Colby students compete in entrepreneurship challenge at Thomas College

On Sat., Nov. 16, three teams of Colby student entrepreneurs competed in the Greenlight Maine Collegiate Challenge, a competition for Maine college students to pitch their business ideas for a grand prize of $25,000 to help jumpstart their company. The Greenlight Maine Collegiate Challenge is a sub-competition of Greenlight Maine, the televised state-wide pitch competition sponsored going into its fifth season, where Maine business owners vie for a $100,000 prize. 

The competition is a multi-staged event that begins with committees  at participating colleges hearing ideas from students entrepreneurs. The students with the best ideas are then selected as representatives for their school. Saturday marked the first stage of the competition, which took place at Thomas College. Teams gave their three-minute pitches to a group of independent judges followed by a five-minute Q&A session.

The Greenlight Maine Collegiate Challenge was a part of the Central Maine Converge and Create conference happening at Thomas that day. The conference celebrates innovation and entrepreneurship in the state of Maine and promotes networking and brainstorming sessions. The keynote address was delivered by Rodrigo Meirelles, the vice president of Portland-based international financial technology solutions provider WEX. Meirelles, originally from Brazil, talked about his humble upbringing and emphasized his belief in the potential of innovation in Maine. 

Among the hopeful student entrepreneurs are four Colby students: Joshua Kim `22, the founder of Sklaza; Torsten Brinkema `22, the inventor of Weart Apparel; and Christian Krohg `22 and Katie Dougherty `22, the creators of EasyEats. The students have been working closely with Jumpstart Maine, an organization that allows college students to bounce ideas off each other while working together in the Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space in Waterville’s Hathaway Creative Center.

Kim told the Echo that Sklaza stands for “School Plaza” and is a marketplace exclusively for college students to sell school supplies, textbooks, microwaves, and fridges based on the geographical location of their campus.

“From preparation, digital publicity, to the actual competition, the whole experience has been so rewarding and worthwhile,” Kim said after the event on Saturday. “I’ve learned a lot through this process and the support in Maine has been incredible.” 

Kim is planning for Sklaza to launch at Colby in Feb. 2020 and hopes to have the service available at Bowdoin, Bates, UMaine, and Thomas College starting in the fall of 2020.

On Monday, Kim was informed that Sklaza was selected to move onto the next round of the competition. The other students had not yet learned of their results at the time of their interviews.

Brinkema pitched Weart “We art” Apparel, a business he started in July 2018 to provide young artists and designers with a digital platform to both showcase their creations and a customer base to sell their products. Weart has featured seven artists so far, four of whom are Colby students. The company rotates featured artists every two months. Brinkema stated that the idea of Weart came to him after he experienced frustration with the lack of support many of his artist friends felt when trying to launch their business. 

Brinkema told the Echo that he had a positive experience at the Greenlight Challenge. “The startup scene in Maine is very exciting and there is so much support for new businesses,” he said.

“I eventually hope to open a brick and mortar store that serves as a hub for all of my operations.,” Brinkema said when asked about his future plans for Weart. “I want to continue making apparel, and start producing videos and podcasts that highlight the stories of young artists around the world.”  

The only duo of the group, Christian Krohg `22 and Katie Dougherty `22, presented EasyEats, a technology-based ordering and delivery app that is entirely student-run. The business is intended to compete with existing food-ordering services like UberEats and Postmates. One of the unique characteristics of EasyEats is the delivery to dorms since student delivery drivers have access to campus. The app was launched on May 6, 2019 at Colby and has expanded to include Bates. EasyEats has already processed over 800 orders with an average of $31.74 spent per order. Revenue has totaled over $24,000 with 14 restaurants participating so far. 

Doughtery said the company’s plans include developing a new platform: “The aim with our new platform is to create more standardized processes and reduce the amount of manual labor that is required within the business. With our new platform, we will be able to streamline the process of adding additional college campuses.” 

26 student entrepreneurs will be selected to move on to the second round in January, which will be televised on Newscenter Maine, the NBC affiliate station. Each episode will consist of two contestants going head-to-head. If any of the Colby teams successfully make it past the second round, they will be one of three teams competing to win the $25,000 cash prize.