How the Abilene Hat Company was Born

Long before Holden Rook and Brooks Gay were assigned a project in their entrepreneurship class requiring them to start a business, the roommates had already discussed starting their own venture.

So when the class project met reality, they already had their plan ready.

Rook – a sophomore marketing major from The Woodlands – said the class brainstormed for “about 2-3 weeks” and then had to pitch the idea to Dr. Jim Litton, associate professor of Management Sciences and Director of the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship & Philanthropy, who was teaching the entrepreneurship class.

“Brooks and I had expressed an interest in doing something before the class had even started, but it was Brooks who kick-started the idea in class,” Rook said. “Brooks was the brains behind the start of it since he’s from Abilene and knew the ins and outs of how to get our business started here locally.”

And that’s how Abilene Hat Company was born.

Gay – a junior business management major from Abilene – is a former baseball player at Abilene Wylie High School and last season at ACU, who had the original idea for a hat company.

“I wanted to create a hat company that represents Abilene and the surrounding areas because of the number of people who wear hats and how much pride people have in being from this area,” Gay said.

After making their pitch to Litton, getting approval, putting together a team, and dividing up responsibilities, the team – consisting of Gay, Rooks, ACU volleyball player Ashli Edmiston, Reece Westby, and Nick Schott – met about logistics and designs and began the process of giving life to the company.

“Our goal was to, first, make a good grade in the class,” Gay said. “We talked about our vision, bounced ideas off each other, and set our goals higher. We wanted to create the most revenue and profit in the current class and break the current record for revenue and profit ever in that class. We broke the current records and created the most revenue to date.”

The team is now just Gay and Rook, and they have moved the business forward to the point that they have a sales point online and in a storefront at Covey Apparel in Terrell, Texas.

“Our short-range goal was to find some local businesses willing to support another small business and give us a chance to get into their stores,” Rook said. “The long-term goal is to expand into all of West Texas to allow many people to see our brand.”

The company’s most popular hat logo is a patch on a rope cap with the words “West Texas” atop a pump jack, an iconic symbol of one of the lifebloods of West Texas life.

“One of our long-term goals is to create different pieces of apparel with similar ideas and designs,” Gay said. “I want to represent where we are from, the pride the people of West Texas have by capturing those feelings and displaying them on a high-quality product. I believe the patch design with the oil rig does the best job of capturing the spirit of the hard-working people of West Texas.”

Gay and Rook said their COBA classes have given them insight into so many different aspects of running a business, from the entrepreneurial mindset to all the areas of running a company.

“The most beneficial things I’ve learned have been small pieces from numerous classes,” Gay said. “We use Excel to keep our books, we use marketing strategies in our social media, and many other entrepreneurship techniques from the classes I have taken.”

Rook echoed some of that when describing what he’s learned inside the walls of the Mabee Business Building.

“Definitely learned more about the entrepreneurial mindset,” Rook said. “You must be ready to adapt to the market and whatever it’s feeding you to succeed. Everything is always changing, and you must be ready to change.”

While Rook said the next stop is continued growth and perhaps adding additional employees, Gay said he wants to expand the business into collegiate athletics, where Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) now allows student-athletes to promote products in exchange for money.

“That would not only be mutually beneficial for us and the student-athlete but will also significantly push our brand,” Gay said. “The athletes we are connected with at large schools have significant social media presence and will grow our total audience.”

To learn more about entrepreneurship at ACU, click here.

Student Spotlight: Natalie Lewis

written by special contributor, Lance Fleming

The pandemic of 2020 wreaked havoc on the global economy, shut down businesses and schools, drove employees to home offices, separated friends and family, and took most people away from their routines.

But in ways no one considered before COVID, it brought families closer together, allowed everyone to slow down and take care of themselves and each other, and gave everyone time to reflect and think. It’s also when Natalie Lewis decided on a career path.

During those days spent sitting in her parents’ home in The Woodlands, she turned to YouTube videos to pass the time. She focused on fashion and lifestyle YouTubers, which led her to follow those influencers on Instagram. That’s when she put the pieces together.

