The Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy, located in COBA, founded the Springboard Student Venture Competition to support the growth of ACU undergraduate and graduate student businesses and nonprofit organizations. Winners receive one-time funding from $500 – $3,000.
In order for the students to be able to compete in front of the Springboard judging panel, the students must be enrolled at ACU, must own at least 51% of their venture, and must be engaged in entrepreneurial activities such as the Founders Club, a student venture club led by Mindy Howard, the Student Engagement Coordinator in the Griggs Center. Awards are based on the panel’s assessment of the potential of the business and the “spirit of entrepreneurship displayed by the student(s)”. Students come prepared with a 3 – 4-minute speech and the necessary financial reports for their business. Each student receives feedback on their presentation/business model and a chance to compete again in the next competition for those who are not awarded funding in the current competition. This year, the students gave their pitch to three local business owners via video chat.
A.J. Brown, senior management major from Midland, Texas won this round of competition receiving a total of $3,000 to put towards his business, Southern Sno Shaved Ice.
We asked Brown about his business and how he got started. “Southern Sno is a mobile shaved ice trailer in Midland. We have a location that is open daily during the summer, while also catering to events/parties with an outfitted gas-powered cart that we like to call the ‘Jolly Trolley’. We pride ourselves on being the fastest shaved ice drive-thru in town, with the nicest employees. Our sno-cones have fun and unique flavors with the softest ice.”
One thing that unites many of the Founders Club members is how they got started. Each student has a unique story, but they could all agree that they put themselves out there and went for what they wanted to achieve. “During my freshman year of college, I changed my major to business after the first semester. Because of that, I was looking for something that I could do in the summer that could teach me about business while still getting to hang out with my friends. Options were limited because it had to be a seasonal business, so that is where the idea of sno-cones came into play. I used the money I saved up from a mobile car detailing business I ran in high school and hit the ground running!”
We love hearing Brown’s story and his inspiration to create his own work experience based on what he has been learning in COBA. From beginning his business to winning the competition, we asked Brown what he learned from the experience. “The competition was a great experience for me. It gave me a reason to step back, analyze what things I have done well, and what things I need to improve on. I also loved the experience of having to come prepared and confident about presenting my business in front of a group of successful entrepreneurs. I am very grateful for the Griggs Center and all that it does!”
Now that Brown has won, he says, “In all that I do with this business, I want to go about it in a smart and professional manner. I have heard of many companies that scale too fast and it ends up hurting them. My dream is to expand Southern Sno into other cities in Texas. But for now, I am focused on mastering the operations in Midland. At Southern Sno, everything is made in-house: syrups, ice, etc. The last two years I have been very blessed to be able to use a commercial kitchen from a group in Midland. I have realized that this isn’t a great long-term solution for scaling the business. So, with the money I have won from the competition, I will outfit the small warehouse that Southern Sno leases from a group in Midland. This allows me to have all of the supplies, ice, syrups, and trailers all in one place which really helps operations. Once we master that, we will look to move forward with possibly expanding into other markets.”
Owning a small business during COVID-19 has proved to be a difficult task for business owners all across the nation. We asked Brown what it has been like to continue operations as a young entrepreneur. He told us, “COVID-19 brought about some crazy instances. The first crazy thing we had to deal with was on our ‘Opening Day’ that we had been advertising for over a month. Thirty minutes before opening, the owner of the lot we were using called and said we could not be there. So that was a mess, but we recovered and ended up finding a great location. I would say the main thing that we had to change was we completely pivoted into a drive-thru only location. Before, people could only walk up. The drive-thru actually created a quicker and more efficient way for us to get cars in and out, and it showed in our daily revenue. The biggest downside we faced was that our business was hurt with not really being able to do many events throughout the summer. The year before that was our primary source of income. We are hoping to increase both of those streams of revenue this next summer, hoping that Covid calms down!”
Congratulations to A.J. Brown for all of his hard work and accomplishments that have led him to this point in his entrepreneurial journey. We look forward to seeing his continued growth as an entrepreneur as he continues to learn and expand his business.
You can check out Southern Sno Shaved Ice here!