2020 Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards Winners
Ah, 2020. The year of twists, turns and new territory. In our case, TV land.
COVID-19 obviously caused the cancellation of thousands of events across the state and around the country, including our planned event for April. 517 Magazine made the decision to hold the 2020 Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards in a socially distant way that would allow even more people to enjoy seeing Greater Lansing’s business leaders accept their awards.
With support from sponsors, including Michigan State University Federal Credit Union and Physicians Health Plan, an idea was put into motion to televise the event on WILX-TV 10.
Nominees included business owners and CEOs from throughout the region. A distinguished panel of judges dedicated hours into each submission, which included narratives, business profiles, financial information and documentation. Judges met via teleconferencing and chose a winner for each of the seven categories, and WILX ran a special promotion for one award that was nominated and voted upon by viewers.
The televised award show aired on the evening of Nov. 14 and, no doubt, turned some 2020 frowns upside down as a light was shone on businesses doing great work in the region.
AND THE WINNERS ARE:
2020 Entrepreneur of the Year: Ngage Management
Tobi Lyon became an entrepreneur at an age when many people are landing an entry-level job after college.
At just 23, Lyon started her first association management company in South Dakota. By the time she was 29, she sold the company — by then the largest of its kind in the state. After moving to Michigan, Lyon maintained a full-time career, but never walked away from life as an entrepreneur.
In her off hours, she worked hard to establish a strong client base, and in 2013 she launched Ngage Management, her next association management company.
“For the first four years, Ngage was a one-woman show and what some would have seen to a be quiet player in the Michigan association market,” said Lyon. “It was not until 2017, when I had a consistent influx of new clients knocking on my door, that I realized I needed some expertise on my team in specific areas. In 2017, I hired the first full-time employee at Ngage. Since then, Ngage has grown rapidly, which required three office expansions and helped us become the recipient of 50 Companies to Watch in 2020.”
Helping Organizations Thrive
Association management companies provide services that range in scale from organizing an event to managing the day-to-day tasks of the organization they serve. As a full-service association management company, Ngage offers clients the opportunity to leverage shared resources, allowing them to keep costs down while benefiting from capabilities like marketing, finance, event management and growing their membership base.
By definition, Lyon’s entrepreneurship has given Ngage clients an opportunity to thrive in all new ways. And grow they have. In 2019 alone, Ngage clients saw 42% growth in membership compared to a national average of 10%, and their event and conference profits increased by 39%.
Filling in the Gaps
In 2016, Lyon realized that no other association management company in Michigan created its own products, opting instead to use third parties to serve their clients. As a lifelong entrepreneur, Lyon got to work to change that.
Over the next few years, Ngage created its own nursing certification software and an event-based mobile app. Both have helped save clients money and increase revenue.
Ngage holds a monthly “Innovation Hub” with new ideas brought to the table each month. Most recently, those ideas have included facilitating a 24-hour nurse-to-nurse warm line for frontline workers and creating virtual networks of support groups for four state-specific health care clients. Ngage also created a virtual platform for its clients to use to save them money when hosting virtual conferences, just to name a few in a long list of launches for the company.
Knowing virtual events and meetings aren’t going away anytime soon, Lyon is excited about how the Ngage has adapted.
“We hope to create a more engaging virtual experience by making our platform more user-friendly, welcoming, and invoking excitement through promotional emails and posts that make the event something that attendees and vendors feel they can’t miss out on,” she said.
Greater Lansing Business of the Year Marketing for a Better World
The 2020 Greater Lansing Business of the Year is one that has inspired positive change in the area, exemplifying the idea that we should leave our community better than how we found it.
Güd Marketing is committed to inspiring change through compelling messaging. You may have seen the playful, informative recycling racoon squad making its way around social media and on billboards, educating people around Michigan about how to recycle. Or maybe you saw information about how healthy trees and forests affect our daily lives.
Entry-Level to President
Debbie Horak joined Pace Creative as a junior coordinator, eventually becoming a sales leader and moving up the ranks. When the company founder and namesake began planning his departure in 2005, Horak became a partner in the company. When the founder exited the company in 2010, Horak took a risk.
Instead of pursuing other opportunities offered to her, Horak went on to lead the company as president.
Since she joined the ownership team, the company has experienced impressive growth.
Through it all, Horak credits those she works with, saying, “There is little that I accomplish on my own. My vision is realized through the work of others — every achievement of this business has been the result of collaboration by our hardworking, talented team.”
Making the Brand Match the Reputation
In 2014, Horak led the company through a rebrand, realizing that its good reputation didn’t tell the whole story.
“Our reputation, built on our founder’s name, was stellar but no longer representative of the company,” said Horak. “We had become — and remain — a woman-owned business that delivers communications that serve and advance the public good.”
The company transformed itself into Güd Marketing.
