By Alan Kline – The idea of creating a product of your own and then trying to make the product a success is probably intriguing to about everyone. This is especially exciting to college students who have their whole future ahead of them. Jewell students were given this opportunity. In the spring of 2013, students in the William Jewell New Venture Creation class, taught by Professor Gregg Whittaker, were given the opportunity, funded by the Kauffman’s FastTrac Program, to pitch their ideas to angel investors. New Venture Creation is a class that helps explain how to recognize a job opportunity that most people would not catch, and then how to take steps toward turning that idea into a business. This class focuses on planting the innovative entrepreneurial mindset into the students.
Before getting to the point of pitching their ideas to real-world investors, they had a lot of work to do. At the beginning of the process, the class was broken into 3 groups. Each group worked on a different product. One group worked on a product called “Surge Bar,” which is a charging station for phones that might be put into restaurants and bars. This group, using “Surge Bar,” competed in a competition called Lean Startup, which was founded by the Kauffman foundation, and was awarded first place. Another group’s idea was that of an interactive phone app called “Teleplay” where one could play games and ask questions relating to reality television shows and sporting events. The final group created a product called “Infinity Energy.” This group used piezoelectricity technology to create an electric tree that produced electricity when the leaves where rustled. Piezoelectricity is electricity that is generated in various natural ways. The products that were created were not perfected; they were minimum viable products (MVP), which are products that only include the most valuable components.
Professor Whittaker says, “It’s hard for these students to get funding because of the actual time a perfected product takes to develop.” Entrepreneurs that are creating products usually work full-time trying to create products and businesses. The students in New Venture Creation were only allocated about 3 months to create their products, and they did not work full time. Even though no money was invested into the products by the angel investors, the students time had not been wasted, for the purpose of this project was not solely to receive money for their products. When each pitch was finished, the angel investors then gave each group feedback and tips on how to improve. Professor Whittaker says, “Its an opportunity for students to immerse themselves into the real-world entrepreneurial experience;” and that is exactly what happened.
Professor Whittaker is enthusiastic about where William Jewell’s entrepreneurship program has come and where it is headed. Within recent years, creativity classes have been added, which encourage students to think more innovatively; and within the near future, William Jewell College is expanding their entrepreneurship program by building a hardware accelerator so that prototypes will be able to be created at Jewell. The entrepreneur program at William Jewell College is not just for people who want to start a business, but also for people who want to obtain the innovative mindset. The program is meant to empower students to do whatever they want to do with their life, whether that is starting a business or not.