Yasmine Khosrowshahi was already a co-founder of a playing card company, but this year her thick, waist-length, brunette hair became the inspiration for a product that she and her team in a class at Wake Forest University are pursuing as a different business venture.
“It actually takes about 30 minutes to wash,” Khosrowshahi said of her hair. “If I don’t blow dry it at all, it takes about six hours to dry, which is crazy. There’s so much time spent on it.”
The team is working on a product aimed at creating a convenient way that allows people to reduce the amount of time they spend on their hair.
Khosrowshahi is one of more than 300 recent students in the entrepreneurship minor offered by the Wake Forest University Center for Entrepreneurship.
The center, which started in 2005, has the largest minor at Wake and recently expanded its offerings.
Its core courses are The Entrepreneurial Experience, Identifying and Cultivating Valuable Ideas, Developing Validated Concepts and Scaling the Entrepreneurial Venture.
“We teach courses that teach students how to spot more valuable ideas and how to take those ideas and turn them into validated concepts, and, in some cases, how to turn them into companies,” said Dan Cohen, the John C. Whitaker Jr. Executive Director of the center. “We also complete the minor with a course on how to scale a venture to greater than $10 million in sales.”
In addition, the Center for Entrepreneurship has co-curricular programs — Idea Sandbox, Deacon Springboard, Startup Lab and Social Impact 360.
Idea Sandbox is where students develop their ideas. Deacon Springboard is an early stage accelerator for ventures.
Startup Lab is for advanced stage startups and is the center’s signature program.
“Students get academic credit while they build their venture,” Cohen said. “They get a lot of coaching and mentoring.”
He said that students generated more than $1 million in revenue in the first two cohorts of the Startup Lab.
“And two startups last spring raised capital,” Cohen said. “We believe that’s a first in Wake Forest’s history.”
Social Impact 360 is for students interested in social ventures.
Khosrowshahi, a communication major, and several other students who are currently in or have taken the entrepreneurship minor at Wake talked recently about their ventures with team members. The other students are Annie Calfo, a communications major with a double minor in entrepreneurship and psychology; and Billy Candela, a 2018 graduate who majored in economics.
Playing cards/hair product
The custom playing card business that Khosrowshahi, 21, co-founded last year is called Dealt Co. The company is already online at www.dealtplayingcards.com.
“We started by re-selling playing cards to card collectors,” said Khosrowshahi. “We built our Instagram platform. That was the biggest place we would sell them, then we realized there was a bit of demand for more custom cards, especially businesses and places that wanted to promote themselves.”
The company’s initial logo on its prototype cards featured a fancy “D” for “Dealt.”
Now, the company is ready to offer designs that are mazes. The new designs are expected to be introduced in 2019.
“We’re working with high-end companies now,” Khosrowshahi said. “That’s really our target market and getting into the casino business.”
As for the product inspired by her struggles with her hair, Khosrowshahi said, “It’s basically a brush that’s going to incorporate shampoo. You brush through your hair and you’re cleaning it. It’s cutting down the time of needing to wash your hair and have your hair be wet.”
Her team partners in the entrepreneurial minor at Wake are Evan Bigley, a Chinese major; and Alan Gadjiev, an economics major.
The team has applied for a provisional patent on the product and is working on a design for the prototype with the hope of starting its manufacturing in 2019.
Khosrowshahi said she now spends 90 percent of her time working on career activities in the Center for Entrepreneurship.
“It’s not like a job,” she said. “It’s not work. It’s fun. I love it.”
This is her second time in the Startup Lab.
Annie Calfo, 22, came up with the idea for a spreadable food product called Espreado with a similar consistency to a nut spread.
The product, which is trademarked and has a patent pending, is made of coffee and other natural ingredients.
She said she never drank coffee until she started the product.
“I realized that all of my friends were like addicted to caffeine and felt like they couldn’t function in the morning until they had their cup of coffee,” Calfo said. “They were so rushed and would often choose making their coffee over having breakfast, but there isn’t much nutritional value in coffee so the energy that they get from a balanced breakfast is actually what’s going to give them the energy.”
Calfo decided to come up with a product that offered some protein and caffeine.
Calfo, a senior, is a co-founder of the venture, along with Wake students Benny Bagnell, an economics major; Madison Howe, a communication major; Margaux Walker, an interdisciplinary major in environmental studies; and Drew Niziak, an economics major.
The team formed in class for the project and members gave potential customers a chance to sample the product.
Calfo said that 100 percent of the people who tried it gave them their emails “to stay connected to the brand because they liked it.”
When the class project went to the Startup Lab stage, all team members chose to stick with the venture, she said.
Cohen spoke of the advantages to having a good mix of financial and creative people in a group, saying that the creative people get grounding from the financial people who can “hold their feet to the fires on the financial part of it.”
