and did our best to do the best for each other even in the worst times. Despite the pain his illness and loss caused, that is something I would never give up. This is one of the reasons this project is significant. I could not save his life, but I can ensure to the best of my abilities that he is remembered and that he is remembered in a big way – a way fitting to the things that he held dear – health, competition, community and the friends and family that loved him and made so many memories with him on that court and beyond. 

3. Describe where this idea for the memorial came from. Were you nervous to even attempt it?

His friend Will Braaksma suggested it and he and his wife Michelle started doing research into it, but then had their son – William Michael, named for Mike — and I took over the project. I had wanted to find something to do in his honor, and this seemed perfect. A basketball court he had spent many years playing on in a park that was significant to us both. I worked with the City of Grand Rapids to connect with Patronicity and the Eastown Community Association (ECA) and it came together.
Though I had moments of doubt once the campaign started, I never had doubts while I was working up to it. Mike was an amazing person and a highly motivational person and I never doubted this was a project worthy of him and would be successful. The only doubts I had was when the campaign launched I was worried that it would fail or not take off and that I would have to face the painful idea that he was not as highly regarded as I had believed – but as you can see this was not accurate. It is a wonderful feeling to know that he was as loved as I believed and his legacy is still held in such high esteem, because I definitely believe he has had an impact on many and I am glad he will continue to impact people through this project.

4. Now that friends and family crushed it, what’s next? Other improvements to the park?

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We had great support from our friends and family when he was alive, so this is not shocking to have great support in his memory, but I am surprised and thrilled that we may be able to do so much more!! The campaign will continue until November 10. Once we know the amount of surplus (right now it is about $1,600), I will work with the ECA and the City to expand the scope of the project. I am working with them now to consider our options so we can announce a clear goal. Some suggestions have been upgrading materials, installing lights and improving nearby restrooms. I hope to have more information in the next few weeks based on cost of various items and how the campaign progresses!
To donate to the project, click here
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Authenticity, with a dose of EDM, ensures Holly Starr’s new album, “Human,” pushes envelope in Christian music

Authenticity, with a dose of EDM, ensures Holly Starr’s new album, “Human,” pushes envelope in Christian music

On a perfect August evening, with thousands of concertgoers watching from the shore of Muskegon Lake, independent singer/songwriter Holly Starr wasted no time in flat-out owning the stage, bringing energy, volume and a bright smile.

But then she slowed it down. Shared a little. And hinted at a challenge: how she had overcome a battle with self-image.

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The music picked up and the concert went on, yet I felt Starr had alluded to a story worth sharing.

After the concert, I reached out.

Now it’s Friday morning, and I take a phone call from Starr, 26, who lives more than 1,000 miles away in Washington state. She’s so easy to talk to. She laughs at my jokes. She answers my questions.

Finally, I ask the question.  What was her journey with self-image?

Brief silence.

Then a beautiful, inspiring, motivating testimony of what God can do in our lives, if we let him, of course.

Basically, in high school someone made an off-handed comment about the way Starr looked and she twisted its meaning.

“I spent a lot of years trying to control what I ate and what I looked like,” she said.

Her self-image battle spilled over into her music in the song “Undertow”, a fast-paced track about being addicted to a habit and drowning in the storm, which was featured on her 2010 album “Tapestry.” She prayed constantly, tossed things around for months, and asked herself tough questions.

“Do I really believe (God) can heal me or not?” she remembers asking.

Then one day her mindset changed.

“I am in a totally different location now. I experienced the powerful healing of God,” Starr said. “… The God who created the whole world can make anything possible.”

The way she shares, the way she opens up, the way she doesn’t sugarcoat, makes her seem human and makes you feel more human at the same time.

So it’s fitting the title of her new album, which hits the streets today, Sept. 15, is “Human”.  The 8-track album (Artist Garden Entertainment), which was funded primarily through a more than $30,000 Kickstarter campaign, is nothing short of amazing.

Authentic lifestyle, authentic lyrics

Unlike many musical contemporaries, the lyrics of “Human” don’t try to convey a superficial, empty, totally unrealistic lifestyle. No luxury brand shout outs, or this is the best night ev-er, or “wild thoughts” references.

Think real life. Relatable. Honest.

In the track “Human” she asks “What if mistakes aren’t such a bad thing/What if they make you who you are?/ What is a story with no struggle?/You can’t see the stars without the dark.” She gives the listener permission to stop trying so hard, putting so much pressure on themselves to be perfect, because, get this, no one is. Sounds kind of like the gospel, doesn’t it?

“It doesn’t come down to what I do …. it comes down to his grace,” Starr said.

Then on “Sailing” Starr wrestles with the death of her grandmother. In fact, she recorded the vocals on the morning of her grandmother’s passing. “Days they turn into years/And we come and go/Here then gone/So cry all your tears/When you got to let go/Still we keep on sailing, sailing, sailing on.”

“It’s a song of mourning,” she said. “Learning how to let go when you don’t want to let go.”

You mean her album is authentic? That’s the word.

Starr said it’s a “stretch of faith” every time she sits down to songwrite. It’s not easy. She’s been deeply influenced by Shawn McDonald, a well-known Christian singer/songwriter approaching 20 years in the business. He’s very vulnerable about his struggles and she respects that.

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“I feel like there is a lot of power when we are open with our weaknesses,” she said.

