High Point University senior Emily De Lena stood up in front of Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph with a clicker in her hand, a screen behind her and passion in her heart.
A passion for a product idea that she worked hard to build, a passion that she knew had potential and could go far.
But what was that next step?
Her moment had finally come, the moment she felt ready for – the one High Point University offered her and several other student entrepreneurs at HPU to pitch their business ideas to the Silicon Valley leader and receive his honest feedback.
Randolph nodded as she spoke. And when she finished, he gave her the key piece of advice that gave her that next step.
“You need a prototype,” Randolph told her.
She always wondered if her business was ready for a prototype, but having Randolph confirm that suspicion convinced her to take that next step and run with it, literally.
After graduating from HPU just a few weeks ago, De Lena has emerged into the workforce as a full-time entrepreneur.
The idea for De Lena’s product, the Track Rabbit, began her freshman year.
The young track star felt that she wasn’t improving her performance. She wanted a running buddy with whom she could train, someone that would push her and help to improve her running times.
That’s when she came up with the Track Rabbit, a device that would allow a runner to follow an LED light system around a track in order to know what time or distance they have to beat.
De Lena knew this idea could go far, but she needed the funds to get her feet off the ground. That’s when she began networking and competing in different competitions at HPU. She was selected as the second place winner and awarded $5,000 at the 2015 Business Plan Competition. She also received funding at the Elevator Pitch Competition, where 17 teams of HPU students were given two minutes to pitch their business ideas to four judges and compete for cash prizes.
At these competitions, De Lena learned how to pitch to investors and will bring those skills with her throughout her career. She didn’t know it at the time, but her pitch at the HPU Elevator Pitch Competition would give the Track Rabbit its start.
One of the judges at the competition was Eric Hill, chief operating officer and co-founder of BioRx in High Point. Hill was impressed with De Lena’s business plan, and though he had never funded a startup project, he had a good feeling about her invention.
After discussing the ins and outs of De Lena’s product, Hill decided that he wanted to provide not only full support, but funds for the first year of operation for the Track Rabbit.
“I have heard many business plans but have never funded a collegiate startup,” said Hill. “Emily has done a great job taking her personal experiences and making that into a sustainable business opportunity. She has a lot of potential to succeed, and I rarely see someone like her with this type of business plan. She has already spent a significant amount of time bringing this business together.”
“To receive funding in this capacity is amazing,” says De Lena. “I am still in shock. I am so grateful to Eric for standing behind me and providing me full funding for the Track Rabbit. This product has a bright future.”
De Lena is an example of the students thriving in HPU’s Belk Center for Entrepreneurship that opened in the fall.
“I get really excited about students like Emily,” says Kathy Elliott, assistant professor and director of entrepreneurship at HPU. “When she puts her mind to something, she has the determination. You don’t have to push her, she will just need you to be there as her support system. Graduating from college and becoming a full-time entrepreneur can be difficult, but with a sustainable plan and funding, you can succeed. Emily has all of that and some. She has the drive that will take her far in her entrepreneurial ventures.”
Today, De Lena and her brother Andrew, the techie behind the project, are finishing the technical portion of the design so they can receive approval for the product from the NCAA, USA Track and Field and the International Association of Athletics Federations. Afterward, they will begin looking for a school to host a full-scale prototype of the Track Rabbit for testing.
“It still has a few kinks that need to be worked out, but it is very promising,” says De Lena.
As De Lena reminisces on her time at HPU and the opportunities the university has provided her, she is brought back to when she first stepped onto High Point University’s campus with her parents on a college road trip during high school.
“My dad saw the sign for High Point University,” said De Lena. “He said, ‘let’s make a stop.’ After stepping foot on campus and getting a tour, I knew that if I went to HPU, something great was going to happen, something that would change my life – and it did. It was fate.”