“I noticed those individuals had made a career out of creating content for their audience and brands that they love,” said Lewis, a senior marketing major from The Woodlands. “I knew that would be something I would love to do, so I decided to give it a shot.”

Lewis began her own Instagram page (@natalieelewiss), which not only chronicles her life, but also allows her to pass along lifestyle and fashion advice. She engages with other influencers through YouTube and Instagram, which she says is her favorite platform. That’s why she started on Instagram but will expand to YouTube after she graduates in May.

Her parents, Colter (‘95) and Elizabeth (‘96), have supported her post-college career decision, especially after she’s seen so much success – almost 15,000 followers – early in the process. Her mother helps Lewis create content, and her father helps her think through all the logistics of payment and pitching herself to different brands.

“My parents have watched my gradual build-up from simply getting free products to getting paid campaigns, and they were able to understand it better,” Lewis said. “They saw the hard work I put in behind the scenes of growing my platform and gained more respect for what I wanted to do. When I told them I wanted to pursue this career, they already understood it and saw that influencing is a fast-growing industry.”

The influencer industry is relatively new, and she said the most important piece is finding a niche, a target audience, a social media platform that resonates with the audience, and constantly revamping the platforms for consistency. Lewis began slowly, posting outfit photos on Instagram because she wanted to step into the world of fashion content.

That made it easier to get brand collaborations from companies, who would look at her feed and see that her content aligned with their brand.

Once I branded my Instagram, I started reaching out to small clothing brands and got rejected by some and accepted by others,” Lewis said. “Once companies had seen my work with other brands, they became more interested in working with me because of my credibility. And that has led me to work with bigger brands.”

Lewis didn’t have a marketing plan when she started, just a passion for fashion and taking pictures. She began posting for fun because she was curious where the posts might lead. When Lewis found her passion, she researched how to grow her account and work with different brands. She didn’t write a marketing plan until her junior year at ACU.

Lewis said no follower count or income level is required to be considered an influencer. Consistency in posting and connecting with the community, Lewis said, are most important in building a career as an influencer.

“It’s a mindset,” Lewis said. “If you want to be an influencer, you have to post like one, which is awkward at first. But you get used to it. I got my first brand deal with 3,000 followers and have seen many other creators work with brands with only 1,000 followers. You can be an influencer with only 1,000 followers and earning no money, just as long as you’re actively pursuing influencing. In my first year of content creation, I only received free products and earned no money. Consistency, engagement rate, community, and trustworthiness are how I would measure whether someone is an influencer.”

Her education in COBA, she said, has helped her learn how to market herself, implement those plans, and measure the growth of her brand.

“I’ve had a tremendous opportunity to build relationships with so many professors who have helped me with this venture, specifically Dr. Jennifer Golden,” Lewis said. “She has helped me with my professional goals within the influencing industry. COBA has taught me how to market myself on social media. The biggest lessons I’ve learned are about personal branding, which is a crucial topic in the influencing industry because it sets one apart from millions of other influencers. The models and plans I’ve been taught in COBA have influenced my decision-making, steering me where I want to take my social media.”

After she graduates from ACU, Lewis said she looks forward to expanding her niche into more lifestyle-based content (bridal, newly married, interior design, daily routine, family, etc.). She also said she wants to focus more on growing and creating the content she truly loves while continuing to create fashion content.

“I’m going to get a job after graduation while pursuing influencing on the side,” Lewis said. “However, I’m going to work hard to grow my platforms so that one day I’ll be able to quit my job and focus on influencing full-time. Creating content for my audience and working with brands I love is my biggest passion, so the end goal is to go into influencing full-time one day.”

Making an Impact: COBA’s Societal Impact Plan in Costa Rica

Written by special contributor Lance Fleming

Costa Rica, a small Central American country, is experiencing a significant increase in tourism. Travel officials in Costa Rica expect an unprecedented surge in tourists in 2023 and 2024. This country is famous for its national parks, rainforests, beaches, wildlife, and outdoor activities. 

