AU teams help boost start-up companies

Fri, 2012-07-27 11:31 -- univcomm

The hundred people gathered at Anderson University weren’t there for the money, nor the food. They were there to see how much 25 Anderson University students can do for start-up companies. Five teams from Students in Free Enterprise Consulting presented to a panel of judges their achievements over the past six months. Each was asked to volunteer to help fledgling companies with financial, marketing and graphic design assistance. It wasn’t for a class, they did it just for experience, and a small stipend at the end.

“These students aren’t looking to do something in the future, they are doing something now,” said Terry Truitt, dean of the Falls School of Business at AU.

Driven by an INvision grant from Lilly Endowment, the objective of the project was to assign students to help young companies succeed so they can later employ young Hoosiers.

The winning group of Troy Jones, Bethany Smith, Matthew Douglass, Brent Skidmore and Randall Wheeler helped Nature’s Emporium Soap Co. triple sales and boost the number of distributors by 37 percent.

“The five of us agreed that we couldn’t have worked for a better company,” Smith said.

The feeling appears to be mutual.

“I was so excited to give them the opportunity to learn about business,” said Nature’s Emporium owner Michelle Lewis. Her biggest surprise was how close they all became.

“They matched us very well,” Lewis said.

The soap company seems to be on a roll. It also won a $10,000 grant to hire three interns in the hope of being able to hire full-time staff.

“I keep pushing them, reminding them that I’m trying to make a job for them,” Lewis joked.

After clocking 366 hours for the company, the five-member team converted the accounting system to QuickBooks; built a Web site and programmed the company into Internet search engines, bringing it to the top of Yahoo, AltaVista, Lycos and Google; created a logo and advertisements; built an inventory system; represented the business at an Indianapolis trade show; and created order forms, brochures and a media kit.

JATECH Scientific team members were Samir Pipalia, Brittney Zurcher, Brian Baker, Alex ElNaggar and Kimberly Weller. They created a new logo and Web site for the company and its patented rapid impact oxidation technology and helped with marketing research, a tall order for a technical company outside the students’ area of expertise. The team also came up with a snappy slogan: “Innovative technology, radical results,” for the water purification company.

“These kids really put their all into it,” said JATECH CEO Ed Jackson. “We were all very impressed.

“We plan on basing our company here in Anderson.”

Total Data Solutions plans to provide Internet data backup services for local attorneys, physicians and accountants, as well as firewall monitoring, spam blocking and other services. Its team, consisting of Ryan Alspaugh, Mindy Koontz, Colin Wiens and Amanda Norvell, surveyed potential customers, created a logo and Web site, using metallic colors to suggest security.

They also designed a sticker for blank computer disks that provide various options. “Potential uses for this disk: a) try to back up my data b) Accidentally damage/delete my data or c) reminder to trust TDS to secure my data.”

The fourth team helping Airlift Services did a lot of research on potential oil and gas clients in Midwest basins, from Indiana to West Virginia. The biggest challenge for Katherine Hinkley, Maria Davidova, Maryann Shockney, Jon Braun and Amy Wanaselja was getting correct disclosure notes to go with the company’s financial statements. They also pared down an outdated potential client list from 1,300 to a few hundred by cross-checking company names with Secretary of State lists.

The last group to present worked for Clarion Sensing Systems, an Indianapolis group hoping to start a water quality monitoring company. It found a great malaise about the issue from potential clients. Jonathon Pfettscher, David Smith, Caleb Clemence, Jennipher Ervin and Ryan Mills assembled a focus group of four companies to test the demand for the service. Without naming names, they reported that none saw a need for water monitoring. Each was confident municipal water monitoring was sufficient. The companies included a food processor, auto parts manufacturer, hospital and a water treatment facility.

“I’m so glad it’s over,” said Amanda Norvell at the end of her team’s presentation. But she’d do it again.

— Writer Lisa Allen is Content editor for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin (www.theheraldbulletin.com). Photo and story used with permission.