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.

Makers Row

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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Wingman Supplements: Ryan Schaub’s solution for approaching women, life with more confidence

Wingman Supplements: Ryan Schaub’s solution for approaching women, life with more confidence

The package, a package I was anticipating like crazy all week, arrived in a rather unassuming way: a plain white envelope with my name on it.

Water just after Wingman added

Water just after Wingman added

Yet the contents inside were anything but ordinary.

I quickly opened the package and out dropped a hand-signed letter from the CEO and two unmarked packets.

Awesome.

I was ready to break my barriers. Become invincible.

As I read the letter, though, I soon realized my experiment would have to wait. I had already consumed a massive amount of caffeine that day and caffeine would not compliment what I was about to try.

So I waited two more days, for a Saturday when caffeine could be postponed, before pouring myself a glass of cold water, opening a packet and shaking its contents into the cup.

The water slowly became a light brown color and a scent that mimicked Kool-Aid from back in the day invaded my nostrils.

I stirred the contents together a little and hesitated before taking a sip.

Was I really doing this? Yes, sir.

Gulp.

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Wingman stirred in, ready to drink

It tasted good. I was still standing. A light and smooth and drinkable and fruit punch flavor started to take shape.

About ten minutes later I finished the entire drink.

And I loved it.

Now I don’t dabble in a lot of beverages outside of coffee, tea, beer and wine, but this tasted great.

Then the good stuff kicked in.

Maybe 20 minutes later I definitely noticed a calming feeling, like I was relaxed, a little more worry-free.

Could it have been the placebo effect, since I knew what it was supposed to do? Perhaps, but it was noticeable enough it felt natural.

That day I had a road trip bouncing around in my mind and I was debating not going. However, after sipping my beverage I decided to go and had an amazing time.

What did I chant the whole way to my destination? Wingman! Wingman! Wingman!

First encounter with Wingman

A few weeks ago, I visited the Web site for Start Garden’s 5 x 5 Night, a local competition that awards $5,000 to the best business idea pitch. The winner is determined by a team of judges, but to become one of the five presenters that night you must be voted in by the general public.

Wingman, a life enhancement drink created by Suttons Bay-based Ryan Schaub, was entered into the contest and featured prominently on the site, mainly because it attracted a high number of page views, 5,792 views as of April 1. Most of the other ideas gathered hundreds.

Surprisingly, Wingman didn’t make the cut for the March 5 x 5 night.

So I decided to reach out to Schaub, a 2016 high school graduate, to find out why and how he made Wingman, a product designed to address a major problem many men face: talking to women.

“Our generation is lacking in social skills due to the advancements in technology and we have lost touch with reality and cannot speak in the real world as effectively,” he wrote for his 5 x 5 Night entry page.  “Men of all ages will love the way Wingman calms their fears and anxieties when approaching women.”

 

 

Now in my stage of life, approaching women isn’t necessary, but I was interested in the calming fears and anxieties part, which anyone can relate with in some aspects.

I am an ideas guy and think this idea has potential, especially if the brand is developed. Because Wingman is technical I thought Schaub should explain it in his own words. Oh and I am not sharing my second sample so grab a can when you can!

1. Describe the moment or moments that led to Wingman’s creation. And why now?


Funny enough, I first came up Wingman while riding in my friend’s Jeep as we were on our way to go meet up with some girls. I was feeling anxiety over it, something that was not uncommon for me when it came to talking to women. I then wondered if there was any product that helped with calming anxiety, improving confidence, and overall make me feel comfortable in any situation.


After searching relentlessly, I found nothing, and decided to make it myself. That was when I realized that I couldn’t be the only one with confidence problems and after testing out my product I realized that the possibilities of Wingman were greater than I ever imagined.


Having just graduated high school this past year, right now was the best time for me to start a business. I can look at that as luck or destiny, but I just focus on the fact that the best time for anything is now. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

 2. How is it produced? How exactly does it improve confidence and reduce anxiety?

Wingman is produced in a certified commercial kitchen, Center City Kitchen. I take great pride in making the highest quality product so great care is put into the whole process, from base ingredients all the way until the customer drinks Wingman. We follow all regulations laid out to us to insure quality and safety in our products, we are not stirring ingredients into our bath tub and just canning it.


