Upcoming expo to highlight small businesses in Grand Rapids


By Kayla Sosa

The City of Grand Rapids and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc are partnering to host an expo for small businesses in the city. 

Community members are encouraged to attend to meet local small business owners, who will have booths set up at the event. 

Entrepreneurial support organizations, like Start Garden and Spring GR, will also have a place at the event.

Alvin Hills IV, or AJ, is the business developer for the city of Grand Rapids, and he said at least 100 businesses will have vendor booths at the expo, as well as at least 15 support organizations.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the United States. So when we think about Grand Rapids, we have the aspiration to grow our economy,” Hills said. “So, if we support small business, small business could create more revenue, which could lead to more hiring, which could lead to – selfishly for the city – property tax, income tax.”

Hills said this is the first of what the city hopes to be an annual event, and an initiative to support the entrepreneurial spirit in Grand Rapids. 

“We don’t want to go in thinking we’re the experts,” Hills said. “In this regard, the small businesses are the experts. All we’re looking to do is take their feedback and continue to create experiences and cater directly to them.”

The event will also feature two panels – one made up of various small business owners and another made up of support organizations, to talk about the state of small business in Grand Rapids, and the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. 

The first panel, with resource providers, will start at 3:35 p.m. 

The resource panelists include:

  • Jeffrie Chappell, business development manager at Consumers Credit Union
  • Ed Garner, regional director of West Michigan Small Business Development Center 
  • Attah Obande, director of dream fulfillment at Spring GR
  • Tyler Peterson, small business lender at Opportunity Resource Fund
  • Venard Roberson, commercial lender at Northern Initiatives

The second panel, with business owners, will take place at 5 p.m.

The business panelists include:

  • Richard Flowers, founder of Reliable Medical Transport Inc
  • Sara Knoester, president of Mixed Staffing and Recruiting
  • Ruben Ramos, partner of R&R Mechanical
  • Gina Van Timmeren, owner of Gina’s Boutique

In a press release, DGRI’s economic development manager Kyama Kitavi said this kind of event can reduce barriers so that any entrepreneur can come find information all in one place. 

“Attendees will learn about programs, assistance and opportunities without having to be part of a particular network,” Kitavi said. “This event will strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem by providing an opportunity for resource providers to engage with entrepreneurs who they might not have been able to reach and learn more about what other organizations and institutions are doing in the small business environment.”

The free event will take place from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. August 29 at DeVos Place, 303 Monroe Avenue NW. Opening remarks from City Manager Mark Washington will begin at 3:30 p.m. 

There will be a $25 fee for those who want to reserve a vendor booth. The deadline to register is Friday, August 16. Apply online here: https://www.grandrapidsmi.gov/Our-City/Events-Activities/Small-Business-Expo/Resource-Provider-Registration


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