Sheneya Wilson ’13 commanded the room. Wilson, a Ph.D. student, Forbes 30 Under 30 Scholar, author and business owner, visited campus to deliver the keynote lecture for Entrepreneurs’ Day, held February 27.
The title of her lecture, “The Making of a Billionaire,” flashed across the screen and immediately caught the attention of the college-aged audience. She employed music artist and executive Jay-Z as her case study, explaining the celebrity business owner’s seven streams of income, which include businesses Tidal and Roc Nation along with other investments, artwork and real estate.
Wilson broke down the basic tenets of budgeting, saving and investing in an easily comprehensible format while simultaneously throwing out staggering statistics about the average American’s savings, credit card debt and financial literacy. Students and faculty repeated key messages after her: “We don’t save to save, we save to invest!”
Celebrating Entrepreneurs’ Day
In celebration of Entrepreneurs’ Day, the college hosted a panel on entrepreneurship, moderated by Sheneya Wilson ’13. The panel, comprised of alumni and local entrepreneurs Terry Bartholomew ’85, Heather Beebe, Frank Faulring ’74, Kristin Koehler-Jeroloman ’04 and Andrew Lagoe ’92, shared their down-to-earth stories about loan applications, course corrections, successes and failures and how they ultimately grew their businesses.
They each discussed their decisions regarding branding and marketing, finding their niches in the market and being true to their own goals and objectives.
Lagoe has owned Gilligan’s Ice Cream in Sherburne, New York, with his twin brother, Matt Lagoe, since 2007.
Speaking about the path to business success, Lagoe credited their focus on a good product, excellent customer service and the community. “We’ve always found at the restaurant that the best marketing is word of mouth marketing,” he said.
Asked about Gilligan’s decision to launch a line of alcohol-infused ice cream, Lagoe talked about the importance of partnerships and finding a place in the market.
“We knew we had a niche that nobody else had. We had the ability to take our customized ice cream to local breweries and wineries and collaborate with another small business to create a product that benefits us and them.”
Those partnerships helped in growing the business. “Everybody wants to make money, but finding success while seeing other people’s success, that’s a driving factor in being an entrepreneur,” he said.
Competition promotes business startups
Celebrating the theme of Entrepreneurs’ Day, the college hosted the Fourth Annual Cotton Business Idea Competition.
In an effort to promote entrepreneurial activities among students, former Morrisville College Foundation Board director, Doug Cotton, and his wife, Susan, endowed the Douglas L. & Susan M. Cotton Fund for Entrepreneurial Development in 2006.
“I want the first-place winner to leave here with at least $1,000. This is a good investment,” Cotton said regarding the motivation to hold the annual event. “If these students can take their idea and make it happen, we’re investing in new businesses that are going to be here, in our area.”
Honing their business idea, along with the growing prize money, motivated 21 students to enter the competition. Six finalists were selected to compete and presented in front of their faculty, peers and a panel of judges which included Doug Cotton and local entrepreneurs Kerstin McKay and Joseph Anderson.
Agriculture-related businesses won the top two prizes, with Charles (Jacob) Ax IV taking first place for his plan to use drones to provide crop scouting and field analysis for local farmers.
Marjorie Donahue took second prize with her proposal, EquaHeat, producing woodstove pellets made from horse waste, bedding and other recycled wood.
Both Ax and Donahue have launched their businesses already and plan to use their prize winnings toward necessary start-up costs.
Third place went to Collin Worthington with Recycled Homes, a plan to convert unused shipping containers into housing for the homeless.
“It was the best yet,” Cotton said of this year’s competition. “We have never seen students turn up so prepared not only to present but also to answer the judges’ questions. They’ve really done their homework and they’re ready to make a success of these plans.”