With all of the health conscious products and ways of healthy living, almost everybody is forgetting about one of our most important body parts, our brain. There are many chemicals flowing through our brain every second, but there is one chemical which is very important that is often neglected, serotonin. Serotonin has many functions in the body, but the most prevelant function is that serotonin regulates mood levels. If serotonin in the body is too low, the brain responds with increased anxiety, less focus, and overall feeling of sadness and despair.


One of the current believed causes of depression is low serotonin levels. It is very important for our bodies. Wingman has been shown to help fix this by using a special blend of natural herbal ingredients that work with your body to increase serotonin output in the body. Therefore leaving the user with a happier demeanor and lowered anxiety. If one is happy, it is hard to not be confident! As an added bonus, we have put in a few amino acids which have been shown to naturally increase energy and focus, without the crash that caffeine has.

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3. What are your plans for establishing credibility in the supplement industry?


So although we are technically a supplement company, we see Wingman as much more than that. Wingman does not fall under the “fitness supplements” and we truly believe anyone can benefit from our products. Therefore, we are almost a part of the drink industry, and in a way, a new branch of drinks, Life Enhancement Drinks. We want to make the idea of Life Enhancement Drinks a reality and giving people all across the world a product that can benefit their everyday lives.

That said, building credibility is not an easy task, but we know if we only offer the highest of quality of product that we can, then our loyal customer base will support us. I also personally have great mentors that will help me be the best owner that I can be to lead this company in the right direction. We stand by serving our customers, not about how much money we can make. That sets us apart from most companies.


4. Where will you sell Wingman – online, brick and mortar, or both?


We plan on selling Wingman both through our online website, wingmansupplements.com but also through local grocery stores and gas stations in not only our area but also statewide. Obviously we want to eventually be worldwide and in every state, but small steps first and taking the small wins with gratitude.


5. If it takes off, what would you add to your product line?


I wouldn’t say “if” but rather “when”. Wingman is in for the long run. I truly believe in the potential of this company and will grow it to be as big as it possibly can. There are many ideas running around in my head, but many I have to put off to focus on priorities. Some more definite plans that will be seen in the near future is an expansion of the current Wingman product, looking at new flavors, sizes, and a sugar-free version. Besides that, I do have a few new product ideas stemming from the original Wingman, but I better keep those secret and not ruin the future surprise!

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Acre AgTech: Ottawa County’s Farmers-Only Service for business, not dating

Acre AgTech: Ottawa County’s Farmers-Only Service for business, not dating

You’ve seen the commercials – a helpless, lonely, stereotypical-looking farmer is lost because he lives in a rural area and there are no country girls around.

The solution, of course, is FarmersOnly.com.

Suddenly, attractive women riding horses come out of nowhere and the man has a big grin on his face. His life is complete. He has a line-dancing partner.

I never liked these commercials because I felt like they sold farmers short. It conveyed farmers were only capable of wearing boots, cowboy hats, and driving a big truck covered in mud.

I disagree:

  • Maybe it’s because my dad grew up on a farm, became valedictorian, went on to college, then grad school, and became an environmental research chemist.
  • Or my father-in-law who grew up on a farm, went on to college, and became a human resources expert for many companies after mastering how to relate to and support people.
  • Then there’s a family member who is still tied to the farm but interned in Washington D.C., attended college out of state and landed a nice corporate job in Indianapolis.

Just because you’re a farmer doesn’t mean your dreams are limited to your plot of land. Or the farmer’s market.

Farmers are smart. Adaptable. And, wait for it, innovative.

That’s right, innovative.

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Investing in farmers

Thankfully, there’s an organization in West Michigan that recognizes their intelligence and wants to help farmers occupy fresh, expanded roles in the business community.

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The new, improved ACRE AgTech.

Formerly know as the Great Lakes Ag-Tech Incubator, the nonprofit based in Ottawa County re-branded this week to ACRE, months after receiving a $55,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for marketing/outreach.

Holland-based Burch Partners led the effort and the results are astonishing.

The new logo and Web site are clean, professional and, most of all, clear. Great Lakes Ag-Tech Incubator sounded like government language, ACRE sounds like startup language.

A textbook public-private partnership.

Burch Partners was excited.

So was ACRE.

The re-branding made it clear that ACRE supports farmers and agriculture entrepreneurs taking their “equipment, tools, machinery, software, or other specialized products” to the market, according to its site.

