GRAND RAPIDS — At 15 years old, Elevator Up LLC had come to what founder Aaron Schaap called a “big milestone.”
The Grand Rapids digital design consultancy for products and services had grown nicely from the early days. Schaap began considering what the next 15 years would look like, putting together goals, and weighing what leadership and talent Elevator Up would need.
The answer came in SPARK Business Works, a developer of custom software applications that’s part of the Kalamazoo-based CSM Group of Companies.
Elevator Up and SPARK Business Works started working together on client projects about six months ago. The connection led to Schaap and his counterpart, Robert Armbrister, to start talking further and, ultimately, to Elevator Up’s sale to SPARK Business Works.
“We started partnering together on projects where we would bring them in to do some things from a technical standpoint, and they started talking to us about how to do more kind of design and experience. That relationship started growing really strong. After a while we said, ‘Hey, why aren’t we working together more?’ So they officially made the ask,” Schaap said.
SPARK Business Works closed April 9 on the acquisition of Elevator Up, which specializes in strategic visioning, processes for customer “journey mapping,” and developing integrated applications, websites and software for customers.
As Elevator Up looked how to further grow and scale, Schaap was initially introduced to SPARK Business Works by Randy Rua, a good friend who runs M&A firm Rua Associates LLC in Hudsonville. Rua Associates then worked with Elevator Up on the transaction, Schaap said.
Schaap and Armbrister “hit it off really well” when they first met and share similar personalities and backgrounds in how they started and grew their companies, Schaap said. The staffs at each company also “started working really well together” when introduced, he said.
“For me, it was a great fit because not only do we get along personally and our teams get along really well, and there are complementary resources back and forth, but it also aligned with where we’re going, and it also for them aligned with where they were going,” he said. “It just seems like it’s a way for us to get to where we wanted to go faster instead of me just doing it alone.”
The deal gives SPARK Business Works — which develops mobile apps, dashboards and workflow tools for clients — greater capabilities and skills, and solidifies the company’s Grand Rapids office, said Armbrister, the company’s president and CEO.
“We had a handful of people up there, but now we have a greater depth there. As that market is growing, our client base has been growing, so this really helps us catch up to being able to serve that group,” Armbrister said. “Elevator Up also had a lot of national clients, so it really helps us from that standpoint.”
SPARK Vice President Suzanne Motter leads the new Grand Rapids-based team. Schaap now serves an advisory role, as needed, throughout the transition.
As Armbrister started talking with Schaap late last year about the potential of bringing the two companies together, he concluded that an acquisition “just made sense.”
“We’ve been growing like crazy and so have they. We needed some design and product-focused stuff, and they need more engineering help and development and depth on that side. So it really worked out and the culture was a great fit,” Armbrister said.
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