Human Resources and Nonprofits

EPIC finalists have rich West Michigan tradition

Seventeen nominees are vying for awards in six categories.

May 9, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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RichardPappasEPIC
Richard Pappas, President, Davenport University. Photo by Matt Radick

Seventeen nominees will come together Thursday for an epic celebration.

The fifth annual Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce EPIC Awards will be held 5:30-8 p.m. at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. The awards are a combination of three former chamber celebrations: the Minority Business Celebration, Salute to West Michigan Business and the Small Business Celebration.

EPIC stands for Entrepreneurial, Progressive, Innovative and Collaborative. The nominees come from six categories that recognize businesses and individuals that support the community, demonstrate growth, find ways to innovate, and work with others as mentors and collaborators.

Following nomination, the company or individual was sent an application. Community leaders and past winners comprised a committee that reviewed nominations and selected the finalists. The finalists were then interviewed to determine the winner of each category. Winners will be announced at the May 15 event.

For more information about the event, see grandrapids.org/events-programs/epic-awards. Photography is by the Business Journal’s Matt Radick.

The 17 2014 EPIC Award finalists are:

EXCELLENCE IN BUSINESS

Davenport University

Since its founding in 1866, Davenport University has grown from a small business school in Grand Rapids to the second largest private, nonprofit university in Michigan with about 10,000 students in 50 graduate and undergraduate programs. The school has 11 campuses and an extensive online presence with one of the lowest tuition rates of Michigan private schools. With President Richard Pappas at the helm, Davenport’s Vision 2015 has infused quality measures into its programs and graduation rates have more than doubled, with better academic success and more than 95 percent of graduates staying in Michigan for employment.

Elzinga and Volkers Inc.

In 1945, Elzinga and Volkers was founded with a commitment to lifelong clients with a simple mission statement: Listen, Solve, Satisfy. Headquartered in Holland, the construction firm houses seasoned managers who take careful note of clients’ needs and offer services in construction management, supplemental staffing, fire stopping and national building services. The last year has seen Elzinga and Volkers rake in the awards, including runner-up for Michigan Contractor of the Year. For three straight years, the firm has been named a West Michigan and National Best and Brightest Company to Work For. Safety is a top priority for Elzinga and Volkers; it has seen more than 2,500 days with no lost time to injuries.

Life EMS Ambulance

Since its founding 34 years ago, Life EMS Ambulance has grown from one used Ford ambulance to 120 state-of-the-art vehicles servicing nine Michigan counties with 450 workers. When Mark Meijer and Ken Morris — with six other paramedics — started the company, all they had was a former house with a rotary phone, card table, coffeemaker and police scanner, with a mission to provide “skill and compassion when you need it most.” Now Life EMS offers first aid and CPR classes, high school EMT classes and Camp 911, a summer day camp. Life EMS is a local company with a national reputation that features accreditation, vehicle safety innovation and a partnership with Stryker for product development.

MINORITY-OWNED BUSINESS

Specialized Staffing Solutions LLC

In 2001, Jacqueline Barton founded Specialized Staffing Solutions in South Bend, Ind. The firm’s leadership team, spread through five offices in Indiana and Michigan, has more than 75 years of executive management experience. It offers staffing and outsourcing to customers in light industrial, office, professional and technical fields, as well as on-site management, traditional staffing, referral-based staffing and direct hire. By learning about its clients’ facilities, business processes and challenges, Specialized Staffing offers quality on-demand staffing. It saw a 27 percent growth in 2013 with 45 internal employees. Last year, the company processed more than 7,000 W-2s.

M&K Construction Supply Co. LLC

In 2006, Manoj Mulki put together doing odd jobs and his dream to start M&K Construction Supply. Mulki came to the United States with nothing, but soon he rose to a manager position. Having a steady paycheck didn’t end his desire to create and own his own business. M&K began by supplying sand, gravel, limestone and crushed concrete. While companies were going out of business in the mid-2000s, Mulki’s business thrived by following the mantra that great customer service goes a long way. “For me, success is what I accomplish and what I give back to the community,” Mulki said. “I gauge my success by setting a goal and achieving it. I want to show the community that if I can do it, anyone can do it.”

