Entrepreneurship Co-ops Talk Obstacles, Rewards
Want to become an Entrepreneurship Co-op student? Get ready to learn. A lot.
April 7, 2015
by Joseph Master
Three companies. Six months. Too many lessons learned to count.
Last week, Peter Schuette, Leo Chan and Atef Khurshan — the Close School’s outgoing Entrepreneurship Co-op students — convened in the Baiada Institute to share what they learned while running their companies.
Perhaps the most enlightening quote of the day came from Khurshan.
"There are a lot of people in the world who have great ideas to improve your brand. And you won’t know until you ask."
Here’s what they had to say:
Zeppa is an app that helps people get out with friends and experience the world. Zeppa’s goal is to help people use their phones as tools instead of platforms to waste time on. Zeppa recently completed initial development and is moving into beta testing.
The Problem: There is an oversaturation of event invites that can flood in from various channels, and it can be time-consuming getting friends together when there are so many disparate ways of connecting.
The Solution: Zeppa is an application that brings it all together on a strictly "friend-to-friend" basis — allowing you to get your friends together on your own terms. Using Zeppa, you can create an event name, description and a few tags, integrate it with the calendar on your mobile device, receive event notifications and customize them all in a private way — with your queue of upcoming events sorted by time. You can even chat with fellow event attendees.
The Differentiator: Unlike other "social" platforms that allow you to create and manage events, Zeppa is "publicly private." Its limited user search functionality means that unless you are already connected to someone via email or phone number, you can’t view their events.
The Experience: When Schuette began his co-op, he set out to finish iOS and Android development within six months, with Drexel Greek Life targeted as the ultimate beta tester for his app.
"Sometimes, what I thought would take me a couple of hours would take a whole day," Schuette says. "I learned that you need to take the amount of time you think it will take and multiply it by three."
An ambitious endeavor from the start, Schuette also expected to build a team and get some VC funding as well. While he did get to Android beta testing, he has yet to test the app on iOS or secure any additional funding. However, he did manage to hire an in-house development team and build a marketing plan utilizing social media to sell his brand. He now has two co-founders who have been invaluable in helping him to push Zeppa forward. Greek Life beta testing is also on the horizon.
There is also a video produced by Baiada Institute mainstays Five Five Collective — which Schuette admits has been a great boon for building awareness for the fledgling app.
"When I came into this, it was a project," Schuette says. "Coming out of it, I have a business. I’m constantly learning."
Kompact, LLC is a software company that built a text-shortening platform that summarizes any news article, text from a website, document or pdf. Thanks to Kompact’s proprietary summarization natural language processing algorithm, users can summarize virtually any text to the their preference by choosing either the percentage the user wants to read from the original text, the time the user wants to read the text, or the number of sentences the user wants in the summary.
The Problem: According to Kompact’s website: "There is an unprecedented amount of information in the world and there is no way one person can view even a fraction of that information in a lifetime. Time and knowledge are precious commodities. Now, you can have both without any compromise."
The Solution: Kompact’s "special sauce" is a proprietary algorithm (mum's the word) that Chan converted into an API. The app allows you to control how much content you read using a graphic user interface that allows you to move a slider up or down to customize the amount of text you want to read. It even goes as low as 1 percent.
The Differentiator: No other mobile app or major news app (read: Summly) for text summarization gives you the option of choosing exactly how much you want to read. Kompact is the only game in town with a dynamic text-shortening algorithm.
The Experience: Chan began Kompact almost two years ago at the end of his freshman year. Summly, another text-shortening company, had recently been acquired by Yahoo! Chan thought to himself: "Why don’t I build a summarization app?"
What started out as a text summarization app now has enterprise implications — as the Kompact team has been actively seeking corporate partners to use the API.
"This was the best co-op I ever had or will have," Chan says. "I got to work on something that I am really passionate about."
However, as Chan neared the end of his co-op experience, that passion began to dwindle. He made the decision to leave the team to focus on other projects. So far, 180 engineers have applied via Angel List to replace him. While the transition has been hard, it is a reality that all entrepreneurs must face at some point.
"Recently, it felt more like work," Chan says. "I felt like an employee more than an entrepreneur. I told the team I didn’t want a stake.
"I am going to see Kompact through to the release of the app, though," he says.
Arso Couture is a startup company that uses clothing to spread hope around the world. Each Arso Couture collection and each product sold supports a cause — to provide, food water, health care, medicine and education. Arso Couture hopes to start a movement through fashion — one cause at a time.
"Arso" means "hope" in Arabic. "Couture" refers to the design of clothing to a client's specific needs. Together, Arso Couture wants to bring hope to people across the globe through fashion.
The Problem: Arso Couture’s mission is grand. Khurshan’s vision is to help end hunger, while providing access to food, water, medicine and education to those in need around the world.
The Solution: By partnering with NGOs for each collection, Arso Couture pairs each release both fiscally and thematically with the people it serves. So far, the first collection, called the "Liberation Collection" — which featured t-shirts and bracelets made of onyx beads — was linked with SKT Welfare, a NGO devoted to providing humanitarian aid in Syria. For every Liberation Collection product sold, 500 Syrian refugees residing in the Qhah Refugee Camp got access to water for one day.
"One of the most important things I ask is 'how can we make people feel like they made a real change after they purchase a product?'" says Khurshan.
Next up is the "Young Visionaries" collection, which will feature both shirts and bracelets, with the addition of a premium line sourced from high-end materials.
The Differentiator: According to the Arso Couture website: "We represent the young visionaries who believe they can change the world, the trend setters that strive to make an impact, the ambitious youth that hustle to become legendary. When you wear Arso, you make a statement for the kind of person you are and the kind of world you want. Wear your heart on your sleeve and be the change you wish to see."
The Experience: Over the past six months, Arso incorporated as an LCC and was able to use its Liberation Collection to provide 2,500 people with water for 50 days. Khurshan also launched a beautiful website with e-commerce capabilities and a solid social media presence — utilizing his own photography skills to build the brand.
By affixing his products with motivational sayings and images, Khurshan has taken a holistic approach to building Arso.
"We were ready top serve our customers very early on because we already had a product that met our messaging," he says.
While Arso has reached a modicum of success, there have been setbacks. So far, Khurshan has released one collection and hasn’t been able to meet as many causes as originally hoped. In addition, a mid-February trip to secure manufacturing in Khurshan’s native Bangladesh fell through when people took to the streets and rioted against the country’s ruling Awami League party.
There is still more work to be done. Shurshan continues to seek out partnerships with new NGOs and has yet to build a team of his own.
"The Close School gave me the opportunity to get where I want to go with my brand," he says. "I am way more organized now. This co-op taught me the real value of time management. To push myself to get it done. Today."