McDonald, 40, an Oregon native, met Starr a few years ago. During a run, they talked about what it means to be human. He said Starr seems to be a genuine artist that will impact the world we live in.
  “Authentic music is not something we can accomplish … it is something we are. When we lay ourselves down and truly face what we are then we are able to navigate through our own darkness, which will be different for every human,” McDonald said. “Authenticity is a reflection of humility that comes out naturally when we start to understand what it means to be human. I find this best when I pursue depth and what it means to love God, ourselves and others. I give a thumbs up to Holly and hope she finds this very thing. “
Kevin Newton, director of Unity Christian Music Festival in Muskegon, Mich., said he regularly calls Starr to perform because she is authentic on and off the stage.
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“She is the real deal. Holly is genuine, vulnerable, passionate about music and ministry and really loves people, especially the young girls in the audience who struggle with so many things growing up,” Newton said. “I have seen her being just as engaged, just as available and just as loving offstage as onstage and that means a lot to us.” 

Reinventing her sound

Listening to “Human,” after streaming her previous albums for weeks, you notice a significant difference. A change in direction. A risk.

In the past, different producers had different leanings and different limitations, but this time Starr is extra stoked about the final product. The album, she said, combines an EDM pop influence with a strong presence of storytelling. Done her way.

“This is exactly what I want to say, ” she said. “It’s refreshing to me, too… Making an album in the same old way can get old.”

Michigan native and co-producer of Starr’s album, Matthew Parker, is anything but old. He’s 23, an emerging EDM artist, and recently hit #2 on the Billboard Christian Hot AC/CHR Chart for his single “Never Giving Up on You.”

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Parker first met Starr in a routine writing session. The rest, as they say, is history.

“We wrote a song and found that we write well together and that Holly, her husband, Chris, and I have a lot of fun just being around each other, making jokes and making good music!” Parker said. “So we went on to write 4 or 5 more songs.”

Starr said the process was super fun, especially since Parker was close in age to her. Because they worked together so well, she often found herself in the zone.

“This is hitting my sweet spot and I want to keep writing,” she recalls about those moments of inspiration.

The chill, upbeat work environment ultimately produced an innovative album, one Parker thinks challenges the status quo in Christian music. It has a message and strong feeling, plus creative, new, fresh production behind it. Or, as he likes to call it, “next level” sound.

“I think Holly would agree with me on this, that the goal with this project was to make music that ‘pushed the envelope’ a bit in Christian music – to make something that followed some of the rules, but bent some of the other rules that needed to be bent,” he said. “I think it’s time for Christian music to sonically take a step (or maybe a couple steps) forward.”

Mission accomplished.

Add songs from this album to a high-end clothing store playlist and they would totally fit in – modern, edgy, upbeat. There’s an underlying energy to them. Makes you want to dance in your cubicle, which I may or may not have done.

It sounds almost like Owl City, The Chainsmokers, Capital Kings, Purity Ring, Justin Bieber and Michelle Branch stopped by the studio to provide input to her music and she listened to them ALL.

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I especially loved the synth-laden second single “Bruises,” with Starr’s strong, passion-filled vocals finishing the song in dramatic fashion. Meanwhile, on “Say Yes” her vocals are toned down a bit, but the EDM influence is turned up, producing a delightful, surprising, all-around chill track near the end of the album.

Yet my favorite song, sound-wise, has to be “Run the Race (Matthew Parker remix)”. The energy and variety is killer. In fact, and I can’t confirm this,  but it sounds like Starr was leaving the studio, it was 1 a.m., and she handed Parker a Venti Starbucks coffee, with the instructions “Do your thing, Matt. Do. Your. Thing.”

And he crushed it.

Ignoring the critics

The album’s lead single, “Run The Race”, has amassed more than 1 million streams on Spotify and been featured on the service’s Top Christian Tracks playlist, according to her camp.

Not bad.

Millions are just the way Starr rolls, with her music videos and video blogs raking in 4.4 million views to date on YouTube.

Human Album Cover (FINAL) copy

But with anything that makes progress, sounds different, bends the rules, there will be critics. A recent review on Hallels.com seemed to struggle with the idea a Christian album could sound so … 2017. In other words, it doesn’t fit the tried-and-true formula.
“Starr’s gorgeous vocals are hidden behind incessant computerized drum beats,” Timothy Yap writes. “And with a voice as powerful as hers, is there a need for auto-voicing? Why not allow her voice to rip and tear through the notes? … Shame on the production.”
Insert eye-roll emoji.
She’s been at this for nearly 10 years, bro. It’s not her debut album.
If you don’t adapt, you’ll be left behind. This is the future of music. And Christian music is often criticized for overly simplified tunes and a “lack of rawness and honesty,” according to the Huffington Post.
To change is human.
To improve is human.
To experiment is human.
McDonald said that’s the advantage of Starr’s path.
“I am proud of her that she has stuck to her beliefs and convictions and stayed the independent route,” he said. “There just is so much more freedom in this route. The corporate mindset seems to kill a lot of young artists and convince them they need to be something they aren’t.”
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Holly’s album stacks up. Plus, thanks to crowdfunding, she made the album she wanted to make with the full support – emotional and financial – of her fans.
“I BELIEVE in this album,” she wrote in her Aug. 30 Instagram post. “I BELIEVE God will use it to grow his kingdom on earth. And I BELIEVE Human will be an even more impactful project than any in my past in large part because this was a MASSIVE teamwork effort.”
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Hope Olson: Artist’s unique style attracts customers across Midwest

Hope Olson: Artist’s unique style attracts customers across Midwest

When Hope Olson is asked to explain “tablescapes,” her emerging artistic style, a style quickly catching fire in West Michigan, she pauses, admits it could take a while, and then delivers an elegant, emotionally-moving description that makes you want to buy one on the spot, except she doesn’t carry around 24” x 36” canvases in her back pocket.