ACU students in the College of Business Administration have been traveling to Costa Rica since an initial Central America Study Abroad trip with Dr. Mark and Dr. Laura Phillips in 2016. In 2018, they traveled to Turrialba, Costa Rica to visit CATIE, an agricultural university with a focus on economic development. In 2019, the first Social Enterprise Consulting class was offered and the partnership with CATIE began, focusing on economic development.  But those students aren’t just in Costa Rica to observe. They are learning practical skills in research, marketing, and product creation from a class taught by Dr. Laura Phillips, Dr. Sarah Easter, Dr. Jennifer Golden, Dr. Mark Phillips, and Daniel Garcia. Currently, the class is working with local entrepreneurs to launch products made from materials donated by Southwest Airlines. 

Dr. Mark Phillips and Garcia will teach the class next semester, and then Easter and Golden will teach a summer course. Students in each class will go over topics teaching them how to be a consultant, how to help without hurting, Costa Rican culture (both generally and in the business world), and some project-specific topics. 

During Spring Break, the spring semester class will be in Costa Rica, and afterward, they will focus on completing their deliverable to the client for the rest of the semester. Dr. Laura Philips said the summer class will have a different format. It will include 5-6 weeks of online content on the same topics as in the spring. After that, students will spend nearly two weeks in Costa Rica to work on the project. 

AACSB (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) seeks to encourage all accredited schools to make a societal impact. As they state on their website,  “AACSB’s vision of societal impact is that business schools contribute their specialized expertise to help mitigate some of society’s most pressing economic, social, human, and environmental problems.” 

COBA was already seeking to make a broader societal impact through their programs. Now the Costa Rica activities are part of a broader COBA initiative. Dr. Laura Phillips said, “It’s exciting because AACSB is now asking us to do more of what we were already doing. The change isn’t to the consulting class. What’s different now is that we will have more activities (curricular, research, and engagement) focused on the same theme of Increasing Educational and Economic Opportunities for People in Marginalized Groups.”

A five-person committee began meeting earlier this year to come up with a theme for the college’s work, Increasing Educational and Economic Opportunities for People in Marginalized Groups, and a tentative five-year plan. 

“The plan includes curricular, research, and engagement objectives for our residential and online campuses,” Dr. Phillips said. “The Costa Rica class is one piece of this plan. We want the societal impact plan to provide opportunities for all interested faculty and staff to be involved, and that is part of the reason we are expanding the faculty who teach the consulting class. The plan also includes the development of additional partners for consulting projects. We are interested in developing a second international partner as well as cultivating a partnership closer to home.” 

When Dr. Phillips first visited the CATIE campus with students in 2018, she connected with Dr. Eliecer Vargas, an economist at CATIE who specializes in economic development, which aligns well with the COBA students’ focus in Costa Rica. 

Five years ago, students spent a few days exploring tourism startups by rural female entrepreneurs in towns near Turrialba. After their trip, Dr. Phillips and Dr. Easter approached Vargas to discuss the idea of starting a consulting class and having the group of female entrepreneurs as their first client. Vargas agreed, and Dr. Phillips and Dr. Easter took their first group of consulting students to Costa Rica in the spring of 2019. 

Southwest Airlines has served as the air provider for ACU’s program, transporting students and professors to and from Costa Rica, and in 2022, Southwest Airlines arranged a deal with CATIE to give the university seats from their refurbished planes. 

The Turrialba region is now a major focus of Southwest’s investments. The company has set up a leatherworking shop on campus where local women and men can receive training and have access to leather and high-quality sewing machines with their support. 

As part of Southwest Airlines’ “Repurpose with Purpose” program, each of the company’s fleet of airplanes is overhauled every four years, and as a part of that process, the seat leather is replaced. The leather pulled out of the planes is donated to nonprofit organizations for upcycling projects. 

The idea is to create a business incubator to launch businesses as people graduate from the training program. Jobs are also being created in rural communities because CATIE receives intact seat covers that must be deconstructed before they are upcycled into new products.  

