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. 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 Founders Club President, Karson Tutt, and Founders Club member, Lauren Gumm, were awarded for their presentations. Gumm, an elementary education major from Abilene, TX, runs a screen printing company called Wear It to Share I”. Lauren screen prints thrifted shirts by hand in order to bring people environmentally conscious and unique shirts. Tutt, a senior management major from Tuscola, TX, started Karson’s, an online jewelry company, which is now in the process of adding an in-person location in Abilene where many other products will be available. We interviewed both award winners to learn about their experiences participating in the Founders Club and the Springboard Student Venture Competition.
Wear It to Share It
How has being involved in the Founders Club impacted your business?
Lauren: “Founders Club has provided so many resources for me and my little company! I’ve gotten financial advice and marketing consultations and had the opportunity to speak in front of members of the Abilene community about the awesome entrepreneurs at ACU! I started my business in my dorm room and being able to have an office space where I can work is another great resource that the Founders Club has given me. Founders Club has also given me a community to walk through business ownership with. My friends have always been super supportive of my business but having a group of people who also own their own businesses that I can talk through ideas and problems with has been a huge blessing.”
Karson: “I have loved getting to meet with other student entrepreneurs who understand the struggles I go through. I also participated in one of the pitch competitions and won money to put towards opening my store.”
What did you learn from the competition experience?
Lauren: “The competition gave me a sense of confidence in my abilities as a business owner. To be able to present the work I constantly pour into and receive validation that what I’m pursuing is smart and in demand was really reassuring! I also learned how important it is to be confident in your abilities. The judges were looking for business owners who happen to be full-time students. I walked away really feeling like they saw me as a business owner and a student.”
Karson: “I learned that I am actually more confident in my business as a whole than I thought. I used to think my business was just kind of small and not that big of a deal, but it’s actually really cool that I’m doing this and it’s not as hard as I thought to talk to adults about what I do and my plans for the future.”
What is your plan for your business now that you have won the competition?
Lauren: “Winning the competition gave me the ability to purchase new equipment that I desperately needed. The equipment I started out with in 2018 still functioned perfectly fine but it was the cheapest option available and therefore required every element of the process to be done by hand. My new equipment is what allowed me to fully pursue printing on thrifted shirts! I simply didn’t have the time to thrift and print but with the time saved using my new equipment I am able to do both!”
Karson: “I was planning on opening the store regardless of if I won or not, but now that I did win the extra funding I was able to literally expand the space of the store and get nicer versions of the things I was already going to be getting (ex. cash register, security system, light fixtures, etc.).”
Is there anything you would like to add?
Lauren: “I just want to encourage anyone who thinks they want to begin a business to go for it! Even if it isn’t a business you want to pursue long-term you can learn so much through the process! I have an appreciation for entrepreneurs that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t taken a leap of faith and started Wear It to Share It!”
Karson: “The Griggs Center and Founders Club truly have been a great asset to me and my business. I love the community that has come from being involved.”
In the College of Business Administration, students across the board have experienced the challenge of creating and selling a product to their peers however students this semester are facing an additional challenge: creating and selling their product — from home. All business students are required to take the class Intro to Business. This class gives students an idea of what different fields of business are all about. One of the main projects in the course is an entrepreneur-type activity called ‘Venture Out’. Teams are built to create, market, and sell a product to the ACU community; incentives include grades throughout the course, entrepreneur experience, and the opportunity to donate additional profits to the beneficiary of the team’s choice. Products in the past have ranged from t-shirts, stickers, sweatshirts, or anything that can be dreamed up. The teams must keep track of expenses, create a business plan, and pitch their product to a board of professionals for approval.
While this project provides students with valuable experience, current Intro to Business students impacted by the campus closure are having to promote and sell their products remotely. Intro to Business professor Dr. Monty Lynn explained that due to this issue, not all of the teams were able to proceed with the project due to funding and selling issues. Venture Out teams who were already underway in their project chose to continue and are now facing the challenge of selling that product away from the ACU campus. Dr. Lynn commented that despite this extra obstacle, “They are doing a tremendous job”.
Two of these current participating teams shared their experience so far. “It was more difficult to connect with our customers and explain why we were selling this product,” explained Berkley Bruckner, member of Team Foundation T’s. They chose to sell t-shirts, and created the design in hopes of boosting school spirit and promoting awareness for Big Brothers Big Sisters, their chosen beneficiary. “Since most of our group members are freshmen, we wanted to incorporate a class we all have to take this year. We chose our Bible class and wrote ‘Wildcats’ in Greek”.
