In the early hours of Wednesday morning, just after Professor of English Robin Metz’s London Arts Alive class has filed out, savory steam fills the air of Wilson House. Unlikely though it may seem, 12:30 a.m. finds a sizable crowd slurping noodles and sipping tea as the multi-purpose building transforms into a culinary hub.
Just two weeks into fall term, senior Jonah Frankel, sometimes known around campus as “the soup guy,” partnered with fellow seniors Peter Yang and Avinash Gurung to launch Magic Pot, a late-night Ramen shop operating out of Wilson House four nights per week, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Frankel, Yang, and Gurung are all currently enrolled in Professor of Business & Management John Spittell’s Business 320 class: Entrepreneurship and Society. In past years, the class syllabus has included the creation of a theoretical business plan to acquaint students with the process of becoming entrepreneurs. But this year, Professor Spittell decided to be entrepreneurial himself: he took a chance by challenging his students to design and implement their own business ideas on campus with just $40 for initial capital.
“I was definitely surprised and pretty excited. I think everyone always talks about doing something like this, but everyone’s a little too lazy to try to make it as a small business,” Frankel said.
Frankel, Yang and Gurung’s original business concept was to facilitate more widespread recycling on campus, but they lacked the fundamental resources to implement such a plan.
Returning to the drawing board, the group decided to create a Ramen business mostly by happenstance. “Honestly, we googled small business ideas for campuses, and one of them said, ‘late night food option’ É and we somehow settled on Ramen,” Frankel said.
Magic Pot offers a variety of soup options and add-ins, as well as hot beverages, with each product costing no more than $1 or $2. On a typical night at Wilson House, the work is divided between Frankel, Yang and Gurung, with the latter doing the cooking and the former up front taking orders and keeping the books. With the group serving an average of 55 customers each evening, every night represents an opportunity for the young entrepreneurs to gain skills and experience.
“All of us are learning a lot and doing things that we wouldn’t normally do in life … I’ve never written a menu or started a small restaurant. Also, we are turning a profit … it’s not a significantly large profit, but it’s a sign that [Magic Pot] could become something, one day, if we brought it there,” Frankel said.
Some students are clamoring for the business to continue on into the next term, and although Frankel is intrigued by the prospect, his group keenly feels the constraints of time. Although the future of Magic Pot remains uncertain, Frankel plans to make the most of the time they have left.
“We’re always trying to improve it … every single time our menu is getting a little bit better. Our goal is to be the best business we can be … and if it profits or if it doesn’t, I think we’re having a good time and learning a lot,” Frankel said.
While Magic Pot caters to the Knox community’s propensity for late night munchies, Boxed owes its inception to the prevalence of the hangover.
Launched on Oct. 7, Boxed, the brainchild of junior Clare Colt and seniors Keegan Dohm, Hanh Bui and Hyunjin Jung, offers packaged snacks for different occasions. Placing pop-up stands in Seymour Union and at athletic events, the group has offered a Hangover Box for $4, a Study Snacks Box for $5, and a Knox Plague Box for $6. The boxes each contain several beverages and pre-packaged foods pertaining to the box’s theme. The Knox Plague Box also features speciality items including VapoRub, cough drops and tissues, in addition to three hydrating drinks.
Like their classmates at Magic Pot, the team behind Boxed faced a variety of challenges as they worked to get their business off the ground. One such complication was the difficulty of purchasing food in bulk on such a narrow budget.
“We had to know that we were in it for the long haul. We ended up putting in some of our own money, which is an added incentive to team members É you want to make sure you sell the boxes because your own money’s wrapped up in it,” Colt said.
Colt, who is designing her own major in Business Communications, feels that creating Boxed has improved her understanding of team dynamics Ñ including determining which person is suited for which task. Her foray into entrepreneurship helped to solidify her career interests and personal ambitions.
“I’m not very tolerant of risk … I don’t know if I would ever want to be an entrepreneur. But I love marketing and I love communications … [I plan to] definitely work in the corporate business world,” Colt said.
Colt presents her participation in Entrepreneurship and Society as an alternative to Start-up Term, which provides a real-word business experience within the Knox environment. Although she has no plans to become an entrepreneur herself, she sees the value in thinking like one.
“Thinking like an entrepreneur is thinking about what pockets in the market haven’t been targeted yet. [It is] being able to see an opportunity and figure out that it has a lot of value … and being passionate enough to work the long hours necessary,” Colt said.
Through operating small-scale enterprises, the students from Entrepreneurship and Society seek not only to increase their business acumen but also to leave behind a legacy. All profits from both Magic Pot and Boxed will return directly to Knox – paving the way for future entrepreneurs.
“The idea is that this money goes back to Knox, to the Business-Entrepreneurship Program. So that, in the future, people will be able to start out with $300, depending on how much each team makes this term. It will grow and build,” Colt said.
As Magic Pot and Boxed endeavor to satisfy student’s appetites, senior Abdul Oganla’s Vertique Designs seeks to feed the Knox community’s artistic soul.
While studying through the ACM Chicago Program, Oganla became immersed in the art world: traversing studios, encountering artists and designers on a regular basis.
“I was like, ‘This is beautiful. This is the beauty of life itself: the imagination and creativity of people … I thought, what if I can express that in a t-shirt and wear it on a daily basis?” Oganla reflected.
From these considerations sprang Vertique Designs, an apparel company that offers local artists an opportunity to submit their designs for consideration. Submissions are open to everyone at www.vertiquedesign.com, where users can then vote on them. Selected designs may be manufactured into a wide range of apparel including t-shirts, sweatshirts and tank tops.
“The companies that make t-shirts with in-house designers are limited to the concepts those designers have, but I don’t want to be limited. And that’s the reason we are open to the whole community,” Oganla said.
Oganla hails from Nigeria, and he hopes to bring Vertique Designs to his home country by the start of next year, but believes that introducing his company to Knox’s intimate community will allow him to further develop and refine the business. Although Vertique Designs has yet to make its first big production, Oganla believes he will be fully prepared when the time comes.
“I just don’t want to start something that there is no foundation for, which is why I am doing the homework before we launch into any market,” Oganla said.
Oganla hopes that Vertique Designs will provide a platform for artists to disseminate their ideas and generate awareness of their work, through website profiles and crediting relevant artists on the clothing tags.
“It’s more than just t-shirts. It’s promoting artists, promoting designs, promoting art. And that’s what’s important for me,” Oganla said.
While the entrepreneurs behind Magic Pot remain undecided about the future of their business, Oganla envisions Vertique Designs playing a long-term role in his life. He hopes to make a career out of the business, and, although he encourages anyone interested in the project to contact him, he maintains high standards as to who will be allowed to contribute.
“When starting [a business] you don’t just want to call everybody. You have to have standards which people have to pass, and you have to know their work ethic … you have to know how much they are going to give to you, in return, to grow the business,” Oganla said.
Oganla has experience taking chances with his ideas and passions. Founder of The Knoxies Leadership Award Program, Oganla feels that the Knox experience inspires people to think like entrepreneurs by starting clubs and organizations that matter to them.
“Without Knox, I don’t think I would be thinking about [starting a business]. Knox has given me the resources and the platform to understand that you have to take opportunities. At Knox, you have the freedom to flourish,” Oganla said.