Student Startups Start Here

StudentStartups-Inline.png

Darian Jones, a UNIBusiness Accounting student, knew he had an interesting business concept; he was wearing it. His startup idea took shape when people regularly asked where to get clothes like his. Some even offered to buy the shirt off his back.

Armed with technology tools, Jones created a business to meet the demand. While only a freshman, he founded ThriftGods, an online retailer of high-end vintage clothing.

"Build your business on something customers want-not just what you think they want," he advised.

Since its beginning, the company has been under the guidance of UNI‘s R.J. McElroy Student Business Incubator (SBI) in the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC). Through ThriftGods, Jones sells sought-after vintage clothing. He selects the merchandise, posts images and descriptions online and markets his site through social media and other platforms.

Jones is just one of many student entrepreneurs who is taking advantage of the resources available to them in college.

"It‘s wise to start a business during college," said Jackie Pullen (Accounting ‘85), President of Financial Strategy Consulting Co, LLC. "Those who do are exposed to a wealth of educational experiences and resources that are invaluable down the road."

Pullen herself is an entrepreneur and noted pros and cons of student startups.

Commitment will be the most significant barrier, explained Pullen. "In my opinion, the time spent in college is supposed to be the best four years of your life," she said. "Starting a new business is oftentimes not fun in the first few years—rather a lot of work and long days and nights, with very little financial reward."

Students should outline expectations and key factors and determine the best timeline for gearing up a business, Pullen added.

"In contrast, college is when we have the least amount of financial burdens," Pullen said. "Starting a business a year or two after college, when you have financial demands such as student loans, bills, etc., adds stress to the startup phase which may be lessened during the college years."

Jones agrees. There have been times when he considered shuttering his online startup.
"I think this is very common with entrepreneurs," he said. "My first year, I worked vigorously to start my business. I was putting in a lot of time and sweat equity, and at the end of the year, I found I only profited $100 after expenses."

He wanted to give up—to take that energy and put it into academics and other interests. However, several things, including his interest in fashion, kept him going.

"My network had been built to the point where I had friends with similar businesses to mine," he explained. "Having that community support and being able to troubleshoot problems with people in similar situations was really key."

After taking time to regroup and re-evaluate his business, Jones asked himself if there was a need for his business. If so, did he want to be the one to fulfill that need?

"I decided to keep going. I used that time off to reposition my business, do market research, change some things around, redesign my website and so on," he recalled.

Then he gave himself a deadline.

"I said, ‘If I am not doing better in six months, I will cut my losses and move on to another venture.‘ Luckily, those six months proved my business model right, and I began to thrive," he said.

Jones was recently recognized for his educational commitment and ThriftGods‘ longevity by becoming the first occupant of the Grinnell State Bank Student Incubator Suite, located in the SBI. The name recognizes a gift from Dave Jones (Economics ‘79), President, and Austin Jones (Mathematics ‘86), Senior Vice President and CFO of Grinnell State Bank.

"For a well-rounded graduate, a fundamental understanding of economics and business is critical. Our support for young entrepreneurs will go a long way to building qualified employees and leaders for the future," said Dave Jones.

Learning Laboratory—and Springboard

Student entrepreneurs face the same challenges all entrepreneurs face: identifying a saleable product and/or service and price point, finding the right partners, mentors and staff and selecting an appropriate funding model. The JPEC at UNI provides students with a dedicated workspace, tools and resources to help curb some of these challenges. The JPEC staff and mentors guide student entrepreneurs through everything from starting, growing and operating a business to operations, customer discovery and human resources.

"It‘s impressive that there are students graduating from the program and excelling either in their entrepreneurial endeavor or within the corporate setting," said Laurie Watje, SBI Manager and JPEC Instructor of Marketing. "Many students who have participated in the R.J. McElroy Student Business Incubator are still involved in an entrepreneurial endeavor. Those who are not are being offered high-level corporate jobs as a result of their ‘intrapreneurial‘ skill set that has been honed through our program."

That‘s true of Greg Jass (Marketing ‘11), co-founder of Red Lab Technologies in Cedar Falls, Iowa. His experience with the JPEC gave him the conviction to start his own business not once, but twice.

As a student, he attended the Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute, a week-long intensive immersion in entrepreneurship with highly successful business owners and faculty from Iowa‘s three public universities. Student entrepreneurs work in teams on a computer-based simulation that incorporates the creation and operation of a new business. Each team is required to present its plans to community venture capitalists to acquire capital to fuel growth for the simulated businesses.

This experience gave Jass the springboard to co-found SEO Solutions with Therese Stevens (Public Relations ‘12).

SEO Solutions later merged with another digital marketing company to form TargetClick Marketing Solutions, which was eventually purchased by Mudd Advertising in Cedar Falls. Stevens remained, while Jass pursued another entrepreneurial endeavor.

"After some time in the corporate space, that burning desire to live by my own rules and create something that‘s mine really flared up in me again," Jass explained.