“We have the experience to help entrepreneurs navigate barriers, connect with opportunities, and access the expertise they need to grow their idea into a thriving business. This ACRE is AgTech Connections and Resources for Entrepreneurs: a place for the creation and production of emerging ideas in today’s agricultural economy,” the site says.

There’s no start-up fee, but ACRE clients agree to “sign over 2 percent of sales to pay retroactively for its assistance,” according to the Holland Sentinel.

 

The history

Ottawa County is one of the top agriculture-producing counties in the state. When county leadership began searching in 2010 for ways to encourage job growth, its Planning and Performance Improvement department suggested a business incubator for agricultural technology.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Ottawa County a grant to study the feasibility of an incubator, MLive reported, which confirmed there was a critical mass of entrepreneurs who needed assistance with transforming ideas into actual businesses. A pilot program then followed.

Great Lakes Ag-Tech Business Incubator, now ACRE, officially launched in December 2014 under the guidance of Mark Knudsen. It received attention throughout the country, including Entrepreneur Magazine.

“Many agricultural-technology entrepreneurs are farmers who’ve taken to their garages or workshops to build mechanical devices that solve common agrarian problems, ” the magazine wrote. “(The incubator) doesn’t corral startups into a communal workspace. Instead, participants work solo at home, periodically meeting with mentors in county government conference rooms.”

 

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The future

Looking ahead, I think ACRE has a bright future. Why?

The agricultural-technology incubator has a five-person staff now.

It has a star-studded board of directors.

A professional re-branding.

Out in the community, people are talking about it. Young, aspiring entrepreneurs are working with ACRE as they try to launch innovative, farm-focused products.

Now it just needs more entrepreneurs and more counties to join the effort.

So ignore the commercials.

City folk do get it.

Farmers got it going on – and yes, we’re talking business.



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Failure Lab Holland: Powerful Examples of Overcoming Fear of Failure

Failure Lab Holland: Powerful Examples of Overcoming Fear of Failure

It was clear within a few seconds that Failure: Lab at Park Theatre was THE place to be Thursday night in Holland. The sold-out event was swarming with people just minutes after the doors opened and the energy never died down until the event ended.

Attendees grabbed drinks and appetizers before settling into their seats at the iconic downtown theater. Soon the lights went down. After a brief introduction, the stories of failure began, the raw, inspiring, heartbreaking, encouraging, disturbing, wild, funny, shocking stories.

There were moments of cheers and smiles, followed by moments of intense quiet and disbelief. Each story ended without resolution. Just when you felt their pain, their embarrassment, their hopelessness, they walked off the stage and the lights went out.

Talk about time for reflection. Many people did soul search a bit, including myself, as we were encouraged to share their reactions to the failures over Twitter. Here are some of my favorites!


David Tebo – Hamilton Schools Superintendent 


Jennifer Owens – Lakeshore Advantage President


Austin Asamoa-Tutu Jnr. – Worksighted Director of Technical Services and CTO


Luciano Hernandez – Tiger Studios President


Summing it all up



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Jenna Sage: Managing the trendiest 20,000 square feet in Grand Rapids

Jenna Sage: Managing the trendiest 20,000 square feet in Grand Rapids

Leaving downtown Grand Rapids, it’s easy to stop paying attention and focus on just getting home.

Understandable after a long day of work, but a mistake.

A mistake? Yeah, you read that right. There are hidden gems popping up everywhere in the neighborhoods adjacent to the ever-popular downtown. 

One of those, a place I literally just learned about it, is The Cheney Place.

Located about a mile and half north of Devos Place on Monroe Avenue, this venue is not your mother’s, father’s, grandmother’s or grandfather’s event space. It’s an urban boutique space. What Pinterest would look like in real life.

And it’s all run by a Millennial with cool frames, the Jenna Sage.

What makes The Cheney Place keep growing? Let’s hear from Jenna in her own words.

Credit: Studio 6.23 Photography

When TCP first opened, it was family run by a mother-daughter team. An old co-worker of mine was the first non-family employee and when they expanded she recommended me to come in and help with event coordination.

It started very part time about three years ago and has morphed into my beautiful thing I’d call my dream job. I’ve been around through the transition of owners, lots of design changes, employees changes, and growth, so really I’ve been around for it all since the venue is only 4 years old.

