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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.