Online marketplace for students opens as alternative to the Bookstore

Feb. 5, the start of the Spring 2020 semester, also marked the launch date of Sklaza. Sklaza is an online marketplace and platform exclusively for college students, created by Josh Kim `22. 

Sklaza, which is short for “School Plaza,” allows students to view hundreds of items for sale, from textbooks to rice cookers, on its website. 

Kim is competing in Greenlight Maine’s collegiate entrepreneurship challenge with this project. The competition, which boasts a $25,000 prize, is a sub-competition of Greenlight Maine, a statewide pitch TV show with the goal of fostering business and development in the state. 

After finding out in late November that Sklaza had moved onto the second round, Kim began prepping for the televised portion of the competition. 16 teams made it to round two. This round consisted of eight episodes, each a one-one-one competition. Filming began the first week on JanPlan at Husson University in Bangor. Kim described the day as “very new, very different,” emphasizing the unique experience of filming on a professional set. 

Kim’s episode, which aired on NewsCenter Maine Feb. 9, featured Sklaza squaring off against a Husson University student Derek Foy. Foy’s GEIONS Retail, a shopping app with six steps, from  helping buyers locate a store selling their desired product to supplying directions on where to find the product when in store. The episode included a three minute pitch to a table of three judges, followed by two minutes of questioning. Kim explained that off-camera, the contestants had the opportunity to expound on the technicalities of their businesses. After some deliberation, the judges flipped over their cards, awarding Sklaza the 2 to 1 victory. 

Altogether, Kim recalled competing as a “surreal experience and a milestone for Sklaza.” He adds that Greenlight Maine has provided a “platform to showcase everything I’ve done thus far.” 

Episodes of the Greenlight Maine collegiate challenge will continue to air Sundays at 10 a.m. through March 8. Other Colby teams competing in the challenge include EasyEats by Katharine Dougherty `22 and Christian Krohg ‘22 and WeArt by Torsten Brinkema `22. 

Kim describes the overall launch of Sklaza to be successful, despite having to pull an all-nighter to tape up posters the night before. 

A week and a half into the launch, Kim says over 180 items have been sold bought by 150 different buyers. The transaction process is streamlined, so that once payment is confirmed, the buyer and seller meet at the Spa as the arranged meeting location. With the beginning of the semester, textbooks have been the single most popular item sold on the site, followed by mini fridges, furniture, and clothes. 

Sklaza comes in as a competitor to other second-hand textbook sites and the Colby Bookstore. A used copy of the Biological Sciences textbook which is required for those taking BI163 or BI164 sells for $170 at the Colby Bookstore whereas the same title is being sold on Sklaza for a fraction of that at $77. Additionally, the MA121 textbook costs $113 for a used copy compared to $55 on Sklaza. 

Sklaza launches at a time when just last year President Greene re-introduced the College’s textbook fund, now called the Textbook Assistance Program. The program, which is run in part by Sophomore Class Dean Heather Pena, is open to any student who finds themselves in a financial emergency. 

“Once students are approved, they go through the admin[istration] at the Dean’s office and the books are either purchased for the student or money is put on their Colby card” Pena said.

The program is one time only and there is a max of $300 per reimbursement. Pena also said that every case is examined carefully and circumstantially. Students have to fill out an online form before being directed to Beth Christopher at Student Financial Services. According to Pena, many students have already been approved for the Spring 2020 semester. Between the Colby Bookstore and the Textbook Assistance Program, Sklaza provides an intermediary option for students looking to obtain their books at the best price. 

When the episodes conclude, only three of the eight winners from the second round will move on to compete for the $25,000 prize. Though his fate is still uncertain, Kim is grateful for the publicity Greenlight Maine has given him and Sklaza. 

He recalls an exciting moment when he was recognized in public while buying coffee in downtown Waterville. Kim, who views himself more as the visionary behind Sklaza, hopes to find a partner who can specialize on the technical side of the business. Sklaza has plans to launch at Thomas College in March and expand to Bates and Bowdoin in the Fall of 2020.

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