Building a business takes a lot more than a great pitch and lots of funding
What do yeast cultures, advanced shoulder braces and smart phone apps have in common? They are a few of the numerous creative ideas that have emerged from the Clemson MBA in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MBAe) program in just two short years.
In the new program, students take a full year of classes in entrepreneurial based business concepts — including venture finance, marketing strategy and management of technology — and to finish it all, they complete a capstone project where each student must present a complete business pitch. Students are motivated by the prospect of sharing their passions and watching their ideas become reality.
There is now a part-time option for Clemson MBAe students. The two-plus year program is designed specifically for working professionals, and the newest cohort includes professionals with five or more years of experience looking to innovate at work and increase their entrepreneurial knowledge.
The ideas and businesses that have been molded through the MBAe program thus far have been incredible. So, let’s take a look at where some of the students — and their businesses — from the past two classes are now.
Even Skjervold, Class of ’14
Hometown: Lillehammer, Norway
Company: SouthYeast Labs
Even Skjervold, who came to Clemson from Norway, discovered the spark behind his business idea for SouthYeast Labs in an undergraduate research Creative Inquiry class about brewing beer, which was taught by his now business partner, Clemson grad student David Thornton. The two realized that they could harvest local yeast strains and alter the taste of beer and other alcoholic beverages.
Skjervold and Thornton started brewing with the yeasts “just because we could,” Skjervold said. They realized how great their results were and took that and ran with it, selling the strains to home brewers and local breweries.
“I wanted it to stop being an idea and start being a real business,” Skjervold explained. “That’s where the MBAe program came into play. For a bioengineering graduate, learning about business and entrepreneurship allowed him to make the idea a reality.
After graduating with his undergraduate degree in bioengineering, he began the Clemson MBAe program while concurrently earning his master’s in bioengineering. On top of two master’s programs, Skjervold and his business partner were working to get their business up and running and Skjervold dedicated every minute of his scarce free time to making SouthYeast Labs a success.
Different yeasts give unique flavors to the beers. These include yeast from peaches, blueberries, honeysuckles and the like. Following their success in the Clemson area, Skjervold and Thornton moved to collect strains from all over the Southeast — and they aren’t stopping there.
Already SouthYeast Labs has more demand for their yeast strains than they can keep up with. The goal is to get more equipment for their lab — currently housed in Thornton’s dining room — and move into a commercial warehouse where they can increase their production and meet demand.
Skjervold recently won the Enterprize Award for the MBAe program, which came with a $20,000 prize. The company has also received some funds through clemsonideas.com, a crowdfunding contribution site. The hope is to extend the taste of SouthYeast all over the country and into product lines beyond beer.
Brad Powell, Class of ’13
Hometown: Rock Hill, South Carolina
Company: Elevate Golf Partners
Brad Powell didn’t start the MBAe program with the idea for Elevate Golf Partners. He began the program with an objective to combine his passion for golf and business. He experimented with multiple golf business ideas during the MBAe program before he realized he had to offer something that the golf industry really needed.
After graduating from the program in 2013, he combined his innate passion for golf, knowledge he’d gained in the MBAe program and the need for creative marketing in the golf industry to create the right mix to start his company. He established the brand-defining factors of Elevate Golf Partners as
- golf-centered marketing solutions,
- relationship-based boutique marketing and
- technology offerings.
Powell explained that the golf industry is three to five years behind in the technology sector. Elevate Golf is working to bring local golf courses, players and companies up to speed with innovative technologies. Powell and his coworkers are dedicated to providing customers with what they want and what he knows they need for their brand to be successful.
“We want to be the big brother or sister to our clients that helps you create what you want to create online and offline. We want to walk hand in hand with our clients based on what they need,” Powell says.
Powell recruited a chief creative officer, Angela Taylor, and a chief technology officer, Nate Phillips, to help launch the idea. Powell says each of them has an entrepreneurial spirit that has helped them work together to create a lifestyle business that helps people in the golf industry develop their brand.
Powell’s affinity for golf started at the age of three when he played the sport for the first time. His love of golf, fire for starting his own business and the need to support his family are all components that drive him to increase his client base.
In less than a year, Elevate Golf was established and has an increasing client base. Powell finds it exciting to combine golf and business, and offer a product that people are willing to pay for as he works to grow the company.
Riley Csernica, Class of ’13
Hometown: Charleston, South Carolina
Company: Tarian Orthotics
It was during Riley Csernica’s senior Capstone final project at Clemson earning her bachelor’s degree in bioengineering that the idea for her company was born. She and her classmates were given the task of creating a shoulder brace to keep athletes’ shoulders from popping out of the socket. They formed a prototype, and after graduation Csernica and her business partner Chelsea Ex-Lubeskie decided to take the prototype to the next level.
Csernica joined the MBAe program to ensure progress continued on the shoulder brace and the business that would become Tarian Orthotics. The program made her think “big picture” and helped her develop a broader concept to create a sustainable company and not just a single product. During the process, she decided to focus on product development with her company.
“Coming out of the bioengineering department, I was an engineer. I was super analytical and looked at things for data. Everything had to have a research validation behind it. The MBAe program really changed my mindset,” Csernica said.