Olson, a Holland-based artist focused on acrylic painting, is captivating because she shows rather than tells.

Her arms are animated, she’s slowly shifting from left to right, stopping, almost visualizing a previous piece and trying to recreate it now, right here, on this table, which is fitting because tables are almost sacred to her, and as it turns out, many of her customers.

Tablescapes, in a sense, are still life paintings reimagined, emblazoned with a modern attitude.

Olson says she “utilizes altered perspective, abstracted form, and unusual color in her paintings to echo stylized designs and patterns seen printed on tablecloths, wallpaper, dishes, and stained glass, all objects that can be found on and around the tables we frequent.”

In other words, your high school art teacher might not like it.

But, get this, Olson’s typical customer isn’t an art teacher.

Or art critics.

“You have to enjoy what you are making,” Olson said. “I tend to think you paint what you want to paint. And find your people.”

Olson’s people are regular people, both local residents and out-of-state tourists. They have regular problems. Her tablescape masterpieces put them at ease. Move them. Remind them of better days with family.

Which means the walls where her artwork hangs, Button Gallery in Douglas, Mich., don’t gather dust.

“It’s been fun. I really like the results of them,” Olson said, sipping on an iced coffee, unwinding after a day of painting because it’s Monday and, well, that’s the day she paints each week. “They have been selling well.”

So we can table this discussion if you want, but why…exactly…tables?

“People sit at tables with people they love,” Olson said. “Even though there are no people painted into the artwork, there is evidence people have been there.”

Wow, I get it. Now I have to pause. That’s such a true statement.

It’s like Olson’s re-discovered a timeless truth, and with each painting she sells, shares it with one more person.

During an age of increasing screen time, over-booked schedules and declining social skills, gathering around the table is a lost art. It shouldn’t be. Maybe, just maybe, Olson’s work is sparking a quiet revolution, a return to what’s worked for thousands of years.

“At the table, we keep our most necessary and most beautiful belongings within arm’s reach: a slice of bread, a glass of water, an antique vase with the garden’s hydrangeas,” Olson said. “These surfaces provide a literal support for us to gather with our children and friends or to sit in a moment of solitude with a coffee and the newspaper. When we are nourished at a table through food, conversation, or rest, our spirits and bodies can be restored.”

Moving up by moving away

Perhaps the tablescape style, her unique spin on a traditional category, was born from Olson’s pattern of avoiding the easy and comfortable and normal path.

She draws maps instead of following them.

Olson was born in Ann Arbor but moved to the Chicago area when she was young. She has loved to paint since then, but didn’t pursue it as a full-time occupation.

As college approached, she wanted to attend a Christian school in the Midwest with an interior design major. She used a basic college search Web site and filled out all the information about her interests. Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois was her choice and the choice.

“Essentially that was the only school that came up,” Olson said with a laugh.

So she went. She majored in interior design and minored in marketing. But she couldn’t shake the feelings of her first love.

“In college I was missing painting so much,” she said.

Thankfully, she could fit in some art classes as electives. And those around her began to notice her talent. One professor thought she should do art professionally. With that boost of confidence, she began selling art pieces even while in college.

 

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Then it was time for the real world. And once again Olson didn’t let fear hold her back.

Instead of settling for a comfortable life in suburban Chicago, she decided to move to Holland about three years ago. Other than her sister, who had settled in West Michigan, she didn’t know anyone. She thought a new location would motivate her. Drive her. Spark creativity.

“I forced myself to network,” she said. “I am so happy here.”

She took an administrative assistant job in the area. And just like in college, she kept her art alive. Instead of focusing on realistic watercolors, though, her past sweet spot, she experimented with new styles and tablescapes emerged.

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Entering Art Prize totally made sense. But she hesitated.

“Really, I was scared,” she recalls.

She doesn’t enjoy driving into larger cities. Or finding parking in them.

Yet in 2016, she took a leap again and entered Art Prize with three acrylic pieces. She met other artists. Learned to explain her art work to strangers. Plus, wait for it, landed free parking.

Fast forward to 2017.

Now that Olson is represented by Button Gallery, she’s crushing it even more. Think $675 for a 24″ x 24″ piece and $840 for a 24″ x 36″ piece. Besides her unique style, she is also local to the gallery, which is extra appealing to visitors.

Looking ahead, Olson hopes her work appears in more galleries along the Lakeshore. Maybe she will get into teaching art, too. Workshops. Ultimately, she’s grateful for the opportunity to make art and share it with the world, even with a day job.

“I get to do what I like to do part of the week and that’s a win for me,” she said.

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The Rosa Pak: Q&A with Taryn Kutches, co-founder of Parker Design

The Rosa Pak: Q&A with Taryn Kutches, co-founder of Parker Design

Last month I was standing in the back of 5 x 5 Night, the West Michigan business pitch contest, chatting, eating and sipping when one presenter caught my attention.

Maybe it was because she was a parent working full time.

Maybe it was because she was pursuing an apparel business just like me.

Or maybe it was because she was suggesting her business was about more than just the product.

Probably that one.

Anyways, fast forward to the end and Taryn Kutches, co-founder of Parker Design didn’t win the $5,000 prize for her innovative Rosa Pak, a professional backpack designed for the modern woman. However, she impressed a lot of people, including me.

