UCF Alumnus Lands $1.4 Million Deal on “Shark Tank”

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UCF alumnus Gaston Blanchet, ’09 (right), appeared with business partner Jesse Potash on the Dec. 4 episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” where the entrepreneurs made a $1.4 million deal for their invention, Trunkster. (PHOTO: Trunkster Facebook page)

The popular reality television show “Shark Tank” gives entrepreneurs a chance to potentially secure a business deal with one or more self-made millionaires (aka “Sharks”). On each episode, guests try to convince the sharks to help fund their business ideas, in an effort to turn their innovative dreams into a million-dollar realities.

The Burnett Honors College alumnus Gaston Blanchet, ’09, and his business partner, Jesse Potash, dove into the unpredictable waters of the “Shark Tank” on the Dec. 4 episode, ultimately making a deal with two sharks for $1.4 million and 5 percent equity for their unique luggage invention, Trunkster.

The Trunkster, created for young professionals and other frequent travelers who live out of their suitcases, is available in two sizes, and incorporates a roll-top front, with TSA-compliant lock, instead of the usual zipper. It also features a built-in digital scale, USB charging station and GPS-enabled tracking system. In addition, it’s water and shock resistant, and comes with a price tag starting at $395.

The young entrepreneurs ran an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014, which raised nearly $1.4 million — way more than their original goal of $50,000.

During the “Shark Tank” presentation, technology innovator Robert Herjavec was the first to express interest in the product, offering $1.4 million for 30 percent equity. Venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary offered to split the deal with Herjavec, but was denied, and instead offered $1.4 million for 37 percent equity, stating his offer was just as ridiculous as the Trunkster founders’ $28 million valuation.

Lori Greiner, the “Queen of QVC,” then explained how her experience and knowledge of other specialized retail items make her the best fit for the deal, and that she’d be willing to invest $1.4 million for 15 percent. Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of AXS TV and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, also expressed interest, but had a hard time justifying an investment at the valuation because of the many risks involved with a pre-sale company.

The two inventors then asked to step outside to discuss their plan of action.

Upon their return, the pair countered Cuban and Greiner, proposing the two Sharks split the $1.4 million investment in exchange for the original offer of 5 percent equity, with a guarantee of paying the investors back in full within 24 months. Plus, Blanchet and Potash assured the Sharks that if they failed to meet the deadline, they would double Cuban and Greiner’s equity (to 10 percent), in addition to paying them $1 per unit sold in royalties, in perpetuity.

Greiner immediately accepted the guys’ offer, followed by Cuban, and the fate of Trunkster was sealed with a deal.

WATCH THE EPISODE ON ABC.COM

More Info on Trunkster

 

Fun fact: “Shark Tank” is produced by UCF alumnus Clay Newbill, ’82.

 

Alumnus’ Passion for Entrepreneurship Inspires Upcoming Rosen College Competition

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By Kathy Dorf
Rosen College Public Relations

Every business starts with a great idea, but connecting and networking with the entrepreneurial community is what gets it off the ground. That’s what Julien Meyer, ’14, hopes students will take away from the Rosen College Entrepreneurship Competition, an idea he originally brought to the college, which officially launches in January. Meyer studied hospitality and event management at UCF while running his own startup company, but, since graduation, his newest venture has really picked up speed.

Meyer is currently CEO of BlurtBox, a mobile app that helps customers voice their complaints about a business, and allows owners and managers to address customers in real time. While the technology sector may seem crowded, BlurtBox has already racked up a list of impressive achievements, surpassing 10,000 downloads in the Google Play and Apple App stores since its Aug. 25 launch, raising $125,000 in funding and averaging more than 200 new business customers weekly. Meyer and Blurtbox show no signs of slowing down as they seek a second round of financial support to hire employees and grow the company.

At the age of 23, Meyer clearly has a lot on his plate, but he finds time to pursue another passion besides his business — helping others realize their entrepreneurial dreams, too. As a recent graduate, he’s now a member ofRosen College’s Hospitality Management Industry Advisory Board, which is how he initially introduced the idea of an entrepreneurship competition. His experience at UCF inspired him to become an entrepreneur, which is why he believes it’s important to expose students to all the resources the university community has to offer.

“UCF provided me with a network of friends, alumni, professors and mentors who made my ventures possible,” Meyer says. “Entrepreneurship is a very scary and lonely path to take, and I believe it’s only made possible when you’re surrounded by people and institutions that support you. UCF gave me that ecosystem and those people.”

