A husband and wife team of students won the 10th annual Springboard Ideas Challenge, including a $10,000 prize, for their business idea of a security and social media integration that provides pet owners peace of mind.
Sharaie and Rees Heizelman won the prize Thursday in the competition sponsored by the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy.
The product, which they have named Paws, is a combination of a GPS tracker, which goes on a dog’s collar, and an app Sharaie described as “kind of a Facebook for pets.” The goal of Paws is to help pet owners keep track of their pets and socialize with other pet owners, the couple said.
The Springboard Ideas Challenge began in January with three divisions. One was open to local community members, another was open to area high school students and another was solely for ACU students.
Student participants this year were required to enroll in a new class called Launch the Venture, taught by Dr. Jim Litton, assistant professor in the Department of Management Sciences and director of the Griggs Center. Also, the Griggs Center added the high school division this year in partnership with Junior Achievement of Abilene. Teams from Abilene, Cooper and Abilene Christian high schools as well as the Academy of Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Science participated.
Karen Heflin, Springboard Program Coordinator, said the new class for ACU students was added to ensure students learned about the process of developing a business.
“In the past, students were kind of able to get together with their buddies over a weekend and just dream up an idea, write a business plan and submit it,” Heflin said. “There wasn’t a lot of work or preparation that really prepared them for starting a business.”
The ACU competitors’ incentive was $10,000 for their business, and the winning high school division group was awarded at $10,000 scholarship to be divided between team members. Six ACU teams participated in the competition, and Heflin said they hope to have more in the future.
Students in the class started thinking of an idea and a business plan in January and took the semester to strengthen their ideas.
“It was a really good experience, and I definitely want to be able to sell my product to other business to use because I think it’s important,” said Alenia Robinson, junior ad/PR major from Liberty Hill.
Robinson said the course incorporated all of the different elements of how to start a business, including financing, as well as manufacturing and the design of the product.
Robinson and her business partner, Kara Ory, designed a lamp that allows kids and parents who are separated to stay in contact. Parents would be able to leave a voice message on the child’s lamp through an app. It would also include a touch screen so they could play games or write messages back and forth.
“I think once we started coming up with all these ideas, our, at least my, incentive was being able to give this product to kids and parents. If we win this could become a real product and see how it actually works,” said Ory, junior social work major from Walnut Creek, California.
For the pair, the most fun aspect was designing the product. Two of the hardest things were doing interviews, each team had to complete 100 interviews with their target consumers and cost structure, Robinson said.
In the future, they want to continue to develop their product and patent it and see it in stores.
The Heizelmans said the owe a lot of their success to participating in the Launch the Venture class.
“We definitely wouldn’t have won if we didn’t have the class because it prepared us a lot for what we need to do,” Sharaie said.
Rees said the prize amount helped a lot of groups stay in the class, as an incentive, because it is a challenging course.
In the future, the couple is hoping to enter competitions so they can earn more money to fund their project. They will be eligible to enter many of these once they are can create a prototype and do more research.
“We definitely encourage those who are thinking about entrepreneurship to take this class,” Rees said.
“It’s really helpful,” Sharaie added, “even if you don’t win you can really start to understand what you would need to make the business work.”
Springboard is not the only event the Griggs Center sponsors throughout the year.
Heflin said the Center tries to foster a gathering of entrepreneurs throughout the year, and provides free resources to aspiring entrepreneurs, both students and community members.
“We just want to encourage people that have an idea to jump on it, and sometimes if they have some seed funding to do that then their more likely to try that,” Heflin said. “In addition, we want to train them on how to set up a business model, mentoring, talking with people about what has and hasn’t worked, communicate and interview about product in order to be successful.”
The community competition will end on May 16 with an awards luncheon. The top 13 teams that made it to the second round, out of over 30 who participated, will be recognized. The top three teams will present to a group of 25-30 entrepreneurs, bankers, investors and community members to decide who will be awarded the $15,000 prize to fund their business or product.