Alumna launches business venture with collaboration and expertise assistance from the Hamilton Center and entrepreneurial students

What differentiates the BGSU business program from other University programs are the resources it provides to alumni to develop and start business ventures that impact the regional economy and the curriculum focused on hands-on and collaborative learning opportunities which immerse students in real-world business projects.

Heidi Christman graduated from BGSU with an undergraduate degree in 2001 and a master’s degree in 2002. She turned to her alma mater, specifically the Hamilton Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, for assistance on a business idea she was developing and needed expertise to proceed with her launch.

Christman described how she saw a need for something that helped compress, carry and store her husband’s construction tarps from roofing houses. “I would fold and roll up the tarp as best as I could and place it in the corner of our garage. Over time it would inevitably start to come unrolled and become more and more in the way. I also realized that storing the tarp this way allowed for easy rodent access.”

She started looking for something to compress the tarp into a small bundle and then allow her to hang the tarp out of the way. “But soon I realized that there was no such product out there, and I began thinking about designing something that would solve my problem.”

After pursuing her business idea to the best of her ability and with limited resources, but making minimal progress, she sought help from the Hamilton Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

kirkThe center’s director, Kirk D. Kern, met with Christman to discuss her tarp prototypes and to get beyond “the brick wall” she had encountered. “Professor Kern so graciously shared with me his knowledge, resources, and connections. He pointed me in the right directions and gave me a to-do list. There is a lot to do when you are starting a business and developing a product!”

Kern’s insight and guidance have eased a challenging journey. “Professor Kern has been my mentor and go-to person when I hit an obstacle that I struggled to overcome.”

After working through her to-do list which included finalizing legal obligations and securing a local manufacturer, Christman’s next step was to start selling her product, but it was not as easy as she thought. “As we were discussing my current status, Kirk suggested I meet with his entrepreneurship class (Eship 3140 – The Sell) spring semester to share my story, product and my unknowns moving forward.”

This process, Christman said, was helpful, particularly because the students understood and were passionate about entrepreneurship. “I came away with my first market research from a group of individuals and their response was overwhelmingly positive. Their participation and questions proved to me that I did have a good product, and I had taken the proper steps to this point, but I had so far to go to get my product to market.”

Christman met with the Eship class a second time, halfway through the semester, to give them a status update, her vision and areas of need. “I remember specifically asking for help with market research, finding a price point, marketing ideas and picking a name/trademark. Professor Kern announced that the class’s final project would be to divide into groups and come up with a marketing plan that addressed all of my current needs, and they would have a $5,000 budget.”

At the end of the semester, Christman attended Kern’s class to hear the group presentations. “Students presented 11 truly amazing plans. I was impressed over and over with their professional appearance, enthusiasm, and the top-notch quality of each presentation. Every plan was unique and beyond what I had come up with on my own.”

The students’ suggestions included everything from packaging designs, ordering and shipping options, to price points, product names, potential retailers, marketing strategies and additional product applications.

Kirk Kern, director of the Hamilton Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, said, “Working with Heidi has come full circle. She graduated from here and contacted her alma mater for help with her product. I worked with her over the past three years to help develop her business idea and then she presented her product to students who suggested various marketing plans for her to implement. This project was a tremendous opportunity for BGSU students to learn about startups and it gave Heidi some great marketing ideas.”

Since meeting with the class, Christman has secured the trademark Radix Strap,™ which is made of a durable 2-inch polypropylene webbing that is UV- and moisture-resistant. Other potential application examples include solar pool covers, winter pool covers, RV covers, masonry blankets and boat covers.

The collaboration did not end with the current BGSU students; Kern connected Christman with Elsa Vogel-Vos, a recent BGSU graduate and former Hatchling who received investor support to launch her Pieces of Me venture. “I am working with Elsa to create my brand, mark, website, product sell sheet and more,” Christman said. “I have chosen one of the label designs created by Elsa and the labels are currently being made in order to be sewn into the Radix Strap during the manufacturing process.”

To learn more about the Radix Strap™ , you can watch Christman’s instructional YouTube video. Christman is giving away a free Radix Strap™ to the first 30 people who are interested in trying out her new innovation. Email her at hechristman@gmail.com and be one of the first 30.