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Spotlight: WINC advocates for women veterans post-military life

By Kayla Sosa

Two women are heading up a consulting group that will educate employers on not just how to hire veterans, but how to retain them.

Henrietta Hadley said many workplaces say they are “veteran friendly” but once they have a veteran on staff, their specific needs are often overlooked.

Hadley and her business partner Zaneta Adams’ consulting firm WINC – Women Injured in Combat – will help veterans with “being able to translate what (they) did in the military to what (they) can offer in the civilian world.”

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Hadley and Adams.

“So helping companies understand what that means, helping anywhere from middle to senior level managers and supervisors understanding how to manage a veteran, and how to deal with the barriers,” she said. “Because that is our disconnect right now. You’d think it would be a no brainer, but it is a huge disconnect. And because a lot of our veterans, both men and women, are returning home with a lot of mental illnesses, we as civilians don’t understand how to communicate.”

The firm will be made up of various professionals who specialize in a specific discipline, like marketing or finance.

“The other part is we train and are resource providers for businesses and individuals around inclusion and diversity,” Hadley said.

Hadley has experience working with women veterans, who often have a difficult time adjusting to civilian life.

“Our females are struggling the most in transitioning into work and education settings when they come home,” she explained. “Military sexual trauma resulting in post-traumatic stress has become the big, underlining reason why a lot of our female veterans are not able to retain because they have not been treated for PTSD … and unfortunately we’re not going to go into a job interview and share that we got all that.”

Hadley said employers can take notice of different signs that a veteran is not performing at an average level, and may be dealing with something below the surface.

“The barriers show up in poor performance, poor attendance, poor productivity and it goes on and on and on,” Hadley said. “And then what we start to find is our female veterans, and even our male veterans, is they tend to start to self-medicate, they start to experience a high level of depression, and then they either commit suicide or they begin to isolate, and now they can’t do anything.”

Hadley said the rates of suicide for female veterans are much higher than their male counterparts.

Hadley is not a veteran herself, but grew up in a military family and is a military spouse, so she’s seen the effects serving can have on the solder. WINC has existed for five years, and has had a physical space for one. Hadley started as a volunteer at WINC before she became more involved as a teacher.

When Hadley met Julie Cowie, coordinator of the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab, she saw this as an opportunity to learn how to take the next step in expanding the non-profit. Cowie also presented to some WINC members, and four women decided to join the lab as well.

“We started looking at how we could start to tweak the service that we’re providing to our female veterans to other communities, which involved corporate America and other companies and businesses as well,” Hadley said.

The lab is exactly what Hadley is hoping to see more of in the community – focused programs and initiatives designed for veterans, who are often overlooked in the workplace.

“Someone found it important to give Grand Valley the funding to do an entrepreneurship program for veterans… because someone gets it that they need a special area, a special course, a special level of attention different from just being matriculated into a regular entrepreneurship class,” she said. “It’s not that easy.”

Hadley said now that she and other women in the WINC program have been involved in the entrepreneur lab, she can “wave the flag” to other women so they can take this opportunity as well.

For more information on WINC, visit wincforall.com.

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Spotlight: Local veteran hopes to redefine masculinity for a younger generation of men

By Kayla Sosa

ACES blue jpgA local man is hoping to change society’s view of masculinity through a new non-profit he’s calling ACES.

Awareness, Compassion, Equity, Strength. That’s what ACES stands for, and what Trey Sumner is looking to for the foundation of his new non-profit. Sumner is a veteran and Grand Valley State University alumni, and is developing his business through the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab, a program out of GVSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He said he got the idea for ACES after seeing “toxic masculinity” within the military.

“On my last deployment I did, it was my fourth one, it was the first time I’d worked with

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Sumner in Petra, Jordan.

women to that degree,” Sumner said. “I realized for the first time in medevac just what a boy’s club the military really was. Seeing that inequity, seeing that disparity, was shocking.”

Around the same time, soldiers were being interviewed about repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Sumner found himself in an activist role, as an ally towards the gay soldiers he served with.

