Street Talk: Welcome to the shark tank, kids


If you’ve ever seen the ABC show “Shark Tank,” you know how nervous the would-be entrepreneurs are when making their presentations to potential business investors.

Now imagine those entrepreneurs as 14- and 15-year-olds. That was the scenario last week when (trembling) groups of Lowell High School freshmen pitched their ideas to members of the business community, including the Business Journal’s Tim Gortsema.

“We’ve used the television show as a format for an instruction unit combining economics and language arts,” said Jamie Christians, one of the teachers leading the course. “Fifty-six of our freshmen have spent the past five weeks brainstorming, researching and organizing the necessary information to develop a business from scratch.”

But the toughest part, by far, is the live presentation to adults who have been there and done that. And, overwhelmingly, the kids passed their tests with flying colors. No blood in the water here.

In fact, one of the business ideas was so good, sharks John Corem of Johnny Secreto Foods and Tom Price of Davenport University were ready to hop on board immediately. (Randy Rand of Jungle Survival Drivers Training said he would need a few logistics issues worked out first, but it was suggested that he could be hired as a paid consultant for the project.)

The noteworthy idea produced by high school freshmen? A business called College Delivery Food Service through which college students living away from home are delivered fresh food every two weeks, ordered and paid for by their parents. We’re not going to steal the kids’ thunder, but some real sharks in the community just might want to get in touch with the young Red Arrows. After all, the fledgling business owners even planned to start the business in someone’s basement, which is where all good entrepreneurs get their start. (Remember Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel? Things worked out pretty well for them).

Series homers

What does it take to get to the World Series? Maybe it’s as simple as having American Seating chairs in your stadium.

Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox, and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Busch Stadium both have American Seating chairs. In fact, so do the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, the other two teams that were in the League Championship Series.

“In the last decade, most World Series champions have had American Seating chairs. We like to joke that if you want to get to the World Series, your team should have our seats,” said Fritz Owen, national sales manager for sports and entertainment at the Grand Rapids company.

American Seating products are in more than half of the major league baseball parks, as well as dozens of other famous sports venues, including college and pro-football stadiums. The company makes chairs for every part of a sports facility, from the front row to the upper deck and from scout seating to suite seats.

And it makes all those products at the same location on the northwest side of Grand Rapids as it has since its beginning in 1886.

Fenway holds a special place in American Seating’s history. The company has been in the sports seating market since 1912, and its first installation was in the Hub’s iconic ballpark.

“To many, Fenway Park is a shrine and homage to the great American pastime of baseball. American Seating has been a part of the Fenway fan experience since the ballpark first opened,” Owen said.

In 2002, the Red Sox organization began a 10-year renovation of the entire park. American Seating was a part of it.

“We renovated the original seats — the last remaining wooden seats in any major league sports facility in the U.S. — in a very detailed process in which we removed the seats, shipped them back to our facility in Grand Rapids, refurbished them, shipped them back to Boston and reinstalled them,” Owen said.

He said Fenway’s new seats were made with the classic look — but roomier to fit the modern fan. Many new seats are now 21 to 22 inches wide, up from the traditional 16 to 18 inches.

The size of fans’ bottoms isn’t the only thing that has changed over the years. Series tickets to games in Boston this year are selling for upward of $1,300 on the secondary market — almost exactly 10 times the cost of the seat itself.

Well done, ladies

Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women recently held its annual Seeds of GROWth Conference and awards ceremony at the JW Marriott, and three local women were recognized for their efforts.

Rebecca Dutcher earned the LeAnne Moss Service Award. Dutcher has been a GROW volunteer for three years and is a facilitator for the Small Business Growth and Planning Series and a mentor with the Business Wellness Checkup program.

Marnie Johnson, owner of Infusion Communications Group, picked up the GROW Business of the Year honor. Infusion helps businesses navigate through changes in carrier services for local calling, long distance and Internet.

Peggy Murphy was selected as GROW’s AWE Leader of the Year. Murphy has been a member of Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs for 28 years. During Murphy’s years on the board, AWE created the EXCEL training program and hired Executive Director Carol Lopucki, who later propelled the program to become what is now the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center. She also was actively involved in bringing the Athena Award to Grand Rapids.

Monkey business

Everybody loves a list — except when their favorites don’t make it.

The Princeton Review profiled two West Michigan universities when ranking this year’s annual book of “Best 295 Business Schools.” Grand Valley State University and Western Michigan University were the only West Michigan higher education platforms named in the list, but were not ranked.

So what gives?

“Each school in our books offers outstanding academics: no single law or b-school is ‘best’ overall,” said Robert Franek, senior vice president and publisher for The Princeton Review.

“We publish rankings in several categories and detailed profiles of the schools to give applicants the broader information they need to determine which school will be best for them.”

In the book, the universities are profiled on their admission, academics, financial aid, campus life and career/employment information. GVSU and WMU, although profiled high enough to be in the book, were not ranked in the top 10 for any of these categories.

The other Michigan universities that made The Princeton Review’s cut were University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, which was ranked at nine, and Wayne State University, Central Michigan University, Saginaw Valley State University, Eastern Michigan University and University of Michigan – Dearborn and Flint campuses, all of which, like GVSU and WMU, were profiled but not ranked.

Chow hound

Here’s a bit of food trivia: The guy who hatched McDonald’s Dollar Menu is from Grand Rapids. So is the guy who came up with the idea for Pizza Hut’s stuffed-crust pizzas.

And they are the same person.

Tom Ryan, a graduate of West Catholic High School, is credited with both fast-food innovations, and he’s also the founder of national restaurant chain Smashburger.

No wonder he was in town last week to accept West Catholic’s Business Excellence Award.

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