Right now, I’m managing the space, working with all of our clients from bookings, design elements (floor plans, vintage furniture, linens) to putting their day of team together. I also oversee our really cool team of coordinators and interns. While I love working with clients, as the venue grows, so does my role so I’ve transitioned a few times to create new jobs and even create new elements of the business.

The Cheney Place is a space truly like no other. The building is a 50,000 square foot old furniture factory… come on, that’s pretty cool! Our clients get 20,000 square feet of event space for ceremonies, receptions, cocktail hour or even just a meeting.

Even just as an empty warehouse, the space has so much potential and our clients can feel it. What’s even better is our second floor is always decked out with vintage and mid-century furniture, chandeliers and cool plants… it basically says cool vibes and take my picture (if it could talk, haha).

Credit: Studio 6.23 Photography

Our real asset is our team, each member is hand selected for their role. We do what we do because we actually love it. We’re in hospitality to serve people… mainly that looks like taking care of everything a bride could worry about on leading up to and on her wedding day!

Credit: Studio 6.23 Photography

I’ve spent the past three years working at one of the coolest venues in Grand Rapids so of course, I’ve met a ton of cool vendors. It’s really being here long term and connecting over and over again with the same cool vendors that allows me to build connections and network. The wedding industry is cool, I’ve made so many connections professionally but at the end of the day, so many of them have become friends! I think those connections lead to mutual recommendations for both TCP and other vendors!

Where are we headed? Haha… for weddings on weddings on weddings is my simple answer. The wedding industry is always changing and we like to be on the front line for new trends and cool designs and we do have a few areas we’re still sprucing up. The whole gang here and the owners, have spent the last few years building an incredible business that’s really taken off. 2017 is about doing what we love, and a whole lot of it!

 



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On a Lark: Kate Bolt inspires people to host, one batch cocktail at a time

On a Lark: Kate Bolt inspires people to host, one batch cocktail at a time

BY JEREMY GONSIOR

I first encountered Kate Bolt’s work at a holiday shopping event organized by Give Studio, a household name in West Michigan and beyond for fun, creative gifts. Of course, I was the last person to visit the experience, arriving about 5 minutes before it ended. But that was okay, because I was there, and I was going to purchase awesome Christmas gifts before Christmas Eve.

As I gazed over the offerings I was offered a cocktail. A few weeks removed I can’t remember exactly what it was and or exactly how it looked. But the taste? Cool. Refreshing. Fancy. I was immediately relaxed, despite my tardiness.

That experience stuck with me and I decide to track down the woman behind the momentary escape from the holiday hustle and bustle. I learned it was Kate Bolt of Living Lark. Turns out she is collaborating on events like this all over the area and really starting to develop a following. So, if you’re smart, which I know you are if you are reading this blog, follow her and check out one of her events. In the meantime, enjoy this Q&A with Bolt to see where she is headed next.

Cheers!

1. You send cocktail recipes out each week. Super practical for readers. How did you come up with this idea? What’s the response been so far?

During last year’s freezing winter, I wrote out all my recipes, which included 52 cocktails.  Overtime, I tweaked and edited the recipes and realized all of them were batch sizes, perfect for groups and parties.  I’m a perfectionist regarding how recipes turn out — they must be the same every time by every person who makes them — and decided to increase the quantity of each cocktail to fill a gallon jug.  This way they are consistent, and the host of the party can whip up a batch before the guests arrive.

 I’m hoping to inspire people to gather often and not be intimidated to host — which is easier if you make food and drinks prior to guests’ arrival so you can be fully present when guests do arrive.

My marketing strategy has been to post one recipe a week.  Although the recipes for the book are also about food, I want to have a strong brand initially and am focusing on batch cocktails posted weekly on Instagram and Facebook to establish my brand.  The posts are announced to subscribers in a weekly newsletter, which introduces the cocktail and my weekly events and musings.  The response to this has been good!  unnamed2

People love making large batches of drinks and, so far, each recipe has turned out the way I was hoping for those who make it! My best way to market has been to write to people and ask them to share my work (newsletter, posts) with friends as well as to collaborate on events with local businesses.