“It was a big time of social justice and I felt myself drawn to be an ally,” Sumner said. “I painted my toenails hot pink the whole deployment supporting gay soldiers, but then I realized (me) being an ally, was me trying to save the day.”

Sumner wanted to advocate for people, but he wanted to find the root of the problem in toxic masculinity, where men feel like they always have to be the strong, emotionless figure and where homophobia and sexism can come from.

“I started to evaluate myself and my own life and I realized what a mess I was, how much pain I put myself through, and the world around me, trying to be this example of what a man is that is provided by our society,” he said.

After retiring out of the military, Sumner saw the same type of “boy’s club” mentality in civilian life and realized he wanted to do something about it. Sumner got enrolled at GVSU as a “40-year-old freshman,” now graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies: Masculinity Studies and Gender Equity. He then came up with the idea to start a nonprofit that would do the work of this mission.

“My goal is to give young men and boys the tools, the permission and the freedom to demonstrate a healthy masculinity without fear or shame,” Sumner said.

The way Sumner plans to do this is to create an education program, with a final trip at the end. For the last four years, he has taught a course at various junior high schools through the Men’s Resource Center. For ACES, he plans to have an 8-week session with young men teaching “emotional intelligence, nonviolent alternatives, conflict resolution, how to develop your masculinity in a healthy way.”

“We spend that eight weeks teaching these classes and we prepare for a trip,” Sumner said. “And then I take them on a two and a half week backpacking trip through the Middle East.”

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Sumner, Tyler Sumner, and Hanson. 

Sumner was deployed four times in the Middle East, lived in Egypt for a year and has traveled there for fun, so he knows his way around geographically and culturally.

For Sumner’s thesis project at GVSU, he did a test run of this trip with his son and nephew. For three months, he prepped them for the three-week trip. He said, “it changed them.”

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From left to right: Sumner’s nephew, Keagon Hansen, who was 16 at the time and is now a GVSU senior, Sumner, and his son, Tyler, who was 12 years old, in Jerash, Jordan.

Sumner plans to continue weekly sessions with the group of boys after they get back from the trip.

“I want to continue to have them meet with me, we’ll meet once a week,” he said. “I want to take these boys and teach them how to facilitate that same 8-week class I do, and then when I go to the junior highs take one of those boys with me as a co-facilitator, and have them now contribute back.”

Sumner will be pitching his business idea along with other veterans in the entrepreneur lab at the MVE Showcase and Final Pitch on November 26.

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Spotlight: Veteran, wife hope to open community dental clinic

By Kayla Sosa

As a dental hygienist, Blanca Elizabeth Duque-Rico knows the dentist office inside and out, including the advantages and disadvantages certain people face when trying to access dental care, and just health care in general. After seeing this, she and her husband Jorge Ivan Duque decided to take their shot at opening their own clinic, with Duque-Rico’s goal to be a dentist in sight.

“I was working for a community clinic for five years and then I switched up to a private practice,” she said. “I liked working for the community. The only thing I did not like about it was the fact that you treated these patients like cattle; bring ‘em in, take ‘em out, bring ‘em in, take ‘em out.”

“There was no relationship between you and the patient.”

On the contrary, private practices are focused on money. In her heart, Duque-Rico wanted a different relationship with her patients, that was more personal and ultimately, more helpful.

“I like what I do, but I want a little bit more,” she said. So, she asked her husband what he thought and he said, “Why not?”

The couple are now on the road to opening their own clinic, with a building and a dental supplier already set. Through the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab through the Grand Valley State University Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, they have been able to brainstorm and come up with new ideas for what they want to do and what they need to get started.

Duque-Rico wants to help those that may be underserved, or can’t make it to the dentist office for some reason.

“There’s always a high anxiety group of people that hate coming to the dentist,” she said. “It’s not a good thing that you don’t want to come to the dentist. People disregard their mouth a lot, and they forget that their mouth is part of a whole system.

Duque-Rico said she started to look into veterans in the health community and found that they’re “almost forgotten.”

Some VA benefits may cover dental insurance, but a lot of times veterans find themselves on a waiting list, or having to drive long distances to get to the clinic that’s covered by their benefits. And not every dental practice accepts VA benefits.