The Rosen College Entrepreneurship Competition will be an opportunity for students to take an idea for a hospitality-related product or service and develop a plan to bring it to market. Students may enter as individuals or teams, and at least one person must be currently enrolled at Rosen College. Participants will compete for cash prizes that can assist with startup costs and help make their dreams a reality.

“Competitions like this allow students to use the creative side of their brains and do something which is seemingly impossible: to turn an idea into a business,” Meyer says. “My hope is that students will gain both insight and connections into the world of entrepreneurship and learn more about the ecosystem that exists for entrepreneurship here in Orlando. Win or lose, these competitions open incredible doors and make building a business 100 times easier.”

Full details about the Rosen College Entrepreneurship Competition will be announced in early January.

See original article on UCF Today. For more information about hospitality education at Rosen College, please visit hospitality.ucf.edu.

UCF Alumnus’ Online Booking Agency Named to
Inc. Magazine’s Fastest-Growing List

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By Kathy Dorf
Rosen College Public Relations

Greg Fisher, ’07, has what philanthropist and hotelier Harris Rosen famously calls the “entrepreneur gene.” He saw his first business succeed and fail while still studying hospitality management at Rosen College, but persevered and eventually launched TripShock, an online booking agency for tours, attractions and lodging for the Southeastern United States. The company reported record sales of $2.4 million in 2014 and a three-year growth rate of 2,386 percent. His company recently ranked No. 173 on the Inc. 5000 List of Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America.

Fisher, who serves as TripShock’s CEO and oversees employees working remotely around the country from his Destin, Fla., headquarters, shares his advice for budding entrepreneurs and how his experience at Rosen College has played a part in his success.

Describe your career journey since graduating from UCF’s Rosen College.
I started out working in various hotels in the Destin, Fla., area for my first two years after graduating. At the same time, I had been running an online dining guide that I started while attending Rosen College. Although I enjoyed the challenge of both jobs, I was looking for something that defined my passion for tourism innovation. I was lucky enough to run into a local businesswoman for whom I had worked in the past. She needed someone with my skill set to operate a concierge business she planned to open. As most entrepreneurs do, I took a risk of leaving a safe and secure job for a startup. For the first four years, we dealt with a lot of challenges, including the BP oil spill, which nearly shut our doors. In 2014, I acquired majority ownership of the company and took on a new partner.

What inspired you to start your own business?
While attending Rosen, I started an online dining guide that entered me in the world of entrepreneurship at 20 years old. I ran the dining guide as a hobby while holding other jobs, but the success and failure of this venture prepared me for what was to come with TripShock. What intrigued me most about entrepreneurship is allows you to solve problems for consumers on a personal level. When I realized that tourists were not able to effectively find and purchase tickets for tours and attractions on the Gulf Coast, I knew I needed to provide a means for them to do this.

What makes your company stand out from others in the online booking space?
Although there are a handful of local, regional and national competitors in our space, TripShock stands out because we have not given up on the traditional aspect of the booking experience. Where most online agencies have outsourced or removed their call centers completely, we have done exactly the opposite! We have invested in local and professional agents that greatly enhance the customer experience with their knowledge of our booking destinations. In fact, more than 30 percent of our revenue has been generated from our vacation planners, which far outweighs any additional costs of hiring local.

Another reason for our growth is attributed to an experienced management team that understands seasonal pricing trends. It’s important to structure promotions and packages at the right time in order to maximize engagement. We only concentrate on the northern Gulf Coast because we have greater control of our resources. We are very thankful for the close partnerships we have made with the 130-plus suppliers in our markets.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve been able to do so far in your career?
My favorite thing I have been able to do is give back to my community, employees and colleagues, and enhance their lives in some way, shape or form — whether it be giving to a local charity, or providing assistance to an employee in need. If your desire to become an entrepreneur is to get rich and have nice things, you are in it for the wrong reasons. It will never be fulfilling until you realize that what you’re doing is helping make someone’s life (or vacation) better.

How did your experience at Rosen College prepare you to start your own business?
Although Rosen College didn’t offer many classes on entrepreneurship or online travel marketing, the faculty did a great job of inspiring students to pursue something “greater.” More than anything, I enjoyed hearing how certain professors made their mark on the hospitality industry. It made you believe that nothing can stop you from starting your own restaurant franchise or becoming the next Harris Rosen!

What was your favorite part about attending Rosen College?
There were so many great memories that it’s hard to pinpoint my favorite. I’d have to say being around like-minded individuals who equally inspire each other tops the list. Many of my peers from Rosen College are having a lot of success in their careers, which is important for the reputation of the college.

