Thirty Colgate-affiliated entrepreneurs gathered in the Hall of Presidents (HOP) on Saturday, April 9 for Colgate’s annual Entrepreneurship Weekend (E-Weekend). Arriving as early as 9 a.m., Colgate students and alumni set up around 30 plastic tables, displaying their startups’ products and pitches, ranging from CBD treats to colorful sunglasses, to screens projecting video game designs. Some entrepreneurs had spent more than four years developing their programming while others had yet to complete a year in Thought into Action (TIA), an entrepreneurial program.
Bands drop off from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., only interrupted at 1 p.m. with a Shark Tank-style pitch competition on the HOP’s main stage. This was followed by presentations from six pre-selected Colgate affiliate groups, all vying for a $5,000 prize pool.
The stage included four alumni companies, including Maua Organics, which provides natural hair care products; First Impressions Nails, which gives customers the tools to apply acrylic nails at home; and SUNLOOPS, which makes colorful sunglasses and other accessories suitable for college revelers.
Around this time, Colgate also shed light on its alumnus’ choice for Entrepreneur of the Year, Sian-Pierre Regis ’06, who is the director of “Duty freea documentary that examines economic insecurity and aging in America. The event also featured two student companies; Confucius, a Chinese language learning app, and ShotQuality, a betting pattern program. Confucius was the new stage adventure. After working under TIA for a year, the group is considered a “level 100 company“.
The Confucius app was born out of the downtime provided by the pandemic and a love for Chinese people, according to seniors Jocelyn Shilakes and Bennett Morris. The app, which follows the motto “Language Learning, Simplified”, features patent-pending three-sided flashcards, which offer a word in English, Pinyin and Chinese characters.
Their HOP stage presentation was both exciting and stressful, according to Shilakes.
“While we were excited to share our product with the greater Colgate community, we knew more people would see, hear and interact with the Confucius product than ever before,” Shilakes said. “In that sense, we felt a bit in a vulnerable position.”
Shilakes spends hours each week at the library studying Chinese characters with her close friend and co-founder Morris, and both began studying the language in college. COVID-19 has challenged their Chinese studies, taking away the classroom experience of practicing their calligraphy.
Amid the pandemic, Shilakes and Morris thought about other Chinese learners, especially those who had less experience with the language or were less able to learn the language without careful instruction from professors or teachers. Thus, wireframes for Confucius have been supported.
“It was an exercise in creating tools that we knew students could benefit from that we didn’t,” Shilakes said.
Shilakes and Morris thank each other and their TIA mentors for the successful launch of the startup and their unique invitation to present on the HOP stage.
Junior Jeffery Yang, founder of startup Optic Games Development, pitched on the opposite side of HOP, and also credits his mentors and the TIA program for helping him with his video game development.
Yang once attended the TIA event as a freshman and has since worked for video game startups, but felt starting his own would allow him to exercise more creativity and autonomy. His proposal for Optic Games, which features cleverly crafted characters and unique storylines, is the product of two years of work.
“I really think it’s a good experience to have, especially if you’re interested in business or entrepreneurship,” Yang said.
One of the main components of E-Weekend was a fake investment system that all members of the Colgate community at the event were encouraged to participate in. plastic shavings. Each individual was tasked with distributing the chips to the startups they felt were most worthy of their investment. iggy’s top winners took home cash prizes ranging from $250 to $1,000.
Freshman Katie Maratea donated most of her iggys to Confucius and Optic Games. As a French major, she found Confucius particularly appealing. The character designs on Optic Games, particularly that of a white-haired cat-boy, were striking according to Maratea.
“The fact that the Confucius Entrepreneurs were able to use their own work to show people how to study Chinese was really cool,” Maratea said. “I really liked seeing this because I have a pretty big appreciation for languages.”
Among passion projects like Confucius and Optic games, some E-Weekend and TIA companies have addressed the basic needs and struggles of the Colgate community. One such project is Raider Rides, started by junior Jordan Klein. Last year, Klein’s roommate needed emergency transportation to the Syracuse airport.
“My other roommate, Jason, said he would drive it, and then practice got in the way and they couldn’t all drive it,” Klein said. “So it was up to me to give it a ride in an hour, and I was pretty upset…it ruined my day. Then I thought, ‘There must be a way for someone to program one hour drive”… and I was like, “Why don’t I create this? Like, this looks pretty easy.
Raider Rides, another 100 level venture, now has around 35 registered riders. They hope to launch an app soon and expand their range from Colgate to Syracuse Airport and add a larger map of regions.
Between Shilakes and Morris’s Confucius, Yang’s Optic Games and Klein’s Raider Rides, TIA and E-Weekend are spaces that cater to a wide range of interests and needs within the Colgate community. Yang encourages Colgate students and alumni to add their passions to this pot of diversity by joining TIA and E-Weekend in the future.
“Don’t be scared if you’re not a traditional entrepreneur,” Yang said. “TIA needs more creative businesses. It’s always the first couple. Don’t think they won’t take your creative business seriously – they absolutely will. There is room for all kinds of businesses. Apply as soon as you can.