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.
“…it makes you not be afraid of resources and your community.”
Name: Jessie Singh
High School: Forest Hills Northern
Participated in TESA: 2014, 2015 & 2016
Neu: How did you become interested in TESA? Were you already interested in entrepreneurship?
Jessie Singh: My brother did TESA, and my mom pushed me to do it my sophomore year.
Neu: You guys placed this year…
JS: We got second.
Neu: Did you place in 2014 or 2015?
JS: In 2015 we also got second.
Neu: What has been your favorite part about TESA?
JS: I think the activities that they put you through are really fun because you have to interact with the people around you, but they are all there to have fun, too. You realize that that is important to entrepreneurship and creativity, but also is what makes it so cool. It is a ton of fun to work with these people and make your own ideas.
Neu: What has been the most valuable thing that you have learned at TESA, and can take into the workforce with you?
JS: It opens you up to doing more– which is kind of cliche, but the reason why that is true is that I am coming in here (University of Michigan), and I am not afraid to get involved in entrepreneurship because I have that background. That background really set me up to do more. I felt like I knew something when I came out of TESA, because you get a lot. Every activity that you do, you learn more. Through all of that I was able to find awesome people in GR Current and in the (entrepreneurial ecosystem), and was able to transition to the University of Michigan really well. I think it makes you not be afraid of resources and your community.
Neu: What is your major?
JS: I am a business major right now, and a lot of stuff is in the air. I want to learn more about the field that I am doing before deciding exactly what I am going to do.
Neu: Business is a good place to start. Are there any of your TESA ideas that, if you could, you would want to circle back around to and develop into an actual business?
JS: Probably the 2015 pitch. We pitched an art bus…that was really fun. I felt like that was the year that I really led the team. That was the year where we had a lot of loud people and a few really quiet people. We were all able to come around to the fact that we all really wanted to win. They all started listening to me because I was the only one that had already experienced TESA. Our project was an art bus, and that was my favorite because I felt like we came up with the most innovative solution and one that I would really want to see at a school, and one that would still solve a problem that is going on now.
Neu: What would you tell someone that is interested in doing TESA, but is kind of hesitant, and doesn’t really know what to expect?
JS: One thing I could say is that you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. TESA can give you great exposure and push you towards things…economically it makes sense to do TESA. The other thing I would say is that, people forget about how important ideas are. That is exactly what TESA will do–going beyond ideation and actually making something out of an idea. It’s about as applicable as creativity can get. And that makes it really useful, if you think about it from that perspective.
Neu: Can you sum up TESA in one sentence?
JS: If you can think of any problem you might have thought of in the world, you can come to TESA and make a company that provides a solution to that.
Neu: Is there anything else that you want to say about TESA?
JS:I really enjoyed the environment and being around a lot of people who really wanted to do this, not only because there is a monetary reward, but because they are really energized to listen and participate and build a company with you, and that is super exciting.
If you are new to my posts, you will see that I learn a lot from my children. This time the learning process started with a conversation centered around my oldest daughters college selection process. Her research took her to various universities YouTube channels. When she showed me the rich learning content contained within, I started browsing them as well.
As I browsed, I ran across a Ted Talk section in one of the university’s channel. I have to admit the title caught my eye as I was exploring other videos on Purpose after recently reading Daniel Pink’s book Drive where he describes the three keys to motivation being Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy.
A great summary of the book Drive is contained in this video by RSA Animates:
In addition a shorter summary is below:
So now back to PURPOSE. What Vic Strecher describes in his Ted Talk is not only the scientific research that is described in Drive but also the actual health benefits of having a Purpose. He describes these items through the lens of a father who lost his daughter at an early age and his journey around that.
Whether I speak with aging parents, cancer survivors or those battling difficult diseases and trauma, Vic’s descriptions of the health benefits of Purpose is right on target. In fact as I write this I realize that one one of my first blog entries was on the same platform I am writing today. Although, I am not suffering a traumatic health or life situation, I have seen the positive benefits of Purpose. In my website “Why?” statement, I am reminded of the bigger purpose of my second half and the desire to help others grow exponentially as well. Whether it is in your business, church, community, family or friends.
Purpose is an integral part of who we all are. Check out my Why / Purpose statement at http://www.100xLLC.com/why
Steve Johandes is an Innovation Designer, Relentless Optimist, Strategic Thinker and Passionate Advisor. Connect with Steve on LinkedIn here.
