Gator grads start businesses that fight finals week fatigue

Students use the upper floor of Pascal's Coffeehouse. Pascal's, part of the Christian Study Center on Northwest 16th Street, was started by a University of Florida graduate.

Story and Photo by: Holly Kane

Ah, finals week. Those dozen or so days when most students barely have time to feed themselves, much less get enough sleep, and Library West is a regular Charlie Foxtrot. Surely someone, somewhere, is enjoying this otherwise joyous time of the year.

Enter Pascal’s Coffeehouse and Volta Coffee, Tea & Chocolate. Familiar places of worship for the sleep-deprived and stressed out, both are local businesses started by Gator graduates and are witnessing a not-too-shabby sales increase during these last couple weeks of the fall semester.

Laurie Goddard, manager at Pascal’s Coffeehouse at the Christian Study Center, 112 NW 16th St., said the hustle and bustle leads to a 10- to 15-percent increase in sales during reading days and finals week.

“There’s this hum of people typing and moving,” she said. “There’s not much socializing.”

Formerly called the Oxford Company, the establishment was taken over by a University of Florida graduate and incorporated into the Christian Study Center next door, Goddard said.

People come looking for an alternative to Starbucks or other chains, she said, and to enjoy Pascal’s “better coffee, better prices and better atmosphere.”

Goddard appreciates the company’s “small but consistent contingent” of loyal customers who keep their coffee-buying dollars in the local area. Everything from espresso to bagged coffees is bought from Sweetwater, a local roaster that maintains personal relationships with farmers.

And instead of sugary, preservative-laden loafs and cookies, Pascal’s buys all its pastries exclusively from Bakery Mill & Deli, 1143 NW 76th Blvd., a local bakery. All except the “famous” Brazilian cheese bread, which is purchased from a local woman who also sells the treat–made of tapioca-flour bread and cheese–to other places such as Mi Apa Latin Cafe.

“It’s worth the walk to get a better drink,” said Goddard, who graduated from UF in May with a degree in religion and a minor in Russian language.

Although she said she’s unsure about sales figures, Daniela Gorny, a barista at Volta Coffee, Tea & Chocolate, 48 SW Second St., said people “definitely linger for longer” this time of year, utilizing the free Wi-Fi and abundance of caffeinated beverages.

“Everything’s very conducive to staying and studying for a while,” she said.

The place has an “intimate, supportive” atmosphere where students can find comfort and relaxation.

“People are looking for that (environment) when they come here,” Gorny said.

Volta co-owner Anthony Rue came to Gainesville in 1991 to pursue his doctorate degree in film studies, but he found his true calling while traveling around the country as an Internet consultant.

“I found all these great cafes, but when I came back to Gainesville, we had nothing of the sort,” he said.

Wanting to focus on selling quality coffee, Rue started talking to international vendors and, in 2007, met a local architect and contractor to help him realize his dream.

Rue said he could have gone anywhere with his coffee shop but chose Gainesville because of the natural beauty, the university and the overall feeling of the city.

“There’s certainly no other place in Florida like it,” he said.

Rue has served coffee to committee members and fellow dissertation writers from his Ph.D. days, but as for completing his own doctorate, he said, “I’ve found other things that make me happy.”

It seems obvious that starting a coffee shop in a college town would be a good, logical, easily supported idea. But what about all those other ideas that may not seem so readily successful?

Enter David Whitney, the entrepreneur-in-residence at UF’s College of Engineering.

Students and faculty bring ideas to Whitney, whose job is to “encourage them to take the next step,” which could be developing a business model, establishing strategic partnerships or building a prototype.

In addition to his degrees from Boston University and the University of San Francisco, Whitney has a master’s in real estate from UF. He said his time as a graduate student gave him an insider’s look at the entrepreneurial spirit and innovative ideas present on UF’s campus.

“It’s an unbeatable combination,” he said.

Whitney encourages college students, who he says are already broke, sleep deprived and stressed out, to take their idea and run with it.

“How will you be worse off if this idea fails?”

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UF grads create jewelry catering to female fan base

Kaitlin Watson (left) and Shannon McGee pose in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. The duo created The Gameday Girls, a jewelry company designed to give women classy accessories to wear while rooting for their favorite teams. Photo by MichaelJohn Carnevale.

By: Safid Deen

For many businesses, the time between Black Friday and New Year’s Day serves as the most profitable time of year.

But for the majority of Gainesville businesses, this time is secondary to UF’s football season, and The Gameday Girls have taken full advantage.

UF graduates Kaitlin Watson and Shannon McGee became The Gameday Girls in September 2009 when the idea of selling custom-made jewelry appeared like a pearl in an oyster.

The duo creates jewelry and accessories for women looking to support their team, Watson said. The girls began selling their items on game days during the 2009 football season on University Avenue.

