Emerging Entrepreneurs Expo winners

July 20, 2015

JCCC students receive cash prizes for their innovative business ideas

Tracking community service hours in an easy-to-use smartphone application. Promoting musical talent so musicians can make a living. Developing a fashion school in Africa.

These dissimilar but consistently innovative ideas placed first, second and third, respectively, in the 2015 Emerging Entrepreneur Expo, which is open to students at Johnson County Community College.

The contest, sponsored by First National Bank, the JCCC marketing department and the JCCC leadership development program, allowed students to showcase their ideas for the next big thing in business. In 2014, the first year JCCC was involved in the competition, students presented a written business plan, and judges decided from that plan who won the cash prizes.

This year, however, competition heated up and became more personal as students presented their ideas to the judges in person. Their “elevator pitch” (so-called because it’s meant to quickly and succinctly outline the business in the time it might take to impress a potential investor in an elevator) was delivered from a booth that displayed visual representations of their business.

Think of a cross between the reality show “Shark Tank” and a school science fair.

First place: ServeIt, $2,500

“ServeIt is the simplest way to keep track of community service hours,” writes Evan Norris, who won first place for an innovative smartphone application.

“Currently, community service hours are tracked on paper for organizations like the National Honor Society, fraternities and sororities and corporate companies,” Norris explained. “Papers get lost, and someone has to take these papers and transfer the hours to an Excel document.”

ServeIt saves both volunteers and administrators time and energy, he said. Volunteers submit their time via their smartphone app, and administrators receive reports of that time.

ServeIt also offers users an interactive map and a chance to create a community of other volunteers. “Every time someone serves, they drop a pin on the ServeIt map, and they share with the world a story of service. The map is something anyone can see, anyone can contribute to, and anyone can explore,” Norris said.

The company’s tagline is “Till service fills the earth.”

Second place: New Midwest Entertainment, $1,500

Phil Jones already gained local celebrity status for the music he performs as Lowkeezy, including one video extolling the talents of the JCCC dance team. His work at ECAV radio further enmeshed him in the music scene.

Jones and partner Titonian Wallace had already launched New Midwest Entertainment as a limited liability company (LLC) to promote and market musicians. They wanted to expand, however, to include promotional “how-tos” for aspiring musicians and artists not ready – or willing – to pay a professional promoter or agent.

These clients “want to do it on their own but don’t necessarily have the tools or the knowledge to get started,” he said.

New Midwest Entertainment can help with business cards, digital marketing and CD duplication, for example.

“Every business out there at some point will need a business like ours to help promote their business at some point,” Jones said.

Third place: Fashion school in Nairobi, Kenya, $1,000

Linda Wachsberg’s second act was to open a sewing business. After retiring from 30 years as an animal manager at the Kansas City Zoo, she began Liora’s Creative Sewing.

Interior design projects were her standbys, but she wanted more training in fashion, so she could more easily sew clothes. She signed up for a class in fashion merchandising and design at JCCC, and it was in class that she met Mary Mgwashighadi, a JCCC student with a big dream.

Mgwashighadi wanted to open a school in Keyna, in her hometown of Nairobi, teaching apparel construction and fashion design. Waschberg brought her friend Keith Russell to the emerging project as an artist, graphic designer and general fundraiser.

The three have secured a three-bedroom apartment in Nairobi to act as the site of the first school, and five students have already signed up to take classes. They’re hoping for another 25 more before the doors open in the fall of 2016.

Of the expo, Mgwashighadi said, “It was really a great yardstick to say, ‘Yes, we can present this idea, and we are ready to go forward with it.’”