Startup Monity embodies Walton Scholarship ethos

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L-R: Zuniga, Navarrete, Cruz, Rojas, and Escobar and faculty member Jon Wood

Fintech startup Monity is the embodiment of the Walton Scholarship vision: Combining the foundation’s investment in educational opportunity with hard work and persistence, Walton Scholars are charged to return home with a vision to make meaningful contributions to the region. The founding members of Monity are computer engineering major Michael Cruz of Belize, international business major Roxana Escobar of El Salvador, management information systems major Andres Rojas of Costa Rica, and software development major Jhoel Zuñiga of Costa Rica. Recently, computer science major Pedro Navarrete from Nicaragua came aboard to assist with web development.     

We remember the first meeting of last year’s Arkansas Governor’s Cup business plan competition teams, at which students explained their ideas to faculty and answered questions about the viability of their business model.

At a corner table sat four Latin American students, intently explaining their vision for a blockchain-based money transfer system for the developing world, where millions of foreign workers pay high fees to send money to unbanked families across national borders.

We were impressed with their quiet commitment. CEO Michael Cruz established the need by describing a ledger his father had shared with him. It contained a record of his wages and of all the money he had transferred from his remote employment location back to his family. The total in transfer fees he had paid over the years seemed staggering, and that revelation planted the seed for Monity.

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Monity CEO Michal Cruz

Monity’s collaboration began the week they first arrived in Arkansas. Zuñiga and Cruz met on a campus bus on a Walton Scholars trip to Walmart. They discussed their dreams of creating a business and returning to help their countries. Their first attempt didn’t end as they’d hoped; they spent six months developing a video game, but soon realized they needed team members with solid business skills. “We launched the game, but people would play for a while, but when players didn’t see a critical mass of users, they would drop off.” They sidelined the game and looked for partners.

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Rush Deacon of Arkansas Capitol, Zuniga, Escobar, Dhu Thompson, Cruz, Rojas, Lt. Gov. Tim  Griffin, Ken Olree.  Photo: Arkansas Capital

They soon added Rojas, who was, as Cruz said, “all about big data.” Then they began trying to identify an important problem to solve. The team considered a digital wallet, but eventually settled on money transfers. “And we asked who else could align themselves with our dreams?” Cruz said. They needed marketing expertise, and Cruz knew Escobar had big dreams for things she wanted to do. With their team in place, they used the Governor’s Cup competition as a concentrated effort to move their vision forward. The strategy was successful: Monity was well-received at the Governor’s Cup Competition, taking third place and a $10,000 cash prize.

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Roxana Escobar presents Monity’s 90-second pitch at the Governor’s Cup luncheon. Photo: Arkansas Capital

In the fall, Monity was accepted into the Delta I-Fund, an early stage, proof-of-concept business accelerator formed to train entrepreneurs administered by Winrock International. Each startup is matched with a mentor, completes 12 weeks of rigorous training, and receives $5,000 in technical assistance or access to seed-stage capital. The experience helped them refine their business model.

Although Monity originally targeted money transfers from laborers in Costa Rica to unbanked families in Nicaragua, political instability delayed a planned market research trip last summer and led to the devaluation of the Nicaraguan currency. The team now views that complication as a blessing. Confronting the political risks led them to modify their strategy. “During the course of the Delta I-Fund, we decided our initial target market needed to change,” explained Escobar.

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Senior management information systems major Andres Rojas consults with an expert on regulatory issues.

“The exchange rate was always the big unknown in the equation.” said Rojas. “The U.S. dollar is the official currency of El Salvador. With El Salvador as our beachhead market, Monity will start out lighter on our feet. Also, our original target market was unbanked individuals but the individuals who are sending money out of the U.S. are mostly younger people, more accustomed to working with banks.”

“Our entry point now is the United States-to-El Salvador corridor.” said Cruz. “Salvadorans are the largest population, after Mexico, transferring money from the U.S. to Latin America. That market is not saturated. Every other player in this industry targets Mexico.”

The team realized that, given the demographics and attrition, an ever-increasing percentage of their customers will have a relationship with a bank. They predict they eventually will be able to serve unbanked customers as well, however.

“We mainly talk about people sending money back to families in Latin America, but there would also be utility for individuals such as foreign students in universities, for NGOs and missionaries, and for populations all over the developing world,” Zuñiga noted.

Cruz notes that the traditional U.S. companies in the money transfer sector have not created a relationship of trust with the market. “People go to those companies because there is nothing else.” Monity believes a close affinity with the people of the market will offer a loyalty and intuition advantage in marketing the service. “Monity wants to step into that market and develop a relationship of trust we can use to educate users and eventually provide jobs that will help move the entire economy forward.”

In the meanwhile, the team admits Monity is an all-consuming preoccupation, invisible to most faculty and students. “When I finish with my classes and see people on Netflix,” Cruz says, “I am thinking how I wish I had all that time to devote to Monity.” Rojas nods, “I often wish I could split myself in two!” They are remarkably intentional, and their dedication comes from having their collective eye on a goal. The entire group affirms that they’ve had to learn to self-regulate; making sure they get enough sleep while getting coursework done and meeting their obligations to the Delta I-Fund and other Monity-related tasks.

