Jhaelynn Elam named to inaugural class of Forbes Next 1000

Jhaelynn Elam Courtesy Jhaelynn Elam

The owner of a travel agency that funds a nonprofit benefiting students of color who want to study abroad was included on Forbes’ first list of 1,000 innovative small business owners.

Jhaelynn Elam, founder of Grand Rapids-based Sizije Travel and its associated nonprofit, The Sizije Foundation, was included in the inaugural class of Forbes’ Next 1000 that was published last month.

In addition to running her business and nonprofit, Elam is an ITQ scientist II and product guidance strategist at General Mills.

“This list was created to celebrate and spotlight the bold and inspiring entrepreneurs who are redefining what it means to run a business today. … This opportunity means so much to me because I work hard every day to build my business and create something that’s bigger than me, while also balancing a full-time career,” Elam said. “Acknowledgements like this assure me that I am on the right path. There is no blueprint for what I’m building, but I’m so thankful and excited for this journey. … This is only the beginning because I’m just really getting started.”

Announced in 2020, the Next 1000 initiative is part of Forbes’ goal to champion “ambitious sole proprietors, self-funded shops and pre-revenue startups” that bring in under $10 million in revenue or funding and reflect the diversity of America.

“Many of these businesses have continued to thrive during the pandemic — proof that American entrepreneurship remains resilient and vibrant,” Forbes wrote in the feature.

“Small businesses accounted for two-thirds of net new American jobs before the pandemic. Unlike venture-backed startups, which largely skew male and often overlook underrepresented groups, the entrepreneurial heroes featured on the Next 1000 reflect individuals from diverse communities who are redefining the American Dream,” said Maneet Ahuja, senior editor for Forbes.

The Next 1000 list will spotlight a total of 1,000 entrepreneurs, announced every quarter in installments of 250 standouts. Judges from every sector and Forbes editors will evaluate semifinalists. A variety of factors will be considered, including revenue, total funding, ownership stake in business, business model, impact and personal story.

Elam was in the first group of 250 honorees.

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