Clarkson freshmen hatch new business ventures

POTSDAM — Out of the mouths of babes often come gems. Clarkson University entrepreneurs start out early — very early.

As part of Professor Marc S. Compeau’s Introduction to Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation, Clarkson freshmen have to devise and pitch business ideas. If those ideas are good enough, their development continues.

This year, the Clarkson Business School provided $2,000 microloans to nine budding student businesses.

“We have an account that has been built up by generous donors,” Mr. Compeau said. “We then invite to campus in November alumni that have some investment background. Some of them are bankers, managers; they sit on a panel and each company has 20 minutes to pitch their concepts. These investors grill them.”

Mr. Compeau said the school typically supports five to 10 student proposals.

The first step in brainstorming a business is identifying a problem people have, Mr. Compeau said. The business’s concept then would address that need.

Students then study their idea to make sure it is unique and feasible.

Campus Cuts, which opened Feb. 1, provides on-campus hair styling for Clarkson students.

Many college students arrive on campus with little or no access to transportation and scant knowledge of local businesses, said Potsdam native Mallory S. Fisher, general manager.

“One of the guys in our group had a problem because he didn’t know where to go to get his haircuts,” she said. “Basically, we did some surveys and 86 percent of the campus said they would take advantage of the opportunity to get their hair done on campus.”

The next step was to make a physical space for the salon and to find some business partners in the community.

“Since November, we have been working to lay down flooring, bring in plumbing, getting up our whole structure,” Ms. Fisher said. “Within that time we also talked to some local stylists and we were kind of giving them a business model and pitching our ideas.”

The salon is staffed by Potsdam-area stylists during their off hours, Ms. Fisher said.

“It is kind of cool, because we’re having a new partnership with the local business community. We’re working with local entrepreneurs in Potsdam,” she said.

Ms. Fisher said after a trial period on the Clarkson campus, the group could grow its business, starting with nearby campuses in Canton and Potsdam.

“It is going great. We’ve been booked every night so far,” she said. “Just a year out from being seniors in high school, we had no idea we’d be going this far. Seeing how a business is started and having hands-on experience with it, you learn all the steps.”

Another student group is developing a spray-on product, christened Shaft Takk, to allow hockey players to better customize their grip.

Hockey players often use tape to help them hold onto the stick, but still have difficulty molding the tape into a comfortable grip, Paul G. Geiger said.

The students enlisted the help of chemical and biological engineering professor Don H. Rasmussen to find a product that would meet their needs.

“He kind of set us on the path of what kind of substance we might want,” Mr. Geiger said. “We started researching that and found a product that we liked. If we want to alter it, he and one of his graduate students are going to help us construct a new product if need be.”

The students now are contacting the manufacturer of a spray-on fabric adhesive that meets their needs to see if the product could be relabeled and marketed for athletes.

Mr. Compeau said the students’ product, though a performance enhancement, was permissible by hockey league rules.

“I really forced these students to do some due diligence to understand that,” he said. “I did some myself to make sure it was allowed in the sport.”

Shaft Takk’s inventors are all hockey players, Mr. Compeau said.

“This is the first time we’ve had an all-athlete group that has done this,” he said.

Shaft Takk also could be used for tennis rackets, baseball bats, golf clubs and other athletic equipment.

Other groups also received loans: Delphi Kultur, a clothing line for the California lifestyle; Students Against Breast Cancer, a nonprofit organization trying to create scholarships for students affected by breast cancer; Generation 94, a mobile clothing resale outfit; Know B4U Go, a mobile application allowing students to view cameras of campus dining centers on their mobile devices to check on crowds before deciding where to eat; “Feroz’en Yogurt,” a frozen yogurt business proposal, and Campus Market Exchange, a website allowing students to post products for sale.

The nascent businesses will be incubated on Clarkson’s campus, perhaps bound for fortune. Previously, the course spawned Innovative Delivery Systems, a startup that allows spectators at arena or stadium events to order concessions using a cellphone or other mobile device. Now, the student group is marketing its mobile application to facilities nationwide.

– Christopher Robbins, Watertown Daily Times staff writer