Inventor named 2023 Lakeshore Innovator of the Year

Lisa Spaugh and her mother embrace during Innovator of the Year event.
Lisa Spaugh, inventor of EZ Beach Steps, embraces her mother after hearing she was selected as the 2023 Lakeshore Innovator of the Year.

Lakeshore resident Lisa Spaugh has seen Lake Michigan’s awe-inspiring beauty along with its destructive power since moving into her home in 1997. 

She said she watched over a three-year span as her waterfront deck and stairs were swallowed by shifting dunes and blowing sands. It prompted her to find her own innovative solution to maintain her beach access. 

“Waves and erosion kept taking things away and people were terrified of putting money down there,” Spaugh said. “I thought, ‘What if we could create a set of stairs that changed as the dunes changed?’”

Her solution, EZ Beach Steps, is a portable system of stairs that can easily be transported and relocated by homeowners. Her invention earned Spaugh the 2023 Lakeshore Innovator of the Year honor, presented by Grand Valley’s Muskegon Innovation Hub.

It was an emotional moment for Spaugh, who designed the steps with the help of her father, who recently died. Spaugh told the crowd of finalists and their guests that she and her father finalized the design at her kitchen table. Later, he introduced her to suppliers who could manufacture it. 

“My dad dropped out of high school, and he was a machine mechanic,” Spaugh said. “He knew everything you could possibly know about materials and mechanical stuff. He just had a brilliant mind, and he never, ever said no to anything.” 

Spaugh’s invention is gaining traction among lakeshore residents along Michigan’s sweeping coastline and beyond, she said. Most recently, she shipped her first set of EZ Beach Steps outside of Michigan to a customer in Puget Sound, Washington. 

“It's been really fantastic. The word spreads,” Spaugh said. “Once one neighbor installs it, then all the neighbors do it.”

The finalists and winner of the 2023 Lakeshore Innovator of the Year pose for a photo
This year's finalists for the 2023 Lakeshore Innovator of the Year are, left to right, Erin Peyer, Sean McManus, Tom Michalak, Lisa Spaugh, Mike Franzak and Samantha Otto

This year’s finalists included:

Mike Franzak, City of Muskegon 

Under Mike Franzak’s leadership on the city’s development services team, Muskegon is looking to become a leader in the state on addressing the housing crisis. Since 2019, Franzak’s team is utilizing a piece of state legislation addressing the development of brownfield areas. Muskegon has infilled more than 130 housing units, either for sale or for rent on city-owned vacant lots. Muskegon is also marketing new construction homes for less than $170,000. 

Leo McCormick, Sean McManus & Tom Michalak, Grand Valley

GVSU's Facilities Service Energy Engineering Team of McCormick, McManus and Michalak developed technology, which they called CO2 Hound, which improves the performance and efficiency of heating and air conditioning systems on campus by measuring the amount of carbon dioxide in the air being returned to the system. The trio estimates the sensor technology results in 25 percent energy savings per building.

Samantha Otto, The Woven Trifecta

Otto is the innovator behind The Woven Trifecta, “a balance of food, farm and education,” as she calls it. The Woven Farmstead produces market crops that are certified naturally grown. The Woven Wellness offers in-person or online workshops to educate customers on the connections between food and wellness. And, the Woven Words is the social engagement piece, utilizing a blog, a podcast and speaking engagements to spread the Trifecta’s mission.

Erin Peyer, Arts Council of White Lake

As executive director of the arts council, Erin Peyer has introduced innovative programs to keep patrons engaged. She teaches Music Together, a music and movement class with an international curriculum for young children. In 2020, she established a residency for emerging young artists of color. Artists between the ages of 17-21 are paired with a local artist of color who acts as a mentor and guides them through their emerging career.

Sean McManus and Tom Michalak pose for a photo at the Innovator of the Year event.
Sean McManus and Tom Michalak are part of the GVSU Facilities Service Energy Engineering Team which was a finalist for the Innovator of the Year honor.
Samantha Otto with The Woven Trifecta and her guest pose for a photo.
Samantha Otto with The Woven Trifecta was a finalist for this year's Innovator of the Year honor.
Lisa Spaugh hugs Allison Dile with the Muskegon Innovation Hub.
Lisa Spaugh hugs Allison Dile, business incubator manager with the Muskegon Innovation Hub, following the Lakeshore Innovator of the Year event.


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