Entrepreneur Insights

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be an entrepreneur? Well now you can get an insight on what it’s like! Read about our ZIP Launchpad teams and their journey in entrepreneurship.


Would you like to be featured in the Diary of an Entrepreneur? Email esnider@mail.sdsu.edu to get started.

Would you like to be featured in the Diary of an Entrepreneur? Email esnider@mail.sdsu.edu to get started.

June Harris

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Zip has helped me by . . . I have no business background at all.  Zip helps anybody with any kind of background, so that really does help.  ”

- June Harris

 I just graduated SDSU in Dec 2017 with a degree in Biology and minors in recreational tourism management and anthropology.  The focus of all three disciplines, really, is more sustainability and conservation driven, and I felt that interdisciplinary background might give me an advantage in career choice.  I am about to finish an internship for a LEED (Leadership & Energy in Environmental Design) company, and we go around and identify buildings as green or eco-friendly buildings.

I have designed a product that helps eco-conscious grocery shoppers eliminate the need for single use plastic bags.  These bags are a huge contributor to landfills and troubled areas such as the Pacific Ocean garbage patch.  My goal is to tackle one aspect of the problem at the source in the grocery stores.  My invention allows eco-friendly shoppers to bring in their own containers for bulk food purchases, so they don’t have to use plastic bags.  My product eliminates the need for the customer go to the register to have their container weighed, go bulk bin isle, fill it up, then go back to the register and have them weigh the difference between an empty container and the full one so they get charged only for the food.

 

Q- So what’s a typical day in the life of June Harris like?

Lately it’s been extremely busy, I have a lot of deadlines outside of ZIP Launchpad, I have a lot of personal stuff going on that everything is just coming in all at once, the biggest thing is to prioritize my tasks and use my time wisely.  ZIP is practically a full-time job, and I still have to look for a job.  I do put time aside for myself, like my own “me” personal time, because if I don’t I’ll go insane, and usually I spend that time just working out or having lunch with a friend.  So, if I’m going to have lunch anyway, I may as well do it with somebody that helps me recharge my batteries and relax, and just kind of take my mind off everything else that’s going on.

Q- Did you desire to be an entrepreneur, was it your goal to start a business?

I kind of dabbled with the idea of entrepreneurship, but I didn’t know if I wanted to take all those business and marketing and management classes because I was more committed to an environmental career.  To me it always seemed like a separate thing, where you’re either business or you’re environment.  And then I saw a problem, and I thought I may have a solution for it.  It came out of one of those . . . I’m a complainer, and I have no qualms with that.  I complain about everything because I expect people to hold themselves to higher standards.  So, I found that, as a complainer, maybe I should do something about it instead of just complain, maybe this was a sign for me to do something.  So, rather than just sit around and complain for the rest of my life, why don’t I come up with a solution.  I started brain-storming ideas, and I thought I had a solution, so next thing I knew I had to figure out how to make it come to life.   I remembered about ZIP Launchpad here on campus because they email at least once a semester, and I applied, and I got in!  So, that’s pretty much ultimately what happened, I decided to do something about a complaint.

Q- What are your greatest challenges in getting your idea or business off the ground?

Time prioritization and task prioritization.  There are so many things I have to do.  I have to research my competition, and that takes a while.  I have to research patents that are similar, and that takes a while.  There’s the background research and there’s the actual prototype stuff.  We haven’t gotten into actual physical prototyping yet.  It’s just a matter of everything that has to get done before you take the next step.  It’s not as easy as one would hope it is, the only thing that keeps me sane is reminding myself that with all these things I have to do, I have to do one step at a time.  Just focus on one thing, go as far as you can, then go to the next task or next topic.  Prioritization and time management are my biggest challenges right now.  I expect in the future that fundraising, financials, angel investors . . .

 

Q- How has ZIP Launchpad helped you?

Zip has helped me by . . . I have no business background at all.  Zip helps anybody with any kind of background, so that really does help.  They’ve put us through a program to learn if our idea is even feasible, which is great.  They taught me how to conduct different types of experiments to . . . are there people that experience this problem or are there enough people that experience this problem.  And, is my product something that can help this problem, and also how to empathize with people that do experience the problem, so I can get a better idea of what they go through.  Also, how to give presentations properly, that was a big one.  A lot of us know how to give them properly, but we tend to forget everything we’ve been taught, so a lot of this has been a really good refresher for me . . . I started learning to listen to my gut and learning to listen to my instincts and to have the confidence to make decisions in the eyes of uncertainty.