McGee said the hardest part about making the jewelry is getting a pair to look alike because every item is custom made. It takes about 10 to 20 minutes to sand, paint and seal the pearls we use, she said.

“It’s hard dealing with the finger cramps and getting burned with hot glue,” McGee said, “but it gets quicker when you’re doing the same items.”

Some of the items include post earrings, dangle earrings, necklaces, bracelets, headbands and scarves, all ranging in price from $8 to $25. They are made with generic logos surrounded by polka dots in generic colors to represent your favorite teams, Watson said.

Using generic materials allows The Gameday Girls to remain unaffiliated with the NCAA and the respective teams their jewelry represents.

Currently, The Gameday Girls make jewelry catered to fans at the University of Florida, Florida State University, University of Miami, University of South Florida, Clemson University and Georgia Tech.

They also accept customer requests for special orders on items they produce in any color.

“We make a strong emphasis on our website that we can make anything for our customers, just as long as they can give us the time to gather supplies if we need them,” Watson said. There are no increases in price for placing a custom order, she said.

This year, The Gameday Girls made about $180 every weekend for the three weekends they worked during the season.

“We both are seniors, so we wanted to still be able to enjoy the football season ourselves,” Watson said.

Now, with the new year approaching and their peak season coming to a close, Watson and McGee are looking forward to accomplishing a new task: working with the Atlantic Ocean between them.

Watson is spending the spring semester in Austria, and, while this could be a burden for some businesses, she said that because most of their business is done over the Internet, it will still allow them to run their business smoothly.

Watson said the pair plans to make some of their more popular items before she leaves, and she will take full responsibility of the website and social-networking efforts. McGee will take care of all the other special orders.

“Being online allows us to work from anywhere,” Watson said. Besides being able to reach a wider audience, social networking has also become the driving force in The Gameday Girls business.

Watson said the company uses Facebook and Twitter to showcase new items and promote sales exclusively for fans and followers, respectively. The group also has  given away free items to bloggers in an effort to get more exposure.

In July, the company was featured on College Prep, where the blog post generated 200 visits on the first day, Watson said.

McGee said she came up with the idea to sell jewelry and accessories, which she and Watson were already making in their spare time.

William Rossi, associate director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, said he has seen The Gameday Girls’ work and thinks it’s a great idea.

Students throw ideas at him several times a day, he said.

“They’re literally all over the place.”

Rossi said he has helped former students like Kristen Hadeed and Sam Tarantino grow with their respective companies, Student Maids Inc. and Grooveshark.

He said the students who truly have the desire to succeed do so by actually making strides toward what they want to do and not wasting time just thinking about it.

He said when students approach him with an idea, he asks them questions about things that may go wrong in their ventures.

“They never know the answers, but I tell them to go figure it out and then come back,” he said. “Most of them don’t come back, but the ones who do are the ones who see success.”

Rossi said those who find solutions to problems already existing in the marketplace also become successful.

Watson found the problem to be the lack of classy jewelry available for women who wanted to support their favorite sports teams.

By using items like ribbon and pearls, McGee said the company has received great exposure so far in its first two years.

With all that exposure, she said getting the word out about the company still comes down to word-of-mouth, using social networking websites and wearing the jewelry for potential buyers to see.

Watson said the key to reaching their goals comes down to putting in the effort to work together and keeping things fun.

“We like to have our business meetings with a glass of champagne,” she said.

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Gators give back: Gainesville center promotes local entrepreneurship

Story and Photo by: Emily Morrow

Paulo Da Silva, a senior software engineer with Grooveshark, welcomes students to their last session of Grooveshark University on Thursday. Grooveshark University is a semester-long workshop designed to educate local programmers about new technology and entrepreneurial thinking.

In 2006, two University of Florida students decided to pursue their dream of revolutionizing the music industry. Four years later, their online music-streaming website was featured in Time Magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2010.

Sam Tarantino and Josh Greenburg, co-founders of Grooveshark, are now working with Santa Fe College’s Center for Innovation and Economic Development in an attempt to give back to the community that fostered their innovative ideas and in hopes of establishing Gainesville as an entrepreneurial hub.

Through Grooveshark University, a free, semester-long workshop open to local programmers, the company’s professional developers are teaching students the latest technological developments like HTML5 and application development for mobile operating systems such as the Android and iPhone.

In addition to the technical skills, Grooveshark’s representatives are also teaching students how the applications they create from the drawing boards to the marketplace.

This was the first semester the class was offered at CIED, and “graduation” for the 12 to 18 students in the class is Wednesday.

While promising programmers may be considered for future employment with Grooveshark, the main goal of the program is to give back to Gainesville by developing local technology.

This idea of fostering local entrepreneurship is something that is common to both Grooveshark University and its host, CIED.

