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Heider Junior Competes in BIG EAST Startup Challenge

May 6, 2021
5 min Read
Bradley Gilkerson
Bradley Gilkerson at work for his clothing company Roze

It’s a well-known fact that the BIG EAST and Bluejay basketball go hand in hand, especially in March when the country is mad for the sport. Late winter is home to another conference competition, the BIG EAST Startup Challenge.

It’s an entrepreneurial competition, featuring innovations and products from teams of students from all 11 conference institutions. Established in 2019, the BIG EAST Startup Challenge was canceled last year due to the pandemic. This year, it was back, albeit virtually. 

Student entrepreneurs pitch their startup ideas in a “Shark Tank”-like format to a panel of judges comprised of venture capitalists, seasoned entrepreneurs and innovators and business leaders. Ideas are judged on originality, market need, value proposition, feasibility, student passion and presentation. The top two teams receive honorariums – $700 to the top team and $500 to the second-place team – to help grow their businesses. 

Creighton’s entry was Bradley Gilkerson, a junior economics and management (entrepreneurship track) double major from Villa Park, California. He pitched Top Notch Cult, a centralized website and application for upcoming entrepreneurs to share their story, art or clothing to larger audiences.

Bradley Gilkerson standing under a sign advertising Roze Los Angeles

An experienced entrepreneur himself, Gilkerson understands the challenges inherent to startups, which is why he created Top Notch Cult in 2018. Clients of Top Notch Cult can determine what level of support they need and subscribe to services accordingly for an affordable monthly rate commensurate to service access.

Gilkerson says participating in the BIG EAST Startup Challenge provided a rare chance to meet fellow student entrepreneurs and learn about their ventures. It also increased exposure for Top Notch Cult. But, true to its name, it was a challenge, particularly having to present his idea in under five minutes, says Gilkerson.

“I could have easily gone on for hours about Top Notch Cult,” he says. But Heider faculty and staff helped him hone his presentation, and he spoke with successful entrepreneurs who helped him target key points to make an effective pitch.

Screenshot of Roze Los Angeles being featured on a streetwear blog

Gilkerson says he wanted to participate in the BIG EAST Startup Challenge because he “is passionate about the startup industry,” in particular his own startups. He established Roze Los Angeles, a clothing company specializing in casual streetwear, in 2015. In just six years, it has grown from a small business based in his room to a full-service manufacturing operation in Orange County and boasts a worldwide client base, including celebrities, athletes and artists.

Gilkerson describes RozeLA as “one big, never-ending art project,” adding that it is “the best feeling in the world is knowing people really enjoy what we come up with.” But scaling Roze to its current level took hours of social media engagement to reach wider audiences and create brand awareness. He says he discovered that the streetwear industry is “oversaturated, with hundreds of thousands of creators, artisans and brand owners.” This fierce competition means many young companies fight for their survival, and owners are often unwilling to help one another. Top Notch Cult is Gilkerson’s antidote to this atmosphere of rivalry. 

Even though he did not win the BIG EAST Startup Challenge, he says his participation helped him gain knowledge, connections and experience. It also whetted his appetite for future competitions, such as the Invent to Innovate competition sponsored by the University of South Dakota, to help develop a handful of other business ventures he has in mind. 

“I would definitely recommend the BIG EAST Startup Challenge to other students,” Gilkerson says, “as the experience is priceless.”