Bucknell students parlay participation into real-world business success.
November 22, 2016, BY Avid Khorramian '17
and Jake Malavsky '19
BizPitch teams hone their skills in every phase of start-up development — and their drive to succeed doesn't end with the competition. Meet four Bucknellians who used what they learned in BizPitch 2015 to launch their own companies.
Emily Nowlin '16 VP of Marketing & Design, Uscape Apparel Before Emily Nowlin '16 was the vice president of marketing & design for Uscape Apparel, a company that specializes in producing college apparel inspired by university landmarks, she was a part of the team that won second place in the 2015 BizPitch competition.
Uscape Apparel began as a Management 101 company led by Nowlin's older brother, Alex '14. After graduation, he moved back to California and began to run Uscape. Emily, a markets, innovation & design major, worked on the designs back on campus. By the time she was graduating, the company was looking for someone to take over the design and marketing full-time, and she stepped up. Now, Uscape Apparel is sold at more than 200 schools.
Nowlin's participation in the Should We Start This Company? course sparked her participation in BizPitch. In the competition, she and her teammates pitched a growth strategy for her and her brother's year-old company. The team took second place for their presentation of an enhanced e-commerce plan that explored the viability of online business for Uscape.
"BizPitch allowed us to see the different growth strategies and learn which ones worked and which ones didn't," said Nowlin, who is one year into her role as VP. "I think in general, the competition is a great resource for anyone at Bucknell who is interested in entrepreneurship."
West Shepherd '17 Founder & CEO, Friendress West Shepherd '17 and a group of four other Bucknell students started Friendress in hopes of fostering a network for sharing fashion with friends. While taking the interdisciplinary course Should We Start This Company?, Shepherd and his peers identified an opportunity in the trend of college students, and women in particular, frequently sharing clothes.
Their work in the course culminated with their participation in the 2015 BizPitch competition. Although the application was only in its early stages of beta development at the time, Shepherd saw it as a great opportunity to receive honest feedback and criticism on their concept and business plan. Laying out the intricacies of their idea in front of a panel of judges allowed them to do just that.
"The judges' reaction to our pitch helped me understand what kind of investor might be interested in our business," said Shepherd, an interdepartmental major. "The competition helped me tailor our outreach when seeking funding."
After reaching the finals of the 2015 BizPitch competition, Shepherd and his team went on to make it into the top 32 finalists in the national Student Startup Madness competition. Just a year later, Friendress' core mobile product is under development as the group looks into more innovative technological applications of the idea that take a step away from the mobile revolution and toward other emerging digital interfaces.
"Friendress has driven me to explore social enterprise as a career path that I am passionate about," Shepherd explained. "I love that many for-profit companies are designing business models to bring technology to the developing world. I plan to join that movement."
Uttam Kumaran '18 and Diego Aldana '18 Founders, Maker EDU Uttam Kumaran '18, computer engineering, and Diego Aldana '18, mechanical engineering, became fascinated with makerspaces as first-year roommates at Bucknell. They discovered a desire for makerspaces in schools across the K-12 spectrum and throughout the country, but found that many educators lacked the knowledge of how to go about creating them. Together, they came up with the idea to start a company that could help bring makerspaces to schools.
In their sophomore year, the pair brought their idea for Maker EDU to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in order to prepare for the 2015 BizPitch Competition. After competing in the first round, the team began to seek advice from Dennis Hummer, a business consultant in the SBDC. Hummer helped them to narrow their focus and find specificity in their services.
Soon after, Kumaran and Aldana were approached by the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU), an organization based in nearby Montandon, Pa., that provides educational services for 17 school districts in the region. CSIU was tasked with building a makerspace but didn't have the tools. Recently, the team at Maker EDU opened this makerspace with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The company provides CSIU with design, product selection and help implementing the makerspace into the school curriculum. "But having BizPitch really accelerated that because we needed to formulate all of that in a matter of two weeks," Kumaran said. "So we wrote a business plan. We came up with a ton of ways we could make money, how we would reach out to clients, the benefits we would provide to companies, why we should actually be a company and why we would be profitable. That really pushed us forward." The pair continues to build Maker EDU with the help of the SBDC.
Avid Khourramian '17 and Jake Malavsky '19 are Undergraduate Executive Interns in the Division of Conmmunications.
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