Ready to Launch: New Entrepreneurs
“Houston, we have a problem.”
Precisely this same can-do spirit and outside-the-box thinking is alive and well at Marywood—with a bold new generation of business leaders, ready to blast off and make history of their own from the University’s innovative, ready-for-liftoff Entrepreneurship Launch Pad.
The ELP concept, as a way to help students get off to a flying start in the business world, is a brainchild of Drs. Art Comstock and Chris Speicher. Geared especially for students whose goal is to launch their own business enterprises, the program pairs practical, down-to-earth experiences with a broad academic and theoretical background—plus a firm grounding in values of ethical leadership, integrity, and accountability, at which Marywood has long excelled.
In a sense, ELP is an extension of the “Sandbox Initiative,” undertaken with the help of a state grant. Its aim was to get teams from area colleges and universities together to put forth business ideas. Different entrepreneurs, professionals, and instructors would speak each week, giving students the nuts-and-bolts of how to do a start-up, covering everything from legal aspects to marketing strategies, personnel, social media, and more. The ensuing Great Valley Technology Alliance (GVTA) Business Plan Competition required teams to present a plan for a new business—with start-up capital as the top prize. Marywood sent four teams each year...with stunning results: to wit, three winners and four runners-up since the competition began eleven years go.
Winner or not, for budding entrepreneurs, the experience itself has proved invaluable; 61 percent of participants have started businesses as a direct result of participation; 55 percent have started other businesses; 91 percent indicated that being part of the GVTA competition was extremely helpful; 70 percent said participation had a positive effect on their careers. Proposed entrepreneurial ventures have been as varied as the students themselves.
Take for instance, Jack Reager '00 (MBA '04), pictured at right, a GVTA finalist who founded BlackOut Design. This creative, full-service, interactive marketing agency blends emerging technologies with traditional media. Under Reager's innovative guidance, BlackOut Design turns out award-winning materials for an impressive, constantly-growing list of nationally famous clients. (See how Jack Reager defines success)
Winner of the Entrepreneur Institute Competition, grad student Richard Powers ’11, who earned his bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology, teamed up with MBA student Richard Satyavrata ’11, who earned a BBA in Aviation Management, and Jonathan Bieler ’12, who was, at the time of the proposal, an undergraduate Business Management student, to present a business plan for Powers’ unusual invention: customized turkey calls.
Powers has been hunting turkey with his father since he was a boy; he developed the exceptionally realistic calls using laser engraving and web-based personalized design. He’d once planned to become a dentist, but with the GVTA win, he’s looking to market his Triple Toe Turkey Calls to an estimated 980,000 turkey hunters across the U.S. He’s already had a chance to demonstrate his call to thousands of area hunters through a recent feature on WNEP’s popular Pennsylvania Outdoor Life.
The aroma of success takes many forms. Consider Danielle Fleming (M.A. ’03, M.Ed. ’11), founder of Danielle and Company, Inc., who had already earned her M.A. as a mental health professional when she returned to Marywood to pursue a second master’s in Instructional Leadership. Fleming, who has served on the board of the GVTA, was a previous judge for the Business Plan Competition, and a lecturer for Marywood’s Entrepreneurship Series, had been fascinated with the way certain aromas can influence moods and behaviors. She decided to try infusing beneficial scents into bars of soap, an effort that began as a “bubbly experiment,” she said. Fleming made specially scented soaps in her kitchen and sold them at the local farmer’s market, beginning her business in 2002 while still a graduate student at Marywood.
“I love how Marywood is working with students to encourage entrepreneurship,” she said, noting that when she started her company, “there was little support in the region” for such endeavors. There was, however, support and encouragement from the Marywood community. Fleming won a Keystone Innovation Grant in 2009 that awarded $49,000 to her project, “The Behavioral Scent Classification System: Development and Commercialization.” This collaboration between Danielle and Company and Marywood University created baseline research in the development of a behaviorally-based scent classification system. Fleming and C. Estelle Campenni, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology and Psychology Program Director, were the principal investigators on the yearlong project. Today, the firm markets a range of wonderfully scented, eco-friendly beauty products internationally—and Danielle Fleming is the recipient of multiple academic and business awards.