Duque-Rico said there would still be general practice, but what sets her clinic apart from the rest is the unique way she wants to reach her patients. One of the ideas she and her husband have is to run a mobile dental clinic, or facilitate house calls for those with anxiety or physical ailments that prevent them from making it to the clinic. And she wants to focus on patients that are in the “weird limbo” of not being able to get government assistance, but can’t afford standard health or dental insurance.

“We wanted to focus a little bit more on those types of people, obviously veterans and disabled people.”

Duque-Rico said many people put off going to the dentist, and don’t realize that dental care realty is a necessity.

“A lot of people think dental (care) is a privilege, not a necessity,” she said. “Dental should be looked at as just as important as medical. Everything goes through your mouth, it’s your gateway to everything. So why wouldn’t you think, yes, this is a necessity, not a cosmetic treatment.”

Throughout the business development process, Duque said even though there are stumbling blocks along the way, his military experience has pushed him to keep going and solve each problem head-on.

“We are still working the problem so we can find a way that everyone wins without heavy loss to quality of patient care, provider compensation, and loss of profit to the company,” he explained. “I believe there is a solution but people haven’t found it because, once a point of friction is discovered, people turn away from that path. We are still in the beginning stages but we are determined to provide a solution to the veterans and people who are in ‘the gap’ … people who have an income that walks the line, too much income for government assistance and not enough to pay for private dental insurance.”

“I truly believe that my dedication to mission accomplishment is what drives us to keep going even when we doubt ourselves.”

Stay on the lookout for a new community clinic near you, with a goal to help veterans and the underserved.

 

 

 

 

 

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Vets apply military skills to business development in GVSU community program

By Kayla Sosa

A community program out of Grand Valley State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is helping to open doors for veterans looking to start their own businesses.

“Veteran students did very well with their entrepreneurship ideas as students,” said Julie Cowie, project manager. “Once graduated, they really didn’t have many resources to tap. So we wanted to create a program for the community, for veterans to be able to develop their ideas because we know how entrepreneurial they are. Because they are mission-driven, they are focused, they know how to persevere.”

The free, nine-week program – Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab – is offered to “military-connected people.” This calls for veterans, reservists and their spouses in the West Michigan community. Some of the veterans in the program are GVSU alumni, and many are not. A group of people started in the pilot program this August, with a two-day boot camp. Now, there are about 21 people in the middle of their nine-week curriculum, meeting each Monday night to discuss their plans and go over ways to develop their businesses, from all things financial to marketing and more. There is even a different speaker each week to talk about their experiences as an entrepreneur and any advice they may have for the group.

“There are training webinars and other resources available around entrepreneurship for veterans, but nothing is local and cohort-based,” Cowie said.

Cohort-based means the students all learn together as a group.

“We believe it’s very encouraging for people to start up together and to learn from each other as they’re developing their own idea,” Cowie said. “The curriculum … focuses on starting small, proving your concept, start within your means, that sort of thing.”

Michael Hyacinthe, a Navy veteran and local entrepreneur himself, is a co-facilitator in the program and helps lead discussions in developing your business and all the factors that come into play around that.

“Any organization that has a heart for veterans is an organization I can participate in,” Hyacinthe said, who has two start-ups of his own.

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Hyacinthe leads a discussion during the the MVE-Lab class Monday night, October 1.

Cowie said this program is definitely filling a gap of need in the veteran community and also empowering people with an already existing unique set of entrepreneurial skills.

“If you look at the unemployment rate in Kent County, the unemployment rate of veterans is much higher than the unemployment rate generally,” Cowie said. “We also know that many veterans prefer self-employment.”

Additionally, Cowie has learned more specifically about the issues veterans face as they transition back into civilian life after serving.

“Sometimes there is a disconnect between the intensity of the experiences they’ve had in the military and then what is asked of them on the job,” Cowie said. “Veterans sometimes hit a snag in finding work that really suits them. So, if they are interested in pursuing entrepreneurship, they can take some of the key experiences from military life – the discipline, the hard work, the sacrifice for a goal – and put that into their own startup that’s going to benefit them and their family and their community and the economy.”

