Student entrepreneurship can be a very challenging yet rewarding process. There are a lot of things to keep in mind when starting a business from the ground up. Students from East Carolina University who are entrepreneurs and will soon become business owners share their ideas, struggles, and advice which all can be useful for anyone who wants to launch their own ideologies and prototypes in the near future.
Alonza Mitchell, photography (@OfficialLonzo)
Alonza Mitchell, a senior majoring in communications at ECU, is a professional photographer.
When he got to ECU in 2017, he made a list of things he wanted to do in life. The list consisted of acting, videography, being a YouTuber, and at the bottom of the list was photography. He was planning on majoring in acting. After his first semester, he realized that’s not what he wanted to go to school for. He met someone in his dorm who did photography. At first, he was just in front of the camera and then he figured he would try being behind the camera. He ended up really liking it and wanted to learn more, so he got his own camera and learned the different components of taking photos, like angles and lighting.
He always wanted to be an entrepreneur. When he started photography, he knew he wanted to own his own business and he really developed a passion for it.
“I had credits coming in from high school for acting and I was already a semester behind in terms of the photography since I was originally majoring in acting, so it would have taken me longer to graduate and get my degree,” Mitchell said. “I decided to major in communications and do photography on the side, but photography is a big part of my life.”
Building a profitable business has been the hardest part so far, according to Mitchell. He continues to build his clientele and maintain relationships.
“You just have to keep going. You are your own biggest competition and your biggest motivation,” Mitchell said.
Through his business, Official Lonzo Photography, Mitchell has worked with a couple of clothing brands and shoe companies such as Jay25, Reese’s clothing, J Anthony designs, Bangs Shoes and other reputable brands.
“I would advise you to learn as much as you can, so you will be as reputable as possible when the business actually takes off. I learned everything I know now through YouTube; I haven’t taken any photography classes through ECU,” Mitchell explained.
Mitchell wants to continue to build his brand and own a studio one day. He wants to be able to work with celebrities and he wants to be a part of the fashion industry.
Ryann Carter, cosmetics (@thecarterrcollection)
Ryann Carter, a sophomore whose major is business management, used to work at a spa in high school in Greensboro. There was a guy who worked there who was really into drag makeup. He taught her a lot of things about makeup and he would also let her do his drag makeup for shows a lot of the time. She soon wanted to start making her own makeup. She promoted her ideas a lot and she has friends who promoted it and soon her dreams began to play out.
“I knew I wanted to start my own business by my senior year of high school, but I want to go to cosmetology school after college to really start my business. Right now, I can only do lip gloss and certain things before it needs to be FDA regulated,” explained Carter.
Law of business, a course offered at ECU, really helped her. She learned in this class what kind of things can get a person sued in the business field, how to hire employees, and how to actually get started.
She’s gotten advice from a lot of student entrepreneurs but has never partnered with anyone. She was thinking of partnering with a girl at ECU who makes bathing suits to do a pop-up shop when summer approaches.
“What girl doesn’t love lip gloss and bathing suits,” said Carter.
She has also partnered with a boutique over the summer where the shop would sell her lip glosses. It wasn’t ideal because she wasn’t able to get glosses right away when they sold out. She doesn’t have the tools at the moment to push tubes out constantly.
“Time is the biggest competition. I am a full-time student who is a part of a sorority and I also make lip glosses. It’s a lot to handle at one time. I’ve been up till 3am from time to time trying to fill orders. It’s time consuming, but I have help from a lot of people,” Carter added.
She wants to have a whole line that’s vegan and cruelty free. Her lip glosses are vegan and cruelty free now, but she wants a whole line of makeup. It is hard to find those kinds of products nowadays and she doesn’t want to falsely advertise things as she wants her products to be as pure as possible.
“Whatever you’re passionate about, just go for it. It is hard, especially getting people to promote, support, and buy things. As long as you have your goals in mind and know what you want to do, you’ll be successful. At the end of the day, I do this for fun and it’s something I really like to do,” said Carter.
