Student businesses get jump start at competition

Lizzy Balboa

Grand Valley State University is providing its business-minded students the opportunity to win $3,000 to jump-start their ventures.

Eight student companies have already survived three selection rounds and will contend for the grand prize Thursday in GVSU’s fifth-annual Business Plan Competition. The companies will each deliver a 10-minute presentation on their business plans to a panel of five judges, four of whom are top administrators of successful businesses and are unaffiliated with GVSU. The participants will also hear from keynote speaker Kathy Crosby, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids.

Ulandra Reynolds, program coordinator for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, said GVSU supports this program to encourage “talent development and business support.”

“Because they are student ventures, not all of them succeed, but some have done very well,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said none of the companies have earned money before, but one has already performed operations. The competitors are juniors, seniors and graduate students, and their fields of study range from marketing and management to computer science to biomedical sciences. However, each brings an idea to contribute to society, no matter how small the change may be.

Tyler Way, a GVSU alumnus and past winner of the competition, said his proposed business plan was to customize sneakers, clothing apparel and other products, as well as to collaborate with other big-name brands to design merchandise.

“The business is still going down the path of that plan,” Way said. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen as quickly as hoped, but then again, nothing is an overnight success. The joy of being an entrepreneur is the process, and I’ve been enjoying that as much as I can along the way.”

The competition helped Way by forcing him to overcome fears that could hinder his success, he said, adding that he felt uncomfortable and vulnerable at times when pitching his ideas on a public stage.

“The most valuable lesson I took away from the competition was to be open to share my ideas and passions with others,” Way said. “I’m naturally a quiet person, so to force myself to open up on stage and share my vision was a big challenge for me. Looking back on it, it was one of the biggest highlights from my college years.”

Although the winner of the competition earns a monetary prize, those who lose still benefit from their attempts.

Reynolds said simply participating in the competition is a valuable experience for students pursuing business ventures because they meet and make connections with local entrepreneurs and business executives, as well as learn how to go through the process of pitching their ideas.

Learning to lose is also key to becoming a successful businessperson.

“Failure is an important step,” Reynolds said. “If you learn to fail fast you do better later on.”

[email protected]