GCU team to compete for world entrepreneurial title
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Tim Kelley looked like a proud papa Friday night at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix as his young entrepreneurial proteges celebrated on the stage.
They had just scored the biggest victory yet for Grand Canyon University’s burgeoning program, first place in the 2016 Phoenix Smart City Hack competition, to earn a trip to Barcelona for the international finals Nov. 15-17. And Kelley, assistant professor for entrepreneurship and economics in the Colangelo College of Business and chairman of the Canyon Angels investment group, is the man who has been behind it all.
“They’re coming out of our GCU entrepreneurial ecosystem, and now they’re going to represent the city in Barcelona in a global competition for entrepreneurship — that’s extraordinary,” he said. “Right now, they are our flagship.”
Said Dr. Randy Gibb, the CCOB dean, “CCOB has three pillars — servant leadership, ethics and entrepreneurism. I’m glad that students are living them out.”
The winners — Luke Amargo, Chelsea Evans, Josh McGuire, Jedidiah Woods and Braeden Scheer — have put together a company called Storage Together, which links people who need to store something with people who have storage space in their home. It was Amargo’s idea after he got in a traffic accident and all of his belongings were damaged or destroyed.
“I realized that if I had left it in a storage unit or my friend’s house, my stuff would have been fine,” he said. “So I felt like why don’t we then diagram it and put something in the middle? That’s how we got this shared-economy style storage idea.”
McGuire laughed and said with admiration, “Only Luke would have connected all those dots and brought it to this culmination.”
McGuire was the first person Amargo asked to help him (“The money man,” McGuire said), and then the idea just kept growing from there.
“We’ve come a long way as a team,” McGuire said. “We started as just a couple of us and added Braeden and Jed later on. Being on this stage is like the culmination of everything we’ve been doing for a year now. It’s overwhelming, but with an idea and a little effort, you can put any idea into reality.”
The late, late show
Accent on effort. They did it, Woods said, with “really late nights with lots of Five Hour Energy,” which was necessary because of their busy schedules. Amargo graduated in April, but the other three are student leaders on campus.
“We still keep up in our classes, we still keep good grades and we still do a lot to influence the campus,” Wood said. “God has given us a gift to multitask and pursue our passions.”
Scheer said, “We have been able to do well in these other roles, but this is where our passion is. This is where God is leading us.”
Given those sentiments, it wasn’t surprising that their presentation Friday was so passionate — or that they interrupted their celebration to do a group prayer. Kelley, who was one of the judges, had seen them present their business model many times before in the monthly GCU Shark Tank, and the polish showed as they competed with four other finalists.
“I thought they were clearly the most comprehensive presentation,” he said. “They brought the full business model, they answered the objections well, and they presented with passion and talked about how it’s a part of making the city a better, more vibrant environment and talked of tapping into resources that have been abandoned or ignored.”
The irony is that, just last spring, Storage Together didn’t even make the finals of the Canyon Challenge, GCU’s annual entrepreneurial competition. However, the team then was a Silver Level Winner in the Arizona Collegiate Venture Competition (ACVC) and won $3,500. Friday’s victory was worth $3,000 in addition to the overseas trip.
“I think that losing on our home turf fueled us to go into other competitions the way we have,” Scheer said.
Consultants at their fingertips
They’re fortunate to have Kelley and two other CCOB entrepreneurial experts — Jon Ruybalid and Paul Waterman, both of whom also were in attendance Friday — on that home turf whenever they need advice.
“Amazing — it’s like having consultants at our fingertips at all times,” Woods said. “They’ve been helping us get through this like crazy. We come to their offices more than we should, probably, but they always have an open-door policy and bring us back down when we get too haughty. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Woods talked excitedly about giving GCU international exposure, but the Storage Together business plan is to start close to home with the GCU student body and fan out from there. The startup, which advertises prices that are 40 percent below those normally found in the $32 billion industry, would provide proprietary insurance and would monitor hosts (vetting, peer reviews and quality control) with an application similar to the one Uber uses.
None of the four has ever been to Spain, and only two of them have passports. They joked about doing rock, paper, scissors to see who gets to go, but they all will share in the preparatory work that must be done the next two weeks.
“There is no rest for the weary,” Scheer said. “We’re going to order the next shipment of Five Hour Energy.”
And schedule a few more visits to Papa Kelley’s office.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.