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Software development major Jhoel Zuniga and Dr. Kenneth Olree discuss presentations at the 2018 Arkansas Governor’s Cup luncheon in Little Rock. Photo: Arkansas Capital

So what’s the next hurdle? Cruz takes a deep breath. Transfer licenses are the elephant in the room right now. Monity requires money transfer licenses from all fifty states, and license costs vary widely from state to state. California, where the Salvadoran concentration is greatest, is the most expensive: licensees must have $250,000 in collateral. So having an affiliate bank who already has the license structure in place might be an ideal strategy.

So what happens after graduation? Cruz is developing a tourism side hustle—a website to organize tours of Mayan ruins near his home in Belize. He and his sister will launch that while he continues his efforts to raise Monity from the ground. The others will continue to collaborate remotely while they are employed elsewhere, traveling as needed.

The vision for Monity has a long arc. “We are not only trying to help people economically—we intend to help educate them financially, to incorporate them into the formal financial system,” said Escobar. And the team believes that connecting unbanked citizens to the financial infrastructure can have ripple effects and could lead to more political and economic stability in the region over time.

A rising tide lifts all boats—bringing us back to the original vision of the Walton Scholarship, which for a quarter century has been “creating life-changing opportunities, championing faith and empowering young minds to initiate meaningful impact across Central America and Mexico.”

As they approach graduation, the Waldron Center would like to assist these award-winning students in identifying a network to help move their vision forward. If you have contacts in banking, or if you are interested in learning more or helping to fund next steps, contact michael@monity.co.

The Arkansas Governor’s Cup prize money is underwritten by Delta Plastics. Monity would like to thank Owner and Chairman Dhu Thompson for investing in innovation and entrepreneurship in Arkansas.

Joshua Clemons takes the wheel

This article is the latest in a series featuring Harding student entrepreneurs.

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Joshua Clemons of Newport News, Virginia, literally carries with him a symbol of his most defining trait: His hobby is cars; his passion is cars; his side hustle is cars. He’s a senior management major who’d like to find his future in the automotive sector. Even if you don’t know him personally, you may know who he is; he’s the guy carrying the steering wheel.

Why the wheel? “In Formula One racing, because of the way the seat is bolted into the car and because of the roll cage, it’s difficult for a driver to get out in an emergency or in the pits, so the steering wheel is designed to be removable. My car has racing seats, so my steering wheel is removable.”

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He laughs. “It may seem a little weird, but it also gives me an opening to offer people a business card when they ask about it, and to explain what I can do for them. Plus, it’s harder to steal a car with no steering wheel.”

Clemons talks about cars the way some people talk about baseball. He doesn’t just discuss them — he obsesses over them. The design, the engineering specs, the statistics. One minute he speaks romantically and philosophically about a car — the next, he’s disdainful of some design characteristic he thinks was an unfortunate miss. He’s a car analyst, and his niche area of expertise is the Toyota Celica.

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1991 MK3 Toyota Supra Clemons owned in high school

He currently owns a 2001 Toyota Celica GTS and a 1977 Toyota Celica GT Liftback. He smiles. “It’s the first and last generation Celica. I call them the Alpha and Omega.”

Cars helped cement a special bond with his grandfather, Harding alumnus Kenneth Noland of Newport News, Virginia, whom he calls Grand Ken. “If I hadn’t fallen in love with cars, I don’t think we would have the relationship that we have today. As it is, he’s one of the few people in my family I can actually talk about more complex car issues with.”

“Grand Ken acquired an emerald green ’65 Mustang GT Fastback when I was a kid. He bought it for $2,100 bucks with no doors, not running. He intended to flip it, but once he heard the engine run, he decided to completely restore it. It’s in beautiful condition now.” The Mustang has some multi-generational family history. “My Dad went to New Jersey to ask my mom to marry him. On that same trip, he and Grand Ken went to a parts swap to buy these rare GT wheels for the Mustang.” Clemons and Grand Ken worked on cars together as he grew up.

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Clemons and the 1965 Mustang Fastback belonging to his grandfather, Kenneth Noland.

“When I was in high school, I’d help him flip cars. I guess one thing I learned from Grand Ken is there are things you can be really passionate about and really good at. That you can combine work and hobby. Over the years, Grand Ken has bought and sold many cars. He can do tons of work himself, and he has a guy who helps with what he can’t do.”

Clemons’ current ride, a 2001 Toyota Celica GTS 6-speed, was his first car. It looks nothing like it did when they bought it — and of course, there’s the magenta steering wheel you can frequently find beside his desk when he’s in class.

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The before and after of Clemons’s 2001 Toyota Celica GTS.

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With so much effort into tuning his car, is Clemons one of those car owners who park diagonally, hogging multiple spaces in the Walmart parking lot? He says absolutely not. He does have favored parking spots on campus, which we discussed at length, but we’re not telling.

“Sure, I’m pretty careful where I park it, but my car’s FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) approved, and after June 2 it will be pretty much a full-time race car.” So maybe it makes sense that he’s not quite so worried about a potential ding in the door.

He has a goal to begin racing in the GridLife Street Modified class. “This class is for vehicles that are street driven. If you go up to the next tier, the vehicles don’t have to be street legal. Gridlife racing is all across the East Coast — events in Richmond are held at Dominion Speedway. I’m part of an unofficial racing team of friends I’d like to see compete eventually.”

