Success Stories

/Success Stories

CSUF Startup Incubator Resident Brings Joy To Customers

For over 11 years, James Farr has been helping those in need as an ER nurse at the Los Alamitos Medical Center. For the past three years, however, Farr has become an inventor and entrepreneur by night with the creation of My Fingerbell.

James first got the idea for My Fingerbell when rollerblading along the Long Beach pier. While dodging between people, bikes, and dogs, he began thinking of a voiceless way of alerting those around him that he was coming through.

“I had this little dream,” said James, “to let people know in a nice way [that] I’m present.”

Recalling cherished childhood memories when he would ring a bell on his bicycle while speeding through his neighborhood, he had an epiphany: If the bell were on a finger he could effortlessly alert people of his presence in any situation. Energized by his flash of inspiration, he drew a design on a napkin and decided to make one.

What started out as a little dream has turned into a big reality; Farr has created his own product, My Fingerbell. My Fingerbell is a rubber ring with a finely tuned bell that cuts through the din of any crowd. In addition to selling his bell on his website he is also selling it on Amazon.

What makes My Fingerbell so unique is its many applications. Its use doesn’t just stop with activities like running on busy trails or (even busier) city sidewalks. The bell can be used for just about anything. Whether it’s to train your puppy, for a teacher getting their students’ attention, or as a little trinket for weddings to celebrate the happy couple; My Fingerbell can cater to any need. And it’s just fun!

My Fingerbell comes in two colors, blue and red, pink and white

My Fingerbell comes in two colors, blue and red, pink and white

James has had help along the way from the CSUF Startup Incubator. After meeting with CSUF Startup Incubator staff and explaining his vision, he was accepted into the Incubator as a Resident. During his time at the Incubator, James was able to draw on the experience and advice of staff and his dedicated startup coach to help him craft a custom launch plan for his product.

“[The program at Cal State Fullerton] helped catapult me into a mindset of how to make my invention operational. You can take an idea, but to see it through and understand every aspect of it, from legality to marketing to manufacturing, sales distribution, retail and funding; they [teach] those components.”

There was so much to learn while perfecting the product and he relied on the lean startup methodology that informs the CSUF Startup Incubator’s launch strategy. Working with a student team from Cal State Fullerton, James developed a clear and comprehensive understanding of his market. While at the CSUF Startup Incubator, he also honed his operational plan and developed a pitch that he uses when meeting with investors or partners.

Although James’ has graduated from the CSUF Startup Incubator, the lessons he learned will help him grow My Fingerbell and will help him with all his ventures in the future.

“I can’t tell you enough how wonderful it is having the [entrepreneurial] mindset.”

Written by: Arianna Ford and Travis Lindsay

By | March 11th, 2017|Categories: Success Stories|

How a CSUF Startup Incubator Resident Will Revolutionize Philanthropy

Think about all of the purchases you make with coupons. You have probably used a coupon to buy a meal, to do an activity while on vacation, or maybe even when getting a procedure like Lasik surgery done. Now, what if I told you that there is a company that is a CSUF Startup Incubator Resident that has created a new way to use coupons that will support your favorite causes, charities, and nonprofits?

That company is called Aidtree. At its core, Aidtree has created a virtuous circle connecting businesses, consumers, and the causes that they support. A primary use case for Aidtree would be as a supplement for school fundraisers. With Aidtree, causes passively run fundraisers nonstop. Every time someone who supports a cause buys a coupon on Aidtree a large portion of that purchase price goes to the cause of their choice, the supporter receives a discount, and by participating in this philanthropic business model local businesses get valuable PR that helps to create goodwill in their community. As Aidtree founder Ben Yip says, “Aidtree creates a win-win-win scenario.”

Aidtree’s mission is to connect the purchases you make with the causes you support. But how does it work?  Ben’s simple description is, “Where AirBnB is for hotels and Uber for taxis, Aidtree is for cause giving. Businesses create coupons, which are purchased by the cause supporter. Money is then split with up to 90% of the coupon purchase price going to the cause.” The payment system used for Aidtree is the same that is used by shared-economy platforms like PayPal. Ben, however, considers Aidtree to be shared-philanthropy.

One such community is California State University, Fullerton. The Center for Entrepreneurship has already signed up as a cause, Titan Shops has posted coupons on Aidtree’s alpha site, and many other organizations on campus are working towards joining the site as well as either a cause or business. Additionally, a handful of independent businesses already offer coupons on Aidtree’s alpha site and there are many more businesses and causes that will be added to the site soon.

While still early in the development process, Ben has come a long way in launching Aidtree through his own hard work and with the help of the CSUF Startup Incubator. Before joining the Incubator earlier this year, Ben had made a lot of progress in creating the site and started laying the groundwork for bringing causes, businesses, and customers into the Aidtree community.

