Let the innovative games begin as Atomic Object makes its mark

February 22, 2010
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Vancouver has the Olympic games, but in West Michigan this month, a different type of games have begun, sparking innovation and entrepreneurism.

Atomic Object, a company that builds custom software on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, is all about staging creative games. On Feb. 10 and 11, it sponsored a seminar featuring national speaker and consultant Luke Hohmann, founder and CEO of Enthiosys, an agile product management firm and the developer of Innovation Games.

“One aspect of Luke’s work is Innovation Games,” Shawn Crowley, vice president of Atomic Object, told Business Journal reporter Jake Himmelspach. “These are collaborative games which allow individuals to look for opportunities to improve their service or product offerings. He is allowing people to come together — an internal group or with their clients — play these games and have take-aways that say ‘What should we have on our product roadmap to improve our product or service?’”

Crowley said bringing Hohmann to West Michigan seemed like a natural fit.

“This looked like a good opportunity, especially in this region where innovation, how we work, present our services and create our products … it’s in need,” he said. Crowley gave a nod to InnovationWorks, a Right Place Inc. program that supports innovation, as a source of inspiration for the event.

“The innovation workshop done by (InnovationWorks) — it was really cool to see the corporate turnout there. That’s what further convinced me this would be a really cool thing to bring to Grand Rapids.”

The goal of the two-day seminar put on by Atomic Object is that the games and tactics learned are brought back to participants’ offices and put into play.

“The bi-product is that people should walk away from this and know how to play these games internally, amongst their own team members and perhaps their own clients, as well,” he said. “Hopefully, it will give them some ammunition to go back into the office and look at the problems they’re facing and find innovative solutions.”

Another innovative event will take place this weekend in downtown Grand Rapids.

Startup Weekend is a nationally modeled event takes place over 52 hours, as entrepreneurs, investors and everyone in between come together to launch a product by the end of the session.

“We start out on a Friday night and have a pitch night from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Then the community decides who they are going to take from that, and they go from the idea to launching the product in the whole weekend,” said Elevator Up founder Aaron Schaap, one of the organizers of the event.

“We’ll have investors there, business people there, people who can do strategic planning and finances so they can help put together those financial projections. Ideally, at the end of the weekend, we’re launching a Web app.”

Schaap said these types of events are vital to build an infrastructure of innovative entrepreneurs.

“Those kinds of things are really valuable for the community. The community can come and just have fun, and listen and experience what it means to be a startup. Those types of things, on an infrastructure level, we’re hoping can slingshot some people up there (to become successful entrepreneurs).”

Michael Boyink is also an organizer of the event along with Schaap. Boyink runs Boyink Interactive, a Web development company, and Train-ee, a training company for ExpressionEngine CMS from EllisLab.

For details on Startup Weekend, see wmi.startupweekend.org.

Honoring Sparty’s best

Mike Lindley, senior vice president, marketing, Huntington Bank — West Michigan, will be named Business Person of the Year by the MSU Club of West Michigan this week.

Jeanne Herold, a senior vice president at Aon Risk Services Central Inc. and a board member of the club, said Lindley has "done a lot for our community" through his work at Huntington Bank.

Lindley is a 1975 graduate of the MSU College of Communications Arts and Sciences, with a degree in advertising. In his early career he worked for well-known ad agencies such as Young & Rubicam and Earle Palmer Brown. His banking career began in the 1990s, when he was senior vice president and director of marketing of First of America Bank, and then at National City Bank as the head of marketing communications. For the past seven years he has been senior vice president, director of marketing for Huntington Bank — West Michigan.

Lindley serves on the boards of the West Michigan Sports Commission, the Grand Rapids and Kent County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the Kent District Library Fund and Inforum.

The MSU Club has honored many prominent West Michigan Spartans over the years, but this might be the first one who is also a novelist. Lindley's first two novels, set in Charlevoix, have done very well, and the first, "The Seasons of the EmmaLee," was a regional fiction best seller in 2008. Past winners include prominent business leaders such as Peter Secchia, Jim Williams and Bob Bernecker.

The MSU Alumni Club of West Michigan hosts its 15h annual MSU Means Business event on Wednesday at The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.  Approximately 150 West Michigan MSU alumni will join Elvin Lashbrooke, Interim Dean of MSU Eli Broad College of Business, for an evening of networking and updates on MSU programs.

The event begins at 5:30 p.m. and is free to MSU alumni and friends. 

Breakfast of idea makers

It’s long been said that eating a good breakfast helps your brain perform better throughout the day. S.L. Robbins & Associates, a consultancy service firm, is putting that statement to the test.

In January, the company began hosting an early morning event called “Breakfast for Smart People.” The goal is to gather a diverse body of community members to brainstorm about local problems.

“To be very creative, you have to have diverse perspectives and the ability for people to hear diverse perspectives,” said Steve Robbins, owner. “What we want to do is (figure out) how do we work together to solve some of our problems in the community or innovate so that Grand Rapids becomes known as that place where people want to come and be creative and innovative.”

Nehemiah “Nemo” Chu is a 22-year-old Calvin College graduate who moved to Grand Rapids after growing up in Hong Kong. When Chu, formerly with S.L. Robbins & Associates and who helped develop the breakfast event, first arrived in Grand Rapids, he immediately noted the heritage of philanthropy. He hopes the breakfast events will build upon that history and also add a wider level of inclusion.

“Part of the inspiration for the Breakfast for Smart People was: I’m 22. If there are board meetings or discussions on how the city can improve, 22-year-olds aren’t really invited,” he said. “I figured if I don’t know where (those conversations) are, then let’s bring them over here somehow.

 “The old school leaders of the community want a young type of culture here, but they’re not necessarily mindful of inviting young people to help with that endeavor,” Robbins said. “We older folks just grew up a certain way. Things like technology and social media have changed the way we do things. If you grew up with those things, they are just part of your natural thought process,” he said.

“At the breakfast, we have different people from different generations, walks of life, different sectors, and that’s the cool part of it all — different perspectives coming in and working with each other and learning from one another. That’s the key. Are we willing to learn from one another?”

Breakfast for Smart People brings people together in an effort to solve community problems, but the problem it hopes to innately solve is that of attraction and retention of talent.

“The process of being involved, being engaged with what goes on in the city — it gets them thinking, ‘You know after I graduate I might want to stick around,’” said Chu. “We can make this place more interesting and fun for younger folks to consider sticking around Grand Rapids after they graduate.”

The stage is set with a 6:30 a.m. breakfast followed by a short presentation by Robbins or Chu and possibly a speaker who is involved with the day’s topic. People sit in groups at tables covered in sheets of white paper and an abundance of crayons. After the problem is outlined, the groups get to it, sharing insights and writing ideas on the table coverings. The breakfast wraps up with each group sharing their ideas with everyone else.

On Friday, Feb. 26, the second Breakfast for Smart People will take place, with the topic being education. For more information, go to slrobbins.com/breakfast.

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