Inaugural Student Entrepreneur Holiday Showcase

Fall 2020 held a lot of challenges for Harding University. One of those challenges was how to engage students in a time where gathering in small groups was considered a no-no, and students had to adopt a more distant lifestyle at school. A normally bustling Waldron Center was empty and quiet.

Rochelle Waddill, new to the Waldron Center, and director Jon Wood, were determined to get students involved and began concentrating on awareness and name recognition. Regan Campbell, student worker at the Waldron Center, partnered with Rochelle to head up the social media this semester. The two decided to focus on student entrepreneurs here on campus, and began a weekly highlight of a student business that was featured on instagram (check out @huwaldroncenter). More and more businesses began to roll in, and it was quickly evident that there was a large amount of talent and initiative in this group of students. Waddill had the idea to form an event at the end of the semester to bring them together and give them a chance to truly showcase their work on campus. Given the COVID guidelines, that was easier said than done. Working with the Provost office and Dean Frazier, they were able to get a plan that worked, and the Student Entrepreneur Holiday Showcase was born!

The Holiday Showcase, themed “Hu-Ville” (pronounced hoo-ville), was met with eager excitement and rave reviews. Each student entrepreneur that participated (18 of them!) was able to set up a table, showcase their work, sell their wares, and support one another.

Below are some of our entrepreneurs and their contact information. Check out what these students have accomplished and consider supporting them on this Cyber Monday! Christmas shopping awaits!

Alaina Abbott Photography

Alaina Abbott

insta: @alainaabbottphotography

abbottalaina27@gmail.com


AMT Fitness

Toni Montez

insta: @toni.montez

http://amtfit.com


Bloom Clay Co.

Rachel Williams

insta:  @bloom.clayco

FB: Bloom Clay Co.


Byrd Jewelry

Maddy Byrd

insta: @shopbyrd

byrdjewelry10@gmail.com


Candace Grace Arts

Candace Crawford

insta: @candacegrace.arts


HaMi Boutique

Hallie Smith

insta: Shophamiboutique

www.Shophamiboutique.com


Kendra Neill Design

Kendra Neill

insta: @kendra.neill

kendraneilldesign.com


On Me Clothing

Colt Williams

insta: @on.me.clothing

www.coltgraphics.com/on-me


Ramen Doodles

John David Stewart

insta: @ramen.doodles_

http://www.johndavidstew.art/doodles


Spooning with Carol

Caroline Palmer

insta: @spooningwithcarol


Start Her Running Co.

Layne Pace

insta: @startherrunningco

www.startherrunning.com


Suitcase Studio

Megan Benz

insta: @suitcase__studio

www.suitcase-studio.square.site/


Wicker & Wood Vintage

Megan Sides

insta: @wickerandwoodvintage


Wir’d By Sal

Sally Roach

insta: @ponygalsal

sallyyyroach@yahoo.com

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.

Dalton Drye Combines Academics with Practical Operations Experience at Searcy’s Oasis

The Waldron Center is fascinated by entrepreneurial journeys. Some people are gifted with a clear vision from the very beginning—a business idea that animates everything they do—but that’s rare.  It’s interesting to hear how the interplay of personality and circumstance drives entrepreneurship. Our previous student entrepreneurs have all been from places far removed from Arkansas. This week, we continue our series by talking with a hometown boy. 

Oasis Wash and Drye is a state-of-the-art car wash located at 700 E. Beebe Capps Expressway

Accounting major Dalton Drye is rooted in Searcy. He’s familiar with the business landscape here, easily identifying who owns various businesses and commenting on where there might be opportunity. And he knows a lot of people. He comes from an entrepreneurial family, and has the enviable advantage of some excellent personal mentoring. One thing is apparent from talking with him: Drye lays it all on the table. There is no hint of pretension; no attempt to artificially impress. He’s getting his education, and he’s got some goals, and he’s working hard and moving forward. 

img_4406-1After graduating from Harding Academy, Drye enrolled in the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. He did Greek life with enthusiasm, but academics a little less so. He joined a fraternity and learned some useful lessons about poise and self-assurance and meeting people, but eventually decided to return to Searcy and enroll at Harding. 

