Undergraduate kinesiology student Ashley Haller found out about Oregon State’s campuswide startup competition just a few weeks before it began. She had never heard of it, but when approached about participating, she didn’t hesitate.
As a result, she’s moving forward with the idea she pitched and has learned important business skills such as policy, patenting, business models and managing staff that aren’t covered by a Kinesiology curriculum. “I have learned how to focus a market and gain customers and how to get a company involved in something that may not present immediate return,” she says. “Both have been invaluable skills.”
Ashley’s idea is to create an adapted bike share program, which was born from a practicum experience with IMPACT for Life, a college program that provides fitness support for people with disabilities. The competition prompted her to change her strategy and gave her the confidence and skills to move forward.
“It’s not just about having a product, it’s about having a plan,” she says.
“I started with an idea that had too many variations of focus, and the judges helped a lot with figuring out how to be specific and intentional with this project.”
Because of her winning pitch, Ashley received $100 from the Next Great Startup, $50 from the college and $3,000 in Amazon web service credits. She’s still working on what the award money should buy, but she has a couple of ideas. One is to create a pilot bike with a modification and purchase a web domain and business training materials.
“This program was something I didn’t think would be possible in my time here,” she says. “This competition is changing that belief for me. The funding and professional support have allowed me to simultaneously provide programming for IMPACT for Life while also pursuing my dream of a bike share program for anyone in the community with a disability.”
For now, she’s prepping for the next round of competition in January and applying to graduate school in hopes of becoming a physical therapist. “My undergraduate years presented a lot of challenges both physically and mentally,” she says. “My major and field of study are fueled by my passion to provide care for others in the ways that I have been cared for.”
Ashley competed against first-year MPH student Tiantian Pang, who pitched a puppy care/dog walking app.
Tiantian received $500 for placing second and says the competition was a great experience. “I learned a lot of business terms along the way and I developed my business idea more completely after the pitch. I received a lot of support, not only from the judges and teachers but also my friends and partner. I am happy to have this experience in my first year at OSU, and I have already signed up for the next round.”
The Next Great Startup is a campus-wide competition open to all Oregon State students, who compete for money, visibility, bragging rights and mentorship from local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists so that they can turn their idea for a startup into a real company. Students pitch their idea to a panel of judges, who ask questions and choose those with true potential. They then work with a coach, OSU Advantage Accelerator staff and mentors to prepare for semi-finals and further rounds until four are chosen to compete in the final.The winning startup gets cash, goods and services from lawyers and CPA firms, as well as a spot in the OSU Advantage Accelerator program. In 2017, the first year of the competition, 27 teams competed and more than $30,000 in cash and services were awarded throughout the process. Applications for 2018 are due by noon Jan. 16.