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Dr. Mark Farley and Clemons discuss the parts that just arrived for some repair work on one of the Farley family vehicles.

While at Harding, however, he concentrates on whatever his local customer wants. “I’ll fix your hybrid, build you a race car, or anything I can do for you without a lift. Just this weekend I replaced a side mirror and straightened a door out for someone who had hit a deer. I do stereos and speakers. I’m doing a full build on a friend’s car: exhaust, wheels, suspension, front bumper, interior.”

“Tuning” is car speak for the modification of a vehicle for appearance or performance. “In the tuner world, you can either do show modifications or track modifications. My car is a track car. The modifications I’m doing to my friend’s car are purely aesthetic upgrades.”

So how does he eventually want to make his hobby pay? “My goal is to someday be able to combine my mechanical understanding with my business degree and perhaps eventually be a project manager for a car company. I think being able to talk technical to engineers as well as understanding the business implications would be a good combination. My absolute dream job would be to be on a product development team rolling out the next Toyota Celica.”

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Clemons uses the Waldron Center’s 3D printer to make a delta-wing vortex generator for his car.

Clemons knows the dream job is some distance in the future and would consider any opportunity to get his foot in the door. The holy grail may be Toyota, but “Subaru’s headquarters is in Michigan, and Toyota owns 25 percent of Subaru, so there’s a connection there.” Or there might be opportunities at Ford, of course, in Dearborn, Michigan.

Clemons’ car interest will follow him everywhere, much as the steering wheel does these days. He returns to his automotive Zen vibe. “Cars are about much more than just getting from A to B. They’re about the journey.”

If you need repair or performance upgrade work done on your vehicle, you may contact Joshua Clemons at jclemons1@harding.edu.

If you are a student who is running a business while in school, the Waldron Center would like to hear from you too. Contact Patti Summers at psummers@harding.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luke Yates Helps Homeowners Keep Brentwood Beautiful

This is the third in a series of articles about student entrepreneurs on the Harding Campus.

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The day before orientation at Harding University, Luke Yates changed his major from pre-med to accounting, and he never looked back. Growing up, he learned to power wash the dock at his family’s lake house, and later decided he wanted to try to turn that experience into a contracting business. With an investment in more professional equipment, Yates now operates Yates Power Washing and Sealing, LLC — helping to keep homes in Brentwood, Tennessee, in pristine condition. He’s located in an excellent market: Williamson County abounds with upscale residential developments in which maintenance is a priority. Many Brentwood homes feature exposed aggregate driveways and hardscape. Cleaning and treating those concrete surfaces with a protective sealant IMG_1757that leaves a rich gloss is the bread and butter of Yates’ business.

Yates has operated his company for three years, but before that, he had a variety of job experience. He was a Little League umpire and a math and English tutor during high school. He worked as a Domino’s driver, behind the counter for Smoothie King, and as a wood cutter for a barbecue place. “I work for a Christmas lighting company, Lumenate, over Christmas break. The owner started a small business purchasing the lights and helping design, install, remove and store them. It’s enjoyable work and there’s lots of face-to-face with new clients every day.” He enjoys the personal feel of small business.

While in high school he also helped manage accounts for an Instagram marketer. “He was extremely successful. At one time the total follower numbers for the accounts he managed amounted to one out of every seven Instagram users.” So Yates has peered into the black box of social media marketing at a high level.

ShowImageEven so, he hasn’t used the typical social channels to promote his business. “I haven’t really had to,” he commented. The best tool I’ve found is the Nextdoor app.” Nextdoor is a social app that neighborhoods use to communicate about issues and events of common concern, and it is widely used by homeowners in Brentwood. “After I complete a job, if the customer is on Nextdoor, I ask them to complete an honest review. Keeping my reputation is what keeps business coming in.” And if he were going to add another social channel as his business expands? “Facebook, definitely.”

IMG_0463The power washing business has low entry costs: His business license as an LLC, his liability insurance, and his commercial power washing equipment. He shared a photo of an attachment called a surface cleaner, which operates like  a floor buffer, cleaning the concrete better and faster than a spray nozzle. “It directs all that pressure into two tiny nozzles that rotate close to the ground, and you push it and you get a 20-inch swath.”

There’s the cost of the sealant itself, which is applied with a long-handled roller and short-napped roller heads. Other than the hourly wages for his crew, that’s about it. “I quote a rate per square foot based on size, how dirty the concrete is, the slope of the drive, and whether there are mulched beds that adjoin it. The average is around 3,000 square feet, at 30-40 cents per square foot. So washing and sealing makes the average job cost about $1,000.”

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What has he learned from operating the business?  “The customer really is always right. And the importance of being thorough. Even if I think something is OK — if I miss a small spot here or there — I’ve learned to fix the small things. I rely on ratings and reviews.” Quality work is always the goal. “I inspect all the work we do. I try to lead by example because my reputation is on the line. I want to be the company that stands out and doesn’t take shortcuts.”

What skill would he like to improve to benefit his business most? “Definitely managing people.   Teaching others how to interact with a client, teaching others to sell. Every year I learn things, and the more I know, the more I know I don’t know.” He smiles wryly. We remind him that this particular feeling is common to successful business owners; entrepreneurs who don’t think they have anything to learn don’t generally last long.

