Dyer Center invites students to transform ideas into opportunity Twitter
By Stephen Wilson
After a night of fun in college, there’s nothing like grabbing pizza … if you have change in your pocket to pay for a slice. After soaking the oil off the surface, just fold it and eat—no need to even wash the plate.
Sounds like the perfect ending to Thursday for a typical college student.
Or the perfect opportunity to innovate for students at the 3 Day Startup event that brought students from Dyer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship together with several other schools at Shippensburg University.
Over the course of a weekend teams brought ideas to life and learned about the entrepreneur’s journey from concept to pitch.
As someone who was raised in an entrepreneurial family and started a few business ventures of his own, Sebastian Wallach ’23 was surprised by the format at the start.
“They asked us to spitball ideas,” he says. Throwing your baby out to a group of 30 students you just met didn’t sit well with him, having attended a startup event at Duke University in the past.
Good ideas seem hard to come by. But trusting the process and watching others dive in, Wallach played along and was glad he did. “The size of the group, in the long run, was really helpful. I got to know other students, and teams lent one another a hand,” says the mechanical engineering major. “It was less of a competition.”
Cool ideas, crazy ideas, and everything in between came out. Slowly the students funneled the concepts down to five. They then had to form a team.
“It was fun to pick an idea rather than pick a team,” says Wallach. He was eager to go after a ridiculous idea and make it work.
His team would support Pizza Mop, a grease-soaking tool to make pizza more appealing and healthier.
Joining him was Marwa Saleh ’22, an electrical and computer engineering major. She too had been involved in entrepreneurship events in her STEM-focused high school. While she was familiar with shaping, presenting, building, and marketing ideas, she never got to play outside science.
“Our ideas in high school were always STEM-related,” she says. “I wanted to build my skills in working with a product.”
Computer science major Basit Balogun ’21 was feeling more reckless. Like Saleh, he’d been on a lot of tech teams in the past, so the freedom to pick was liberating.
“I was in the middle of Pennsylvania where we couldn’t get an Uber at 11 p.m. and saw many horse-drawn carriages,” says Balogun. “So I thought, ‘Try something new.’” He chose the team that would make eating easy and simple by not having to wash a dish: Eatsy.
Economics major Joseph Seyoum ’20 has the most to lose and most to gain. As a senior with a job at Bloomberg L.P. already in his pocket, he wants to make the most of the resources and opportunities Lafayette offers before they are gone.
He also knows that a good idea can alter the trajectory of his life. His idea was one of five that got selected, so this was his chance to get some meat on its bones: Finfo, the personal finance and budgeting solution for Generation Z.
Now it was time to get to work.
The second day spun around speaking with mentors, gathering consumer insights, prototyping, and refining a round one presentation.
The Pizza Mop team hit the road. Saleh visited pizza shops, speaking to employees and diners. Then to the campus dining halls. Rather than just dive into talking about the idea, they eased in by talking about greasy foods. Inevitably pizza would come up, which opened the door to asking about how to handle the oil on top.
While Saleh was speaking with pizza eaters, Wallach was with others on the Pizza Mop team at the Shippensburg football game, talking with tailgaters. It was good to learn that such a crowd was less concerned with grease, or health, or mess.
Wallach also used the day to develop a prototype. The first iteration was a combination napkin and garbage bag, but the second version, after a trip to a big box store, combined a towel, garbage bag, and yarn stitched together with needle and thread.
“No matter how rudimentary a prototype is,” says Wallach, “it is worth more than words on a PowerPoint. It brings words to life and shows you are making a product you can stand behind.” Making stuff is in his wheelhouse since he is still learning how to code.
Coding, or at least thinking about coding, was how Seyoum was spending his day. He too hit the football game and a local little league game. He clearly learned that financial literacy isn’t taught in high school, and consumers fell into one of three categories: highly literate because of a specific educational degree, intermediate literacy for people who successfully manage credit and debt, and lacking literacy as they live paycheck to paycheck.
“We targeted the last two and worked to make slides of how an app might look in order to appeal to younger people, so not the traditional content approaches that focus on lots to read or videos with quizzes. We wanted more unique formats, something more like Instagram stories,” he says.
Balogun also took part in customer discovery.
“That was the best part,” he says. The tailgaters proved a great audience for better understanding the desire to not wash plates. “A 60-year-old man and a single dad both saw how futile it is to fill a dishwasher a plate at a time,” he says. His visit to the dining hall helped him realize that the product was more for personal use since cafeterias must sanitize tableware.
His team also created a prototype. “I had an amazing teammate who made a mix of wax and oil to create a layer over newspaper,” he says.
The second day also had six mentors each swing through the groups with advice, thoughts, and questions.
Slowly the teams refined ideas and built out costs, revenue models, market size, market strategy, and projections.
The last day was for the big presentation, knowing no winners would be crowned. Mentors were back as judges, seeing how the teams listened, discovered answers, and tried to convince them their product was viable.
One mentor who thought Pizza Mop wasn’t viable changed his tune, and that team might reconvene during Easton’s Bacon Fest. Another mentor plans to help walk Seyoum though the early startup stages.
But more than team building and successful pitches, each person took away something key. For many it was how to think about entrepreneurship, turning problems into solutions. For others it was learning to expand beyond a comfort zone whether it was talking to strangers at games or championing products that seem a bit kooky.
For Seyoum as he approaches the end of his days on the Hill, this was “just what I was looking for. Taking an idea and having Dyer help me make it tangible.”
For Balogun it was realizing that “success means going beyond your horizons whether that is a major or interests. We lose lots by not exploring beyond who we think we are.”