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Lessons from a local coffee company

Doomed to Fail

Even those who are unfamiliar with business may know the old adage that coffee shops are “doomed to fail.”

Trevor Corlett, owner of Madcap of Coffee Company in downtown Grand Rapids, suggests that many people who open coffee shops do so under the false perception that there is nothing to it.

“They spend a lot of time hanging out in coffee shops and it’s super chill and it’s fun and they drink coffee and hang out with friends, and they perceive that is what it will be like to own one,” Corlett said. “You get people that have no background in managing retail, without being  able to manage a staff that tends to be younger and all of the things that come with it. So that failure rate that you see from 10,000 feet up includes that.”

The coffee industry is incredibly diverse. Forbes ranks Starbucks among the world’s 50 most valuable brands. Biggby, an East Lansing born coffee chain, has 182 locations across Michigan, making up 48% of coffee shops across the state. For those who like to keep their spending local, Grand Rapids alone has more than a dozen independently owned coffee shops.

Grand Valley State University professor Dr. Timothy Syfert teaches entrepreneurship at the Seidman College of Business, and explains how these different types of coffee entities serve different functions.

“People go to Starbucks or Biggby for the coffee,” Syfert said. “People go to coffee shops to meet other people–for the community,” 

What can entrepreneurs approaching different product markets learn from this? Well, coffee shops are a great example of what every entrepreneur should bear in mind.

“That it is not always about the product or service– it’s about what is around it,” Syfert said.  “It’s the thing beyond the product or service that keeps people coming back.”

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5×5 at LINC Gallery

Voting closed on Wednesday for the top five  5×5 ideas, and those that emerged on top will be presenting at the return of the monthly pitch competition on August 24 at 5:00 p.m. at the LINC Gallery, located at 1167 Madison Ave SE. Presenting will be Tova Jones on behalf of Pop Up Shop-GR, Shawn Melton of Straight and Narrow Workshop, Latesha Lipscomb of I Got Face-At Your Service, Kelsey Purdue on behalf of Show and Tell Youth Marketplace and Korey Cook for Non-Invasive River Turbine.

There were well over a dozen submissions for the public to vote on in this months 5×5 pool.

For more information on next week’s 5×5 Night, please visit http://5x5night.com/next

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Socks and Social Enterprise

This is the first in an ongoing series highlighting the stories of Grand Rapids’ growing small business community. Bold Socks is a recent addition to the Avenue for the Arts retail sector.

The Bold Socks store at 17 Division Ave S in downtown Grand Rapids is set up to look and feel like art gallery; colorful socks line the black and white walls, hung three at a time so as not to crowd the displays. The space is small but open, with minimal floor displays to allow to customers to move freely and view the merchandise.

“I had a belief that if we opened the store, Grand Rapids would get behind it,” said Ryan Roff, co-owner of Bold Socks. “What I didn’t realize was to what effect they would get behind it.”

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Introducing Entrepreneur in Residence Matt Larson

Matt Larson has always been a self-starter. One afternoon when he was 3 years old, he told his mother he was going to play in the front yard. Instead, he walked eight blocks to downtown Ludington to go to work.

“I walked to a store where her friends used to work,” Larson said. “They would pay me to pick up price tags and different things off the floor while my mom was shopping there.”

He didn’t stop there. When Larson was in third grade, he charged his fellow students one snack a month to hold their lunch money in a lockbox. Students who kept their money with him were even assigned an account number, foreshadowing the bookkeeping business he would start after college.

“Early on, I knew that I didn’t want to work for someone,” Larson said.

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Social Enterprise: New City Urban Farm

16-year-old Brennan Persenaire Hogeter is more than familiar with the effects of farming; he spent 11 years traveling around Africa with his family teaching new farming techniques to agricultural communities.

“I have seen the impact of farms and the impact of not having farms and what a poor harvest can do,” Persenaire Hogeter said. “I have always wanted to be a farmer, or at least be involved in where my food comes from.”

He is well on his way; Persenaire Hogeter is one of a group of teens employed by New City Urban Farm on the northeast side of Grand Rapids. The farm is a program of non-profit New City Neighbors and is impacting the community through social enterprise by employing at risk teenagers from the surrounding Creston and Belknap neighborhoods, teaching them valuable entrepreneurial skills and helping them to find careers paths.

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Design Briefs: Diversity in Tech

On Thursday evening, designers, entrepreneurs and community members will gather at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) to connect, share ideas and explore what it means for industries to be diverse for Design Breifs: Diversity in Tech. Kimberly Wolting heads the American Institute of Graphics Arts West Michigan Design for Good initiative and collaborated in part with the GRAM’s Director of Learning and Audience engagement John Carfagno to coordinate the event.

“We have always been trying to do good for the community, but we were maybe not reaching out to the community in as many places as we could have, ” Wolting said. “We are really making an effort this year to make a wider reach … to make sure that we are including everyone in these conversations.”

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Social Enterprise: Ambrose at WMCAT

This is the first in an ongoing series about community leaders in West Michigan implementing entrepreneurial skills in youth education.

Like any business, commercial screen printer Ambrose strives to provide their customers with a quality product at competitive pricing in a timely fashion. But something sets Ambrose apart–the company is run by five teen apprentices as part of the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT) Social Enterprise Initiative.

Adam Weiler started Ambrose eight years ago as a means to fund an after school art and design program at the Holland Area Arts Council. Weiler graduated from Central College in Pela, Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in visual arts and mathematics. He was inspired by the experience of having a difficult time applying his skill set after college and sought to create a program that would better equip high school students to make beneficial decisions early on.

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5×5 Night Follow Up: Melanie Koops of Werth Rack

The Werth Rack was the winner of 5×5 Night in November 2015.

“The worst thing is that you could look back and say, ‘oh, I wish I had tried, at least I could know if it would have been successful or not.’” Melanie Koops said.

Koops is a third year physical therapy student at GVSU and the co-founder of Werth Wrack, an innovative walker storage system that reduces rehab storage space by 50% and cuts cost to both hospitals and patients.