“If we are able to connect people to other people and resources they need, I feel we have succeeded,” said Dug Jones, the assistant vice president for economic development at CIED.

In addition to hosting programs like Grooveshark University, Gainesville’s CEID offers several other programs aimed toward encouraging aspiring entrepreneurs to follow their dreams.

One of these is the Entrepreneur Incubator. Started in the summer of 2009, the incubator helps small startup businesses by providing them with resources such as meeting space, shared office space and access to printers and fax machines, as well as access to the five people in the office known as “incubator resources.” These people, who have expertise in areas ranging from law and accounting to venture capital and marketing and strategic planning, are available to help the incubating companies along the way, providing advice, support and even networking.

The 15 companies currently partnered with the incubator meet every Tuesday morning to share and discuss ideas and progress. These companies are all local startups and include several businesses started by former UF students, such as CitySync, a social website that helps people stay updated with local events and specials; Student Maid, a cleaning and concierge service that only employs UF students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher; and YouTorial Market, a unique web-based software training program.

Ten of the 15 companies were added to the program in the last three months, Jones said, and the program continues to see exponential growth.

“Just like any startup company, this program is something that is going to gain momentum by word-of-mouth,” he said.

The model is for companies to be “incubated” with CIED for about 18 months. In this time, the center hopes to provide its entrepreneurs with enough resources to ensure the success and growth of each company.

“One of the ultimate goals is for companies to succeed, of course, but also to stay in the area,” Jones said.

And to the center, innovation (entrepreneurship) has no age limit.

“If Gainesville is going to be a center for people who are innovative and entrepreneurial in their approach, we need to start earlier and earlier,” Jones said.

Through the Growing Entrepreneurs program, CIED reaches out to Gainesville-area high school students.

Just beginning the second year of the program, representatives from CIED and Emergent Ventures, a local private equity firm, listen to business pitches from nine high school students and select students to receive $500 in seed money, mentoring and business training from CIED.

The program runs from January to April, and participants make connections to successful local entrepreneurs such as Grooveshark’s Greenburg and Joe Ciruli, the founder of Gainesville Health and Fitness.

“We really try to make people aware of entrepreneurial thinking and give them the tools and the confidence to go and actually do it,” Jones said.

While encouraging these young innovators to pursue their business ideas, he said the center is also careful not to distract them from completing their education.

Jones said the message he and CIED try to stress to all their entrepreneurs was best said in his favorite quote from Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw out the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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Gators represent in world of online media

Gator alumnus Michael Schlein is the CEO of pointslocal.com. The website, founded by Schlein in 2008, works to provide local news to online readers.

By: Timothy J. Taylor

In the media’s world of business, words like “hyperlocal” and “aggregation” take on mythic proportions, prophetic words spoken by a purveyor of magic elixirs who speaks of a promised land where money flows like water from an inexhaustible stream: local advertising.

It is well-known that print media is in a steady decline. Its hallowed towers shut down, floor by floor, as the ghosts of cigar-chomping newsmen of ages past pound away at typewriters in smoke-filled newsrooms. These gray-scale apparitions give way to the all-color world of the Internet. Like some kind of old-West-meets-sci-fi virtual world, the newsmen of yesterday duke it out with the new breed in town, and everyone scrambles for the gold in a fit of dust and fists.

Michael Schlein received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Florida, and while it may seem a far stretch to online journalism, in the world of multi-million-dollar venture capital, such a degree is a skill that can’t be underestimated. He continued his education at UF with graduate journalism studies in electronic publishing.

After completing his graduate studies, Schlein went on to work for The New York Times for 14 years, serving as the director of product and technology. During that time, he was a member of the team that built the first website to be cited for a Pulitzer Prize. The website was created for the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and cited in the Public Service category.

Two years ago, with experience and knowledge on his side, Schlein stepped out into the frontier world of hyperlocal media and founded Pointslocal.com, a website that aggregates and geographically tags news content and works to assist media companies to provide their readers with news and advertising that is relevant to them based on their location.

Media companies are looking for a way to re-attract all the money that exists in local advertising — money that they have been watching march out the door throughout the past few years, and, in desperation, they are looking in any direction for a glimmer of hope. Hyperlocal media sites are springing up almost overnight in this boom-town atmosphere, and tycoons are wagering big dollars on their players.

MSNBC recently bought Everyblock.com, a website that delivers location-based news to its readers based, and venture capitalists are investing in other similar sites, such as FWIX.com, which, like so many dot-coms over the years, has gone from rags to speculative riches seemingly overnight.

Schlein has roped in a few investors of his own, with the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe and the Times-Shamrock Group all using his platform to provide local news to their online readers. Schlein is in the process of launching his site directly to the consumer, thereby cutting out the middle man, and America Online was courting him to provide his platform for the new Patch.com website.

