How the European Innovation Academy enhances the GVSU entrepreneur student experience

By Kayla Sosa

One of the best things Valerie Kozak said she did as a college student, is spend time studying abroad. 

A senior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Entrepreneurship and Marketing, Kozak spent three weeks in Turin, Italy at the European Innovation Academy. 

At the academy, students got into groups to develop an innovative idea to solve an existing problem. 

The view from an AirBnB in Rapallo, Italy. Photo Courtesy Valerie Kozak.

“I thought it was incredible because of the amount of mentors and knowledge that you could access there,” Kozak said. “You really could ask any question that you could ever want related to your start up.”

Design, communication, software and life coaching were just some of the expertise available to students at the academy. There were also lectures on concepts like intellectual property, legalities and diversifying your business.

Kozak said she enjoyed the challenge of communicating and working with people from all over the world who have different learning and working styles.

IMG_3492“Working on that kind of international scale on a team really, really helped my ability to become more culturally competent, a little bit more patient in that kind of setting and be understanding of different working styles,” she said, adding that her team was made up of one person from Chile and two people from Italy. 

Shorouq Almallah is the director of the GVSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and attended the academy this past summer. She recommends the study abroad experience for students of all majors. 

“Study abroad is one of the most inspiring, transformational and life changing experiences for students and individuals to undertake,” Almallah said. “In a fast-paced global economy, an international experience should be part of every student’s educational journey. As a global student, you get to experience new perspectives, develop leadership skills, navigate different cultural norms, languages, and build a global network.” 

From left to right: Valerie Kozak, Shorouq Almallah and Bradley Monsour at the European Innovation Academy in Turin, Italy this past summer.

Kozak’s team was working on an idea around multipurpose reflector bands that people can wear on their arms or legs to help reduce pedestrian fatalities. The final Pitch Day saw all the teams give a 90 second pitch and take questions from a panel of judges. While Kozak’s team didn’t make it, she said it was helpful to see the other teams pitch. 

“In our day to day lives, especially in West Michigan, it’s pretty easy to (stay) in a comfort zone and not really diversify your experiences,” Kozak said. 

Almallah said, in her conversations with some business leaders and executives, their biggest regret from college is not learning another language or taking part in a study abroad experience. 

“Study abroad prepares you to be adaptable, flexible, confident, curious, and tolerant of ambiguity and challenges, all of which are critical skills to help your personal and professional growth, as well as enable you to stand out and be prepared for a competitive work environment,” Almallah said. 

A street in Rapallo, Italy. Photo Courtesy Valerie Kozak.

Aside from working, Kozak was also able to travel around and relax on the weekends to small towns in Italy and Venice. 

“I personally think that traveling helps me to grow as an individual in my own space and overall, just as a person, my cultural intelligence and my emotional intelligence,” Kozak said. “I think that is a huge factor to why I did it and why other people should do it.”

The next European Innovation Academy is in Lisbon, Portugal. The deadline to apply is Feb. 1, 2020. For more information, visit

To see more study abroad opportunities at GVSU, visit

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