Street Talk: Inventors swim with the sharks


Inventors’ networks in Grand Rapids and Muskegon are going off the deep end — sort of.

The Muskegon Inventors Network and Grand Rapids Inventors Network will be conducting “Shark Tank”-type competitions in the coming weeks with the winner of each earning up to $2,500 in ITEX Trade Exchange dollars to support their new business ideas.

Along with the trade dollars, the winners will advance to the final “Spin, Pitch & Sell” competition at the Michigan Inventors Coalition Annual Expo in September at Michigan State University.

Spin, Pitch & Sell is a competition where inventors, entrepreneurs and business people present their ideas to expert panelists in exchange for their feedback and advice.

“This year, we’re running two local versions of Spin, Pitch & Sell prior to the statewide annual event and increasing the stakes with trade dollars and networking opportunities invaluable to entrepreneurs,” said Joe Finkler, president of Michigan Inventors Coalition.

ITEX Trade Exchange is sponsoring the two local events and will award the winners “virtual currency” to spend on products or services that entrepreneurs might need to get their business rolling, such as advertising, printing, signage, phone systems, credit card processing, attorney services, tradeshow displays or website creation.

“If the judges feel that the presenter’s idea, plan or service is sellable within the ITEX marketplace and that the inventor can be helped by using ITEX dollars, the person could be awarded a free ITEX membership, plus ITEX dollars and an ITEX line-of-credit,” said Dave Turner, owner of the West Michigan Barter Co.

“(It) provides a great way to buy needed business start-up services without cash and can bring immediate customers to the inventor.”

While many of the applicants will come from the individual inventor networks, the competitions are open to the public. Five to 10 finalists will be chosen from each chapter to compete.

Applications are available at

Art of the deal

What happens when the director of the foremost international disability arts organization has a conversation with a local visionary?

Only the largest Disability Arts Festival to ever be produced in the United States.

That’s what happened when Ruth Gould, the leader of DaDaFest in Liverpool, England, and Chris Smit, a professor at Calvin College and Kendall College of Art and Design (and a board member with Disability Advocates of Kent County) were chatting a couple of years ago about DaDaFest’s signature event — DaDaFest International, a biennial celebration of disability art.

Smit said he simply asked if the event ever considered making the leap “across the pond,” and when Gould responded the idea had been kicked around “once or twice,” he put in a good word for Grand Rapids. With help from international curator Amanda Cachia, a deal was struck.

So after countless hours of planning and preparation —not to mention packing and shipping more than 80 percent of DaDaFest's Art of the Lived Experiment exhibition across the Atlantic — the inaugural DisArt Festival is ready to begin its 15-day run here April 10.

Smit said the DisArt Festival will bring the community together in downtown Grand Rapids (and Wealthy Theatre and Celebration North) to celebrate and share the creativity and expression of people with disabilities — a festival that focuses on “art” and “people” and “ability.”

“By increasing access to exemplary examples of disability art and culture, the DisArt Festival will awaken a spirit of ability equality, social inclusion, accessibility, community and a sense of place for disabled people living in Kent County,” Smit said.

Support for the event grew quickly. Ferris State University/Kendall College of Art & Design, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids Art Museum and Disability Advocates of Kent County all became lead partners, creating a multi-venue, multi-offering festivalresulting from the arts and disability communities rallying to bring a full offering of art, theater, stories, fashion and dialogue to West Michigan.

“The DisArt Festival forwards the idea that art changes our minds by realigning our assumptions about life,” Smit said. “More importantly, disability arts provide opportunities to see physical and mental differences in new ways. Even more radically, we believe that disability arts can alter the realities of a culture by connecting people to one another in authentic ways.”

Cover jinx?

Let’s hope the vaunted Sports Illustrated cover jinx doesn’t extend to other things — like snow.

With 1,500 American Public Works Association snow fighters from across North America expected in Grand Rapids for “The Show for Snow,” April 12-15 at DeVos Place, West Michigan is just asking for one of those fluky springtime blizzards.

Little help here, George Lessens?

“APWA’s Snow Conference will feature a concentrated collection of industry-leading snow and ice education sessions, and an exhibit floor with vendors showcasing the latest technologies and equipment,” said Executive Director Peter B. King.

“This year’s Snow Conference will feature the largest exhibit floor in … history, with more than 190 companies and 440 booths where attendees can learn of products and services focused on snow and ice removal, winter road maintenance, fleet operations, emergency management and sustainability in winter operations.”

The conference’s estimated economic impact to the city is $1.6 million, but if a blizzard hits, having them all here will be priceless.

Big fish

It’s common knowledge that anglers are prone to tall tales, but this one is no whopper.

Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited, an organization dedicated to understanding and protecting stream habitats, water resources and ecosystems, is pretty skilled at landing the big one when it comes to fundraising.

Over the last five years, the local chapter has raised more than $500,000 through an annual banquet and other efforts to bolster classroom education at 16 local schools and improve the habitats on the Rogue River and five local streams.

That’s a lot of coin in a short amount of time.

“Our annual fundraising banquet is the one night every year we have an opportunity to connect with a majority of our local supporters,” said Jeff Edwards, president of Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited.

“It’s a great way to share our successes, to show how we've used local dollars to leverage additional funding from state and federal sources, and then taken that money and put it to work right here in West Michigan. It is a celebration of our achievements with our friends, and an opportunity for them to continue their support of our programs.”

The event, which includes a silent auction and raffles, is scheduled for April 23 at Watermark Country Club. Tickets are $60 and this year will include a craft beer tasting from three breweries: Rockford Brewing Co., Gravel Bottom and Our Brewing Co.

Oh, and a trout dinner!

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