CLEMSON – Identifying a marketplace need and meeting it can make for a successful business venture.

Platt, EnterPrize, entrepreneur, glasses

Virgil Platt won first place with his eyewear-for-military startup.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

The three winners of Clemson University’s sixth annual MBAe EnterPrize competition believe their startups are destined for success in satisfying the needs of military personnel, landowners/hunters and a generation on the move.

EnterPrize is the Clemson MBA program’s annual shark tank-like competition that has entrepreneurial MBA candidates pitching their business ideas to a panel of judges. MBAe candidates competed for $26,000 in prize money at EnterPrize events that were held in Columbia, Charleston and Greenville’s finale, where 26 business concepts were presented.

The winner of the Greenville finale was Virgil Platt, whose business will sell fashionable, yet military-compliant eyewear to service men and women. He will use the first-place, $15,000 prize to purchase inventory for his business, Armed Eyewear.

“Men and women in the military have very limited choices in eyewear because of the aesthetic restrictions on frames and lenses,” the Fayetteville, North Carolina, resident said. “Working in the optical industry for 15 years and living in the heart of military country, I heard many times about the unattractive options service men and women have for traditional eyewear and sunglasses.”

Palmer, EnterPrize, entrepreneur, furniture

Second place went to Jimmy Palmer’s Comma Furniture.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Platt tapped his industry knowledge as an area retail vision center manager and was able to identify a number of designs that met military standards, yet were more fashionable. He expects Armed Eyewear will be able to provide up to 50 different frame designs from the current eight to 12 that are commonly used.

“I hope to have the website functional for a soft launch by the end of the year,” he said. “The military marketplace is enormous with more than 2 million potential consumers. Military personnel should be able to have fashionable eyewear that they can wear in uniform. Through Armed Eyewear that need will be met.”

Jimmy Palmer received $3,000 for finishing second in the Greenville finale. His startup, Comma Furniture, is designed to assemble and disassemble so it can be moved easily, especially for people whose careers or lifestyles have them moving frequently.

“In the past year, I’ve moved three times. The sofa and chair were heavy and awkward, so I wanted an easier solution and that’s the genesis of Comma Furniture,” said Palmer, who lives in Greenville. “It is quality furniture that breaks down and moves as you do.”

With his family in the furniture business, Palmer was confident he could make quality pieces that would disassemble and fit in a shipping box that could be delivered to a consumer’s door.

“At this point I’ve been prototyping and selling to friends. Commafurniture.com is in development but that’s where I’ll be selling, hopefully in August,” he said.

The business name is connected to Palmer’s college major, English, and his love of reading. “Comma Furniture is somewhat of an homage to that. In a sentence, a comma is a pause, or rest. …So, at home you can rest on Comma Furniture.”

Siegel, EnterPrize, entrepreneur, Groundshare

Michael Siegel’s Groundshare brings landowners and hunters together.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Michael Siegel put the sharing-economy concept to work to meet the needs of landowners and hunters. He won $2,000 for Groundshare, his startup that enables landowners to lease land to hunters by the day, similar to how AirBnB works.

“Groundshare helps landowners and hunters avoid the long-term commitment and expense that is often associated with hunting property leases,” Siegel said. “By creating an organized network of landowners and hunters, we’ll be creating a world of opportunities for users.”

Groundshare will charge consumers a $100 annual membership fee, which will give them a network of landowners from which to choose. A 10 percent fee will be applied to each transaction.

“Like many outdoorsmen, I became frustrated with the lack of access to good hunting land. Groundshare’s business model makes land leases workable for landowners, who aren’t tying up their land with multi-year leases, and for hunters it makes private land accessible for shorter periods at an affordable price.”

EnterPrize judges included, James Bennett, owner of Upstate Home Care Solutions; Joe Gibson, founder of Helping Businesses Grow Profitably; Beth Veach, career and business coach at Entrepreneur Acumen; Cory Bridges MBAe ’17, co-founder and chief operating officer for RingoFire Digital; and Sadie Perry MBAe ’17, an Eggs Up Grill franchisee.

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