Entrepreneur’s vision rewarded by MBA EnterPrize competition
Judges in the 6th Annual Clemson University MBAe EnterPrize competition rewarded Virgil Platt’s vision for a business start-up that will sell fashionable, military-approved glasses to service men and women.
As winner of the shark tank-like competition, Platt of Fayetteville, N.C., won $15,000, which he will use to purchase inventory for his business, Armed Eyewear. Platt was one 26 Clemson MBA candidates who competed for $26,000 in prize money at EnterPrize events held in Columbia, Charleston and at the finale in Greenville.
As an area manager for retail vision centers in the heart of military country, Platt identified a need that wasn’t being met for military personnel. With Fayetteville being home to the U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg, the world’s largest military installation, Platt regularly heard of dissatisfaction over the limited eyewear choices available to service people because of the military’s restrictions on frame and lens aesthetics.
“What really prompted me to look closer at this need was a friend in the Army who said I had to find him glasses that looked different from what others around him wore because they were always picking up each other’s glasses,” Platt said. “I did some leg work and found a pair that was different, but still met military standards. Then, his friends wanted to know where he found them.”
Platt said there are alternatives to the eight to 12 options most service men and women wear, but the military isn’t seeking them out. He has, and expects to be able to offer up to 50 styles of glasses that meet military requirements.
“For one, the military has color restrictions on the frames and tinted sunglass lenses must be brown, black or a dark shade of green. And, there can’t be emblems or brand logos on the outside of the glasses,” Platt said. “Given that 90 percent of eyewear today has logos, it’s difficult to find a fashionable pair of glasses that meets all of those standards.”
Realizing the needs of more than 2 million U.S. military personnel weren’t being met, he set out to find a solution. Platt discovered many alternative eyewear designs that his acquaintances in military human resources divisions said met standards. He was even able to work with frame manufacturers who would serve the military marketplace.
Armed Eyewear’s web site is in development and Platt expects its soft launch by the end of the year.
“Initially, sales will be online but we would like to eventually sell through military channels, including having a presence on bases,” he added.
Platt’s always had an interest in entrepreneurship and said Clemson’s part-time MBAe program was a good fit for him in several ways.
“Having a network of cohorts in this with you really helped. You have 15 to 20 people all trying to open their own businesses and they come with a wide variety of backgrounds, be it marketing, finance, sales or accounting,” he said. “When you add in the professors who have their own specialties, there’s so much expertise to tap into. And, the program is very good at pushing you to move forward with your plan, while filling the gaps with support in the classroom and from the network of cohorts.”
Other winners in the competition, included Jimmy Palmer, a full-time MBAe student who placed second and won $3,000. His start-up, Comma Furniture, assembles and disassembles easily, especially for the more mobile generation of students and those early in their careers who are moving frequently.
Third place and a prize of $2,000 went to Michael Siegel, also a full-time MBAe student. His start-up, Groundshare, delivers profitable, yet affordable hunting land for landowners and hunters. The sharing-economy concept allows landowners to rent land to hunters similar to how AirBnB works.
Since 2012, graduates of Clemson’s full- and part-time MBAe programs have launched more than 50 businesses that have achieved a 95 percent success rate. The start-ups have raised nearly $14 million in capital and more than 30 percent of them are led by minorities or women.
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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