Does he evaluate other businesses differently now that he runs one? Definitely. “I always look at a business — for instance a restaurant — with an eye for what they could be doing much better or what they do really, really well. I’m always looking for new ideas to implement into my business.”img_0702.jpeg

Yates will graduate in May 2020. “I have a tax internship at BKD this spring.” He thinks he would like to return to Nashville for permanent work, outsource his business and keep the company going. “I have a couple of years to figure that out, though.”

He’s not sure what his ultimate goals are. “Accounting was the best way for me to learn business as a whole, and I might like to start my own business at some point. I kind of want to be known as that guy who does a lot of different things.”

If you’re a student operating a small business, the Waldron Center would like to hear from you. Email Patti Summers psummers@harding.edu.

 

Jo Ellis is Making.Do in Searcy

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Photo:  Ashel Parsons

In a colorful loft makerspace above the new Arch Street artist’s corridor in downtown Searcy, Jo Ellis is building a community. She’s connecting people who want to create and people who need to create with opportunities to explore new skills together. Equal parts Christian philosopher, entrepreneur and advocate for the arts, Ellis has a deep conviction about the therapeutic value of the creative process. She views creativity as one way humanity bears the image of God. Her belief, shaped during three years as a missionary in Ireland, underpins the business model for her nonprofit, Make.Do.

IMG_0672She sighed, her powerfully expressive face momentarily calm. “I’m careful how I talk about calling —  but I know that I am a co-creator with God in this work,” she confides, relating Make.Do’s origins in a group of “difficult” girls who were her charges while she was doing mission work. They were the girls no one wanted. They challenged her and pushed the limits in every way.

To keep them occupied, they made pillow covers out of strips of fabric. Ellis recalled, “They went through the entire creative process: They were overwhelmed with the fabric choices, they discussed possibilities, narrowed them down and learned to use the sewing machines. They made mistakes; they had to use a seam ripper to tear out and start over. They were frustrated. They had to deal with imperfection.”

IMG_0678At the end of the day, they posted pictures of their finished projects on Facebook. She beamed at the memory. “We spent the entire evening watching people ‘like’ their projects and comment on them. In a single day, they went from being the girls that ‘no one ever wants’ to being creators of something others valued — and that value was reflected back onto them. It was the first time I understood the deep impact creativity has on our hearts.”

Not only does Ellis want to be able to offer classes for free to places like Jacob’s Place or Hope Cottage, but she wants to be able to offer an affordable place for community to gather. For now, Make.Do’s class fees are “pay what you can.” Most people pay the suggested fee, a few people pay more, and some people pay less.

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Clients may learn quilting, sewing, watercolor, hand lettering, embroidery, felting, knitting, cookie decorating, iris paper folding, macrame and more. Classes may last three to six weeks, but Ellis believes the social mission of Make.Do is best realized in six-week classes, which bring people who might not otherwise interact together over a longer period.  

To some degree, all entrepreneurs are risk takers and, although Ellis has a missional purpose for Make.Do, she seems bold in the familiar entrepreneurial way. The numbers have to add up, even for a nonprofit. “It didn’t feel brave. Committing to one idea and having to stick with the same thing day in and day out might have been a challenge, but Make.Do allows me to constantly look forward to the next, new class.”

To market new offerings, she publishes a newsletter and relies heavily on social media. Since Facebook users can share content in a way Instagram users can’t, Facebook is Make.Do’s primary expansion tool. But 30-something Ellis is an uninhibited natural on Instagram live, where viewers have a window into her life as they visit her eclectic apartment while she emotes about her babies (her houseplants) or bond with her on the merits of her new side-shave hairstyle.

She’s on a related mission to lure each of us away from projecting an image of polished perfection. “When the front that others see is one of perfectly-edited photos and captions, we can forget how to relate to someone in the moment. Face to face, I can’t edit what I say to you as I do when we text. When we’re constantly smoothing out the roughness to perfect our communication, and when that is what we are always seeing from other people, we become grossly more aware of our own insecurities.”

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Photo: Ashel Parsons

Ellis shares a promotional photo of her taken in her studio. She’s awkwardly, enthusiastically telling a story. Her face is contorted. It’s the kind of photograph most of us would delete rather than post. But she loves it. “The more vulnerable we are, the more we post things that aren’t perfect, the more we give others permission not to be perfect as well.”

She sees the creative process as a metaphor. “When we take random scraps of something and give it a purpose, over and over, it makes it easier for us to draw a parallel in our own lives. We can zoom out and see that random pointless events are being woven into something more purposeful and beautiful. And that point is amplified when it occurs in community.”  

Comfortable authenticity is a goal worth pursuing, and it’s especially useful to anyone whose self-image has been weakened or fractured by life events. Ellis is currently working on fundraisers and is pursuing grant opportunities to provide scholarships to classes for those who might benefit. If you’d like to become involved, contact her through her Facebook page.

Know an entrepreneur whose story needs to be told? Email Patti Summers in the Waldron Center. psummers@harding.edu.

   

  

Mason Faulkner manages his herd

This is the second in a series of posts about student entrepreneurs on the Harding campus. 

When the Waldron Center got a tip that senior Mason Faulkner had to miss class because he “was headed to Canada to buy some cattle,” curiosity got the best of us. We discovered a young entrepreneur with 10 years of cattleman’s intuition and an accountant’s analytical predisposition. Discussing his herd of registered Fleckvieh Simmentals, he spoke with a quiet confidence that implied he’s thought a great deal about how to invest his energies.

