When Troy University student Avalon Dudinsky launched her own business before she turned 21 years old, she admitted she needed answers to a bevy of questions.
“It was extremely difficult. It took a long time to connect all the dots,” the Panama City, Florida, resident said regarding loans, licenses, and other processes needed to form the business. “All the resources were not in one spot.”
Sharing those experiences with her academic adviser in Troy’s Sorrell College of Business, though, formed the foundation of an idea – well, the IDEA to be totally correct. The university – through a partnership with Regions Bank, Troy Bank and Trust, and local officials – has launched a small business accelerator called the IDEA (Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship Accelerator) Bank to help the university’s students pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.
A study of business trends reflects the unique program is highly needed, according to Dr. Judson Edwards, dean of Troy’s Sorrell College of Business and an economics professor.
“A business minor is the largest minor at Troy University,” he said. “Students are looking for opportunities to get into the market. Students today are a little more willing to take risks.”
The light bulb
Dudinsky said her discussion in August 2016 caused her adviser and other business professors to ponder the effects of having an entrepreneurship incubator for Troy University students.
“While we had the Small Business Development Center in Troy, we never had a formalized project,” Edwards said. “There’s so much demand from students to start entrepreneurships.”
The project’s major scope aims to help students – from all majors – connect with key business officials in order to secure necessary licenses, funding and other facets that help in product development and marketing. “Some students already have goods or artistic pieces that they can sell,” Edwards said.
Dudinsky was one of them.
The test case
Growing up near the Florida Panhandle coast, Dudinsky encountered an all-purpose spice called “Stan’s Stuff.” Originally created to season seafood, Dudinsky said it works well on other meats and even vegetables.
In recent years, the creator of Stan’s Stuff decided to retire. Dudinsky saw a business opportunity and purchased the rights to the product from him in early 2016.
While Dudinsky completed much of the framework of forming the business, like securing a distributor in Calera, some aspects had not been settled when she discussed the business with her adviser. The IDEA Bank allowed officials to step in and help.
First up was the need for a new design for a label. Professors connected Dudinsky with senior-level graphic design majors who were taking a class on product design.
Dudinsky said she pitched some general ideas to the class, and from there, the designers created three concepts each. Dudinsky eventually selected one of them for her bottles.
For her part, Dudinsky served as the “poster child” of the IDEA Bank as officials formed the framework of what the entire project would accomplish, she said. She met with Troy University’s Board of Trustees, Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr. and Regions Bank executives.
Dudinsky said the relationships formed there have had a significant impact on her business.
“It helps my business by providing a platform to tell my story,” she said. “It’s been free publicity. It helps my business and boosts sales. It’s been good for word of mouth.”
Duplicating the success
While several details have yet to be settled, Edwards said Dudinsky’s experiences provide a blueprint for what Troy University officials aim to accomplish moving forward.
“It’s about getting students together to help with projects,” he said. “Some students may have a product. Well, one can design a label, and another student could be a good videographer. It’s about creating a synergy.”
Edwards noted the IDEA Bank can also arrange students with key business personnel – much like Dudinsky experienced by discussing her project with university trustees.
The most influential step in creating the incubator was securing a location, and Edwards said officials desired one off-campus.
“We wanted to create an opportunity away from campus, a place where they could get away from the pressures of schoolwork,” Edwards said.
Regions Bank had recently vacated a 16,000 square-foot building on the square in downtown Troy and had placed it on the market for sale. Edwards said Troy trustee Lamar Brooks arranged a meeting between Regions executives and university officials, and Regions executives loved the idea enough to reduce the original asking price of the building from $1.3 million to $535,000.
The Troy University Foundation agreed to the price, but Troy Bank and Trust offered $500,000 to help with the purchase. Edwards added Troy Mayor Jason Reeves played a strong role in forming the project.
“I’ve never seen so much grassroots effort on a project,” Edwards said.
The location and the size of the building create endless opportunities for students, Edwards said. In fact, part of the Regions property included an additional 5,000 square-foot facility on the backside – providing even more space for students to operate a business.
“In the second building, we’re developing the capacity for 3-D printing,” Edwards said. “We could even have a commercial kitchen for pop-up restaurants. We’re excited about the possibilities.”
Of course, the main building – which has two stories – could provide retail space, office space and conference rooms for students forming their businesses, Edwards said. Additionally, the university plans to create living spaces on the second floor in order to bolster the downtown area.
“The future is getting students involved in (the city of) Troy,” Edwards said. “Having a living space is key to a vibrant downtown area.”
The acquired space provides so much utility and flexibility that university officials have not finalized a formal plan of what the accelerator can accomplish. Edwards said the goal remains to create a full plan by the end of the 2017-18 academic calendar.
Shaping the future
The accelerator comes at a time when the younger generation feels more entrepreneurial for many reasons – a tough jobs marketplace in recent years, corporate greed and failures and even just an innate desire to take risks, Dudinsky said.
A big factor, though, is the ease of entering the marketplace with a business. In today’s society, securing large bank loans to launch a business may be unnecessary given technological advancements. “You see Kickstarter and those types of campaigns now with the Internet,” she said, referencing the fundraising website. “It’s easier to be an entrepreneur.”
Despite that, Dudinsky knows the generation could use some tools to fill in the rest of the blanks. That is why she embraced the opportunity to help promote the IDEA bank and what it can mean for the future economy.
“We’re really a talented bunch of kids,” she said. “This gives us a way of plugging in.”