College students with companies

gabriella patti

In 2011, Grand Rapids was named by Newsweek as one of America’s dying cities. Despite the pessimistic outlook, Grand Rapids has steadily grown, becoming a community supported by small businesses.

“Entrepreneurship plays a big role in contributing to a healthy and vibrant economy,” said Shorouq Al­Mallah, operation’s manager for the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI). “We have one of the country’s most diverse industrial economies, and many of the fastest growing industries can be found in West Michigan.”

Entrepreneurs are taking charge in the city, and Grand Valley State University has helped contribute to this growing pool. Student entrepreneurs are on the rise, representing a variety of fields.

Jennifer Dowsett, a freshman at GVSU, took her passion for baking and translated it into her business, Confections by Jennifer. Dowsett is majoring in hospitality and tourism management with an emphasis on food and beverage management.

“I have loved food since I was a kid and have a huge sweet tooth, so it was kind of meant to be that I would start this,” Dowsett said. “It actually wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for my friend wanting me to cater her graduation party and for me to bring business cards. Since that, I have gotten calls to do other grad parties, and that was really my starting block for the bakery.”

Students have impacted both their immediate community and the outside world. Jordan Vanderham, a mechanical and electrical engineering student at GVSU, created Vandergen, an outreach and solar panel installation company.

“The company has multiple endeavors,” Vanderham said. “The biggest part is creating solar panel workshops that educate the community on how to build solar panels.”

He has hosted workshops with students and faculty at GVSU along with delegates visiting from Nicaragua to teach them to make solar panels in their community back home.

“The key to success is the drive of curiosity to know how I can do it better,” Vanderham said. “It is not all about solar; it is more about educating the community. What we can do is educate the people and prove that they can accomplish a goal such as building a solar panel. It is a boost to their self esteem.”

Timothy Syfert works in GVSU’s CEI. He helps students similar to Dowsett and Vanderham who are pursuing entrepreneurship opportunities.

“Nationally, I have seen a statistic that small businesses contribute to about 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs in the U.S.,” Syfert said. “Small businesses are job creators.”

Resources are available for students who are hoping to start their own businesses but have low start-up capital. The CEI has information for business competitions such as Start Garden, which provides start-­up funds for students looking to create their own businesses.

“I think that (young entrepreneurs) have to be willing to make cuts and sacrifice some things to have their business get going,” Dowsett said.