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Malamiah Juice Bar, Royal Jelly Foods take home funds in Business Bootcamp Pitch Competition

By Kayla Sosa

In September, owners of Malamiah Juice Bar and Royal Jelly Foods participated in the Grand Rapids Business Boot Camp Pitch Competition. This endeavor is lead by Michigan Good Food Fund, a “thirty million dollar loan fund created to provide financing and business assistance to good food enterprises that increase healthy food access and spur economic opportunity in underserved communities across the state,” according to Jean Chorazyczewski, program director of Fair Food Network, a business parter of MGFF.

MGFF logoChorazyczewski said both of the winners of the competition – Malamiah Juice Bar, first place, and Royal Jelly Foods, second – support the mission behind Good Food Fund.

“They are increasing access to healthy food, creating opportunities for jobs, and spurring the local food economy,” Chorazyczewski said.

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Malamiah Juice Bar owner Jermale Eddie and manager Rebekah Wicker.

The first place winner – Malamiah Juice Bar – took home $7,500 in prize money. Owner Jermale Eddie said the funds will allow them to continue and expand their business, which has been open for five years now. Originally having joined to learn from the Business Boot camp program, winning the pitch competition was an added bonus.

“Of course all startups are in need of financial capital to grow,” Eddie said. “We also recognize that each of the judges and those in the crowd may have resources that may be beneficial to the growth of our business and mission. The pitch winnings will allow us to take a greater risk in expanding our business, which simply equates to getting our products into the hand and bodies of more people.”

After being introduced to the art and health benefits of juicing, Eddie and his wife ended up starting a business and eventually both quitting their day jobs to run the business. They are proud to serve West Michigan “good” and healthy food.

“We take fresh fruits and vegetables and make them into juices or smoothies,” Eddie said. “Our juices and green smoothies have no added sugar. Some of our other smoothies may have agave or a vanilla yogurt added it to it. Basically our goal is to make you the freshest, best tasting beverage or smoothie bowl with little to no processing. Essentially raw juices and smoothies.”

Eddie said they don’t use the phrase “clean food” because it implies a form of privilege.

“If one is eating ‘clean food,’ then others are eating ‘dirty foods’ and that just is not the case,” Eddie said. “In fact we could all use an element of healthiness when preparing our foods and beverages.”

You can find the juice bar inside the Downtown Market, 435 Ionia SW. Additionally, Eddie said they have taught classes and workshops teaching people how to make these smoothies themselves, as well as peanut butter, almond butter and almond milk.

“We exist to elevate community health through healthy products, local partnerships and youth employment,” Eddie said of their mission. “We simply strive to love people and do good in our community.”

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The women of Royal Jelly Foods. 

Similarly, Royal Jelly Foods is bringing “good food” to the West Michigan community.

In 2017, Alita Kelly and Kiara McClenton started Royal Jelly Foods catering company, and brought on Jenny Bongiorno and Kelsey Hakeem this year.

“Our mission is to celebrate the human connection through food,” Bongiorno said. “We envision a food culture that pays homage to the land it was grown from by taking just what is needed and using ingredients to the fullest extent.  We envision the people that picked, transported and cared for our food will be honored and treated with utmost respect and humility. Lastly, we envision a just food system that feeds all people well.”

Bongiorno and Hakeem specialize in food growing, and hope to help the business eventually expand beyond catering.

“We are farmers and passionate food lovers who started catering because we loved sharing our food with others and suddenly found ourselves running a business,” Bongiorno said.

“Royal Jelly is an socially and environmentally-minded company delivering farm-fresh food through their catering services. Both are sourcing their ingredients locally, which supports local and regional farmers in a positive way.”

Bongiorno said Royal Jelly will use the funds – $2,500 – to pay for some consulting and legal services in order to shape the business the way they want to.

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Spotlight: Liberate GR

By Kayla Sosa

A community survey in Grand Rapids showed that residents feel there is a need for a free, non-judgmental space for the LGBTQ community. After learning this, Audrey Hutchinson created Liberate GR – a community center for those who don’t feel they have a place to truly express themselves. With creative expression classes, a counseling center, peer-led discussion groups and many opportunities to network and share, Hutchinson wants to encourage growth and exploration.

“The LGBTQ community can feel ostracized, stared at and judged when out just doing normal things that any person does,” Hutchinson said. “Here they don’t have to worry about feeling different because they’re not.”

Liberate is also open to those in non-traditional relationships, like open or polyamorous.

“A lot of people in these relationships are socially monogamous, meaning even their closest family and friends don’t know,” Hutchinson explained. “People in non-traditional relationships face the possibility of judgement if people knew. At Liberate, they can discuss their relationships freely and openly with other people who are experiencing the same things.”

Hutchinson’s goal is to have the center be a place for people to connect, but also to network and take on leadership opportunities.

“It will include leadership opportunities for members and networking events as well as guest speakers and workshops,” she said. “We envision a place for members of all ages, genders and orientations. A place to be yourself and find connection as well as ways to better your life and always continue to grow.”

Hutchinson is a student at GVSU, going for her master’s degree in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. One of the things that has challenged her in this process is figuring out how to open up a non-profit, and all the special details involved.

“I am trying to get definitive answers about how to have a counseling center attached to the drop in center, which will accept payments and accept insurance while offering a sliding scale fee to people who are low income,” Hutchinson said. “It’s important because we need to have a clear picture of how much money we need to raise before we really get started. I like to have clear goals and a realistic strategy for fundraising.”

Starting a non-profit means you may have a business, but not always a building to work in right away.

“It means you have the paperwork and the people to get started, but it could still be a little while before actually opening your doors,” Hutchinson said. “That’s hard, but if you really believe in the mission then every step is exciting, no matter how small.”

The mission at Liberate is clear: create a space where people can be themselves and connect with others.

“Whether you’re involved with the LGBTQ community or not, Liberate matters because it will help other people to feel more connected,” Hutchinson said. “A more connected community is happier and safer. If you have a loved one, or if you yourself are LGBTQ, this place is important because it’s somewhere to go to receive services or build relationships.”

Hutchinson is currently looking for more people to fill roles on the board as well as volunteer positions. To learn more and get involved, visit http://www.liberategr.org.

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Breaking Barriers

Amy Engelsman – Proos Manufacturing

As Amy Engelsman transitioned into the her role as CEO of Proos Manufacturing, she faced significant challenges: securing company financials; obtaining funding for purchase of the business; proving her leadership capacity to the lender; earning the trust and respect of employees despite having worked for Proos for more than 20 years.

As a female entrepreneur and business owner, Engelsman now experiences the challenges of running a business while also dealing with the traditional challenges that women face in the workplace, including those in executive positions. She believes her biggest achievement has been gaining the acceptance and acknowledgement of her peers in a traditionally male-dominated industry.