So I reached out and she impressed me even more.

If you are a working woman, fall 2017 can’t come quick enough. Enjoy!

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When did you come up with the idea for Parker Design?

I had a product idea before I had a company idea. The idea for a professional backpack for women, which we now call the Rosa Pak, came to me back in January. I was at a corporate event, and I started noticing majority of men carried backpacks, but majority of women either had large tote bags or carried their notebook and laptop in hand. Once I had the product idea, I pitched it to my now co-founder, Brian and we formed Parker Design. What started as a backpack transformed into a fashion brand on the mission to positively impact the world. It was a really fun experience because we went from a product, to a company name, to a real social mission around a company instead of the other way around.

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Why does the market need your company?

More and more jobs are becoming mobile and more and more people are traveling for work or have the capability to work outside the office. Most of these people are required to work or travel with a laptop. A backpack is definitely the most comfortable and ergonomic friendly, but as a woman there aren’t many options for a backpack that is functional and stylish. I realized I was sick of lugging around my laptop, notebooks, planner, etc. in a tote bag, but I didn’t use a backpack because I couldn’t find one with the right style for work. Workplaces are also shifting to a more casual setting so backpacks instead of briefcases are becoming increasingly popular in the workplace.

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Describe how your 5 x 5 Night experience helped your business.

It is very hard to get your name out there when you are just starting out. 5×5 Night allowed us to network with a broad group of people. Through 5×5 night I have continued to stay in touch with Start Garden who has introduced us to accounting services, and the accounting services then introduced us to legal services. It is so great because you never know how one connection might introduce you to another. I also met another entrepreneur at 5×5 night and we are planning on meeting up to discuss our success, struggles, and anything we can learn from one another.

You mention the #workingmom on a regular basis. How does that reality shape your business?

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My main motivation for starting Parker Design, is my daughter, Parker (Hence the company name ). I want to help people understand that you don’t have to sacrifice being a good mom to have a great career and vice versa. It is all about work-life balance. Since I am still working full time, most of my work for Parker Design comes in the early morning, late at night, or on the weekends. This allows me to still be engaged and spend quality time with Parker. It also allows me to be more focused on the tasks at hand with Parker Design because I know I do not have unlimited hours. It has been engraved in our minds that the more time we put into our work directly reflects the outcome, but I truly believe it is the quality of work and not quantity that allows you to be successful.

Anything else you would like to add that I didn’t ask you about?

I always get so inspired hearing about other people’s journeys. If you would have told me a year ago today that I would be co-founding a company making backpacks, I would have told you you were absolutely crazy. I knew I had always wanted to do something for myself and I was always trying to discover what my passion was, but I didn’t have an obvious skill like painting or cooking to pursue. I finally realized my passion was in entrepreneurship and cultivating a culture I could be proud to work in. I hope to inspire other’s like myself to take that chance and just go for it!

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Fire Sight LLC: The smarter smoke detector amazes mentors, disrupts industry and SURGE-s ahead

Fire Sight LLC: The smarter smoke detector amazes mentors, disrupts industry and SURGE-s ahead

It’s special and rare and inspiring to watch two entrepreneurs so dialed into an idea that they almost finish each other’s sentences.

When Neil Weeda shares a flurry of technical terms, explaining the inner workings of Deep Sight, their game-changing product, James Cerone sometimes jumps in, simplifying the concept for the non-scientific mind, then adding a little razzle dazzle he learned from his wedding DJ dad, before finishing with a million-dollar smile.

When Cerone provides detailed analogies and marketing pitches, yet pauses about some product details, Weeda steps in, providing the theory and the mechanics, convincing you this product will work, even if he doesn’t sleep for three days to figure out the problem.

But that’s the magic of Weeda and Cerone, they are real-time phone-a-friends for each other. They balance each other out. Their chemistry is contagious. So is their passion. Drive. Energy. Upbeat attitude.

Perhaps, the good vibes stem from their emerging idea, an idea that made their freshman year at Hope College much busier than expected: a smart fire detection system they hope will shake up the  fire industry and help prevent companies from sustaining millions of dollars in losses.

Cerone explained most current fire detection systems wait on the ceiling for fires to happen. Smoke detectors can be compared to a giant human nose sniffing for smoke and sprinklers are like human hands waiting to feel heat.

Deep Sight is more active and will mimic another human sense: sight. Therefore, some type of camera or imaging will be used, Cerone said.

The benefits? Enter Weeda. First, it will locate the fire and using a black box idea provide data to where the fire started, what happened, etc. That data can be used to save lives down the road.

Next, integration with sprinklers, Weeda said. Instead of all the sprinklers turning on, or the wrong ones turning on, just the exact sprinklers required turn on and then turn off immediately after the fire is out. Millions of dollars in equipment and product saved.

Finally, targeted suppression, catching a fire as early as possible – not when smoke hits the ceiling – and putting it out before it has a chance to become big.

A surge of support

Weeda and Cerone couldn’t have picked a better time to start a business in Ottawa County.

Today the brilliant minds at Lakeshore Advantage will introduce Surge, an entrepreneurial services program that will offer a “boost of energy that can help a startup achieve their next growth milestone.”

LARGE_withLA_transparentEducation and programming and events and meetups and resources.

Brooke Corbin

Brooke Corbin

In other words, building on the strong foundation of the Holland Smart Zone, which already provides support to high-tech companies within certain boundaries of Holland. However, Surge has a broader focus.

