Senior nails the top prize in Canyon Challenge

Canyon Challenge winner Ashley Courlivant's business sells press-on nails.

Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Matt Nykamp
GCU News Bureau

Senior Ashley Courlivant saw a problem as an active senior at Grand Canyon University who loves to snowboard, surf and play volleyball. It can wreak havoc on fingernails, which means repeated trips to the nail salon.

And a woman needs decent nails, she said, because if you look good, you feel good, so you can go out and change the world. But her research showed that those visits to nail salons can end up costing $3,000 annually.

Where there is a problem, an entrepreneur finds a solution, a credo on display Friday at the Canyon Challenge at GCU.

Canyon Challenge winners, from left: Talbert Herndon and Lyric Jackson (third place), Ashley Courlivant (first) and Connor St. Louis. (second).

Courlivant won over judges in the entrepreneurial competition at Canyon Ventures with her solution – an online nail salon without all the time and as much expense. She produces press-on nails, fit to your size using augmented reality technology, while customizing colors and designs for every occasion.

And all for a monthly subscription of $30 for one set of nails and $40 for two sets.

Courlivant already has found an eager population among GCU students, and she says that’s just the fingertip of the iceberg. She’s scaling up her business, Heavenly Angel, to target students at other universities.

So big are her projections – upward of $2 million in profit in phase four, which would include other products such as jewelry – that she found it hard to focus on finishing her classes to graduate in April before she goes at the business fulltime.

“I’m nervous and I’m excited,” she said.

The Surprise, Arizona, native built the business slowly over four years, not buckling from discouragement in failures, and hit her stride during the COVID-19 pandemic, when nail salons were closed.

Word spread on social media and among GCU students about her product, which offers a variety of nails for every occasion. You maybe don’t want neon green nails if you’re in your best friend’s wedding, she said, but they might be great for a fun outing.

Courlivant said she’s selling feeling good and saving time going to a salon, because “women don’t have a lot of time.”

She believes there were overriding reasons she won the first-place prize of $2,500 over four other competitors.

“I’m already in revenue,” she said. “And there is a lot that can happen with this.”

Tim Kelley, left, Assistant Professor for Entrepreneurship and Economics, and Robert Vera, Director of the Canyon Ventures Center, applaud students' Canyon Challenge presentations.

Robert Vera, Director of the Canyon Ventures Center, agreed. He said that Courlivant could scale her business fastest with the prize money.

But the competition awards more than money. Winners earn recognition on a wall in the Colangelo College of Business.

“They become part of the legacy,” he said.

In its 11th year, the Challenge is the semester’s result of weekly “Shark Tank”-like pitches among students who have ideas for a business. Event organizer and emcee Carson Foley, the Idea Club president, helps coach the presentations.

Those pitches are laid out before three judges with details on target audiences, competition, marketing, costs and projected profits and judged on the communication of the idea and its contents, the revenue model, scalability and viability.

The level of detail involved was evident in freshman mechanical engineering student Nathan Olsen’s presentation. He says it takes him one minute, 52 seconds of machining work to produce a keychain, the aluminum product of his AL Keychains, which he is selling to schools and organizations. That helps in projecting how many he can make and his profit each day.

The research and number-crunching are part of the process that gives students a chance to validate their idea and scale their business, said Tim Kelley, Assistant Professor for Entrepreneurship and Economics in CCOB and the guiding force behind the Canyon Challenge. But a lot of proof comes in putting those ideas to a test in the marketplace.

“The best way to learn business is to do business,” he said.

Students Lyric Jackson and Talbert Herndon have done that with Fuze, the third-place winner of $1,000, a scented oil diffuser that also is a plant pot, sending aromas into the air through the aesthetic appeal of greenery. They’re already selling them in online marketplaces.

Jackson said she just wanted her room in college to smell better and teamed up with Herndon, who founded Grand Launch Media, a marketing and film production company based at Canyon Ventures.

As the students showed, great ideas can come from needs in your own life.

Connor St. Louis

When student Connor St. Louis learned that his grandfather ended up in the emergency room because he forgot when to take his medication, he had an idea: Create a mobile application to scan a code on the pill bottle that gives users information on when they last took the pill and caregivers a notification.

Insurance companies and hospitals win with the Cherish application by saving on expensive liability costs for medication user errors, and “more importantly, my grandpa wins,” he said.

The judges – Vera, Digitile Co-Founder and CEO Michelle Eichner and Schola Founder and CEO Jaime Martinez – awarded the April biomedical engineering graduate a second-place prize of $1,500.

“Connor has a big idea, a moon shot that can save lives,” Vera said.

But all five of the competitors had powerful and confident presentations, he said. They didn’t just dream up an idea, he said. They’re doing it.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Related content:

GCU Today: Freshman sews up victory in Canyon Challenge

GCU Today: A first: Freshmen deliver Canyon Challenge title


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