By Laura Mazurak
This is a year of celebration as it marks the 10th year of Wake Forest University’s commitment to education and opportunities in innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship to all students. This 10-year milestone provides the occasion to highlight the achievements of the past and to envision the potential of the future. Throughout the year we will be hosting events that shine a light on our accomplished students and faculty. Homecoming provided the first opportunity to celebrate!
On Friday, September 19, 2014 the Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (ICE) kicked off Homecoming Weekend with “Balloons of Inspiration.” With inspiration and help from alumna Hannah VanderWeide, ’13, colorful balloons were located around Hearn Plaza and passersby were encouraged to record their responses to prompts, such as “What doesentrepreneurship mean to you?”, “Who is the most innovative person you know?” and “Why celebrate creativity?” Through the simple act of writing on the balloons, students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors engaged in a key entrepreneurial endeavor: inspire others as they inspire you.
Throughout the afternoon, the StoryLine Bus was on campus to record testimonials about program’s ability to empower current students and alumni through involvement in innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.
Wake Forest alumni, current students and faculty from various fields and interests gathered to record their stories on the bus, creating an oral history of entrepreneurial endeavors and perspectives in the Wake Forest community. We collected fifteen stories, not just of those who have gone on to create a new venture, but also tales of individuals thinking outside the box. You can read highlights of the stories below.
Rosita Najmi, ‘04 has extensive experience in social entrepreneurship, financial inclusion and economic development, having worked with the World Bank, the IFC and several NGOs. She shared her story with Blythe Riggan, ’16, and credited the ICE program with providing her innumerable opportunities.
“Entrepreneurship at Wake Forest was basically living and walking the path of Pro Humanitate with practical feet . . . That’s what Wake Forest offers through the ICE program, the practical resources and also the emotional support and encouragement that allows students to connect their passion, skills and a vision to something that can support and elevate the communities they are a part of.” -- Rosita Najmi, ‘04
After losing his father to leukemia, a health problem that he felt was associated with contaminated ground water and soil vapor intrusion from chemicals stored underground, Gavin Smith, ’10 started civilianexposure.org. Smith’s experience with the Wake Forest Elevator Competition exposed him to many ideas and projects and he began to feel that with the right mindset, tools, and exposure to the right people, anything is possible.
“Entrepreneurship gives you the opportunity to write your own script. When you start to figure out what tools and resources are out there, and just try…and if you fail, it’s just another way to move on to the next success.” – Gavin Smith, ‘10
The ICE program not only inspires students to start new ventures, but also encourages them to apply innovative and creative thinking skills to research interests. While studying abroad in France, Niki Makkinejad, ’15, a politics and international affairs major with minors in ESE and women’s and gender studies, enlisted the help of ESE Professor Lynn Book to help her connect her interests through an independent study. Makkinejad compared aspects of the European and American business markets, returning with research that contributed to a new special topics course, Women and Entrepreneurship: A Campus/Community Collaboratory, taught by Prof. Book in spring 2014.
“I opened my eyes to everything around me [in France] and started taking in entrepreneurship that might not be considered entrepreneurship here in America or viewed as the same. It seemed to be much more food and material based rather than technology based. It was nice to see a different type of entrepreneurship. In America you see people working 20 hours a day to keep their business running. In France, they still take their two hour lunch and their business may only be open six hour a day, but they’re still entrepreneurs.” -- Niki Makkinejad, ‘15
Nikolai Hlebowitsh, a senior computer science and economics double major at Wake Forest University, began his freshman year without a true sense of what he wanted to do with his life. However, his eyes were opened to the possibility of becoming an entrepreneur by one of his freshman year suitemates who founded a company in Silicon Valley. He then applied for a seed grant through the ICE Program to start a company called North Carolina Data which provides analytics consulting to small businesses.
“Before I started North Carolina Data, LLC, I didn’t have a lot of skills, I was very nervous about this and my GPA was not as high as I thought it would be. By starting this company I acquired the entrepreneurial skillset. While my company didn’t work out and North Carolina Data doesn’t exist anymore, what does exist is this new sense of innovation, and a feeling that I don’t want to be like everybody else. I want to drive for change and I want to do everything I can to facilitate new ideas and new innovation in the U.S and the World. That’s the greatest thing I think the Wake Forest Entrepreneurship Program brings to Wake Forest and the community as a whole -- fostering innovation in students.” – Nikolai Hlebowitsh, ‘15
Sally Rowland is a senior at Wake Forest majoring in finance with an ESE minor. She spoke with Jan Detter, who teaches social entrepreneurship at Wake Forest, about her experience with the ICE program and her work with the nonprofit organization Charity: Water, whose mission is 'to bring clean drinking water to every person on the planet'. Rowland attributes her social entrepreneurship class and the internship with Charity: Water for sparking her interest in entrepreneurship. After graduation Rowland intends to continue work in the startup industry.
