Karson Tutt, senior management major from Tuscola, Texas is a busy young entrepreneur. In addition to finishing her college courses, she is president of the Founders Club (part of the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy) and the owner of Karson’s, a jewelry and clothing boutique in downtown Abilene. Tutt began her business making jewelry that she sold online and to friends. In 2020, that small business expanded into a storefront with seven employees. Karson quickly experienced success in her new venture and saw an opportunity to start a new project that not only helped her own business but also helped other budding entrepreneurs. The Commons is a space connected to Karson’s that allows small businesses to set up a retail shop and have a chance to grow without the long-term contract and overhead fees normally associated with owning your own business or renting a space. The Commons features nine small businesses, two of which are run by current ACU students. Karson said that she was inspired to open this space because of a kindness that she was given when she was just starting out. “When I was in high school, my friend’s grandma let me do something similar in the front of her furniture consignment shop. She tracked all of my sales and checked everyone out, but I managed the inventory and advertising.” Having been inspired by Karson’s own experiences, she hopes the venture will benefit the vendors in many ways. “I am hoping it not only helps them make more sales but also gives them more exposure to customers who may not have known who they were before coming to The Commons. Between those 9 businesses and myself, we are encouraging tons of people from all different demographics to come to one place to shop.“
Being a highly involved ACU student and owner of two businesses, one might think that Tutt has her plate full managing both Karson’s and The commons but she says it’s gone well thus far. “It has been surprisingly smooth! There are a few things I wish I would’ve done before we opened (ex. signage outside, more social media content, etc.), but I can still get it done! All of the vendors have been so nice and are doing a great job with their booths.“
Karson received funding through the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy when she won the Springboard Student Venture Competition in 2020. She credits COBA and the Griggs Center in helping her throughout her entrepreneurial journey saying, “They have given me an amazing community of like-minded business people. I love leaning into that community and I know even after I graduate that my friends and professors will be people who I can reach out to if I ever need it. I also won a pitch competition in April that helped fund my store. Getting that money helped me solidify my decision to open the store in the first place.“
Hearing about Karson’s vision for The Commons made us curious about what this opportunity is like for the ACU students who are able to participate in this new concept so we asked them a few questions to learn more about their experience.
Melissa Huffines is a junior youth and family ministry major from Abilene, Texas. Her business, Sideline Social Club, primarily provides fashionable purple and white game day clothing. She was inspired to start her business when talking with a former manager about her future dreams. That manager was able to help her start Sideline Social Club. One of Melissa’s biggest goals in being a part of The Commons is to learn how to manage a storefront as a college student. Melissa has already learned one lesson from the experience in determining which products sell the best and which products shouldn’t make the cut. She said, “It helped me see how beneficial a storefront is!”
Maddie Rogers, a sophomore graphic design major from Abilene, Texas runs a business called Oh So Sunny that sells products consisting mainly of stickers and apparel. “I design and create products that send a message of joy, sunshine, and hope.” Maddie started her business in high school when she made a sticker to commemorate her acceptance into ACU. The “Scratch ‘Em Cats” sticker spiked her interest and led Maddie to design new creations. Rogers has learned a lot from being a part of The Commons. “I’ve learned how important it is to network and put yourself out there in order to succeed. Being at The Commons has also helped me meet so many other small business owners in Abilene and helped me find a support system through the many trials that come with this crazy endeavor!” The space has given Maddie the chance to help her business grow. “This opportunity has helped me reach new customers I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise! It also helped me see what the experience would be like to own my own store if I ever wanted to. Karson has really utilized her talent and taught me what hard work looks like. I truly don’t know how she does it!”
COBA seeks to inspire, equip and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. Karson Tutt is living out that vision and helping her fellow entrepreneurs along the way before she’s even walked the stage at graduation. If you’d like to learn more about opportunities for students like Karson through the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy, click here.
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.”
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.
Business & Sustainability students take a tour of the newly revitalized Cisco Downtown.
In January, twenty-two students attended Dr. Sarah Easter’s Business & Sustainability course (MGMT 440), a one-week intensive class that educates students on the opportunities and challenges of developing more sustainable business strategies and practices, and to explore the changing role of business in society and in relation to the environment. “Typically in business, we focus on financial sustainability,” Dr. Easter explained. “We fail to consider the economic and social well-being aspects of sustainability, so this course looks at the impact businesses can have on the community and environment as well.” The course offers many different perspectives on sustainability, examining what that means for a variety of different companies, from large, global corporations to local, small businesses.
This was the third year that the course has been offered but the first year that Dr. Easter incorporated out-of-town field trips in addition to several guest speakers. The students spoke with Abilene business owners, several ACU professors from varying colleges, and with a panel of Cisco downtown business owners. Students took a tour around ACU with Corey Ruff, Associate Vice President of Operations, to understand the campus initiatives for sustainability on a deeper level. They also went to Disability Resources Inc., a residential community for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Cisco mayor Tammy Douglas speaks to Business & Sustainability students.
The students spent half a day in Cisco, TX. They spoke with Joy and Kerry Hedges, the owners of Slowpoke Farms and Slowpoke Market Store. The Hedges made significant lifestyle changes for sustainability regarding the food and products they consumed and extended those values beyond their personal life to their farming methods and business practices. In September, they opened the Slowpoke Market Store, which students were able to visit. The Slowpoke Market Store is a part of the revitalization effort in the downtown Cisco area. Students interacted with a panel of other business owners in the downtown area that are also involved with the revitalization efforts and with Tammy Douglas, Cisco’s first female mayor. Douglas explained the importance of local resources and how they have incorporated sustainable practices in the changes occurring in Cisco and gave students a tour of the downtown area.
By the end of the class, students were able to recognize interactions between environmental, social, and economic decisions, understand the power of business to negatively or positively impact their surroundings, gained exposure to how a variety of different organizations and perspectives tackle today’s sustainability challenges, and became more aware of their own role when participating in personal and professional decisions related to sustainability. Marissa Hickson, a senior marketing major, said that “the most impactful thing I learned in the class was the importance of researching the background, goals, and values of the companies I support. We learned how to evaluate sustainability reports and determine whether or not a company’s values align with ours. I learned that a lot of companies that I have trusted in the past don’t actually operate in the most ethical ways! It’s great to be aware of this now so that I can be sure to support the companies who are actively working to make our world a better place.” The class will be offered next January, so students can ask your advisor about this offering.