Schlein has worked with a total of about seven others since the Pointslocal project began. His wife, Amy Gross Schlien, and his partner Nathan Kozyra are the core of the group, and the company hires subcontractors to do some of the technical work.

Schlein has been looking for investment capital to help push the project forward and recently was negotiating with AOL’s venture capital wing. After weeks of waiting, Schlein was told that AOL had chosen not to invest in any of the hyperlocal sites they had been courting. For now, the corporation prefers to watch from the sidelines for a while to see how things will progress in the world of hyperlocal media.

Schlein said in an interview that there are ups and downs to outside investment as many small dot-coms, he said, have learned too late. He said that a small company can lose the creative freedom it needs and be tied to corporate whims and then, if the company decides that it is going nowhere, the funding can cease overnight.

Schlein said that his long-term business model does not rely on outside investment, but that it is fluid and is open to investment if the conditions are right for both sides of the agreement.

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UF resources make student entrepreneurship easy

Stuzin Hall, in the northeast quadrant of the University of Florida campus, is home to the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The CEI provides many of the resources valuable to students hoping to become entrepreneurs.

The story that follows is an overview on UF services.

Story and Photo by: Cayla Stanley

Facebook. Google. Both sites have changed our society forever – and both were founded by college students. Maybe you are more impressed by Time Magazine. FedEx? Microsoft? A program like Napster? Also started in college.

These game-changers and countless other successful businesses were launched by students. Though a venture like Google may seem unattainable, UF offers multiple resources and outlets outside of the Career Resource Center to help students on their way to becoming entrepreneurs.

William Rossi, associate director of UF’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and faculty fellow for the center, said the best thing students can do is be passionate and make a move.

“(Students) have to quickly get beyond the ‘thinking about it’ stage into the ‘doing something about it’ stage,” he said.

He talks to a lot of students with ideas and tries to encourage each one, he said, but the first thing he hears is “I think.”

“You can’t be thinking,” he said. “You’ve got to be knowing. The ones that are thinking about it are all wannabes.”

The most inclusive place to get started is the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Located on campus in Stuzin Hall, the CEI offers courses, degree programs, a speaker series, a business plan competition and mentor and internship programs. It is a great place to receive additional perspectives, Rossi said, and all its resources are available equally to undergraduate and graduate students of any major or program.

The single best thing to take advantage of at the CEI, Rossi said, is the Principles of Entrepreneurship course (ENT3003). The popular four-credit class, taught by Rossi, has no prerequisites and is thus open to any interested undergrads.

“From an undergraduate standpoint, I would say that the vast majority of students don’t come into school with the idea of starting a business,” he said.

Many of his students become inspired to think starting a business is something they can actually do, Rossi said, and are now very successful. Though web-based businesses are the most common goals of students Rossi sees through the center, he said he has seen all types of ideas come to fruition.

As a part of the Warrington College of Business Administration, the CEI also offers a 17- to 20-credit minor in entrepreneurship and is one of only five schools in the nation to offer a master’s in entrepreneurship, Rossi said. There are three versions of the master’s degree: a traditional on-campus degree, a program for working professionals administered on weekends and a recently launched internet version of the program.

Allyson Ayers, who is enrolled in her first year with the traditional master’s, said she loves the program and would recommend it to anyone interested in entrepreneurship, particularly someone without a business degree.

Having majored in English and journalism, Ayers found what she was looking for in a master’s program – the encouragement of creativity and a solid foundation in the business essentials of finance and economics. She said of all the program’s significant resources, bouncing around ideas with her classmates of different academic and cultural backgrounds has proven to be the most invaluable.

“I’m working with a few classmates on several ideas, and even if nothing pans out, I know that simply the process of drawing up business plans, collaborating with a team and evolving an idea is something that I can apply to any job.”

Whether students have an official academic focus on entrepreneurship or not, there is also The Entrepreneurship Club. Open to anyone who would like to join, the club brings in prominent speakers and offers its members lectures, workshops and competition opportunities. TEC President Jarred Mussen said the most valuable aspects of the club are the opportunity to network with like-minded individuals and the chance to receive advice from entrepreneurs who have already seen success.

For more information about TEC, visit http://www.gatorcreators.com, or search the club on Facebook.

UF students have already started thriving companies in music, food, jewelry, clothing, cleaning services, even beanbag beds – while still in school and after graduating. What will we see from you?

“Entrepreneurship is about perseverance and fulfilling your passion by doing what you love,” Mussen said.

Ayers also recommends working for a hands-on small business to learn how to build from the group up, as well as asking questions of everyone in your community. Feedback is just as important as funding, she said.

“Just get out there and do it,” she said. “You’re young. Yeah, you might fail, but you can always learn from your experience and make your next startup that much better.”

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