Once Ben joined the CSUF Startup Incubator we helped him put his efforts into overdrive. As is the case with all of our Residents, we helped Ben in many ways, including: working with Ben to fundamentally understand his market, conducted a top down review of his website, assistance with writing a business plan, conducting long interviews with potential users of his platform, creating a business model canvas, and help in forming strategic partnerships on campus.

A key partnership is with the CSUF Philanthropic Foundation. Funds from Aidtree for a CSUF club or charity are automatically deposited into a cause’s account, which means no checks or tracking for cause leaders. This also allows CSUF causes to continuously raise funds in addition to their usual events. Ben has also worked closely with students at Cal State Fullerton and with other community organizations on the launch of Aidtree.

Ben’s plan incorporates initially working with the clubs and local businesses around CSUF. Club supporters can help their organization raise money with purchases on the growing list of businesses on the Aidtree Coupon Network. A great fundraising benefit will be for clubs with smaller memberships. Those members can use their social networks to promote their club, promoting the discounts, and fundraising.

It is exciting to watch the growth that Ben and Aidtree are experiencing while working at the CSUF Startup Incubator. We are confident that Aidtree will revolutionize the way causes operate so that they can focus more of their time on doing what really matters: helping their communities.

This article was written by Travis Lindsay and Kevin Emery.

By | March 11th, 2017|Categories: Success Stories|

Pop Art for a New Generation

Children are taught to embrace life and experience different activities and hobbies like art. For most most people, art is a hobby and for those who pursue art as a vocation many find commercial success elusive. Cal State Fullerton alumni Geoff Pascual ’16 has already had some commercial success with his company Pascual Productions through which Geoff sells his pop art originals and prints online and at conventions. Earlier this year, Geoff entered the CSUF Startup Incubator where, with the help of Incubator staff and mentors, Geoff explored new avenues to promote and sell his creations, one of which is close to coming to fruition (more on this on a later date!).

Starting from a young age, Geoff was a skilled artist and received compliments from teachers and students who admired his work. “I started to see my identity as an artist form in elementary school. After getting a lot of positive feedback of my artwork from my friends, I wanted to get better. My classmates would ask me to draw them stuff and I would basically draw whatever they wanted.”

As he continued to grow and increase his skills, Geoff began to branch out and test various mediums for his art. Through a process of trial and error, he found his niche after working with water colors. While water colors are difficult to master, the challenge that it provided for Geoff only helped to make him a better artist.

“I first tried a bunch of different mediums: oil, acrylic, tattooing, markers, spray paint, sculpting, etc. and watercolor was the medium I decided to stick with. I enjoy watercolor because it’s the most difficult. You have to manipulate it to do what you want it do. Traditional art in general has a very alive feel to it,” said Pascual.

As a young artist just entering college, Geoff continued to improve his work while adding more pieces to his ever growing portfolio. With the knowledge attained from his classes, and the support of his sister, Geoff decided to follow through on the next step of his dream and began selling his artwork online. Unbeknownst to him at the time, selling his artwork online was the best move that Geoff could have made.

“I wanted to start selling my artwork online using Etsy. It prompted me to have to think of a store name, so with the help of my older sister I came up with Pascual Productions. At that time, I hadn’t intended to or even expected Pascual Productions to be where it is today, and I’m glad I stuck with it,” said Pascual.

By using the knowledge he attained from his entrepreneurship classes at CSUF, Geoff was able to make his work stand out from the competition. These tactics became invaluable as Geoff continued to build Pascual Productions so that his work reflected the lessons and ideals he was taught as a business major.

“Being a business major in and of itself sets me apart as an artist. It’s a decision I made for myself that worked for me, and I’m positive that my time in business school has contributed to the success of Pascual Productions. From inventory management to business communication situations, I see myself using the skills I learned at Fullerton every day,” said Pascual.

With his continued success online and at local conventions, Geoff was accepted into the CSUF Startup Incubator as a Resident entrepreneur. Looking back at this, Geoff felt that working with the Incubator was the most beneficial move he could have made for business.

“The Incubator has great mentors from all walks of life that I can go to for any questions I have. I would say the networking and information shared at the Incubator is very valuable. It’s opened a lot of opportunities for me in improving my business. It helps to get another person’s perspective,” said Pascual.

Currently, Geoff continues to be met with success as he continues to sell his artwork online and at conventions like Comic-Con.

“The fun part happens when I get to interact with customers and meet a bunch of artists and people in the industry. It’s also a great place to network and get your name out there. You have professionals from the comic, video game, and movie industries just walking the convention floor seeking new talent. If you haven’t been to a convention before, you really need to just experience it for yourself. I’ve meet some of my best friends at these conventions and it’s a close knit community that I’m glad to be a part of,” said Pascual.

By creating a successful business, Geoff has blazed a path for future entrepreneurs in the pop art industry at CSUF. While Geoff’s love of art started out as a hobby, Geoff’s passion and dedication in creating his own business has made him into the success he is today. In terms of those looking to start a business like Geoff, he suggests that students do anything they can to make it work: perseverance is critical. While struggle and hardships are to be expected in the initial stages, the passion and drive of a person has for their idea is much more likely to lead them to success as long as they continue to believe in themselves.

