Student entrepreneurs participate in InnovationX

Taqi Sleel is co-founder of the app Phoneshake. Phoneshake compiles and lists information on individuals, their contact information and information on businesses, to encourage networking.

Kendall Dalton, Practicum Contributor

Students at Oregon State University who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs, innovators, and changemakers have the opportunity to work toward that goal through the university’s Center of Excellence for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The center, also known as InnovationX, is a program aiming to turn students’ ideas into realities by providing a framework and mentorship to help them develop businesses. It provides students with three different programs they can join: Launch Pad, Launch Academy and Advanced Launch Academy. Students develop ideas such as apps, search engines and material goods, and have the opportunity to pitch their creations. 

Launch Pad is offered to first-year students and is not required, but is encouraged because it offers an introduction into entrepreneurial thinking. Launch Academy requires an application before beginning, and after completing the course, people may move into Advanced Launch Academy to further grow their business. Students can get business credits for these programs. 

Launch Academy is set up as a standard class with assignments, whereas in Advanced Launch Academy students meet with a mentor weekly to further advance their businesses, but complete their work on their own time.  

These programs aim to provide students with access to tools, clubs, trainings, networking events, funding opportunities and the encouragement needed to start businesses. No matter a student’s major, anyone is allowed to apply.

Michelle Marie, program manager of InnovationX, encourages students to join even if they only have an idea. Marie believes all it takes is one idea to spark something that could potentially be something really special.

“It’s amazing to say ‘if you want to do that, you can! The first step is x’ and watch their face as they realize that they can actually do whatever it is,” Marie said.   

One such student turning an idea into a business is third-year Benjamin Steinhorn, studying business administration, the co-founder of company ShoeBio Inc. ShoeBio is a sneaker search engine that essentially does all the hard work for you and allows you to “take control of your sole.” The site searches and filters through over 360 shoe websites to help people find the sneaker they’ve been eyeing at the best prices. 

Steinhorn started his very own business when he was 14 years old as a sneaker reseller on Ebay. He created a logo, registered in the Oregon business registry, purchased a bot that helped him buy the shoes immediately when they dropped, and would sell them on Ebay. Despite all the hard work it took, Steinhorn said that summer he made the most money he’d ever made in his life and realized that he wanted to do this forever.

He joined InnovationX his first year of school by enrolling in LaunchPad and is currently in Advanced Launch Academy. 

Steinhorn said without Launch Academy he would definitely continue pursuing his business because it is what he’s passionate about, but the program’s resources and mentors have helped keep him on the right path toward success.

“It definitely helped keep the confidence in what we are doing and set the foundation for us moving forward,” Steinhorn said.

Another third-year student, Halli Briscoe, studying business with an option in entrepreneurship, is the founder of the business Athleigo. Briscoe is currently a part of Advanced Launch Academy.

She became involved with Launch Academy when she won a marketing competition for a business called Hempris that her and her partner started, which sells hemp and hygiene products. Winning the competition earned Briscoe and her partner an invitation into Launch Academy. 

At the time, Briscoe’s partner was unable to join and the farm bill for hemp had not be passed. This disallowed them to work with hemp products on campus. Briscoe came up with an alternative idea and that was how Athleigo began.

Athleigo is an app that is similar to the idea of LinkedIn, but for athletes and recruiters. Athletes are able to upload their information onto the app and recruiters can easily look through potential athletes during time of recruitment. 

Briscoe believes Launch Academy is one of the main reasons she has continued to pursue her business. According to Briscoe, Launch Academy helped validate her ideas and assured her that she should pursue them, because they believed in her. 

“They took us through the background of how a concept is supposed to be started,” Briscoe said. “That has been a huge help since no one has really taught us that part of it.” 

Taqi Sleel, a student pursuing his PhD degree in industrial engineering, is the the co-founder of the app Phoneshake. Phoneshake is an app that encourages networking. One shake allows people to explore individuals within a room and learn what they do, a second shake allows people to share their contact information with others, and a third shake shares all businesses around that specific location.

Sleel is currently enrolled in Launch Academy, and was introduced to the program when he attended a campus competition called Next Great Startup. At the competition he was introduced to Marie, who encouraged Sleel to join InnovationX. From there he was introduced to Launch Academy.

Sleel and his co-partners had already built their app, Phoneshake, before joining Launch Academy. His interest in joining Launch Academy was to receive advice on further marketing strategies. 

“It’s very flexible. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re in because everything is tailored toward what you’re trying to build,” he explains. “The course is amazing. If you want to learn and don’t have a lot of knowledge, it’s a great place to start.”

Students within InnovationX advise other students to join even if they only have an idea. Steinhorn said the hardest part of becoming an entrepreneur is beginning. 

“Just tell yourself ‘I can do this and I am going to do this’ and you’ve already won half the battle of starting a business,” Steinhorn said.

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