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Ready to Launch: GCU Students and Alumni Become Entrepreneurs

GCU student entrepreneurs

Recovering from an injury, Georgian Court University junior Bryce Council (above left), a business administration major and sports management minor, thought about the concept of overcoming adversity. As he worked to recover, it occurred to him that launching a brand that inspired people to overcome their challenges would not only be a satisfying endeavor, but it would make a great business. Bryce began discussing the concept with two of his friends—fellow juniors Kim “KJ” Speller (above, bottom of photo) , who is majoring in marketing, and Randolph “Randy” Simmons Jr. (above, top of photo), a digital communication major—and the three entrepreneurs began to work on a plan. KJ would manage the website and social media, while Randy would create videos and work on other promotion. Bryce would work on sourcing and designs. And they’d all work together on other aspects of the business.

The result of their collaboration is fashion brand CyiSoon. The name is an acronym for “count yourself in and make something out of nothing,” and the brand’s core message is about believing in yourself, even when everyone counts you out. In less than a year, the business has a full line of shirts, hoodies, leggings, hats, and shorts and a growing customer base around the world.

Doing Business, Court-Style

Georgian Court has a population of budding business owners who are working for themselves. Jennifer Edmonds, Ph.D., dean of the School of Business and Digital Media (SBDM), says the school provides an excellent environment for would-be entrepreneurs.

“It’s a combination of a few things. Our mentoring approach to everything—be it coursework or advising or career preparation—provides a hands-on, one-on-one approach,” Dr. Edmonds explains. “It encourages students to be comfortable talking about their creativity, and they’re able to work through the obstacles to what they want to do.”

GCU student Alex Roman
Senior Alex Roman

The school also has a focus on digital development, which lowers the barriers to entry in starting some businesses. And being in an environment where students have access to exceptional business minds on the faculty, as well as real-world business owners, gives them access to advice and contacts that can help them get their businesses off the ground, she says.

Senior graphic design major Alexandra “Alex” Roman didn’t plan to launch a worldwide enterprise out of her dorm room. But when her sister asked her to create a logo for her horse training and sale business during the summer of her sophomore year, she inadvertently launched a successful freelance design business.

“I’ve designed logos, flyers, and other promotional materials for some local small businesses. Many of them involved horse training and therapy, and because I love animals, it was really enjoyable to create designs that incorporated animals in them,” she says.

She credits her Georgian Court classes with helping her develop the “versatility that is required as a designer. Our professors have helped us to tackle a huge variety of projects, from web design to video editing to typography and beyond, and that helps us build a varied skill set so that we’re ready and willing to tackle any challenges that may come our way with our clients,” she says.

Launching a Business with Class

Alumni Nicole Gardner Taylor Bauerband
Alumnae Nikki Gardner ’18 (left) and Taylor Bauerband ’18, ’19

Like many college students, Taylor Bauerband ’18, ’19 and Nicole “Nikki” Gardner ’18 found upscale boutiques too pricey. They wanted to create a place where women could find great-looking clothes for reasonable prices. But they assumed that launching a clothing boutique was going to have to wait until they had money.

“We said, ‘We can’t do it when we’re this young, you need to have money first.’ And then, one day it just dawned on us that we can pretty much just do whatever we want and start it now, then see what happens with it. Why do we have to wait for a certain age or have a certain income? Why can’t we just try it now?” says Taylor.

And being students in the SBDM let them merge their business idea with their classroom work. The two entrepreneurs built the website for their boutique, Girls Next Door, in their e-commerce course and learned how to promote it in their marketing course. Their professors were invaluable, says Nikki.

“It’s not easy to launch a business like this. It’s hard to get people to trust you and get the word out,” Nikki adds.

But having their partnership and access to the experience and expertise of their professors helped them create a business that has solid sales and continues to gain a following on social media.

Likewise, as KJ built CyiSoon’s website and social media presence, he also relied on his coursework at Georgian Court and advice from people he met in the industry.

“I just learn every day as I go,” he says.

For student entrepreneurs like the founders of CyiSoon, starting a business in school has changed the course of their futures. From Georgian Court to endless possibilities, this comeback is just getting started.

Adapted from story by Gwen Moran in the Winter 2020 issue of GCU Magazine. Photos by Russ DeSantis.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,400 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 14 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2019, GCU was named a Best College for Your Money by Money Magazine and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. GCU rose more than 30 points in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report rankings due, in part, to high student retention and graduation rates, which also made GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at Hazlet, GCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.

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