The 2021 Teen Entrepreneur Summer Academy (TESA) welcomed 31 students from across West Michigan onto the Pew Campus of GVSU for a week-long program focused on fostering entrepreneurial skills in high schoolers ranging from incoming 9th graders to 12th graders. This program was made possible by the generous support from Amway who has been a great community partner in supporting youth entrepreneurs in West Michigan. This year’s theme was Digital Cities: incorporating technology into urban areas to enhance the community and the efficiency of the city. TESA students were tasked with developing a product or service concept surrounding the idea of smart city technology. Different concept areas included transportation, infrastructure, sustainability, homelessness, and many more.
The TESA students had a packed week of problem identification, brainstorming, customer segmentation, and ultimately pitching their idea on Friday afternoon. On Monday, the students were able to walk around downtown Grand Rapids to get a better feel for the city and identify areas of interest for their team. We also welcomed a panel of area experts on Monday: Matt Benson, Ben Parsell, and Mark Miller. The program also enjoyed a Start Garden ‘The 100’ pop-up event. The students were able to learn about ‘The 100’ and practice pitching their ideas. The students learned from instructors Dr. Tim Syfert, Clinical Faculty at GVSU, and Alaina Clarke, Founder of G.E.M Creative. In addition, the students received mentoring and coaching from GVSU student mentors throughout the week.
On Friday afternoon the students pitched their final ideas to a panel of judges while friends and family were welcomed in attendance. The judges included Milinda Ysasi, CEO of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women; Stephen Smith, Owner of Muse GR; Alysha Lach White, Founder/CEO of Little Space Studio; and Gregory VandenBosch, CEO of HealthBridge.
Winning first place this year was the Orange Team with $2,500, including Frieda Pellathy, City High; Darnell Whitfield, Grand Rapids Montessori; Vishal Amarnath, Forest Hills Northern HS; and Jacob North, West Catholic HS. Their winning idea was FoodHub, a business helping local restaurants by providing a fleet of food trucks that could be available for rent by area restaurants.
In second place we had the Red Team with $1,500, including Aaron Zimmerman, Innovation Central HS; Sam Todd, Lowell Senior HS; Taylor Pierce-James, City HS; Simon Morgan, Allendale HS; and Raka Majumdar, Forest Hills Eastern HS. Their idea was LEAPH, which is an artificial photosynthesis technology built into area buildings in an effort to increase sustainability in the city.
In third place, we had the Purple Team with $1,000, including Shiva Rajan, Forest Hills Eastern HS; Eva Valverde, Forest Hills Central; Eileen Zhan, Central Middle School; and Nyla Mason, East Kentwood HS. Their third-place idea was Blue Box, an interactive touchscreen map in Downtown Grand Rapids to increase accessibility and awareness of city events and businesses. We also awarded the most outstanding student of the week with an MVP award including $500. This year’s Paton Family MVP winner was Des Neiges Jobe-Harris, Rockford HS.