Training the next generation of innovators

GVL / Courtesy - GVNow
First place team members from TESA 2016 won $2,500 for their idea called, Time to Get Fresh, which would utilize school buses to deliver fresh food from area farms to local elementary schools.

GVL / Courtesy – GVNow First place team members from TESA 2016 won $2,500 for their idea called, Time to Get Fresh, which would utilize school buses to deliver fresh food from area farms to local elementary schools.

Jenna Fracassi

The Grand Valley State University Teen Entrepreneur Summer Academy (TESA) is just around the corner. The five-day entrepreneurship program will be held at the GVSU Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids beginning Monday, June 19, and going until Friday, June 23.

The TESA program is designed for high school students ranging from grades nine to 12, and it draws students from schools all around Michigan. Registration for the event is $150 and requires students to write a 200-word essay. The 2017 TESA registration is currently closed.

The program goes from 9 a.m to 5 p.m each day and includes breakfast, lunch and snacks. Students will also receive a team T-shirt and be provided with necessary materials such as computers, pens, pencils and other miscellaneous supplies.

“Each year, the program features a unique central theme to solve real-world problems using design thinking principles and methods of observation, responsiveness, and generating multiple solutions,” said Shorouq Almallah, director at the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI), via email.

This year’s theme is Urban Development and Revitalization. To start, students are first assigned to small teams and then challenged to come up with a business pitch within that theme. Throughout the week, the teams will work to refine their concept, and on the final day, they will have an opportunity to present to a panel of judges for cash prizes totaling $5,000.

The academy includes many unique learning opportunities, such as field trips, interactive lectures, team-building activities, and networking with local entrepreneurs who provide training and mentoring. TESA is hosted by the CEI and sponsored by Amway. Employees from Amway will also help to coach and guide students throughout the camp.

“We expose teams to numerous tools to use while creating and developing their concepts,” said Tim Syfert, clinical affiliate faculty at GVSU, via email. “One activity the students enjoy is how to visualize a tornado with small cups, pipe cleaners and Play-Doh. Many of their creations are quite unique, but play, laughter and experimentation get their minds loosened up for problem solving.”

Syfert, who is one of the instructors at TESA, described the program as being focused on providing students with hands-on entrepreneurship experiences.

“It gives them a chance, in a risk-free environment, to ideate, develop, build businesses, and share their work while solving real problems in both Grand Rapids and Detroit,” he said.

Almallah said the program “focuses on cultivating awareness of and interest in the unique entrepreneurial ecosystem, while also providing students the knowledge and tools for starting their own businesses.”

Additionally, Syfert believes that starting high school students on this pathway now will pay off in the long run.

“We all need some toolbox of problem-solving tools and a mindset to tackle difficult situations,” he said. “The worker of tomorrow will be entrepreneurial in their jobs frequently. Starting the students early will be helpful in their future pursuits.”

According to Amallah, a number of studies suggest that youth entrepreneurship programs increase the students’ occupational aspirations, interest in college and leadership aspirations after participation.

The CEI recently completed a data collection project on students who participated in the Grand Rapids TESA from 2009 to 2015. Amallah said they were able to track 148 students, and based on the data that was collected, 13 percent started a business, 42 percent are employed and have a career, and 54 percent are currently pursuing a higher-education degree.

“In addition to learning and getting early exposure to the entrepreneurial skills, tools and competencies, students learn life-long skills such as how to work in teams, develop leadership skills, presentation and communications skills, as well as build their network and make connections with the business and entrepreneurial community,” Amallah said.

For more information on the program, visit