By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Kailee Skubal impressed the judges Friday in the Canyon Challenge, but that shouldn't have been a surprise.
She impressed her grandmother and great-grandmother long ago.
The freshman accounting major at Grand Canyon University won the entrepreneurial competition, held virtually for the first time (watch it here), with her pitch for her women’s swimwear startup, Viva Brilhante.
That alone is quite an accomplishment for someone still relatively new to college life, but then you find out that …
She makes the swimwear herself.
And customizes it on request.
And was inspired to start the business by something she saw on TikTok.
And didn’t even know what the Canyon Challenge was until she inquired about whether it was OK to sell her creations out of her residence hall room.
Oh, and one other thing: Her grandmother Colleen Bravo and great-grandmother Idamae Ready, who taught her how to sew when she was 9, thought that creating swimwear was a needle in a haystack even though it was far less complicated than the wedding dresses she helped them make.
“I don’t know how you’re working with swimwear,” her grandma told her. “I never even thought about it. I tried to fix a couple swimming suits and never succeeded at it.’
Undaunted, Skubal was 12 when she met a woman who made swimsuits for Macy’s. “I’m going to be like her one day!” she said to herself.
That one day came to pass last spring. In her first semester at GCU, Skubal saw a woman on TikTok cutting fabric for swimwear. It always had bugged Skubal that she couldn’t find a swimsuit that fit her properly, so she went to a fabric store, spent $175, started making up to two swimsuits an hour and posted photos of her work on Facebook.
Women noticed … and liked what they saw. Two GCU graduates became her first two customers, and before long she had a partnership with two local boutiques.
But it still was a humble little venture until she was introduced to Tim Kelley, Assistant Professor for Entrepreneurship and Economics for the Colangelo College of Business and the man who helps the IDEA Club fire up the Canyon Challenge engine.
Within weeks, Skubal was pitching Viva Brilhante (that’s Portuguese for “live bright” – she loves Brazil) at the weekly Shark Tank gatherings in the CCOB Building, and then Friday she was leading off the Canyon Challenge. It happened that fast.
“I’m just kind of a go-getter personality,” she said.
That isn’t anything new. When her father told her she would have to earn some money if she wanted to go to college, she joined him at the dairy he works at in northeast Colorado.
“I’ve always been a really hard worker,” she said.
It was a similarly quick decision when she visited GCU a year ago to spend time with her fiancé, Isaac Wells. Just like that, she decided that this was the college for her.
And now she’s the 10th winner of the Canyon Challenge. This is someone who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to put in that first stitch.
“I kind of went there to win. I didn’t go to get second or third place,” she said.
The two judges – Canyon Ventures Center Director Robert Vera and Dr. Andre Tran – said Skubal won half of the $5,000 in prize money, donated by Canyon Challenge sponsor Michael Hool and his firm, Hool Coury Law, because her business already is producing revenue. She plans to use part of the money on a new sewing machine and save the rest for fabric or marketing.
Wyatt Winfield finished second, worth $1,500, for BioHark, a heart arrhythmia monitoring device, and Erik Yost received $1,000 for finishing third with Generate, which aims to turn organic waste into sustainable energy.
For the first time, there also was a high school competition – four videos, chosen out of more than 30 submitted, shown while the judges were deliberating. It was won by Josie Ormsby and Madi Downing of Mountain View High School for J&M Bracelets, designed to track the location of females age 8-23.
All in all, it was a successful day for the Canyon Challenge even though the pandemic eliminated the possibility of the usual in-person audience. Kelley praised the work of the IDEA Club and organizer/emcee Carson Foley.
“They found a way to make it work,” Kelley said. “Carson did a great job coaching them, and they did a great job presenting.”
It’s also a big week for Kelley and the entrepreneurship program.
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, he will present at Global Entrepreneurship Week – Arizona 2020. The organization brings together entrepreneurs from around the world, and Kelley will show what’s happening at GCU and other Arizona universities.
One of those things is the Canyon Challenge, which was expanded to twice a year for the 2019-20 academic year. Its business pitches are more impressive every year.
“The reason we did that was to provide more opportunities for those students with businesses, and so far we’ve been able to get students engaged,” he said. “So it’s worked out as we hoped.”
It sure worked out for Kailee Skubal. She doesn’t waste any time sewing things up.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
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