Over the 10 weeks of Spring Term, five groups of students will be working in teams to create a product ready to be pitched to Knox alumni and local business people. Instead of taking classes on campus, they’ve decided to immerse themselves in the entrepreneurial arena of Start-Up Term.
The program is run by four faculty members from various fields: Chair of Business and Management John Spittel; Professor of Computer Science Jaime Spacco and Chair of Computer Science John Dooley and Professor of Art Tim Stedman, who specializes in graphic design. Their expertise helps the students take an idea and bring it through every step that a start-up would in the business world.
“Start-Up Term is an opportunity to take an idea and turn it into something bigger, to bring it to life,” senior Cortney Hill said. “It doesn’t really start with the idea, though. It’s all about the team. You can have a great idea but if you don’t have a good team then it’s not going to be good.”
Hill is member of a group called Chart Air, along with seniors Olivia Keneipp, Clare Colt, Madison Belka and junior Logan Ayers. Together they are working on a project to make the fees involved for non-commercial flying more accessible. The cost of fuel, landing and facilities changes from airport to airport often result in flyers being surprised with extra fees.
Hill learned about the need for transparency in prices when he returned to the airport he worked at over the summer and watched what the charter operator there had to go through while planning trips for clients.
“The hard part of her job is she has to calculate the fees for her planes at other airports,” Cortney explained. “Airports can charge different fees for different things, and the fees can be ridiculous. Usually it’s a surprise.”
Chart Air’s goal is to figure out the fees at each airport throughout the Midwest and put them all on one website. This means that the team members themselves spend most of their day on the phone.
“There’s so many small airports,” Keneipp said while explaining an average day for the group. “We have to manually call each one. There’s a lot of things to juggle.”
Speaking of Start-Up Term in general, Keneipp enjoys the independence it gives her. “Not having someone to answer to and being self-propelled is great.”
Sophomore Brendan Roddy, a member of a different Start-Up group, was similarly attracted to the independence promised by the immersive entrepreneurial experience.
“I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur for a long time,” Roddy said while explaining why he decided to join the program. “It seemed like a such a great experience. I mean, it’s pretty much open-ended. You can go your own way for a term.”
Roddy is in group with seniors Xiong Wang, Jay Wang and Sidath Wanigasinghe. Their group name is Sneaker Guys and they spend most of their time buying sneakers off the internet and selling them at a profit.
“Xiong knows the market very well, so he can point us in the right direction,” Roddy explained.
With the group’s combined skills in business and computer science – each group is required to have a member from both areas Ñ they plan on making a website and eventually reviewing the sneakers they purchase on a YouTube channel.
Other projects include Blue Brick, which is an artists initiatve to make space for art in Galesburg, Fusion 5, which is bringing international street food to Knox and Galesburg and see_to_it, a smartphone and Amazon Alexa app for nannies, babysitters and housekeepers to keep track of their tasks.
Similar to the appeal of independence, both groups expressed interest in continuing their projects beyond the end of the term. They were unaware exactly how grading worked, but made it clear that getting a good grade mattered less than the transformational experience of creating a product.
“We’re not focused on the grade,” Hill explained. “We couldn’t care less about the grade.”