Entrepreneur building a career outside the box
Christian Williams has designs on a future that taps into her entrepreneurial interests and creative talents. And the Clemson University senior majoring in architecture spent the summer immersed in research on how to bring her ideas to market.
Christian’s idea was spawned by an assignment in one of her architecture classes.
“We were required to design and build a wooden box with a lid, but I wanted it to have a specific function so I decided to design something that was decorative and would hold and store something I love, candles and incense. Then, it occurred to me others with similar interests might find it attractive and functional.”
A Charleston native who minors in entrepreneurship in the College of Business, Christian designed and built her first candle and incense box prototype out of a high-end, quality wood. Though attractive to the eye, and very functional, her due diligence uncovered a couple of issues.
“I dedicated my summer to doing market research and building my start up through the University Professional Internship and Co-op Program (UPIC),” she said. Christian is one of about 850 students campus wide who receive UPIC internships. Christian’s UPIC internship is provided through the Arthur M. Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, which pays for 160 hours of work on her entrepreneurial project.
“I was originally thinking the product would appeal to niche retail stores, but when I presented it in face-to-face visits to these stores, I found my price point was too high for that specific market. I had to make adjustments to the product, and even my market channel. The internship research uncovered some issues that I had to overcome if this was going to be marketable.”
So, she’s decided the candle boxes will be constructed from either American pine or reclaimed wood rather than sapele, the high-end wood used in her prototype. “My market research also convinced me the box will sell better through my personal web site, higher-end stores and interior designers.”
Christian hopes to build about 25 boxes herself by the end of August to test market them at festivals and craft shows. She is currently building a web site and identifying potential manufacturers capable of mass producing the box.
She selected Magnolia Grain as her company’s name, which she believes will appeal to a broad audience.
“I wanted the name to be gender neutral, yet sophisticated. The magnolia flower is elegant and grain brings in an element of the wood. To enhance my appeal to males, I am interested in other wood-based products such as cigar boxes.”
Christian is hoping to have Magnolia Grain producing and selling the candle and incense boxes by the end of the year, so she can move on to other design interests that go beyond wood-based products.
“Christian’s story is a great example of cross-disciplinary cooperation with entrepreneurs spanning all disciplines on the Clemson campus,” said John Hannon of the Spiro Institute. “As the university’s hub for entrepreneurial learning, Spiro is creating a synergy between architecture and the College of Business that will help students like Christian bring their ideas to life.”
She has already designed a multi-functional rolling pin in a product design class, and she’s very interested in designing a children’s line of products, having already created a stuffed elephant, she’s named “Enzo.”
“Expanding into other product designs is a natural next step for me,” she said. “I see the candle and incense box design as a stepping stone to bringing other start-ups to life in the food industry and children’s products. But before that, I’m really interested in Clemson’s MBAe program. I see it as an extension of this internship where I could surround myself with like-minded people with ideas and guidance as I head down an entrepreneurial career path.”
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