November 3, 2011
The business of learning: Entrepreneurship students turn classroom learning into a real-world business
Like any new business owners, Samantha Kal and Josh Kirk have been busy. They know that every detail is up to them, from hiring a graphic designer to setting up their office.
What separates them from the pack is that they are faced with getting their new venture off the ground while juggling a full class load at Kansas State University and keeping active in their Greek houses.
Kal, a junior in entrepreneurship from Cherry Hills Village, Colo., and Kirk, a senior in entrepreneurship and management from Shawnee, are part of the first batch of K-State students to participate in the university's Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship's Venture Accelerator program, said Chad Jackson, the center's associate director. The program provides selected students with funding, office space, mentors and the ability to develop a successful business venture.
"Giving students the tools to launch new companies provides Kansas State University students with the important support needed to jump-start viable new ventures and provides economic development for our community," Jackson said.
The Venture Accelerator program has three components: a Student Venture Fund, two Venture Incubator houses and mentors. Funding provides start-up funds to student entrepreneurs based on the recommendations of students in the university's integrated investment management certificate program.
"This program makes our classroom experience relevant to what we're doing," Kirk said. "It's like we're making our own curriculum; we're thinking like business owners."
Kal and Kirk's own partnership began when they happened to be in several business classes together and then ended up together in Jackson's entrepreneurship class. Through several conversations they realized there was a niche that wasn't being filled.
"Our original idea was a Greek dating site, since Greeks have similar commitments or priorities," Kirk said. "Then it grew into a matching site; a place that allows Greeks to connect in one place."
Once their business plan was approved, the beginnings of greekGatch were born. Students belonging to sororities or fraternities at K-State will register their chapter, then make individual profiles. Within each chapter's profile page, the house's family tree will be listed as well as club members and committee chairs.
Kal said she and Kirk are especially excited that the greekGatch website will feature a digital version of each chapter's composite picture. The site will also feature a campus map with markings indicating where each Greek house is located.
"Finding a house's social or public relations chair when planning a function or philanthropy can be difficult, but with this, you have one place to go where you can find anyone and send them a message," Kal said.
While the profiles will be free to users, the students said they plan to generate revenue the same way many websites do: with advertisements. However, their idea would offer a nearly instant connection between the user, the website and the business placing the ad.
"Local business can list what they offer, like a large amount of space or food specials," Kirk said. "A chapter can instantly see who is open at a certain time and what they offer, making it easier to plan a function. They won't have to contact a million places to ask a question."
The website is in the design stage and will launch in early 2012. Jackson said when launched it would fill the niche the students initially intended.
"Their company, greekGatch, certainly is focusing on a unique market opportunity has tremendous potential," he said. "The key to the company's success is the amazing leadership and vision of these two entrepreneurs."
As they continue working in their large office space provided to them by the Venture Accelerator program, Kal and Kirk said they have learned about more than just business plans and financials.
"You have to persevere through those times when just don't want to do it," Kal said. "Your drive and motivation can affect the way your business turns out. There's a 99 percent chance that we'll fail, but that 1 percent chance is worth it. It's not a failure if the lessons benefit us in the future."
While the matching service will initially be available to only K-State Greek students, Kal and Kirk hope to eventually expand it nationally. Kal is a member of Sigma Kappa sorority, and Kirk is a member Phi Delta Theta fraternity.