Q- Do you find your military background helps or hinders in this different style of learning and doing things?

I can definitely tell you that the learning style in the military was different from what I learned, so in that regard it definitely helped me because it was easier for me this time to just do what I’m told instead of fighting the process.  Sometimes you have to let things happen.  It is a little different because in the military you don’t really have control over the things that you are supposed to do.  Here, everything is under my control, everything only goes as far as I want it to.  It can be limiting and it . . . it could be a good thing or a bad thing.  And, there’s that discipline, that discipline factor too.

Q- What was the inspiration for your business idea?

My inspiration is from years of seeing trash.  I’m somebody who likes to be outdoors a lot, and either in the beaches, or the parks, or the hiking trails one thing that I’ve always encountered is trash.  I volunteer a lot for trash pickups, beach cleanups, park cleanups etc.  N some cases I would take a bucket with me, just so I could pick up trash, and I always came back with a full bucket.  After years of experiencing this and seeing this, I really wanted to do something on a personal level, but I didn’t think that that was enough.  So, I wanted to do something that gives people the opportunity to be more eco-friendly and contribute more on a global scale hopefully. 

 

Q- How do you feel your business is progressing?

Slowly.  These first couple of weeks at the beginning of the semester are really the busiest only because of everything else that’s going on.  I am not worried about that only because I would rather do it slowly but efficiently, rather than overestimate something and make a wrong turn at this point.  I’m at that point right now where right now I need all that background information, the foundation, that’s really the starting of the business versus already being out there.  And fundraising.

Q- Do you have any partners?

I don’t have any partners, I have team members.  I started this project on my own, and it was the hardest part for me to find somebody to join my team.  The first is Tiffany, and the second is Ricky.  Both were hard to find.  We just started as a team.  They have a better idea now about what they are supposed to be doing.  The old ZIP Launchpad had stick notes on the wall for people looking for a team, hers stood out to me so I interviewed her in the last week in the program, so I knew there wasn’t going to be much for her then.  I knew I was going to need her in the second phase when we were working n the prototype.  Tiffany is an engineering major, and I need an engineer to help me design the prototype.  Ricky is currently a business major, and I need somebody to help me with the business aspect, and to help me divide this labor.  What I have found in E-Track was that doing this all by myself was not feasible.  I was doing a lot, going to school full time, I had an internship, and I had ZIP.  I didn’t want ZIP to take a backseat to everything else I was doing, and I did the bare minimum to get through that phase, to get through E-Track, and I was not proud of the things that I could have also done had I had the time or somebody to help me with it.  This semester it seems that more progress will be made, because I have more people who actually want to contribute.

Q- What are some of the future hurdles, barriers, or challenges you see?

For me personally, it’s really just making sure that we’re on track, setting deadlines and achieving them, with any and every task, because life happens, and a lot of things happen.  For me it’s just maintaining that balance of making progress in the ZIP program, and with my company, and everything else that’s outside of ZIP. 

Q- What are your thoughts/dreams/goals for this business?  Is creating the business the ultimate goal and you want to own the business, or maybe to create the idea, get it off the ground, and maybe sell and use that as a stepping stone to something else in your life?

Definitely a stepping stone.  But, there are a couple of possibilities.  One is that somebody decides that they like the idea, they like the design and want to pay me for the patent or they want to pay for the concept, and they offer a good enough fee that covers me and my team for all the work we’ve been doing, I am willing to sell.  I am committed to the success, but I’m not married to it, in terms of what will be the best decision.  The ideal is that this will be one small stepping stone that first of all becomes very successful, and hopefully ideally changes the world, but it will be one part of a larger company.  I didn’t think of it this way until E-Track, because in E-Track I was more focused on the product and then I realized, if this is successful, and it goes on further to other ideas, other concepts . . . I would love the ultimate mission of my company to produce all kinds of eco-friendly products, or concepts, or technology, software, hardware, etc.  Something that allows people to be more eco-friendly and makes it easier for them to transition.  What I’ve noticed is, there’s a huge misconception about going green.  Part of it is that it’s more work or it’s expensive.  I want to make it easier for someone to go “Oh, well that’s easy to do.”  To just make the transition to being green easy because we need to change the world.

Q- Are there any questions you feel I may have missed, anything else you’d like the world to know about you?

