Surprise entrepreneur

Business major spreading her wings


SUMMARY: Allison Zeppuhar found her fire in a host of JMU's different College of Business academic and extracurricular programs, including the JMU Center for Entrepreneurship. The result? She recently launched her own version of a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate alcoholic malt beverage to distributors for sale in stores and restaurants.

Allison Zeppuhar says JMU gave her everything that she didn’t know she wanted.

Exposure to new ideas. Constant reminders to ask for help. The courage to become an entrepreneur, a life choice she never thought she’d find herself making.

A computer information systems major and Spanish minor, Zeppuhar got a huge push to start her own company during one of her first JMU business classes.

“I’m actually a Type 1 diabetic, so growing up, I couldn’t have a lot of sugar or anything. When I turned 21, I said, ‘Wow I would really love a Mike’s Hard [lemonade] or Smirnoff Ice.’ So I was always ‘Wow I can’t wait until I can go get a diet one of those’ and have those for a weekend. Then I realized that low-sugar options were not readily available. So when I was in my COB 300 class and professor Eliason said, ‘If you have an idea, why don’t you go for it? Don’t wait for someone else to do it before you.’ So I said, ‘OK, low-calories, low-carb beverages? Why not start my own brand?’

And the idea for Zeppy, and its originator, began to grow wings.

“So I went after it,” Zeppuhar says. “I learned how to brew a little bit — still working on that, but I actually have a product formulation company working on getting the first product out. It’s going to be a hard lemonade. And COB 300 helped a lot with ‘Oh! I actually know how to do this stuff now. I could definitely start my own business if I wanted to.’ So working on that, and it’s a challenging industry to get into. There are so many competitors, and so many regulatory issues that you have to overcome.

“I think the first target market is going to be Harrisonburg since it’s smaller and something I can keep track of. The main target market is actually women 21–60 that are more health-seekers. They try to make healthy alternatives, they exercise, they try to watch what they eat. So hopefully I can get the company up and running and I will be able to keep it going because that’s my main focus — whatever is going to be best for Zeppy.“

Zeppuhar says that her strategic management course provides her with significant knowledge about “how to manage a company and have strategies that work, and also how to tie your company culture into everything you do.”

From narrowing the target market and drilling down into creation of a business plan — complete with market research, some financials and the push to reach out to investors — Zeppuhar is on the move to make her dream come true.

Help, she says, has come from many different places.

“JMU and especially the College of Business have taught me that if you want to reach out to someone, just do it. There are so many alumni and people in the industry that are willing to help, and all you have to do is reach out to them and they’ll usually help you,” she says.

Examples include JMU’s Center for Entrepre­neurship activities such as the Madison Catalyst start-up pitch competition and MadInc, a start-up accelerator for the more-involved, have-an-idea, going-after-it students.

“I’ve just seen so many ideas that I would have never seen before,” Zeppuhar says. “I feel like that’s the JMU experience. I didn’t really know I liked hiking that much before I came to college and it’s my favorite activity now, and didn’t know I’d be doing virtual reality stuff every Monday, so stuff like that.”

“I’d say for JMU, I got everything I didn’t know I wanted.”

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017

Last Updated: Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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