“Charity: Water taught me that I really like being in an organization where everyone is committed to their mission -- everyone is passionate about what they’re doing, everyone loves their job. Seeing the benefits of what you’re a part of, it’s rewarding to see how the work you do is helping others.” -- Sally Rowland, ‘15
Alex Gromer and Ben Smith shared their stories with each other about their experiences starting a venture. Alex Gromer majors in both history and politics and international affairs with a minor in ESE. Gromer’s venture is DeaconVend, a vending machine that provides study supplies.
“I first came up with the idea along with four others in my Entrepreneurship 101 class, and with funding from Wake Forest we were able to turn our idea into a reality, placing a DeaconVend vending machine in the school library. My hope is to expand this venture at Wake Forest, placing more machines around campus then hopefully reaching out to other schools nearby and placing more there.” --Alex Gromer, ‘15
Ben Smith is a senior communication major with a minor in ESE. Smith started a CrossFit gym in Winston-Salem this past summer. He was first introduced to the exercise program while he was still in high school and later interned at a CrossFit company in New York, where he took a strong interest in the program. The gym that Smith started is an affiliate program, rather than a franchise, so he has taken on the entire responsibility of the gym himself and doesn’t have a national marketing platform to base his model off of. As the owner of the business, Smith works to ensure the business’ profitability and leaves day-to-day activities to his employees. He intends to expand once his first CrossFit gym gets off the ground.
“Without the ICE Program and help from Professor Black, I don’t know where I would be. I probably would not have been able to do this.” --Ben Smith, ‘15
“Entrepreneurship is way of thinking. It’s a way of looking at a problem or a challenge and thinking through the process… and how to realize that challenge or realize that opportunity.” -- Sharon Andrews, one of the original program directors for the Entrepreneurship Program during the Kauffman Foundation Grant period
Moria Lawlor, a senior sociology major with an ESE minor, spoke with theater Professor Sharon Andrews about her interest in entrepreneurship. She founded a company called Franky’s Jewelry after her father, an economics professor at Wake Forest for 28 years, was diagnosed with Cerebellar Ataxia, a debilitative disease that affects mobility and motor function. The name of the company stems from childhood memories of playing school with her dad, who pretended to be a student named Franky.
“Starting Franky’s Jewelry was a way that I could bring my passion for design and the will to help my father together… I didn’t really think it was possible until I started my Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise minor and heard about how we could apply for grants. I applied and received a seed grant from the ICE program and my company has taken off.” – Moria Lawlor, ‘15
David Hughes, a senior computer science major and art history minor, founded a software engineering cooperative with grants from the ICE program his sophomore year. 1834 Software provides peer-to-peer education in the areas of website, app and software design and development
“By teaching students these skills and giving them work experience outside the classroom, you’re marrying their desire to gain experience and make some money in college with the fundamental need for organizations to have a technological presence.” -- David Hughes, ‘15
Jack Zimmerman and Jesse Konig, 2014 graduates, founded gourmet hotdog company Swizzler while students at Wake Forest. While they originally thought of the company as a way to earn money for a trip to the 2014 World Cup, it’s become their passion. They’re in the process of opening their first Swizzler food truck in Washington, D.C.
“ICE gave us the confidence that we had a good concept and a great support network. We had mentors who were willing to be with us every step of the way. My favorite part about it was that our mentors – Professor Black and Professor Varner – never gave us a straight answer, they knew this was something we had to come up with on our own. But they constantly provided us with resources, with ideas, and constantly challenged our ideas. It really was an incredible environment.” -- Jesse Konig, ‘14
Biology major and chemistry minor Mike Tantum, ’14 founded a venture after a biomimetics class with biology and entrepreneurship Professor Bill Conner. Sun Tape, funded by grants from the ICE Program, measures the sun’s energy in different locations, so solar panel installers can easily determine the ideal location to place panels. Along with starting Sun Tape, Tantum led the 2014 Wake Forest TEDx conference as the university innovation fellow. Tantum is now working at a biotech startup through the Venture for America fellowship program, which places top college grads in startups across the country.