Tolman’s Wholesale Meats

In the 1970s, Tolman’s Meats began as a retail shop and progressed to a USDA-inspected meat facility in 1985. The company was sold in 1995 to VKV Inc., consisting of Rick Kehr, Ted Vaughn II and Ted Vaughn III. The new ownership decided to keep the Tolman name and has grown the company from a $700,000 a year business to a $4 million operation that sells to food service businesses, restaurants, adult care facilities and caterers. Tolman’s sells more than 3.5 million pounds of fresh and frozen beef, pork, chicken, veal and sausage annually. It offers portion-controlled meats and protein consulting services, is constantly developing new menu items, and is one of few companies in the area to process and deliver meat daily for food service companies.

SMALL BUSINESS OF THE YEAR

Baker Holtz

In 1979, Adamy + Co. began as a traditional accounting firm, but when Ryan Holtz returned to the firm in 2004 from Denver, he brought a new value pricing model with him. Now, Baker Holtz offers services based on providing clients with solutions to their problems. Instead of hourly rates and line items, clients know exactly how much they’ll pay at the beginning of the year. The company follows its value-based pricing model while offering accounting and assurance, advisory and taxation services. The firm wants to help its clients, not limit the time spent with them because of hourly charges.

The Charter Group

In 1989, The Charter Group was founded with the goal of helping business owners achieve a successful business sale. Since then, The Charter Group has helped more than 400 business owners buy, grow or sell their business. It offers a comprehensive catalog of investment banking services, and specializes in transactions of up to $100 million. The company strives to help business owners identify ways to increase business before a profitable exit, achieve success in selling or buying a new company, grow companies by raising capital and creating new jobs and investing in Michigan-based companies via the Michigan Accelerator Fund I, a venture capital fund of more than $15 million.

Blackford Capital

Blackford Capital has a mission to acquire and grow middle-market manufacturing, distribution and service companies. Founded by Grand Rapids-native Martin Stein, Blackford has completed 28 transactions, including six current companies with more than 500 employees and revenues of about $200 million. The firm supports Michigan companies with its Michigan Prosperity Fund, which has an advisory board, including former Gov. John Engler, Meijer Inc. Co-CEO Mark Murray, Huntington Bank Director Dave Porteous, Stowe Co. CEO Frank Newman, Carlyle Group Operating Executive Mary Petrovich and Strategic Staffing Solutions CEO Cindy Pasky. The MPF has acquired Grand Haven-based Grand Transformers, Detroit-based Mopec and Grand Rapids-based Custom Profile.

WOMAN-OWNED BUSINESS

OnSite Wellness

Mary Kline and Amy Ritsema founded OnSite Wellness in 2006, purchasing their employer’s secondary business and taking it to the next level. The company partners with employers by designing, developing and administering wellness programs that positively impact health and wellbeing. OnSite Wellness caters to each company’s needs and includes screenings, health and wellness coaching, onsite programming and an online portal that allows companies and employees to track results, take part in challenges and watch videos. It services clients in 28 states, from small family-owned businesses to large manufacturing companies. OnSite Wellness is 100 percent woman-owned and every team member is credentialed, from registered dietitians to nurses to exercise science specialists

Appletree Learning Center

Bridgett Tubbs-Carlon founded the first AppleTree Learning Center on Monroe Avenue NW in 1998 to create a childcare and early education center that was a safe and nurturing environment for her daughter. Today, she owns and operates five locations in West Michigan. During the past 16 years, AppleTree has created more than 300 jobs and served more than 20,000 children with 13 locations across Michigan. It was a pioneer in offering webcam access for parents. “Realizing the generational impact we have had in children’s and families’ lives gives me immense satisfaction. Many of the children who grew up in AppleTree are now coming back to work for us and planning to send their children to AppleTree. Life has truly come full circle,” she said.