“But the financial people wouldn’t have anything to do if they didn’t have a creative idea to work off,” he said.
The next step for Espreado is to get online, “developing a full e-commerce site for interested customers to learn about the brand, mission, and purchase products,” Calfo said.
Candela, 23, grew up knowing that he wanted to own a business some day, but wasn’t sure when that day would come.
While he was at Wake, he came up with the idea for Chune Supply then applied for and got into the Startup-Lab.
“Chune Supply is a personalized music news feed website that allows you to pick your favorite artists and based on those artists, it gives you a curated feed,” said Candela, who lives in Miami, Fla. “Anytime one of your favorite artists does an interview, anytime they are mentioned in a video, anytime there is an article written about them, anytime they put out any new music, you just get that all in one place.”
He said that “chune” is a common word used in Jamaica to describe a “big tune.”
His business partner is Kieran Derfus, a 2018 graduate of Wake who double majored in computer science and economics and currently lives in Charlotte.
Candela said he released www.chunesupply.com, a prototype website, on Nov. 10.
“We just wanted to release it to get feedback and ask people if we had an app that did the same thing as the website, would you download it?” he said. “It’s really expensive to build an app, but it’s less expensive to build a website.”
He said they got a lot of great feedback from people interested in an app.
Currently the website is free and the app would also be free.
“We plan on rolling out a subscription based service with premium content once we release the app,” Candela said.
He said they also plan to have advertisers and their own YouTube channel.
He said there are some similar websites online, but they don’t pull from YouTube as Chune Supply does.
“We pull from YouTube and we allow streaming directly on our site,” Candela said.
Cohen joined Wake in 2015 as a professor of practice and became the executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in 2017.
“We are really focused on helping students develop skills like problem solving, critical thinking, how to market themselves, how to sell themselves,” Cohen said. “The vehicle for that is ventures.”
He said that starting a venture is a great learning experience for students that can teach them how to build a team and get along with other people when they have differences on their teams.
“They learn how to identify who their customer is and meet the customer’s needs,” he said.
Cohen said that the cross disciplinary liberal arts setting is a strength of the entrepreneurship program.
“We have this interdisciplinary that comes from the domain expertise from people who study psychology, sociology, economics, business, religion, mathematics,” he said.
Students in the entrepreneurship minor have a variety of majors, including communication, finance, economics and computer science.
Under Cohen’s direction, the center started focusing on evidence-based entrepreneurship.
“It’s hard to find entrepreneurs that think their idea is bad,” he said. “They all think their ideas are great. It’s good to believe in your ideas, but what really matters is what does a customer think of your idea?
He explained that the old way of entrepreneurship focused on people having an idea, raising capital, building a product then putting that product in the market.
“That’s a very expensive process, only to find out people don’t really want this,” he said. “They would go forward without evidence.”
He said that because of some big failures with their ventures, people started changing to evidence-based entrepreneurship, meaning they let customers validate their ideas.
A number of success stories have come out of the Center or Entrepreneurship over the years, including Modern Fertility, a fertility testing company; 2ULaundry, a laundry pickup and delivery company; and UpDog Kombucha, a kombucha microbrewery.
In October, Cohen and Greg Pool, the director of the Startup Lab accelerator, developed a method of teaching students how to spot more valuable ideas.
The teaching method, called IDEATE, was one of four finalists for the 2018 Excellence in Entrepreneurship Teaching and Pedagogical Innovation Award from the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers.
Cohen said that seasoned entrepreneurs tend to have industry background, can see trends and have well-established professional networks.
Whereas, students are often told to come up with ideas, but they don’t have training on how to identify what makes an idea valuable.
The Center for Entrepreneurship is a finalist for the Model Emerging Entrepreneurship Program at the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, or USASBE, one of the world’s largest conferences for entrepreneurship. The competition will be in January.
“Our vision is to become the standard by which all liberal arts entrepreneurship programs are measured,” Cohen said. “We want to build a top-shelf entrepreneurship program in the country.”
Calfo said her team probably would not have pursued Espreado if it wasn’t for the encouragement from mentors Cohen and Pool, saying that their motivation helped motive team members.
Through the Entrepreneurship Center, the team applied for and got in the Startup Lab, where students were offered classes and guidance on how to start their businesses, including how to get a patent and file a nondisclosure agreement.
“They don’t offer technical legal advice, but they offer extreme guidance and insights that we wouldn’t have as students starting our own business,” Calfo said. “They also offer funding, which helps us get off the ground, which is really helpful, as well as a large pool of different mentors and connections….”
Candela said he is grateful for the help he received through the entrepreneurship program.
“The website wouldn’t be what it is today without their support and mentorship, and I hope to be able to give back to the program in the future,” he said. “The program is in great hands with Dan Cohen and Greg Pool at the helm, and I expect the program to grow substantially in the coming years under their leadership.”