When he started helping a friend sell vintage sportswear, William Martin didn’t expect that he would soon branch off and start his own business, Stylish Thrift, that would gross $12,000 in 13 months.
On Monday, Martin, a senior business major at McDaniel College originally from Winchester, Virginia, received another vote of confidence in his business acumen. Stylish Thrift was chosen as the winner of the college’s Innovation Challenge.
The challenge pulled together five finalists — winnowed down from several dozen entrants — who pitched their ideas before a group of expert judges.
Stylish Thrift, a digital store with a strong social media presence, sells a curated selection of men’s secondhand clothing, focused on sportswear. Some weeks, Martin spends as much as 10 hours sourcing his inventory.
“I honestly do remember when I was younger my mom would always try to find jerseys for me because I would always want to wear one … I kind of just started doing sportswear on my own and here I am a year later,” Martin said.
He credits classes at McDaniel for helping him form a “better understanding of business in general.”
“I definitely think sky’s the limit right now,” he said.
Those who finished in second and third place also went home with some capital for their projects.
Sertified, a business providing a “pop-up network” of American Red Cross-certified lifeguard instructors to local pools came in second and Loyl, a customer loyalty mobile application designed to replace paper loyalty punch-cards, came in third with the people’s choice.
The businesses had five minutes to pitch their ideas, followed by 10 minutes of questions from the judges.
Steve Chapin Jr., Lee Jokl, Steven Kousouris, Jenny McWhorter and Tiombe Page didn’t hold back as they questioned the participants on all aspects of their presentations.
Chapin said that events like the Innovation Challenge are important because economics is a “less theoretical and more practical discipline.”
“Actually seeing them come out with a product or company — that is really the way to learn this,” he said, noting that he looks for pitches that really understand who the customer is. “The ultimate test is if somebody is willing to pay money for the product.”
McWhorter delivered the judges’ feedback for Stylish Thrift before the winners of the competition were revealed.
“Out of the presentations, at least for me, that was the first thing that really caught me off guard,” she told Martin. “It’s a huge market and the specificity in sportswear and really charting appropriate demographics was great.”
“In my mind, the one untapped market in relation to secondhand anything is the ability to buy it online. You already have that, so you’re definitely working backwards. I think you’ve figured out a bunch of the harder things and a bunch of the opportunities that were out there,” she added.
Josh Ambrose, executive director for the Center for Experience and Opportunity, said the advice of five judges, who represent years of business experience and millions of dollars of financial success, was beneficial for all of the young entrepreneurs who got to network with them.
“I can say something in class a hundred times,” he said, but when the lesson comes from an outside mentor it can spark a lightbulb moment for students. “The words of these judges have a weight to them.”
Jonathan Weetman, McDaniel College Entrepreneur in Residence, served as master of ceremonies for the event. Prior to that he helped mentor and consult with many of the students as they prepared for competition.
“Keep in mind, tonight is just a snapshot,” he told the audience. The five-minute pitch can only show a little bit of the “inspiration, perspiration and preparation” that went into the students’ plans.
Weetman also reminded all in attendance that the ideas that didn’t bring home the top prize still have opportunities to launch successfully.
Ambrose mentioned BookSwap, now renamed CollegeSwap, a former third-place finisher at the Innovation Challenge that went on to win the 2017 Carroll Biz Challenge.
He was also excited that two of the finalists this year were students who had previously entered the competition, “for the grit and perseverance that shows,” he said.
“That’s how business works,” Ambrose said. “You learn from your mistakes, pivot, learn from your ideas.”