Wildcat Ventures Team
Wildcat Ventures (WV), part of the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy, is a student organization that hosts six student-run businesses. Each business has its own student CEO and set of employees. WV includes the Crossing Cafe (located in the Mabee Business Building), Aperture Research Group, Purple Collar Tees, Wildcat Software, Purple Outfitters, and Right Hand Media.
Junior marketing and management major, Camyrn Eason, and junior marketing major, Ale Ceniceros, are serving as the vice presidents of Wildcat Ventures this year. They hope to see their CEOs grow, learn, and overcome the extra challenges that this year brings. We asked both of the VPs, as well as the president of WV, junior management major, Riley Simpson, to share some of their expectations for this year and the challenges that COVID-19 is bringing to the student-run ventures.
What are your expectations this year for Wildcat Ventures?
WV President: Riley Simpson
Riley: “Wildcat Ventures is a club of the most entrepreneurial, problem-solving, ‘figure it out’ students on campus. We opened this year with an almost completely new team of executives and CEOs. I was hired the week that school went online (last spring) because of COVID, and our whole club is facing unprecedented challenges. Things started with a sense of what in the world are we going to do? But I am incredibly thankful for two vice-presidents and 5 CEOs who have rolled up their sleeves and dove into creative problem-solving. I’ve seen a lot of hard work in the face of adversity. We are approaching this year as a year of unique opportunity rather than a year where everything falls apart. I’m looking forward to a year of innovative solutions alongside an exceptional team.”
Camryn: “I definitely think this year will be a big challenge and learning opportunity for everyone involved. I’m excited to watch our CEOs adapt and use creativity to solve problems.”
Ale: “I hope to just see learning. I think a big part of WV is learning from mistakes and hardships that come along. Learning to work through these with the people in your company is important. I believe that this is what will help us be better leaders and business professionals.”
WV Vice President: Ale Ceniceros
What changes do you see being made this year?
Riley: “In the past the CEOs of WV have operated in more independent ways, focusing on their companies without much connection to one another. This year we want everyone in WV to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. We’re out to bring positive change to ACU and develop leaders that will carry the Kingdom into the business world. You can’t do that alone and this year we want to create a thriving collaborative community. We are also honing in on creating sustainable systems that will outlast this year’s team. With student organizations, the turnover rate is so high. This year we want to create club-wide systems that will keep the momentum going even when we are gone.”
Camryn: “I hope to see better systems put in place for WV this year and easier transitions. As an executive team, we are working super hard to reform the systems to make them more simple and eliminate a lot of communication gaps. We also want to focus on the transition process from year to year so that when a new executive team and new CEOs are put into place, they will have an easier time transitioning. Of course, I would also love to see Wildcat Ventures turn over a bigger profit than previous years.”
Ale: “I think a big change this year is collaboration. The executive team is hoping to create a culture where WV is all one entity instead of 5 small companies with different systems, ideas, and beliefs.”
WV Vice President: Camryn Eason
How do you think COVID-19 will impact the businesses this year?
Riley: “COVID-19 changes the landscape that WV operates in. We are running a cafe without much seating, selling shirts when there are no events and doing marketing research for a constantly shifting market. The pandemic is forcing us to be creative, and it is also forging our leaders. I know we can have an incredibly successful year. When the pandemic pushes us to the limits we just have to push back.”
Camryn: “COVID-19 will definitely have a big impact on all of our business this year. With department budget cuts, some of our project-based companies could see less business, but I am confident in our CEO’s abilities to overcome this problem. There will also be several changes made in the Crossing Cafe to follow CDC and university guidelines.”
Ale: “COVID-19 has already impacted our businesses a lot. Some of them have been taken online, others are thinking of ways to stay open in person. This is where creativity and an entrepreneurial mindset will be helpful. It will be so fun to see what the CEOs come up with.”
While the president and vice-presidents of Wildcat Ventures oversee the entire operation, it is up to each individual CEO to manage their specific business. We interviewed two of the CEO’s, Ben Fridge and Maddy Crockett, to ask them what they anticipate the new year to bring. Ben is a junior management and marketing major and is the CEO of Aperture Research Group (ARG), a market research and analytics firm. Maddy is a junior management and accounting major and is the CEO of Purple Collar Tees, a custom apparel screen printing company specializing in t-shirt design.
Why did you apply to be a CEO?
Ben: “The WV President painted a vision of a club I wanted to be a part of. The opportunities we can provide the Wildcat and greater Abilene community is immense and exciting to be stepping into before I leave school.”