How has your degree helped you as an entrepreneur?
Although Rosen College didn’t offer many classes for entrepreneurs, a lot of faculty were current or past entrepreneurs. The stories of their success and failure were always intriguing and helpful. The degree has opened up many doors throughout the years and brought credibility to my company.

What’s next for you and TripShock?
We have a lot of exciting things in the pipeline right now. Our latest initiative is developing a cloud based app for tour and activity operators that allows them to accept online reservations from several different distribution channels, including their own websites. This project is slated to go live in October. We are also in the process of licensing our booking software to other local travel entities, so we can reach a greater audience with our products. There are no immediate plans to expand our territory since we have a lot more growth opportunity locally.

What advice would you give to current and potential Rosen College students who are interested in starting their own business?
I would say that there is never “the right time” to start a business. If you have an idea that you want to pursue, go for it. It’s OK to make mistakes and prepare to have major setbacks — it’s all part of the ride. People will tell you that “you won’t go far” and “your idea is terrible.” The worst critics will be your closest friends and family. Surround yourself with people who are highly motivated, passionate and like-minded. Most of all, lead by example!

See original article on UCF Today. For more information about hospitality education at Rosen College, please visit hospitality.ucf.edu.

O’Dang! Look Who Landed a Big Deal with Publix!

Jesse Wolfe, founder and CEO of O'Dang Hummus, at Orlando's East End Market, which carries his products (PHOTO: Jim Carchidi)
Jesse Wolfe, founder and CEO of O’Dang Hummus, at Orlando’s East End Market, which carries his products (PHOTO: Jim Carchidi)

By Matthew Richardson
Reporter, Orlando Business Journal

A University of Central Florida student known for his hummus landed a deal with a big supermarket chain to carry his product, but it’s not the product he’s widely known for.

Jesse Wolfe, founder and CEO of O’Dang Hummus, told the Orlando Business Journal that he closed on a deal with Publix Super Markets Inc. this month for the stores to carry his new salad dressing product. Wolfe’s product will be available at all of Publix’s 1,106 locations throughout six states. Wolfe still sells his hummus products at local farmer’s markets throughout Central Florida.

Wolfe, whose popular hummus comes in a variety of flavors like Bomb-A-Licious Buffalo, Dillionaire Fresh Dill Hummus, and Sweet & Spicy Black Bean, has caught the eye of many business investors. In October, t he startup won $15,000 at Blackstone’s first LaunchPad Demo Day in New York City, where Wolfe placed second out of 20 competitors.

Wolfe said he first met with Publix in April to talk about selling his hummus, but after the company turned down that idea, Wolfe quickly worked on another product — the salad dressing.

“I think they liked the dressing because it’s oil-free and dairy-free. Publix loves it, and it’s a really good take on hummus,” he says.

This story appeared in an Aug. 13, 2015, edition of the Orlando Business Journal online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original article. 

UCF Student Entrepreneurs Take Art into Their Own Hands

Yuan Chang aims to introduce UCF students to healthier food options and fresher-quality ingredients. (Photo courtesy of Yuan Chang)

By Shanae Hardy
Digital Producer, Central Florida Future

Unlike most college students who see college as a time to study and party, some students are using their time to explore and cultivate creativity.

Since the launch of the Blackstone LaunchPad at UCF, many students have received help to facilitate their entrepreneurial ventures.

Although there are some students who walk into the UCF Starter Lab with ideas brimming the innovative pool in their brains, while others walk in unsure of where their entrepreneurial aspirations may lead.

From Garden to UCF
Hae Yuan Chang, a junior environmental science major, decided she wanted to provide healthier food options for students after being frustrated by the limited vegan and vegetarian options on campus.

“I’ve had experiences where I would be on campus for a long time, and I would have to eat some of the options we have on campus that were suitable for vegetarians, and it made me really groggy and not want to do anything, like not want to go to class,” she explains.

Inspired by the vegetarian Hare Krishna buffet offered at the University of Florida, Chang wants to introduce students to fresher-quality ingredients that will have similar flavors of a student’s acquired tastes.

“I definitely want to incorporate ethnic dishes such as curry and stir-fry,” she says. “I want to prove that vegan food isn’t just salad.”

Chang is currently working on her company with the help from UCF’s Startup Community. She is also testing out the flavors of her menu with her six roommates at the Peanut Butter Palace, a sustainable student co-op.

Learning how to completely adjust to a vegetarian diet by cooking and gardening with her vegan and vegetarian roommates, Chang hopes to teach students that it’s really easy to become environmentally aware and it can be beneficial.