Convinced that technology can help block one of the world’s cruelest killers, three enterprising young women, Antonia Cianflone ’15, Alyssa Kintz ’14, and Evana Salierno ’15, all undergraduate Business Management students, have developed a “Safe Sleeping” baby “onesie” to help prevent the tragedy of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)—a leading cause of death among infants. A special sensor in the garment will monitor a baby’s vital information, which parents can access via a downloadable app. These inventive entrepreneurs are presently seeking a patent for their innovative idea.
Shaun Hynes ’13, who just earned his BBA in Business Management, wants to put technology to work in another important medical field— as an app to help diabetics. He’s developing software with potential to decrease the number of needed punctures and increase accuracy. The app will be trained to adapt to individual body movement, food intake, and insulin needs— and it could be paired with hardware that has a universal remote for insulin pumps, to wirelessly automate shots. Hynes has already received a Sandbox grant and a research grant. With the enthusiastic support of prominent physicians, he also could receive well over $850,000 more in research funding.
The Entrepreneurship Launch Pad as a curriculum concept will be open to all disciplines observes Chris Speicher, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Business and Managerial Science. “Starting a business isn’t discipline-specific. I’ve sat in on art classes, and students have some amazing ideas for how to sell and market what they do,” Dr. Speicher says. “We’re impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit in students majoring in architecture, nutrition, music, the physician assistant program. This is about passion; it’s about channeling that passion into specific training. We can provide the right tools and help with that.”
“We’ve built the program on what we’ve identified as three pillars of excellence—Instruct...Instill...Inspire,” says Art Comstock, Ph.D., Executive Director and Chairman of the Business and Managerial Science Department. “The approach we took about five years ago was to expose students to as many outsiders [in the business world] as we possibly could.”
“I absolutely insist that they get mentors,” Dr. Speicher states. “I ask, ‘Who do you aspire to be?’ Find that person who inspires you. We host the Entrepreneurship Speaker Series, in which we have about ten or twelve entrepreneurs come and make presentations each academic year. Then we instruct students go out and interview three people who have started companies they admire.
“We’ve had some of the most bizarre things happen,” he continues. “I had a student who picked up the phone and called T. Boone Pickens. The student received a hand-signed book and a business card with Pickens’ private number and a note that said, ‘Call me if you need me.’”
“You never know what’s going to grab students’ interest,” Dr. Comstock explains. “You have to make sure you get as many different entrepreneurs [as speakers/mentors] as you can...in all different areas to inspire them.”
Some of the successful business leaders featured in Marywood’s Entrepreneurship Speaker Series, Dr. Speicher notes, include Sal Maiolatesi of Maiolatesi Wine Cellars; Adam Ceresko of Pathmapp and Appek Mobile Apps, Jim Ritter of Ritter’s Farms; and Dick Yeungling of Yeungling Brewery. ”We already have a student who wants to start a brew pub,” he adds.
An especially positive mentor has been Patrick Sandone, whose impeccable credentials include an MBA from Columbia University, and a summa cum laude Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania. After a highly successful career as a venture capitalist and investment banker in New York City, he returned to his Lackawanna Valley roots and founded Net Driven, a service technology firm (something of a natural, considering his family background in the automotive industry). Key contributors to the success of the forward-thinking firm are all products of a Marywood education: regional sales manager William Martellaro (MBA ’12), lead graphic designer Kathryn Bondi ’10, and creative director Travis Christianson, who studied graphic design at Marywood.
Dr. Speicher, who teaches an entrepreneurship class, says the ELP involves an “extremely hands-on” approach to making students who want to start their own businesses a success. “Our tagline is ‘Entrepreneurs Helping Each Other.’ The idea is to have an exchange of services. Our students will be looking to experienced entrepreneurs for assistance and guidance. In exchange, the students will be providing services to the entrepreneurs through internships, volunteerism, employment, and other factors.
“When you open up a text book, they all say the same thing. We all teach the same thing in the classroom about how to start a business, but until you take the students and inspire them to actually do it— that’s when you get to that next level. That’s when it makes sense.”
In other words: if you’re daring enough to shoot for the entrepreneurial moon, it’s a good idea to (a) have had solid, real life experience in handling the craft that can get you there and (b) when challenges come along, look for backup and guidance from folks with know-how—those who believe “failure is not an option.”
“Starting a business isn’t discipline-specific. I’ve sat in on art classes, and students have some amazing ideas for how to sell and market what they do. We’re impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit in students majoring in architecture, nutrition, music, the physician assistant program. This is about passion; it’s about channeling that passion into specific training. We can provide the right tools and help with that.”
- Dr. Chris Speicher