“The excitement around Surge is the ability to develop an ecosystem for ALL entrepreneurs to start here and stay here on the Lakeshore, knowing that this community supports their doing so by providing a wide range of services and connection points to area service providers, mentors and to each other,” said Brooke Corbin, manager of innovation solutions at Lakeshore Advantage.

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Matt Gira

Matt Gira, co-founder of Fathom and a mentor to Fire Sight LLC through Hope College’s Entrepreneurial Institute, said working with Surge only makes sense for Weeda and Cerone.

“I think it’s going to help them in a lot of ways,” Gira said. “Whether that’s the mentorship, different connections, or potential funding, Lakeshore Advantage is creating a lot of great resources for businesses in the area that they should be able to tap into.”

In fact, Weeda and Cerone are just the type of talent Corbin hopes will become the next generation of major employers in Ottawa County.

“Fire Sight LLC is a perfect example of the kind of company that Surge can support—they are developing a new technology and will need resources to grow their startup here,” Corbin said.

Bringing the product to market

Back to Weeda and Cerone and Deep Sight.

It all started in the fall of 2016, when they lived on the same floor on Hope’s campus. They start talking about business ideas until one stuck out – a smarter smoke detector, one that was more proactive then reactive.

But they didn’t do much with it and left for Christmas break.

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James Cerone

When they returned, though, a series of random situations sparked action. Cerone went for a quick run before a cross country meet and ran into firefighters doing a demonstration. He got a business card. They later met with a firefighter and immediately afterward stumbled upon a Hope College entrepreneurship program meeting. They were invited in.

The result? Those back-to-back meetings validated their idea.

“It got serious real quick,” Cerone said.

They heard about M West Challenge, West Michigan’s regional business plan competition and hustled to prepare in just weeks. Initially they thought Deep Sight would sell for homes, but quickly pivoted to commercial buildings after talking with homeowners and realizing the price would make it a tough sell.

And life still went on, they were full-time students, with lab reports to write, even the night of the competition.

“We did this on our own time,” Weeda points out.

The dedication, the commitment, and the grind did not go unnoticed to the Hope College entrepreneurship community.

“When I met the team for the first time, I think our entire team at Hope said ‘They’re freshmen students? That’s amazing,'” Gira said. “They’re an incredibly talented team, that works hard, and what I think is the most important part is that they’re thoughtful about everything they do. They get a lot of work done, and everything they do has a purpose, which is so great to see in young entrepreneurs.”
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Neil Weeda

Oh, and Fire Sight LLC, took second place at M West Challenge, thanks to a sweet idea and sweet presentation by Cerone, awarding them a $2,000 prize and $2,500 in legal services.
“We’re still so early in the process,” Weeda said. “To do that well, I am quite proud of.”
The next step is narrowing their target market, even though they desperately want to make a prototype. Satisfying their customer’s needs will lower development cost and lower business risk.
“Defining a target market for them is more important than building a prototype right now because they need to know how to exactly solve the problems that their customers have. They could have the greatest prototype in the world, but if it doesn’t solve a problem, it’s worthless,” Gira said.
 There’s other issues like who will run the business and regulations and whether they should license the technology instead. However, in the end, they want to save businesses money, save lives and end the notion insurance will cover everything if a fire happens.
“It’s ridiculous,” Cerone said. “You can’t risk it.”
If you are interested in learning more or collaborating with Fire Sight LLC, contact Weeda at neil.weeda@hope.edu.
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Carolyn Ulstad: Holland’s sustainability rockstar protects environment, attracts new residents

Carolyn Ulstad: Holland’s sustainability rockstar protects environment, attracts new residents

Carolyn Ulstad is different and she knows it, embraces it, and flat-out owns it.

She grew up in Holland, but isn’t from Holland. Her parents are from Chicago and she isn’t Dutch and she is absolutely cool with that.

Call it a transplant edge.

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Don’t get her wrong, though, she has a love affair with West Michigan. After graduating college, she stayed here. Got married. Bought a house. And, yes, she posts photos of Lake Michigan sunsets on Instagram.

Yet instead of simply talking about her crush, Ulstad acted on it.

Her sweet spot? The environment.

Her strategy? Firsthand involvement.

She sacrifices Saturday afternoons to pick up trash in the Macatawa River. She persuades government officials to follow sound environmental practices. She writes columns for the newspaper to educate the general public.

Not bad for a Millennial, you know, the generation that always gets criticized.

The best part is Ulstad, program assistant for the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council (MACC), carries herself in a classy, sincere manner, never looking down on you, but always looking to inspire you and teach you and encourage you.

In other words, she’s hooked on positive, everybody-wins projects in the community. Simple as that. Thankfully, unlike many areas in the country, most people along the Lakeshore are too.

“I think that our area collaborates so well for the reason that in general those that live here tend to share the same value of being a good neighbor,” Ulstad said. “I think our current leaders in the community recognize that West Michigan has had a long standing tradition of collaboration and I think they strive to maintain that same spirit.”

And sustainability projects in particular are gaining traction, thanks in part to Ulstad, also a member of the Holland Community Sustainability Committee. In her view, when the environment is improved, more money, less problems.

“In general, it makes me incredibly happy to see movement on the sustainability front,” Ulstad said. “Not only is it better for the health of the planet and ourselves, but it can improve the pocketbook by opening up the door to new technologies, businesses. It can also increase ‘livability’ which draws talented young professionals as well as those who may want to retire here.”

Improving Holland one project at a time

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Which brings us to meetings.

I have been known to skip a meeting or two, unless catered food is involved, but Ulstad, she thrives in meetings, wouldn’t miss them for the world.