Although he wants to gain broader experience in business, Drye has never envisioned being completely dependent on the corporate world for his future economic security. He once had a dream of opening a quality gun shop and shooting range in Conway. His grandfather, Charlie Adcock, offered an alternative: Adcock was considering opening a new car wash and was agreeable to let Drye help run it to get some experience in business operations. The result was Oasis Car Wash and Drye.

Adcock, a serial entrepreneur, was orphaned at an early age. He joined the Air Force. After retirement, he assembled a commercial career by starting a series of local businesses, building on skills he developed in the military. “He’s just business savvy,” Drye said, with obvious admiration. Adcock saw some of himself in his grandson, and was willing to work with him on the new venture.

Oasis opened last April on a parcel of high-traffic real estate on Beebe-Capps Expressway, a stone’s throw from the Harding Campus. It’s hardly the small town single-bay self wash you might imagine. The new owners did their research. Adcock and Drye were impressed with the Oasis car wash technology they saw on a site visit to the manufacturing plant in Galena, Kansas. They ordered premier touchless equipment for their future location, which also features multiple self-wash stalls and vacuums, as well as a dog wash. Heated bays allow it to remain “open 24/7/365.” They arranged to use the Oasis name and logo for the new facility.

 Drye covers almost full-time hours at Oasis most weeks; combined with his classes, it’s not unusual for him to work 80 hours in a single week. Right now, the staff consists of Adcock; another manager, who has mechanical and maintenance expertise; and Drye, who performs general operations functions and is the technology guy. “If it has electronics, that’s me. The kiosks or the bays go down because of electrical issues and so forth — that’s mine to solve.” He takes all the after-hours calls when something goes wrong. Drye is building equity in the business with every hour he puts in, whether in classes or at Oasis. His current situation is demanding and challenging, but he’s learning important lessons.

Drye always has his eye open for future opportunity. He’s engaged to Kelly Gordon, a student in Harding’s graduate Professional Counseling program. “She wants to eventually have a private practice in mental health. We’ll eventually do that. We’ll have the car wash.  I might be interested in real estate. We’ll see.” He’s always considering  ventures that might someday create a revenue stream. 

How does he evaluate himself these days?  “Well, I can handle myself better in time crunches now, and I know I have to prioritize. I’m not a 4.0 student, but if you have been involved in a number of other valuable things, that gives balance to your GPA on a resume.” He believes his practical experience in problem-solving in a business environment is something that can’t easily be duplicated in a classroom, and we agree. One of his teachers remarked that it was apparent Drye sometimes processed classroom content in a way that would be impossible for a student who hadn’t worked so closely in a business.

He’s also learning some valuable things about himself. “I used be a little hot-tempered, maybe quick to pop off.” He smiles. “But when you own a business, you have to learn to control that. I think I’ve improved. My grandfather once told me, ‘That’s one of those things you are going to have to learn.’ The other day he said, ‘You’ve changed. You’ve handled some situations that I could not have handled as well.’ ” Drye is satisfied that his early experience in small business is shaping him in ways that will make him a better employee and manager in the future, regardless of the venue. “When customers show up, you have to be ready to put a smile on your face and be professional.” 

He can be a self-described stressmonger; he’s taken very few days off since the car wash opened. And he acknowledges that working nonstop can have unintended consequences, a common concern among entrepreneurs. He’s mulling over the realities of the entrepreneurial path and what will be required of him someday as a husband and father.

One thing he knows: He wants to pass along the most valuable part of what he is learning to his children someday. “I want my kids to be able to do cheer, football, whatever activities they want. But regardless of what I may have financially someday, I will want my kids to learn to have a good work ethic. They need to learn to work hard — even when it’s no longer fun — and not to quit when the going gets tough.” Good advice. 

For now, Drye’s working 24/7/365. We wish him luck. 

You can meet Dalton Drye and get a an excellent car wash at Oasis Car Wash and Drye, 700 E. Beebe Capps Expressway.  Follow them on Facebook @oasiscarwashanddrye and on Instagram @oasis_carwash_and_drye.

If you are a Harding student running a business, the Waldron Center would like to hear from you, too.  Email Patti Summers  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.

 

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.