Rowan University senior Nicholas Dennis and graduate Melissa Schipke have different ideas for increasing community engagement, but they share the same dream of building early-stage startups.
With help from the Rowan University Innovation Venture Fund, the two will be able to do just that.
The fund — dedicated to helping young entrepreneurs build fledgling businesses into viable operations that produce a return on investment and help create jobs — recently awarded Dennis and Schipke with $100,000 investments to help grow their companies.
Dennis, founder and CEO of mobile fitness appfitDEGREE, and Schipke, co-founder and CEO of alumni-engagement app Tassl, received the first allocations since the Rowan University Foundation created the fund in 2014
Fund Manager Howard Lubert said the two winners, selected from 50 proposals, were logical fits.
“Both Nick and Melissa are outstanding jockeys and I use that word intentionally because if you speak to business investors, one of the comments you would hear more times than not is ‘bet the jockey, not the horse.'”
Rowan University President Ali Houshmand likened the capital investment project at the college to the popular television show “Shark Tank.”
“We want to provide opportunities to turn ideas into real, tangible results that will create jobs and be an economic driver for the South Jersey region,” Houshmand told the Courier-Post in 2014.
Before creating fitDEGREE, Dennis said there wasn’t an easy way for people to find fitness partners or activities in the area. From his experience, it was always easier to stay consistent in the gym with a fitness partner.
“I have always been involved in all forms of fitness and I want this to be an all-inclusive platform for fitness enthusiasts of all different backgrounds and experience levels to feel comfortable on. This should allow everyone easy access to engaging in a fit lifestyle,” Dennis said.
“It was then I thought of an app that would help Rowan students find a fitness partner on campus,” he added.
Dennis and business partner Dan Read entered the Rohrer College of Business 2015 Business Plan Competition, where they won first place and were awarded $7,500.
“It was there we were approached by one of the panelists who spoke about the opportunity that the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund could provide us. After months of thinking about how we would obtain an investment to keep the momentum going, it was right under our nose. It was incredible timing and an excellent opportunity for us to capitalize on,” Dennis said.
Schipke, a Cherry Hill resident, created Tassl last year to increase alumni relations. Her app uses mobile and software technologies to enhance college alumni networks and communities
Schipke graduated from Penn State University in 2009 and spent the first five years of her career with a Fortune 200 company while completing her MBA through Rowan University. As an active alum, she found it hard to find out what the Penn State community in Philadelphia was doing.
“For me as an alumni to go find out the sports scores, what’s going on in the Penn State community in Philly, it seemed like I had to go to 25 different websites for all of the information I wanted,” she said. “So Tassl is the idea of making engagement easy for alum, while making tracking of that engagement easy for universities and colleges.”
With the investment, Schipke plans on continuing to grow her team of four by adding multiple full-time employees by the end of the year.
“We’re really thankful for the opportunity Rowan has given us. It’s a huge value to be an alumni and be eligible to participate in a fund like that. I just want people to know that there are opportunities out there if you need early-stage funding.”