Shorouq Almallah works from the epicenter of entrepreneurship
Shorouq Almallah considers herself a connector, working behind the scenes as a program manager, mentor, and strategic thinker at Grand Valley State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Her title reads “operations manager,” but Almallah oversees much of the programming, curriculum development and communications at the center, located in the new L. William Seidman Center
on the downtown campus.
“I feel like I am the connector here,” she said. “I’m usually in the background, but I love what I do. I like to empower people and give them the opportunity to excel.”
Almallah did much of the legwork for the new entrepreneurship major slated to be offered in fall 2014 within GVSU’s Seidman College of Business. She played a major role in supporting and developing the curriculum, conducting feasibility analysis and desirability studies, researching other university programs, and working closely with faculty to develop course outlines and structure.
“She’s basically the glue for a lot of the programs we have going on,” says CEI Director Kevin McCurren
. “She has helped a lot with curriculum and creating continuity among courses for the new degree.”
Born and raised in Amman, Jordan, Almallah came to America to study English and linguistics at Indiana University
. She graduated in 1999 and moved to Grand Rapids with her husband, a professor at GVSU. She briefly returned to Indiana University to earn her master’s degree in information science in 2001.
Almallah worked for a decade as the knowledge resource manager at GVSU’s Family Owned Business Institute
, where she helped promote the institute regionally and nationally and worked with family businesses in legacy, succession and estate planning.
Since joining CEI’s staff in July 2011, Almallah has found her responsibilities go far beyond the day-to-day operations and budgeting and finance. She also coordinates programming, handles grant management, supervises and mentors students, and manages the organization’s website, publications, marketing campaigns and media presence.
Her job involves planning a lot of events and raising awareness for CEI’s programs in the community, as well as with providing resources and guidance to budding entrepreneurs on campus.
“She offers a better ear to listen to the students and knows very well how to access resources at the university for our entrepreneurs,” McCurren said. “Her internal focus allows me to do a lot more external stuff.”
The center operates with a three-person staff and a team of student workers and interns. And that crew serves to champion and catalyze the vocation of entrepreneurship and foster a spirit of entrepreneurship in West Michigan.
One of Almallah’s duties has been to rebrand and repurpose CEI as a community outreach and resource center, and gather data on the entrepreneurial climate in the city and region.
CEI, in collaboration with the Seidman College of Business, offers interdisciplinary education, scholarships, mentoring and internships for entrepreneurs. Other programming includes student enterprise opportunities for GVSU students, regional business plan and idea pitch competitions, and a Teen Entrepreneur Summer Academy
Another successful program Almallah has nurtured is the MWest Challenge
, a regional business plan competition bringing entrepreneurial students from eight West Michigan colleges together to compete for startup capital funding and start a new venture.
The prize has grown from $5,000 to $45,000 and participants have access to resources, mentors, educational workshops, and opportunities to network with angel and venture capital investors. The teams include students from different schools, and the goal is to build cross-collaboration between the colleges as well as disciplines, connecting designers, engineers, developers, marketers, and students with business and finance expertise.
Almallah describes entrepreneurship as having an idea you can capitalize on and the capacity and determination to see it through, or the tenacity to at least try. Becoming an entrepreneur – or even studying it – is not exclusive to business students, she said. Some entrepreneurs are born; others are made—they believe they can effect change and there is always a better way to do things, she said. Entrepreneurship usually encompasses a product or service, while social innovators have a desire to solve and improve social issues.
“For some, it’s the drive not to work for someone else,” she said. “Others are bothered by something and want to change that. The main difference is the purpose, but you follow the same process.”
The entrepreneurial process involves creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and the ability to work in teams and think strategically. Young entrepreneurs must be able to accept failure and success and continue to adapt, change and grow, she said.
“We tell students to fail fast and fail early,” she said. “I strongly believe entrepreneurship is not an exclusive club. It’s a certain mindset and a series of skill sets you can teach. It’s about seeing an opportunity and how you leverage and act on that opportunity.”
The new entrepreneurship major will include classes in innovation and ideation; creativity, challenges and problem solving; new product design and development; developing a business plan and market research; customer service and validation; and the mechanics of running a business. The final component will involve implementing their business or doing an internship with a startup.
“We teach them the process, but they have to have a strategy and a business model,” she said. “You have to validate those ideas and validate those assumptions. It’s not just something you learn in the books. You have to do it.”
Almallah enjoys working with the graduate assistants and student workers at CEI, along with those who come to her for advice.
“The nature of entrepreneurship is really interdisciplinary and that’s represented by our staff,” she said. “We really operate as a startup, as a team.”
The Teen Entrepreneur Summer Academy is one of Almallah’s favorite programs to plan and supervise, and she does a great job with it, McCurren said.
The academy brings students, mostly high school age, to campus to learn about entrepreneurship. They take a problem and try to solve it by developing and pitching a mini-business plan, then presenting it to a panel.
“It’s near and dear to my heart,” she said. “I love working with that age group.”
With a background in English and information science, Almallah never expected to find herself as a mover and shaker in the area’s entrepreneurial scene. But her writing and creative thinking skill set meshes well with the technical and project management skills needed to build programs, structures and work in teams.
“A lot of companies we see are technology based,” she said. “I really enjoy the information technology side, but this is more rewarding. You can actually see you are making an impact on someone’s future.”
Almallah loves the energy, excitement and creativity of young entrepreneurs and nurturing their ideas. It gives her great pride to help young people reach their full potential and make choices that will shape their life and future, while encouraging them to chase their dreams.
“I see my main role here is to help empower and transform the next generation of young entrepreneurs,” she said. “Whether it is through the classroom or programs such as the Teen Academy, or Business Plans, I get to help young entrepreneurs to dream big, give them the tools to help them succeed, and challenge them to do things that are bigger than themselves.”
Almallah lives in Grand Rapids with her husband and two sons, ages 9 and 14, and says they enjoy the arts, sports, music and going to nearby Lake Michigan.
“I really love West Michigan,” she said. “It has become home for us. It’s a great place to raise a family.”
Marla R. Miller is a social activist, entrepreneur and freelance writer for UIX Grand Rapids. Learn more about her background and work at marlarmiller.com