Taylor Walden, shopping & retail (@simplesentimental)
Taylor Walden graduated in December with a degree in business management with a focus in small business management and entrepreneurship. She was the first winner in the Pirate Challenge in 2018 and now owns Simple and Sentimental, a local gift shop in Greenville.
Walden graduated high school a semester early and worked full-time after to save up for college. Typically, she was the first person to arrive at work and the last person to leave, but in her free time, she taught herself calligraphy from Pinterest.
By college, she got pretty good at it and would give her work to people as gifts. By Christmas her freshman year, she had a machine that made decals which she started selling. She would meet people on campus to sell her work to and she started an Etsy shop that December and by the end of her freshman year, she had made 500 sales off of that website.
Although she doesn’t really make stickers anymore, she’s best known for her engagement gifts. She was the first business ever to do an engagement gift box on Etsy. She’s also well-known for personalized pajamas, mainly for bridal parties. She often does laser engravings and cuttings, she also sells tumblers and monogrammed gifts.
By summer of 2017, she started making proposal boxes and she was one of the first people to start selling them on Etsy. She changed her major from interior design to business after she was able to sell a lot of her own products.
“The most valuable thing from getting my business degree at ECU was the mentorship. They connected me with many other business owners. I hired some student employees and started my own office with some fellow students. I didn’t know a lot about owning a business before these mentors helped me. Neither of my parents were business owners and I really leaned on the mentors to help me along the way,” explained Walden.
Finding the right time to hire employees was definitely one of the hardest things for Walden. It was just her and her now-husband before they hired anybody and they got so behind, they had a 2-week processing time, which is a long time for some of the projects they were doing. They realized if they wanted to make more money, keep the business growing, and stop losing sales, they would have to hire somebody and actually get an office space instead of selling things out of their apartment.
She’s taught calligraphy classes in the local community of Greenville. She has worked with Sup Dogs and has made them Christmas ornaments in the past. She has also mentored a lot of people.
“Definitely seek out the Miller School of Entrepreneurship at ECU and start bouncing off ideas with them. They are there to help you. If it wasn’t for them, my business wouldn’t be where it is now,” Walden said. “I am a big fan of mentorship. Do not be afraid to ask questions. It’s really about accepting that you really don’t know what you’re doing and that’s okay because there’s people ready to help you and see you succeed.”
Walden’s always worked full-time and when she was in school, it was a lot to handle. But now, since she’s graduated, it’s easier. Her goal by April is to have a million sales. She never expected her business to go this far. According to statistics, less than 1 percent of female businesses pass 6 figures, so she’s really thankful.
She also wants to find more ways to give back to the community. She loves using her business to help other people. One of her favorite things is having a staff and those staff and their families be impacted by the work she does. She’s volunteering with Building Hope in Greenville and she hopes to work with them 6 times this year and partner with the community to help and volunteer.
“I’ve been blessed with this business and I want to bless other people,” Walden said.
Ashley Nolan, jewelry (@copper.ashes)
Ashley Nolan, owner of Copper Ashes, is a senior at ECU and is majoring in business management.
Her passion for making jewelry started when she was younger when her grandma would give her string and beads and she really enjoyed doing that. Her friends and family would often buy her pieces she made when she was little. Her mom even let her sell some things on her eBay and resell some things she had bought previously at a yard sale. She really enjoyed being able to make her own money, so she started something more.
“It’s a really cool feeling to have someone pay and wear your work,” Nolan said.
When she got older, she had to come up with something more valuable and more unique. She saw on Pinterest someone made copper jewelry and they thought it was really unique and pretty. She started researching and ended up self-teaching herself electroplating processes. This gave her the creative freedom to make jewelry out of anything she could find. For example, she can make a piece out of a butterfly wing or an insect. No two pieces would be the same.
There’s definitely been a lot of marketing techniques she’s learned by taking courses at ECU. She’s learned how to build her brand and make it special and different.
