College of Business hatches entrepreneur
Cleveland Sight Center testing AudiblEye
By Amy West
Jerrod Witt was destined to become an entrepreneur. “Jerrod was the little kid who got into everything!” exclaimed his mother. “He was always taking things apart and putting them back together in an unusual way but with a purpose. I knew from the time Jerrod was very young that he was going to become an entrepreneur,” she added.
Witt graduated in May from the College of Business with a specialization in marketing and a minor in entrepreneurship. He attributes reaching his entrepreneurial destiny to the College of Business.
“I never dreamed I would accomplish the things I have, and I owe my success to the College of Business. I mean that with all my heart,” admitted Witt.
In high school, Witt wasn’t overly involved in extracurricular activities. He assumed he would earn his degree at BGSU, secure a job, and move on with his life. However, the College of Business takes their mantra of “Going Beyond Business As Usual” seriously.
“After meeting so many successful people through the networking events offered by the College, I knew I needed to find something I was passionate about and something I could devote myself to,” said Witt.
“I took ‘Intro to Entrepreneurship’ with Dr. Gene Poor and found my calling. I knew being an entrepreneur was a character trait already rooted inside me, but Dr. Poor drew that out and helped me realize that entrepreneurship was what I was meant to do,” stated Witt.
“Dr. Poor was very inspirational and one of his comments stuck with me. He said, ‘surround yourself with individuals that have the same goals as you. If you want to be rich, run with rich people; if you want to be famous, run with famous people; if you want to be an entrepreneur, run with entrepreneurs,’” said Witt.
Poor’s advice was the push Witt needed to come out of his shell and ask for help in executing his business idea, AudiblEye, which is a mobile application designed to assist the blind and visually impaired by using beacons to provide the user with a verbal description of their location.
“It’s really, a win-win-win. The students win by receiving a unique educational experience. The University wins because they are developing the students and providing experiential learning. And, the local community wins because, ultimately, some of these businesses are going to start and thrive here.”“My goal is to have AudiblEye installed globally to help the millions of individuals that are blind and visually impaired. I would like for this to be required by law and for AudiblEye to be used in every public and private building in the United States,” stated Witt.
Witt reached out to Kirk Kern, director of the Dallas-Hamilton Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and shared his idea for AudiblEye. Kern advised Witt to take his idea and apply to The Hatch, a unique program sponsored by the Center and the College of Business.
The Hatch has transformed the entrepreneurial curriculum in the College of Business and has been touted as a best in class practice by the accreditation team reviewing the College. With a format similar to the popular television show Shark Tank, student entrepreneurs present their business ideas to a group of alumni investors vying for funds to launch their business.
What sets The Hatch apart from similar events at other universities is that the alumni investors make equity investments providing real money for students to launch real businesses. To date, investors have committed more than $450,000 to student startups.
During a 10-week program, the students work with Kirk Kern as well as an alumni mentor to develop their business plan and work on their pitch for the event.
Former mentor Bob Venzel states, “It’s really, a win-win-win. The students win by receiving a unique educational experience. The University wins because they are developing the students and providing experiential learning. And, the local community wins because, ultimately, some of these businesses are going to start and thrive here.”
Witt, an avid Shark Tank fan, knew he wanted in. He applied and was accepted into the program during the fall of 2013; and throughout the ten-week program, he worked with his mentor and fine-tuned his business idea.
Alumnus Paul Hooker was paired as Witt’s mentor. In 1977, two years after graduating from BGSU, Hooker purchased the New York City based luxury household linen company SFERRA and grew annual sales from $250,000 to more than $30 million. He established SFERRA’s leadership position in the luxury linens industry and galvanized the company’s emergence into the new global economy. Hooker was thrilled with the opportunity to take his business success and pay it forward by helping a young entrepreneur reach his goals.
“The Hatch has been the most rewarding experience of my life and the lessons I learned are lessons that will help me throughout my career,“Be a sponge, absorb all of the information someone tells you, even if you think they are crazy. I always tell my employees, if you have a reason for believing whatever it is that you are telling me, I will listen. You don’t have to act upon everything someone tells you, but at least acknowledge it, who knows maybe one day it will come back to you and be helpful,” advised Hooker.
“I knew from our very first phone call that Paul would be able to provide me with knowledge of the business world and help me through the process,” stated Witt.
“He is one of the most amazing individuals I have ever met. He responded to my emails at all hours of the day and night, he provided me with encouragement, and he was honest with me. Paul helped me both professionally and personally, and I think of him as a father figure.” continued Witt.
Witt was funded at The Hatch and received $10,000 for 10% of his company, AudiblEye LLC. He received investments from 5 investors, each acquiring 2% of his company at a $2,000 per investment. The investment was designed as a loan but with the opportunity to convert the investment to equity ownership after the proof of concept phase, which involves testing the mobile application to determine the viability of the company.
“The Hatch has been the most rewarding experience of my life and the lessons I learned are lessons that will help me throughout my career,” said Witt. There were also challenges during the process,” he admitted.
It was difficult adjusting from being a normal college student to an entrepreneur who still had to attend class and hold down two jobs to help fund his education. Witt woke up daily with an enormous to do list but felt accomplishment at the end of each day.
And, his hard work is paying off, Witt is currently testing his product in the Cleveland Sight Center and the College of Business Administration to determine the next step in taking his business global.
“The most rewarding part of the Hatch was coming out of my comfort zone and realizing my full potential. I realized that I was my own biggest obstacle because I didn’t have faith in myself and feared failure,” admitted Witt, “because of the opportunities that I have been given through the College of Business, I have gained confidence and am ready to embrace my future.”
There are many unique aspects to The Hatch program and the benefits are exponential. The program positively impacts every constituent group.
“We are changing the culture of the College by introducing innovative and real-world experience into the curriculum”Alumni are brought in to mentor students, invest in their businesses, and attend the event. High school students attend the event as a recruiting opportunity, local businesses sponsor the event, and the local community supports the program hoping that businesses will be funded and stimulate the local economy. The program provides educational benefits that cannot be taught in the classroom. Entrepreneurship transcends all career paths and this program is offered to all BGSU students.
In addition to The Hatch program, the College of Business offers programs designed to teach skills not typically learned in the classroom but essential to success in the business world.
“I learned how to golf, order wine during business dinners, use proper dining etiquette, and to network which gave me an advantage as I worked with business executives, attorneys, and other professionals during the development of my business,” commented Witt.
“We are changing the culture of the College by introducing innovative and real-world experience into the curriculum,” stated Ray Braun, dean of the College of Business. “In fact, The Hatch program is gaining international recognition and putting the BGSU College of Business on the map,” he added.