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First 5x5 Event: Fire and Knife is the Big Winner

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Kevin Gerrity presents the Fire and Knife idea

Kevin Gerrity presents the Fire and Knife idea /Terry Johnston Photography

The 5x5 panel of judges

The 5x5 panel of judges /Terry Johnston Photography

"Relax." said Rick DeVos "This is not a competition, this isn't about business ideas and it is not a pitch night." DeVos' own latest idea, 5x5 Night drew a crowd of about 200 interested people who packed the Grand Rapids Art Museum's auditorium to figure out just what he had in mind. A month ago DeVos offered up the opportunity for an entrepreneur to take away part or all of a $5,000 prize for an interesting and feasible project. "I'm investing in ideas," he said "I'm hoping to get others to invest, too," he said.

The five minute, five slide program with a question and answer period took less than an hour. The five presenters used props and sometimes drama to sell their ideas to a panel of judges. All did it in less than the five minutes allowed.

Brian Gerrity opened with a dramatic reading about a food creation, Hitchcock Ravioli to sell his Fire and Knife Underground Supper Club. Working with local chefs, he plans to present gourmet locally-focused dining experiences in unique (and secret until the day of) locations throughout Grand Rapids. His idea took the top prize of the evening, $2,000 with all other contestants walking away with $750.

"It was hard to decide," said  judge Yolanda Gonzalez. "Everyone had a different opinion on what might be worthy. We started with conversations about each presentation. It was obvious that some didn't need a lot of capital, but more of a push which might help get the community or businesses to help with the projects," said Gonzalez.

The judges felt that Fire and Knife had a potential ripple effect for the community with its heavy involvement of chefs, local food producers and venues as well as helping to further position Grand Rapids as a creative food destination.

Josh Leo is planning to launch a mobile walking tour of Grand Rapids. The audio and image tour will steer people around Heritage Hill and to public art sites via an iPhone or Android. "It would be great for anyone who loves history or art," said Leo. His own curiosity about Grand Rapids' historic homes got him thinking about a mobile tour, much like a Rick Steves city tour.

Perian Olson's Fashionation (pronounced fascination) would give students the opportunity to create new clothing from vintage items in a sewing and design studio adjoining her Leonard Street vintage clothing store. "Students will have hands on experiences mixing old and new items to create clothing that they can wear or sell on Etsy or Ebay," she said.  One item on her must-have list to launch was a sewing machine. The students will work with established fashion creators who volunteer as teachers.

Dave Schemmel presented the sole manufacturing idea of the evening. He showed off his prototype of an adjustable, expandable, collapsible tomato cage that is made from green materials and would be made locally. "I can have it made here for one third the cost it of having it done overseas," he told the judges. The cage also has add-on features that would help it serve as an early season greenhouse or to keep pests away.

Steve Zaagman served as the evening's ShamWow man: not only was he the most enthusiastic presenter, but his idea got looks of surprise and sometimes skepticism from the audience. The founder of GROSS (Grand Rapids Original Swing Society), an event that has been filling Rosa Parks Circle in the summer, proposed an Upside Down Movie Night. "We did it last year and 200 people came," he said. People would lie down under the giant cement canopy of the Art Museum's entrance and toe to head and shoulder to shoulder would watch a movie. He envisioned special events to add to the fun. "We could show a super hero movie and people could come dressed as a super hero. We could show a Christmas movie and have a white elephant gift exchange," he said.

During the question and answer period, the judges, contestants and people following the live feed and Twitter hashtag were able to follow up with the five. Questions about logistics, costs, and whether 1,500 people could and would fit under the art Museum canopy were answered.

While waiting for the results at the wine bar Reserve, people had thoughts about who or what should win. Among them were John Rumery, who said, "If I had a vote, I'd go with Fashionation or the walking tour. I thought a cash prize of $5,000 would get them going and sustain them, " he said. Keith Fales liked the tomato cages. "We're planning to put in a garden and the idea that the cages are made out of natural materials and you can easily store them is very good. I'd buy some," he said.

"We were really thinking about getting ideas up and going more than focusing on a single winner and each was worthy," said judge Seth Starner.

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