A lifeline for pet owners, street-centric street wear, a “country club” for do-it-yourself hotrodders and a solution for cluttered college bulletin boards are the budding business ideas receiving a boost from Gettysburg College’s latest Shark Tank-style competition.
The liberal arts school recently named the winners of its 2017 Summer Entrepreneurial Fellowship, a business pitch competition that awards students funding to jump-start their business plans while also connecting them with alumni mentors to guide them through the process. In its fourth year, the program will award $10,000 each to four teams.
“The concepts and business ideas that were presented to us were diverse in nature,” said alum Bob Allen, chair of the Entrepreneurial Advisory Council. “Typically we see a lot of tech-based ideas, very app-centric. This year it was kind of a mix.”
Between October and February, students applied for the fellowship, which is coordinated by the Center for Career Development and Entreprenurial Advisory Council, comprised of alumni who have found their own success as entrepreneurs.
Students selected to continue in the competition worked with faculty and alumni throughout the semester to polish their business pitches. On April 20, eight teams presented their ideas to the advisory council.
Funding, raised through donations from alumni, parents and other supporters of the college, will be dispersed to students in three installments over the course of the summer as they work with their alumni mentors to bring their businesses to fruition.
Here’s what you need to know about the 2017 class of the Entrepreneurial Fellowship.
Michael Karchner, a sophomore biology major from Collegeville, has been around animals his whole life. His mother bred schipperkes and his grandfather was a veterinarian. He has two dogs, a cat and a guinea pig of his own.
His passion for animals, and interest piqued by Gettysburg College’s StartUp Experience workshop, led him to develop Pet Viser, a web-based application that helps pet owners find veterinary advice and hospital referrals in a pinch. He also envisions it serving as an educational resource for people interested in their precious fur baby’s nutrition and wellness.
“I’m hoping to provide a better connection between owners and vets,” he said.
Like humans, pets are exposed more and more to telemedicine, the diagnosis and treatment of patients through telecommunications technology, Karchner said. It’s a hot topic in the veterinarian community, and he hopes Pet Viser can be part of that trailblazing movement.
In addition to coping with health emergencies, the app will be able to help pet owners locate their lost pets, Karchner said.
“Wow, I could use this tomorrow” was the reaction Allen had after learning about Pet Viser’s potential capabilities.
“I think it’s wonderful to have these mentors available to guide me along the startup process and to not have to worry as much about funding,” Karchner said. “I can actually focus on developing a very high-quality product that will be well-received by the market.”
Thanks to the fellowship program, Only Positives has morphed from “two kids kind of selling shirts to now being a business that’s recognized by a credible establishment such as Gettysburg College,” said co-founder Rahmi Halaby.
“That’s worth almost as much as the actual grant itself,” he said.
The junior, a native of Upper Darby near West Philadelphia, started the company with his childhood friend, William Miller, who now lives in New York City. They want to combat the negative stereotypes people may have about urban areas. Cities aren’t all blighted, crime-ridden neighborhoods. They are places for ingenuity and innovation, Halaby said.
Only Positives sells clothing featuring Halaby and Miller’s photos of urban areas, including images of Philadelphia and New York City. A portion of their profits are donated to organizations working to assist inner city homeless populations.
“We loved the enthusiasm and energy of the students and how they brought their passion for not only the idea but for the broader community,” said Allen.
Before getting involved in the competition, Halaby, an organization and management studies major with a business minor, never thought he would have the opportunity to explore entrepreneurial pursuits at Gettysburg College.
“I’ve always kind of had an interest in entrepreneurial things, and that was one of the biggest drawbacks coming here because I didn’t realize they had a program like (the Entrepreneurial Fellowship),” he said. “It opened the world for me.”
Joseph Scaglione’s first car was a Chevrolet Camaro. He fixed up the classic sports car himself. To pay for the many modifications he made to it over the years, he started fixing other cars.
Now with several years working in a garage under his belt, he’s identified a common problem among fellow motorheads: they’re often in need of space to work on their cars and access to professional advice and quality parts.
He’d always wanted to open an auto body shop with his longtime friends, Brett Ryan and Pete Enriquez. Mulletz Garage was born.
Scaglione, a New Jersey native and junior studying economics, explained Mulletz Garage will provide a work space for “hotrodders,” with professionals on-site to assist customers in fixing up their wheels. Refurbished parts will also be available for purchase.
“What we really liked about it is (Scaglione) had a great handle on how to make money, how to turn a hobby into a real revenue-producing business,” Allen said.
If you’ve been to a college campus, you’ve probably seen it: the messy bulletin board covered with flyers and thumbtacks advertising upcoming events.
Karan Shrestha, a junior and resident assistant at Gettysburg College, and freshman Ethan Murphy were discussing how the paper-based method isn’t the most efficient way of communicating with students.
Enter Bu Board, a mobile application that allows a campus community to post and view information about academic, social and co-curricular events. Shrestha and Murphy hope to develop it, test it at Gettysburg College and expand it to other institutions.
“We hope it will fix communication problems on campuses nationwide,” Shrestha said.
Allen described Bu Board as a unique and innovative solution to a common challenge that a lot of colleges have: disseminating information and filtering through the massive amount of communications directed at the student body.
Shrestha, a Nepal native and globalization studies major with a political science and business dual minor, said entering the Entrepreneurial Fellowship has taught him how to handle real-life challenges, communicate professionally, reach out to experts and mold an idea into a product.
Murphy, a Mechanicsburg native and mathematical economics major, echoed his business partner’s sentiments, adding that the program encourages critical thinking and thinking on your feet.
The duo recently attended a social entrepreneurship seminar at Dickinson College, and when they talked about the fellowship, “all the other students were like ‘What? Really?'” Shrestha said.
“It has really given us this firsthand experience on what it’s like to be an entrepreneur,” he said.
Looking to next year’s fellowship, Manny Ruiz, associate director of the Center for Career Development, said they hope to bring more social entrepreneurship ideas into the fold. Empowering more female students to apply for the fellowship is also a major focus.
Past winners have been male, and the eight teams who presented their ideas this year were male.
There have been women who have shown interest in the program, and some have started businesses without the fellowship. Still, Ruiz wanted to know why there weren’t more applying. He conducted a campus survey and many respondents said they equate entrepreneurship to men, and some specifically said white men.
That’s problematic, Ruiz said, so he’s reached out to the campus’ chapter of Smart Women Securities, a group that focuses on educating undergraduate women on finances, and to alumni Lauren Celano and Tess O’Brien, who serve on the fellowship’s advisory council about garnering more female participation.
“We really want to empower women on campus to let them know that they, too, can be entrepreneurs,” he said.
Celano, founder and CEO of Propel Careers, graduated from Gettysburg College with a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology in 2000 and now lives in Boston. She described her company’s purpose as half recruiting, half career coaching.
She and O’Brien organized a webinar a few months ago to talk to female students about becoming entrepreneurs. Celano said they look forward to doing more of those types of activities both remotely and at the college when she or other female alumni are in the area, such as over lunchtime discussions.
“I know this happens a lot with women, they undervalue their skill set or they think they need so much more training or coursework or learning before they can actually apply,” she said. Celano hopes to show them otherwise.
For more information about Gettysburg College’s Entrepreneurial Fellowship, click here.