Maddy: “Wildcat Ventures drew my attention with the hands-on opportunity they provide to students. The leadership this year is top-notch, and I’m excited to be working with a team of like-minded people who will push me to be better.”
ARG CEO: Ben Fridge
What is your plan going into your business?
Ben: “I want to streamline systems within ARG and grow our clientele this semester. Transition is a big part of student-run organizations that operate on a semester to semester basis, and I was blessed to be handed this company in great shape with exciting things on the horizon. For that reason, I want to be able to truly leave ARG better than I found it!”
Maddy: “My plan is to be persistent, be excellent, and be collaborative. My business is largely sales-driven, so communication with my team and our customers is key. Being excellent in customer service is our top value proposition, and we get countless opportunities for that throughout the year. Finally, collaboration with my team is a great way to create ideas and teamwork.”
What challenges do you anticipate?
Ben: “I think the word ’streamlining’ can be hard to quantify and easy to boast about. If we truly want to maximize efficiency and simplify processes, we will need to be honest about what is truly serving our systems and what is ‘fluff’ that has no bearing whether it is cut or kept.”
Maddy: “I think the most challenging part of this position is the fact that we are all students, with several other commitments outside of Wildcat Ventures. The greatest aspect of change in my plan will be challenged in staying on task and of course, specifically when life outside of work gets crazy.”
What changes would you like to make?
Ben: “I want to greatly expand our portfolio of clients on ACU’s campus using referrals and my analyst’s network of connections. I believe there is a great need for more organizations to be data-driven (especially on ACU’s campus), so reaching further in our circles would reveal deficiencies to these groups. Also, with a broader range of projects behind us, ARG can focus on more involved ideas in future years.”
Maddy: “I want our image on campus to be as a business that goes above and beyond with top-notch products. I’d like for our team to be unified in the way we sell to customers and be persistent in the way we communicate.”
PCT CEO: Maddy Crockett
How has COVID-19 impacted the way you are operating?
Ben: “Beyond Zoom interactions with the employees hired, ARG can function in an online world more easily than many of the other companies. One of the exciting changes within our changed world is the potential for organizations needing data and insights about the way people are consuming and participating in commerce today. Market research opens the door to understanding how culture has shifted and how businesses or groups need to shift to retain individuals and thrive in this season.”
What does your business specialize in?
Ben: “Market research and data analytics regarding the success of events or programs has been a major focus in past years. Reviewing collected responses to satisfaction surveys or creating focus groups to determine how well an organization is performing at a point in time is an area that ARG has mastered.”
Maddy: “My business specializes in custom apparel and merchandise products for individuals and organizations around Abilene. We partner with people who have a design idea, and we help initiate and finish the process of bringing that design idea to life.”
Why should groups/students on campus use your business?
Ben: “The unique insights we provide have made waves in the decision-making process of all our clients. The value of having data and research behind initiatives deeply matters in an era that craves certainty and evidence. ARG strives to create the most value for whatever your business, organization, or campaign is driving.”
Maddy: “PCT serves the ACU community by providing top-notch products at a competitive price. Not only do we walk with you step-by-step through the creation process, but we also deliver your items directly to you – you never have to leave campus! If you can create it, we can make it a reality.”
WV president, Riley Simpson, knows the plan going forward this year may likely change but feels that the organization is ready to adapt and grow. “We are currently working on launching two new companies this year. I know we can do it, but we have to have the right people in place. We need to find the people who see things differently, who aren’t afraid to fail, and who won’t quit when they get knocked down. We are in the business of developing resilient leaders who are crazy enough to think they will change the world. We know we will. If you’re one of those people, find me and let’s make it happen.”
We hope that this will encourage you to think of the services that Wildcat Ventures offers the next time you need a cup of coffee, a t-shirt made, or help to form a strong strategy for your organization. You can read more about each of the businesses by clicking here. If you are interested in becoming a part of Wildcat Ventures, fill out this form or check out their website.
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.”
Brooke Lenz, a MAcc student from Lakeway, Texas has made the most of the internship opportunities available to COBA students. Last summer, she completed an eight-week internship with Harper and Pearson in Houston. This summer, she wanted to see how working at one of the “Big 4” accounting firms compared to her previous internship experience. Brooke recently completed a five-week internship with EY in Dallas and has been offered a position at EY post-graduation. We asked Brooke to share the highlights of her internship and to give some advice to current students who are looking at internship possibilities.
