More than a student

GVSU students juggle class with owning their own businesses

By Kyle Doyle | 3/15/17 8:55pm

GVL / Courtesy - Jordan Vanderham

The American dream. It’s a term that is thrown around more than a football at Thanksgiving. To every person who comes to or lives in America, it’s something different, but a common theme is people’s desire to live by their own guidelines, be their own boss and work on their own terms.

That’s where the idea of having one’s own business comes into play, a concept that is talked about whenever a halfway decent idea is brought up among friends, even though it’s rarely executed.

Some Grand Valley State University students, though, had an idea and decided to run with it, on top of also having to commit themselves to school, friends, family, clubs, etc.

While some students walk around campus stressing about calculus and philosophy, other students are thinking about how a prototype is coming along and how much it’s going to cost and whether or not it’s going to work, all in addition to their school obligations. These students strive to be the next big entrepreneurs and provide a product that is needed or wanted by a certain market while also working toward getting a college degree.

GVSU senior Jordan Vanderham is one such student. He has been a part of several different startups, including Orindi Ventures, a group that is working on a thermal energy conservation mask targeted at cold weather industrial workers, and Vandergen, an educational group that teaches middle schoolers about solar panels and other forms of renewable energy.

After time constraints and scheduling conflicts forced Vanderham to leave Vandergen, he came up with the idea for the thermal energy conservation mask for Orindi and decided to run with it.

“Knowing that I love startups and coming out of Vandergen, I knew I had this idea,” Vanderham said. “And an idea is worth kind of nothing until you do something about it, and so I just jumped right in.”

As one would imagine, running a startup and building prototypes costs a lot of money. So, in order to keep his startup afloat, Vanderham and his team compete in business competitions in which the winner gets money to put toward their startup or small business.

Vanderham said he’s been moderately successful winning at least some prize money every other event and said he will be taking the idea to a national convention in which only the nation's top 25 startups will be in attendance.

While running a startup is what he wants to do, Vanderham also has to work around his school schedule to make things work. He described it has having four things to pick from—school, sleep, social and startup—and he has to pick two at a time, something that has proven to be troublesome at some times and easy to manage at others.

Vanderham said he’s able to balance his social life among all of this because many of his friends are in the same classes or also have startups of their own, making it easy to find overlap and make time for two things at once. But when it comes to school and startup, there has to be a choice.

“I’ve failed classes because of the startups,” Vanderham said. “You kind of got to pick your place and say, ‘Hey, well this works,’ and keep on going.”

Some students, on the other hand, haven’t gotten to the point Vanderham has. Samantha Rose, a graduate student at GVSU and owner of ACandle4U, said she’s lucky because most of her work can be done during her free time. Since she mostly sells through word-of-mouth and Facebook, it’s easy for her to keep up on orders.

However, when she has to fill orders for fundraisers, that’s when things get a little hectic.

“I’ve had a couple of busy weekends where I’ve had to have my daughter be entertained by her grandparents so I can work on the candles and kind of put off homework until bedtime,” Rose said. “As far as social life goes, I’ve enlisted the help of my friends and said, 'If you want to hang out with me, I’ve got to make candles all day, so you can either talk to me while I’m doing that, or I’ll make you help.’”

Both students enjoy what they’re doing and don’t have any plans to stop. Both see their startups as great ways to learn and grow and find a way to live their lives like they dream to. And that is something Vanderham says everyone should do.

“Just trying to do something that you love and share it with the world and making it scalable, (that can) truly be a company,” he said.

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