We’re proud to have inspired and assisted many entrepreneurs here in West Michigan. Here are just a few of their stories of success and determination. If you’d like to share your story, please contact us today.
Lisa Shaw has been a sole proprietor for over a decade, and a photographer since she can remember. Through her photography business, A Bigger Picture, Lisa has artfully captured hundreds of weddings, families – and now, entrepreneurs and small businesses. Refocusing her business on photography for entrepreneurs and online influencers, Lisa is poised to pivot and ready to take her business aspirations to the next level.
Victoria Upton, founder of Women’s Lifestyle Magazine and fierce supporter of countless Grand Rapids organizations recently passed away from brain cancer. One of our proudest success stories and dear friends, we’re honored to feature Victoria, and highlight some of her many accomplishments.
Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I Ride provides high-end ground transportation options to individuals, teams, and companies looking for an alternative to air travel. Whether they have a strong aversion to flight, need room to work in transit, or have a large group that needs to collaborate in comfort from point A to point B, I Ride has affordable options for any number of people.
Anne Cork is a serial entrepreneur, wife, and mother of 2. She started her company, Annabelle Noel Designs, in 2003 with a spool of wire in her basement. Annabelle Noel Designs is a product design and distribution company that focuses on the creation of products that make life easier and more beautiful. The company has launched successful brands such as Easy Arranger, Scribbles, and Imagination Starters nationwide through independent and national chain retailers.
Anne recently talked with us about her professional business journey, how GROW has helped her along the way and provided some great advice for anyone thinking of taking that entrepreneurial leap.
Grand River Office is a contract office furniture dealer serving West Michigan. Open since November 2017 and based in Muskegon, they specialize in B2B furniture solutions and service the commercial, educational, healthcare, and GSA markets. With less than a year under their belts, co-owners Margaret Stoika and Doug Brown have experienced a large amount of success and positive public reception. The growth and success that Grand Rapids Office has experienced in such a short time isn’t based on luck, though. Margaret and Doug attribute it to their work ethic, occupation backgrounds, preparation, and experience with Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW).
Since 2008, Luann has run a successful business working in the various industries developing and manufacturing engineered components for furniture and store fixture customers. Beginning as a business consultant and later expanding into a distribution center, her company LS Global Enterprises focuses on providing product on demand and on time. We caught up with Luann to talk about her businesses, her professional passion, and the role GROW played in her success.
Janice’s story is one of perseverance and persistence; two very important traits for entrepreneurs to have. She attended GROW for the first time in 1994, when Lee Ann Moss, our founder, was still very much involved in the organization.
If you’ve seen any of Janice’s or Diva of Design’s ArtPrize contributions, you probably recall her entries, which include over 100 dolls complete with accessories centered around the SOWN Relatable art series, including Making #HERstory, #SHEroes, and this year was #IGotTheMusicInMe.
“We have a lot of ideas and are fully capable… But having a solid foundation for our business, and knowing where we want to take it, was different.” – Jill Wolfe
A couple of years ago, Jill Wolfe and Carol Distel both had their own businesses offering niche tours of Grand Rapids. They were struggling a bit on their own when they came together at a local coffee shop. They brainstormed a few new ideas and within days they launched one of those ideas together. Just like that, Distel Wolfe was born offering team building scavenger hunts throughout the region.
“Cultivating a business mindset is a challenge, but it can be achieved by remembering your mission.” – Monica Randles
Monica Randles and her husband Andrew created Nutcase Vegan Meats with their family in mind. They became vegetarians over seven years ago. When they realized they couldn’t find many healthy, organic, non-GMO vegan meat items that also tasted good for them and their teenagers, they began trying their own recipes.
“Be direct and professional, and not intimidated by anyone just because of the industry you work in. Perseverance is key.” –Elissa Roberts
Elissa and her husband Charles started Chuck’s Auto Repair in July of 2012. A woman with a business degree, Elissa saw Charles’s talents as a mechanic as a way to open and run their own business. Both Elissa and Charles love the connections that Chuck’s Auto Repair gives them. “We love the location the most,” Elissa said. “We have a huge opportunity to bless other people’s lives since we’re so close to the children’s hospital.”
Kerry Rowe Design
“Managing several clients at one time became overwhelming and I knew I needed some outside guidance…” – Kerry Rowe
Kerry Rowe of Kerry Rowe Design has had an exceptionally interesting experience with her business. She’s spent 9 years as a design consultant, engaging in both project-based work and ongoing consulting with her clients. In the last few years, however, Kerry has transitioned from having 1 or 2 clients with big projects to more clients with smaller projects. This change created a turning point for her business, and that’s exactly what led her to seek out some expert guidance in improving operations, or as some may say – the business side of her business.
“I felt ignored during our relocations, and wanted to make sure that other families did not have to experience that feeling,” – Candy Wilkes-Scheper
After her experiences, which started 21 years ago, Candy Wilkes-Scheper started afterthemove, a business that helps acclimate people to the Western Michigan area after relocating. When her husband moved to France with his company, she struggled with settling in. Two years later, she and her family moved to Grand Rapids for a year, followed by North Carolina for five years, France for another three years, and back to Grand Rapids, where they’ve been for the last ten years. If that sounds like a lot, it is, and her experiences are the inspiration why Candy started her business.
“Don’t even skip one step of the business plan writing process.” – Stephanie Johnson
In October 2009, Stephanie Johnson took the leap and opened her consignment boutique, Urban Exchange. Urban Exchange, a high-end boutique, sells softly worn clothing and accessories from brands like J. Crew, Banana Republic, Anthropologie, and Free People.
