Madison Inc. cohort celebrates startup success

(L-R): Some of the student-entrepreneurs in this year’s Madison Inc. cohort — Ethan Howard, Jaeda Skye Cohen, Charlotte Pagliaro, Lynn Tong and Jordan Appelbaum

SUMMARY: One of the GCFE’s entrepreneur-focused programs, Madison Inc., showcases student pitches as the academic year comes to a close.

It is no surprise that student-entrepreneurs find themselves at ease in the Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship, surrounded by like-minded individuals and new and exciting ideas. It’s the center’s mission to help empower, educate and support the world’s next generation of entrepreneurs, acting as a catalyst and facilitator of experiences that promote and spread entrepreneurial outcomes and mindsets. 

The GCFE has designed their student-based programming to flow seamlessly from one program to the next, beginning with the development of a student's business idea and ending with a chance to secure a $5,000 investment toward the launch of their startup. Along the way, Madison Inc. is one program that helps student-entrepreneurs fine-tune their business ideas. 

Dedicated to nurturing the innovative and vibrant marketplace of ideas that is JMU’s campus, Madison Inc. provides programming that gives aspiring entrepreneurs the opportunity to incubate and de-risk their startup ventures, while providing avenues for learning and growth amid the complexities of college life. Through a blend of personalized mentorship, dynamic networking opportunities and collaborative cohort engagements, Madison Inc. equips emerging entrepreneurs with the tools, guidance and connections necessary to turn their ideas into realities.

“Madison Inc. is the backbone for all of the other programming we offer,” said Leigh Anne Losh, GCFE operations manager. “Because Madison Inc. focuses on the essentials of their business and de-risking the challenges they face, it allows the student-entrepreneur to see where they are in the startup eco-cycle and determine what the next best program is to help them in their journey.”

This year alone, 63 students from majors all across campus have participated in Madison Inc. The culmination of the year-long program is the Madison Inc. Celebration, in which 33 student-entrepreneurs had one minute on stage to pitch their business idea to a room of peers, faculty members and mentors.

Charlotte Pagliaro, a fourth-year Hospitality Management major with an Entrepreneurship minor, is a member of this year’s Madison Inc. cohort. Her business idea was a response to what she perceived as an “extreme-ness on social media that made me feel like I had to pick one thing to be my thing,” she explained. Frustrated by uncertainty, Pagliaro remembered an important lesson from her mother, “Everything is okay in moderation.”

Pagliaro decided that if societal culture was going to make her choose ‘one thing,’ hers would be finding balance in all aspects of life. Through her own hard work and dedication, and with the guidance of the GCFE and her mentors, Pagliaro’s podcast “InModeration,” came to be. “My social media and podcast are platforms I use to promote living a more balanced lifestyle, and to help others understand that balance looks different for each person. In the future, I plan to keep growing the InModeration brand with the goal of empowering listeners and followers to figure out what balance looks like for them.” 

As a part of Madison Inc., students have the ability to form relationships with peers and get expert advice from their mentors and GCFE staff-members. Losh said, “We meet each entrepreneur where they are in their entrepreneurial journey. Whether they just have an idea that they are exploring, or actually have revenue from a side-hustle, we help them achieve their own milestones. So each one-on-one session is tailored to the needs of that student.” 

Third-year Political Science major, Anya Strogonova, who aims to create a biodegradable and refillable dry-erase marker, says that the one-on-one meetings helped her tremendously. “I have found myself stuck many times but Jodi Fox and my advisor, Dr. Laura Taalman, have helped me find the right path again and again. They have helped me realize that everyone's journey is different and that I have nothing to be sorry or scared about.”

In the entrepreneurial landscape, networking can be viewed as a pillar of success. Developing relationships with experts in the field, other local entrepreneurs and successful alumni provides many opportunities for students to expand their knowledge, gain insights and access resources that can be critical in their startup journey. Pagliaro said that one of her most memorable moments as a member of Madison Inc. was the networking opportunity that followed the Madison Inc. Celebration. She said, “The celebration at the end of the year is my favorite way to connect with Madison Inc. peers, advisors and mentors because it allows us to come together to share our progress and celebrate our accomplishments in the same place, at the same time. The energy is so positive and supportive that I always leave feeling inspired.”

Managing the balance among school, life and work can be a challenge, but students in Madison Inc. are able to draw on a large network for support and assistance. “Our students feel like they belong to a community — where other student-entrepreneurs support and encourage them, since they are all in the same boat,” Losh said. “So the student-entrepreneurs learn from each other almost as much as they learn from the GCFE team and advisors. We also not only tolerate failure — let’s face it, startups fail all the time — but we embrace, celebrate and, most importantly, learn from it.”

The GCFE serves as a vibrant hub for student-entrepreneurs and Madison Inc., a cornerstone of the GCFE’s programming, provides aspiring business-owners with the resources and guidance needed to successfully launch a startup endeavor. The program not only fosters individual growth but also cultivates a supportive community where students learn from each other’s experiences and celebrate successes and failures.

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by Jess Nickels (’21)

Published: Thursday, May 2, 2024

Last Updated: Wednesday, May 8, 2024

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