While many of their fellow classmates are fine-tuning their resumes and embarking on their first job search, Nick Price and Paola Chamorro Ward will be taking their respective companies to the next level.
Price, 24, launched City Sleekers
as a mobile, eco-friendly car wash business in 2012, and at the end of April opened his first onsite service at Countryside Mall in Clearwater. They have a kiosk on the second floor near the Cobb Movie Theaters and are washing cars outside on restaurant row near the courtesy valet stand.
Chamorro Ward, 27, is seeking investors for NeverWander
, a high-tech bracelet that serves as a tracking system to prevent kids from wandering off and getting lost in crowded places.
“We’re still small but we’re on a trajectory of growth, “ says Daniel James Scott, associate director of the program, which began accepting students just three years ago and is already winning accolades.
And Scott was named the 2013 Small Business Advocate of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration South Florida District.
Real World Experience
“The USFSP entrepreneurship program is really taking off and the faculty has done a great job,” says Frank Wells, who serves as an advisor to students in the program, and is chief executive of World Power & Water
, a technology development company specializing in renewable energy, fresh water and sustainable resource projects.
“The model for the program is based on the real world,” says Wells. “The faculty has real industry experience in developing and running startups. And it’s amazing to see the skills the students are developing.”
About 50 students are enrolled in the USFSP Entrepreneurship Program as a major. Another 50 or so are pursuing it as a minor. There is also an Entrepreneurship Club
that is open to all USFSP students, whether they are pursuing a degree in business or not.
USFSP students have taken top prizes at both competitions. The club won the CEO Startup Simulation Challenge in both 2012 and 2013 and earlier this year Ward took first place at the 5th annual Southeast Entrepreneurship Conference at the University of Tampa. Price came in third at the SEEC conference last year.
“Both Nick and Paola have kept refining their ideas and have really stepped up and out-hussled their peers,” says Nathan Schwagler, an instructor in the USFSP program and a faculty adviser for the Entrepreneur Club. He also has the innovative title of USFSP Creative-in-Residence for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.
Creativity is now recognized as an important component of the business curriculum, says Schwagler, who is writing a textbook on the topic.
But creativity is just one part of the process, he says. Coming up with ideas is the easy part. The challenge is in developing the critical thinking skills that are needed to be successful.
“That’s one of the things that we do well in our program, “ says Schwagler. “We encourage critical thinking skills and creative problem solving.”
Theme Park Inspiration
The idea for NeverWander came to Chamorro Ward after a trip to a Disney theme park.
“My husband Ryan and I had taken our nephew to Universal Studios,” says Chamorro Ward. “He was so excited. It was his first time away from his parents and he kept running off in different directions. We were stressing out trying to keep an eye on him.”
A few months later, during a conversation with her in-laws, she and her husband were talking about the experience.
“We were joking about microchips in pets and wondering about some sort of product that might work with children,” says Chamorro Ward. “My husband said how about a bracelet?”
She didn’t connect the dots until some months later when she needed to develop an idea for a USFSP pitch competition for entrepreneurial students.
“I thought I would look into the topic and see what I could find,” says Chamorro Ward. “I was surprised. The research showed that 27 percent or one out of three kids who go to a theme park get lost. It is a huge stressor for parents.”
She came in second for that pitch and then went on to win first place at SEEC in March. The next step was to build a prototype for her product, a bracelet that she calls NeverWander. It’s similar to the plastic wristbands with slogans that are popular fundraising tools for charitable organizations. But NeverWander a is high-tech version.
“The bracelet has a device that allows you to set a safe distance,” says Chamorro Ward. “If the child steps away from the safe zone, both bracelets vibrate — the parents and the child’s. The idea is to get kids attention and make them stop in their tracks. The bracelets also vibrate if the child takes his off.”
There is also an App component for a GPS tracking system, which allows parents to track the child’s location.
Chamorro Ward teamed up with Tampa Hackerspace
and students at the University of South Florida Engineering Department
in Tampa to design the product in time for One Spark
in Jacksonville, Fl., a global crowdfunding event that connects startups with venture capital. The event took place in April. Preliminary results show that Chamorro Ward’s entry, “Extra Set of Eyes,” placed 61 overall, and 8th in the technology category.
What’s next? Chamorro Ward said she’ll need investors to begin production and to take NeverWander to the next level. Her first target audience is parents of young children who aren’t old enough to use a cellphone or children who might have a disability. But future potential could include the product’s use as a safety device for seniors with dementia or as a “buddy system” for youth groups or even friends out socializing.
Eco-Friendly Car Washing
The idea for City Sleekers came when Nick Price and his former business partner were brainstorming ideas for a startup. Price was enrolled in Scott’s class in new venture creation and his former business partner was taking creativity and entrepreneurship with Nathan Schwagler.
“We knew we wanted to think up something different that would be environmentally friendly,” says Price. “We focused on the idea of cleaning cars without wasting water.”
An internet search turned up a “green” cleaning solution that uses very limited water. With the right product in hand, the two launched City Sleekers as a mobile waterless ecofriendly car cleaning company with the slogan: “Transforming every parking space into a clean car waiting to happen. “
Rather than having a stationary building, the cleaning crews travel to the client, who might be at work at a downtown office building, parked at home in their driveway or playing golf. City Sleekers has an agreement with Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Club
The car wash company is also novel in that the cleaning crews use bicycles, not cars, to get around, although Price envisions a future fleet of smart cars with the City Sleekers logo.
“It’s been two steps forward and three steps back,” says Price about the challenges of launching a startup. “We thought we could immediately franchise and make millions,“ he jokes. Building a motivated team has been one of the biggest hurdles, especially since the crew is washing cars by hand in the heat and sun.
But not one to give up, Price is pushing forward with a new agreement with Westfield Countryside Mall
in Clearwater that allows City Sleekers to clean cars while customers shop. By the end of April, Price expects City Sleekers to have a car wash stand in place at the mall’s “restaurant row.” If all goes, he hopes to expand to other malls and stores in the future.
“The entrepreneurship program at USF St. Pete is one of our area’s greatest assets,” says Wells. “It’s giving us this incredible pipeline of young entrepreneurs. Just think where the program and the entrepreneurs will be five, 10 or even 15 years from now.”
Janan Talafer is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, FL, who shares a home office with her dog Bear and two cats Milo and Nigel. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.