Jermale Eddie of Malamiah Juice Bar took home the $5,000 cash prize along with $5,000 in legal services from Varnum Law at this month’s 5×5 Night, held on Tuesday in the Loosemore Forum at the Siedman College of Business at GVSU. Malamiah Juice Bar is located in the Downtown Market, and the $5,000 will go towards purchasing a truck to add a mobile competent to their business. Neu will be following up with Eddie next month to check on the impact of the $5,000.
Among those pitching were Jordan Vanderham, an engineering student and founder of Orindi Ventures; members of the Michigan Literacy Project from the College of Education; Carolyn Scharf of the Kirkhof College of Nursing for a program that provides curated i-pods for dementia patients; and Filiciano Paredes for Campesino SOS, an app that connects migrant farm workers and farmers.
Congratulations to Jermale Eddie and all of the presenters!
Voting is now open for next month’s 5×5 Night, which will take place in Grand Rapids at The ROC at Rockford Construction. The event will be held entirely in Spanish. Headsets will be available to translate for English speakers.
Three student teams from Grand Valley State University have been selected out of 65 applicants as semi-finalists for the 7th Annual Student Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. On Nov. 3, Grand Valley teams EZIV LLC, Stir it Up LLC, and Orindi Ventures will compete with 27 other semi-finalists from colleges and universities from around the state of Michigan for up to $20,000 in cash prizes. Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is one of the largest business competitions in the country and brings together the top student-led businesses in the region.
Grand Valley senior Zoe Bruyn is a first time semi-finalist. Her bakery, Stir it Up, employs individuals with specials needs while providing them with a safe environment where they can grow their skills.
“I am very happy about it,” Bruyn said. “I think it is a really great opportunity. Even if I don’t come away with a prize, the opportunity to present your idea and get feedback is exciting.”
She said that if she does win, the money will go towards purchasing commercial equipment and marketing materials as she expands her operation.
Director at the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI) Shorouq Almallah and Entrepreneur in Residence Matt Larson will be coaching Bruyn, along with Jordan Vanderham of Orindi Ventures and Nelson Schrader of EZIV, as they refine their pitches and prepare for the final competition.
The final competition will take place from 11:20am-4:00pm on November 3rd at the Cobo Center in Detroit. Winners will be announced at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition dinner reception at 5:30pm.
Congratulations to the Grand Valley semi-finalists!
“TESA is so worth it.”
Name: Chloe white
High School: City High School
Participated in TESA: 2015
Neu: What was your favorite part about TESA?
Chloe White: I think it was meeting new people, because once you get to working on the project, you really get to connect with these people, because you are working together, and you are building a project together, and it is really fun.
Neu: What is the most important thing that you learned in TESA?
CW: The most important thing I learned at TESA was that it is all teamwork. It’s not that you have to rely on others, but you sure do have to work with others.
Neu: What would you tell someone else that is interested in TESA, but that may not know anything about it?
CW: It’s definitely fun. To begin with, it seems a little scary. They will throw a lot of things at you, but you will get the hang of it. It will be a great experience for you, and it will help you… TESA is so worth it.
Congratulations to the Oct. 4 Idea Pitch winners and participants! Tom Peurach of Tiny Home Community took 1st place and $1,000, Brittany Taylor of Pressure Ulcer Prevention won 2nd place and took home $750, and Aaron B. Schaasfma of 934 Bagworks was awarded $500 for 3rd place. Thank you to all of the judges and participants that made the event a success!
Year participated in TESA: 2009
Wyoming High School
Neu: How did you become interested in TESA? Were you already interested in entrepreneurship?
Reiner Fontain-Perez : Definitely. My business teacher actually introduced me to the program, and so I looked at it and the description seemed really nice. I was very into entrepreneurship, and I competed in Business Professionals of America (BPA). So I was like, “Okay, I want to experience this.”
Neu: Can you tell us about the business that you and your group came up with?
RFP: That was a long time ago…I think we came up with one a business that was eco-friendly, but I don’t remember the specifics. That was kind of the key thing that I got out of the program–the ability to be able to coordinate ideas, to be put into a specific situation and in a very short time period be able to prepare and have a presentable idea at the end.
Neu: How has TESA influenced your life–your career choices, your education choices? What do you think the most important thing you’ve learned is? And what would you tell someone that is interested in trying TESA but may be hesitant to try something new?
