Author Archive for Elizabeth Finnegan

Mr. Cory’s Cookies

When he was six years old, Cory Nieves decided he didn’t want to have to take the bus anymore. He told his mom that he wanted to buy a car so that he could drive to school, and that he had a business plan so that he could make enough money to accomplish this. Cory started out in the world of entrepreneurship by selling hot cocoa. As he began making a but of money doing this, his mother encouraged him to start saving for college rather than buy a car. He decided this was a good plan and that in order to do it, he should expand his business to sell lemonade and cookies as well. He experimented with different recipes and ingredients until he finally made the perfect, organic, and all natural cookie. 

Over the past 6 years, Cory has grown his business tremendously and been features in many different magazines and news programs as an inspirational young entrepreneur. He has sold his cookies to Aetna, Barney’s, Bloomingdales, Citibank, J. Crew, Macy’s, Mercedes-Benz, Pottery Barn, Ralph Lauren, TOMS, Viacom, Whole Foods, Williams-Sonoma, and others.  

Cory’s story is neat because even though selling lemonade and cookies is not innovative in and of itself, the story behind Cory’s business, of a six year old wanting to buy a car, is endearing and innovative, and makes you want to buy cookies from him rather than from someone else. By getting out his story, it distinguished Cory from other little kids who sell cookies and lemonade and made him into a truly successful and inspiring entrepreneur.

Johnny Ward: The Paid Vacationer

Johnny Ward was raised on the welfare system in Ireland. At 18, he left for England, where he attended a university there. When he graduated, he decided to tour Asia until he ran out of money. With the last little bit of money he had, he booked a flight to New York City, and decided to live their for a while. However, even in this exciting country, he could never find a job that he loved, so he decided to invest $100 into starting his own travel blog, writing about his experiences in the different places he had gone to. Little did he know that this $100 project would turn into a multi million dollar business.

Now, Johnny Ward spends his time traveling around the world, writing about the best places to eat, fun exercises to do in each place, and what the best places are to go if you want to do touristy things or know some local hacks. Johnny has been to every country in the world and gets to choose where he works, although he only works for 10-15 hours a week.

Ward in Iraq

Johnny represents true innovation because he took what he was passionate about and turned it into a truly innovative business venture. He works very flexible hours, get to talk about whatever he wants to, and makes a lot of money doing it. It is neat to see how he went from being a poor Irish boy who ran out of money to an incredibly wealthy and successful global businessman.

GirlForward: Empowering Women Refugees

When Blair Brettschneider started working as a volunteer at RefugeeOne, she had no idea how much of an impact it would have on her life and her future career. As a girl from a middle class, typical American family living in Michigan, Blair never really experienced persecution. However, she knew she had a heart for people who had to flee their home because of racial or religious persecution, so she decided to volunteer for RefugeeOne, a nonprofit which helps refugees adapt to American society. While working for RefugeeOne, Blair met a young girl named Domi who particularly struggled adapting to American culture as a teenage girl unaccustomed to the habits and trends of teenage girls, who can often be unwelcoming to those who are different than them. Thus, Blair began spending a lot of time with Domi, counseling her, listening to her stories about her past, and giving her advice, encouragement, and knowledge about American culture. Now, Domi is 20 years old and thriving in college, with lots of friends and and established support system. Image result for girlforward

Through her experience with Domi, Blair realized that many refugee girls come to America with little emotional support, and they find themselves overwhelmed by the drastic change in culture and language. Also, many teenage girls have to translate everything into English for their families and help provide for them. Blair found how all this can really overwhelm these young girls. Thus, she decided to start GirlForward, a nonprofit which focuses on supporting girls emotionally and giving them the tools they need to succeed in America. This includes counseling, English tutoring, hang out sessions where they talk about American culture, and much more. Where as Blair started out just helping one girl, she now helps over 200 refugee girls every week.

Blair is such an incredible model of an entrepreneur because she started out in a field she was passionate in, and saw in that field a specific niche where there was a need. She was able to find companies to support her so hat she can run her business as a nonprofit and focus on giving girls with a lot of trauma the counseling, support, and friendships that they need.

Natalie Webb: A True GCC Entrepreneur

Last May, Natalie Webb graduated from Grove City College with a degree in entrepreneurship. After she graduated, she began working on launching her own business and app, which she designed for her elevator pitch her senior year. Her business model was born out of a problem which she had experienced in her grade school days, and she knew many other people experienced as well.

