The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and thriving on the High Point University campus – through its innovative faculty, engaging campus and hands-on curriculum. Faculty know that today’s world is in constant flux. In order to succeed, students must be prepared to quickly create, adapt and connect to overcome challenges and forge ahead.
A project that Lou Anne Flanders-Stec, assistant professor of entrepreneurship, challenged her students to complete allowed seniors Matt Brodeur and Ben Thuss to take the ultimate step into entrepreneurism – launching their own company. The class required students to create a business plan and present it as if they were pitching to investors. Brodeur and Thuss took it a few giant steps further by launching a company and landing $250,000 in funding from a private investor.
“Through her class and guidance, we developed the business model, business plan, financial model and worked on the pitch,” says Thuss. “It was really helpful to be able to practice in an environment where people were asking practical questions and where we could pitch and present our idea before we were in front of real investors.”
Their idea stemmed from a very real experience. They took a road trip and rented a hotel room – a process that seems simple enough. But now that they were thinking like entrepreneurs, they saw the world differently. Simple things turned into big ideas.
“We started thinking about the whole process and realized how much easier it would be if we could digitize it,” says Brodeur. “We created an app for hotels that guests can download when they arrive. From their tablets, they can request room service, valet parking, items at the front desk and browse the hotel’s menus, check-out times and emergency information. Customers can also use the app to find attractions around their hotel, such as the highest-rated restaurants, parks and shopping areas.”
After they created a prototype, they needed a hotel where they could test the app. They pitched their idea to a hotel in Greensboro who enthusiastically agreed to try it out. Response from customers was outstanding, and the hotel is anxiously awaiting further developments from Thuss and Brodeur.
The next big step, and perhaps the most important step for every entrepreneur, was to find funding for development. The seniors pitched their idea to more than 30 venture capitalists, which further opened their eyes to the world of business and, perhaps more importantly, the necessity for perseverance. An investor in Texas eventually made a $250,000 commitment, allowing them to move forward.
“We’ve been grateful for this entire process,” says Brodeur. “Mrs. Flanders-Stec really did go out of her way to help us. She met with me over the summer to discuss the plan. We also met with Dr. Qubein to talk about starting a new company. The university was very supportive in all of our efforts.”
The seniors graduate from HPU in May and will hear from commencement speaker Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, Inc. who also started out as a small business owner that went on to do amazing things. When it comes to finding a job, they don’t have to. They’ve created their own. The $250,000 will allow them to fund further development for more devices, and they’ll focus on their company fulltime.
It’s an app and an opportunity that wouldn’t have been possible without mentoring from Flanders-Stec and an environment where risks, hard work and challenges are embraced and celebrated.
“Matt and Ben are two great young men that I am very proud to know – as people and as students who represent what it means to be an entrepreneur,” says Flanders-Stec. “As seniors in college, they’ve propelled themselves years ahead of many entrepreneurs by having a plan, a product and landing capital. They are an example for future students and our world on how to create your own opportunities.”