“All of my customers come through social media, mainly Instagram. Instagram shows people different posts based on what they normally like, so not everyone’s posts,” Nolan shared. “If people aren’t actively liking and commenting on my posts, Instagram hides them. Some people don’t realize I have collection updates, sales, or releases. I’m working on an email list to keep people in the loop.”
She runs this business all on her own, which can be difficult at times, according to Nolan. In addition to her business, Nolan’s time can be consumed with her = two other part-time jobs and her full-time student status.
“I’m passionate about this so I stick with it,” said Nolan.
Nolan’s currently an intern at Rise29, which is through the Miller School of Entrepreneurship. They assigned her 2 other people to help her with website updates and social media.
She has also partnered with models and influencers around the US, Germany, Ukraine, and Canada. She’ll send her work to these people and they’ll promote it. That’s how she’s grown her business so far.
“Working with all these different backgrounds and countries is so exciting. I have a few pieces now that are going to be sent to Russia to collaborate with some people over there. I’m excited to find new people to work with this coming year,” described Nolan.
This year, she’s hoping to turn her small business into a limited liability company. She wants to get into a lot of local shops and get involved with the local community more because most of her sales are online.
“Having more local community involvement would be amazing. There is a little talk to a storefront in the future.” said Nolan.
Overall, she wants to grow the engagement and have more people be more involved. She wants to work more with artists and influencers. She would love to do this full time. This is her passion and she loves to create new things.
“Start now, keep going, and don’t give up, even though it’s cliché. There are so many things that can discourage someone from continuing. And there’s always room for improvement. To be successful, you have to understand the business side of it. You also have to value your own work,” Nolan explained.
She sees so many artists doing sales and cheapening their prices a lot of the time. Bringing down prices consistently, devalues their work and it cheapens themselves as an artist. People pay for artwork, but they also pay for the little bit of the artist that they put into the piece.
One of the main goals is to provide people with a piece of nature. When people are able to obtain a piece from nature in the form of wearable art, they can feel the power and beauty of nature without actually having to venture out to get it.
She wants to give back to the community at one point. She has found her purpose and wants others to find their purposes as well. Everything serves a greater purpose in life. For example, if she uses a leaf to make a piece, the leaf comes from a tree which gives off oxygen. These little things she makes have a bigger purpose than just a piece of jewelry.
“The time and effort depends on what kind of piece it is. To make my pieces it is a copper plating process which is a slow process. Typically, for a small piece, it takes about 6-8 hours. If it’s a large piece, it may take a day or 2 days. I can do multiple pieces at once, but it is a really slow process. When my business grows, I’m going to have to get more supplies, so I’ll be able to get my work done faster. I just don’t have the space for the expansion yet,” said Nolan
Katie Arden, 2020 Pirate Entrepreneurship finalist (ChowShield)
Katie Arden, a freshman majoring in entrepreneurship, is a finalist in ECU’s Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge (PEC) this year.
Her mom would never order food delivery since it was never properly packaged. Some food deliverers touch and even eat the food they are delivering. She started thinking of something that would help properly contain the food. When she came to ECU, she found the perfect opportunity to display it and get it running. Her project for the Pirate Challenge is entitled ChowShield, which is essentially a sticker that covers the food being delivered. Customers will know if their food has been tampered with if that seal is broken.
She didn’t know she wanted this major until she met Michael Harris. It was at orientation and she was originally going to be a communications major but then her mom offered the idea of entrepreneurship and as soon as she did, she fell in love with it. It’s when she came to ECU, she really knew she wanted to start her own business.
Her degree and coursework definitely pertain to her business. She learns skills that she’ll need to network, consult, generally see how a business works, and how to make hers more successful.
“Getting through the Pirate Entrepreneurship challenge has been difficult while also trying to keep up with my company as a whole and school all at the same time. I know it’ll be worth it,” said Arden.