Another team experienced similar issues. When asked what has been a challenge for them, member Estefany Hernandez stated that “We couldn’t express our feelings about where the money will be donated or to express our love for children and giving back”. They chose the Hendrick Home for Children as their beneficiary and decided on t-shirts as well for their product.
Despite the challenges posed for this unprecedented sales environment that COVID-19 has brought on, these student teams are persevering and are learning valuable skills. Dr. Monty Lynn shared a customer’s experience with one of these continuing Venture Out teams: “An ACU graduate student recently contacted me to say she purchased some stickers from a team and was so impressed with the transaction. She received the ordered stickers in the mail shortly after purchasing it online. The product even arrived with customer service touches and an e-invoice! So just a shout-out to our freshmen business teams who have pivoted quickly and are serving well!” COBA is proud of these teams for their success and perseverance during this time and believes that unique business lessons are being learned about the need for flexibility and agility in small businesses that will stay with these students for a lifetime.
On January 27th, senior chemistry major Claire Shudde entered the Improve ACU Competition and left with a cash prize of $500 and the opportunity to make her idea come to life. The competition was co-hosted by the ACU Student Government Association (SGA) and the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy.
Mindy Howard, the Student Engagement Coordinator for the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy explained why they chose to create this competition. “We wanted to try and reach a larger sector of the student body and engage them in entrepreneurial thinking. The prompt was simply what are your ideas to improve ACU? We had 139 total entries and the finalists and winner were picked by the SGA student team. There were several really creative ideas submitted. Some of the top ideas included a community garden, a low-cost food pantry for students, and a student led spirit team at the ACU basketball games. Our hope was that students would take a moment to look around and see how their ideas could lead to real change at ACU. Every successful business, initiative or service starts with a great idea.”
Claire told us, “My idea to improve ACU is to have selected accounting and business students help lower income citizens in Abilene file their taxes. Filing taxes isn’t always easy and for people who either don’t have the education or ability to file for themselves, it can be a daunting task. If students at ACU — ideally selected by faculty who have witnessed the student’s desire and ability to serve the community in this way — can help locals file their taxes, they can gain real world experience while also benefiting the community.”
Shudde gave credit where credit is due for the idea. “I got the idea from a friend who attends St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Their school is situated in an impoverished part of town and the students intentionally work on reaching out and ministering to the community. As a Christian school, I think ACU could follow suit and reach out to the community in this way. There is potential for this to be an incredible ministry in Abilene, and while accounting/finance majors help people with money, other students can minister to the people waiting.”
Claire continued, “I think the best way to establish this would be to partner with ministries like Love and Care or the Mission that are currently working and established. As a senior chemistry major, I am fairly far removed from accounting and finance, so I doubt I could be involved in the actual functioning of the tax clinic. Rather than be hands on myself, I would love to brainstorm with those who are knowledgeable in this area and will be in Abilene longer than me. I think breaking the ACU bubble in this way will benefit both the community and the ACU students involved. My hope and prayer is that through simple actions such as helping a single mom file for a tax return, people can experience the love of God. Isaiah 1:17 says ‘Learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, take up the case of the widow.’ While setting up a tax clinic does not fix all the problems in Abilene, I think it would be a chance for christians to live out this charge. I hope that in a few years I can look back and see ACU taking steps into the community beyond just a tax clinic.”
The ACU community often talks about the “ACU Difference”. Bright minded students who have a passion not only for ACU, but for making ACU and Abilene a greater place, are living, breathing examples of that difference. Congratulations to Claire Shudde on winning the competition! Want to learn more about the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy and how you can get involved? Click here to learn more.
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a public policy think tank and research program that works to advance ideas rooted in democracy and free enterprise. Recently, three ACU College of Business students were accepted into the initiative on Faith and Public Policy Honors Weekend Program. Bryce Adams, junior financial management major, TX, Jemimah Wavamunno, junior management major, and the author of this blog (myself), Katie Norris, junior marketing major.
Going into the weekend, I can speak for all of us when I say that we had no idea what to expect. Bryce says that if he did have expectations, “They would have been exceeded. This program was inspiring, insightful, and has given me renewed motivation for a broader, Christ-centered vision.”
The main speakers were Brian Brenberg and Haley Robison, previously the CEO of Kammock. Each taught us how to recognize the underlying values and tensions that shape our decisions through a series of tutorials and practicums. We learned how to rethink our assumptions and take the bold first steps toward making our faith infused business ideas a reality.
I asked Bryce and Jemimah which of the activities stood out to them and what they pulled from it. Bryce responded, “I loved the workshop we did with Brian Brenberg that related to assumptions and biases. In that workshop, he illustrated how we bring a set of assumptions baked into our worldview. Deconstructing those assumptions and creating practical steps to identify those was extremely helpful and impactful for me.” Jemimah said that thing that most resonated with her was, “The first segment of Design Thinking with Haley Robison, where we developed themes, metaphors, and conflicts in our inner passions with a supportive group of people.”