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Faulkner played scholarship baseball for two years at Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri. He pitched for the Bisons for a season before injuries derailed him from collegiate baseball. He pointed to some surgical scars on his elbow, resigned. “My baseball career’s pretty much over now.” College was about much more than sports for Faulkner, whose major is accounting. “I love numbers and the language of business, and I thought accounting would help transition me eventually into a career in farming. I knew the finance background would be helpful.”

His parents, Perry, a CPA, and Jalene, a retired math teacher, have a commercial herd of around 200 in Center Ridge, Arkansas. “When I was 12, my family sold me my first cow for $100. Ten years later I’m sitting on 15 head.”

Raising cattle requires money, land, skill and relentless engagement. Commercial beef cattle, usually a cross between breeds with no pedigree, are raised to sell at market for slaughter. Purebred (registered) cattle, however, are raised either to produce breeding stock for other purebred producers or for breeding desirable traits into commercial herds. A registered herd requires more intense management than a commercial herd. The owner tracks performance metrics for each animal.

Faulkner’s business model is to run registered breeding stock; he’s curating a bloodline. He just returned from purchasing six Fleckvieh cows from Saskatchewan. Why Canada? “The original imports of the breed went there, so a lot of the original genetics are there. If I buy them there, I get different genetics, and it increases the value of my herd.” Faulkner’s cattle are isolated in their own pasture on family land in Center Ridge, and he manages his herd separately.

31405499-1772-4377-8C42-B83531AD4862 (1)“I like the breed because they are heartier, are bigger, have more longevity and bring more when you sell them per pound.” A little research reveals Fleckvieh are also known for “fitness characteristics including fertility, calving ease, udder health, milking speed, somatic cell count and persistence.” There’s a lot to know.

“I don’t sell mine at a local market barn. I’ll be taking them to a big registered cattle sale in Texas this weekend, and later on I’ll consign some at a registered sale in Mississippi. The full bloods bring more money there. I raise bulls to sell to Angus or Brangus breeders who cross the bulls with the Angus cows. The genetics of the Simmental improves their commercial herd.”

Faulkner navigates a conversation about advanced reproduction technologies in cattle with businesslike instruction; he’s aware that the vast majority of people he sees day-to-day have no idea what he’s up to. Occasionally, he’d quietly correct something to make sure we understood. Assisted reproductive interventions can be costly. To save money, a cattleman must develop some veterinary expertise. “Mom’s a pretty good vet, and we inseminate our cows ourselves,” he said.

He’s looking ahead. “I graduate in May, sit for the CPA exam and will start work for HoganTaylor, a regional public accounting firm. I’ll start out living at home in Center Ridge.” He needs to stay close to the herd. “And I’m looking at some land in Perry County that may become available eventually.”

So what’s his endgame? “All my life, I’ve been competitive, playing sports. I like to use my strengths to go out and meet people. I’ve built up this network of other farmers and I’d like to get some public accounting experience and eventually perhaps specialize in agriculture.” He wants to contribute to improving the industry. “Agriculture is very important; it’s a big part of everyone’s lives. I feel there’s a need for publicity to help people understand what we do and how to make it more sustainable. Technology is advancing, and we need to find ways to incorporate it.”

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He’s got an eye for innovation. “I’ve been on a mission the last year to create an app to track data on cattle: breedings, weanings, weights, heat cycles, dates, prices, accounting — so when I am out in a pasture with a client who says, ‘What about number 53 out there — tell me about her?’ I’ll have all the data available for each animal.” He and his uncle, a programmer, are already testing the app. Are they looking to market it? “It’s an ongoing project. The biggest challenge is that farmers may not be very tech savvy. Some will dabble with it and then abandon it. It didn’t cost us anything, and I can use it if it never comes to anything commercial.”  

What qualities does he think are especially important for a cattleman? “A cattleman typically only generates revenue twice a year, but expenses come in every month. So you have to manage your money. A cattleman has to be good with cash flow.”

With 10 years of experience building his own herd and his accounting credential in hand, we expect Faulkner is well-positioned to handle what’s ahead.

If  you’re a Harding student running a business, the Waldron Center would like to connect with you. Email Patti Summers psummers@harding.edu. Follow us on Instagram or Twitter @huwaldroncenter. 

Meredith Palmer builds her brand

This is the first in a series of entries about student entrepreneurs on the Harding University campus.

Looking into the wide-set eyes and broad, open smile of Meredith Palmer, it is apparent that although she doesn’t yet have a fully-developed idea where her interests and talents will lead her, she does understand she needs to make them pay.  She’s already had a fair measure of success. Is art profitable? Palmer smiled, “I worked three jobs this summer if you count selling art. I earned more from my art than doing either of the other jobs.” So she’s optimistic.

Although she’s not an art major, both of her grandmothers painted. She grew up around art, painted some as a child, and took entry-level art classes in high school. One day while in high school, she impulsively purchased a pair of white canvas shoes at Walmart. She decorated them lavishly with permanent marker and wore them to a volleyball game, where people immediately began asking if they could buy a pair. Before long she had filled 200 orders, mostly via Instagram. Palmer donated a 10 percent of her proceeds to a Geita, Tanzania, mission.