Her future goal in life is to own a company of her own. She mainly wants to enjoy what she does in the future and really have love for her job.
“My business partner, Griffin Goodman, is another intended entrepreneurship major, and a wonderful part of my team. I wouldn’t have managed to get everything done without him,” explained Arden.
She advises to keep pushing, ask questions, and go talk to Michael Harris or anyone who works for the Miller School. They are super helpful and wonderful to work with.
Amelia Hernandez, 2020 Pirate Entrepreneurship finalist (HonestBlox)
Amelia Hernandez, sophomore, is a software engineering major with a minor in computer science who is also a finalist in the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge.
Hernandez, along with her team, founded HonestBlox, a software for Blockchain Technology, which makes websites like Bitcoin secure and essentially unhackable. HonestBlox tracks food from farm to fork using this Blockchain Technology. They started off as a research team that was working with a variety of client companies like the Eastern Carolina Food Commercialization Center.
Through this research project, they learned about all of the food scares, like the 2018 E. coli breakout with lettuce. The problem is it takes 2-3 weeks, sometimes longer, to run a full investigation to find out where the infected produce came from. At that time a lot of people became sick and some even died. Farms had to shut down because they didn’t know where the infected lettuce was coming from. Stores were losing money because customers weren’t buying produce. Walmart issued a requirement saying any produce being distributed to their stores had to be on a Blockchain.
“Using this Blockchain Technology, food can be tracked in 2-3 seconds,” said Hernandez.
There is a club at ECU called ECU Blockchain. The Blockchain club was picked up by the Innovation Design Lab to do a research project for the Laboratory for Micro and Nanotechnology (LMN), the biggest produce company in the south east. Their project was to figure out the best way to get them on a Blockchain. During the project, they discovered there weren't many effective solutions. After this project, they were picked up to do the same project for the Eastern Carolina Food Commercialization Center. She was the lead and this project became HonestBlox.
“One of the biggest difficulties has been trying to explain Blockchain technology in a way that educates people and tells them everything they need to know,” Hernandez said. “We still want to be able to give the information to people in a way where they don’t need a computer science degree or a background in Blockchain.”
Their official PEC mentor is John Ciannamea. They are also being mentored by Dennis Tracz. Hernandez is the team leader and Riley Valencia is the coder and creator. Jahina Hayes is the front-end developer while Seymone Gugneja is the Back-End Developer. Quint Flores is their Business Expert.
“The best advice would be to find the right mentors. I, along with my team, wouldn’t have been able to come this far if it wasn’t for them,” Hernandez explained.
They would like to win the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge. They’re working on contracts now for the Eastern Carolina Food Commercialization Center and with UNC Pembroke. They can have actual software available for sale in about 6 months.
Hanna Johns, 2020 Pirate Entrepreneurship finalist (LightsOut Solutions)
Hanna Louise Johns, a senior majoring in industrial distribution and logistics, which is under engineering, is another Pirate Entrepreneur Challenge finalist. She used to have a dog walking business when she was little and that’s what got her business mindset going.
Johns’ design started off named Systems 1166. In the second round, it was called LightsOut Solution and now it's entitled LightsOut Solutions. It’s a platform technology company focusing on the safety of schools, theme parks, sporting events, and fairs. It has a wide range of capability for customers.
For example, they are going to launch their product and get most of their marketing data when baseball season starts. They paired with Greenville PD for testing. There is a lot of traffic surrounding the baseball field and the roads leading to it. There are also a lot of police covering that area and directing traffic, which puts them, along with other people, at a safety risk if a driver is distracted. The product allows for a safer transition from one point to another. The prototype is entitled RudyI, which stands for Revolutionary Universal Device 1, but with a roman numeral as the one.
Johns is the founder and the intellectual property owner. She came up with this idea when she was at Crabtree Valley Mall, a mall in Raleigh, when it was raining and traffic was heavy. She saw a police officer in the middle of the road directing traffic since the stop lights had gone out in that area. There was a lot going on and she thought it was really a safety violation and the police officer could get seriously injured.