Hyacinthe agreed that many veterans have the skills and the leadership ability to start a business, but generally take some time to learn how to apply those skills in a non-military setting.

“While we have the capacity to lead in ventures, there’s certain barriers that we must overcome, and that’s the barrier of finding out what your next purpose is,” Hyacinthe said. “Many of us, however long we spent in the military, we’ve been transformed into specifically following a specific set of orders. You get put into the civilian world where you have to make the orders, you have to be the person to lead yourself and your family. So if we can help veterans transition effectively into society and embrace their capacity to be entrepreneurs, I think we’ll have a successful program, but we’ll have a successful group of veterans who have served and are now entrepreneurs continuing to give back to their community.”

The ideas that these veterans have come up with range across a broad spectrum, from non-profit to for-profit, and from serving mainly the veteran community to serving anyone and everyone.

Just some of the ideas in the works are a bakery run by a husband/wife team, a consultancy firm to help veterans suffering from PTSD, handmade greeting cards, a dental clinic and a mobile haircutting salon to serve people with mobility issues.

Innovation is nothing new to these veterans who want to inspire change within their own communities.

Trey Sumner, one of the veterans in the program, wants to start a non-profit encouraging healthy masculinity in boys. When recommended by a former military colleague to the program, at first he didn’t think it would benefit him because he is building a non-profit.

“It is really helpful,” he said. “It has given me direction and examples to follow for marketing, for things I need to do to prepare myself, how to reach out and promote my brand, promote my program to the community. It’s given me avenues to do that.”

At the end of the program, the veterans will have the opportunity to pitch their business ideas in the final MVE-Lab Pitch Night on November 26.

For more information about the program, visit www.gvsu.edu/mve.

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Malamiah Juice Bar, Royal Jelly Foods take home funds in Business Bootcamp Pitch Competition

By Kayla Sosa

In September, owners of Malamiah Juice Bar and Royal Jelly Foods participated in the Grand Rapids Business Boot Camp Pitch Competition. This endeavor is lead by Michigan Good Food Fund, a “thirty million dollar loan fund created to provide financing and business assistance to good food enterprises that increase healthy food access and spur economic opportunity in underserved communities across the state,” according to Jean Chorazyczewski, program director of Fair Food Network, a business parter of MGFF.

MGFF logoChorazyczewski said both of the winners of the competition – Malamiah Juice Bar, first place, and Royal Jelly Foods, second – support the mission behind Good Food Fund.

“They are increasing access to healthy food, creating opportunities for jobs, and spurring the local food economy,” Chorazyczewski said.

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Malamiah Juice Bar owner Jermale Eddie and manager Rebekah Wicker.

The first place winner – Malamiah Juice Bar – took home $7,500 in prize money. Owner Jermale Eddie said the funds will allow them to continue and expand their business, which has been open for five years now. Originally having joined to learn from the Business Boot camp program, winning the pitch competition was an added bonus.

“Of course all startups are in need of financial capital to grow,” Eddie said. “We also recognize that each of the judges and those in the crowd may have resources that may be beneficial to the growth of our business and mission. The pitch winnings will allow us to take a greater risk in expanding our business, which simply equates to getting our products into the hand and bodies of more people.”

After being introduced to the art and health benefits of juicing, Eddie and his wife ended up starting a business and eventually both quitting their day jobs to run the business. They are proud to serve West Michigan “good” and healthy food.

“We take fresh fruits and vegetables and make them into juices or smoothies,” Eddie said. “Our juices and green smoothies have no added sugar. Some of our other smoothies may have agave or a vanilla yogurt added it to it. Basically our goal is to make you the freshest, best tasting beverage or smoothie bowl with little to no processing. Essentially raw juices and smoothies.”

Eddie said they don’t use the phrase “clean food” because it implies a form of privilege.

“If one is eating ‘clean food,’ then others are eating ‘dirty foods’ and that just is not the case,” Eddie said. “In fact we could all use an element of healthiness when preparing our foods and beverages.”

You can find the juice bar inside the Downtown Market, 435 Ionia SW. Additionally, Eddie said they have taught classes and workshops teaching people how to make these smoothies themselves, as well as peanut butter, almond butter and almond milk.