Growing your own food lowers food costs and promotes healthy eating, she says.

Chang plans to set up a vegetarian food stand on campus, potentially named “The Beet Bar.”

Molding a Hobby
While developing an app for students to track the night life in Orlando, Cedric Lopez, a senior entrepreneurship major, accidentally stumbled into leather designing.

“One day I decided to make a wallet for myself,” he explains. “Then, I decided to make a laptop cover and posted it online. I got a surprising response from friends, and the orders started coming in. So, I had a hard decision to make: keep working on this app or invest all my time into leather working.”

He decided to brand his products with the help of Blackstone.

Cedric Lopez hand stitches and uses exotic leather for wallets, bags and key chains to make high-quality products. (Photo courtesy of Cedric Lopez)
Cedric Lopez hand stitches and uses exotic leather for wallets, bags and
key chains to make high-quality products. (Photo courtesy of Cedric Lopez)

Previously wanting to become an architect, he uses the same creative process he learned to incorporate into his designing.

“I could see the silhouette of a building, or a feature of that building, and be inspired to make something out of leather,” he says.

Lopez hand stitches and uses exotic leather for the wallets, bags and key chains he crafts, which makes for better-quality products to distinguish his brand.

Abandoning one idea for another has proved to be a challenge for Lopez, but he plans to maintain his brand through perseverance.

“I have learned to just get there and start something,” he says. “You’re going to make mistakes, but that’s when you learn what not to do. Fail fast and fail early.”

Musically Inclined
Turning his uncertainty into a brand, Brandon Nightingale, a senior history and writing and rhetoric major, launched his first mixtape, “Flight ‘n Friends,” in April after receiving encouragement and mentoring from Blackstone.

“Three months ago, I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I just released the project,” Nightingale says.

He utilized a community of music artists, designers and producers from UCF and his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., to help with his first music venture.

Brandon Nightingale launched his first mixtape, "Flight 'n Friends," and hopes it resonates with the UCF community. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Nightingale)
Brandon Nightingale launched his first mixtape, “Flight ‘n Friends,” and hopes it resonates
with the UCF community. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Nightingale)

Nightingale said he hopes his mixtape resonates with the UCF community even after he graduates.

“I think people will get the message to bring people together through music because people are moved through music,” he says.

Nightingale recently started performing at local clubs in Orlando and Jacksonville, and he is working on his second project, which will not have as many featured artists.

“Music is something I’ve always dreamed about. I just had to be told I could do it.”

This article appeared in a June 3, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original story.

Business Idea Turns Student into UCF’s Coupon Kingpin

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Julien Meyer, a 20-year-old hospitality major at UCF, is the owner of a successful new coupon company that looks to connect fellow students with big nightlife savings.
(Photo: Courtesy of Michael Mowery Photography)

By Michael Weiss

Central Florida’s hospitality industry entertains and serves more than 55 million visitors from throughout the globe each year in addition to its local residents. And, due to the extraordinarily high volume of customers, many restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and entertainment venues in the area can charge a premium rate for their services — a cost that local college students often can’t afford.

“For most college kids, spending two or three extra dollars is a huge deal,” said Julien Meyer, a 20-year-old hospitality management and event management double major at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. “A couple bucks can really decide where we go to eat or hang out, so we’re always looking for some sort of deal.”

Many college students download coupon apps to their smartphones or visit websites, like Groupon.com, to find savings on lunch, groceries, coffee, and other various daytime activities; however, there are very few, if any, companies that market nightlife discounts specifically to college students.

Meyer, a self-described life-long entrepreneur, realized this market gap and founded collegeTKTS — a marketing firm that aims to connect UCF students with discounts to local concerts, eateries, special events, nightclubs and more.

“I used to DJ at different bars around town and I would always invite my friends to hang out, but many of them could only afford to go out one night a week,” Meyer said. “So I began talking to the managers I worked for to see if they could offer discounts to college students, and they loved the idea, but needed a medium. This was my ‘Aha!’ moment.”

With no other direct competition, Meyer launched collegeTKTS in August of 2012 and word quickly spread throughout the local hospitality industry.

“I know it sounds cliché, but my company grew faster than I ever expected,” Meyer said. “I thought I wouldn’t have any revenue my first year and that most of my time would be spent cold calling businesses.”

What Meyer underestimated was the power of networking.

“I scheduled meetings with the managers I knew from DJing and pitched my company to them,” Meyer recalled. “They loved the company and began telling their friends, who also owned restaurants and bars around town. Before I knew it, businesses were calling me for my services.”