“Knowing logistics is just half the battle. With my degree, I don’t learn how to do a business model or the financial portion of it. But through the Miller School of Entrepreneurship and through the opportunities I’ve had, I really got a feel of how to lead this project. Speaking with people and learning what it takes to be an entrepreneur has really helped me along the way. It helped me make the leap of faith. I was scared of making that jump because I was in a gray zone in a lot of aspects, but so far, it has been very rewarding,” articulated Johns.
She is continuing her work on her business model and strategy for the future. Johns plans on her prototypes becoming an actual company when she graduates. She plans on going to Raleigh to start planning the headquarters for this project. Her partner, Chris Lamb, plans on going to Virginia to also continue their practice. Lamb is the cofounder and majors in Industrial Distribution and Logistics with a minor in sales.
“Being in the realm of safety and trying to get this certified has been the hardest part. Getting the license and getting the right tools is definitely a benefit,” Johns said. “ Safety, production, trying to partner with others each have their own regulations.”
Their mentor has reached out to different lawyers for patents and different engineers to help create the prototype. They’re partnering with the locals in Greenville to help with the signs and they’re trying to find distributors in North Carolina as well as in California to get their project out a little further.
“I was scared to take that leap of faith, but having a partner really took off some of the pressure. It is also great to have the support alongside you. Being confident in yourself and your ideas is very important because if you don’t do what you want to do in life, you’ll always be asking yourself what if. Doing pitch contests and getting my face out there and getting out of my comfort zone, it’s been very exciting. Even though it’s stressful, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Johns said.
She wants to get a warehouse of her own with all the supplies and packages needed in order to make more prototypes. They have different sub-packages for different customers like school systems and sporting events. Each package will be different, but will be specifically gravitated towards the objective.
Rowe Mellott, 2020 Pirate Entrepreneurship finalist (Quizcam)
Rowe Mellott just graduated in December with a major in business management and a concentration in small business management and entrepreneurship.
His project in the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge is a software platform, called Quizcam, designed to be an interactive e-learning platform for athletes. He’s specifically focusing on football. It’ll allow coaches to assign their athletes quizzes on their playbook and certain situations that will happen during the game.
Mellott played football at ECU and spent a lot of time before and after practice learning the playbook and scouting out the opponent, so when they go out and play the game, they know exactly what to do. Some players will struggle with learning the playbook and he thought there’s a way to help them learn it quicker and more effectively in a way coaches can evaluate their knowledge of the game not only in practice or in a game, but through this software. It shows the player when they get the answers correct or incorrect and if they got it incorrect it’ll tell them why and teach them what the right way is.
Right now, he’s interning with a company called Gameplan, a small business in Greenville which has a similar software in which quizzes and modules are created. He used this and he had to complete modules in which he learned about sexual violence and hazing and other issues that arise. He’s trying to take this knowledge and create his own software.
When he got into his concentration classes, he would have to think about things he was passionate about. He wrote down football and video games and through that exercise, his ideas came to be.
“Throughout the whole class, I learned all the basic things I needed to do in order to start my own business. I learned how the market was, who to sell to, and how to scale a business. At the end of these classes, I had to take an idea and pitch it to certain investors. My professors helped me a lot and are still helping me,” Mellott said.
So far, trying to learn how to build software, getting employees, getting funding and getting the help he needed to be able to make his vision a reality has been the hardest part.
“Don’t be afraid. If someone has an idea and is passionate about it and wants to make it a reality, just work hard and don’t give up. A lot of things may be telling you it’s not a good idea, but you’ve got to work through the hard portion. You have to sacrifice in order to reap the rewards,” Mellott explained.
He wants to win the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge but also win the pitch competition in Greenville in the future. He wants to get more funding to build up to where it can be, a successful small business. He’s going to take all the opportunities he can in order to make his business a successful one.