Have you started seeing mysterious fins everywhere or a tank of water in the middle of Lower Beamer? No, you didn’t eat too much Blackened Whitefish in Saga. Yes, it must be time for the beloved spin off an ABC classic — Wheaton College Shark Tank. The annual competition, which began in 2013, guides students through the process of bringing a business idea to fruition. These six team pitched general ideas back in November. For the last three months, they have been developing the idea into a concrete product or service. Tomorrow, Feb. 24, the six teams will face off to make their final pitch of projects ranging from podcasts to product lines, in front of real investors, professional judges and students, for the chance to win a $3,000 prize.
As The Record sat down with the six teams to hear the stories that shaped their ideas, it became evident that successful entrepreneurship lies not mainly in techniques of persuasion, but in evidence of passion.
One Over Forty
One Over Forty is “basically an open forum,” said junior Josh Creedon, one of the founders of a new podcast. Creedon and his partners, junior Tom O’Conner and sophomore Eddie McDougal, designed the podcast to explore politics and culture through unscripted “processing” of the issues. The podcast is basically a conversation between the two hosts, Creedon and O’Conner, recorded and produced by McDougal. Every episode will also feature a guest, “so we’re not just talking heads,” joked O’Conner. They’ve produced two episodes so far, each a 45 minute discussion of major contemporary issues from a uniquely Millennial perspective. For example, in the last episode they interviewed senior Eli Hancock on her participation in the D.C. Women’s March.
The idea came to each of them independently, spawning out of their own conversations in the communal bathrooms of Traber 4, during what McDougal referred to as “sink time.” “I’ve had so many hour-long great conversations in the bathroom,” said Creedon. With tooth brush in, the conversations could be more frank and honest than classroom discussions.
They hope the money from Shark Tank will help the podcast have further-reaching influence, through marketing and improvement of sound quality. Creedon explained, “I think we’re a good microcosm of the evangelical world so hopefully people outside of Wheaton will be able to listen to this as well.”
You can find links to their current episodes on their Facebook page, One Over Forty or on iTunes at one/40.
Orbis Media Management
Say goodbye to sending individualized Facebook messages, monthly email chains, Twitter posts and Instagram updates. Orbis Media Management, essentially a personal assistant for missionaries and nonprofits, is an online platform designed by senior Jack McHenney and junior Ross Brunner to manage their communications streams in one convenient location. By creating a free online profile, users can automatically upload updates to multiple locations.
While at Wheaton, McHenney and Brunner naturally gained a broader perspective from having missionary friends. Half of their collective roommates came from or are going into the mission field overseas. Brunner, a history major, explained that like studying history, learning about another culture allows people to “understand your own context a lot better and see the wallpaper of your life that blends in otherwise.”
Besides providing links from missionaries to their supporters, Orbis Media Management has the potential to connect missionaries to each other by consolidating the global pool of missionaries in one place. The duo also hopes to provide a way for users outside of missionaries’ immediate networks to access updates and stories.
Unlike GoFundMe, which allows for only financial support, this platform would allow missionaries and organizations to provide updates to prayer partners as well. That means even busy college students can be involved in support, joked Brunner., “There’s still value in me hearing about and understanding and praying for a particular missionary.” In this way, Orbis Media Management won’t just raise up funds, but foster friendships.
Imagine if there was a tangible way to help refugees become self-sustaining without even leaving Wheaton’s campus. That’s exactly the kind of opportunity that junior Liz Lengel and sophomore Mary Preston Austin hope to provide with their start-up company “noor,” the English spelling of the Arabic word نور meaning “light.” The name builds off of the company’s philosophy that “it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” The on-campus marketplace would be an extension of the infrastructure that NGOs already have in place, selling products and promoting NGOs that produce fair-trade products by employing refugees.
Lengel and Austin hope to use their business skills and Wheaton connections to start establishing credibility in the United States markets in such a way that the refugees can continue supporting themselves when issues like the travel ban and larger coverage of the refugee crisis are no longer “trendy.”
Lengel emphasized that both personal knowledge and passion for the issue were an essential part of the development process. “It did for me come out of the refugee ban. We don’t talk about it enough. We don’t see these people as people with lives and families and dreams, and that really bothered me.” Still, they aren’t politically or religiously affiliated. “[W]e can’t necessarily change politics so we’re looking for something we can do,” Austin said.
