Virtual series highlights, mines knowledge of underrepresented entrepreneurs

Julian Turley knows a thing or two about becoming an entrepreneur.

He co-founded a web and mobile food discovery platform called Nomsy while attending the University of Michigan. At the same time, he co-taught U of M's Entrepreneurship Practicum class. After graduating, his work in Oakland, California designing workshops and diversity recruiting at Code2040 impacted the lives of thousands of underrepresented students.

Now back in Michigan, Turley is the newest Entrepreneur in Residence at the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. There he is working to make entrepreneurship more accessible, "and to help other people understand that entrepreneurship is not just a glitzy thing for the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk or the insert-big-name-entrepreneur here, but it's really the everyday people who are working to live."

Turley contends that as individuals, each of us are distinct businesses. In the context of making meaningful connections, we are all entrepreneurs.

"The question he asks is, how do we utilize our skills and talents in which we are able to expand our scale, where we're able to utilize again our skills and talents and turn it into a business?

The GVSU Virtual Entrepreneur Series

You can find the answer in GVSU's Virtual Entrepreneur Series, which Turley hosts.Alita Kelly, founder of South East Market

In each online event, Turley facilitates conversations with local entrepreneurs who share the stories of their experience in running a business.

The series kicked off Oct. 13 with entrepreneur, doula, and health advocate Kiara Baskin. According to Turley, Baskin based her business on a passion she had for health and healthy birthing practices. She was interested in doulas and "took up the initiative to gain some training and use those skills and those trainees in her own company to be able to scale and grow."

Other speakers include South East Market founder Alita Kelly on Oct. 27 and Mixto Communications founder Ericka Lozano-Buhl on Nov.10. A few technology and web development entrepreneurs are also on the list, which wraps up with a conversation with Andrea "Dre" Wallace, founder of Fourtifeye, "a data aggregation platform for musicians that uses machine learning to deliver insights on blended data from an artist’s social, distribution, delivery tools they use everyday," according to Dre's LinkedIn profile.

Highlighting underrepresented entrepreneurs

The Virtual Entrepreneur Series is focusing on underrepresented entrepreneurs from around West Michigan.

"We refer to them as unsung heroes," Shorouq Almallah, Director of the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, says. "Typically they don't get the attention or recognition that some of the other entrepreneurs get."

Countless innovative ideas are conceived in a single year by Black and brown entrepreneurs, Almallah says. They each face similar challenges when it comes to drawing up plans for a successful business model or designing useful products, but they do not always share the same benefits as their peers. It can be a significant challenge just getting their ideas out on the market.
Andrea "Dre" Wallace, founder of Fourtifeye
"We want to highlight their successes and how they're getting there, and we also want to highlight the struggles because we all know that minority owned firms face a lot of inequality when it comes to access to resources," Almallah says. "Seeing that, yes, someone like me was able to get there despite all those obstacles is both aspirational and inspirational."

Who is the Virtual Entrepreneur Series for?

It's for entrepreneurs, of course, and anyone else who's interested in hearing inspiring local stories. Basically, everyone, Turley says.

"My hope is that like this series will inspire others to see themselves as entrepreneurs, make that effort to go further," he says. "I am hoping that young people, people in high school, and middle school are able to check out the series and get into that mindset of common problem solving."

That's what entrepreneurs do, after all.

What will I learn?

For one, you might learn about what it takes to be an entrepreneur. More specifically, what it takes to be an entrepreneur in a dynamic and often volatile environment.

According to the Harvard Business Review, it takes more than just unicorns to reach success in this climate, it takes camels.
Camels often go for days without resources like food and water, they do this while travelling through the hottest regions on Earth, and still manage to adapt and thrive.

"Building a startup is exceedingly difficult, and overstretching across multiple fronts is a recipe for mediocrity on all," HBR reports. "Instead, successful camels only expend resources on activities that are self-reinforcing (where lessons from successes or failures support the business as a whole) and self-balancing (when one piece of the business naturally hedges another)."

The virtual format of this series is a good example of the adaptive nature of entrepreneurs. A lot has changed in the last year, and technological advances like video conferencing and other platforms have helped people grow their businesses without losing momentum. Of course, that's only if you have access to them.

"A lot of people are able to be able to pivot, but a lot of people don't necessarily have the proper resources to be able to make those pivots," Turley says "That definitely makes maintaining a company and surviving in this environment challenging and difficult. However, it is also something that is pushing entrepreneurs to think a little bit differently about how they approach their traditional practices."

Turley compares entrepreneurship to being a scientist or a designer. When approaching a problem, it's important to fully understand the problem before you consider what to do about it. From there, think of some of the different services or products that could solve that problem. Be flexible, and always, "Adapt. Honestly, the name of the game is being able to adapt to changing circumstances," he says.

Photos courtesy Virtual Entrepreneurship Series.
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