Human Resources and Nonprofits

Award winners enrich community

Chamber recognizes six businesses and organizations with EPIC Awards.

May 16, 2014
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Richard Pappas, President, Davenport University. Photo by Matt Radick

There’s only one word to describe an EPIC award. Hint: It’s in the title.

The 5th annual EPIC (Entrepreneurial, Progressive, Innovative and Collaborative) Awards, hosted by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, named six winners from among this year’s 17 finalists at an event Thursday at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

The awards, which recognize West Michiganbusinesses and individuals for initiative, growth and community support, were given out in the categories of Excellence in Business, Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Small Business of the Year, Woman-Owned Business of the Year, Minority-Owned Business of the Year and Nonprofit of the Year.

“Congratulations to all of the 2014 EPIC Award finalists and recipients,” said Rick Baker, GRACC president and CEO. “These remarkable organizations and individuals are innovating solutions to issues we face in business and in the community — and creating jobs and fostering a rich range of talent in the process. They exemplify what it takes to make Grand Rapids an attractive and thriving region.”

Young Entrepreneur of the Year went to Genius Phone Repair, headed by Garry VonMyhr, Jordan Notenbaum and Steven Barnes. The company, which opened in 2011, repairs cell phones, tablets and MP3 players, and also has a retail component. It will soon open locations in Holland and South Bend, Ind.

Small Business of the Year honors were bestowed on Blackford Capital, which has a mission of acquiring and growing 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.

AppleTree Learning Centers was honored with the Woman-Owned Business Award. AppleTree President Bridgett Tubbs-Carlon said winning the award was “amazing” and she was humbled by the honor. She said the true honor, however, is how families in West Michigan have entrusted her with the care of their children. “I’ve been so blessed to have been able to watch these children grow and become great citizens in our community and truly fascinated by knowledge. That’s the cool part — to watch them grow,” she said.

This year’s top Minority-Owned Business was Tolman’s Wholesale Meats. Ted Vaughn, president and CEO, said he felt the biggest impact his business has made in the community has been through its commitment to giving back. He offered words of encouragement to other minority-owned businesses to seek help from those who will encourage growth.

“Surround yourself with good people. There’s a lot of good people out there,” Vaughn said. “Also, get yourself a good financial advisor and join one of the chamber groups. There are a lot of people out there with a lot of good information that can help you.”

Nonprofit of the Year honors were earned by Kids’ Food Basket, which provides sack suppers each weekday to nearly 6,000 children in West Michigan. The organization has a staff of 19 and more than 15,000 volunteers, dozens of interns and hundreds of committee members dedicated to creating a stronger community.

Davenport University was recognized for Excellence in Business. “We work really hard to continuously improve,” said President Richard Pappas as he accepted the award. “(This is a tribute to) the leaders at Davenport and, of course, I’m really honored to have the stage with them, and our faculty and our staff and our students.”

Other category finalists included Baker Holtz and The Charter Group in small business; Micro Visions Inc. and OnSite Wellness LLC in woman-owned business; young entrepreneur Adam Bird, Photographer; M&K Construction Supply LLC and Specialized Staffing Solutions LLC in minority-owned business; Elzinga & Volkers Inc. and Life EMS Ambulance for business excellence; and Heart of West Michigan United Way and West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology in the nonprofit category.

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