By Nathaniel Luce
Three members of the MBA class of 2018 at Vanderbilt Business have received Summer Grants, a new award designed to support Vanderbilt student entrepreneurs between their first and second years of class.
Hunter Flint, Patrick Morsches, and Rachel Rock-Blake each earned $15,000 to put towards development of their concepts, which tackle unique challenges on local and global scales.
Flint has developed a payroll management concept for mobile money ecosystems, a highly popular economic phenomenon found in unbanked or under-banked parts of the world. As a one-time general manager for coffee farms in Tanzania, Flint is intimately familiar with the struggles and hazards of compensating part-time workers in unbanked areas.
“We had a ton of informal workers coming to the farm, and all of them were paid by cash,” he says. “We had large safes on the farm, which created an opportunity for theft. Many people are trying to find ways to eliminate the need for a safe; I’m looking for a way to provide payroll management software for several types of workers.”
Rock-Blake’s concept, Green Anchor, will provide strategic certifications to increase the market demand for currently underutilized and undervalued invasive species resources, starting with Asian Carp in the United States. The U.S. seafood market is highly responsive to eco-labeling via certification, and Green Anchor will generate awareness and demand for an estimated 1 billion pounds of high-quality and highly nutritious Asian Carp.
“Green Anchor’s certification will ultimately reduce the environmental pressure of this invasive species and rebalance a sustainable ecosystem,” says Rock-Blake.
Morsches is the founder of Let’s Room Together, an online platform that helps graduate students find roommates by creating a private-roommate finding experience, where incoming students can find their future classmates and limit which schools and programs can view their profile.
“Graduate students want to live with other graduate students,” Morsches says, “because of the added trust and similarity of schedules. They need a platform that makes this safe and possible.”
All three winners participated in “FireStarter” events at the beginning of the year, pitching their ideas, taking feedback from a panel of professors and entrepreneurs, and identifying new areas to explore. They utilized entrepreneurship coursework to refine their ideas and practice their pitches. Some entered other competitions to gain exposure and experience (Morsches and Rock-Blake recently took 1st and 3rd place, respectively, in the inaugural Owen Venture Competition). By the time Professor Germain Boer heard final pitches for the summer grants, he was confident in his selections for the award.
“They had clear ideas of what they wanted to do and were able to describe them in detail. They had already started talking to customers and gathering information to start working seriously on their idea,” he says. “They didn’t just have nice pitches; they had already done substantial work by the time they made their presentations.”
Between the summer grants and the $25,000 Sohr grant, student entrepreneurs now have the opportunity to earn $40,000 in Vanderbilt Business awards over the course of their education.
“The Summer grants are designed to provide much needed financial resources to aspiring entrepreneurs to explore the feasibility of business idea while still at Owen,” says Michael Bryant, Director of Center for Entrepreneurship. “With these funds, more student-founded companies will be launched from Owen, and the probability of their success will be greatly increased.”
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