What collegeTKTS offers is simple, direct and effective. Through the company’s website, www.collegeTKTS.com, UCF students can register their .edu email address to receive a newsletter loaded with nightlife discounts from Meyer’s clients.

Within its first five months, more than 1,200 students subscribed to the company’s newsletter.

But despite Meyer’s success, the college junior was still looking for guidance to grow his business. Meyer ultimately found a mentor and business partner in Matt Ockwell, a UCF alumnus, ’10, who owned the bi-monthly coupon publication, CollegeStack.

“CollegeStack is very well-known around UCF and has a similar business model to my company,” Meyer said. “I reached out to their owner, Matt Ockwell, and he was happy to meet with me. We started talking about our goals and he asked me if I would be interested in purchasing his company.”

After rounds of negotiation, the two struck a deal on Jan. 11, and Meyer now owns collegeTKTS and CollegeStack to become the coupon kingpin of UCF.

“CollegeStack offers discounts to college students for lunch and other daytime activities, while collegeTKTS focuses on nightlife savings; so I have kind of cornered the market,” Meyer explained.

With the acquisition complete, Meyer and his team now manage more than 100 client accounts.

“I want people to know that there is no formula for success, you just need to go out, experience things, and learn from those experiences,” Meyer said. “I hope that my story motivates and encourages others to act on their business ideas and instincts.”

Meyer’s story and entrepreneurial spirit was recently featured in Small Business Owner magazine, and will also soon be featured in Small Business Today Magazine.

See original story on UCF Today.

UCF Alumnus, Entrepreneur to Host Business Chat on Twitter

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By Maddie Hammond
College of Business Administration Office of Communications and Corporate Engagement

Students in the UCF College of Business Administration are no strangers to entrepreneurial culture. From participating in service-learning classes like Cornerstone to competing in competitions like The Joust New Venture Challenge, fostering entrepreneurship is one of the key platforms of the college. On Friday, April 3, 2015, students will engage in another provocative #UCFBizChat on Twitter with someone who is an example of how that culture changes lives.

UCF graduate Dean Caravelis, ’02, will testify to the challenges of acting as one’s own boss and the perks of being an entrepreneur. After leaving his position as a marketing executive in 2008, Caravelis started his own marketing company, Blezoo Promotional Products. Blezoo supplies companies with promotional items and branded apparel to generate brand recognition and loyalty. Products range from tees to tumblers, and Blezoo claims to carry “promotional products from A to Z.”

Caravelis was presented with the Entrepreneurial Alumni Award at the 16th Annual UCF Business Hall of Fame Award Banquet on Feb. 26, 2015. Blezoo has stood the test of time after more than seven years in business, and Caravelis’ insights will be invaluable to students.

Follow the college on Twitter @UCFBusiness and #UCFBizChat to chat with Caravelis, as well as UCF students, faculty and alumni.

Dang Good Snack

Students’ start-up company gets first taste of big success

UCF student-entrepreneurs Jesse Wolfe (second from right) and Ryan Atkins (right) won the $15,000, second-place award for  their venture, O'Dang Hummus, at the Blackstone Charitable Foundation's Demo Day.
UCF student-entrepreneurs Jesse Wolfe (second from right) and Ryan Atkins (right) won the $15,000, second-place award for
their venture, O’Dang Hummus, at the Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s Demo Day.

UCF is one of 15 colleges and universities in the Blackstone LaunchPad network, a co-curricular, experiential campus program designed to introduce entrepreneurship as a viable career path and develop entrepreneurial skills and mindsets through individualized coaching, idea and venture-creation support.

At the end of October, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation held its inaugural Blackstone LaunchPad Conference and Demo Day in New York City, for which UCF students Jesse Wolfe and Ryan Atkins were chosen to participate and ultimately took home the $15,000, second-place award for their business venture, O’Dang Hummus.

A few months ago, Phil Santos, venture coach and community manager for UCF’s Blackstone LaunchPad, spoke to O’Dang’s founder for the UCF Starters blog (ucfstarters.org) to get the story behind Wolfe’s sensible, smooth snack. Here’s how the conversation went:

Q. Tell me a little bit about O’Dang Hummus.
A. With O’Dang Hummus, we’re really trying to revolutionize the hummus industry. Hummus has been such an ethnic dish that hasn’t changed in forever. The major players in the market right now are all doing the exact same flavors. We don’t want to do your classic, traditional hummus. Our idea is to be the rebels, the disruptive kids of hummus. We’re the guys who are coming out with the crazy color schemes, the funky logos and the fun ads. We’re making hummus fun and exciting. Our whole goal is to familiarize hummus across the United States, and then to go global.

