Street Talk: These entrepreneurs are going up


What can you do in the time it takes to ride an elevator?

Well, if you’re Steven Tyler or Ray Rice … ah, never mind. There are better things to do with your time.

Baker College of Muskegon students Micaela Ontiveros and Tracy Stremus won first and third place, respectively, at the Emerge Elevator Pitch Competition for high school and college students this month. Ontiveros was awarded $1,000 and Stremus received $500. They will use the prize money to start the businesses they pitched in the competition.

The event presenter, Emerge West Michigan, is a new collaboration of more than 60 businesses and organizations that support entrepreneurship.

“We are proud to have such admirable students representing Baker College,” said Lee Coggin, Baker College of Muskegon president. “Their success also reflects positively on the faculty members and instructors who helped prepare Micaela and Tracy for such stellar presentations.”

The student competitors had two minutes — about the time it takes to ride an elevator — to pitch an idea, product, service or business before a panel of judges. No props or presentation slides were allowed. They were evaluated on the quality of their presentations, including how well they got the attention of the judges; clearly defined their idea, its unique features, benefits and market; and understood their competition.

“Micaela and Tracy were well prepared and performed brilliantly under considerable pressure,” said Linda Meyers.

Meyers heads Baker College’s marketing, entrepreneurship and human resources management programs. She is a founding member of Emerge, serves on its committee, and sees events such as the Elevator Pitch Competition as ways to build confidence for young people who are considering bringing products or services to market.

“These types of events allow budding entrepreneurs the experience of speaking to potential investors in a real-world setting,” she said. “Practicing a pitch in class with peers is substantially different than delivering it to a panel of judges in a crowded room of strangers. The judges also provide valuable feedback that can validate their business plans or support revision.”

Ontiveros, of Holland, pitched CANU, a service aimed at college students. Her idea is to launch a smartphone application that allows students to order fast food to be delivered to their door on campus. Her goal is to launch CANU in January 2015.

Stremus, of Montague, pitched Stay Afloat, a houseboat rental with a slip on White Lake. The 35-foot houseboat that sleeps eight can be rented by the day, week or weekend from spring to fall. She expects to launch Stay Afloat in May 2015.

Both students are earning associate degrees in entrepreneurship. Stremus expects to graduate in spring 2015, Ontiveros in spring 2016.

The second-place winner was Katie Piotrowicz, a student at Careerline Tech Center in Holland. She received $750 for CakeScoop, a bakery specializing in homemade cupcakes. CakeScoop customers decorate their own cupcakes or add ice cream to make cupcake sandwiches.

Ready and able

Even as Gov. Rick Snyder was making a plea for a better educated and trained workforce, Grand Rapids Community College was answering the call.

Approximately one third of the 80 students who graduated from GRCC’s Job Training program earlier this month already had secured employment by the time they walked across the stage.

GRCC celebrated the students’ graduation with a ceremony Dec. 17 at its Tassell M-TEC facility, 622 Godfrey Ave. SW. GRCC President Steven Ender and Patti Trepkowski, interim provost, were featured speakers.

“The graduation of our Job Training students is such an important event, especially in our 100th anniversary year," said Julie Parks, director of Workforce Training. “The students graduating from this program are work-ready. We are proud of the work our faculty members do with local employers that gives our graduates the right skills.”

This group of graduates represents the eight programs offered through GRCC Job Training: automotive technician, computer support technician, construction electrician, green construction remodeling, introduction to construction, machinist/computer numerical control technician, residential construction and welding/fabrication technician.

“These graduates chose a challenging learning option at Grand Rapids Community College," said Scott Mattson, Job Training and construction trades program manager. "They have received over 600 hours of training in 18 weeks in their respective field. Their success has come through hard work and support from their families and our talented faculty and staff.”


Ted Allen, host of the Food Network hit “Chopped,” won’t be there, but there still will be plenty of intrigue when executive chefs from four senior living communities hit the kitchen in a competition for Best Senior Chef in Grand Rapids.

The Senior Chef Showdown will feature representatives from Clark, Covenant Village of the Great Lakes, Holland Home and MapleCreek in a cook-off 2-4 p.m., Jan. 15, at MapleCreek Senior Living, 2000 32nd St. SE, Grand Rapids.

The competition involves secret ingredients, time limits, taste-testing and celebrity judges.

The judging panel is scheduled to include Amy Sherman, host of television’s “The Great American Brew Trail”; John Gonzalez, entertainment writer for MLive; Rachel Ruiz from eightWest/WOOD TV; and Pete DeMaagd, former columnist and restaurant critic for The Grand Rapids Press.

Despite Allen’s absence, the contest will not lack a certain flair. Serving in the role of host/commentator will be Chef Oliver Hale, a Grand Rapids public access TV fixture. In addition to being an award-winning kitchen master, Chef O, as he is more commonly known, can fill time with stories about being a transplant recipient, tennis champion and active community volunteer.

Time travel

Kalamazoo Rotary is celebrating its future with a look at the past. The local service club plans to re-enact its 1914 inaugural meeting today as part of its centennial celebration.

Away from the bustling, streetcar- and buggy-clogged hardpack of what was then East Main Street, 10 men gathered over lunch in the swanky Park-American Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo. The date was Dec. 29, 1914. By the time these men were indulging in a post-meal cup of coffee, they had formed the Kalamazoo Rotary Club.

That inaugural gathering will be recreated 100 years later as the Kalamazoo Rotary Club kicks off its year-long centennial celebration.

“Our journey as a club began with a small group determined to put service above self. As a club, we’ve held fast to that promise for 100 years,” said Joe Brogger, president of Kalamazoo Rotary.

The re-enactment will take place at noon Monday, Dec. 29, at the YWCA, 353 E. Michigan Ave. — the site of the Park-American Hotel, which was torn down shortly after closing in 1968. Current Rotarians, dressed in period clothing, will play the roles of the organizers. Their conversation will be a mix of the events of that day and reflections on the years that have passed.

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