JumpStart Competition Rewards Business Ideas
Matt Wichtner and Josh Spratt have a “jump start” on bringing their business ideas to reality. The Alma College students are the first winners of an inaugural business plan competition.
The JumpStart Entrepreneurship Competition, a collaboration of efforts by Students in Free Enterprise, business faculty and alumni, awards two students up to $5,000 each to launch their business ideas. A committee of four alumni, three faculty and a student selected the winners.
Wichtner, a 2012 graduate from Honor, won $5,000 for his business proposal: Matty’s Boards LLC, a custom, made-to-order skimboard-producing company with signature designs inspired by the Great Lakes region.
From left: Josh Sprat, Matt Wichtner
Spratt, a sophomore from Ada, won $2,500 for his proposal to develop a company that produces a sustainable, environmentally friendly line of men’s blue jeans that incorporates recycled materials in every product.
“Matt and Josh have good, well-thought ideas that are quite different,” says Chris Ahn ’98, an investment banker in Troy who, along with Alma College Assistant Professor Ron Lemmon, sparked the development of the competition.
“This was a good case study on how alumni can interact with the College and the faculty, to take an idea to fruition in a short period of time," says Ahn. "Ron Lemmon was fantastic; he took our idea and created a business incubator awards program. The first JSE competition was a great success.”
Lemmon taught a seven-week business plan-writing course in the fall as a springboard for the competition. Applicants for the competition completed an executive summary that described their proposed business products, services, target customers, goals, financial plan, and competitive advantage. Six student finalists were chosen to present their business ideas.
“The competition proved meaningful to students who had thoughtful business ideas,” says Ahn, who judged the competition along with fellow alumni Scott Hill ‘00 and Steve Wisinski ’97.
Wichtner began envisioning his business of producing skimboards in 2009 after his freshman year. He posted his idea on Facebook and began receiving requests to make boards.
“My friends liked the board, thought it was a good idea, and wanted me to put them in shops, but I hadn’t perfected them,” he says. “Last fall, I went to Professor Lemmon for advice, and he mentioned the JumpStart competition. So I took the class in the fall, met the alumni committee and received great feedback for launching my business.”
Skimboarding is a board sport in which riders glide over the surface of water or the wash of a wave. It is a growing sport in coastal areas as well as inland regions with suitable bodies of water, he says.
“My skimboards are plywood based with custom designs,” says Wichtner. “The boards are treated in a press where they develop their curvature to aid in hydroplaning and wave riding. They are finished with a polyurethane finish and waxed for grip.
“I’m from the Traverse City area, and there are miles of beaches,” he says. “You see a lot of skimboards. My skimboards are handmade for individual riders.”
He also hopes to custom produce longboards, a type of skateboard that is growing in popularity in urban areas and college campuses. He plans to use the $5,000 prize money to purchase tools, such as a drill press and band saw. A graduate of Benzie Central High School, he is the son of Matt and Karla Wichtner of Honor.
Josh Andrews Denim
Spratt has created Josh Andrews Denim, a company that will produce high-end fashion blue jeans for men using ecologically sustainable yarns and fabrics. He plans to use an eco-textile product called bionic yarn, which blends petroleum and natural based fibers with recycled plastic bottles. An average-sized pair of jeans has the equivalent of seven water bottles, he says.
“I’ve always been interested in fashion and being entrepreneurial in general,” says Spratt. “Last fall I wrote a research paper on Levi Straus and denim, and that got me interested in this type of project. I saw the fabric and thought it was something I could do.”
Spratt attended Lemmon’s business class last fall and entered the competition.
“This was a great opportunity for students to get some help on marketing their products,” he says. “The judges were looking for unique ideas that will sustain for a long period of time — something that could expand and grow and produce a profit in the future.”
He plans to use this prize money to buy materials and have patterns and samples made.
“I want to start with small production,” he says. “This summer I want to get a prototype made, purchase software for making patterns and talk to a tailor.”
A graduate of Lowell High School, Spratt is majoring in business administration with a minor in art. He is the son of Stuart and Susan Spratt.
Students from the student organization SIFE —Students in Free Enterprise — helped organize and structure the competition.
“The best part of the JumpStart project was the focus on making this a long-term project funded and managed by a unique collaboration between alumni, faculty, students and the college,” says Lemmon. “Alumni came up with the idea; faculty developed with alumni ways to deliver real world entrepreneurial knowledge to students; Alma SIFE students structured, organized, managed and partially funded the competition; and the College stepped in with alumni to make sure that first year funding was assured.
“Best of all our students were all winners. A new opportunity is available to them. This should be a model for future collaborations.”
Posted: Mon, April 30th, 2012 at 10:16AM