“We exist to elevate community health through healthy products, local partnerships and youth employment,” Eddie said of their mission. “We simply strive to love people and do good in our community.”

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The women of Royal Jelly Foods. 

Similarly, Royal Jelly Foods is bringing “good food” to the West Michigan community.

In 2017, Alita Kelly and Kiara McClenton started Royal Jelly Foods catering company, and brought on Jenny Bongiorno and Kelsey Hakeem this year.

“Our mission is to celebrate the human connection through food,” Bongiorno said. “We envision a food culture that pays homage to the land it was grown from by taking just what is needed and using ingredients to the fullest extent.  We envision the people that picked, transported and cared for our food will be honored and treated with utmost respect and humility. Lastly, we envision a just food system that feeds all people well.”

Bongiorno and Hakeem specialize in food growing, and hope to help the business eventually expand beyond catering.

“We are farmers and passionate food lovers who started catering because we loved sharing our food with others and suddenly found ourselves running a business,” Bongiorno said.

“Royal Jelly is an socially and environmentally-minded company delivering farm-fresh food through their catering services. Both are sourcing their ingredients locally, which supports local and regional farmers in a positive way.”

Bongiorno said Royal Jelly will use the funds – $2,500 – to pay for some consulting and legal services in order to shape the business the way they want to.

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The Rise of Entrepreneurship Education on Campus

By Kayla Sosa

Studies show that entrepreneurship is an essential part of our economy in the United States. In fact, 85 percent of new jobs are created by startups; companies that are less than five years old, according to a study by the Kaufmann Foundation. According to that same study, 35 percent of new net wealth is created by startups.

Entrepreneurship is “a way of thinking and acting that is opportunity obsessed, holistic in approach, and leadership balanced,” according to a quote by Babson College. This ideal is what Grand Valley State University teaches to its business students around entrepreneurship.

Additionally, an entrepreneur is someone who takes it upon themselves to start a business, and in that process takes a financial risk in hopes of making a profit.  Intrapreneurship is when someone creates a new faction, idea or plan inside of an already existing business.

Entrepreneurship education has come of age and has seen rapid growth since the 1970s where only 100 formal programs existed on college campuses.  Today, entrepreneurship education is one of the fastest growing fields with over 3,000 college programs, 5,000 courses, and over 9,000 faculty members teaching entrepreneurship on college campuses across the U.S. This is due in part by higher education institutions, employers, and economic development organizations realizing the need for such education.  Further, the growth of the millennials generation is playing a big part in shaping the entire field.  According to Shorouq Almallah, Director of the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Grand Valley State University, millennials are well-positioned to leverage technology to pursue new ventures due to the rapid growth and access to advanced technology and the use of social media networks.

“With greater access to entrepreneurship classes, extracurricular programs, and early stage funding, millennials are more inclined towards new venture creation,” said Almallah.

The wave of “startup culture” is not only affecting the general economy, but many colleges and universities are taking it upon themselves to teach the intellectual as well as the moral properties of entrepreneurship to their students. This is according to a study by Daniel David at the University of California, “The Ventured Student: Impacts of University Startup Culture.” Following a heavy wave of manufacturing-based economy, the U.S. is transitioning to a more “financial and serviced-based economy.”

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L William Seidman Center – Grand Valley State University

Incubators and accelerators are words to describe the environments on campus that help startups by “delivering technological assistance, expert mentoring, co-working space, and in many instances various forms of material resource investment.” Especially on college campuses, these hubs also promote campus events, bring in guest speakers and connect students to campus-wide and local business plan or pitch competitions.

These colleges, GVSU included, are teaching the skills needed to be an entrepreneur, but are encouraging all students of all disciplines to learn these skills, whether they start a business or not. Just having the entrepreneurial mentality is enough to help someone be successful in whatever career path they choose to follow, or make for themselves.

With critical thinking and problem solving skills, leadership qualities and an innovative mind, you’re already on the right track. According to a report by SHRM, a little over half of employers today believe college graduates are seriously lacking in these skills, and 73 percent said creativity is projected to increase in importance for new employees.