And that’s where the ACU students enter the picture.  

The students’ client is called Wearsos – the first business to come out of the leather project – and it was started by the husband-and-wife duo of Lynne Corvaglia and Chris Riquelme. Aside from upcycled bags, the company also plans to make other products like passport holders, wallets, luggage tags, and shoes. 

No two trips to Costa Rica have been alike, with the specifics of the project changing with every trip, usually at the request of the client. That means the specific business topics the students focus on vary. 

“They always learn something from the business side of the project, although the bigger learning outcomes stem from the nature of cross-cultural consulting,” Dr. Phillips said. “The students have to stretch their problem-solving and critical-thinking skills and they have to do that in a group setting and not just on their own. Their flexibility and adaptability are put to the test every day we are there. 

“They learn that other cultures may have different objectives and priorities for their business than what they usually see in the U.S., and they learn that the American measures of success are not the only measures,” she said. “They also learn that to provide useful recommendations for the client, they have to truly understand the client’s objectives and tailor their business solutions to meet the needs and the desires of the clients.” 

From the business skill side, Dr. Phillips said, the students have worked on market assessments and provided feedback based on the personas of different target customers. One class conducted focus groups to provide market research on potential products. Classes have researched logistics to help the client as they prepare to ship goods from Costa Rica to the US and Canada. 

Other students created a comprehensive marketing plan (Instagram and Facebook posts, email campaigns, etc.) to help a client roll out a Kickstarter campaign. Students listened to entrepreneurs talk about current and future product ideas as well as where and how they intend to sell and then provided a comprehensive list of questions to each entrepreneur to help them think through and further develop their business plans. 

Dr. Phillips said proposed expansion plans for the program that have been discussed are for the Costa Rica consulting class to be offered twice each year: once in the spring and once in the summer with a variety of faculty involved in teaching the class. Dr. Phillips also said she would like to involve COBA alumni on the trip to provide their expertise in the project’s area of focus. 

“That could be social media marketing, logistics, building basic business plans, finding funding sources, or rural development,” she said. “I also hope to continue our partnership with Southwest Airlines. It has been valuable to be working with their Repurpose with Purpose group because we can truly partner to support these clients.”

To learn more about the College of Business at ACU, click here.

Career Fair Helps Students See Possibilities

written by special contributor Lance Fleming

Each year, ACU’s College of Business Administration (COBA) graduates students ready to move into professional fields in numerous types of businesses at every level of an organization. Sometimes, it’s in a company run by an ACU alum who wants to help students at their alma mater secure employment. Other times, it’s a global brand looking for the best and the brightest employees. 

 

Whatever the case might be and whatever employers are looking for, more often than not, ACU graduates – and in particular, ACU COBA graduates – are usually at the head of the line when it comes to new hires each summer.

 

So it shouldn’t be surprising that more than 50 companies from across the state and Oklahoma were represented on Thursday, Oct. 5, for the first joint Career Fair sponsored by COBA and the Department of Engineering and Physics at the Hunter Welcome Center. COBA also has in-house career preparation led by Professional Development and Internship Director Jasmine McCabe-Gossett. Students also have access to the ACU Virtual Career Center with resources to help them create resumes and cover letters. 

 

McCabe-Gossett (2010), who joined COBA last year, sensed a need for a Career Fair. After months of preparation, on October 5, that happened giving COBA students a chance to sit across from potential employers, put their resumes in front of them, and allow them to talk about themselves and what skills they would bring to an organization.

 

Various companies with both a local and international presence participated in the fair, providing our students with options that appealed to all. Business and technology students were able to engage with companies within the following industries: real estate, hospitality, IT services, consulting, distribution,  financial services, sales, healthcare and more. One student noted, “I have never attended a career fair, but it was great! It was so cool to be able to see many different options in internships, companies, and people!”

 

These companies weren’t just looking for full-time employees, either. Internships have become a way for companies to put a student and potential future employee through an on-the-job interview, a point McCabe-Gossett tried to drive home to some of her students going into the Career Fair.