She participated in the student business club DECA, entering a 30-page business plan for Palmer’s Designs’ “Shoes for the Sole” in state competition. She was nominated by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) as Student Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014. Writing a business plan gave her a framework for understanding that if she wanted to continue to create, she needed to be strategic about monetizing her work.

Because she’s an advertising major, the importance of building her brand comes naturally. First, she rolled out a Facebook page and Instagram account for Palmer’s Designs. She now has business cards, stickers and Palmer’s Designs t-shirts. The newest addition to her branding campaign is her website. It introduces who she is, explains the kinds of custom work available, and includes a gallery.

Art is one way Palmer experiences the world, as evidenced by a sketchbook filled with casual scenes from her semester abroad. She often works in oils with bold distinctive strokes, but she also paints in watercolor or a combination of ink and watercolor. You may have seen her work outdoors at Midnight Oil. She’s done a fair amount of commissioned work, including charming watercolor renderings of pets. She enjoys getting to know customers so she can better predict what will please them most. “I like to think I am taking the ordinary and helping people see the beauty in it,” she said.

As with every artist, occasionally her inspiration is blessed by happenstance. While in a car en route from Virginia to Searcy, suffering with a distressing case of poison ivy, Palmer completed a series of pen and ink sketches of bunnies. She tinted her drawings with the only available medium — calamine lotion. The bunnies later sold to a pharmacist who was intrigued by the medicinal medium that gave them their soft, rosy glow.

While Palmer is creating a brand and a network of social channels through which to share her work, she‘s also exploring her talent for the distinctive style that might match a market niche. As we browsed her digital portfolio, she mused about possibilities such as greeting cards, different types of children’s books and the home decor market. She’s doing her homework, asking questions and investigating potential outlets for her work.

The Waldron Center emphasizes that the best business plans are not one and done — they are iterative. The entrepreneur researches, plans, implements a test, tweaks the plan and tests again — successively closing in on the business model that’s most profitable and best suited to the market. Often, the final business model, or even the product, is not at all what she might have expected when she began. 

We’ll be following to see where Meredith Palmer’s journey takes her.

If you are a Harding student who runs a business or know someone who is, email Patti Summers at psummers@harding.edu. We’d like to talk with you about your experience. 

CART3R: Running Back Dwayne Carter’s E-commerce Side Hustle is Growing

 

 

At 2017 graduation time last year, we posted the following Q & A with Dwayne Carter. We decided to check in with Dwayne and update the progress of C3.

Company: CART3R LLC. (Also known as C3)

Owners: Dwayne Carter II and brothers Michael Carter and Joshua Carter

Where located: Navarre, Florida

Business type: Sports brand/athletic apparel

The Waldron Center frequently observes that inspired business ideas frequently derive from what an entrepreneur knows and loves. Senior management major and Bison running back Dwayne Carter of Navarre, Florida, obviously knows sports ­­— so it was logical for his business inspiration to incorporate that passion he shares with his brothers.

What is a little surprising is that his interest expanded even before he graduated into a full-fledged e-commerce business.

Where did you get the idea for your business?

I decided I wanted to do something special with my brothers, and with all of us being athletes, I wanted to do something that dealt with sports. So we decided we wanted to start a sports brand like Nike or Adidas. We are an e-commerce store.  We do advanced orders when we make uniforms for teams and organizations, and for our individual line, we have inventory.

What was one challenge you had to overcome to get the business off the ground?

At first, it was difficult to arrange the manufacturing part of the company. I tried contacting multiple manufacturers around the world, and working with them, the big issues were a language barrier and the minimum size clothing orders I could place, which was 100. Then one day when I was searching, I was contacted by a manufacturer from Peru, and he spoke great English. He allowed me to place minimum orders of 50. He made my job a lot easier and made the process of making clothing and getting them here smoother. We’ve stuck together ever since.

How do you market your brand?

Our saying is “Expect Greatness.” We strive to be known as a brand for athletes who love to work and who expect to be great because they work so hard to reach it — even if they are counted out at the moment. We try to depict athletes working that theme in the photos we use.

Carter says he relies on social media and the web for advertising. You can connect with him and C3 on Instagram at CART3R, follow @CART3R LLC on Twitter, or visit C3 online at shopc3sports.com.

We wish him luck after graduation!

January 2018 Update:

Are you working full-time with C3?  If you work elsewhere, what are you doing, and can you discuss managing C3 and other opportunities at the same time?

Yes, I work with C3 full time. I just work on C3 and train while my agent talks to teams in the NFL/CFL to get me signed. I manage doing both by changing my sleep schedule. Since my manufacturer is 12 hours ahead so I work to get our clothing and our customers clothing designed and made from 9 pm-3 am. Then I wake up around 10 am and train about four hours a day. In between the four hours I’m in meetings either over the phone, via skype, or in person with our customers.

How do the personalities of the three brothers affect the process of doing business together? Would you have any wisdom about working with your own family?

The personalities of the three of us work well together, because we all have have the same ultimate goal; we all are driven to get there. We also are all creative in different ways.

I would say working with your family is fun, but make sure you can see things from their points of views and  be open to their ideas. It’s easy to be closed-minded, especially when it’s with your brothers/sisters.

What do you consider your biggest market and what is your biggest selling tool?
 