What were the greatest lessons you learned in the internship?
Communication is so important if you want to learn and succeed at what you are doing. Communicate when you have questions about things, communicate when you want clarity, communicate when you finish a task, etc.. It shows the person you are working with that you want to learn and you are willing to listen. Once you are given an assignment or shown how to do something, write it down so you don’t have to repeat any of your questions and so you don’t forget how to do something.
How has your time at ACU prepared you for this internship and for employment after graduation?
ACU has really helped shape who I want to be as an employee and co-worker. The professors do a great job of showing you that you can succeed in whatever you set your mind to all while maintaining integrity and high moral character.
What advice do you have for students who are preparing for an internship?
I would advise those who have upcoming internships to have confidence in themselves. Your grades are what qualified you for your internship, but how personable you are and how well you work with others is what solidified your internship. Be open to learning new things and remember to be yourself! Have fun, enjoy your internship experience, and bring a positive attitude to work everyday!
What’s been your favorite thing about your time at ACU and in COBA?
My favorite thing about ACU and being a COBA student has to be the relationships I have formed. I know that I would not have the personal connections and relationships I have with my professors at any other university. They truly care about you as an individual person, more than just your success in the classroom. They take the time to invest in each student and get to know them on a more personal level.
Student leaders across campus display ACU’s mission daily through their academic excellence, Christian service and leadership on our campus. Every year, students like these are nominated by their academic department and from those nominations, fifty scholars are selected by the ACU Faculty Senate to receive the University Scholars Award for their graduating class. Among these fifty scholars who demonstrated outstanding scholarship by maintaining a GPA of 3.5 or higher, earned 90 hours towards their degree, and pursued knowledge in their research field, are four students from the College of Business Administration. The students who received this year’s award are Allie Sorrells, Bryce Adams, Jessica Herrera and Luke Stevens.
Allie Sorrells is an accounting and management major from Waco, TX. During her time on campus, Allie enjoyed participating and creating long-lasting memories in ACU traditions like Sing Song, the Homecoming Parade, Freshman Follies, and Candlelight Devo. Allie has been an active member of the Honors College, Beta Gamma Sigma and the women’s social club Ko Jo Kai, where she served as treasurer this past academic year. Allie also served as project lead for the Enactus Children’s Business Fair through the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy. Among her favorite activities while at ACU was the opportunity to study abroad in Oxford with the College of Business Administration. While there, they visited the manufacturing plant of BMW and Porsche and participated in an extensive project with ASDA. “With ASDA, we analyzed the company’s business process at multiple locations and came up with our own solutions and improvements. We then shared these ideas with the corporate employees in a professional business presentation. Through that experience, we learned how to go about preparing for and giving formal presentations while incorporating what we were learning in class,” Sorrells stated. Allie commends her professors for bringing their industry expertise to the classroom, speaking from real-world experience and a place of faith, while preparing students to enter the world as ethical businessmen/women. With this faith and business incorporation in mind, Allie hopes to start graduate school, complete her CPA exams, and eventually work in corporate accounting or supply chain management. As she wraps up her time at ACU, Allie says, “I am very grateful for my time here at ACU and in COBA. It’s been a really special experience and I wouldn’t trade the past few years for the world. If you have not plugged in, find an organization in COBA, at ACU, or in the general community to become a part of. Also, get to know your professors; they can become some of your biggest advocates and supporters.”
Bryce Adams is a financial management major from Dallas, TX. Coming from a family of ACU Wildcats, Bryce was drawn to the academic excellence that this university strives. “The quality of ACU’s business school really sealed the deal for me,” Adams said. As a student at the College of Business Administration, Bryce has enjoyed opportunities like Leadership Summit, a week-long course in January where his perspective on life and business was transformed. Additionally, the advice and guidance of business alumni who visited the ACU campus have served as motivation for Bryce. “I think COBA has instilled values that are nestled within the education that are more important than the actual education. You can get an education anywhere; COBA certainly educates you but, if you let it, it will give you principles that serve you for life beyond business,” Bryce added. Besides being involved in his department as a member of Heacock Scholars, he serves as an Apartment Leader for World’s Backyard, where he seeks to share the Gospel while growing in relationship with the kids he serves and creating a long-lasting impact in their lives. As someone who has decided to give full control to the Lord, Bryce says, “Anything I’ve achieved is through God’s grace and provision. He deserves the accolades, not me. If you have any business ideas you’re thinking about or you just want to talk about the Lord, let’s grab coffee.”