Q. What’s your history with hummus?
A. I never really knew what hummus was until three years ago. I had my wisdom teeth pulled out, and I had my cheeks all swollen at home. I got tired of eating milkshakes and soups and that stuff, so I started eating Sabra [hummus]. And, that’s when it hit me that there are only four or five flavors of this stuff. So, I started going into the kitchen and whipping up my own hummus just to get me through the week.

My girlfriend at the time was taking it to work. She worked at a higher-end fashion store, and all those girls she worked with ate hummus regularly and said, “this is ridiculously good.”

Then, you know, its funny… Pam [Hoelzle, associate director for UCF’s Blackstone LaunchPad] substitute taught one of my classes here at UCF, and she gave us a pitch on joining the The Joust. I had 36 hours to submit an entry form. Fast-forward to the end of The Joust, and we end up placing third. We took home $4,000 in prize money, and it was validation. I thought, ‘Hey I’ve got nothing to lose. Let me run with this.’

Our idea is to be the rebels, the disruptive kids of hummus.

Q. How did your perception of O’Dang change over time?
A. The Joust was really what opened my eyes how big this really was. At first, I thought I could just do it as a hobby. You know, sell it to some people locally. But, I didn’t expect it to be the monster that we’re sitting on now. When you see something you’ve worked so hard at being picked up and people love it… We actually had one lady buy 18 tubs of hummus in one shot to give to co-workers, and friends and family.

Q. Have there been any struggles along the way?
A. Oh yeah. Struggle No. 1, just out of the gate, was actually getting into a farmer’s market. Lake Eola had a two-year waiting list. It’s crazy, and they’re very cut-throat. They should do a documentary on it — I’ll put it that way.

I’m a very persistent person. I was sending emails, sending emails — nothing back. So, I decided to be a little risky. I packed a lunchbox full of hummus, and I went down to the farmer’s market when they were doing it. I gave the guy changing trash $25 cash and said, “Take me to the person that’s in charge of this.” He took me over to this nice lady and I convinced her to try it. She was like, “Wow, this is really good.” That was Sunday. Monday at 3 p.m., I got the email from them saying I could start the following Sunday. And that was the biggest break we had, because in the farmer’s market world, Lake Eola is like the Superbowl.

bomb-a-licious-buffalo-hummus

Q. What’s your major? Have your UCF classes helped you out while going through this?
A. My major is business management with an entrepreneurship track. I found out early in college that I wanted to do entrepreneurship. I put so much of my major to use every day. Right now, I’m the head honcho — I do the marketing, the finance, the bookkeeping, I do all of the development, the packaging. I wear a lot of hats as a new start-up. I really can’t think of a class I haven’t utilized.

Q. What’s the outlook for O’Dang Hummus right now?
A. We’re in three farmer’s markets right now. I’ve got a crew of three employees. We’re in a huge commercial kitchen, which, I never thought I’d be in this size of a kitchen in a year, let alone four months. Going forth, I want to be in a showcase right next to Sabra. They’re so huge and corporate. We want to give them a run for their money because no one’s doing it.

Our goal is to get as many purchase orders as we can, with a main focus on Whole Foods, and to get investor money. We need to scale quickly to make an impact and to be the forerunners in this niche.

In the farmer’s market world, Lake Eola is like the Superbowl.

Q. Do you have any parting words for the starters reading this?
A. Network, network, network. I can’t express that enough. Just talk to people. Ask for advice. I’ve met so many people by just asking, “What’s your name? What do you do?” at events, and some of them are CEOs of major companies and you never would have guessed it.

More Info

UCF Blackstone LaunchPad
O’Dang Hummus on Facebook

Surf’s Up!

Alumnus’ passion to hang 10 inspires him to keep an active lifestyle and pursue environmental change

Mitch Varnes, ’85 | President, Smooth Running

By Daniela Marin

The UCF Surf Club is one of the largest non-Greek organizations on campus today, but, nearly 30 years ago, it was the enthusiasm of eight young surfers who laid the foundation for what would become a hub for wave fanatics.

Mitch Varnes, ’85, was one of those students, and went on to co-found the club.

“I think co-founding the UCF Surf Team was probably my first entrepreneurial effort,” he says. “More than anything, it taught me to go out and make things happen.”

Since then, Varnes has additionally founded the Collegiate Surfing Association, the Sebastian Inlet Pro and the Ron Jon Beach ’N Boards Fest.

In efforts to engage his community in an active lifestyle, spur local economic growth and practice sustainability, Varnes currently holds a position as president of Smooth Running.

