Street Talk: 40 seconds of fun


Even by lofty Business Journal standards, Oct. 17’s 40 Under 40 Business Leaders event was a hot ticket.

With more than 550 guests on hand and a new venue, 20 Monroe Live, providing plenty of space to nosh and network, the vibe was upbeat and active. Hannah Rose Graves and her band, Hannah Rose and the GravesTones, played from the stage for more than an hour while guests mingled on the auditorium floor. An exclusive happy hour for the honorees, hosted by Jamie Cooper, founder and CEO of Cannabiz Connection, put the party in motion.

Two stars stood out during the evening, however.

First, the introduction of 40 Second Stories proved to be a huge hit. Each of the 40 honorees filmed a 40-second video segment, shot and edited by 616 Media, that was projected to the giant on-stage screen as part of the program. With no rules and very little direction, honorees were told to use the 40 seconds however they saw fit.

The results were honest, open, encouraging, enlightening and sometimes downright hilarious.

John Behrens, president, CEO and co-owner of Farmhaus Cider Co., presented several “what-if” scenarios involving equity and inclusion, including one about riding a camel across the Sahara Desert and almost dying.

On a lighter note, Jonathan Jelks, principal and co-founder of Midwest Tech Project, brought the house down when after only a few seconds of talking, said he would just “look good” for the rest of the video and struck a pose. Hilarious!

The queen of video award, however, went to Abigayle Sladick, vice president of communication for Mel Trotter Ministries, who somehow managed to unspool a rap about her life, ministry and values in just 40 seconds — all to the tune of the early ’90s hit TV show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

The evening’s second star was the Business Journal’s 2018 40 Under 40 Distinguished Alumnus, Rich MacKeigan, SMG regional general manager for Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place.

MacKeigan struck a perfect balance of bawdy humor and inspiring message to challenge this year’s 40 Under 40 class. His list of projects that have transformed Grand Rapids over the past 20 years (Van Andel Arena, Medical Mile, Millennium Park, etc.) served as both a history lesson and a roadmap for future generations of leaders. And his message to “do something” for West Michigan resonated with everyone in attendance.

Metabolic rates

Van Andel Research Institute hired four researchers for a new metabolism and nutrition research program.

The goal of the program is to uncover specific relationships between these areas and diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes in order to improve treatment options and prevention.

“Metabolism is the cornerstone of biology and, as such, plays a central role in keeping us healthy,” said Peter Jones, VARI chief scientific officer. “This program will take an expansive view of metabolism, linking dozens of fields and disorders.”

The program will be led by Russell Jones, an expert in the study of how cancer cells take advantage of metabolism to multiply and hide from the body’s immune system.

Previously, he was an associate professor at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and director of the Metabolomics Core Facility at McGill’s Goodman Cancer Research Centre.

He is joined by:

  • Connie Krawczyk, who investigates the links between metabolism, epigenetics and the immune system. She also joined VARI from McGill University and is an associate professor.
  • Adelheid Lempradl, who investigates how the dietary choices of parents may impact the health of their offspring. She joined VARI from Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, Germany, as an assistant professor.
  • J. Andrew Pospisilik, who seeks to understand what causes disease susceptibility, with the goal of being able to predict lifelong health at birth. He also comes to VARI from Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics.

In addition to his role as a professor in the program, Pospisilik will assume the directorship of the institute’s Center for Epigenetics, one of VARI’s three research centers, this winter. Part of his vision includes the development of a pioneering center for intergenerational medicine.

The new researchers will join Brian Haab, a pancreatic cancer and metabolism expert whose work centers on developing new diagnostic methods, and Ning Wu, who studies how the relationship between metabolism, aging and chemical signaling can cause cancer.

Together, their efforts are meant to integrate the rest of the institute’s research and open up new avenues for collaboration inside VARI and beyond.

Long-term, program investigators hope to align research goals with the needs of physicians on the frontline of patient care.

Worth the gamble?

Have an idea about cheating at Gun Lake Casino? Better think twice.

A New Jersey-based software and technology company, VSBLTY, recently initiated a multiphase pilot program at the Wayland entertainment complex that uses all aspects of its technology portfolio, including facial analysis to gather audience age, gender, dwell time and sentiment, into signage scattered throughout the complex, according to Jay Hutton, VSBLTY CEO. The data analysis happens in real time, even in large crowds or in motion, he said.

“This software is designed to not only enhance the guest experience but to create a virtual perimeter around the casino floor to analyze player behaviors, further gamify player engagement, all while augmenting security operations to make Gun Lake even safer,” Hutton said.

One breakthrough feature of VSBLTY Vector is proprietary object recognition that identifies assault weapons and objects of interest that, if detected, can notify security.

“This is the advantage of AI and machine learning giving security and surveillance a new friend — the marketing department,” Hutton said.

Salvatore Semola, president and COO of Gun Lake Casino, said the new technology is coupled with digital signage throughout the casino.

“This advanced digital signage technology creates an exciting guest experience by keeping them more engaged, helping make them safer and also aiding risk management on the casino floor. We are committed to being best-in-class gaming operators, offering memorable and fun player experiences,” he said.

Jan Talamo, chief creative officer at VSBLTY, said the program allows Gun Lake Casino to expand guest engagement by adding new interactive “touch points.”

“Gun Lake is using marketing messages to keep guests informed of offers, including more ways to win while providing management information from sentiment to security, all in one application,” he said. “Our VisionCaptor software allows marketers and casino operators to tailor messages delivered to the display depending on who is looking at them — all in real time.”

If successful, the AI pilot application won’t stop at marketing and security.

“And this is only the beginning,” said Linda Rosanio, project lead and VSBLTY COO, who speculated that an augmented reality game that will attract guest participation is planned before year-end. “It is designed to increase frequency of visitation by giving guests the opportunity to turn their smartphone into a game console. They can then play a scavenger hunt for prizes by walking through the casino collecting designated markers.”

Semola said he is a believer.

“This technology will be standard issue on casino floors in the future,” he said.

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