Our biggest market is people interested in football, whether it’s football coaches ordering for teams or individual football players. Although we sell to all athletes and all sports. Our biggest selling tools have been Instagram and Facebook and the videos we make for them.
 
Any specific advice for college entrepreneurs?  Anything from your own experience that you might have done differently if you’d known then what you know now?
 
One thing I learned that I wish I knew earlier was to design and order clothing a season ahead.

To college students, I would say keep going and don’t get discouraged. Also, I would say don’t be afraid to ask for help. I think because we are so young we have an advantage. There are so many older entrepreneurs that are excited to work with us because they want to see the culture of entrepreneurship grow.

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Entrepreneur spotlight: Greg Rowden is following God at Sonic speed

Sonic Drive-in’s franchisee Greg Rowden thought he wanted to become a coach, but he quit college with only one course and a semester of student teaching standing between him and his goal. He says God had other plans. The Paragould native spoke to students at a Lunch-and-Learn in the Paul R. Carter College of Business Administration this week.

IMG_0708Students enjoy a sack lunch courtesy of Greg Rowden and Sonic.

From his opening with a Sonic trivia game, Rowden captured the attention of his full house with an energetic, unpretentious assessment of his journey — both his early success and the challenges that later developed. As the audience ate a sack lunch of corn dogs and tater tots provided by Rowden and his Sonic crew, he credited his educator parents for some important life lessons.

“My mother always said your attitude was very important,” Rowden said “My father taught me to work hard. I had a full-time job at a gas station when I was 15.”

While working there, he was approached by a customer to work at Sonic.

“She wanted to know if I could roller skate. I could — but not as well as I thought I could!” he quipped.

He started as a car hop, managed a store by 19, and by age 21 was earning more than $100,000 per year traveling and helping with supervision of stores. But there was a price to his early success. 

“I was miserable. A failure as a husband and father. It was all about me. But in 1990, I began to seek God.”

He described a personal tipping point on a Sunday drive from Paragould to Blytheville after an early morning fight with his wife. He couldn’t stop thinking that he was not what he should be. He prayed for the first time in a long time.

“I knew I needed to change, but I didn’t know how to get out of the situation I was in.”

The money was very good. He considered whether perhaps his wife stayed with him because every year they had a better house and a nicer car.

“I prayed, ‘God, if you are out there and if you listen anymore …’ I could feel God saying, ‘I’ve got this.’”  

He left it with a simple prayer, his first in a long time. “God, show me how.” From that time, things began to change for him. The owner of the Searcy Sonic store called unexpectedly and offered to sell him controlling interest in the Race Street store for exactly the amount for which the bank was willing to approve a loan. He accepted the offer without consulting his wife, “something I do not recommend,” he said with a sheepish grin. That day was the first time they ever prayed together. Their house in Paragould sold in one day, and from that point, their situation began to improve both personally and professionally.

Twenty-seven years later, Rowden and his partners in DHR Sonic Group, Rick Davis and David Hall, own and operate 33 Sonic Drive-In locations. One of the most successful is the store at the corner of Benton and Race Streets in Searcy. Before they moved the store down the street, it was a top 10 percent store, employing 50 people. After moving last year to the high-traffic corner that formerly had a Wendy’s location, the store is in the top one percent nationally, and employs 84 people. “If you are looking for a job, we are hiring,” Rowden added, smiling. Now it is common for the location to hit number one in the nation on special event days.

He shared a handout of his favorite wisdom with students. From Jeremiah: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” From Theodore Roosevelt: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” From Zig Zigler: “You are what you are and you are where you are because of what has gone into your mind. You can change what you are and you can change where you are by changing what goes into your mind.”  John C. Maxwell: “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” And Rowden: “I am not in the burger business. I am in the people business.”

He was making excellent money for his age before he turned his life toward God, but Rowden believes deeply that the trajectory of his life and his greatest success was shaped by God’s blessing. He encourages students not to compartmentalize their faith from their business life.

“Listen to the Holy Spirit,” he says. “The Holy Spirit is the most untapped resource in the world.”  Those values are embedded in DHR’s corporate mission statement, to “excel in honoring God in all we do, especially in customer service, community involvement, and in offering opportunities for growth to our people.”  

DHR Sonic Group was a winner of the Arkansas  Better Business Bureau 2017 Torch Award for Ethics. The award honors companies that demonstrate “best practices, leadership, social responsibility and high standards of organizational ethics that benefit their customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders and communities.”

Rowden left students with this remembrance of his father, who died a year ago: “I dropped out of college to manage my first Sonic. I decided I wasn’t patient enough to wait, even though I lacked only one class and student teaching to have my license. I got an offer to go to the little town of Walnut Ridge to re-open a store that had been dormant for many years.”

The facility was in horrible shape. It had been vandalized; there was graffiti on the walls and the bushes were taller than the eaves. He took his educator father with him to tour the abandoned property before telling him he had already accepted the job. He explained in detail what he wanted to do to bring it back to life–what equipment he would install, and how he would provide the best customer service. “Dad had a glazed look on his face,” Rowden said. He could have said, “Are you crazy?” But he didn’t. He said, “If anyone can do this, you can.” He paused, “I can’t remember all the times I have thought about that statement when things got really hard for me. I hope someday each of you have the opportunity to share those same words with someone.”

Entrepreneur Greg Rowden started out wanting to become a coach. And we think he is one.

