Two Kuyper Teams Headed to April 18 Regional Business Competition at GRCC

Kuyper senior Josiah Michaelson is an interdisciplinary major and after graduation hopes to help bring the Gospel to the Amazon region of South America.

He believes that entrepreneurship is a viable method for the Gospel to be established and spread. 

“Entrepreneurship is a tool I intend to use on the mission field to find ways to empower and preserve tribal cultures and peoples across the South American continent,” he said. 

Michaelson, a self-described military kid who has traveled the world, is one of 10 students in Business 311, an entrepreneurship course that looks specifically at the success factors necessary for the starting and running of a business enterprise. 

It’s taught by Attah Obande, the Vice President of Business and Talent Development for the Grand Rapids Chamber and now in his fourth year as a Kuyper adjunct professor.

“I have loved every minute of it,” Obande said about teaching at Kuyper. “I always wanted to teach at a Christian college because I was blessed throughout my life to go to faith-based schools and universities.”

One of the focal points for the course is getting Kuyper students ready to enter a West Michigan business pitch competition called the MWest Challenge

This year two teams from the class advanced to the final stages of the upcoming event (to be held Tuesday, April 18 at Grand Rapids Community College).

Michaelson is a member of one of the teams – Tool Time – joining Emily Karsten as part of a duo that made the Innovation Showcase round and will be one of 24 total teams competing at this next level at the MWest Challenge. 

The idea behind Tool Time, the team said, is to create a business that allows people to come into their establishment and rent out tools like a library. They would offer mostly larger industrial sized tools, as well as some smaller crafting equipment.

And the Dutch Delights team of Emily Henke and Ariel Talsma, two Kuyper dually enrolled high school students, made the final round of the contest. Their idea is a poffertjes stand (poffertjes are Dutch mini pancakes, typically served with powdered sugar and butter). 

They will be one of only eight teams in the final round out of the 80-plus teams that submitted executive summaries from the schools in the West Michigan Colleges & Universities Group (Aquinas, Calvin, Cornerstone, Davenport, Hope, GRCC, Grand Valley, Kendall and Kuyper).

Marc Andreas, Business Leadership Program Director for Kuyper, said that Kuyper teams have competed most years in the annual competition and that three other teams have made it to the final round in the past, including a team in 2022.

“Kuyper students who compete are part of the entrepreneurship course,” he said. “The contest is a major part and culmination of the curriculum.”

Andreas added that each team that competes in MWest submits a three-page executive summary of their business idea. The score of this is an average of at least three judges and determines who makes the top rounds.

For Henke, one half of the Dutch Delight team with fellow dually enrolled student Ariel Talsma, getting a chance to pitch her business idea while still a senior at Plymouth Christian High School is why she chose Kuyper for her dually enrolled option in the first place.

“I was looking for an in-person class at a Christian college close to my school, so Kuyper was a great fit,” she said.

She took Intro to Business and Leadership with Professor Andreas last semester and said class discussions were always a highlight along with learning about leadership from a Christian perspective. 

The same has been true for this semester’s entrepreneurship class.

“I like the way Professor Obande helps us see things from a different perspective and asks questions that get us thinking,” she said.

As for the upcoming competition, Henke is taking a big-picture approach.

“Of course, it would be amazing to win, but our real goal is to have fun and use this as a learning experience,” she said. “I hope to learn how to present well in front of a large crowd, clearly and concisely.”

Talsma, her Dutch Delight teammate, is also approaching the competition with an open mind with an eye toward winning but also toward growing as an entrepreneur.

“Feedback from the judges will help us think about the little details we may be missing,” she said. “Being able to take feedback and use it to become better is an important skill for both an employee and a business owner.”

For Tool Time’s Michaelson, the Kuyper senior, graduation is on the horizon, so presenting at the upcoming competition has some real-world applications.

“This competition is helping me not only think through business ideas but also how to practically turn them into reality,” he said. “This experiment, whether successful or not, will help me create business ideas for tribal groups in South America. If we succeed and win, this allows me to humbly give glory to God for that success and gives me a confidence boost to help others create successful businesses. And if we fail, this allows me to humbly look at myself to see what I can change about the way I approach business.”

His Tool Time teammate, Emily Karsten, agreed.

“We would love to win a prize, I mean who wouldn’t,” she said with a broad smile. “But if that doesn’t turn out, then some connections and a chance to learn from our competitors will be great. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone else’s ideas.”

Like Henke and Talsma, Karsten is a dually enrolled student at Kuyper and said that as a homeschool high school senior, she has enjoyed her parttime studies at the College and is thrilled to be coming on a fulltime basis in the fall of 2023 as a Business Leadership major.

“I have enjoyed all my classes Kuyper so far,” she said. “I really like the people in entrepreneurship (Business 311) and all the discussions we have. I’ve had a dream of owning my own business ever since I was five years old. I have a heart to serve people and wish to give business a good name.”

Obande loves to hear it.

“What I enjoy most is seeing the students start to connect the dots, seeing the ‘aha’ moments,” he said. “You can see when the mindset starts to take hold and the students start to have a deeper understanding of business. They start to look at business from different angles, and it begins to make even more sense.”

He also appreciates the forum Kuyper gives him to integrate faith and business.

“Our faith must be at the core of entrepreneurship,” he said. “Business has gotten a bad rap even though its purpose is to create solutions and enable us to flourish by creating products or services we need, and creating jobs that allow us to use our God-given talents to create solutions for customers.”

And he is thrilled that two of his student teams have advanced this far in the pitch competition.

“My prayer is that this shows them they’re on the right track,” he said. “We want our students to be ready to serve and make a difference wherever they go, and opportunities like this competition are part of that preparation process.”

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