Teresa Quinn is manager of Clark University’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program. Under her purview is the annual Ureka Challenge, a months-long event designed to promote, develop, and grow Clark’s student ventures. Quinn also teaches courses in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation minor. We recently spoke with her about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the program and the Ureka Challenge.
You’ve been a strong supporter of our student entrepreneurs. In what ways did you help guide/support them this past semester since you weren’t able to use the Clark Collective space?
If there is a good thing about COVID, it was the fact that we started pop-ups on Red Square. We had already been talking about doing more outside pop-ups to give Clark Collective more visibility; COVID forced us to try our hand at this past fall. We have a very enthusiastic Clark Collective Coordinator, Sonny Siemenski ’23, who is also a small business owner, and he is well connected to other student business owners. Sonny was instrumental in recruiting new businesses for the pop-ups. He also has a flair for making the pop-ups fun by having music, drawings, and club giveaways.
The pop-ups were very successful; more successful, I dare say, than using the Collective physical space. We had many more shoppers, and more small ventures signed up to showcase their business or cause. Since many students living on campus had fewer in-person activities due to COVID, the students who visited our Red Square Pop-ups commented on how these little weekly events gave them a sense of normalcy.
Additionally, we moved the thrift store to the Clark Collective pop-ups, which also proved successful. Greer McCarty ’24, our thrift store coordinator, has a great eye for thrifting and is planning to up our inventory through a few different means.
I understand the students were in Red Square on Wednesdays promoting their businesses. Do you know if any of them have an interesting story to tell about interacting with other students/potential customers during those times?
Maddy Steigman ’24, who founded Dough Is Me, a homemade dessert goodies business, has one of the most developmental stories from participating in the Clark Collective Red Square Pop-ups. Maddy was a first-year student in my First-Year Intensive class, Creating a Culture of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. After a couple of attempts at entrepreneurship, she found her calling with Dough Is Me. If I am not mistaken, at her first showing at the pop-ups, she sold out — she was a regular vendor ups and consistently built her business with loyal customers. Her first catering order was for dessert at the Ureka Challenge 2021 Welcome Dinner in November.
Maddy was recently featured on Spectrum1 News. She is focused now on prepping for the spring semester and providing Clark parents with “homesick” rescue boxes they can send to their student at Clark — anyone interested should email Doughisme1@gmail.com.
Do you collaborate with other professors who teach and work with entrepreneurship students?
John Dobson’s class, Entrepreneurship, is the base class of the Entrepreneurship minor; all students in the course start businesses. John and I work together to mentor as many start-ups as possible. I teach Student Run Ventures, which is the follow up to John’s course.
Was there one student who was particularly innovative last semester with using technology to connect with potential customers?
Absolutely! Martina Villanueva ’23, owner of MagPies Collect, has scoffed at COVID’s attempt to destroy her business, which she started in spring 2020. MagPies specializes in handmade earrings, totes, and masks with unique and cute patterns. When COVID hit last March, she returned home to California; she decided to take all her classes online this year, and her business has exploded. Her eye for art and photography, as well as her study and application of social media marketing, has helped her grow her business beyond her initial goals.
You class, Student Run Ventures, was slightly modified for the Intersession to help the Ureka participants continue to stay connected and work on their ventures. How so?
I added pitch development tailored to the Ureka judging panel, and brought in several guests to teach skill development in areas like setting up QuickBooks and bookkeeping. I have been to a few other university’s entrepreneurship challenges, and Clark’s businesses and ventures are just as good — if not better.
Student entrepreneurs are being supported by mentors and other participants. Is this new? Can you describe how some of the mentors are supporting these students at this time?
Mentorship has always been a component to the Ureka Challenge; each participant now chooses their own mentor based on where they believe they are lacking — marketing, funding, product development, etc. Participants are encouraged to use ClarkCONNECT and other Clark resources to help them find a mentor. The new format is working well.
Additionally, the requirement of enrolling in the Student Run Ventures course has helped the participants work with each other. A few of the ventures are teaming up for a fundraiser, while a few others are working with Allie Schilling in the Student Leadership and Programming office to find a way to provide arrival baskets for students returning in the spring. It is also exciting to watch the chat feature in Zoom during class when students ask a question about something they are struggling with. The chat blows up and everyone is giving advice — it is awesome to see.
Were there more interest or less from students in the Ureka contest this year, given the challenges of COVID?
I was pleasantly surprised that the interest in Ureka held steady during COVID. This year, we had 30 applicants and 17 accepted ventures. We had planned to only accept 15, but they were so good. COVID hasn’t slowed us down!
Anything else you’d like to add?
The Ureka Challenge continues to evolve to meet the needs of Clark entrepreneurs. A recent addition to Ureka has been the initial investment of $100 into each venture accepted into the challenge. Participants use the funding to grow their business; some have invested in professional photography for marketing, purchased ads on social media, and bought web domains. At the end of the Ureka journey, on March 12, 2021, participants will present to a panel of six alumni and one faculty member, competing to receive up to an additional $5,000. We eliminated first-, second-, and third-place prizes; now the judges are able to award funding in different amounts to all participants. Last year, 15 of the 16 participants received some form of funding, from $500 to $5,000.
Ureka has added a component to the Challenge to simulate the experience of preparing a crowdfunding campaign, which is becoming a significant player in start-up funding. Ureka will post each venture’s one-minute crowdfunding video on our student run website in late February. Anyone with a Clark email address may watch the videos and vote for their favorite; this voting process will result in funding for the winner.
This year, our donor is Samantha Goodman ’11 from Swing Issues Media. In addition to providing a generous donation to the Challenge, she has also promised to mentor three to five participants at the end of the contest.