Business

Success, their way


by Jan Gillis ('07)

 
image: /_images/stories/MM-32015-kickstarter-slide-655x393.jpg

SUMMARY: In the growing world of the Internet, where business startups, aspiring musicians and enthusiastic promoters are multiplying exponentially, the world is an enticing opportunity for young entrepreneurs. Opportunities abound, but so do obstacles. Despite the challenges, young entrepreneurs are making their marks on business, technology and the arts.


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By Martha Bell Graham

In the growing world of the Internet, where business startups, aspiring musicians and enthusiastic promoters are multiplying exponentially, the world is an enticing opportunity for young entrepreneurs. Opportunities abound, but so do obstacles. Despite the challenges, young entrepreneurs are making their marks on business, technology and the arts.

Madison magazine took a virtual snapshot of some of the emerging entrepreneurs and found one predominant theme: JMU students and alumni are taking what they are passionate about and making it work, often endeavoring to make social responsibility an integral part of their business plans.

 

Passion Impact

Passion is what drives Stefan Peierls (’13), a marketing graduate who started a nonprofit called Passion Impact to help college students turn their passions into volunteerism. After traveling extensively, including a Semester at Sea with 500 other college students, Peierls saw many needs in the world and realized the potential for joining students’ passions with volunteerism. Headquartered outside of Portland, Ore., Passion Impact, now a 501(c)3, is leading college students to volunteer for organizations and causes. He credits JMU professor Carol Hamilton’s Venture Creation class for providing his spark of inspiration. “She told us there were four kinds of entrepreneurs … one of those wanted to make the world a better place. I wanted to be one of those,” Peierls says. Learn more.  

Maddy and the Groove Spots

Madelaine German (’08) was also inspired to be an entrepreneur through the Venture Creation class. “The music school at JMU is absolutely incredible … Interestingly enough, one of the JMU experiences that most impacted my music career was ‘Venture Creation.’ That class was structured so beautifully, it completely changed my perspective. It gave me faith that good ideas can happen if you believe in them and you know how to build them, and I learned a lot about how to manage, pitch and structure a business from that class.”

To launch her career as a musician, German used Kickstarter, a crowdfunding site, to successfully raise money to produce a music video for Maddy and the Groove Spots, a jazz and Motown-inspired band, which she headlines. “The music industry may well be one of the most challenging career paths out there. First of all, you have to be EVERYTHING … a creative muse, a musician, songwriter and musical arranger … understand the technology behind that process. You have to be able to handle a band of sometimes frustratingly flaky musicians with care. You really have to know how to talk to people. THEN you’ve got to get up on stage and be a performer and really rock it so that people will actually come back to your shows. You’re doing all this while you’re managing your website and social media presence, booking gigs, keeping the books, practicing for however many hours a day, and working a couple other jobs to keep the lights on. It’s a grind, at least until you hopefully become successful enough to get some help with some of the administrative stuff.” Learn more.

Honeycomb

Technology is what inspired Kenan O’Keefe (’12), an engineering graduate with an entrepreneur’s bent. After graduating from JMU, he earned a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University. “I was pleasantly surprised to find that my understanding of core engineering principles was on par with my classmates who came from school like Cal Tech and Purdue,” he says.

O’Keefe has a passion for 3-D printing, an emerging technology. “Within the last five years,” O’Keefe says, “the acceleration of consumer 3D printing has helped create something called the maker movement … a growing community of people who love to build things, who are curious about how stuff works, and who enjoy expressing their creativity.” But O’Keefe recognized one roadblock to this new technology. While 3-D printers are becoming more available, the software needed to run them is complex and expensive. To fill that gap, O’Keefe created Honeycomb, a web-based CAD modeling program for 3-D printers that is easy to use and free on the Internet. Learn more.  

Small Fry

Making healthy eating appealing was one motivation behind Small Fry, a community-based cooking and nutrition program started by entrepreneur Alissa McLaughlin (’99). After launching her own events-planning business, Radiant Matter, McLaughlin teamed up with friends and Philadelphia’s Marion Anderson Recreation Center to offer Saturday morning healthy eating classes for children in inner city Philadelphia, her hometown. Her classes include fun cooking and delicious healthy foods, meal preparation and coupon clipping, which overlap with life skills like reading and math. “Some kids didn’t know what brown rice was [when they first came to Small Fry]. Now they’re talking about quinoa,” she says. Learn more

Add to the snapshot

These JMU alumni and many others are changing the world by applying skills as entrepreneurs to solve real world problems, while launching careers that promise success as well as lasting impact. How about you? Madison magazine wants to hear from you. Send your story to madisonmag@jmu.edu.

Published: Friday, March 20, 2015

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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