“Problem solving is the number one skill I would suggest,” said GVSU Business Professor Tim Syfert. “Next, empathy to understand the customer and their needs.  And finally, tenacity to keep discovering more about your customer, overcoming obstacles, and ensuring your product or service is a success in the marketplace.”

At GVSU, there are many resources for students to take advantage of if they’re looking to start their own business. Besides taking courses in business in entrepreneurship, students can take advantage of the many resources at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. With peer to peer networking, competitions and mentorship, the center is a place where students can come to work on their ideas and find help in reaching their goals.

To get started on your own business plan, or just to learn more, visit http://www.gvsu.edu/cei.

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GVSU Students Win in the Top 10 Startups @ European Innovation Academy (EIA)

EIAGabby Hulst, Marissa Hoffman, Shorouq Almallah, Qi’Shaun Coyle, Jenna Grannan

In July 2018, I along with four Seidman College of Business students ventured for a three-week journey to Turin (Torino) Italy to participate in the European Innovation Academy (EIA) accelerator program.  We were joined by more than 350 students from 65 different countries to immerse themselves in entrepreneurship, and to build their entrepreneurial skills, concepts and ideas.  EIA is an “extreme” accelerator that is serving as a catalyst for global entrepreneurship education to help build a bridge and a global network for the next generation of entrepreneurs.  The program took place in Turin which is home to automobile manufacturers FIAT, Lancia and Alfa Romeo, and hosts some of Italy’s best universities, including Polytechnic University of Turin which served as the academic host for the EIA program.  The city has a very beautiful location in the northern part of Italy, nestled at the feet of the Italian Alps.  Its 16th and 18th centuries Baroque, Rococo, and Neo-classical architecture, coupled with its “posh” neighborhoods, stunning Palazzi, wide boulevards and elegant white buildings, have earned the city the title of “Little Paris.”  Turin has also been called the “Detroit of Italy” due to the auto manufacturing presence in the city.  The EIA program took place at the refurbished Lingotto factory, which once used to be one of the most advanced factories in Europe that housed the production and manufacturing for FIAT until the 1980s.  The Lingotto factory was built in the 1920s and was inspired by a visit to the Ford factory in Detroit.  This was very fitting for the Michigander crowd, and it was nice to have a little bit of a Michigan spirit and influence in the heart of Italy.

TurinTurin-Italy

Our Experience at the European Innovation Academy:

The great thing about the EIA is that it really pushes your comfort zone and propels you to challenge yourself to learn, try, do, fail and eventually succeed. The program offers high quality, rigorous curriculum that was developed by faculty at Berkeley University, and industry experts from Silicon Valley.  The curriculum was structured over the course of 3 weeks, 5 days a week, with daily class meetings from 9 am to 8 pm.  The lessons and the exercises follow the EIA playbook, which starts from the ideation process, the value proposition, customer validation, prototyping, and then culminates with funding and the investor pitch.  The program was intense and required a lot of hard work and dedication.  Every day was organized as follows: lessons and lectures by industry experts, founders and entrepreneurs in the morning; lunch which occasionally was accompanied by a couple of scopes of Gelato; team work and exercises relative to the morning lesson; mentor meetings late in the afternoon, followed by additional team work for the remainder of the day.  At the end of the day, the teams had specific deliverables and tasks to turn in that ranged from customer interviews, financial sheets, marketing plans, to functional prototypes and MVPs.  This was a necessary and required part of the program to help the students stay focused and accountable, as well as help the mentors and faculty assess the progress of the teams.

One of the unique aspects of EIA is the cultural diversity and the opportunity to work and learn from people from all over the world, and not just students, but mentors, coaches, speakers, and faculty.  There were moments of challenges, misunderstandings, and the occasional language barrier.  However, these experiences helped the students grow individually and professionally, as well as learn how to manage conflicts and build effective teams.  Overall, the cultural diversity and the opportunity to tap into a global network of new friends, mentors, and resources was the highlight for all of us.  It was very enriching and eye opening for everyone, and pushed us to be more open minded, to learn from each other, as well as leverage different skills, expertise, backgrounds and networks!  Having a well rounded team is a requirement of the program.  Every team had organizational hierarchy such as a CEO, a CMO, etc., who all work together to create their startup.  For students with a startup idea, they had to pitch their idea on the first day and create a heterogeneous team made of five people that includes software developers, business and marketing people, UX designers, and scientist.  The program not only celebrates cultural diversity, but also promotes and fosters cross-disciplinary collaboration to create well rounded teams and startups that resemble the real world.