Beyond messaging, Güd has donated time and money to countless organizations over the years. After years of giving back, helping clients expand their reach, developing her team and growing Güd Marketing, Horak said winning an Entrepreneurial Award validated her mission. “It’s an honor to receive such high recognition,” Horak said. “Our mission is to improve lives by creating and delivering powerful messages that inspire positive change. This award acknowledges the hard work of my staff and successful outcomes our clients have enjoyed.”
Horak is looking forward to 2021.
“After 2020, we know that we’re able to adapt to any situation,” she said. “We look forward to continued growth, success and having a bigger impact in the communities we serve.”
Socially Responsible Entrepreneur
Granger Construction Building a Strong Community
The golden rule is the foundation Granger Construction, which got its start in 1959. As president and CEO, Glenn Granger is a third-generation family member at the helm. For all he has achieved, he hasn’t forgotten the community — and it’s an example he sets for the whole Granger Construction team.
In 2019, Granger employees contributed more than $109,000 in charitable giving. Granger also stepped forward to help complete the new president’s residence for Michigan State University. St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Holy Cross Services have also received significant support.
For Granger, giving back comes back to his faith: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked — Luke 12:48. I’m inspired by this passage and just incredibly grateful for the privilege of being part of this community. God has given our family a lot to be thankful for, and I have a strong desire to be of service to others.”
Granger also gives of his time generously. He has been part of the Strategic Planning Committee and campaign chairperson for the Capitol Area United Way for years. In addition, he is an emeritus board member for Alma College, where he served for 13 years; is an emeritus board member for the Sparrow Foundation; and is a Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce board member. He has also been a member of the Lansing Rotary Club for more than 20 years.
Granger’s civic-minded nature even extends to the family dog, who was named 2020 Pet of the Year from the Capitol Area Humane Society. Still, Granger remains humble.
“(My wife) Trish and I have primarily focused on fundraising and philanthropy, inspired by the incredible role models in our family,” he said.
Learn more about Granger Construction’s commitment to the community at grangerconstruction.com.
The Fledge Creating Opportunity for All
Few people embody what it means to be an entrepreneur like Jerry Norris, primus inter pares at The Fledge. Even in his title, which means “first among equals,” his mission is clear: to give everyone a seat at the table where dreams are built.
In 2015, Norris started The Fledge, a startup incubator designed to create entrepreneurship opportunity for all. But if you ask him, everything is a team effort.
“If you imagine a flock of geese flying overhead, from time to time you will see the first bird get tired and fall back, and another will take its place. This is first among equals,” said Norris. “What this does is let everyone have their turn to contribute to direction and assistance. It also develops everyone else as leaders. This builds capacity in our leadership and allows us to harvest the treasures of our deep diversity.”
For Norris, building up the community is what it’s all about.
The Fledge connects entrepreneurs with funding, commerce networks, and training and education. Beyond that, the organization offers free space for nonprofits, free services for entrepreneurs who can’t afford to pay, a food and clothing pantry, harm reduction tools for those with substance abuse disorders, and much more.
Now in its growth stage, the incubator has about 700 people who are involved in a project and come to The Fledge at least twice per month. Norris is also eyeing a second location and additional funding opportunities to support the organization’s entrepreneurs.
“(Our growth) helps deliver more services to the community and increases our diversity, and therefore our creativity and innovation, allowing us to be more entrepreneurial to solve the problems unique to our community,” Norris said.
There is perhaps no better way to exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit than to use it to encourage other entrepreneurs and leave a positive legacy.
Lisa Young Determined to Bring People and Organizations Together
Almost 20 years ago, Lisa Young took a leap of faith.
She saw a need for qualified employees, and she was determined to help bridge the gap between companies expanding their teams and people looking for work. Since then, Express Employment Professionals of Lansing has taken off.
“When I started in business, there was no Express Employment brand in Lansing. It was built with sheer will power. My company was built knowing I could succeed if I only stepped out, and I prevailed despite adversity,” Young said. “Failure was never an option because my life depended on succeeding. I had to show my five children and those around me what success looked like.”
If her record is any indication, her determination has certainly paid off. Express Employment Lansing has earned the Top Sales Award-Circle of Excellence for 12 out of the 19 years it has been in business. For Young, it all comes back to helping others.
“If you show someone how to get a paycheck, you not only impact their lives but many others in the family,” she said. “I consider myself to be a servant leader. The end goal is to help others around you see the potential that they may have not recognized. When you have someone across your desk and you are a lifeline, that is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.”
But her impact in the community extends beyond the people she connects with employment opportunities.
In addition to helping families through employment, Express Employment also supports area nonprofits, like End Violent Encounters, Haven House, Advent House, Loaves and Fishes, the Boys and Girls Club, Junior Achievement, and St. Vincent’s holiday events, to name just a few.
One thing is certain: Young has made — and is determined to keep making — a significant impact in her community.
Innovative Company Award
Creative Wellness Bridging the Gap Between Medicine and Healing
Conventional medicine has come a long way. But true wellness — the kind made up of body, mind and soul — often looks different than an annual checkup or managing a health condition.