RFP: At the time, one of the most important things I got out of TESA was being put into a situation that I wasn’t really comfortable with. I did not know anyone that was participating in TESA, so that was very valuable to me. Even though I felt a little uncomfortable, it kind of got me out of my comfort zone. Since then, it has definitely helped me and I try to cherish those opportunities as much as I can, because its definitely a very important thing to be able to do. Especially right now–(TESA) was like five or six years ago, I am currently working my first engagement in Kansas City, MS, which I knew no one there from the area, from the office or from the engagement team. So being able to have that experience earlier on definitely helps with collaboration later on.
Another thing that I learned was that it is important to be able to make good relationships. A lot of relationships I made during those couple of years (in TESA), I still connect with them now. At the same time, I also met Peg Shoenborn (Lead TESA Instructor). Later on, I saw her at BPA, another competition, and then I saw her at Grand Rapids Community College as an instructor. We made a BPA chapter there. We made an agreement with Davenport University and started a BPA chapter there, which allowed a first place competitor in nations to be considered for a full ride scholarship at Davenport. I was able to get the first place in nationals and I got the full ride scholarship. So you can see how one very good relationship can lead to a multitude of opportunities. That is what I would kind of suggest for the students–try to make the most of it and step out of your comfort zone, meet new people.
The Teen Entrepreneur Summer Academy (TESA) has influenced hundreds of high school students in West Michigan over the course of the past ten years. We recently got in touch with some of our past participants to hear first hand how TESA has impacted their lives.
Kenowa Hills High School
Years participated in TESA: 2015 and 2016
Neu: How did you find out about TESA?
Ravel: How I found out about it is pretty funny. I saw a girl who had a flyer for this thing, and I was like, “Oh, what’s this?” And she said, “Do you want one?” And I said “Yeah.” I took a look at it and said, “oh, TESA, this is interesting.” Freshmen year I was bouncing back and forth, wondering what I wanted to do as a career, and I knew that marketing, entrepreneurship and business was a big part of what I wanted to do. So when I saw the TESA flyer, I was like, “Mom, I’ve got to do this program!” So she signed me up. I have always been interested in marketing and entrepreneurship, so I did the program and it was fantastic.
Since 2012, Start Garden has played a large role in Grand Rapids’ entrepreneurship ecosystem by giving entrepreneurs a stage to present their ideas to the community while they compete for the opportunity to win $5,000.
Neu spoke with Start Garden Community Relationship Officer Laurie Supinksi about the history of 5×5 Night, it’s triumphant return and expansion, and why events like it are important for communities.
Neu: Can you start by telling us about your position at Start Garden and how you came to work there?
Lori Supinski: I was with an organization called eMerge. eMerge and Start Garden merged, so I came on board bringing the component of working within our 13 county region to connect entrepreneurs to all of the different resource organizations that provide services and programs. I am the connector. In the past Start Garden wasn’t necessarily focusing on the entire region, they just kind of operated in Grand Rapids, focusing on high tech, high growth businesses. Part of this merger was a shift in focus for Start Garden as well. Now we are focusing regionally and also focusing on neighborhood businesses, lifestyle businesses, and regional and rural businesses in some of our northern and southern counties, so we are trying to encompass all of the different types of startups that we see.
Neu: What is the history of 5×5 Night? How did it come to be?
LS: It was started in 2012 by Rick Devos–it was his idea and his organization. He was saying that there a lot of people with good business ideas, and how do we find them? How do we help support them and give them a little bit of a push? So he came up with this idea, and every week they would award $5,000 to an idea that would come out on the website. Then at the end of the month, they had all of those winners come in and pitch, and if they went further, then Start Garden could potentially invest more money in them. The $5,000 at that point was sort of that stepping stone to further investment by Start Garden, the idea being that they were really viewing themselves to be a venture capital fund and trying to look for and pull out some of those companies that were potentially going to grow and be scalable businesses. So that is kind of how the idea of 5×5 Night started. It was completely funded by Start Garden. Eventually, they got to a point where they really didn’t want to do that weekly investment anymore, simply because they were starting to grow a portfolio of companies that they were investing in. The capacity– staff wise and financially–to continue to do that wasn’t really feasible, and yet the community has embraced the whole 5×5 Night program. Start Garden really didn’t want to see that go away, so there was a period of time where they stopped doing it, and then the eMerge organization for a little while last year. When eMerge and Start Garden merged this year in April, we brought that program back under the umbrella of Start Garden, and we relaunched it in July. The idea with it this time is that we really wanted the program to have a regional impact, so we are taking it on the road. What we are trying to do now is to expose people to the program who might not know about it, because sometimes people don’t look outside their backyard. It is for people who are either not aware of it or maybe not comfortable entering the competition if they feel like it’s too far away. The idea really is to just engage more people. We have seen that having the events outside of the normal Start Garden location has brought an entirely new group of people to the event. It really gives more awareness to entrepreneurship in those communities.