One of the other things that sort of inspired me was during the ZIP Launchpad program, as I was learning different marketing techniques, and more and more things about business, in terms of what kind of causes might be worth investing in, what kind of things are worth it in terms of ROI?  I realized that the scientific community sucks at marketing!  We are good with out data, our facts.  Everything is substantiated, everything is clarified.  But, to get that to the public . . . they have no clue how to do it.  You can have the smartest scientist in the world, with the most qualifications, telling you things about environmental causes that should mean a lot to us because they affect us, and they don’t know how to translate that information to the average American, to the average person.  Ultimately that made me think about how to better market science and environmentalism.  This is hopefully a stepping stone in that direction because the scientific community can really use better PR.  That kind of inspired me to start thinking about environmentalism as a business where if you market it properly, people will want to actually follow it, believe it, and actually support it as they should.

 

Bold Brew

Polaroid of Bold Brew Team, Jack and Jake standing togther

When it is your company, it is a representation of yourself. That’s what’s most rewarding.”

- Jack Doheny

My name is Jack Doheny and I’m from Saint Louis Missouri. I am currently a senior at SDSU and will be graduating this December 2017. I absolutely enjoy being outdoors and when I have spare time I either go backpacking or surfing. Jake Solomon, my partner, is also graduating at the same time. He is from Rockland County, New York and is heavily interested in skateboarding. He grew up being very involved in...

My name is Jack Doheny and I’m from Saint Louis Missouri. I am currently a senior at SDSU and will be graduating this December 2017. I absolutely enjoy being outdoors and when I have spare time I either go backpacking or surfing. Jake Solomon, my partner, is also graduating at the same time. He is from Rockland County, New York and is heavily interested in skateboarding. He grew up being very involved in skateboarding and with that community. As engineering students, we both drink a lot of coffee. Turns out we’re both athletes, coffee enthusiasts, and action sports enthusiasts.

Every day I wake up at 6:30 AM to go work at the BCB coffee on campus and I head to class at the end of my shift. Once I am done with my morning classes I have a break from 3:00pm to 5:30pm where I get to work on either Bold Brew Coffee or school work. After my evening classes, I have meetings. Whenever I don’t have meetings, I head to our commercial kitchen to brew, bottle, or keg our product.

A typical Friday for Bold Brew Coffee begins with us setting up our stand in the East Commons at SDSU at 7:00am. We'll work until 2:00pm and then pack up and finish the day by 2:30pm.

I look forward to the weekends the most since that is when all of our legitimate business development goes on. It is during those times that we expand and take our business around San Diego. We go out to different markets, pitch our idea, get meetings with people, and sit down to work on different types of strategies.

The most challenging parts of our business are obtaining capital and the late nights that come with it. I am a morning person, so late nights are tough. Aside from that, everything has been really rewarding. The coolest thing about this company is that it really is a personification of Jake and myself, everything we do is a representation of our own interest and we just put that out in the world.

The focus of Bold Brew Coffee is on the action sports community. We sponsor athletes through coffee; we sell the coffee, make money on it, then we use that money to help support athletes do what they love, and in turn we use their content to help market our brand. From our business perspective, we’re trying to be a national cold brew coffee brand, more like a retail brand of cold brew coffee.

Jake was the one with the original idea. He approached me with the idea on April of 2016. We applied to the ZIP Launchpad in May. The main reason why we decided to jump start this idea was because we did not want to end up with desk jobs. We have both had internships in the corporate world and we just really were not enthralled by it. I for one am not convinced of  the mindset “just wait 5 years and you’ll get a better position in that job,” I do not really submit to that at all, especially since those 5 years of my life are going to be the best ones.

During the second semester of junior year I interned in the prototyping lab with Kyle (Mechanical Design Engineer at the ZIP Launchpad). I did 2 days a week and it was super fun. I was really trying to build my engineering skills, so I gained great experience through that. When Jake approached me with the idea, I was thinking it was perfect because I already was familiar with ZIP.

The ZIP Launchpad has helped us in pretty much every way possible; having the place to work, having the mentorship, having the review panel experience, pitching all the time, getting critical feedback from the staff all the time was great. The ecosystem of students was a bonus as well, I love getting involved with people with a similar mindset, so being able to interact with the different entrepreneurs there was huge.

I went to Nicaragua where one of my best friend’s family owns a plantation. I got to see how it was grown, cultivated and processed. I really was into the coffee aspects of everything and understood where cold brew was heading as far as beverage goes.