 

“We want to connect students with employers, especially students looking for full-time employment,” she said. “But a considerable focus is to connect employers to potential interns. In the lead-up to the event, we hosted several different workshops to help students feel comfortable and confident, starting with a workshop focused on identifying personal values and what it looks like to live out your faith in the workplace authentically. We had a panel of professionals who came in and spoke about that.

 

“The Career Fair turned out to be geared more toward internships,” McCabe-Gossett said. “During this season, many companies are laying off employees, but we know it’s still strategically important to build a pipeline, and internships are a big part. I told the students not to dismiss the internship experience because it’s a great foundation\opportunity that can open doors for them. Some students were disappointed, but I tried to help re-frame their thinking regarding how you leverage an internship.”

 

Another area where McCabe-Gossett and others helping her with the Career fair tried to re-form thinking centered around the experiences students might have working as interns or part-time workers at faith-based camps or events. While that experience fits neatly into the ACU experience, sometimes it doesn’t catch the eye of a potential employer, something McCabe-Gossett said she tried to help some students with as they prepare themselves to hit the job market.

 

“A lot of times, our students have faith-based experiences, so we talked about how to translate those experiences to a compelling resume and what values they can bring to the workplace,” she said. “Those are wonderful experiences, but we also want our students to be able to go toe-to-toe with anyone for any job. This is beyond talking about what you did but digging into how you did your job and the result.”

 

And this year’s success has McCabe-Gossett already thinking about the 2024 Career Fair.

 

“We’ve had Meet the Firm Nights in the past, which was specific to accounting majors, and that’s wonderful,” she said. “But I wanted to cast a wider net this year and probably a wider one next year. It was a heavy lift, but I’m glad we did it because I now have this Career Fair to show potential employers. We have ACU alumni who are killing it in the business world, and they’re in positions of power, so why not ask them to come back here and represent their companies? I’m trying to create a playbook to present to alumni who work at Google or AT&T or wherever to help convince them they should come back here and represent their company at future events.”

 

For more information on professional development in COBA, email Jasmine McCabe-Gossett at jcj05c@acu.edu

 

Internship Highlight: Fabrice Mpozenzi

written by special contributor Lance Fleming

Fabrice Mpozenzi spent his summer internship working for JP Morgan Chase in Wilmington, Delaware, where he had the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of working on the front end and back end of web applications and other projects meant to further his understanding of the business.

The junior computer science major from Rwanda also worked on a business with a team of interns, which was eventually presented to senior executives for implementation. Mpozenzi’s internship fueled his desire to work as a software engineer after he graduates from ACU. 

We recently caught up with Mpozenzi to get his insights on his summer internship and how ACU prepared him to work with JP Morgan Chase.

Q: What did you do in your internship?

Mpozenzi: “I had a chance to work on several different projects. I worked on a web application’s front and back end and presented it to a team of engineers, including my manager. I also had an opportunity to collaborate with other interns to work on a business plan project that we presented to senior executives.” 

Q: What was your favorite part of the internship?

Mpozenzi: What I loved most about my internship was the opportunity to shadow other teams to see the projects they were working on and learn from them. I also loved networking with different people at the company.”  

Q: What are the most significant lessons you learned in your internship?

Mpozenzi: The internship taught me two things: learning is a journey that never ends because there’s always going to be something new to learn, and one must stay hungry and motivated to learn new skills. I also learned that asking questions, especially in the workplace, is an art that unlocks knowledge and fosters a deeper understanding.” 

Q: How do you see this experience aiding you in the future?

Mpozenzi: It’s given me a roadmap to an industry that I would like to contribute to in the future, and I made connections with people from diverse backgrounds that I believe are going to be helpful in my future endeavors.” 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

Mpozenzi: I plan to work with a Fintech company as a software engineer.”

Q: Do you have any tips for future interns or students looking for internships?