2. You’ve already worked together with some big names in West Michigan. Why collaboration, not competition?

The best way I’ve gotten the Lark brand out there is through collaboration.  Lark was born because friends — successful women in West Michigan businesses — helped me design my website, get initial photo shoots done, edit content, and have a marketing plan in place.  I’ve also reached out to local business people and served drinks at special events at their stores, in pop up shops, trunk shows, and have drink demos during store hours as well as at private parties.

Collaborating gets my followers into new-to-them businesses (and owners’ lives) and the business owners’ patrons get introduced to my project!  It’s a win-win! And, this relational approach has been a fun surprise in the success of Lark.  Celebrating each other’s ability to fly instead of cutting off each other’s wings really makes everyone better off in the end!

I found the beauty of creativity back when I started writing down my original and my family recipes.  One of my goals is to inspire people to invest in their creative spirit and give time to making and enjoying beautiful things — to compete with other creatives would be directly against all the joy that I have found in this project.

3. What’s your long-term goal with this project – publishing, retail, a restaurant?

My long-term goal with this project is to publish my cookbook On a Lark with a big publishing house.  I love paper, words, the publishing world, and I have chosen to aim high and search for someone to make this dream into a book!

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The premise of my cook book is to eat clean and healthy all week and go out on a lark (splurge) on the weekends.  The cocktails definitely fit into the splurge part!

I am speaking with an agent (who I was introduced to by a local author — again, collaboration!), and for a publisher to recognize me, I need MANY more followers.  This again points to the importance for me to collaborate, to be introduced to many more people who love cocktails, and to boost other people’s businesses in the process while serving them unique batch cocktails at local events!

For more information, check out livinglark.com and instagram/livinglark. Make sure you subscribe to Bolt’s weekly newsletter too!

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McCrossan Potatoes: Making “American” potatoes great again thanks to the Irish

McCrossan Potatoes: Making “American” potatoes great again thanks to the Irish

For John Johnston, the average American potato is well, average, no offense.

That’s when compared, of course, to the incredible taste of the Irish potatoes he is borderline obsessed with, for good reason, because, get this: they basically melt in your mouth.

“I grew up in Ireland working in the potato industry,” explains Johnston, who moved to Holland, Mich. around 13 years ago. “I have always had an interest in it.”

Ireland is where his passion for potatoes took root – it’s serious business there – but he saw a gap when it came to the Irish mentality versus the American mentality.

“I thought the potato sector (here) was really dull and boring,” Johnston admits while sharing a cup of locally-roasted coffee with me early one December morning.

Who is John Johnston?

To be clear, Johnston is far from boring. The dude can sell things, with a strong background in marketing and business. Heck, a few years back he even created a movement called Toilet Yoga, a book that attracted media coverage from giants like Wired Magazine.

potatoSo when someone that creative enters a space like potatoes, a shakeup is bound to happen. As in a project with a magnitude never before seen in American soil.

Literally.

Johnston’s big idea? He decided he would bring Irish potatoes, the potatoes he loved so dearly from his childhood, drum roll please… to America. But not importing the potatoes, growing the potatoes. In West Michigan.

He called a good friend from Ireland, explained the idea, flew him to Michigan, and they pitched the idea to major retailers such as Meijer and Spartan Nash. When they expressed interest and support for the concept, Johnston chose to pursue the project.

McCrossan Potatoes was born.

Coming to America

Johnston chose to grow the Maris Piper potato, one of the most popular types of potatoes in Ireland. He contacted a Colorado farmer, who had recently started growing the variety, and bought up all his seed, envisioning something big.

“It’s never been grown on a commercial scale in the US,” Johnston said.

He started growing the Maris Piper potatoes on 1/3 of an acre. After selling some potatoes to restaurants in the Midwest, McCrossan Potatoes gained more attention and more demand.

“It was a good reaction,” Johnston said. “People loved them.”

As in they won blind taste tests.

“There is a better taste profile,” Johnston says, grasping for the right words to describe its uniqueness, without just handing me a cooked potato to try myself. “It’s a crisper, fresher taste.”

That’s reflected in a recent glowing review by The Australian: “Maris Piper, a humble-looking spud next to many others, is a floury potato that emerges in a blaze of glory when baked (crunchy-skinned, cloud-soft within), fried as chips (similar result), mashed (ethereal).”