“I love meetings,” she said.

I shoot her a surprised look. She can explain.

“I love things that happen in them,” Ulstad said. “I love the input. I think it’s great. You collaborate. You come up with something you didn’t have before.”

Like bike lanes, she is stoked bike lanes are happening in Holland, her face literally lights up at the thought of those lines separating cars from bikes.

Or take Project Clarity, a sustainability project she is crazy proud to be involved with.

The $12 million community effort, which has already raised more than $10 million, has a goal of restoring the water quality of Lake Macatawa and the Macatawa Watershed. The lake and surrounding rivers have struggled with high levels of phosphorus for years. Which impacts water quality and recreation and commerce.

Project Clarity’s multi-phased approach is supported by plenty of local heavy hitters – the MACC, the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway, Hope College and Grand Valley State University to name a few.

“Clean water is something that everyone can get behind,” Ulstad said. “This project has been inspiring to me since its success comes from so many passionate individuals and organizations, government partners, businesses and higher education working together.”

Catching a theme?

Then there’s the Holland Sustainability Framework, a new template for the city of Holland to use when planning projects. In 2013, the city council asked Ulstad’s committee to start developing the checklist, which covers quality of life, environmental awareness/action, economics, transportation, smart energy, community & neighborhood, and community knowledge.

“Is it possible to add sustainable pieces to the project?” Ulstad said. “You can’t expect someone to think of all these things all the time.”

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And finally light pollution in Holland.

Which I know nothing about. Enlighten me, I said.

She acknowledges the pun with a smile, then explains.

Light pollution, basically excessive artificial light, affects the way we observe the night sky, can impact plant health, even animal health. New technology and designs are helping reduce the impact, Ulstad said, but those must be balanced with the public’s perception of bright street lights equaling safer streets.

One simple method to fight light pollution is Earth Hour, a global grassroots movement encouraging residents and business to turn off their lights for one hour. It celebrates energy conservation, showcases the night sky and highlights our impact on the environment.

Ulstad loved the idea, dreamed about bringing it to Holland, shared it with the Holland Community Sustainability Committee, and eventually helped organize a local event on March 25.

“I love Earth Hour because it’s completely customizable,” Ulstad wrote in a March 19 blog post for Hope College. “If your concerns are about bees and pollinators, make it about that. If you care about light pollution or wildlife habitat, make those the focus.”

Yeah, she blogs too.

Ultimately, Ulstad is a sustainability rockstar. She cares about the area. And she’s glad she’s protecting it for future generations.

“At the end of the day I’m so incredibly happy that my parents moved here 30 years ago,” Ulstad said. “West Michigan is such a beautiful place, with less traffic, a wonderful downtown and people who wave and say hello. I always wonder how different a person I may be if I didn’t grow up here fully immersed in the lake, the dunes and the forest. Michigan has a natural beauty that isn’t easily found elsewhere.”

Mic drop.

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Just Say Yes and Figure Out the Rest: The Photos of My Tulips & Juleps Marketing Extravaganza

Just Say Yes and Figure Out the Rest: The Photos of My Tulips & Juleps Marketing Extravaganza

The hot word in 2017? No.

That’s right, say no to most things, but yes to only a few important and meaningful and serious things.

I’m cool with that advice and agree with it – to a point.

However, after a recent string of events, I believe sometimes you should just say yes and figure out the rest.

Please, allow me to explain.

Back in March, I was asked to help blog about Tulips & Juleps, a Derby-themed fundraiser being organized by Tulip Time and Holland Young Professionals.

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I was flattered. Yet I didn’t think I had the time.

My day job was busy. I was acquiring new content marketing clients. I had a long vacation on the horizon.

Saying no would have been easy and socially acceptable.

But, I said yes. And I am so glad I did.

I met amazing people like Hannah Rogers from Tulip Time and Paul Marantette from Coppercraft Distillery and the ladies at Younkers of Holland.

I strengthened friendships with my man Brad Preston and Slate Owner Stacy Mulder and uber-talented Holland Young Professionals members – president Nicole Paquette and board member Kellee Kortas.

I landed amazing access to Coppercraft Distillery before it re-opened, twice, and the chance to enjoy an in-studio TV interview at WZZM 13.

However, above all, watching more than 200 people pack into Boatwerks, including many men, and raise $8,700 for the Holland Young Professionals endowment fund, that was special. Rewarding. Worth it.

So enjoy the pictures from my Tulips & Juleps journey and please, say yes and figure out the rest.

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A private, even-before-the-soft-opening bourbon tasting at Coppercraft Distillery.

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Starting to create some social media buzz.

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Coppercraft Distillery soft opening. Flowered shirts not required, but strongly encouraged.

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Nicole Paquette speaking about Holland Young Professionals, on TV, while keeping that hat out of her face. Amazing.

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This is where I told Meredith TerHaar she was with it and had it going on. Also amazing. 

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Why are we smiling? 1) We have great teeth. 2) Possibly the best 3 minute taped segment in WZZM 13 history. 

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(Above and below and below) Need fashion advice? We can help. Just let us finish some full-lengths first. 

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Gameday. Too many talented and good-looking people for one backdrop.

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Inside Leadership: Abbey Johnston & Greg Mutch focus on inner game for next-level results

Inside Leadership: Abbey Johnston & Greg Mutch focus on inner game for next-level results

Story By JEREMY GONSIOR/Photos by JOEL RODEHEAVER at Union Ave Creative.