          As a homeschooler, Natalie and her family had to buy all of their books themselves, and as there was no curated or organized way to buy used book, they usually ended up buying these books new from publishers, which got very expensive. However, Natalie noticed that after he finished with a book, it just stayed on her bookshelf until it either was given away to a family friend or sold at a significantly reduced price at a yard sale. Natalie considered how wasteful this was, both on the buying end and the reselling end because there was no organized platform for homeschoolers to interact with each other in this manner. Out of this pain came her idea of Hoot Book Revival, which is an app and website on which homeschoolers can resell their books and buy used books from other homeschooling families at a reduced cost. This benefits both the buyer and the seller, because people looking to buy books can get them much cheaper than they can new books, and people looking to sell books can sell them for more than they could at a yard sale.

Since her graduation last May, Natalie has been working to get this web platform active. She hired a company to design her website and has gotten guest writers to post on her blog. She has spent the last few months spreading the word about her company to homeschooling families and educators and talking to different publishers and co-ops about her business. While the cite is currently active, it is pretty light on content, so Natalie is focusing her attention on adding content and marketing for her business to possible clients.

          When I asked Natalie about how this business came about and what need it was filling, she said, “I suppose the core of the business idea was identifying an underrepresented group, and how their market needs weren’t being addressed, because the business pitch itself is pretty simple.” Natalie’s website allows the customer to buy and sell books, as well as collaborate with other homeschoolers on which lesson plans and books are best. Hoot Book Revival also has an option where people can post their books and let Hoot do all the work in finding people to sell them to, making the customer experience more enjoyable and less labor intensive.

Ultimately, Natalie’s business is incredibly innovative not because she came up with the idea of reselling books, but rather because she found a niche market and is catering to them in a new, technologically advanced way, and allowing them to simply post their books and have her company do the rest of the work for them. It is pretty neat to see such awesome innovation coming out of our own Grove City College.

The Rent the Runway Revolution: How Two Women Changed the Fashion Industry for Good

In 2009, two young women attending Harvard Business School met for their weekly coffee and business brainstorming session. Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss both knew they wanted to start a business together, but for many months they brainstormed ideas which never seemed to stick. However, on this particular afternoon, Jennifer Hyman mentioned to Fleiss that her sister would be attending a wedding next weekend, but had nothing to wear. She voiced the frustration shared by women across America, that it is difficult to justify spending hundreds of dollars on a dress you only wear a few times. As she said this, she came up with a business idea which would solve this problem and revolutionize the market of high end women’s fashion.

Jenny Fleiss (left) and Jennifer Hyman (right)

Hyman and Fleiss conceptualized a business model where they would partner with different well-known, high-end designers from around the world and rent these designer dresses out to women for a few days for a fraction of the cost of buying one of these dresses. These two young women started out by buying dresses in their own sizes and going around to different college campuses on the weekends of big events and putting up flyers and sending out emails announcing that the female students could rent these designer dresses for a reduced price and simply return them after the event. With each campus these two went to, their business model proved very popular, and with each event, they continued to refine and adjust their model until they landed on the current business model of Rent the Runway. Since 2009, Rent the Runway has grown from a few designer dresses advertised through flyers on college campuses into a $15 million corporation with an extremely user friendly app and a variety of supplementary services.

One things which makes Hyman and Fleiss stand out as unique in the world of innovation and entrepreneurship is their approach to founding a startup. While many young entrepreneurs look for a problem in their field of study or expertise which they can construct a solution for, Hyman and Fleiss started with a problem they simply observed, despite their lack of knowledge in the fields of fashion or technology.  However, by recording customer reactions to their product and collecting customer testimonials, these young women were able to get the designers on board and soon had enough funding to hire people with expertise in analytics, technology, fashion, and customer relations in order to create the best business possible.

Even eight years removed from its founding, Rent the Runway is an incredible company to watch innovate and expand. Because of the founders’ passion for giving women the opportunity to have that “Cinderella experience” and look elegant, extravagant, confident or professional for an affordable price, the company continues to grow its inventory, expand it market, and offer additional services, such as makeup and jewelry tips depending on the dress or outfit you rent.

Hyman and Fleiss at the opening of their first store

Hyman and Fleiss have also sought to optimize the customer experience by offering free shipping and dry cleaning, along with spending a great deal of time and money on analytics. This has allowed them to find what colors and styles customers prefer, along with how long customers like rentals to last so that they can give the customer the best, most convenient experience possible. Rent the Runway is constantly offering new features, different dresses, and featuring a variety of both well-known and new designers, which keeps their business in a constant state of growth and expansion.

Hyman and Fleiss are truly inspiring to all young women looking to be entrepreneurs. They actively thought about problems, and rather than waiting for funds or investors to back their idea, they eagerly engaged their clientele, pivoted based on the feedback they received, and then sought out investors and designers with confidence in their product and the data and testimonies to back it up. These two women are constantly pursuing excellence, passionate about their product and their clients, and dedicated to inspiring future women entrepreneurs.