Micro Visions Inc.

While employed at a Fortune 500 company, Julie Lough dreamed of starting a business. She used her savings to purchase a computer, register the company name, design a logo and take certification classes. Micro Visions officially launched in January 1989 in Lough’s living room, offering technology services at a time when there were few cost-effective resources for small businesses. Lough installed, upgraded and repaired computers and networks during nights, weekends and holidays. Before long, she quit her job, opened up a commercial space and began to grow the business. In its 25th year, Micro Vision now offers IT services, backup solutions, project management, disaster recovery, virtual CIO, strategic planning and helpdesk services.

YOUNG ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR

Genius Phone Repair

Three friends — Jordan Notenbaum, Garry VonMyhr and Steven Barnes — started Genius Phone Repair in 2011, but it actually began in 2009 when Notenbaum began repairing iPhones in his living room. Two years later, VonMyhr and Barnes helped him open the first retail location in Grandville. Since then, six locations have opened, and retail stores in South Bend, Ind., and Holland are in the works. Soon, the company will make itself available to franchise and licensing opportunities. The company repairs cell phones, tablets and MP3 players. Genius Phone Repair also offers free diagnosis, and only charges for successful repairs. It also buys broken and used devices, sells warrantied replacements and offers a recycling program for old electronics.

Adam Bird, Photographer

Adam Bird starting shooting photographs for community newspapers in Michigan in 1998, and since has blossomed into a thriving freelance photographer. Through Adam Bird, Photographer, he offers visual strategy, editorial and commercial photography nationwide, but an entrepreneurial yearning has pushed him into more businesses. The People Picture Co. began in 2012 when Bird and Bri Luginbill collaborated to offer commercial quality portraits at consumer prices. That same year, Bird and Angela Steil discovered the demand for custom-printed marketboards and started AnyIdea LLC. Bird describes himself as a philosopher, geek and auto enthusiast who struggles with only starting a few businesses because there are always more ideas.

NONPROFIT OF THE YEAR

Heart of West Michigan United Way

For nearly 100 years, Heart of West Michigan United Way has connected Kent County’s pressing needs with community resources through programming, community engagement and partnerships with local funded nonprofit agencies, companies, donors and volunteers. Waves of change in Kent County have come through more than 30,000 donors from 540 companies and 8,900 volunteers. Heart of West Michigan United Way creates lasting, sustainable change that transforms lives and builds a stronger community. Through the philosophy “Give, Advocate, Volunteer,” Heart of West Michigan hopes to increase high school graduation rates, strengthen financial stability, improve and create better access to care and reduce obesity in Kent County.

West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology

In 2005, West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology opened to address community high school graduation rates and adult unemployment rates. Modeled after Bill Strickland’s Manchester Bidwell in Pittsburgh, WMCAT provides an opportunity for economic and social progress in the community. WMCAT uses innovation to inspire and empower adult and teen students while providing pathways to success and offering extensive support in that endeavor. The Teen Arts and Tech Program serves more than 200 students a year from area schools, helping them become creative and engaged learners. The adult program helps empower unemployed adults through holistic, intensive training, with more than 75 percent of graduates finding a career in medical technology.

Kids’ Food Basket

In 2002, Mary K. Hoodhood started Kids’ Food Basket and helped feed 125 children in Grand Rapids. That number bloomed to nearly 6,000 in West Michigan last year. The organization has a staff of 19 and a force of 15,000 volunteers, dozens of interns and hundreds of committee members dedicated to helping create a stronger community. In 2013, Kids’ Food Basket opened a satellite location in Muskegon Heights that makes sure more than 600 children are fed each weekday. In 2010, Hoodhood was honored by President Barack Obama with the Presidential Citizens Medal. Executive Director Bridget Clark Whitney was the recipient of the 2013 Young Athena Award. The organization was honored with the Excellence in Fundraising Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Muskegon Chamber of Commerce Agent of Change Award.

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