The students had ample opportunities to experience and observe the Italian culture, values, and norms.  Food, family, and friends are a central part of Italian culture, and all meals and activities revolved around that.  I, along with the students, learned to like and appreciate the occasional 2-3 hour dinners where you hid away your cell phone, did not rush food or conversations, and learned to savor the food and appreciate being in the moment with friends and colleagues. And speaking of food, we also quickly realized the value of learning a few Italian words to ensure we got what we wanted.  After ordering a “Latte”, not knowing it means milk in Italian, and instead ended up getting a big glass of hot milk, we all quickly brushed up on our Italian to make sure we got our much needed fix of coffee and caffeine the next time!

Days blurred together as lectures merged into mentoring sessions and then into teamwork time, which included many pivots, pitch sessions, building MVPs, and everything in between.  Before we knew it, it was the last day and the top 10 teams were on stage getting ready to pitch in front of venture capitalists and investors from both Europe and Silicon Valley.  Getting to the top 10 was no easy feat.  There was a very intense and competitive process to get to this point.  Teams were required to have 450 points based on their participation, reading, completing course works, tasks and assignments.  These points were required to enter the Product Sprint, a hackathon, that was held during the second week of the program.  The hackathon, in turn, was a requirement to get to the Pitching Carousel round.  Inside the Pitching Carousels, investors picked the top 10 teams (out of 80 teams representing over 350 students) to move to the final round.  All the hard work paid off, and I was thrilled and proud to have two teams, represented by 3 GVSU students, pitch in the final round. The two winning teams that have GVSU students were:

While winning at the final competition is an exciting outcome, I don’t want it to diminish the value of the entire learning experience.  Gabby Hulst, an Entrepreneurship major at Seidman, was the only GVSU student who had her own startup idea, and hit the ground running on day one to build her team and concept. Before joining the program, Gabby’s idea was to connect women online through their closets to exchange gently used clothes.   The idea never took off, and she was fearful of failure, and did not know where to begin.  After three weeks at EIA, Gabby learned an important lesson of not falling in love with the solution, but the problem she was trying to solve.  At the end of the three weeks, and after many challenges and pivots, Gabby walked away with a fully developed business model, a marketing plan, a network of innovators, and a viable product that she can start back home.  Gabby’s clothes exchange idea turned into Get the Fit, an online platform for the resale fashion and clothing industry.  Gabby captured this sentiment of growth mentality by saying: “I loved EIA because I was able to get away from the normalcy of the world for 3 weeks, and come to meet people from around the world, who will all change the world. The ideas inspired me, and challenged me to think bigger, and to not be afraid to take risks.” The EIA offers the tools, structure, the creative collaborative space, and the global network to help students grow not only as entrepreneurs but also as global citizens!  International study abroad is a life changing experience, and programs like EIA provide this kind of experience that will define you for years to come.

Until next time, Ciao!

Shorouq Almallah, Director
Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation
Seidman College of Business-Grand Valley State University

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TESA ’18 Recap

_DSC4660.jpgThe GVSU Teen Entrepreneur Summer Academy (TESA) is a week-long summer program for high school students that focuses on cultivating interest in entrepreneurship and provides students with the knowledge and tools for starting their own businesses. TESA is an exceptional opportunity for high school students to interact and learn on a college campus. During the five day program, students work with college faculty and current GVSU students to solve real-world problems through entrepreneurship. The program provides students with fundamental business concepts and essential entrepreneurship skills through hands-on, creative workshops. On the last day, the teams present a five-minute business idea pitch to a panel of judges from the local community for cash prizes.