He and a former TargetClick partner co-founded Red Lab Technologies. The digital marketing agency now boasts a nationwide client base.

"Red Lab has enabled me to take everything I‘ve learned over these past eight years and mold it into this new company that I feel will be very successful."

Ben Frein (Finance, Computer Science ‘07) also has remained firmly in the entrepreneurial realm. After selling his SBI startup in 2010, he set out to build a "self-storage empire" in Iowa.

"I was looking for a light-maintenance business investment with diversity in tenants and a strong cash flow," he told SpareFoot Storage Beat, an online self-storage industry blog.

Self-storage fit the bill, Frein added, noting that "storage facilities are hidden gems."

In 2010, he bought properties in Adel and Waukee, Iowa. With profits from those investments, he built Metro Boat & RV Storage, also in Adel. He went on to purchase an 80-unit facility in the Des Moines area and completed a 9,000 square foot addition in spring 2015.

Frein started his largest project in mid-2015: Metro East Self Storage. The seven-building self-storage operation in Des Moines‘ east suburbs includes seven buildings, U-Haul pickup and daytime staffing.

Technology has enabled Frein to work efficiently and quickly grow his business, he said. He installed kiosks at all his units, where tenants can make rental payments with credit and debit cards. Frein can manage the units himself remotely or by appointment.

"Storage facilities used to be considered an old-school business -a mom-and-pop type business," he told SpareFoot. "But I‘ve bought and built storage facilities, and technology has been crucial to the success of the business. It keeps business operations running smoothly and our costs low."

Entrepreneurs Learn to Fail Forward

Learning from setbacks and successfully scaling business growth are essential lessons learned in the UNI JPEC.

"The biggest obstacle entrepreneurs must learn to manage is fear of failure," said Jass. "Whether you want to start a business or not, the fear of failure is in our biology. Fight or flight- it‘s so much easier to make excuses for why you didn‘t take a ‘grand‘ idea and turn it into a business than it is to actually jump head first into an idea and find out if it will work."

Jass has learned that failure has a lot to do with perception and the ability to adapt.

"Once you can come to terms with the fact that things aren‘t going to be easy and there is always going to be another Mount Everest of a challenge in front of you, business becomes a game," he said. "Easy becomes relative, as difficulties in the past become second nature. Challenges become exhilarating as you draw on past experiences to overcome them faster and smarter than before." 

Originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of UNIBiz magazine. 

 

Posted on 17-Apr-17


  






UNIBusiness News

Student Startups Start Here

StudentStartups-Inline.png

Darian Jones, a UNIBusiness Accounting student, knew he had an interesting business concept; he was wearing it. His startup idea took shape when people regularly asked where to get clothes like his. Some even offered to buy the shirt off his back.

Armed with technology tools, Jones created a business to meet the demand. While only a freshman, he founded ThriftGods, an online retailer of high-end vintage clothing.

"Build your business on something customers want-not just what you think they want," he advised.

Since its beginning, the company has been under the guidance of UNI‘s R.J. McElroy Student Business Incubator (SBI) in the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC). Through ThriftGods, Jones sells sought-after vintage clothing. He selects the merchandise, posts images and descriptions online and markets his site through social media and other platforms.

Jones is just one of many student entrepreneurs who is taking advantage of the resources available to them in college.

"It‘s wise to start a business during college," said Jackie Pullen (Accounting ‘85), President of Financial Strategy Consulting Co, LLC. "Those who do are exposed to a wealth of educational experiences and resources that are invaluable down the road."

Pullen herself is an entrepreneur and noted pros and cons of student startups.

Commitment will be the most significant barrier, explained Pullen. "In my opinion, the time spent in college is supposed to be the best four years of your life," she said. "Starting a new business is oftentimes not fun in the first few years—rather a lot of work and long days and nights, with very little financial reward."

Students should outline expectations and key factors and determine the best timeline for gearing up a business, Pullen added.

"In contrast, college is when we have the least amount of financial burdens," Pullen said. "Starting a business a year or two after college, when you have financial demands such as student loans, bills, etc., adds stress to the startup phase which may be lessened during the college years."

Jones agrees. There have been times when he considered shuttering his online startup.
"I think this is very common with entrepreneurs," he said. "My first year, I worked vigorously to start my business. I was putting in a lot of time and sweat equity, and at the end of the year, I found I only profited $100 after expenses."

He wanted to give up—to take that energy and put it into academics and other interests. However, several things, including his interest in fashion, kept him going.

"My network had been built to the point where I had friends with similar businesses to mine," he explained. "Having that community support and being able to troubleshoot problems with people in similar situations was really key."

After taking time to regroup and re-evaluate his business, Jones asked himself if there was a need for his business. If so, did he want to be the one to fulfill that need?

"I decided to keep going. I used that time off to reposition my business, do market research, change some things around, redesign my website and so on," he recalled.

Then he gave himself a deadline.

"I said, ‘If I am not doing better in six months, I will cut my losses and move on to another venture.‘ Luckily, those six months proved my business model right, and I began to thrive," he said.