Jessica Herrera is an accounting major with a minor in mathematics from Schertz, TX. After pursuing her dream of receiving an education that incorporated Christianity, she arrived at ACU where she was immediately impacted by prayers and scripture readings by her professors during class sessions. Her involvement on campus includes being a member of the women’s social club Delta Theta and W-Club, a group of women joined by academic excellence. After taking advantage of professional development opportunities such as “Meet the Firm Night”, a networking event with different accounting firms, she is planning on enrolling in the MAcc program with hopes to land a job in one of the Big 4 accounting firms. She attributes her preparedness for the future to those professors who have invested in her education and the professional development that guided her career aspirations for the future. “ACU is such a great school and I feel that I have grown exponentially in my faith and education in the few years that I have been here. I have had a great college experience by taking advantage of the many opportunities and activities that ACU has available to its students,” Jessica shared.
Luke Stevens is a marketing major from Montgomery, TX. Luke came to ACU seeking a high-quality education that was accompanied by a Christian foundation, “ I didn’t want to compromise on my conviction to be educated in this way and ACU offered the perfect opportunity to pursue my desire for a Christian education,” Stevens said. During his time at ACU, Luke participated as Junior Class Treasurer for the Student Government Association, worked for the College of Business Administration as a student worker and served as project lead for the Enactus Brainstorming Committee. Besides his involvement with student organizations, Luke was able to attend Leadership Summit and feel the support of faculty and staff in his department who helped him advance his career opportunities. When asked what his favorite thing about his time at ACU was, Luke said, “My favorite thing about COBA is the relationships I made there. I have made lifelong friends with fellow business students and will always be grateful for their influence on my education and spiritual growth. The faculty and staff are simply exceptional. They care about quality education, exemplify ethical leadership, and have a sincere desire to see you succeed. I certainly consider several of the faculty and staff at COBA to be my mentors and friends.” Luke is planning to attend Southern Methodist University in the fall to complete a Master of Science in Business Analytics in the fall. As he leaves ACU until his next visit, Luke says, “My time as a business student at ACU has changed my life in drastic ways. Some people might pass through college and 10 years later not be able recall what they learned or people they met. For me, I know I will never forget the family I became a part of at ACU and what they taught me.”
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.
Senior management major, Autumn Flanders, recently completed her summer internship with a specialty coffee roaster based in Denver, Colorado. The Christian-based business’s purpose is to provide employment to young adults and teens who have been homeless and are looking to leave it behind. Flanders spent the summer in Denver aiding Purple Door in pursuing this mission.
Autumn explained that the internship held several roles for her to play. In her responsibilities, she wrote weekly blog posts that highlighted successful social enterprises around the US, she developed a year-long social media content calendar, worked to improve content for Purple Door’s media platforms, compiled and tracked data from customers and partners, helped cater a monthly event, and sold coffee at an REI conference. “I also assisted in the coffee production process by grinding the coffee, then packaging, sealing, and labeling the coffee bags”, Autumn said.
When asked what she enjoyed most about the internship, she shared that building relationships with her bosses and co-workers was huge, along with gaining first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to run a social enterprise. Autumn also appreciated engaging with customers at events and seeing regular customers while learning more about them. Connections with people were a big part of her experience.
“Interning at Purple Door Coffee provided me with an opportunity to cultivate my strengths,” Autumn explained when asked about
Mark Smesrud, Manager at Purple Door Roastery
how the internship will impact her future. She learned more about the types of future careers she might enjoy and what types of cities she might want to live in. “Now, when I look for future jobs, I have a better understanding of the types of work cultures and environments I prefer and the job sector that I would most enjoy working in”.
As a native to Abilene, Autumn learned a great deal from living in Colorado for the summer. When asked what grew her most, Autumn shared that being far away from home and navigating a new city were both difficult yet it pushed her to become more independent and confident in her own abilities. While at first learning new responsibilities and adjusting to the work environment of the internship was hard, looking back Autumn can see that she gained a greater understanding of the coffee industry, social enterprises, and what it is like to work with previously homeless youth and young adults.
For students looking for internships in the future, Autumn would share this advice: “[Students should] not be afraid to apply to internships in cities away from your home. I experienced a kind of growth that would’ve been more difficult to feel if I had been in my comfort zone near friends and family. Living in a new state gave me a unique perspective and allowed me to experience a city with a different culture and get out of my bubble. Even though it can be scary interning in a new city, it is worth it because of the type of growth you can experience, both personally and professionally”.