Lakeshore Innovator of the Year honor goes to Goodwill's business development director
For 10 years, Nick Carlson, business development director for Goodwill Industries of West Michigan, said he was stumped on how to deal with a problem: What can Goodwill do with the unsold plastic items donated to the region’s outlets?
Carlson said he found his solution by connecting with HydroBlox, a Pittsburgh-based company. HydroBlox recycles plastics into a variety of products for stormwater management systems. The partnership will help Goodwill eliminate more than 500,000 pounds of plastic waste from its donation stream.
The collaboration earned Carlson the 2022 Lakeshore Innovator of the Year, presented by GVSU’s Muskegon Innovation Hub. In its fourth year, the event by the Hub recognizes ideas that are sparking innovation across the region.
“This is pretty awesome,” said Carlson, who brought HydroBlox CEO Ed Geiser up on the stage to share the moment. “I couldn’t be more proud of this and happy for what we’re beginning to accomplish.”
Carlson said Goodwill plans to have a facility operating by the end of the year which will produce and distribute HydroBlox products for road and trail projects, retention walls and green roofs.
The event’s keynote speaker, Zaneta Adams, the 2021 Lakeshore Innovator of the Year recipient, spoke about a key quality this year’s finalists shared. Adams was honored last year as president and founder of WINC for All Women Veterans and the creative force behind the Military Sisterhood Initiative, an online/app network platform for women veterans.
“To be an innovator one must cast aside the fear of failure, the fear of criticism and just go for it,” said Adams. “An innovator has just enough juice like our finalists to push through that noise and see the end game. You are all winners because you beat fear and self-condemnation. You pressed forward.”
This year’s finalists included:
Amanda Barnes and Holly Ziemba - Muskegon Pub Pedal
Barnes and Ziemba took over the management of the Muskegon Pub Pedal in 2016 and turned their family event into a nonprofit to help a local family with medical expenses. Over the past six years, the funds raised by participants’ registration fees, T-shirt sales and supporting businesses has allowed the nonprofit to help two families in need.
Martin Bennett - Sawyers Brewing Company
Bennett purchased the future home of Sawyers Brewing Company in Montague in the early days of the pandemic. He kept the business afloat by building connections across the White Lake community and turning the microbrewery into a downtown destination for locals and tourists. The craft brewery became a staple for performing musicians and entered into a partnership with a local food truck. Sawyers’ brewmasters also share their knowledge with anyone interested in homebrewing, even creating a kitchen just for novice brewers to learn.
Deondra Pentecost - Precise Writings
Pentecost and her company, Precise Writings, make the process of crafting a resume or cover letter less stressful and bring a jobseeker’s qualities to life on the page. She’s also provided thousands of dollars in charitable services to help underserved jobseekers find sustainable, fulfilling employment, build hope and confidence in young people and instill equity in the labor market.
Marisela Sierra - Navarro’s Mexican Takeout
Sierra is the third generation to manage Navarro’s, a fixture in the Muskegon restaurant scene for more than 40 years. Sierra modernized and expanded the restaurant’s business model, finding opportunities beyond retail and pivoting toward farmers’ markets. The strategy paid off as Navarro’s has quickly become a favorite at the Muskegon Farmers’ Market and the Grand Rapids Fulton Street Farmers’ Market.