As it tends to happen with numerous business owners, Stephanie found herself looking for guidance and support soon after opening Urban Exchange, which prompted her to connect with GROW. She says, “The most important thing I’ve gained from working with GROW has been the opportunity to develop a business plan in a structured class setting where I received feedback from both peers and working professionals.” Read her story >
“Do your research, know what you want and go for it. Just do it!” – Shannon Garrett, SMG Strategies
Shannon Garrett is the Founder and President of SMG Strategies. Her dedication to creating a more active and diverse democracy has led her to work with numerous organizations locally, and on a national level.
One of the challenges in starting a consulting firm like SMG Strategies compared to another business was the niche of the market. Shannon shared that it was not that easy to do market research as she began her business. Politics and community leadership don’t necessarily follow other industries with traditional market research and available data for opportunity, projections and things like that. Consulting by nature requires businesses to be more nimble and flexible, not quite as process or product oriented as other business types. Read her story >
Every business owner has a unique path to entrepreneurship. For some it’s a passion, for some it’s intentional, and for some it is fate. Frances Gentile started her business eleven years ago when she was fired from her “miserable job”. She told us, “I remember it very clearly, it was a Tuesday and I had ridden my bike to work. On that ride home I thought of this business idea and the name.” Just a few weeks later she attended an Intro to GROW class and that’s how her story started.
Frances admits she’s never looked back on that job, the way it ended and admits that sometimes things happen for a reason.
Roots Brew Shop is a relative newcomer to Grand Rapids’ West Side, but this coffee shop is working hard to grow and foster the local community. Serving premium coffee and tea, as well as freshly made pastries and bagels, Roots has established itself as a fixture in the neighborhood. Founders Mallory Root and Austin Radebaugh have a passion for the city they live and work in, and are devoted to creating a space where the surrounding community can thrive.
If you’ve had a chance to talk with Mallory or heard her speak at this year’s Seeds of Growth Luncheon, you may have heard a bit of her story – including some of the challenges and successes she has already faced as a business owner. One of the biggest challenges Mallory and Austin ran into when opening the shop was that it took months longer than they anticipated.
Business owners know that when an opportunity to advance their business comes along, financial resources often determine whether they can capitalize on that opportunity. In the case of Julie Armock, local entrepreneur and owner of Piggy Polish, GROW’s microloan program helped her take advantage of a great opportunity and bring a new product to market.
Traditional loans can take weeks or months to get, and Julie didn’t have that much time to get a jump on this market opportunity. Read her story >
Deb Tacoma’s entrepreneurial journey began in 2006, after she was involved in a serious car accident that left her with numerous injuries, including a broken back. Completing tasks such as bathing and going to the bathroom became a daily struggle for Deb, leaving her feeling helpless.
After this life-altering experience, Deb wanted to create a product that would protect the dignity of limited-mobility individuals for whom personal hygiene was a challenge. And so the idea for the FreedomWand began to take shape. Read her story >
Rose Hendershot’s passion for photography led her to start her own business, Photographic Memory, in 1997. Her work has since gained recognition and awards from organizations such as the Professional Photographers of America, Michigan Triangle Professional Photographers Association, Barry County Fair, and Michigan State Fair, among others. Specializing in event and portrait photography, Hendershot strives to provide her clients with quality products and excellent customer service. Read her story >
Sara Moylan began her entrepreneurial journey in 2011 after recognizing that wearing up to three sports bras at once to work out was not only uncomfortable but also downright ineffective. Determined to find a better solution, she cut, sewed, and hot glued a few bras together to find the right support before bringing her idea to a tailor for some professional assistance. Read her story >
Laura Parker’s story of business ownership is similar to that of a lot of creative professionals. After years of working for someone else, designers frequently find they can work for themselves, relying on their specialized artistic skills and technical knowledge. The obstacles are developing a client base large enough to drive consistent work, and the ability to market your business for growth. Read More >
Mary received a microloan, a relatively small loan to help business owners who may not be able to receive funds from traditional banks. Mary used the funds to purchase needed materials for her business, and now continues to prosper with delivering custom cake services to Grand Rapids. Read More >
The CEO, Amy Proos, is a member of the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) and has been working at the business since 1987 when she was in college. Amy was pursuing studies in the veterinarian field and worked for the summer at her grandfather’s business, but soon found that she enjoyed the manufacturing field. It was 1989 when she received a degree in production, and would later buy the business and then become CEO in 2010. Read More>
Michelle is a massage therapist and so much more. Her repertoire includes body work, Reiki Master, spiritual healing, certified aroma therapist with plans to become a registered aroma therapist. Early in her career, she worked as an independent contractor with some of her own clients. Having done mostly in-home care and lugging everything around, Michelle decided it was time to establish her own business. Read More >
La Vie de la Rose Flower Essences, started by Dr. Natalia Schotte, has experienced great success in the several years, growing the business to become a global, multiple award winning company with customers in 42 states and 12 countries. This includes recently establishing partnerships with distributors in Australia and China. Growth includes the expansion of our gardens to almost an acre of land across four properties in downtown, historic Grand Rapids. Read More >
Jojo’s House of Beauty, Inc. is a multicultural, diverse salon designed to serve women and men of all color and hair texture. Their goal is to uplift, motivate, educate and inspire clients by providing the highest quality service to meet their needs.
In addition to the growing salon, Josephine also created a unique hair growth oil with her business partner Dr. Nichole Caudle, who is a Naturopathic Doctor.