“Use the talents and skills that you’ve been given in a way that works for you. There’s a lot of wasted talent because people get stuck thinking there’s only one way of doing things. You have to make moves. If something isn’t working change it up. There’s always another way. Connect with others because you can’t do it alone. No matter where you’re going there will be people out there willing to help you if you let them.”

As Pascual Productions continues to grow, one thing is abundantly clear. Through the help and support of the CSUF Startup Incubator, anything is possible for the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Kevin Emery wrote this article, Travis Lindsay edited it.

By | March 11th, 2017|Categories: Success Stories|

CSUF Entrepreneurship Students Create Business Plan, Present to Investor Panel

“The panel is awesome – I love that as students, we have the chance to present real ideas to real business owners, entrepreneurs, investors, and bankers.  Few other classes offer the practical feedback and hands-on work that I have experienced in Management 465A.  It is one of the best Entrepreneurship classes, and I highly recommend it to other students.”

Those are some of the thoughts from Jonny May, the creator of Piano with Jonny and one of our CSUF Entrepreneurship students who had the opportunity to give a fifteen minute presentation to a panel of experts on the progress they have made in launching their businesses followed by fifteen minutes of hard hitting questions from those same experts. As you can guess, this is a pressure packed experience but it is also a unique opportunity to get feedback from a diverse group of experts.

But let me take a step back since these panels are the culmination of a semester’s worth of work on the part of CSUF Entrepreneurship students.

At the beginning of every semester, students in Management 465A and 465B coalesce into teams with the mission of either creating a business plan for a concept (465A) or work on launching a business (465B). In Jonny’s case, he is a student in Management 465A and he led his team in the creation of a business plan for his concept: Piano with Jonny. (And, to be perfectly honest, Jonny’s team had a bit of a head start since Jonny has been working on this business for a couple of years now and is already in revenue. But, as you will see, Jonny has leveraged his experience in this class to crystallize his business’ strategy and develop a plan to make his business stronger and well positioned for growth.)

If I could show you a montage right now, I would, because in between the formation of the teams at the beginning of the semester and the panels at the end there is a lot of hard work that largely goes uncelebrated. It is during the semester that the teams work on developing their marketing strategy, interviewing customers to unearth key insights into their thinking, put together an operations plan with a budget, and do all of the other work that is necessary to craft a meaningful business plan that can be used to launch or grow a business and maybe even using the plan when in discussions with potential investors.

And it is this hard work that helps students get to the heart of the matter for their businesses. From Jonny: “The class has forced me to think more deeply about why our customers buy and where to put more of our efforts.  Through customer interviews and competitive analysis, it is now much more clear where we are not being effective and where we can add huge value for our customers.”

The panels that we have already talked about a little are the culmination of all this hard work. Over the course of the three months that make up a semester, many students, including Jonny, dedicate 100+ hours to the completion of their project whether that is the creation of a business plan or work on launching a business. In Jonny’s case, it was a little of both.

The panels are no small matter. As Jonny said at the beginning of this article, we make sure to pick some heavy hitters to be judges. At the most basic level, these panels represent a crucial academic event for our students; having the opportunity to present such a complex and important project is nerve racking for the students but they pretty much always rise to the occasion.

Jack Mixner, one of our professors teaching this class, puts it this way: “Preparing to present to real investors is challenging, daunting – and  exciting. The preparation pays off. Presentations evolve quickly into unexpectedly high level conversations between ‘entrepreneurs’ and ‘investors.’ Students share. They learn. And the investors? They share, too, with sometimes very unexpected and useful points of view that the students, their mentors – and their professors – had not expected. Everybody wins.”

But for students like Jonny who are leveraging this unique academic experience to create something real and hopefully long lasting the panels can represent a crucial turning point in the success of their ventures.

“[The panel] was very helpful – I had to learn how to sell my business and ‘take the heat’ from experts.  I knew they would ask hard questions, so I really had to become familiar with my business in a way I never have.  I learned that we have a highly scaleable business and that we should be charging more for our products,” said Jonny.

We are obviously very proud of the work that Jonny and his team, which includes fellow CSUF Entrepreneurship students Sylvia Dang, Johnny Pen, and Reuben Ponce De Leon and mentor Craig Martyn have done. And the same is true for all of our other teams in these classes. Most will not end in successfully launched business but the experience of trying is invaluable and will certainly help them in all their future endeavors.

And in Jonny’s case, we are looking forward to not only working with him as a student but also as a Resident at the CSUF Startup Incubator. Jonny was accepted into the Incubator just a few days ago because we see a great deal of potential in his business and we believe he’s the kind of entrepreneur that has the capability and drive to make his startup into a sustainable business. We will be working closely with him in the classroom and at the Incubator over the next six months and by the end of that time we believe Jonny will be well on his way towards taking Piano with Jonny to the next level.

By | March 11th, 2017|Categories: Success Stories|