ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Valley State University has started a pilot program aimed at bringing products to campus from diverse alumni-owned businesses.
The pilot Alumni Supplier Diversity Program recently brought the ‘Inspiration Station’ to the Laker Store. It is filled with products from Shannon Cohen, a GVSU graduate and author, speaker and entrepreneur.
“This carries so much significance for me. My path to entrepreneurship really was ignited while I was at Grand Valley, in my graduate studies at Grand Valley,” said Cohen, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2000 and with a master’s degree in public administration and nonprofit management in 2011.
Cohen published two books, “Tough Skin, Soft Heart” and “It’s Normal To Shake As You Soar.” She also offers things like a greeting card that says, “Speak life to the dreams of your own soul” and a sticker that says, “Girl you have greatness in your bones!”
Cohen said her products are portable affirmations and mini pep talks, things like stickers that “affirm you as a force to be reckoned with and affirm your value and your worth as a human being.”
“We are living in an age and dispensation where people want to see messages of affirmation all around them. We put them on our laptops, we put them on water bottles, we put them on the back of our vehicles,” she said. “So it was just the perfect marriage between who we are as a company and Grand Valley’s desire to also invest in … the holistic wellbeing of students, faculty and staff.”
The first-generation college graduate first started her business, Shannon Cohen, Inc., a few weeks before graduating with her master’s degree. Now, her products can be found in more than 1,750 Target stores nationwide and over 200 Meijer stores.
Cohen started her first business at age 12, when she hosted a summer program for kids in her neighborhood for free — “my business model was a little flawed, but the spirit of it was there,” she joked — after noticing a 4-year-old with parents suffering from an addiction left alone outside every day. Her mother was her first angel investor, and her grandparents started an auto collision shop after their kids grew up.
“I’ve always had entrepreneurial DNA in my family and I’ve always had entrepreneurial leanings,” she said.
GVSU approached her about a year ago about the pilot program.
“To have this full circle moment with my alma mater is just a gift,” Cohen said.
She encouraged GVSU students who are interested in entrepreneurship to check out the school’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, where she sits on the board.
Valerie Rhodes-Sorrelle, the vendor relations manager at GVSU who started the program, called Cohen a “hope dealer.”
“She’s amazing because she cares so much about the student population,” Rhodes-Sorrelle said.
She said the school is intentional about having a diverse and inclusive supplier database.
“We have so many of our partners and organizations that we belong to that are striving for the same thing, to be inclusive,” Rhodes-Sorrelle said. “That’s the only way you get inspiration. That’s the only way you can get creativity, ideas and diverse thinking, is if you bring in those other folks in.
“There could be some new innovative idea that could come out of working with a diverse pool of suppliers. And we’re focusing in on our alumni piece.”
GVSU has also brought in alumni-owned Soldadera Coffee. Rhodes-Sorrelle hopes the school will eventually offer products from a variety of alumni.
“The biggest thing is being intentional in understanding what ‘diverse’ means. It’s not one ethnic background, ethnicity — it’s a variety. It’s men, it’s women, it’s veterans,” she said. “There’s so many of our communities around that make our community what it is.”