Our cold brew coffee brand is very unique because every coffee company that’s ever been around has branded themselves the exact same way. We are completely doing away with that style of marketing. There’s a huge population that consumes coffee, especially those in the action sports community. Tons of skateboarders, snowboarders, and surfers drink loads of coffee. However, we have noticed that they only choose to drink Starbucks because of its ease of access, not necessarily because they like the brand. There are also a lot of energy drinks that claim their ingredients are natural, and organic. However, they still have a laundry list of ingredients on the back of their bottle, they still contain loads of sugar and have the connotation of an energy drink. Everyone knows energy drinks are bad for you, so we are aiming to eliminate that completely because we’re coffee. We don’t need to beat around the bush and say we’re an energy drink either since our product is just coffee and water. We have found that our target audience, which are males and females from the ages of 18-25, are leaning more towards healthier choices.


JS Design Industries

Polaroid of JS Design Industries Team, Micheal and Frank.

“JSD Industries exists to make prosthetic devices that give absolute stability to the user. ”

- Michael A. Simonetti 

I am Michael A. Simonetti and I am a graduate student here at SDSU. My interests include promoting this device for use to a global dimension, with a price that is affordable at all socioeconomic levels. The inventor is Mr. Frank Jones and has been the ‘Focus Individual’ of my Master’s Degree certification in...

I am Michael A. Simonetti and I am a graduate student here at SDSU. My interests include promoting this device for use to a global dimension, with a price that is affordable at all socioeconomic levels. The inventor is Mr. Frank Jones and has been the ‘Focus Individual’ of my Master’s Degree certification in Assistive Technology (prosthetics, eyeglasses, hearing aids, etc.) for 18 months. Frank’s interests lie in the building of custom Harley Davidson motorcycles.

At 7:00 AM I get up, have a quick cup of coffee and then go for a 4 mile run. I return home to shower, then begin looking at my very detailed calendar to see what readings are due for my degree classes, what papers are supposed to be at what milestone points, etc. I make a bowl of oatmeal with honey and butter to flavor. Read, read, read, type, type, type, send emails, more coffee, read, read, go to class, and repeat. I try and stay busy at all times. I do not believe the ZIP project will hurt my scheduling and I simply have a good grasp on time management. I am retired from the military and so I can dedicate almost all of my time to academia. I take it very seriously as I move towards a degree. At the same time I am working on an invention that has brought about the very good possibility that I may never have to work again. If I am not in class I am parsing my time between the invention and research papers.

The JSD Industries invention came from a Special Studies class where we identified Mr. Jones daily pains. The single worst part of his day is attempting to shower while standing on one leg. The transition in and out of the tub is as equally dangerous. Shower chairs are ungainly and still do not eliminate the dangerous one-legged transition from the shower to the bathroom floor. We solved this problem with the Shower-Safe Base Foot and discovered along the way that this is also the worst part of daily bathing for most lower-limb amputees.

As soon as I showed the invention to my faculty adviser, Dr. Caren Sax, she walked me across campus to meet with Dr. DeNoble, Executive Director of SDSU’s Lavin Entrepreneurship Center, for consultation on how best to exploit the potential of the device. It was at this initial meeting where the term “ZIP” was mentioned.

The fact that we had come up with something that no one had ever thought of before, motivated us to work diligently in order to meet the ZIP Launchpad requirements. We realized that if we could keep the cost of this brutally spartan device low, a device that works without the need of high technology, we could truly make it available to all socioeconomic levels around the globe.

Networking access via the ZIP has been spot-on in quickly finding someone with previous experience in the same problems you are having at the moment. The digital required readings that, if one really dives into, explain to the neophyte business person the concept of a ‘lean start up’ have been, to myself anyway, the greatest asset. I read them all at least four times each over the summer. This method of reading ensures that I really do understand the process behind a start up. Bare bones but viable in business to start. Again, I cannot state this with more emphasis; do the required readings.

Now the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur… My learning curve on the subject of business is a straight line. Trying to find out the exact reason why a prosthetic leg should cost $50,000.00 has evaded us. It makes no sense, and so, we are trying to the best of our ability to keep the price as low as possible, below the industry standard $300.00 for a prosthetic ‘wet foot’. The excessive greed is stunning, as we experienced legal problems within one month of  becoming a ‘legal entity’. One month into our endeavor and we had to pay to have a novice mistake corrected from trusting the wrong person. It really just put a dent into our view of the world of business and humanity in general.

        The best part of becoming an entrepreneur is actually having our name attached to an invention as creators of a life-changing device that improved the daily lives of all lower-limb amputees. A plus side of the invention is that Mr. Jones will soon be able to take care of himself independently as a lower-limb amputee and be able to take care of the physical damages done since the amputation. Damages that arose from standing on one leg in the shower for decades as well as hopping around on one home. It is a time management problem that income from this invention will allow him to improve his daily life.

