Blade Taylor admits sometimes it’s hard for him to concentrate in classes.
He’s got 3D printing, vinyl decals and profit margins on the brain.
Grades? Minor details.
“I came here to network,” Taylor said of his priority at Old Dominion University.
If the way Taylor talks sounds more like a business executive than a college junior, well, that’s not far off. His customized products startup, 3DXtremes, is growing, thanks in part to the support of the campus’ Strome Entrepreneurial Center.
The business was one of about 20 showcased Tuesday during the entrepreneurial center’s first Student Company Expo. The concepts ran the gamut from CampusWise, an online textbook exchange business, to757 Surfboards, a custom surfboard maker.
Business partners Monte Jose and Ali Leonard presented their fashion brand, Niont, which will focus on luxury accessories for an urban market. Mike Beyrodt’s company is based on an invention that starts a fire with the pull of a string. (To see the pocket-sized contraption in action, watch a video on his website, www.pullstartfire.com.)
Over 130 people came to check out the companies’ tables, which featured samples and marketing materials. Some of the businesses talked to students about internships – not for them, but internships with their burgeoning businesses.
Nancy Grden, executive director of the center, said the idea for the expo came from the students and will likely become a regular event.
“There’s no course credit with this,” Grden said. “It’s all self-motivated, which is what entrepreneurs are.”
Strome, who lives in Southern California, graduated from Old Dominion in 1978 with an engineering degree. Today, he is the chief investment officer for Strome Group and Strome Investment Management.
The center, which is housed within the Visual Arts Building, hosts events with guest speakers, offers professional resources for student entrepreneurs and helps connect young entrepreneurs with mentors and internships. Recently, the center has expanded into another room, where a handful of student businesses share a work space.
Some students who have received guidance from the center also have paid jobs there.
For freshman Janay Brown, the $8 an hour she earns answering phones, meeting with other students and maintaining the facility has been instrumental for B-Class Strippers, her gourmet bacon company. About 90 percent of her paycheck goes back into the business, she said, whether to fund her website or buy 15-pound boxes of pork from Restaurant Depot.
Brown makes over a dozen flavors, from apple cinnamon to teriyaki. Each kind has a stripper name, part of the company’s branding. Her other popular item is bacon molded into a shot glass.
Soon she’ll be able to increase her production. In September, she’ll have use of a commercial cooking facility in Virginia Beach that will get her out of her parents’ Haymarket kitchen.
“Cash or credit?” Brown asked as Joumani Vryant, a senior, placed an order for a half-package of honey sriracha bacon at the expo. It was her 13th sale of the day.
The center has given Brown opportunities she never imagined when she started making bacon for a high school project. The program has connected her with mentors and introduced her to business professionals from the industry, such as Smithfield Foods.
“Each person has benefited me in a really helpful way,” Brown said.