Support for student startups

CMU and the Mount Pleasant community offer resources for college entrepreneurs

| Author: Ari Harris

When they joined Central Michigan University’s New Venture Competition in 2017, students Casey Croad and Chris Eakin had a shared dream to become entrepreneurs — but they didn’t know how to get started.

They didn’t have a particular product or service in mind, and they had no idea how to run a business.

Now their company, Ignite Donuts, has raised more than $30,000 in startup funds and is selling its product at home football games and through Campus Dining.

They credit their startup success to many individuals on campus and in the community who offered guidance and encouragement along the way.

“We started off as broke college students looking to make an impact. The reason I am proudest to be a CMU Chippewa is that this university and community was so willing to collaborate and work together with us. There is always someone to lend a helping hand,” Croad said.

To pay it forward for future student entrepreneurs, Ignite Donuts will host a networking event to connect students with local support services at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28, in the Bovee University Center Rotunda.

Ahead of the event, Croad and Eakin have some suggestions for future business owners.

Get involved in the New Venture Competition

Croad and Eakin developed the idea for Ignite Donuts working alongside faculty and professional mentors in the New Venture Competition.

“Student founders receive coaching and feedback from alumni and faculty mentors on every phase of starting a new company: developing the concept, creating a value proposition, establishing a business team and securing initial seed funding to launch,” said Bruce Marble, executive director of CMU’s Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship.

“It is the starting point for students’ entrepreneurial journeys.”

Connect with CMURC

Staff at Central Michigan University Research Corp. connected Croad and Eakin with resources to begin selling their product, including addressing the legal side of the business venture.

CMURC is one of 21 designated Michigan Economic Development Corp. SmartZones and has exclusive access to funding options and programs to assist innovative companies, said Erin Strang, president and CEO of CMURC. By leveraging resources of the university, the Mount Pleasant SmartZone and the MEDC’s 21st Century Jobs Trust Fund, they can help businesses grow.

“There is no wrong time to reach out for help — their business could just be an idea on the back of a napkin when they first contact us,” Strang said.

“On Day One, we invite the entrepreneurs in to assess their needs and help them navigate available resources.”

Work with the Small Business Development Center

Croad and Eakin received free assistance creating their business plan and other important documents from the Michigan Small Business Development Center.

Thanks to support from the MEDC and the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Small Business Development Center in Mount Pleasant is able to offer one-on-one consulting at no cost to student business owners.

Tony Fox, regional director of the SBDC, says people often are surprised to learn the breadth and depth of market research and services his organization can provide.

“We are part of a statewide and national network, which gives us a unique ability to connect with subject matter experts in instances where our local office may not be as familiar with a particular industry or issue,” Fox said.

Visit the Middle Michigan Development Corp.

Croad said Ignite Donuts saved over $1,000 by working with the Middle Michigan Development Corp., which gave them an overview of the business landscape in the area.

Kati Mora, executive director of marketing and communications at MMDC, says the grant is available once a year to a student-led New Venture competitor who commits to doing business in Isabella or Clare counties. The winning business also receives technical support and office space in the MMDC building for one year.

Mora said the organization is constantly looking for innovative ways to support entrepreneurship in the region.

“In addition to working with student-led businesses through the New Venture Competition, we also partner with CMURC to support business development and growth,” Mora said.

Talk to the Chamber of Commerce

Connecting with other area business owners was an important part of building Ignite Donuts, and Croad and Eakin worked closely with the Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce to build that network. Networking led to the name of the business, opportunities for the company’s first sales and their first investor.

Melinda Salchert, membership director for the chamber, said student can attend events as nonmembers to learn about available services and resources.

“The concept of a Chamber of Commerce can be intimidating if you don’t know how it works. It’s really a positive, supportive culture that exists to help businesses grow,” Salchert said.

Find a mentor

As they looked for opportunities to sell their products, Croad and Eakin reached out to Campus Dining for guidance. They were pleasantly surprised when the director of food operations, Tyson Dubay, responded.

“If there is a place where you really need help, look for a mentor with expertise in that area,” Croad said. “You never know who will respond when you reach out for help.”

Be brave

Above all, Croad and Eakin encourage students to make the leap into entrepreneurship.

“We firmly believe entrepreneurship is all around us and can be for anyone. We hope others will follow in our footsteps.”

View latest news