Entrepreneurship isn’t something that starts after college or when you’ve made enough to become an investor. In fact, it can start while you’re still in school! For Jonathan Hwang, a student studying an Analytics & Enterprise Systems at St. Louis University in Missouri, entrepreneurship has long been on his mind.
Two years ago, Jonathan and his friend Austin were pulled aside by their advisor, who encouraged them to take over a club called the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, or C.E.O. The club had fallen into almost nonexistence, marked by years of apathy and low membership. Jonathan and Austin were tasked with helping it make a comeback. The duo first had to revamp the club’s image. “Austin and I decided to change the name to SLU Entrepreneurs’ Club, as ‘C.E.O.’ was fairly daunting to most people,” Jonathan explains. “Then, we decided on the following mission: to introduce, engage, and inspire student entrepreneurs to create a better world through entrepreneurship.”
In order to live out this mission, Austin and Jonathan helped create events that would correspond to each of the club’s main values: Introduction, Engagement, Inspiration, and Creation. For Introduction, they began holding weekly meetings to help students learn about the entrepreneurship scene at SLU. To Inspire students, they began bringing in high-profile speakers to give their thoughts. “So far, we have brought in executives from [Spanish soccer club] Real Madrid, Strange Donuts, Dippin’ Dots, and FLOW,” Jonathan notes.
To assist with Creation, Jonathan continues, “we bring students to different accelerators such as Blue Diamonds, MedLaunch, [and] SocialLaunch, along with our student-run business, Billiken Ventures. Students are also given the opportunity to go through many of the pitch competitions held by the Center of Entrepreneurship at SLU.”
But the club’s biggest venture is tied to Engagement. Jonathan and Austin decided that the best way to engage their fellow students would be to host a flagship event. This led to the creation of Billicon Valley — also headed up by VP Byron Abrigg — which is a gathering held in SLU’s business school twice a semester.
“The main goal of the event,” Jonathan says, “is to bring college students, high school students, community members, esteemed guests, and startups together in order to foster serendipitous connections. It serves as a space for students interested in starting their own business, looking for an internship a local startup, leading an initiative on campus, or making a difference in their community to network, problem solve, and collaborate.”
Billicon Valley has managed to inspire some huge new things for students at SLU. Several student-run businesses have formed, and students have managed to gain internships from the program.
Among the most exciting things Jonathan has seen during his time running the SLU Entrepreneurs’ Club has been seeing these businesses grow. In fact, three of the student-run businesses have a parent company called Billiken Ventures, which just recently launched. Billiken Ventures has several arms, including a graphic design business, a dry-cleaning company, and a custom apparel business. “The SLU community has never seen something like this before,” Jonathan says, “so we are all excited to see where it heads in the future.”
Jonathan knows that students can find the thought of founding their own business intimidating – especially when they’re not in SLU’s nationally ranked Entrepreneurship program. He believes he can speak to this, as his own major is far outside Entrepreneurship. “Many people believe that starting your own business is an all or nothing choice,” he says, “but even just committing a couple hours to a project or startup is helpful. The most important thing to remember is that we are all entrepreneurs in our own way.
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