Tarian Orthotics emphasizes products that raise the bar from the typical bulky and mass-produced brace by creating personalized braces for athletes. Tarian Orthotics strives to be on the cusp of innovation and incorporates new technology into the creation of the product. In partnership with Reify Health, they are able to scan the user’s body part and use a 3D printer to make a custom brace that fits perfectly.
Csernica and Ex-Lubeskie have been funding their work with money from SC Launch!, the National Science Foundation and other pitch-competition money. Tarian is currently testing its shoulder brace on Florida State University football players.
Their current objective is to sell their original shoulder brace nationally and from there generate more products with the most advanced technology while “emBRACEing innovation.”
Darryl McCune II, Class of ’14
Hometown: Buffalo, New York
Company: Community Bound
The Code.org Foundation projects that there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs in 2020 and only 400,000 computer scientists who are qualified to fill those positions.
While working as a software engineer with a background in electrical engineering, Darryl McCune saw how important it is to close the knowledge gap in computer science positions. Through Operation Reboot he became certified to teach computer science and decided he wanted to share that knowledge with young people and teachers.
McCune joined the MBAe program to take his idea to the next level. At Clemson he gained insight into the non-profit sector and decided to take that route. He was then introduced to his business partner, Hugh Martin of Anderson, a graduate of Harvard who had similar interests. Martin had an outline for the company, and when McCune shared the business concepts he’d learned through the MBAe program, they formed Community Bound.
Martin said, “I had the structure while Darryl had the product.” This combination of their resources and help from McCune’s wife, Christina Gardner-McCune, a computer science professor at Clemson, allowed them to start their non-profit centered on three pillars: professional development, IT awareness and life skills.
Community Bound currently holds summer camps and after-school programs in three Upstate South Carolina counties with prospects for expansion into Georgia and Florida next year. These programs teach computer science skills to students in middle and high school.
Community Bound also supports teacher professional development by helping them gain the knowledge needed to teach computer science in their schools.
These projects come together through events that show the importance of IT, where Community Bound spreads the word about the overwhelming need for IT workers and helps young people learn the skills they will need to succeed in this lucrative and exciting field.
Ryan DeMattia, Class of ’14
Hometown: Lexington, South Carolina
Company: Voice the app
Ryan DeMattia has always been fascinated with working with start-up businesses and entrepreneurs. After joining the MBAe program, he had his own opportunity to start a business.
The idea for Voice the app came to DeMattia on a Friday night while he was hanging with friends. As a college student at Clemson studying political science, DeMattia realized college students want their voice heard. For millennials, social media has always been a top-of-mind outlet for expressing a voice, so why not start there? He used his personal experience and links within his own group of friends to form a genuine idea for an app that speaks to the conventional college kid.
DeMattia credits the MBAe program for the opportunity to take his idea to the next level. He says without the networking opportunities or the knowledge he gained in the program about talking to potential investors he would never have come this far with his concept.
As the idea generator and design spearhead, DeMattia paired with Genome to create a conversational app that appeals to college students and beyond. This privately funded app will be ready to launch in August 2014, and DeMattia is ecstatic about the opportunity to reach a potential of 100,000-plus users by the end of the year. The plan is for Voice to grow in the Southeast first, continue to the west coast, while gaining the potential to partner with a larger company in the future.
On top of his work on his own app, DeMattia has been working with Clemson Technology Villages to help grassroots entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running across South Carolina. He has worked with more than 40 start-ups in the state and is able to share personal experience and his knowledge from the MBAe program with entrepreneurs, specifically in the tech industry.
“Other people can do what I did, too. The gap from idea to launch is smaller than you think,” he said.
Voice, the app that’s changing the way people are heard, launches August 2014.
Kelly Hubbard, Class of ‘14
Hometown: Herndon, Virginia
Company: Horse DVM
There are an estimated 9.8 million horses and approximately 4.8 million people who work with or own horses in the United States. That means a large amount of time and money is spent each year on horse care. And it’s often hard to tell exactly what’s wrong when horses don’t seem to be feeling well.
As a horse owner herself, Kelly Hubbard saw the need to create an online resource for horse owners to go to for access to creditable horse health information.. Through the Clemson MBAe program, she took her idea from conception to a complete website and business, known as HorseDVM.com.
Now through this website, horse owners are able to access the latest health information instantaneously with ease. One of the featured tools includes a symptom checker, which provides easy access to more than 480 diseases and toxic plants. This symptom checker is likened to the interactive tool found on WebMD. All the information was developed with the assistance of local veterinarians and references the latest equine journal articles.
Hubbard reinforced that, “the tool does not provide the user with a diagnosis — just with the ability to recognize the possibilities, based on the symptoms that they think their horse is experiencing. Any symptoms, which are perceived as life or use-threatening alert the user to contact a veterinarian immediately.”
The website took Hubbard six months to build, which she developed ‘leanly,’ by teaching herself coding during nights and weekends.
Before launch, a media company approached Hubbard about purchasing the site from her.
HorseDVM was made live in January of this year and since then, Hubbard has also launched PoultryDVM.com for chicken and duck owners. However, she doesn’t plan to stop there, she has big plans to branch into several more animal markets, using HorseDVM as a benchmark.
Written by Mary Reed, Class of 2015 | CBBS Greenville