Street Talk: The trade market


After having helmed a defunct startup focused on bartering, a local entrepreneur still is hoping the practice goes big in West Michigan.

Michael Lynn, owner and producer at Michael Lynn Animation Studio, is a member of the Bellevue, Washington-based International Trade Exchange, which fosters cashless B2B transactions throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Lynn said ITEX has been invaluable for him as an entrepreneur in the first year after starting his business.

“They gave me about $7,000 in business in the first month. That was pretty exciting,” he said.

The trade exchange works via a payment technology platform and exclusive distribution channel by which members use “ITEX dollars” to exchange goods and services — such as administrative help or web design — rather than using cash.

“Basically, direct barter is I have videos, and you have haircuts, and I trade you my videos for a bunch of haircuts,” Lynn said. “But I might not need $600 in haircuts. So a trade exchange says, ‘OK, we have these units, and instead of you giving me a bunch of haircuts, you give me these credits,’ very similar to dollars in cash, and I say, ‘OK, I can use these credits at any one of these local businesses or nationwide businesses.’

“I can get graphic work or house painting or restaurant gift cards.”

In exchange for use of the platform, ITEX takes a small fee.

Lynn said he knows of some entrepreneurs that do bartering, but overall, it is an “underutilized” practice.

“It’s an excellent way to test the market and test your pricing,” he said. “Barter clients are more motivated to buy.”

For example, instead of Lynn having to convince “a random business off the street” to buy his animated video service for $599, he can go to the ITEX market, where people have credits in their account and are looking for services. Then, he can gauge the level of interest based on the responses he gets.

“Or, if your pricing is too high or too low, you can learn that on the barter market and then avoid the mistakes in the cash market,” he said.

Rock on

The Grand Rapids Police Department is giving area youth an opportunity to “rock out” at Rosa Parks Circle.

The inaugural R.O.C.K.: Reach Out Cops & Kids community concert will take place from 3-6 p.m. Oct. 15 at 135 Monroe Center NW, Grand Rapids.

A variety of family activities are scheduled from 3-4:30 p.m., including cop car karaoke, food trucks and children’s activities from local museums, Boys & Girls Clubs and the Grand Rapids Fire Department.

The R.O.C.K. concert takes place from 4:30-6 p.m. and features 10 solo youth musical performances with GRPD musicians as backup, followed by a GRPD band concert. The 10 performers will be selected by a public Facebook vote.

Musician and Grand Rapids Community Officer Brian Grooms said he developed R.O.C.K. after he realized there are many kids in our community with musical talents that just need a platform.

He realized GRPD also has a dozen talented artists who could help area youth build on their musical ability and boost their confidence.

“The Grand Rapids Police Department wants to provide an engagement opportunity with our local youth on a platform where they are comfortable,” Grooms said. “It takes a lot of courage to get up on stage and perform in front of an audience. When a kid does that, no one can take that away and it can impact them for life. We believe in lifting up our youth and helping them to discover their talents.”

Kent County residents age 17 and under can submit a one-minute video of their musical skills to the GRPD Facebook page by Sept. 16. The top 10 musicians will be selected by how many likes their video receives and will perform live on stage at the R.O.C.K.

Brick house

In the late 1970s, when Marian Clements opened her home on Cass Avenue on the southeast side of Grand Rapids to people experiencing homelessness, she couldn’t have known how her selfless act would still be impacting the community today.

In 1977, Clements purchased what would become the catalyst for Well House from the city for just $350 in back taxes. Choosing to live gently and reduce their carbon footprint, Clements and her guests lived off the grid without electricity, using alternative energy, a composting toilet and even a goat to mow the lawn. By the time of her death in 1997, Clements had added two more neighborhood homes to the original house — over the years ultimately housing almost 4,000 individuals — and, in 1994, was awarded the national Jefferson Award for Public Service.

Well House continued to operate, and in 2013, local entrepreneur and change-agent Tami VandenBerg took the reins as executive director. VandenBerg had a plan that started with a new set of guiding principles that simplified the approach to the problem of homelessness. Implementing the Housing First Model, VandenBerg grew Well House from the original three houses to 14 houses and seven urban gardens for food growing. From 2013 to date, Well House has provided low-cost permanent housing to more than 212 adults and children, according to John Glover, current executive director.

To help keep Clements’ dream and legacy alive, Well House is offering a Legacy Brick Initiative in which supporters can purchase a brick for $250 and have it placed at the original Cass Avenue location, according to Mario Leon, development coordinator for the nonprofit. He said donors can have a name inscribed on the brick to celebrate, honor or memorialize friends or family.

Phantom menace

Dr. Katharine Polasek of the Hope College engineering faculty has received a grant to fund continued research into noninvasive care for amputees experiencing pain in phantom limbs.

The three-year, $282,446 grant comes from the National Science Foundation for the project “Treating Phantom Limb Pain with Electrically Induced Somatosensation.”

Building on research that Polasek has been conducting since 2010, the method involves applying small electrical currents to the affect area’s nerves in an attempt to provide the perception of touch.

The researchers also will record brain signals during the therapy and across time to see if the brain itself begins to respond differently.

“Further knowledge of how the nervous system responds to electrical stimulation will help develop customized therapies for phantom limb pain, as well as other neurological disorders,” said Polasek, an associate professor of engineering.

“The option of a noninvasive therapy instead of taking drugs would be a momentous advance for people suffering from this pain.”

Polasek and her team also are hoping to develop a tool that patients can use at home.

“We plan to develop a stimulation system that can be easily set up to generate realistic sensation across all individuals, to reduce the barriers to a home-based therapy,” she said.

Polasek is partnering with two others on the project: Dr. Dawn Taylor, a neuroscientist with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and Katie Johnson, a certified prosthetist with Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

Polasek’s collaborative researchers also include Hope students working with her part time during the school year and full time during the summer.

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