Neu: Why 5×5 Night is important to communities?
LS: What we are trying to do at Start Garden is to encourage and support people that want to start their own businesses. One of the barriers to getting started is capital, and even though $5,000 is not a lot of money in some cases, it is sometimes something that can get somebody jump started. The prize money is certainly very important to most of the people that enter the competition, but the other thing is to get exposure for people’s ideas. By entering your idea out on a website, you are having to show it to people. It helps the entrepreneur think through, “What is this idea and how do I get people excited about it to vote?” Only the top five ideas get to pitch each month, and if you are in that group, then that whole experience is in and of itself quite something. You have to get up on stage, you have to pitch, you have to have thought through not just your idea, but a little bit of your business model and you have to answer the question of what that $5,000 will do for you, and what kind of impact that will make on your business. It is a really good exercise for an entrepreneur to have to get up in front of people and talk about their idea.
Neu: How does Start Garden quantify the impact? Do you keep in touch with the winners?
LS: Yes, we can go into the database and look at some of the past winners of 5×5 Night, and we keep track of where they are and what they are doing. There are some great examples–one of the companies that comes to mind is called Mull-It-Over Products. We had the founder return to 5×5 Night to address the audience, and he also came back as a judge. He has said that 5×5 Night was really the beginning of him rolling out his business. He was an industrial designer and was working with construction companies that put up buildings. A lot of the complaints of people that inhabited the buildings was that with so much glass, there was a lot of noise volume, and he came up with this idea of how to control the noise via a certain type of window design and window seal. 5×5 Night incentivized him to get further investment. Now his companies is worth 4 or 5 million dollars and it is continuing to grow.
We are going to start bringing some of winners back in to update and inspire people. Liz Hinton was a winner last year. Her company is called KNITit, and she called the other day and said that she wanted to come back as a judge and give some money to support the 5×5 Night program as a sponsor, just because it helped her so much. She has been really successful, and it is great and inspiring to people.
Neu: What are the plans for 5×5 in the future?
LS: I think we are going to continue to experiment with this model of moving it around to increase the awareness of the program and increase the amount of participation. We would like to continue to see a variety of different businesses and ideas put out there. It doesn’t have to be all apps. It can be a technology based business, it can be a product, or a retail space, or a service. Our goal is to keep that momentum going, and to continue to provide a platform for people to get started.
Nue: Is there anything else you want to say about 5×5 or Start Garden?
LS: I am really excited about it. I think that there hasn’t been one event that I went to that there hasn’t been just a great excitement in the room. In August we had the event at LINC. Before the event started, Paul Moore from Start Garden was the emcee, and he asked the audience, “How many people here have been to a 5×5 Night before?” And more than half of the people had not. That was great, because it proved that by having it at a different location, we attracted more people–people that are connected with LINC and promoted it within their network. I think that is exactly what we are trying to encourage. When the winner was announced, people screamed and the winner cried. It was really, really fun.
We want people to know that even though we are traveling around, it is still an open competition. We like the idea of entrepreneurs traveling outside of their area to go pitch to a different audience. We want to keep it an open platform, and that is the goal. As long as we keep helping entrepreneurs, as long as the community is continuing to support it, we will continue to do it. One thing that I wanted to mention, is that everyone that submits an idea, whether they get to be one of the five people to pitch, or they pitch and they don’t win, we are connecting with them through Start Garden. We send them a note saying, “Just because you didn’t get to win or you didn’t pitch, does not mean that your idea isn’t a good idea. If you want to move your business forward, call us or email us. We will listen to where you are in your process and connect you with some of the resources out there.” A lot of times, entrepreneurs don’t know what the resources are. When you are trying to start a business, it can be a lonely thing. You can feel like you are out there all on your own, and you need so much money to get started and a lot of these resources are free of charge.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.