Students bring business creativity to Marketplace
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
The entrepreneurial spirit at Grand Canyon University isn’t just something that occasionally comes alive in classrooms or lecture halls. It’s evident all the time, and this week it was right there in the middle of campus with professional-looking presentations and props.
And T-shirts, complete with their startup’s logo.
That was the scene when, for the third time in the 2016-17 academic year, the IDEA Club sponsored First Tuesday Marketplace. It was quite a show as entrepreneurs showed off their wares in front of the Student Union and even sold them to interested students — and there were long lines of eager customers.
It’s an outdoor, put-it-into-practice version of GCU Shark Tank, where every three weeks entrepreneurs can pitch their ideas in short presentations to prepare for the Canyon Challenge, scheduled for 4 p.m. April 13 in GCU Arena. The next Shark Tank is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14, in the Colangelo College of Business lecture hall.
The Marketplace idea, scheduled for the first Tuesday of the month, was the brainchild of senior Marcellous Hazzard, the IDEA Club president. He was moved by the displays he saw at Phoenix First Friday, a monthly gathering downtown, after transferring to GCU from North Park University in Chicago.
He knew that Tim Kelley, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and economics in CCOB and a faculty sponsor of the IDEA Club, is always open to new ideas (Kelley says he gets a handful from students every week). They beta-tested it a couple of times last fall, but the February event showed how quickly it has grown — it had about three times as many tables. The entrepreneurs also got to grab a microphone and pitch their startup to the crowd.
“The whole idea was to have a marketplace like a flea market, like Phoenix First Friday. But in the beginning, it was mostly just student companies pitching their ideas and promoting their businesses,” Hazzard said. “Now we have companies doing makeup, selling clothes, creative notebooks they made themselves, and we also have those businesses still pitching.”
Many of the ideas were high-tech, but there also was good old-fashioned creativity. Example: Shell’s Collages, the work of sophomore Saschelle Triboulet, an Early Childhood Education major from Fontana, Calif. She takes pages from magazines and turns them into beautiful designs on notebooks, greeting cards, picture frames, bookmarks and numerous other items.
She started collaging in junior high, taking apart food boxes to decorate her notebooks. But she didn’t pick it up in earnest until her junior year in high school, when her English teacher loved collaging so much, Triboulet said, she let her make a collage instead of writing a paper for some assignments.
Triboulet’s business has reached the point where she has started an etsy.com account, and she spent most of Christmas break creating the inventory that was on display this week. “I didn’t feel bad for watching Netflix all day — it was productive,” she said.
Her favorite magazine to pull from? Oprah. “She has a lot of quotes and stuff,” Triboulet said. Next best: travel magazines.
Two tables down from Triboulet was College Shout Out, a localized version of Facebook that had launched its app the day before. Its table, complete with its logo on the tent, was surrounded by students eager to find out how to connect with each other for information on food deals, tickets, possible roommates, etc. The idea is to have an individualized app for every university.
“Facebook started among Harvard students — we’re trying to go back to that original idea,” said Chris Diaz, one of the app’s founders.
One of the display’s attractions for students was spinning a wheel for prizes, including a chance to pie one of the College Shout Out founders in the face. “That’s one of our marketing tactics. A lot of students are using Snapchat, so we created our own Snapchat folder,” said Diaz, wiping the shaving cream off his face.
Welcome to modern marketing, circa 2017.
But the true stars were the creators of Storage Together, winner of an international competition last fall in Barcelona for an app that brings together people who need storage space with those who have extra room.
Jedidiah Woods and the rest of the team have become something akin to entrepreneurial advisers on campus — it’s not uncommon for people to approach them and ask for tips. Like several other startups, they were decked out in T-shirts with their logo.
“I’m honored to hook them up like that,” Woods said. “We’re all entrepreneurs. We love anytime someone has ideas and wants to start on them. Yes, we’ll tell you what we know — we don’t know that much, but we know enough. It’s such a cool opportunity. We connect them with, obviously, the College of Business professors because that’s where we got our help.”
They’re even doing consulting for a high school startup called Bright Up the Night, which won a competition at Seed Spot, the Phoenix business incubator.
“We’re in college and we’re already doing business consulting. It’s like, ‘What the heck?’” Woods said, laughing. “We’ve been really blessed. It’s a whirlwind. But that’s what businesses are — a whirlwind.”
That’s also what the next two months will be for students hoping to enter the Canyon Challenge. Kelley said it’s not too late to get on the pitch list for the three remaining Shark Tanks of the academic year, and “if we get more requests, we’ll add more Shark Tanks.” There also will be another Marketplace on March 7.
The message is simple: If you have an idea, pursue it. Hazzard, for example, is trying to bring to market an app that organizes date nights for couples. “We take your interests and plan events around that for you,” he said.
But even he had to overcome his initial doubts.
“I think a lot of people overthink it,” he said. “I overthink a lot of things. The hardest thing is just to stop thinking and start doing.”
And then start making those T-shirts.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.