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A Potato Revolution

 

Now McCrossan Potatoes has expanded to 5 acres and about 200,000 pounds of potatoes on a farm near Martin, Mich., serving restaurants and retailers in Holland, Grand Rapids, Chicago and Milwaukee.

One such restaurant is The Curragh in Holland, Mich. The Irish-themed restaurant has a signature side of Hand Cut Irish Fries, which are described as using potatoes “born in Ireland and grown locally by McCrossan Potatoes.”

So what’s the future look like for McCrossan Potatoes?

Bright, especially if the company can strike an official deal with retailers like Meijer or Spartan Nash. They are still in discussion, working through questions.

“They would like to see us with more supply,” Johnston said.

Looking ahead, with a sales professional now on the team, he has one overarching goal.

“We are trying to get into as many homes and restaurants as possible to get people eating and tasting it,” Johnston said.

For more information, visit the McCrossan Potatoes Facebook page.

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Not Your Mother’s Laundry re-imagines the future of dirty clothes. Here’s a hint: it’s a bright one.

Not Your Mother’s Laundry re-imagines the future of dirty clothes. Here’s a hint: it’s a bright one.

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When most students finish a college class, they can’t wait to leave and move on with their life.

But for Gabe BossDan Miller, and Justin Pinto the class they completed this spring could just become their life.

That’s because during their entrepreneurship class at Hope College they discovered an idea they feel could spread across the country: cleaning laundry for students at small colleges.

Introducing Not Your Mother’s Laundry.

“We’ve been working really hard on it,” Boss said during an interview overlooking Hope’s campus, a charming, historic school they plan to blanket with marketing as students return for classes on Aug. 26.

Sure, it’s not as glamorous as Facebook.

Yeah, it might not become as ubiquitous as Uber.

But the business will have an impact, they say, thanks to a multi-faceted approach to empower their student workers and uplift the students they serve.

Owned and operated by the Hope College students, the business is becoming hotter than the drying cycle at a local laundromat, the place the highly motivated guys will spend many hours at this fall.

In fact, the Not Your Mother’s Laundry team was selected to present at Holland’s 5 x 5 Night in July, a entrepreneur pitch event that provided exposure beyond Hope’s campus to people in tight blazers, dark jeans and killer frames, presumably very successful businessman in West Michigan.

While they didn’t win the $5,000 prize, they received positive feedback about their idea and made new connections to help them grow their business.

Speaking of connections, Boss, Miller, and Pinto have benefited heavily from their on-campus connections as well – professors, mentors and fellow student entrepreneurs. Four potential businesses grew out of this year’s entrepreneurship class and Not Your Mother’s Laundry has worked closely with a budding business from last year’s class, Fathom.

“We’ve gotten really close with those people,” Boss said. “The program is really exploding.”

In a nutshell, Not Your Mother’s Laundry offers students the chance to have one less concern during the academic year. Employees will personally visit the student’s door and pick up the laundry they need washed. The laundry is then cleaned at a local laundromat by the company and returned to the students.

Similar laundry services in larger college markets such as Central Michigan University and University of Michigan tend to outsource everything and often lack the personal touch Not Your Mother’s Laundry plans to provide, Boss and Miller said.

“We want to be different, to set ourselves apart,” Miller said. “Relationships with our clients, that is what we want.”

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They also want to be different in how they treat employees. Boss and Miller said they plan to hire at $3 above minimum wage so students don’t have to slowly work their way through the tiers of traditional college pay scales. They hope higher wages will help student employees offset some college expenses.

The Not Your Mother’s Laundry service will cost $400 a semester for 25 pounds of laundry per week for a grand total of $800 per school year.

Boss said the company will predominately market to parents, hoping the price tag seems small compared the cost of tuition, and, the amount of time it frees up for academic pursuits.

After launching at Hope College, the founders plan to optimize the student model and expand to other small Division III colleges such as Aquinas, Alma, etc. Then, if that works, they could grow into apartment buildings and commercial buildings. Additional laundry services could be added to the lineup as well.

But for now Not Your Mother’s Laundry is content to start small in a big way.

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If you visit Hope College’s campus at the end of August, you literally won’t be able to avoid them.

Door hangers.

Flyers.

Tables at orientations.

Raffles.

“We want to make it fun,” Boss said.

So much for moving on.

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