But how are they different than existing organizations, such as 10,000 Villages? The team said that they are marketing to college students, focusing their attention away from home décor and toward products students will want to buy. And student involvement is key, at least while starting out. In fact, they hope the organization will be student-led, on a volunteer basis but for internship credit, an idea that has worked in other schools that have attempted similar small businesses.
Looking forward, they want to expand to nearby campuses, churches and eventually create a sizable online presence.
The Lifelong Bible Journal
“How many times do you think ‘I’m going to return to this, that was such a good sermon, I want to remember this’ and then you never find it again?” sophomore Katherine Davis vented about the current disposable method of sermon note-taking. That’s why she and and fellow sophomore Nathan Didier entered Shark Tank with the goal of redefining church note-taking. The product: a journal that matches the Bible chronologically, but instead of verses, the journal has blank spaces to take notes which the user can continue to develop throughout his or her life.
Entering Shark Tank was largely “a happy accident” according to Davis — ultimately the journals came out of their own need. “It grows out of frustration as I was taking notes in Bible class and I just realized it’s so likely that this notebook is going to be lost … So we were just searching for a product that serves this function and it just doesn’t exist.” Didier revealed. The duo made mock books and tested them on campus, receiving an overwhelmingly positive response.
The journals are a little smaller than a sheet of computer paper, making them compact to carry. They noted that the product could serve a variety of uses, particularly for Wheaton students, from personal note taking to Bible studies to BITH classes.
In the future, the team hopes to develop insertable pages to expand space and an app — even if you didn’t have the journal with you, you could still make a note by the verse. The money from Shark Tank would fund the launch of their app development and printing initial books.
“Sure, we’d love to win Shark Tank. But we’re serious about this idea, so while we’re still in school we’ll probably keep it mostly around here, but we’d love to see it reach a larger market in the future,” Davis said. The first two buyers might even be the duo themselves.
As anyone who has ever tried to plan a fishing trip knows, it’s not as easy as finding a lake and letting down a line. There’s a certain amount of expertise that goes into knowing where to start, purchase gear or find guides. The information gap can be problematic when fishing in a region one is not familiar with, said senior Price Gunn.
Gunn first started fishing alone at age five in the pond across from his grandparent’s house. He entered Shark Tank hoping to find a solution to the problem he’s encountered personally: “Fishtripfinder is an online platform that reduces the stress of planning fishing to a few clicks by pooling vendors ‘under one roof’ where users can use a set of filters to narrow down results and find the fishing trip that best suits their wants and needs.” Right now, the website will allow users to filter their trip by species of fish, style of fishing like fly fishing and desired cost and location of trip. It also narrows down possible trip opportunities with existing guides, outfitters and shops.
Gunn already has business experience working for a Fortune 500 company, but this project clearly has his heart. He hopes to gradually chip away at this project over the next few years and potentially run the business on the ground full time. “There are plenty of barriers, but I believe Fishtripfinder can be the premier outfitting web platform in North America someday,” said Gunn.
In a world where one’s online contacts can be increasingly representative of his or her career trajectory, what is an artist, whose work is largely physical, to do? That’s why Serena Suh is building a social networking platform that is designed to bring together artists of the visual and written word. “Think of it as a hybrid between LinkedIn and Facebook interest groups … you can find professional networks through LinkedIn, but it’s hard to find someone you can collaborate with or even show the full capacity of your work in that site.”
Suh originally entered Shark Tank hoping to expand the photojournalism site she began after a trip to the Holy Lands. She started taking photos of individuals she felt showed a more multifaceted depiction of the Middle-East, a corollary to the largely violent depiction in American media. Suh realized she’d been developing the idea throughout her life. “I think me as a person of color wasn’t represented well … I grew up reading about Cinderella, and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, which is not bad at all … but I’m also realizing how that impacted how I saw who is able to be the main character.” She named her photo site “Alternative Depictions.”
Since Shark Tank focuses on for-profit businesses, Suh was going to turn the project into a media company, but found that her current network was too limited for such a huge undertaking. Her artist contacts agreed; after surveying various Wheaton students and professors she found the vast majority would be interested in using the site.
She wants this network to have options to filter based on interest and location so that artists are better able to collaborate with each other. By connecting those who reimagine the world, our imaginative picture will be as developed as possible.