Getting their business off the ground

GVL / Courtesy - Bryan Esler 
Preston Smith and Daniel Diem Rylaarsdam (center) of Bootstrap Innovations win $6,500 during the MWest Challenge, held inside of Grand Valleys Eberhard Center on Friday, April 1, 2016.

Bryan Esler

GVL / Courtesy – Bryan Esler Preston Smith and Daniel Diem Rylaarsdam (center) of Bootstrap Innovations win $6,500 during the MWest Challenge, held inside of Grand Valley’s Eberhard Center on Friday, April 1, 2016.

Jenna Fracassi

The MWest Challenge, a student business-plan competition designed to create cross-collaboration between students in the West Michigan area, will hold its final event Friday, April 21. The event will take place in the Loosemore Auditorium of the DeVos Center.

Hosted by the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI), the MWest Challenge allows student entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges for a chance to win $45,000 in cash prizes.

The competition is catered to business-minded students not only from Grand Valley State University, but from eight other West Michigan colleges and universities as well. MWest represents 75,000 students from GVSU, Grand Rapids Community College, Hope College, Calvin College, Davenport University, Aquinas College, Kendall College of Art and Design, Cornerstone University and Kuyper College.

“The goal is really to help foster entrepreneurship and encourage students to take their idea and business concept a step further and explore the commercialization potential of that idea to see if there is a market for it,” said Shorouq Almallah, director at the CEI.

Though the main reason students participate in the challenge is to raise funding for their idea, there are also many resources presented to them along the way.

“The MWest Challenge is almost like an accelerator program because of the resources we offer to the students, the main one obviously through the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, where we work with them by mentoring, coaching and doing pitch practice,” Almallah said. “So, they can utilize the faculty and mentors here at the center.”

There are also workshops held to teach students about business plans, pitching skills, marketing and finances.

The competition is open to both graduate and undergraduate students. This year, there will be 65 judges participating in the competition, in addition to all the guests, business professionals, entrepreneurs and investors who attend.

“It’s a great networking opportunity for the students, even if they end up not getting any funding,” Almallah said. “Making those connections with the right people and the right audience helps them explore other doors, partners and sponsors.”

One of the main goals of the MWest Challenge is to encourage cross-collaboration, not just within disciplines, but also across campuses. Students can form teams within their college or university or build their teams with members of other universities.

“It’s a great opportunity to kind of to meet with other students from various colleges who have different backgrounds and different majors than you and just be able to get that cross-disciplinary team,” said Zoe Bruyn, senior management and marketing major at GVSU, who is participating in the 2017 MWest Challenge.

In November, the CEI held a kick-off event for students to learn more about the competition. From there, they’ve been developing their ideas, attending workshops, writing executive summaries and getting feedback, and their work will culminate in the final pitch competition.

Students have seven minutes to make their final pitch to the judges, which will be presented in the form of a PowerPoint. This time is used to communicate their business idea, as well as to create investment interest.

“MWest is important because it provides that initial funding and validation that you need to push the business forward,” Bruyn said. “Everyone has ideas, but those who actually execute them, and if it’s a good business and has a strong value proposition, you have the opportunity to win money, and it can help you get to the next level within your business.”

Attendance for this event is free, and you can RSVP until Friday, April 21, at 8 a.m. For more information, visit