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Student entrepreneur club president’s five takeaways from national conference

By Kayla Sosa

Back in November, the Grand Valley State University Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) traveled to Kansas City, Missouri to attend the national CEO conference. Club president and GV senior Ben Parsell learned a lot as a leader and an entrepreneur himself. Here are his top five takeaways.

1. It’s important to see what other professionals are doing, in order to learn new ways to expand your own organization’s horizons.

For GVSU’s CEO Club, there have always been a handful of leadership positions available, and the rest of the members were just general members. Parsell now wants to form committees so that every member shares some kind of responsibility within the organization, and feels more involved and connected.

“(For example) having a finance committee that helps the finance officer maintain an ongoing budget throughout the year, make projections so that we can understand what costs, what fundraising we can do to go to places like Kansas City,” Parsell said. “So, give somebody something to do each meeting … I would like to see as we continue on, the idea that a committee structure would lift some of that responsibility of the president, and they can focus on the overall strategy of the club and where it’s going to go in the future.”

2. It’s important to travel and explore new places to advance as not only an entrepreneur, but as a person.

“The opportunity to get out of the Grand Rapids bubble and be exposed to not only a new city, but new people, new ways of life, walks of life, is extremely important,” Parsell said.

Parsell said most of his opportunities to travel have been through the student organization. So far, he’s been to Tampa twice, California and now Kansas City, with the CEO club.

3. It’s necessary to bond with your team outside of work.

Eight students bonded for over 15 hours in a van on their way to Kansas City. Parsell said this was a unique opportunity to talk more personally with his club members. They even had a collaborative Spotify playlist, so they got to listen to a little bit of everybody’s music taste.

“I think flying can be very stressful, too,” Parsell said. “Especially in my shoes, I’m trying to make sure that everybody has their boarding pass, make sure that your carry on’s going to fit, you don’t have to check a bag, everything with that. So, when I’m in the airport, I’m in total focus-mode until we get through security. Then when I’m driving, it’s like, yeah, I’ll carry on a conversation and actually have fun with it.”

4. Passive income is a smart, innovative way to make money without too much work on daily basis.

One of the topics Parsell learned a lot about was “passive income,” where entrepreneurs spend a lot of time initially developing an online business that sustains itself for the most part, allowing the owner to make money without having to tend to the business for much time every day.

“For me, those would be fun projects I could come up with,” Parsell said. “Maybe it’s not meant to be my main focus, but it would be something fun to do on a weekend and have it run … I’d definitely like to share that idea with people who didn’t go to the conference.”

5. Empathy is one of the most important aspects of a leader.

The leader of a national company with a local franchise in Grand Rapids, College Hunks Hauling Junk, was one of the speakers at the CEO conference. Parsell said he told a moving story about having kindness and empathy in the workplace, and he realized that there’s more to being a leader than just putting out fires, assigning tasks and getting work done. There’s a bigger picture aspect that all leaders must keep in mind.  

“The day to day stuff doesn’t matter, but holding kindness and love for other people and leading them through that is what really matters,” Parsell said.

To learn more about the CEO club, visit their website.

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Spotlight: A Q&A with Calvin’s Lawn Care

By Kayla Sosa

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Calvin’s Lawn Care logo. Courtesy Calvin Pimpleton.

Calvin Pimpleton is a 16-year-old student at Innovation Central High School with a passion for business. Last winter, he saw a need in his neighborhood for shoveling services and he wanted a little extra cash in his pocket, so he decided to offer that service and more under the name Calvin’s Lawn Care. This past October, he entered the Start Garden 5×5 Night pitch competition and went home with $5,000 to expand his business.

CEI: How did you get the idea to start your business?

Pimpleton: One day during the winter of my sophomore year I had just gotten home from football training. I didn’t have a job at the time so I really wanted some money, so I got the idea of shoveling driveways and sidewalks in my neighborhood. I wanted to be my own boss, set my own hours, and make my own money. I didn’t want to have a boss.

From there I continued to grow, but not seriously. With the help of my business teachers Mrs. Henderson and Mrs. Cook a few months later, they presented a pitch competition to our class for start up businesses. So, I applied with my idea of Lawn Care and Snow Removal and I won my first pitch event which was the 100 ideas event by Start Garden, which was for $1,000. From then I continued to grow and got more in contact with Start Garden. Program Director Mrs. Laurie, whom is my mentor, told me about the 5×5 Night. I didn’t think my company was beneficial enough to win that much money, but apparently it was.

CEI: What kind of obstacles did you face in the business process and how did you overcome them?

P: There were plenty of obstacles I faced such as not being able to drive, not being able to register my company, not being able to fix equipment at times, low amount of customers. There’s been plenty of obstacles, but as time has gone by I’ve learned more and more about how to get over them. One of the biggest lessons I learned is patience. When I first started I believed I would be the biggest and best company in Grand Rapids. Now I know that you have to be patient and grow into your greatness. Everything isn’t going to come in one day, just trust God and everything will fall in place.

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Pimpleton was awarded $5,000 for winning the 5×5 Night pitch competition on October 30. Courtesy Calvin Pimpleton.

CEI: How do you plan to use your newly won prize money?

P: I have been putting the money back into the company, I’ve got a better truck, larger trailer, and a better riding mower. Equipment was a huge problem for me, because it took me a lot longer to take care of my customers’ needs with unprofessional equipment.

CEI: So, you’re a high schooler. What else do you do with your free time?

P:  I play three sports for Ottawa Hills High School: main sport football, but wrestling and track and field. I like to go to church, spend time with my mom and family and work out.

CEI: How do you juggle all of your responsibilities?

P: It’s not as difficult as it may seem. With owning my own company I can make my own hours, so I make sure to always schedule my customers around football and school, but time management is key. I’m starting to get better and better at time management.