It was cold, cloudy, and rainy outside, but inside the restaurant it was warm, vibrant and full of laughter because Abbey Johnston and Greg Mutch were there.

The leadership experts, both based in West Michigan, are executing an ambitious project: Inside Leadership, a transformative program featuring group learning sessions, individualized coaching, and a sweet Leadership 360 tool.

Yet they don’t seem tense or worried or afraid.

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Greg Mutch

One minute they are deep in discussion about the latest opinions in leadership development. Then, when you least expect it, they crack a joke that is so hilarious you stop writing or stop eating or almost spit out your water.

Halfway through the conversation, to those around us, it looks like old friends are having a reunion over spring break. But I have never met Mutch and only briefly talked with Johnston a few times.

Even crazier? Mutch and Johnston met only 18 months earlier.

That’s how in-sync they are, how much chemistry they have, and how motivated they are about making leadership training significantly better.

And that energy spills over to those around them, providing a group synergy that makes time fly by. I can only imagine what multiple hours would be like with them.

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Abbey Johnston

How did this happen, how did this perfect match occur?

“Work Tinder,” Mutch says with a straight face.

A moment passes and we all laugh. No, seriously, how?

Envision a movie montage with The Chainsmokers latest hit playing in the background. Then images of mutual friends. Introductions. Conversations. Johnston letting Mutch say a few words during one of her trainings. Soon mutual respect. Then a refreshing connection.

Mix that all together, shake, and add a joint passion around a unique leadership viewpoint and you have a dynamic partnership.

“I think what we found out when we started ‘work dating’ was we connected on the leadership development philosophy we take,” Johnston said. “This was pretty thrilling because, quite frankly, our philosophy isn’t necessarily mainstream. It’s transformative and revolutionary – but not mainstream.”

Disrupting the typical leadership training model

Enter the “Inner Game” philosophy.

Most leadership programs focus on the “Outer Game,” how to build external competencies – team building, collaboration, vision, etc.  Therefore, around the country every week, leaders attend a conference that appears will finally address one of these problematic areas in their life, Johnston said.

“They return from the conference – with energy – and a lot of information…and we see a difference.  We see them trying,” she said. “Then a week or two later our leaders behavior returns to the problematic patterns we were experiencing before the conference. This is a common scenario.”

And Inside Leadership has a name for it: limiting assumptions.
“It might be easier for people to understand them as blind spots,” Mutch said. “When our operating system runs with those blind spots ‘unexamined’ then they slow us down, hold us back, and create collateral damage to reduces our overall leadership effectiveness (and business results).”
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To combat this broken system, Inside Leadership reverse engineers the typical leadership development philosophy. They learn who the leader is on the inside, what is causing their ineffective attempts at these competencies, to spark action on the outside. In other words, the stronger the “Inner Game,” the stronger the impact.
“Performance is an outcome of an inner game. Performance is driven by our ‘internal operating system’: our beliefs, story, values, passions, strengths and weaknesses,” Johnston said. “We can be consistently hitting the target as leaders – making great strides – but not quite be hitting the bullseye. We can’t fully live into our leadership potential if we haven’t grasped what our potential is.”

They also believe leadership is not positional, rather leadership is influence and showing up and impact.

“In that way everyone has the opportunity to be a leader,” Mutch said.

What Inside Leadership looks like

The cutting-edge program began where many interesting projects do: a college campus.

They started offering a version of Inside Leadership at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). After successful cohorts, word got out and they decided to expand beyond the campus setting.

“We had such remarkable results from the specific program we launched at GVSU. There was a lot of energy around it,” Johnston said. “We’ve been doing other variations of leadership development with other groups and companies.  However, what we launched with GVSU had a specific format that we knew we could effectively deliver for others.”

Inside Leadership, a 4-month program already underway this spring, moves beyond the typical workshop-driven leadership training to offer a more experience-based training. Plus, there’s a community of 10 – 12 individuals formed around it.

Let’s not forget out-of-this-world PowerPoint slides.

Oh, and as we touched on earlier, drumroll please, fun.

“While we dig deep in our sessions we also have a ton of fun. Greg and I love to get ‘real’ but we also love to have a ‘real’ good laugh,” Johnston said. “I think we have done a good job with balancing intensity with a little bit of banter.  One of Greg’s values is irreverence – need I say more?”

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The fall cohort, which is open for registration now, kicks off with a 1-day retreat on Sept. 6, followed by individual coaching sessions to debrief your personal Leadership Circle Profile 360 results. Then group engagements, coaching sessions, and finally a half-day retreat. At the end, participants receive a Leadership Circle Profile 360 and StrengthsFinder assessment.

Plus they are more awake. Understand how they can grow their potential. Effectively aim their influence.

If the momentum continues, Mutch hopes Inside Leadership could expand stateside first and then even globally.

“We are exploring some additional cohorts regionally (Traverse City and Detroit), but the experience could be adapted and delivered anywhere (Ireland is on that list),” he said.

Back to lunch. Mutch jokingly brainstorms how to better market testimonials on the Web site. What if they add the signature “Mom,” after their testimonials? They don’t currently list names, it’s anonymous, so why not? Johnston cracks up, can’t stop laughing.

As we wrap up, it’s clear: Inside Leadership is blowing up. Get your autographs while you can.

“I love what I do,” Johnston said later. “I am honored and privileged every time I engage in this space. Our participants are brave and offer us endless amounts of insight and inspiration. #blessed.”