Jones was recently recognized for his educational commitment and ThriftGods‘ longevity by becoming the first occupant of the Grinnell State Bank Student Incubator Suite, located in the SBI. The name recognizes a gift from Dave Jones (Economics ‘79), President, and Austin Jones (Mathematics ‘86), Senior Vice President and CFO of Grinnell State Bank.

"For a well-rounded graduate, a fundamental understanding of economics and business is critical. Our support for young entrepreneurs will go a long way to building qualified employees and leaders for the future," said Dave Jones.

Learning Laboratory—and Springboard

Student entrepreneurs face the same challenges all entrepreneurs face: identifying a saleable product and/or service and price point, finding the right partners, mentors and staff and selecting an appropriate funding model. The JPEC at UNI provides students with a dedicated workspace, tools and resources to help curb some of these challenges. The JPEC staff and mentors guide student entrepreneurs through everything from starting, growing and operating a business to operations, customer discovery and human resources.

"It‘s impressive that there are students graduating from the program and excelling either in their entrepreneurial endeavor or within the corporate setting," said Laurie Watje, SBI Manager and JPEC Instructor of Marketing. "Many students who have participated in the R.J. McElroy Student Business Incubator are still involved in an entrepreneurial endeavor. Those who are not are being offered high-level corporate jobs as a result of their ‘intrapreneurial‘ skill set that has been honed through our program."

That‘s true of Greg Jass (Marketing ‘11), co-founder of Red Lab Technologies in Cedar Falls, Iowa. His experience with the JPEC gave him the conviction to start his own business not once, but twice.

As a student, he attended the Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute, a week-long intensive immersion in entrepreneurship with highly successful business owners and faculty from Iowa‘s three public universities. Student entrepreneurs work in teams on a computer-based simulation that incorporates the creation and operation of a new business. Each team is required to present its plans to community venture capitalists to acquire capital to fuel growth for the simulated businesses.

This experience gave Jass the springboard to co-found SEO Solutions with Therese Stevens (Public Relations ‘12).

SEO Solutions later merged with another digital marketing company to form TargetClick Marketing Solutions, which was eventually purchased by Mudd Advertising in Cedar Falls. Stevens remained, while Jass pursued another entrepreneurial endeavor.

"After some time in the corporate space, that burning desire to live by my own rules and create something that‘s mine really flared up in me again," Jass explained.

He and a former TargetClick partner co-founded Red Lab Technologies. The digital marketing agency now boasts a nationwide client base.

"Red Lab has enabled me to take everything I‘ve learned over these past eight years and mold it into this new company that I feel will be very successful."

Ben Frein (Finance, Computer Science ‘07) also has remained firmly in the entrepreneurial realm. After selling his SBI startup in 2010, he set out to build a "self-storage empire" in Iowa.

"I was looking for a light-maintenance business investment with diversity in tenants and a strong cash flow," he told SpareFoot Storage Beat, an online self-storage industry blog.

Self-storage fit the bill, Frein added, noting that "storage facilities are hidden gems."

In 2010, he bought properties in Adel and Waukee, Iowa. With profits from those investments, he built Metro Boat & RV Storage, also in Adel. He went on to purchase an 80-unit facility in the Des Moines area and completed a 9,000 square foot addition in spring 2015.

Frein started his largest project in mid-2015: Metro East Self Storage. The seven-building self-storage operation in Des Moines‘ east suburbs includes seven buildings, U-Haul pickup and daytime staffing.

Technology has enabled Frein to work efficiently and quickly grow his business, he said. He installed kiosks at all his units, where tenants can make rental payments with credit and debit cards. Frein can manage the units himself remotely or by appointment.

"Storage facilities used to be considered an old-school business -a mom-and-pop type business," he told SpareFoot. "But I‘ve bought and built storage facilities, and technology has been crucial to the success of the business. It keeps business operations running smoothly and our costs low."

Entrepreneurs Learn to Fail Forward

Learning from setbacks and successfully scaling business growth are essential lessons learned in the UNI JPEC.

"The biggest obstacle entrepreneurs must learn to manage is fear of failure," said Jass. "Whether you want to start a business or not, the fear of failure is in our biology. Fight or flight- it‘s so much easier to make excuses for why you didn‘t take a ‘grand‘ idea and turn it into a business than it is to actually jump head first into an idea and find out if it will work."

Jass has learned that failure has a lot to do with perception and the ability to adapt.

"Once you can come to terms with the fact that things aren‘t going to be easy and there is always going to be another Mount Everest of a challenge in front of you, business becomes a game," he said. "Easy becomes relative, as difficulties in the past become second nature. Challenges become exhilarating as you draw on past experiences to overcome them faster and smarter than before." 

Originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of UNIBiz magazine. 

 

Posted on 17-Apr-17







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Contact Us | Safety | Equal Opportunity/Non-Discrimination Statement
Maintained by UNIBusiness webmaster
Copyright ©2011 by University of Northern Iowa College of Business Administration