I never, ever, wanted to be an entrepreneur. This business venture has been a lucky collision of mechanical aptitude and collegiate-level research that has literally been thrown into our laps. Just because I may not want to be an entrepreneur, it would be foolish to ignore such an opportunity to actually help people with disabilities.

“Increased safety, efficiency, mobility, reliability, and operational simplicity over it’s competitors” is our mission statement. JSD Industries is a design and manufacturing service firm which provides comprehensive and personalized prosthetics for individuals and businesses. We have the ability to provide our clients with strong, stable products and diverse services. We offer individualized prosthetic products and services through social media contact, local/country-wide news coverage, and word of mouth through credentialed associates. Whether your needs are limited to a single prosthetic or a comprehensive rehabilitation plan, we invite you to consider JSD Industries for all your prosthetic needs.

JSD Industries is different due to the myriad of Federal and State Agencies that we must get approval from before we can even think of selling our device. The Food And Drug Administration, CA Department of Public Health, Medical Device Licensing & Registration, U.S. Patent Office, Patent law, Corporate law, and Tax Compliance are but a few of the entities involved. They each “wet their beak” in the project because they all extract heavy costs involved with getting their approval for selling a device to the public.

At this time we are only at the word-of-mouth stage in marketing due to the fact that we are at the 3D printed plastic prototypes stage, but are ready for testing of our metal prototype. Once this is complete, we can then begin to determine the best way to saturate the market with advertising.

 Conflicts in the workplace? Never. Frank and I have been friends for 18 years. I know that he has run many successful businesses and I follow his lead when it comes to business decisions in conjunction with input from the ZIP Launchpad faculty. For five months now we have been working closely to launch our business with no conflict. We know what the other is thinking. We have been mechanics for over twenty years each. It was our combined mechanical abilities, and Frank’s genius as seen in the simplicity of the ‘Shower-Safe base Foot’. The foot, when used in conjunction with our ‘Lightning Disconnect', becomes a true removable, stable shower foot. I reflect this in the research paper that was part of the study. Frank also has an array of past and current inventions, all of which we are hoping to be able to pivot into once the Shower Foot begins to grow in popularity and use.

In ten years...

Pivoting off of Frank’s other inventions, we hope to have developed enough capital to have our own matching and manufacturing facilities; a green-compliant facility that uses recycled components or new agricultural discoveries to make the Shower-Safe Base Foot in varying lengths. Made from recycled plastic bottles and automobile tires, the designs would come in lengths of two, four, six or eight inch lengths. Additionally, they would all fit our Lightning Disconnect and cost around four or five dollars at most. We want to break the mold on high priced prosthetic devices for lower-limb amputees with an affordable but reliable device that could be found in pharmacies around the globe. Especially important would be to make it available for free as donations, to countries like Cambodia, where people are still losing limbs to land mines from a war decades ago. We want to be the manufacturer of prosthetics all can look to, as actually putting the customer of primary concern in the formula for keeping the cost of our prosthetics low.

Apply to the ZIP Launchpad

Extras from the Teams

When would you say it is the right time to start a business if you have a business idea?

Anytime, you can start a company at any age. If you want to do a startup, think about what you have to offer, what you are really talented in, and then how you provide that talent and value to other people. The most successful entrepreneurs are the people solving the biggest problems. Start now, there are a lot of ways to do it, just take the leap and test out the idea.

What advice do you have for future entrepreneurs?

If you have a business idea, the right time to start your business is as soon as you become a student at SDSU. If you go to community college first, use their entrepreneurial services. They may have a way to connect with the SDSU program. Contact the ZIP Launchpad immediately upon enrolling because you can only use the ZIP entrepreneur services if you are a SDSU Faculty member, employee, or student.

From what I have seen in the costs and obstacles, one has to hurdle to get a patent and meet licensing/registration requirements, which can be difficult at times. The fees are so excessive that the inventor loses possession of their patent if they cannot keep up with the yearly maintenance fees (for us it will be $3300.00 a year, but can be in the tens of thousands) and lose all that has been invested. This is only from the viewpoint of the inventor of a device that needs to meet many standards and your project will vary. Enroll in the ZIP as soon as you become a student and if you have an idea. Find out what pains people (inability to bathe on two legs) and solve that pain. This is how an invention is born.