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Tulips & Juleps: Men, let’s taste bourbon, rock plaid, and watch the Derby – all for a great cause

Tulips & Juleps: Men, let’s taste bourbon, rock plaid, and watch the Derby – all for a great cause

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The newly-remodeled, yet-to-open bar at Coppercraft Distillery was covered in empty glasses – the clear, whiskey glass type – just aching to be filled with locally-distilled goodness.

We had already tried the Tulip Julep, a delightful mix of Coppercraft Applejack, vanilla simple syrup, blackberry shrub and mint leaves.

But now it was time for the extra-manly stuff, the beverages that were likely to make our throat burn a little: the bourbon tastings.

I was decked out in a sweet plaid suit coat from Tommy Hilfiger, thanks to the lovely people at Younkers of Holland, who sponsored me. And bright blue pants, of course. My man, Brad Preston, was rockin’ a white linen suit and a top hat, an awesome one, a hat that had traveled to the hallowed Kentucky Derby grounds – and had lived to tell about it.

It was go time.

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Paul Marantette

Paul Marantette, general manager of Coppercraft, began to pour the beautiful amber-colored beverages and you knew, immediately, this was an exclusive and different and educational and fun and kind-of-hipster experience.

Soon a whirlwind of flavors hit my taste buds as I tipped back the glasses. First, the Straight Bourbon Whiskey, barrel aged for over two years, it offers hints of vanilla and caramel that finishes with a spicy citrus snap. Then the award-winning Rye Malt Whiskey, highlighting dried cocoa, rye, and peppercorn spice. It has noticeable sweetness, making it easily my favorite, and the favorite of many others.

“Rye is immensely popular,” Marantette said as he played the role of part-bartender, part-company historian and part-spirits evangelist. “We wish we could go back three years and make more of it.”

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 And finally, the High Wheat Whiskey, a mix of caramel, vanilla bean, fresh baked grains and baking spice, with a surprising finish, at least for us.

“This is almost citrusy,” Preston said, holding his glass in the air, almost questioning whether that’s what he actually tasted. He did taste it. And Marantette confirmed it. “That’s cool.”

After one cocktail and three bourbon samples, the tasting was over.

But our appetite for Coppercraft was only warming up.

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Your turn to taste

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Thankfully, for us and for men across West Michigan, another opportunity to taste incredible bourbon, one open to the public, not just bloggers with sponsored outfits, is just around the corner.

Bourbon tasting is a featured activity at the first-ever Tulips & Juleps, a tulip-themed Derby party from 4 – 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 6 at Boatwerks, 216 Van Raalte Ave. in Holland. 

Created by Tulip Time and Holland Young Professionals (HYP), Tulips & Juleps is a fundraiser for both organizations –  proceeds will go to future Tulip Time programming and to The HYP Fund, an endowment fund that supports leadership development throughout Holland. Tickets are $40 a person.

This is the second year Tulip Time has opened up its charity partner program to any local nonprofit, said Hannah Rogers, Tulip Time business development and group manager. Four local nonprofit organizations submitted exciting event proposals and fundraising ideas, but only one could be chosen based on Tulip Time’s staff capacity.

Organizers said the creativity surrounding Tulip & Juleps and its appeal to the under-40 crowd, were strong considerations. The Kentucky Derby dates naturally align with the opening weekend of the Tulip Time Festival, so it was a great opportunity to partner with another local nonprofit.

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Hannah Rogers

“We are thrilled to be offering a new event that appeals to not only the demographic attending Tulip Time, but also to the 40 and under local audience,” Rogers said. “Much of our other programming is focused on the group travel market and families, so offering something for this age group is exciting.”

For Coppercraft, teaming up with Tulip Time for Tuleps & Juleps was a no-brainer.

“Just being able to reach a new audience is incredibly helpful to us,” Marantette said.

Beyond the manly tastings from Coppercraft, which will be paired with appetizers, there will be the Derby on the big screen, a silent auction with substantial prizes, yard games, a photo booth, and, of course, plenty of dressing up.

Building a confident Derby look

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Photo Credit: Kentucky Derby

Now fellas, I know being “fashionable” may be out of your comfort zone, but it doesn’t have to be. You can attend this event AND look good.

Cue the experts.

Stacy Mulder, owner of Slate, a men’s clothing store in downtown Grand Rapids and online, helps guys improve their look every day. She encourages men to update their wardrobe with little tweaks, not massive overhauls, that are reflective of upcoming trends.

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Stacy Mulder

“For example, if you’re typically comfortable wearing a checkered button down, we recommend a new, fun print in a short sleeve style for a breath of fresh air to your spring and summer looks, or in this case, your Derby look,” Mulder said. “Trying these simple wardrobe refreshers will elevate your look without forcing you to step too far outside of your comfort zone or break the bank with a whole new look.”

The Kentucky Derby says its race offers the perfect excuse for “men to get just as dressed up and decked out as the ladies.”

“The modern Derby man possesses an unparalleled color palette,” it writes in the Throwing a Derby Party page. “Sun-drenched, tropical colors in bold stripes or busy plaid and bright pastels steal the limelight. Although, if you want a more polished look, a classic navy or pinstripe blazer is always in style.”

In other words, I nailed it. Thank you mannequins at Younkers of Holland for triggering the look in the first place.

But don’t feel pressured to wear a plaid suit coat because I did. Find something that fits well and then rock it. Don’t waver. Don’t second guess yourself.

“Remember, gentlemen: The secret to looking great is confidence,” the Kentucky Derby writes.  “Whatever you wear, wear it proud!”

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