College Campuses are prime target markets and hotbeds of potential innovation, according to student entrepreneurs selected as winners of grants from the Boyd Venture Fund at the University of Tennessee.
The fund, administered through the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the UT College of Business Administration, selected InHouse GFX and Adams Innovation to split the $20,000 prize awarded for the Fall of 2012.
Both companies were founded on the UT campus and initially found success targeting the student market.
“During my freshman year I wanted a hammock, but all the ones I looked at were too expensive and the suspension system didn’t work the way I wanted,” said Alex Adams, a junior in mechanical engineering and founder of Adams Innovation LLC.
Most hammocks he looked at had a weakness in the suspension system that resulted in the hammock slipping on the tree or other support, he said. Adams said he researched hammocks and designed one that cost less than the competition and worked better.
While working on his design, Adams also did some market research and found that there was interest in hammocks from other students in his dorm. As word-of-mouth spread he began to realize that he had a business opportunity.
After researching cost of materials and construction, Adams decided to source his materials and product from China. He also explored advertising on social media and his website at xadagear.com.
Adams sought some advice from Tom Graves director of operations at the Anderson Center and one of the administrators of the Boyd Fund. Graves suggested he apply for the award.
“It was Tuesday and the deadline to apply was Friday,” Adams said.
A week of frenzied activity ended up in Adams incorporating, getting a business license and applying for the award. When he learned that he was a finalist he also prepared a PowerPoint presentation for the next round of judging.
The funding provided to Adams will be used to pay for his first shipment of 500 hammocks, which will sell for about $65 each.
In the future he plans to add accessories such as rain-flys and bug nets that can turn the hammock into a portable shelter for camping.
Tony Smith, the founder of InHouse GFX and a senior at UT studying public relations, was also inspired by a potential market opportunity he saw on campus.
The company provides marketing and promotional products and services, particularly for fraternities, sororities and other student organizations. He plans on using the award from the Boyd Fund to upgrade computer systems including the company website at inhousegfx.com and to hire a production manager.
Smith said his first attempt at a business was a clothing company that didn’t last very long. After closing an office he decided to regroup with his partner Justin Ruffin, a junior in communications at UT.
His business idea was based on providing promotional services including custom screen printing of T-shirts, graphics design and Web page development. Smith said he got the idea after observing the large amount of money being spent by campus organizations to promote their organizations.
“Sororities and fraternities buy hundreds of T-shirts,” he said.
In addition to word-of-mouth, he used social media including Facebook and Google. His long term plans involve the creation of a network of affiliates at campuses across the country.
“Our vision is to be on numerous college campuses where we will employ students,” he said.
Smith said he and his partner have invested all the money they’ve made back into the business. “We’ve never taken a dollar of company money,” he said.
Making the vision a reality will take more money, including bringing on investors, he said.
Winning the Boyd Venture fund can be the first step to getting more recognition and more funding, according to UT’s Graves. One of the earliest winners of the award — a company that makes an app for use by restaurants and their customers — was recently able to secure $500,000 in angel funding, he said.
The Boyd Fund was set up by entrepreneur and Radio Systems founder Randy Boyd. Since 2011, the fund has distributed $62,000 in seed capital to eight student owned companies. The grants are available in the Spring and Fall to any student owned business.
Between nine and 13 students usually apply for the awards. A panel of judges including local bankers and businessmen reviews an executive summary and a presentation by the student.
“We ask them to tell us how much they need and what milestones they expect to accomplish with the funding,” he said.
According to Graves, judges are looking for companies that are scalable for growth and those with strong leadership.
Source: KnoxvilleBiz: http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2013/jan/29/boyd-venture-fund-winners-target-campus-market/