Mpozenzi: I would tell students looking for internships to stay proactive and seek support from the professional development team. Also, stay informed about your industry, and once you secure an internship, make the most of the experience by learning and networking.”  

Q: How has your time at ACU prepared you for this internship, employment, or graduate school after graduation?

Mpozenzi: The academic coursework at ACU has equipped me with a solid foundation of knowledge and problem-solving skills relevant to my field. ACU’s professional development services, including resume workshops and interview coaching, have also helped me refine my professional presentation. These resources have prepared me for this internship and laid the groundwork for my post-graduation plans.”  

Q: What’s been your most memorable experience as a business or technology student at ACU?

Mpozenzi: My favorite thing about being a technology student at ACU is the supportive faculty and the vibrant student community that has created an environment where I can collaborate and engage in meaningful discussions with peers. ACU’s commitment to fostering a strong community has enriched my academic experience.”

 

Internship Highlight: Bryanna Monteiro

Written by special contributor, Lance Fleming

When most people go to Arkansas in the summer, it’s to take advantage of some of the great outdoor activities offered by “The Natural State,” such as fishing, kayaking and canoeing, exploring lakes and rivers, hiking, mountain biking, and visiting national parks and nature centers for which the state is known.

But Bryanna Monteiro spent her summer as an intern for the state’s most visible business: Walmart. Instead of spending her days outside enjoying what Arkansas offers, she was working inside on networking and connectivity. Her work paid off, however, as the senior marketing major from Orlando, Florida, earned an offer and accepted a job with Walmart that will begin after she graduates from ACU.

We recently caught up with Monteiro to get a sense of her internship and how ACU prepared her for her work in the summer and beyond.

Q: What did you do in your internship?

Monteiro: I was a merchandising intern in Department 72: Networking and Connectivity. I was given a project over the summer: content quality score acceleration within our department. At the end of the internship, I presented the project to leadership, where I talked about my strategy for what items to remove, move, and improve.” 

Q: What was your favorite part of the internship?

Monteiro: All the valuable experience it gave me because of all the incredible people I met, from other interns to people who work internally at Walmart and external people Walmart works with. I feel like I learned so much from getting to hear others’ experiences as well as the wisdom they were able to share with me.”

Q: What are the most significant lessons you learned in your internship?

Monteiro: The importance of progress over perfection and focusing on opportunities and growth rather than just the challenges that may arise with things out of your control. There is always more to do, and moving forward even when things don’t go to plan is essential.”

Q: How do you see this experience aiding you in the future?

Monteiro: This was truly the most incredible experience because I learned to be confident in my abilities and skills without being afraid to share my input. I met so many amazing people who supported me but also challenged and pushed me so that I would grow both personally and professionally.”

Q: Is this job leading to full-time employment with Walmart? If not, what are your plans after graduation?

Monteiro: Yes, it is! I will be moving to Bentonville, Arkansas, post-graduation.”

Q: Do you have any tips for future interns or students looking for internships?

Monteiro: Do an internship!! I cannot stress this enough. I don’t believe there is such a thing as looking back and regretting not having done more internships. Be yourself and know what you’re passionate about/what you are good at so you can find the right fit for you. Connect with your professors and anyone you meet; that will be important when looking for opportunities. Finally, ensure you intern at a company you see yourself working at or are open to because it could lead to future opportunities, and you won’t waste your time.”  

Q: How has your time at ACU prepared you for this internship, employment, or graduate school after graduation?

Monteiro: My time at ACU prepared me for this internship/future post-graduation job because I am an individual rather than just a number at this school. My professors have supported and encouraged me in every aspect: in class and when I was preparing to take on this internship. All my courses have equipped me with the skills necessary to succeed in my role. ACU provided me with all the additional resources I could use when preparing.”

Q: What’s been your most memorable experience as a business student at ACU?

Monteiro: The application side of every class I have taken because it allowed me to take what I am learning and use it in scenarios I may encounter later. I love COBA’s community aspect in that all the professors want you to succeed and are the biggest support system in helping you achieve your goals.”