Creative Wellness co-owners Irene Savoyat and Chris Reay know that health care comes in many forms — and that it’s always changing. That’s why they bring together their talented team every other month to share new ideas.
Beyond idea generation, though, the therapeutic services Creative Wellness offers aren’t always well-known or recognized by insurance. So, they’ve made a point of changing that. By partnering with the conventional medicine community and working with insurance companies to cover services like acupuncture and chiropractic care, Creative Wellness can reach more people. The team has even created treatment suggestions that combine several services to help patients achieve better health.
Every step forward Creative Wellness takes is to support the patients it sees every day.
“We are given one life to live, and the foundation of life is our health,” said Reay. “Every day, we see people seeking relief from stress, pain or muscle tightness; others are looking for support to maintain health and enhance their well-being.” Savoyat agreed: “We constantly anticipate and adapt to our client’s needs and requests, listen to employees’ suggestions and respond to the exponential growth in our field. And each day our strong team gives it their all, motivated by the desire to be of service to every person who walks through our doors.”
Looking ahead, Creative Wellness is determined to continue expanding access to its services. It plans to begin accepting Medicare soon, continuing to attend training seminars for new treatment options and pouring over peer-reviewed publications.
Learn more about Creative Wellness at creativewellness.net.
Amanda Hayhoe-Kruger Putting Employees First, Always
Seasonal work often means brutal hours for months at a time, followed by a slow period. But Amanda Hayhoe-Kruger, president of Hayhoe Asphalt, knows that employees are human. They need mental and physical rest, to see their families, and have time for themselves.
Sometimes, leading means putting people ahead of profit, and Hayhoe-Kruger said it’s worth it.
“I believe that the most important customer in my business isn’t my asphalt customer — it’s my employees,” she said. “It’s imperative for them to know how important they are to me and to Hayhoe Asphalt. … Having healthier and happier employees is invaluable.”
Qualified workers for skilled trades can be hard to find, so attracting and retaining employees is crucial. As a leader, Hayhoe-Kruger knows that putting employees first will help with that.
In 2019, Hayhoe Asphalt started an apprenticeship program, giving people a chance to try out the job for 60 days. After two recent high school graduates participated, they were offered full-time employment at the end of the apprenticeship and now earn a living wage that could lead to a six-figure income without additional schooling required.
For all employees, Hayhoe-Kruger implemented a minimum $15-per-hour starting wage, weekly company-provided lunches and other benefits.
“I’ve found that life is so much more enjoyable when we are all generous and kind and show love to each other,” she said. “Leading my crew has been so much more rewarding and fun since I made the leap to sharing more of Hayhoe Asphalt’s profitability with them. Our team makes better wages and feels that they are truly appreciated. And our customers benefit by having a team of workers who know their value and enjoy coming to work. It’s definitely a win-win-win situation for everyone.”
As a leader, Hayhoe-Kruger has shown her commitment to her team for years. Now, it’s her turn to be recognized.
Tri-Count Office on Aging Adapting to Keep Seniors Safe
WILX-TV viewers were invited to nominate and vote on this year’s new Pivot Award as part of the 2020 Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards. The award recognizes those who not only survived but thrived as COVID-19 presented challenge after challenge.
When COVID-19 began sweeping through nursing homes, it became tragically clear that older adults are at a high risk of serious health complications from the disease. The Tri-County Office on Aging knew that even as its offices closed, it had to pivot in order to serve the community’s vulnerable seniors.
So staff members got to work.
Staff began working remotely, shifting services online where possible and keeping in contact with clients over the phone.
Clients and care workers received thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment, including tens of thousands of masks and more than half a million gloves. Volunteers did the grocery shopping for seniors. Meals on Wheels delivered to more than 2,250 individuals — already 380 more than in all of 2019. Congregate dining sites were shifted to meal pickup services, and the number of meals provided was double that of this time last year.
The list goes on.
“In essence, older adults have been shown to have a greater risk of death when contracting the disease, so our role in keeping them connected with food and other health and wellness supports was critical,” said Tammy Lemmer, community relations director for the Tri-County Office on Aging.
“The lethality of the disease was scary and made it even more important for them to self-isolate and limit interactions with others,” she added. “TCOA’s ability to find new ways to connect with people, including friendly reassurance phone calls, shifting health and wellness workshops online, and creating opportunities for contactless meal pickup helped fill some of those gaps.”
The Tri-County Office on Aging also recognized staff member Heidi Glew, a social worker care manager who was specifically mentioned in the nomination.
“Heidi is a dedicated and creative member of our team for over seven years.” said Executive Director Marion Owen. “Heidi is extremely person-centered, honoring the wishes of clients and always demonstrating deep respect toward not only clients but their families and her co-workers as well. She has a positive attitude and goes over and above the job to support older adults and persons with disabilities to remain in their homes and independent.”