The 2018 TESA program saw 46 students from different high schools across the state of Michigan. Sponsors included Start Garden, Spectrum Health, Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office, the Seidman College of Business, and the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Together they provided cash and prizes for the student entrepreneurs that totaled over $5,000. Each year, TESA features a theme for the students to focus their ideas toward. This year’s theme was smart cities. To assist students in understanding the challenges and opportunities associated with developing a smart city, we kicked off the week by having students listen to a dynamic panel of Grand Rapids area professionals as they discussed issues and opportunities surrounding the concept of forming Grand Rapids into a smart city.  We followed this panel with taking a field trip to Consumers Energy to learn about the energy-efficient technological advances happening around and near downtown Grand Rapids. During the middle of the week, the students took a trip Spectrum Health Innovations and then to Start Garden to present their group business ideas to a panel of local entrepreneurs. Later in the week, the students split off into their teams and explored downtown Grand Rapids to search for potential locations to establish their projects and gain more knowledge of the area.  Throughout the week, students were under the instruction of Dr. Tim Syfert, Matt Larson, and Jon Moroney. These instructors guided them through ideation, prototyping, planning and market research, and management and operations.

At the end of the week, the student teams pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges made up of Matt Gira, Co-Founder at Fathom; Lori Henry, Project Manager at Spectrum Health Innovations; Attah Obande, Director of Dream Fulfillment at SpringGR; Tyler Petersen, Small Business Lender for Opportunity Resource Fund, and Rachel Scott, Director of Development Services at Rockford Construction.  McKinley Lowery III, Kiara Peterman, Davis Ross, Nanda Murali, and Zacchaeus Palmer-Richardson took home first prize and $2,500 for SmartView, an interactive, augmented reality phone application that would show the greater Grand Rapids area, in the past, present, and future.  Andre Davis Jr., Jada Pettis, Tanvi Ravi, Paul Gross, Shaunyla Hill, and Damon Arnold received second place and $1,500 for the Smart Teen Bonding Center, a smart technology center located downtown Grand Rapids to help connect teens through the implementation of technology.  Jorden Smiley, Stasha McDaniel, Catherine Lindgren, Aaron Ross, and Owen Atkins received third place and $1,000 for The Smart Panels – sound absorbing panels with LED displays on the outside used for billboards, signs, and logos, to help reduce sound pollution in the greater Grand Rapids area.

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2018 Students’ Testimonials:

“I had a great time learning new things, meeting new people, and expanding my knowledge of entrepreneurship.”

“TESA is really overall a great experience and a really great opportunity to learn from your peers and all of the great speakers.  I really liked the activities we did and learned a numerous amount of new things.”

“The program was great.  It’s fun to be around creative, bright people.  Our ideas have the potential to change our world forever.”

“TESA is a fun place to share your ideas with others, and have some fun while doing it.  You meet some new friends and have lots of fun.”

“TESA is a very interesting and informative experience that I believe is good for teenagers that aspire to produce their own business as an entrepreneur.”

 

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Malamiah Juice Bar

For Malamiah Juice Bar owner Jermale Eddie, his ability to impact the greater Grand Rapids community as an entrepreneur is more important than the bottom line.

“Our mission essentially is to elevate community health through healthy products, community partnerships and youth employment,” Eddie said.

Three years ago, Eddie opened Malamiah Juice Bar at the Downtown Market with his wife after a transformative experience with juicing. This October, he won 5×5 Night and took home $5,00 in cash along with $5,000 in legal services from Varnum LLP.  

Although Eddie had no formal business experience, he and his wife spent a couple of years in Texas starting a church from the ground up– an experience that he said was instrumental later on in managing the learning curve of starting a business.

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GVSU Students Sweep Business Competitions

GVSU students Jordan Vanderham and Zoe Bruyn have been sweeping the business competition circuit as of late. Both took home top prizes on Nov. 3 at Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, a statewide competition held at the Cobo Center in Detroit. One week later, Bruyn won a total of $11,000 at the Michigan Women’s Foundation Dolphin Tank Competition, while Vanderham took home $25,000 at Wake Forest University’s Retail and Health Innovation Competition. They have won a total of $84,000 between the two of them this year alone for their respective ventures. Neu checked in with the two seniors to talk about their experiences, and how they are applying their winnings.