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Spotlight: Bremer Produce

By Kayla Sosa

In 2015, Ross Bremer and his brothers started a family business selling unwanted produce from local commercial farms that’s still good but not qualified to go to a grocery store – because it’s too small or a funny shape.

“I guess we started out of just seeing food waste, specifically at farms,” Bremer said. “We just saw this large amount of waste and were like, ‘This is too good to throw away.’”

“Grade 1” produce is “what’s fit to go to your retailers,” Bremer said. At their local roadside stands, you’ll see mostly “Grade 2” produce, which might be too big, too small or have a small scratch on it. Farms would otherwise throw this food away, until the Bremers came in to make a profit off of it.

“Nutritional value is still the exact same, but it might have a blemish in the appearance of that product,” Bremer said.

Squash – summer and winter – is the main vegetable they sell in West Michigan and others that have a relatively long shelf life, like pumpkins, potatoes, gourds and zucchini.

Bremer’s brother is a manager at a farm, so they really got an inside look at the process of separating produce. Now, they are partnered with a few farms in the area and know where to go to find the rejected veggies.

Not just any random person can go to a farm and ask for their rejected produce. Because Bremer and his brothers have an established business and take truckloads of produce, they end up doing a favor for the farms rather than making more work.

“There’s this disconnect between perfect product going out and then there’s also some stuff that’s clearly not fit and it should not be sold and should not be eaten,” he said. “But there’s this middle ground where it’s like, this is still good.”

“When we walk into, say, Meijer or Walmart, we want to be impressed. We see all these colorful vegetables and it’s like, it’s great but it’s not super practical.”

Right now, the main stand for Bremer Produce can be found on the corner of 48th Street and Baldwin Avenue in Hudsonville. What’s unique about farming in Michigan, though, are the seasons, so the peak months for selling produce are July through November.

“Early July, there’d be fresh cut flowers, maybe zucchini, tomatoes,” Bremer said. “And then we transition into your typical fall produce to pumpkins, squash, your Indian corn, your gourds.”

Bremer’s grandpa used to own a farm, so the knowledge runs in the family.

“My dad grew up on a farm,” he said. “Since me and my siblings were really little we grew pumpkins, like five acres just for fun. It started with a couple plants, and then it ramped up and now we’re growing consistently five acres. We’re familiar with squash, pumpkins and everything and had roadside stands since I was a baby. But then it took it next level once we started partnering with farms … that grow hundreds of acres of these things, that realistically we could never grow on our own.”

“It’s a unique partnership, for sure, of us being familiar with the farming industry but us not necessarily farming it all ourselves.”

Bremer is a student at Grand Valley State University majoring in Finance and International Business and minoring in Spanish. Recently, he won first place in the GVSU Idea Pitch Competition hosted by CEO, an entrepreneurial student club. As the produce season comes to a close, Bremer said he doesn’t want to spend his newly won prize money on just anything, yet.

“I don’t want to just spend it to spend it,” he said. “I can talk to my brother and we’re thinking of just a practical, cool way to be thankful to Grand Valley and the CEO club and use it in a cool way.”

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Spotlight: WINC advocates for women veterans post-military life

By Kayla Sosa

Two women are heading up a consulting group that will educate employers on not just how to hire veterans, but how to retain them.

Henrietta Hadley said many workplaces say they are “veteran friendly” but once they have a veteran on staff, their specific needs are often overlooked.

Hadley and her business partner Zaneta Adams’ consulting firm WINC – Women Injured in Combat – will help veterans with “being able to translate what (they) did in the military to what (they) can offer in the civilian world.”

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Hadley and Adams.

“So helping companies understand what that means, helping anywhere from middle to senior level managers and supervisors understanding how to manage a veteran, and how to deal with the barriers,” she said. “Because that is our disconnect right now. You’d think it would be a no brainer, but it is a huge disconnect. And because a lot of our veterans, both men and women, are returning home with a lot of mental illnesses, we as civilians don’t understand how to communicate.”

The firm will be made up of various professionals who specialize in a specific discipline, like marketing or finance.

“The other part is we train and are resource providers for businesses and individuals around inclusion and diversity,” Hadley said.

Hadley has experience working with women veterans, who often have a difficult time adjusting to civilian life.

“Our females are struggling the most in transitioning into work and education settings when they come home,” she explained. “Military sexual trauma resulting in post-traumatic stress has become the big, underlining reason why a lot of our female veterans are not able to retain because they have not been treated for PTSD … and unfortunately we’re not going to go into a job interview and share that we got all that.”

Hadley said employers can take notice of different signs that a veteran is not performing at an average level, and may be dealing with something below the surface.

“The barriers show up in poor performance, poor attendance, poor productivity and it goes on and on and on,” Hadley said. “And then what we start to find is our female veterans, and even our male veterans, is they tend to start to self-medicate, they start to experience a high level of depression, and then they either commit suicide or they begin to isolate, and now they can’t do anything.”

Hadley said the rates of suicide for female veterans are much higher than their male counterparts.

Hadley is not a veteran herself, but grew up in a military family and is a military spouse, so she’s seen the effects serving can have on the solder. WINC has existed for five years, and has had a physical space for one. Hadley started as a volunteer at WINC before she became more involved as a teacher.

When Hadley met Julie Cowie, coordinator of the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab, she saw this as an opportunity to learn how to take the next step in expanding the non-profit. Cowie also presented to some WINC members, and four women decided to join the lab as well.

“We started looking at how we could start to tweak the service that we’re providing to our female veterans to other communities, which involved corporate America and other companies and businesses as well,” Hadley said.

The lab is exactly what Hadley is hoping to see more of in the community – focused programs and initiatives designed for veterans, who are often overlooked in the workplace.

“Someone found it important to give Grand Valley the funding to do an entrepreneurship program for veterans… because someone gets it that they need a special area, a special course, a special level of attention different from just being matriculated into a regular entrepreneurship class,” she said. “It’s not that easy.”

Hadley said now that she and other women in the WINC program have been involved in the entrepreneur lab, she can “wave the flag” to other women so they can take this opportunity as well.

For more information on WINC, visit wincforall.com.

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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.

0 comments on “Teens: Flooding the Pipeline”

Teens: Flooding the Pipeline

The future of downtown Grand Rapids is bright, just ask the forty-two Michigan high school students who took to the streets this afternoon, looking for ways to contribute to the city’s urban development.  Having spent seven hours with this year’s class of new entrepreneurs, I am excited, and I’ll tell you why.

Today’s teens are grossly overlooked when it comes to forming new enterprises.  We sometimes fail to understand that developing entrepreneurial talent should begin far before they even reach the collegiate level.  West Michigan may be experiencing unprecedented growth in recent years, but the sustainability of this development will come to fall on the region’s talent pipeline.  And regardless of how many business plans that venture capital firms in Michigan review, we can always do better at stirring up the creative juices in our youth.

8 comments on “Developing Soul in Entrepreneurship”

Developing Soul in Entrepreneurship

Regional Culture as a Competitive Advantage

Earth has become an interconnected environment bridged by nature and by a human desire to connect. Being unique in a seemingly saturated system becomes a difficult quest, as nuances in every industry, ideology and even ecology make individual uniqueness a rare trait. With this in mind, how does an entrepreneurial ecosystem harness a competitive advantage in an increasingly flat world?