Each of us took something inspirational away from the program and came home with an overall sense of bewilderment and motivation.
Bryce said, “I loved seeing the other impressive students in the program. Their visions of the future give me hope that the world truly can be changed and it starts with people like us. Sitting across the table from people my age with the same ambitions was empowering for me.”
Jemimah reflected, “1) Nothing I do is neutral, everything I do has a narrative. 2) God sometimes allows you to endure wounds for you to be aware of and attuned to. In this, your purpose for a specific season is born because our wounds are individual to us, and therefore keep us attuned to others who carry the same wounds.”
I left the conference with the realization that I had the resources I needed to expand my business all along, I simply needed to find the motivation. This program gave me the confidence I had been lacking to take the next steps in bringing my business, ChronicallyBrave, to its full potential.
Jemimah is on the council of AEI executives and has attended many of their conferences. “This program was set up more intimately than most other AEI conferences are (in numbers, and living arrangements), which allowed for more genuine personal relationships, making following up with the relationships we made easier. It did not feel like people were getting to know you to get one more connection, but genuinely getting to know you, to learn the best way to serve and support you.”
We cannot recommend the program enough. The AEI team put together a truly motivating weekend experience and gathered some of the most inspiring faith based aspiring entrepreneurs that I have ever been in the same room with, nevertheless form life-long friendships with.
Over spring break, a group of students led by Dr. Laura Phillips and Dr. Sarah Easter traveled to Costa Rica for the first ever Social Enterprise Consulting (MGMT 440) class. This project-based course is designed to give students hands-on experience dealing with a real and substantial issue faced by a socially-minded organization. Students spent six weeks prior to spring break learning about the basics of consulting and learning about the cultural context of the country and organizations they would visit. They were challenged to complete research on the industry and market and received training from the Rotary International campus in Denton, who were also training the entrepreneurs in Costa Rica. “We wanted the students to be prepared in diverse capacities,” said Dr. Easter “That way, when we traveled to Costa Rica, they were as effective as possible in the one-week in-country visit.”
In Costa Rica, the class worked with the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE), which is a regional center in Costa Rica dedicated to research and graduate education in agriculture, and the management, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. In collaboration with CATIE, Red de Emprendedoras del Turismo Sostenible de Turrialba (RETUS) is a network of female entrepreneurs focused on experiential rural tourism offerings as a means to help provide sustainable livelihoods to the three involved communities in Central Costa Rica – Santa Cruz, Guavabo and Mollejones. CATIE and RETUS are interested in better understanding the US market for sustainable rural tourism in Costa Rica as well as the development of a promotional marketing plan to successfully reach identified markets in order to grow and develop RETUS further. The class stayed in a small town called Turrialba on the CATIE campus. Over the course of three days, they visited the three communities and observed experiential tourism offerings in each location.
The consulting nature of the course was focused on students engaging with the women entrepreneurs in terms of ecotourism, which means that tourists engage in local culture when on vacation rather than staying within the confines of a resort or hotel for the duration of their stay. Students evaluated the offerings of each entrepreneur from a US – and specifically Texas – tourist perspective. They spent time in each community taking detailed field notes and giving preliminary recommendations and then spent a full day with the class debriefing and identifying weaknesses and opportunities of the offerings in consideration of US customers.
With the focus on ecotourism consulting, the students got to experience Costa Rica in special ways that emphasized interactions with the local culture. “The most eye-opening thing about this trip was the cultural immersion. To actively participate in activities with the locals gave me a unique perspective into who they are,” said Luke Stevens, a junior marketing major from Montgomery, TX. “Instead of feeling like an outsider looking in, I felt more like I was a part of them. Overall, I think I got more out of this trip because it had a focus and purpose as opposed to a regular spring break trip. I would rather have that type of experience than a relaxing week on the beach.” Among other things, the class toured the remains of a Pre-Colombian ruin, visited a butterfly farm, and even learned how to salsa dance. On their final day, they got to go zip lining through the jungle and rappel down waterfalls. “Since I come from a Central American country, I was really impressed by the ‘Tico culture,’ which is what Costa Ricans often call themselves, and how important it is to them that they grow as a community instead of as individuals,” noted Mafer Hernandez, a junior finance major from Guatemala City, Guatemala. They were also really invested in reducing contamination, their roads were clean and they also had several recycle bins.”
