May 03, 2022
Written by Dave Fidlin | Photos by Craig Schreiner
Rare coins, sneakers and kombucha might seem like an unlikely mix, but all three were part of a group of business concepts on full display for this year’s Warhawk business plan competition that put student entrepreneurs from UW-Whitewater in front of a jury.
In the 16th annual competition, held April 27 at Whitewater University’s Technology Park Innovation Center, six students pitched their companies to the five-person judging panel in a six-minute timed format.
Sun Prairie freshman Chad Tjugum received the top prize ($1,250 in tuition credit) for SeventyCoin, his online rare coin business. Mount Pleasant senior Kara Zamora won second prize ($1,000 in tuition credit) for her aptly named product, Kara’s Kombucha. Freshman Hayden Pauls of Menomonee Falls took third place ($750 tuition credit) for his online sneaker business, Fly Kicks. The three students are majoring in entrepreneurship.
Professor of Management William Dougan is on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater that plays a pivotal role in hosting the business plan competition each year. Dougan has been involved with the event since its inception in 2007 and said programs like this are a great way to push what’s happening in the classroom.
“The university plays a role in society as a motor for the development of new ideas,” Dougan said. “With this method, you can allow young people to really accelerate their career path. It showcases their efforts and allows them to build social networks. This is an opportunity for them to come out in front of people. It’s good for the community, it’s good for the university and it’s good for young people.
Although Dougan has been an integral part of the contest since day one, he said the work of other UW-Whitewater faculty, counselors, student groups and community collaborators has been the foundation of its success. The campus chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, or CEO, was also foundational from the start.
George Soucek, Chairman of the CEO Board of UW-Whitewater, said the event fits naturally into the organization’s overall mission to foster entrepreneurship.
“It’s competitions like this where students can share ideas and make connections that can last a lifetime,” Soucek said. “Here at Whitewater, we’ve had some very successful startups and great companies that have come out of this university.”
In his speech to the judges at the April 27 competition, Tjugum discussed the evolution of SeventyCoin, which has been in business since 2016 and to date has sold over 2,600 rare coins through an eBay store. Several years ago, Tjugum got into selling sneakers, but said he planned to exit that specific segment within the next year.
Although there are an abundance of other rare coin dealers in physical storefronts and via online marketplaces, Tjugum said he was looking to modernize an aging business – a proposition that appealed to the judges.
“The rare coin industry is something that hasn’t innovated a lot,” said Tjugum, who recorded $429,000 in revenue last year and forecasts $609,000 in revenue this year. “I’m really looking to innovate on that.”
Zamora said its line of kombucha drinks goes beyond the product itself. His business plan blends the concepts of digestive and mental health and includes other future goals, including a donation of his company’s proceeds to the Mental Health America organization.
“Digestive health and mental health are very closely linked,” said Zamora, who started using kombucha to remedy her own personal issues. “When you have a healthy digestive system, you have a healthier mental state.”
To date, Zamora has sold 16-ounce bottles of Kara’s Kombucha to family and friends and aspires to start selling it through a business-to-consumer model as she secures the rights to work in a commercial kitchen. . She has also secured an expression of interest to sell her fermented tea-like product at a local brewery, plans to operate a pop-up store in Chicago, and wants to work with local artists to design product labels.
Pauls created Fly Kicks in 2020 and had $350,000 in sales last year. This year, he said he plans to nearly double his income – to the tune of $650,000 – by launching his own website, separate from the previous method of selling only through Instagram.
Although there are a plethora of sneaker sellers online, Pauls explained in his pitch why he thinks Fly Kicks stand out from the crowd.
“We are committed to our customers. Our prices are lower, if not the same,” said Pauls, co-founder of the company. “We like to match the prices, or lower them, depending on the demand for the shoe.”
While many student entrepreneurs have been impressive over the years, Dougan said this year’s presenters were particularly notable because of the solid success they’ve already achieved within their businesses.
“This particular competition was about young people talking about what they had done,” Dougan said. “Some of these people were successful when they walked through the door. (The Contest) enables them to scale their business, grow their business and provides a network and resources to increase their success.
Other students participating in this year’s contest included Josh Baldwin, owner and founder of JRB Kicks; Jackson Behling, CEO of Hijack Fitness; and Alex White, CEO of New Age Golf Course.
This year’s panel of judges included Technical Sergeant David Brown of the Wisconsin National Guard’s Office of Innovation; Jim Caldwell, CEO of First Citizens State Bank; Shakkiah Curtis, director of gener8tor’s 1915 studio; Wade Hanna, vice president of First Business Bank; and Brian Jensen, Director of Global Products at Raymarine.
Sponsors for this year’s competition included the Deborah Malewicki Endowment, First Citizens Bank, gener8tor, Lindy Enterprises and Union House, Whitewater Innovation Center, Tony and Erica Prater, and Joseph A. Schlidt.