“I think people should only work at jobs that are fun and that they enjoy,” he says. “I know that sounds altruistic, but it can be done.”

Smooth Running is the producer of endurance events across East Central Florida. Some of these multi-sport events include the Publix Melbourne Music Marathon Weekend, the Ron Jon Cocoa Beach Triathlon and the Rocketman Florida Triathlon, the first privately coordinated sporting event to take place at the Kennedy Space Center.

“Creating events is something I really love to do, and I have formed this career so that I have the flexibility to travel when I want and to spend a lot of time with my children and my wife,” Varnes says.

In 2010, Varnes received the Champion Award from the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce for the economic impact of the Melbourne Music Marathon Weekend.

He additionally received the Entrepreneur of the Year award from Space Coast Magazine, proving his entrepreneurial initiatives while at UCF the first of many.

“I was truly honored to receive that award,” Varnes says. “There are lots of business owners and entrepreneurs here on the space coast so it was a humbling moment for a guy who puts on races, triathlons and surfing events.”

Varnes has been able to incorporate both his passion for surfing and mission for sustainability in the planning and execution of events, such as the Melbourne and Beaches Music Marathon Weekend, which achieved its goal of zero waste in 2012.

“I surround myself with lots of vibrant people in their 20s and 30s, and they have molded our events into among the most sustainable anywhere in the country,” he says.

Varnes and his team recycle everything from water bottles to paper plates and cups, and compost food scraps like orange rinds, banana peels, pizza crust and all else. In 2013, he received the Sustainability Award from Keep Brevard Beautiful.

“I used to think it would be too much work and effort to make sustainability a focus, but it is actually an easy thing once you make it part of your model,” he says. “Now it’s just something we do second nature.”

Contributing to the implementation of sustainable practices is a team of UCF students, which Varnes employs for almost all events. He additionally offers internships to UCF students, and continually speaks at the Devos School of Sports Management.

“It is really inspirational for me to see these students so excited and dedicated to our cause,” he says. “I am very proud of our school and its students.”

Such pride is exemplified by Varnes’ previous involvement in the Space Coast Alumni Board of Directors, on which he served as president for three years, and the Golden Knight’s Board of Directors, the fundraising arm of UCF Athletics.

On Aug. 30, Varnes followed the UCF football team to Dublin, Ireland for its Croke Park Classic game against Penn State. Varnes says that although he is not of Irish heritage, he and his family highly admire the country, and he bought the tickets as soon as they became available.

“We lost that game in the final seconds, but college football does not get any better than that game,” he says. “I think my favorite memory from that game was talking to the Irish people who were just as enthralled with American football and knew all about it. I also enjoyed meeting a couple from Germany who had become UCF fans and traveled to the game with no other connection to UCF.”

Ridin’ the Wave Q&A

Q. Describe a typical day at work.
A. There are few typical days for me, but they usually begin with getting up before daylight and always taking my kids to school. I then usually go back home, read, fish, surf, run or bike for a couple of hours and then head into the office by 10:30 a.m. I work six or eight hours a day, but, in the weeks running up to an event, things intensify quite a bit. It’s not unusual for us to work 20 hours straight during an event.

Q. What’s your favorite thing about your job?
A.The best part of my job is putting on events that make people and their families happy. People circle the dates of our races and train for them for months. It’s also very satisfying to see the local economic impact of what we do. Our events fill hotel rooms and restaurants all over the Space Coast.

Q. Upon co-founding the UCF Surf Team, did you find that it was a struggle to find fellow surfers or was there already the beginning of a community?
A. There was a core group of six or eight of us who actually showed up at every surf contest. We basically would go surf all day at Playalinda [Beach] and come home with a trophy! It’s very cool to see the UCF Surf Team nowadays, and I support them when I can.

Q. How often do you surf? How do you incorporate that into your professional life?
A. I surf as I have time or when there are waves. It sounds kind of crazy, but I actually surf more outside of Florida than at home. With work and our kids, it’s actually easier to get away and surf than it is to surf at home.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I think I want to be a travel photographer and writer when I grow up.

Q. What advice would you give to a large group of people?
A. Follow your passion and do what makes you happy.

Q. How do you hope your career will transition/grow over the next five years?
A. I plan to still have a few sizable events and to continually fine tune and evolve them. I’m actually pretty comfortable and happy where I am, and just looking to keep things rolling.

Q. How did your education in journalism help get you to where you are today?
A. I’ve written and published hundreds of article and photos. Journalism teaches one discipline and the requirement to meet deadlines.

