Creighton hosts 2022 BIG EAST Startup Challenge
The entrepreneurship event teaches students the value in taking chances.
For the past three years, BIG EAST student entrepreneurs have gathered to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges comprised of experienced entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, business leaders and alumni in the BIG EAST Startup Challenge.
The Feb. 22 event hosted by Creighton was virtual. Lance Frazier, PhD, associate professor of management and chair of the Department of Marketing and Management at the Heider College of Business, says he is a “big fan of the event” and that playing host “was a chance to have Creighton’s entrepreneurship program and the Heider College of Business be in the spotlight in the BIG EAST-sponsored event.”
Creighton’s contender was Project Outwrite, presented by sophomores Jackson Zuerlein, an Omaha management major pursuing its entrepreneurship track, and fellow Omahan Tran Nguyen, a double major in international business and marketing. Zuerlein is founder and Nguyen is vice president of the nonprofit, which helps those struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and mental illness through letter writing. Participants and an anonymous pen pal exchange letters. Corresponding by snail mail builds anticipation, giving them something to look forward to – an analog connection in a digital age.
The idea grew out of Zuerlein’s own experience of watching friends struggle with mental illness. When he received a hand-written thank you note from a friend and replied, he realized this simple act could translate into a kind of informal therapy. The number of college students reporting mental health issues is on the rise, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people.
Though the team from Georgetown took home top honors, Frazier says that Zuerlein and Nguyen “represented Creighton admirably.”
Nguyen says the tight timeline in preparing their explanatory video for the judges was challenging. However, the process of researching what information to include and filming their five-minute video provided insight on additional ways to enhance Project Outwrite in the future.
But what was most challenging was also most rewarding, says Zuerlein. The opportunity to present their business idea and learn what makes a successful pitch is invaluable, he says.
Participants come away from the experience with beneficial first-hand experience on how best to pitch a business concept. They must think about what problem their business addresses and how it solves it. They must consider their value proposition and target audiences. Plus, they need to address the revenue and finances.
“All new ventures do this, but the students get to do it as undergraduates and then get feedback from experienced entrepreneurs,” says Frazier. “I am hopeful they learned a lot and took away some insights that will help them in their entrepreneurial ventures moving forward.”
“To compete in a business setting is useful in both business and life. The Challenge is the closest you’ll get to real, in-the-workplace, experience. Any chance you get to improve your skills will not just make you a better business leader. It builds self-confidence, too,” says Zuerlein, who will channel the lessons he learned into monetizing Project Outwrite to make it a sustainable business that does not rely solely on donations for viability.
What else do they learn? That an entrepreneur is simply someone who identifies a common problem and then designs a product or service to address the problem. “You don’t have to be Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk to be an entrepreneur or think like an entrepreneur,” Frazier says.
“I used to think that some people are just naturally entrepreneurs and some people, like myself, just aren’t. The more I dig into entrepreneurship and talk to entrepreneurs, the more I realize that is a flawed mentality,” he adds. “Yes, some people are more creative or think about solving problems more than others naturally but thinking about creativity and innovation is something that can be taught and learned.”
Nguyen agrees, and adds that the perfect setting is experiential learning programs or events, such as this semester’s Challenge.
“Personally, I learn best when it is a hands-on project where I get to apply information that I learned in class rather than reading and memorizing material for exams,” she says. “Creighton offers hands-on experiences like the BIG EAST Startup Challenge to help students develop not only the key transferable competencies and skills necessary for the workplace but also a network of contacts to retain and grow in whatever their field of study.”
For more information about Project Outwrite, visit projectoutwrite.com and follow it on Instagram at @projectoutwrite.