Arthur Salido, Western Carolina University’s executive director for community and economic engagement and innovation, and EPIC Innovation provided four Western Carolina University students with an opportunity to participate in the recent “Hatch This” entrepreneurial weekend in downtown Asheville.
This event, held annually by Hatch AVL, is described as “a mash-up of an accelerator, a hackathon, and a weekend-long party” for start-up businesses. Participants work in teams to develop a small business and compete for a $20,000 prize package. The four WCU student participants were Trinity Wiles, Matthew McRae, Zach Badger and Emily Tatum.
EPIC Innovation is a student initiative within the College of Business that encourages entrepreneurship through “elevating potential, imagination and collaboration.”
The event started on a Friday evening with 27 attendees participating in a one-minute pitch competition to try and convince audience members that their idea should be chosen to continue in the competition through the entire weekend. Tatum, an entrepreneurship major, pitched her business idea called “LASER,” an app that will assist emergency responders during natural disasters or active shooter situations. Once all the pitches were complete, each audience member voted for his or her top three favorites, and the top eight participants were chosen to form teams for the weekend. Tatum’s LASER was one of the top choices.
From there, audience members were allowed to join a team where they would bring the most to the table. Tatum’s team consisted of Matthew McRae, an entrepreneurship major at WCU; Zach Badger, a WCU student with experience in coding and programming; Matt Dunn, a videographer interested in reducing response times in active shooter situations; Linda Welsh, a parent and believer in creating change; and high school students Perry Berlin, Solomon Salido and Jarib Pott. The high school students brought the real-life perspective because they worry about active shooters as they attend school each day. “It was important to me to have team members that were familiar with the problem we were trying to solve because they provided invaluable insight about what users will want from the LASER system,” Tatum said.
On Friday night, team members became familiar with each other and their skills. Each team was given a private space at Hatch AVL to collaborate and develop their ideas. Tatum gathered her team in that space and provided a more in-depth description of LASER and facilitated the team by brainstorming the ideas on feasible working solutions. Tatum reported that she had a real-life experience in the importance of developing a game plan that the team could follow and in delegating responsibilities to be more effective throughout the weekend.
On Saturday and Sunday, the teams worked to determine their final product, market size, competition and financial feasibility, and also gathered end-user feedback. McRae and Badger learned how to draw from their knowledge and use their personal talents to provide information relevant to developing a business. They were given the opportunity to apply skills such as communication, team dynamics, professionalism and innovation.
Throughout the weekend, business professionals were available to mentor participants on topics related to their business such as coding, intellectual property, legal advice and emergency technology. The final event was held on Sunday evening, when Tatum presented all the information developed by her team in a four-minute final pitch. “LASER” was not a winning team, but Tatum received a full scholarship to Tech Talent South’s Code Immersion class, worth $6,700. The scholarship will allow her to learn computer coding, which can be applied to the creation of the LASER system. “I am grateful for the opportunity to further my knowledge about coding and learn more about something that is vital to society,” she said. “Without the support of WCU, Arthur Salido and EPIC Innovation, I would not have had this opportunity.
“As an entrepreneurship major, I thought that I was prepared to be a leader for my team and the ‘head’ of my company,” Tatum said, reflecting on the entire weekend. “I was wrong. I cherish the education that I am receiving in the classroom, but my experience at ‘Hatch This’ weekend allowed me to apply the information from my courses to the real world. Start-up weekends like “Hatch This” are a safe space for students such as myself to make mistakes without consequence while also growing business skills. It helped me realize that what I am learning in the classroom matters because I will need it when I start my own businesses. Because of this experience, I feel that I am a better student and a better entrepreneur.”
Information compiled by Emily Tatum