Q. What’s your favorite memory from your time at UCF?
A. My favorite memories of UCF were being part of what was then a pretty tight-knit school. I am not exaggerating to say that I may have known more students that I didn’t know at the school. Now, it has a massive student population, which is OK too.


More Info

Feeling inspired to volunteer your time for a worthy cause? Check out all of the alumni community service events happening during the eighth annual Knights Give Back on Saturday, Oct. 11.

 

Artisan Ice Ice Baby

Alumnus offers a cool solution to Florida’s relentless heat

BrandonChandler

Brandon Chandler, ’10 | Owner, The Hyppo Orlando

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Everyone who’s experienced a Florida summer knows the humidity is enough to make you melt. Lucky for fellow Knights and other downtown patrons, Brandon Chandler, ’10, and his team at The Hyppo Orlando are constantly freezing up new batches of refreshing gourmet treats.

Chandler knew he could do better than all of the Orlando frozen yogurt shops, which, he says, “aren’t very healthy or original.” So, he opened The Hyppo Orlando, at 431 E. Central Blvd., right at the edge of Lake Eola, selling artisan ice pops made from fresh fruit, cane sugar, herbs and other deliciously interesting ingredients.

Savor the Flavors
Whether you prefer the simplest of flavors, like Strawberry, Coconut or Orange Cream — or, you crave more adventurous flavors, like Guava Hibiscus, Mexican Hot Chocolate or Blackberry Goat Cheese — there’s a frozen combination guaranteed to tickle your taste buds and cool you to the core.

The shop even offers some 21-and-up combinations, like Riesling Pear, Sangria Plum, Cigar City Orange-Mango Helles Lager and Wild Turkey Bourbon Peach.

So, how does Chandler come up with each flavor? “There’s a lot of trial and error involved with not just getting the right flavor combinations, but the correct ratios of each to get the flavor profiles we want,” he explains.

The Hyppo team takes the highest quality fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables and blends them down until they’re mixed in the correct proportion. Then, the mixtures are poured into molds and loaded into flash freezers — the process that makes The Hyppo’s pops so unique. It freezes the pops so cold and fast that ice crystals don’t have time to form, creating a “texture and flavor difference [that] is incredible,” Chandler says. After 15 to 20 minutes in the freezers, the pops are given a quick warm water bath to help them release from the molds, before being sent through the wrapping machine, after which, The Hyppo’s customers happily devour them.

Chandler’s personal favorite flavor? Pineapple Cilantro. But, he says the shop’s bestseller is the Elvis pop, made with peanut butter, banana and honey — and, sometimes, bacon.

Growing Hyppo
The Hyppo originated on Hypolita Street (hence, the shop’s name) in St. Augustine, where the first store opened its doors, before growing into three more locations there.

The Hyppo Orlando is the first location in Central Florida, but Chandler plans to expand it throughout the I-4 corridor, with two to three new shops anticipated within the next year. 

UCF — For the Win!
Chandler’s UCF education and degree have been instrumental in his entrepreneurial endeavors. He was immediately able to find work in Orlando after graduating, which allowed him to save the money he needed to open the Orlando store. In addition, his accounting background has helped in every business decision he’s made. Plus, it makes the numbers of everything much less daunting, he adds.

When ultimately deciding which college he wanted to attend, Chandler knew he wanted to do something business related, so being in a big city with internship opportunities was important. “After touring all the schools around the state, I just knew as soon as I took the tour at UCF, I was going there,” he says. “So, I put my housing deposit in that day, and it was a great decision for me.”

Cool Q&A

Q. Favorite snack?
A. Chocolate-covered peanut butter pretzels from Trader Joe’s 

Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life so far?
A. Would probably be a tie between having lines out the door on weekends and overhearing people talking about how much they love [Hyppo] and recommending it to their friends at various places around town. 

Q. Worst flavor of ice cream?
A. Strawberry — Fake strawberry is such an insult to the fruit. 

Q. Do you have any nicknames?
A. My last name being the name of a popular TV show character [Chandler Bing on “Friends”] has definitely led to a few related to that show over the years. 

Q. Favorite condiment?
A. Sriracha 

Q. Any special/hidden talents?
A. I am exceptionally mediocre at a wide variety of sports. 

Q. Bacon or Nutella?
A. Bacon

Editor’s note: Since this article was posted, The Hyppo Orlando is no longer associated with The Hyppo franchise based in St. Augustine, and has been rebranded as The Pop Parlour. It remains in the same location mentioned in the story.

More Info

thepopparlour.com
facebook.com/thepopparlour