Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Enrique Lucha
GCU News Bureau
The productivity of the recent past and the promise of the near future of the entrepreneurship program in the Colangelo College of Business both were on full display Wednesday morning in the Canyon Challenge.
The present certainly is accounted for, too.
Senior Areahna O’Rea, who has spent most of her time at Grand Canyon University working with the IDEA Club and Canyon Angels, won the annual entrepreneurial competition and the $5,000 that goes with that accomplishment for her millennial and Generation Z job-placement application, Ninjobi.
Freshmen Andrew Flowers and Connor Keene took second place and $3,000 for their digital marketing agency, GreatR Media – and they’re poised to run the IDEA Club in the 2019-20 academic year.
And Malik Rivers, who earned his Entrepreneurial Studies degree from GCU in 2017, was third and got $2,000 for Trvo!, a travel-planning app for millennials and Gen Z’s.
Then there was the new venue, the lobby of the CCOB Building … and the promise of another Canyon Challenge on Dec. 6, breaking from the once-a-year tradition.
So a lot is happening. And so much has happened.
The star of the day was O’Rea, who said she spent part of the morning calculating her odds of winning – she’s a finance and economics major, after all – and the other part “pumping myself up that I could actually win.”
It worked. Her poise was ninja-like.
“She just did a great job presenting – charismatic, did the question-and-answer very well. That’s always a tough spot,” said Tim Kelley, Assistant Professor for Entrepreneurship and Economics and manager of the event.
“Areahna’s been working so hard over the years, mostly with Canyon Angels and the IDEA Club, seeing all these pitches. She did the due diligence pitches so many times, she knows what that question-and-answer feels like. I think you could see that in her and also in Malik.”
But the pitch wasn’t the only thing that impressed the judges. The concept of Ninjobi, a new way for young people to connect to jobs and for employers to reach them, also was a winner, in their view. Essentially, it employs its users and then leases them to customers, who can hire them for full-time jobs if they desire. It also is much more focused on development than most apps of that nature.
“I think it addresses the millennial market specifically and students in general who are looking for jobs,” said Dan Schultz, who judged the competition along with a fellow entrepreneur, Mario Martinez, and attorney Michael Hool. “It addresses it from both sides.
“From the student side, it addresses their need to be flexible in looking for employment. It has an online presence, which is what all millennials are looking for right now – they’re looking for the digital way to approach this. It’s also a way that they can improve their skills, make their skills known, and make those searchable by employers.
“From the employer side, it reduces friction by having a trained employee base, reducing their expenses and making it a lot easier to search for the type of employees that they’re looking for based on what their expectations are in terms of the type of employment they’re looking for, the length of engagement they’re looking for, whether they might be interested in permanent employment, things along those lines.
“We thought that was well thought out and a good approach to an existing market and existing need, which goes beyond what the existing platforms already have. We think she has something unique.”
O’Rea first came up with the idea as a freshman, but it took two-plus years of refining and pitching at the weekly Shark Tanks to bring it home.
“It was just putting my idea out there and then telling people about it and then pivoting,” she said. “We started as a consulting company. We were going into companies and tell them how to work with millennials, and it transformed into something for college students, and then it transformed into something for all of the new generation – millennials and Gen Z’s.”
She was disappointed not to be among the five Canyon Challenge finalists last year but realizes now that she wasn’t ready. She readily admits that she would have invested the money in the wrong approach if she had won – which is interesting because at the end of her presentation Wednesday she actually broke down for the judges how she’d spent the $5,000 if she won.
“The Shark Tanks really helped me because, normally where you’re building your business, people around you are telling you it’s a great idea,” she said. “You’re getting so much positive feedback, and you have no idea how other people are going to respond to it. I call my mom all the time and ask, ‘Mom, what do you think about this idea?’ She’s always so positive: ‘Yeah, you’re great.’
“But when you go into Shark Tanks where people are telling you, ‘That really doesn’t make sense,’ or ‘You need to work on that,’ or ‘I don’t like it,’ it’s really helpful. Then we have investors that come in, and they actually can tell you, ‘This is what we’re looking for, and you don’t have it.’ And then you’re getting the confidence to pitch in front of people.”
Schultz said choosing Ninjobi over GreatR Media, which already is up and running, was a difficult decision, and O’Rea also lauded the work Flowers and Keene have done – both in their startup and in the IDEA Club. Flowers will be President next year, and Keene will be Vice President.
“The new guys we have coming up are taking over everything, and they’re doing a good job,” O’Rea said.
They no doubt will have more ideas for the Canyon Challenge, and Kelley had one himself after the competition Wednesday.
“It’s much more intimate, which is a good thing,” he said. “As we do it more often, I think we’ll continue the flow and positive interaction. I think next time, because of the intimacy, we can even include the crowd a little more, maybe with crowd questions.”
Pivoting and growing – it all falls in line with being an entrepreneur. So does looking ahead, and the Canyon Challenge is just like the startups it seeds. The future is now.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.