“My experience with the entrepreneurship program has been absolutely fantastic. It really put me at a different trajectory for my post-grad life, and taught me a lot about myself and the student I could become.” -- Mike Tantum, ‘14
Quentin Robert, ’14 and Alex Smereczniak, ’14 spoke with Professor Polly Black about thier experiences purchasing Wake Wash in their sophomore year. Despite ups and downs – and after many learning experiences – the owners successfully sold the laundry service this past spring.
“To fail – that’s something that Wake Wash taught me that you can’t learn in the classroom. The way school’s set up, you have to get an A, you want to get an A and you can’t make mistakes. This business gave us the opportunity to fail and make mistakes. The learning that comes out of that is more valuable than getting everything right.” -- Alex Smereczniak ‘14
Brittani Chavious, a third-year Divinity School student and social entrepreneur, came to Wake Forest with a non-profit she founded back home in Cincinnati, Ohio. While at Wake, she’s worked with the ICE program to expand HerSpace, Inc., an organization devoted to inspiring confidence and purpose in teen girls. Through the ICE program Chavious has been able to run a seven-day overnight camp for two summers in a row. She’s ready to expand HerSpace Inc. and its affiliate programs after graduation in spring 2015.
“I had no idea stepping onto this campus that I would have the vast number of opportunities I’ve been given – not just to learn what it will take to run my nonprofit, but I was also given the opportunity to get into the field and practice what I’ve always dreamed of doing. Through the ICE Program and it's support, I was able to run my camp for two summers and I was able to impact the lives of about 40 young women.” -- Brittani Chavious, MDiv ‘15
Jacob Teitelbaum, ’16, has long been interested in the food industry and accessibility to healthy foods. The summer before his sophomore year he devised a business concept to make local foods more accessible to people in the surrounding community. The Fresh Food Network would act as a platform for local sellers and a market for area buyers. In addition, Teitelbaum wants to educate consumers about new food items and recipes – allowing technology to power and drive an already active local food movement.
“Working with ICE, I’ve been able to take this very raw idea and transform it into this almost functioning business model. There are still a lot of improvements to go, but we’re getting there.” -- Jake Teitelbaum ’16
Lucy Lan, an ambassador for the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), spoke with Professor Bill Conner about taking on the task of hosting Wake Forest’s first TEDx conference in 2012. The conference brought together over 1,000 people from campus, the Triad community and beyond to discuss big ideas and entrepreneurship. The campus has continued to host annual TEDx conferences sponsored by ICE and Lan, a chemistry major who graduated in 2012, is now a medical student at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
“One of the best things about my undergrad career at Wake Forest was the ICE Program. I loved my professors and I loved the stuff that I learned. I actually used a lot of things I’ve learned in my entrepreneurship classes during my gap year, when I worked at a startup and then when I worked at a venture bank. Even in med school now I tend to think of healthcare as something that can be improved. The foundation ICE gave me was really wonderful.” -- Lucy Lan, ‘12
Entrepreneurship is a family affair for the VanderWeides. After hearing about her big sister’s experience with the ESE minor, Katie VanderWeide, ‘15 decided to follow in her academic footsteps. Both Katie and Hannah VanderWeide, ’13, cited the program’s involvement in the community and experiential learning opportunities as key assets. Their grandfather, an entrepreneur, was also a factor in the sisters’ decisions to be ESE minors. His optimism, willingness to take risks and entrepreneurial spirit continue to inspire the VanderWeide sisters.
“Entrepreneurship allows you to approach a career from a different perspective and create your own passion. You create something that is your motivator.” --Katie VanderWeide, ‘15
The StoryLine Bus is a mobile recording studio that was previously a bookmobile. Lisa Burton, program coordinator for the ICE Program, worked with Gail Fisher, co-director of the StoryLine Project, to bring the Bus to campus. “We dubbed the StoryLine Bus ‘the entrepreneurship story catcher’ and hope to edit one of the stories for broadcast on a local radio station and for possible inclusion in the New Winston Museum,” Fisher said. The ICE program is now part of the history of Wake Forest and Winston-Salem.
The Forsyth County Public Library archives all collected Storyline testimonials and the stories can be accessed at http://www.storylineproject.org/stories.