Introducing Thomas Coke: Entrepreneur in Residence

By: Hunter Mylek

Thomas Coke is currently the Entrepreneur in Residence at the Richard M. And Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) in the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University. Coke grew up in Grand Rapids and then attended Kalamazoo College where he played football and rugby, and then after completing his undergrad he went to Michigan State University for law school. 

He moved back to Grand Rapids full time to create a home for his wife and three sons and has been closely involved with Grand Valley State University since 2014.  Coke was always around the world of business, when he was younger his dad was a business owner and when he was old enough to get his foot in the door to the world of business, he excelled. He worked with a company called Verified Valid that he founded through Start Garden, then he became a prominent person in the Crowdfunding industry where he sat on national boards and gained a lot of notoriety around Grand Rapids for his knowledge. He then went on to help a company called CannaFundr. This experience pushed him to try his hand at his own business where created Campus Starter, which was, basically a Kickstarter for college entrepreneurs. He worked closely with Matt Larson who is a professor here at GVSU and his business partner. Later on, the company went on later to be sold to Hubbub and then his journey took him to a local tech company a year later. Since then he’s been involved in many different startups. Like Bit Lift Cybersecurity where he helped the company go from about half a million in sales to 2 million in sales and was their chief strategy officer. But today he is a freelance entrepreneur and a mentor to students through CEI. 

He is passionate about helping student-athletes, like his son, and educates them on how they can now make money off their name, image, and likeness. 

“I’m working on a project around that and helping student-athletes figure out how to build their brand and market themselves and actually make money in this world, especially at schools like Oakland, or I went to Kalamazoo division three school where I played football” 

“So like for my son, who’s a high jumper, helping him put on clinics or camps for students and where he is able to make money helping high school kids. And also find other ways to help student-athletes monetize that. So that’s really what as an Entrepreneur Resident I’m gonna be working on here is that project and actually have some paid internships for people” 

“I’ve always been passionate about helping other people. I participated in a lot of university entrepreneurship programs here at GVSU, where I’ve been a judge a few times. As well as other schools like Michigan State etc…” 

“I’ve been wanting to be an entrepreneur since I was a little kid. Then in college, I worked at the small business development center in Kalamazoo, where I worked with local businesses. I have always been very entrepreneurial-minded and I  sort of regret not doing more when I was younger. But now I can give back by helping my son and students here at GVSU” 

Coke is passionate about helping minority communities and also spreading his knowledge and resources outside of the school of business, into other majors and other departments where there’s entrepreneurship and design thinking. He believes entrepreneurship can be for anyone.

Thomas Cokes’ office hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 9am-3pm

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