Now that they have returned from Costa Rica, students are working on a full report and marketing assessment that gives promotional and placement considerations for the women entrepreneurs. The project-based experience has been invaluable for students as they have gotten a chance to apply what they have been learning in class to real life – and in a meaningful, purpose-driven way. Dr. Easter’s favorite part of the trip was twofold; “I loved watching how passionate the women entrepreneurs are about their businesses and communities and how driven they were in their desire to share that passion with outsiders,” she said. “I also enjoyed watching the students in that international setting. It was neat seeing them interact with people in the community and dive into the experience fully. Traveling with students and watching how much they learn and grow in a short time frame is always incredible”
A grant from Southwest Airlines for plane tickets and scholarships from COBA, as well as the partnerships with Rotary International, CATIE, and RETUS made this trip possible and effective for the students and faculty that attended. We are extremely proud of our students for choosing to spend their spring break applying their business skills to serve others in a global context. We look forward to watching how this class grows in the future and other opportunities our students will have to affect change.
Lexi Koon, graduating senior accounting and major from Denver, Colorado.
Lexi Koon is a senior accounting and management major with a concentration in entrepreneurship from Denver, Colorado. She is in the integrated Masters of Accountancy program and wants to pursue a career as a CPA after graduation. We asked Lexi a few questions about her time at ACU. Read her answers below!
Q: How has your education at ACU, especially in your department, prepared you for the future?
A: My education at ACU has taught me a lot about learning how to see the world from other people’s perspectives and to be a better listener. That applies primarily to my classes outside of my business classes such as my bible classes, my communications classes, and other electives I have had to take over the years. As far as my education in the accounting department, I feel as though I have been prepared by the accounting department to understand the technical skills I will need to further my career as a CPA. It feels really great to come out of four years of school and know that I actually have the skill sets to be successful in a specific field and to also know that I will use what I learned in those classrooms every day in my career. In the business management department, my professors prepared me for my future by exposing me to different aspects of business as a whole, they inspired me to set extraordinary goals and challenged me to dream big (like in entrepreneurship class with Jim Litton), and above all else, they prepared me by showing me they believed in me.
Q: What has been your favorite thing/memory about your time at ACU and COBA?
A: Wow, that is a really hard question. I don’t know if I can necessarily pick a favorite, but it’s more-so a combination of all the times professors tried really hard to make bad jokes in class, when they invited us over for “Grilleniums” or when they invited us to worship events at their church. My most cherished memories have been when professors stopped class to give us a “real talk” about life or when they shared what was going on in their lives to give us encouragement in ours. My favorite experience at ACU by far has been getting to have my professors over and over again in class and building relationships with them to where I know they actually care about their students. From book club with Dr. Laura Phillips to bible study with Dr. Easter, they all have made a huge impact on my life as a student at ACU. The professors at ACU are funny, they are thoughtful, they are kind, and they are beyond caring.
Q: What was your favorite class in the accounting department?
A: Answering this question is difficult because the professors are all so different. All of the professors are great and they all bring a different character to the classroom. Content-wise and professor-wise, I would have to say Income Tax with Dr. Fowler has been my favorite class as an undergraduate. I dreaded having to take that class because, well, who wants to learn about taxes? I found that Dr. Fowler is one of few people in the world who can actually make learning about tax fun. He made us laugh almost every day and he challenged us, but he also believed in us. I’m also currently in his Corporate Tax class in the MAcc program and I can say that may be the hardest class I have ever taken but I still love it because he teaches it and constantly re-affirms us that we can do it.
Q: Who was your favorite professor and why?
A: I spoke a little about Dr. Fowler in that last question, but to answer this question, Dr. Fowler was my favorite professor because he went above and beyond to make us know that we are more than just a number in his class. He is typically known for teaching some of the hardest classes in the accounting department but he is also the professor that sends us emails to tell us he believes in us, that he is proud of us, and that he is here for us. Almost every day in class, he tells us a funny story to make what should be boring content enjoyable, and several times throughout the semester he has stopped class to point out seasons of celebration in our own lives and other times he took the time to be real with where he’s at and the hardships that life faces us all. He made our classes become family and I would go back and take those extremely hard classes again as long as I knew he was teaching it.
Q: If you could talk to a prospective student considering coming to ACU, why would you tell them to choose ACU?
A: I would tell them to choose ACU because it is like no other college they will go to. The “ACU Difference” is the community that you find along the way. This should be apparent in my responses from earlier questions, but the professors, the faculty, and the students have shown me what it is to look at those who are different from me and want to learn from them, to learn how to love them, and to be surrounded by a circle of people who have your back 100%. As I leave ACU, I feel completely supported and surrounded by an extraordinary amount of love and I am thankful. You will never be a number here. The first year is tough at any college, but as you continue to grow your experience here, you will walk around and be known, and that is what the walking in the Kingdom looks like.