More information about Sonic franchise opportunities is available on their website.

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Greg Rowden and Graduate Assistant Noah Styles visit after the presentation.

 

Entrepreneur spotlight: Ancil Lea publishes “Common Grounds”

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Ancil Lea is an entrepreneur, a coffee drinker, and he loves people. 

For most of his career, consultant Lea of Conway has supported physicians, clinics, outpatient surgery centers, and hospitals across the Mid-South as they navigate the healthcare marketplace. He helps medical practices find appropriate solutions for protecting patient information in compliance with HIPAA, with risk management, and with patient engagement and retention. His practice also provides a suite of marketing and communication services including web design, social media promotions, media communications, branding, app design, and more.

Lea has written guest columns for the healthcare section of TalkBusiness and Politics. In 2016, Ancil published an ebook, CYBER WAR: Securing Patient Health Information in Today’s Electronic Environment, endorsed and promoted by the Arkansas Medical Society.

Ancil’s latest project is a book, Common Grounds: An Entrepreneurial Guide to the Coffee Shop Office, a reflection on his experiences, insights, and successes while engaging clients and working from coffee shops such as Blue Sail in Conway. The book was an outgrowth of both his personable nature and his business model as an independent consultant.

The forward to Common Grounds is written by Dr. Jeff D. Standridge, author of The Innovator’s Field Guide, whose bio includes serving as “chief catalyst” for The Conductor, UCA’s entrepreneurship center.  Standridge observes, “one overarching characteristic that Ancil lives out daily…is his innate ability to build and maintain strong relationships. I think that is at last one of the reasons he identifies so well with the modern coffee shop.”

“Ancil and his team have compiled stories, thoughts and other musings on life in the local coffee shop office. From the perspectives of the college student and young professional, to the solo practitioner, seasoned business executive, and the barista, Common Grounds has it all.”

If you conduct life and business while plugged in at a corner table at Starbucks or Midnight Oil, perhaps Ancil’s stories will resonate with you, and remind that you that, like many, you are conducting business seated in the modern marketplace of ideas.

Common Grounds releases on Amazon this week.
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Lea previously served as executive director of the Regional Extension Center for the Office of the National Coordinator under the HiTech Act for Arkansas.     

 

Entrepreneur spotlight: Cariloop “Because no one should go through the process of caring for loved ones alone.”

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On the hallway where the Waldron Center is located, five of us are caregivers for loved ones. We make phone calls and fax documents between classes, run out at lunch to take care of business items that can’t wait, and take days off to assist with transportation to doctor appointments or during emergencies.

Being a caregiver can be a frustrating, exhausting life, periodically consumed with searching for appropriate services with limited time. Sometimes the need for critical services arises abruptly, creating immense pressure to make decisions quickly. Estimates are that 26.1 million full-time employees in the United States are caregivers for a loved one. The average caregiver-employee misses 350 hours of work a year due to the responsibilities of caregiving, and protracted caregiving frequently has negative implications for the wellness of the caregiver.

What if companies could help valued employees more easily honor commitments to their loved ones while maintaining more of their productivity and sanity during this stressful season of their lives? The “why” statement Cariloop staff recite in their weekly meeting says, “No one should go through the process of caring for their loved ones alone.”

Dallas-based Cariloop is a digital health company that provides the world’s first fully-integrated, tech-enabled caregiver support platform to help working caregivers and families plan for and manage the care of a loved one.  The Waldron Center staff first met Cariloop co-founder and CEO Michael Walsh, and Jeryn Laengrich, Cariloop CSO, on a recent visit to campus. I had lost my 91 year-old father two weeks earlier, and immediately related to the problems the company’s business model addresses.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6w8rAmaHJEY?rel=0]

CEO Walsh said, “One out of every five people in the workplace today is a caregiver, and most people are Googling their way through it.” Originally Cariloop was like an “Open Table” for finding available nursing home and assisted living beds.  The second iteration became more a dynamic decision tree, walking caregivers through a series of steps where they could match caregivers with needed services. Finally, they realized people needed not just a platform, but a user experience where a caregiver and family can video chat with a certified healthcare coach who understands what customers are going through. Cariloop retooled its business model when data indicated the majority of users were accessing its website between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays, during work hours. They began to market the platform to companies as part of a benefits package.

 

 

Michael Walsh, Cariloop CEO, and Harding alum Jeryn Laengrich, CSO. Laengrich is Harding’s College of Allied Health Outstanding Alumnus of 2017. 

I was pleased to learn that Cariloop now also provides a secure space within its website for family members to upload important documents such as medication lists, power of attorney documents, advanced directives, insurance policies, and more. Family members always have them available for meetings, and can collaborate with one another in a secure space. As my father’s power of attorney and now the administrator of his estate, it has been my experience that having documentation archived would be a powerful tool for a caregiver who has to eventually shift gears settle a loved one’s estate.

The aging of the Baby Boom and increasing life expectancy is creating a “Silver Tsunami” that challenges our healthcare system, stresses our families, and places new demands on companies to manage and support employees who are losing focus and productivity due to the distraction of honorable caregiver concerns. As the first in the market to directly address those employer concerns, innovator Cariloop is well-positioned to grow as they continue to refine their service.

Update: CEO Michael Walsh was recently selected Longevity Network’s Entrepreneur of the week!