Five student businesses competed for the first place in the College’s Eighth Annual Innovation challenge on Apr. 6, and in the end, the student business Humm!ngbird came out on top.
The business pitch was presented by Jose Galarza ‘18 and Erika Foerst ‘19, who competed in a shark-tank like set up where students stood on stage in the Event Space and pitched their ideas to four judges, most of whom were Lehigh Valley entrepreneurs.
Humm!ngbird, a business model which works to spread mental health awareness with their products, was created by Galarza, Foerst, Ethan Gold ‘18 and Jack Brennan ‘17 in their Business and Entrepreneurship class.
The idea came from of Foerst’s sister. “She was in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia [CHOP] psychiatric unit for four weeks and had a really great experience there,” said Foerst. “Mental health is definitely a long road to recovery, but I wanted to give her a tribute and to show her that I was able to support her in ways that I wasn’t able to before.”
Currently the only product available their website is a sticker of their logo; a teal hummingbird with an exclamation mark as a beak and eye. The image combines multiple common symbols of mental health awareness into one. The bird itself represents “qualities that help to improve the mental health of an individual, such as playfulness, enjoyment of life, and lifting of negativity,” explains the cards handed out with each sticker. The exclamation point in the beak represents an attempt to “break the silence” on mental health.
Humm!ngbird hopes to expand their line of accessories, which now includes only stickers, to hats and bracelets.
“I definitely see us expanding beyond Muhlenberg’s campus,” said Foerst, “but now alone we’re starting to sell to the greater Lehigh Valley, so I definitely see us expanding in both accessories as well as getting our logo to mean something to the average individual… We want to have people to see that hummingbird and think ‘Humm!ngbird.’”
With every purchase, 50 percent of the proceeds are donated to CHOP.
Second place was awarded to ScrapCrafts, started by James Silva ‘19 and Amir Blair ‘18, and and their infinite folding card. The two plan to sell kits that allow customers to create a hand- made birthday or special occasion card.
They drew their inspiration from Blair’s mom, who runs a gift-basket- making business.
“I saw in a matter of a couple months that her sales were going from two or three to six or seven per week. And she just enjoyed really making the gift baskets,” said Blair, “It made me realize there was a pretty lucrative market in gift-giving, and there’s a lot of joy in people creating crafts and giving them to someone else.”
Silva admitted that the hardest part of the business was coming up with a product to sell, as opposed to creating a business plan. He and Blair, however, knew from the beginning that they wanted to continue this project outside their Business and Entrepreneurship class.
“We decided right from the beginning that we wanted to build this as though we weren’t in this class,” said Silva, “and as though we were really starting a business.”
Third place and the audience favorite went to Cynthia Silva ‘19, not related to James Silva, who proposed the idea for ActionGo, an app to connect millennials who want to volunteer with nonprofits. The idea came to her during her alternate break trip last year, when the nonprofit she and Narges Mohammad Mahdi ‘18 had planned to work for canceled at the last minute. The two had to scramble to find another nonprofit that very day.
“Despite having the time and people available, this task proved to be much more difficult,” said Cynthia Silva. “That was when I thought to myself there has to be an easier way to encourage the younger generation to get more involved in the community. That’s when the idea of ActionGo was born.”
“I had been looking up potential contractors for the app and I realized that I now have funding to make my app into a reality!” said Cynthia Silva. “That was an amazing feeling.”
Silva says she hopes to have the app up and running by September.
“Right now, I am focused on putting the money to good use. The plan is to get this off the ground by September. Therefore, I have been researching the most cost effective way to get this to happen without jeopardizing the quality of the app,” said Cynthia Silva. “In addition, we are looking for students on campus to get involved so if anyone is interested, reach out! I have no intention on stopping now since I see great potential for ActionGo.”
The final two presenters were Adam Granot ‘17, presenting Keef, and Ilana Saltzman ‘18, presenting Funny Business.
Granot’s proposal was a cosmopolitan gaming app where individuals could play online with other players multiple times before discovering their opponent’s home country and nationality. His hope was to diffuse tension between the Israelis and Palestinians, or at least wear away at prejudices, by having members of the two countries play games with each other.
In Saltzman’s idea for Funny Business, comedians would come into business offices and hold improv workshops to improve team building in the office environment.
Rita Chesterton, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has been helping each team since they sighed up for the challenge in February. She also teaches Business Planning and Development, which gave the companies Humm!ngbird and ScrapCrafts the leg up they needed. Chesterton pointed out, however, that most of the students this year were doing it of their own accord.
“Anybody on campus can participate, and that’s the exciting thing,” said Chesteron. “This year we only have two students who were business majors.”
As for students looking to start their own businesses, James Silva had some obvious advice.
“Make a product that makes money,” said James Silva.“I thought of a million great product ideas but none of them make money. We had to find something that people will actually pay for, and if you find something like that you’re golden.”
Blair took a slightly different approach.
“Find your niche. Use your own abilities, use your own interests and try to sell like that,” said Blair,.“Because if you try to go off of someone else’s idea, something that you’re not really interested in, you might get discouraged…. If it’s something that you’re really interested in, it’ll give you the motivation to keep going.”
Foerst couldn’t agree more.
“Above anything, do something that you’re passionate about and do something that means something to you,” said Foerst. “Because anyone can learn the skills of how to create a business. There’s books upon books and research all about the right things to do, the right things to say, the right ways to advertise, but if you’re not passionate about it, it really doesn’t mean anything.”
Any passionate students can take Chesterton’s class or wait for the next year’s innovation challenge.