CEI: How do you plan to expand and build your business in the future?

P: One of the main ways I’ve been expanding is by applying marketing techniques that I learn in my marketing class and applying it to my company. It’s been bringing plenty of new customers and more revenue. Also, I’ve been using networking skills. It’s not always about what you know, most of the time it’s about who you know.

In five years, I see my company well set up and really flourishing throughout the Grand Rapids area, maybe even being one of the top in Grand Rapids. In ten years, I plan on expanding by either having another Calvin’s Lawn Care in another city, or placing a Calvin’s Lawn Care down in Florida. In 20 years, I plan on not working anymore, but really managing the company to continue to spread amongst the lawn care company community and being one of the top lawn care companies in the U.S.

CEI: What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs like yourself?

P: My advice is to take your shot, because if you’re already at the bottom there’s only one place to go, which is the top. Starting a company may be a bad outcome, but it also can be great. Just because we’re young doesn’t mean anything.

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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: Liberate GR

By Kayla Sosa

A community survey in Grand Rapids showed that residents feel there is a need for a free, non-judgmental space for the LGBTQ community. After learning this, Audrey Hutchinson created Liberate GR – a community center for those who don’t feel they have a place to truly express themselves. With creative expression classes, a counseling center, peer-led discussion groups and many opportunities to network and share, Hutchinson wants to encourage growth and exploration.

“The LGBTQ community can feel ostracized, stared at and judged when out just doing normal things that any person does,” Hutchinson said. “Here they don’t have to worry about feeling different because they’re not.”

Liberate is also open to those in non-traditional relationships, like open or polyamorous.

“A lot of people in these relationships are socially monogamous, meaning even their closest family and friends don’t know,” Hutchinson explained. “People in non-traditional relationships face the possibility of judgement if people knew. At Liberate, they can discuss their relationships freely and openly with other people who are experiencing the same things.”

Hutchinson’s goal is to have the center be a place for people to connect, but also to network and take on leadership opportunities.

“It will include leadership opportunities for members and networking events as well as guest speakers and workshops,” she said. “We envision a place for members of all ages, genders and orientations. A place to be yourself and find connection as well as ways to better your life and always continue to grow.”

Hutchinson is a student at GVSU, going for her master’s degree in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. One of the things that has challenged her in this process is figuring out how to open up a non-profit, and all the special details involved.

“I am trying to get definitive answers about how to have a counseling center attached to the drop in center, which will accept payments and accept insurance while offering a sliding scale fee to people who are low income,” Hutchinson said. “It’s important because we need to have a clear picture of how much money we need to raise before we really get started. I like to have clear goals and a realistic strategy for fundraising.”

Starting a non-profit means you may have a business, but not always a building to work in right away.

“It means you have the paperwork and the people to get started, but it could still be a little while before actually opening your doors,” Hutchinson said. “That’s hard, but if you really believe in the mission then every step is exciting, no matter how small.”

The mission at Liberate is clear: create a space where people can be themselves and connect with others.

“Whether you’re involved with the LGBTQ community or not, Liberate matters because it will help other people to feel more connected,” Hutchinson said. “A more connected community is happier and safer. If you have a loved one, or if you yourself are LGBTQ, this place is important because it’s somewhere to go to receive services or build relationships.”

Hutchinson is currently looking for more people to fill roles on the board as well as volunteer positions. To learn more and get involved, visit http://www.liberategr.org.

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Jason Mascari: Moasis Global

“I didn’t really take a traditional educational route in regards to starting a business.”

Like so many successful entrepreneurs before him, Jason Mascari came up with his big idea while brainstorming with a friend. “We were constantly throwing ideas around for years,” says Jason of his friend and co-founder, Ryan Golden. The two young entrepreneurs first thought of Moasis Global in 2008. In three years, the business has developed from idea to fully patented prototype.

Moasis Global is a web-based advertising platform that allows businesses to target specific geographic areas of interest. The company’s technology enables Moasis to outline an entire city with its patented grid technology and distinguish specific markets. Businesses can then choose to target sections of the grid more heavily with their advertising dollars or decrease spending in others. Users see where competing businesses spend their money and where the greatest market opportunity lies. “Businesses currently overspend in markets that they shouldn’t be targeting,” Mascari explains. Moasis is designed to help change that.

0 comments on “No Division On Division: MoDiv”

No Division On Division: MoDiv

Business incubation is increasingly becoming a common practice throughout the country. While incubators are continuously popping up in major entrepreneurial hubs, they are also forming in smaller communities, where the cost of retail space is an impediment to developing businesses. By facilitating local startups, incubator spaces generate new ideas that thrive in the entrepreneurial market of West Michigan. Some incubators provide resources to help entrepreneurs bring their ideas to market.

0 comments on “West Michigan’s Risk Aversion”

West Michigan’s Risk Aversion

West Michigan’s political, financial, and social environments are seen by many as conservative and slow moving.  Shedding light on the intricacies of doing business in the region and the difficulties entrepreneurs face while navigating this business environment, John Kerschen, Managing Director of the Michigan Accelerator Fund, shared some insights on the situation. He has spent over 22 years working with early-stage investments, commercial banking, mergers and acquisitions, and investment banking.

1 comment on “More than a Store, It’s a Community: Tree Huggers”

More than a Store, It’s a Community: Tree Huggers

Tree Huggers is an environmentally responsible business, dedicated to educating customers in leading environmentally sustainable lives. Owners Angela and Dan Topp, opened their first store in Holland two years ago and a second store on Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids in 2011. Tree Huggers seeks to break down what can be an intimidating process of living and consuming more sustainably into more manageable steps.