The eighth annual Ole Cup – St. Olaf College’s student entrepreneurship competition – took place virtually, with 11 student-run businesses competing for funding to help move their startups forward.
Due to the online format, judges were able to participate from all over the United States and provide in-depth insight to help contestants vetting and challenge them to think deeply about their ideas. The judges were both alumni and parent entrepreneurs, including Tia Schaffer ’20, whose Live Life Home Solutions business has continued since her second place at the Ole Cup 2020.
However, the effects of the pandemic are not limited to the online format of the Ole Cup 2021, as many student entrepreneurs have responded to the current challenges of the COVID-19 market by creating business solutions.
This was the case with first prize winner Aidan Schoff ’21 presenting Gro-W-All, a space-saving hydroponic garden system for urban restaurants. Restaurant-restaurants, with their low profit margins, are known to have suffered greatly during the pandemic. Due to the upfront cost of perishables, these businesses had little opportunity to cut expenses and recover costs, which caused many people to abruptly shut down or stay open and suffer from a high rate of loss. high infection among workers.
Taking their needs into account and drawing on his past experience in managing hydroponics, Schoff has developed an innovative hydroponic system for urban restaurants. Using this vertical system, restaurants can produce fresh items in-house, harvest as needed, and keep the cost of those items low – his example was growing lettuce for just 10 cents.
Schoff’s development of Gro-W-All was supported by the Piper Center for Vocation and Career through individual entrepreneurship counseling and funding. He received an Entrepreneurial Business Concept grant to build a working prototype of his system and believes that with the right investment he could start production later this fall. Schoff received $ 10,000 for his business at the 2021 Ole Cup, and Gro-W-All will advance to the Minnesota Cup with the victory in St. Olaf.
This year, for the first time, the Northfield Enterprise Center sponsored a community award of $ 500 which was presented to the participant in the Ole Artistic Optimism Cup, founded by Jocelyn Aguirre ’22. This award reflects the NEC’s commitment to developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Northfield, Minnesota, by connecting students and community entrepreneurs, with resources to help them succeed.
Issues of social justice and equity have been in the spotlight more than ever during the pandemic, and artistic optimism “seeks to help disenfranchised communities through the sale of works of art.” This sentiment resonated deeply with the desire of many students to see their companies uphold and reflect their personal values. Students showcased business ideas at this year’s Ole Cup, including supporting mental health with animals, creating new online tools for consumer thinking, and supporting black women through the through the sale of jewelry.
“One of the most exciting trends this year has been the number of businesses in the arts and humanities,” said Margaret Bransford, associate director of entrepreneurship and outreach. “It’s wonderful to see these students thinking big about scaling their art and using their art to have social and economic impact. “
The second place winner, Pageio, presented by Darlene Radichel ’23, offers an affordable solution for readers with disabilities so that they can continue to enjoy printed books. Its design solves a problem not solved by current assistive technology, and its goal is to begin beta testing with regional institutions later this year, using the $ 5,000 from the Ole Cup prize for production costs.
“I have been working for Pageio since my last year of high school,” explains Radichel. “I am passionate about creating this product not only to help students achieve their academic goals, but also to make printed books accessible and easy to read for people with motor disabilities. “
“St. Olaf’s student entrepreneurs are unique in two ways,” says Bransford. “First of all, they are so creative and bring a wide range of ideas from many disciplines to the competition. Second, every business, whether for-profit or not, seeks to have a positive social impact on the world.
This year, the award for best social enterprise went to another hydroponics company:
Sakha Sive Hydroponics Africa. This for-profit, socially conscious company received $ 5,000 from the 2021 Ole Cup to help stabilize food systems in Africa.
Sakha Sive “aims to solve critical food shortages in the fruit and vegetable market segments by providing a stable and lasting solution to an eternal social problem while generating the means of its own scale as a growth mechanism.”
In the face of the climate crisis, we need to reimagine food production as we know it.Aidan Schoff ’21
“To tackle the climate crisis, we need to reimagine food production as we know it,” Schoff said during his presentation of Gro-W-All. During her presentation of Sakha Sive, Sivuse Mbingo ’21 agreed that climate change also plays a role in the development of her hydroponics business.
“Due to climate change, economic instability, limited availability of funding to scale up operations and political insecurity, there is an urgent need to find a new way to feed the more than 1.2 billion Africans “Mbingo said.
Sakha Sive’s three-person team, which includes Sinethemba Mathunjwa and Thabani Mamba, will compete in the final of the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge in June.
This year marks the first time that St. Olaf will send its Best Social Enterprise winners to Fowler. After eight years of hosting the Ole Cup, the organizers of the Piper Center remain committed to student entrepreneurship and looking for new opportunities and new partnerships to take them further. Prior to the event, weekly entrepreneurship programs were offered to help develop ideas into scalable business models, and Bransford continues to support students as a dedicated entrepreneurship coach since joining the Piper Center in 2018.
Third place winner Joggr – a social running app founded by Soua Yang ’23 and Abdou Ghanim ’23 – took home $ 3,000 at the 2021 Ole Cup. Joggr app aims to play and add aspect social to the individual sport of running.
“Lack of motivation has always been a problem,” Yang said during the presentation, “especially now with COVID as we are, more than ever, disconnected from our family and friends. “
From adversity comes opportunity.Benjamin franklin
“One of my favorite quotes says it all: ‘Out of adversity comes opportunity’ – Benjamin Franklin,” Bransford says. “Our students have had a difficult year and have chosen to innovate and move the world forward, rather than stepping back from the challenge.”
Oles found plenty of opportunities to reflect on their experiences and observations during the pandemic and worked with the Piper Center to turn these nuclei of inspiration into competitive business ideas. By working with students individually, Bransford helps introduce students to the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and tailors these principles to the specific student idea.
You can watch these creative minds take on creative challenges at the Ole Cup 2021 in the video archive.