Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Jan. 4, 2016

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(From No. 5 below:) Palmer Vorkapich, a 6-year-old patient at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, lights up during a visit from Ion, a therapy dog owned by UCF College of Medicine student Christa Zino.

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Knights had much to be proud of last year! Check out just a few of them in this list from UCF Today of the “15 Moments that Made Your Heart Burst with Knight Pride in 2015.”
  2. With $20 million needed in community support for the UCF Downtown campus, alumnus and CEO Alex Martins, ’01, and the Orlando Magic stepped up, contributing $1.5 million toward the project. And, just this morning, it was announced that the CFE Federal Credit Union has committed its own $1.5 million. Keep up with all the latest developments on the UCF Downtown campus at ucf.edu/downtown.
  3. UCF economist Sean Snaith says Florida’s economic future is merry and bright, with the state’s housing market continuing to improve, and job growth forecasted to continue to outperform the U.S. labor market.
  4. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency selected a UCF team to receive a P3 Award — a first in UCF history — which recognizes student projects that benefit people, promote prosperity and protect the planet by using environmental solutions that move the nation toward a sustainable future. The winning project focuses on ways to make algae biofuel easier and less expensive to produce.
  5. To help cheer up patients at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, UCF second-year medical student Christa Zino regularly brings her therapy dog, a 2-year-old boxer named Ion, for visits.

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.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Nov. 2, 2015

Congratulations to former UCF catcher Drew Butera on his World Series win!
Congratulations to former UCF catcher Drew Butera on his World Series win!

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. On Sunday, the Kansas City Royals’ Drew Butera, former catcher for UCF, became the first Knight to win a World Series!
  2. The UCF Alumni Association and Career Services will hold a job search strategy workshop Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 5:30 p.m. —MORE EVENTS
  3. Alumnus Julien Meyer, ’14, CEO of BlurtBox, has created a Rosen College Entrepreneurship Competition, which will begin in January.
  4. Valencia College’s Board of Trustees decided the college will contribute $2 million to UCF’s $60 million proposed downtown campus plan.
  5. For the fourth year in a row, UCF received a Tree Campus USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Sept. 28, 2015

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Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. On Oct. 1, the UCF College of Arts and Humanities Alumni Chapter, and the Orlando Museum of Art, will host Eclectic Knights VII, part of OMA’s 16th season of 1st Thursdays. The event features more than 50 pieces of artwork, made exclusively by UCF alumni, faculty and staff.
  2. On Saturday, Oct. 3, the UCF Alumni Association will participate in beautification efforts at Orlando’s historic Greenwood Cemetery, as part of UCF’s annual day of service, Knights Give Back. In addition, the UCF College of Sciences Alumni Chapter will assist the biology department’s efforts to restore degraded shorelines and oyster reefs at the Indian River Lagoon.
  3. UCF College of Business Administration student Jesse Wolfe, owner of O’Dang Hummus, will be featured on the Oct. 2 episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank” with his company’s custom flavors of hummus and hummus-based salad dressings.
  4. UCF MedTalk returns on Oct. 7, when Dr. Annette Khaled will discuss “Tackling Breast Cancer,” as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This popular event, hosted by the UCF College and Medicine and UCF Alumni Association, presents informal talks about current and innovative issues in medicine in a casual setting.
  5. Former UCF student Rob Starkman launched Rock ‘Em Apparel from his college apartment, and has since brought in more than $1 million in revenue each of the last two years for his unique brand of socks, which include UCF designs.

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.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Aug. 17, 2015

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Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Knights on the Mall tailgating spots are up for grabs, as the new reservation system went live today for UCF’s first home game against FIU on Sept. 3.
  2. And, speaking of football, the Knights’ former QB Blake Bortles made his sophomore debut in Friday’s preseason game against the Steelers, helping to lead the Jags to a 23-21 victory!
  3. Alumna Jennifer Hamilton, ’14, turned her capstone project into multi-million-dollar Sleep/EEG Center for Nemours Children’s Hospital.
  4. Central Florida’s king of hummus, UCF student Jesse Wolfe, landed a deal with Publix Super Markets, which will now carry his new line of salad dressings.
  5. U.S. veterans are sharing personal stories about their service experiences to be preserved for future generations.

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. 

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — July 27, 2015

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Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Renowned physician, surgeon, educator, entrepreneur and proud UCF Knight Dr. Gideon Lewis, ’00, was named to the UCF Foundation Board of Directors. “I have always strived to lead by example,” he said. “Serving on this board provides me with a much larger platform to encourage more people to give back to UCF.”
  2. ICYMI: Alumni, students, faculty and staff, and the Central Florida community came together to help Tivoli Apartments residents who were devastated by a July 12 fire.
  3. After losing his partner to an early retirement due to medical issues, UCF Police Officer Matt Scott has a new K9 partner, a 16-month-old German Shepard named Justice.
  4. UCF Athletics announced a change in traffic flow following all of this season’s home football games. Get in the know!
  5. We’ve got six new UCF Alumni Facebook cover photos anyone can use! Spruce up your profile and share with friends!

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — July 20, 2015

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Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Congratulations to Mary Lou Sole, a longtime UCF professor and administrator, who was named as the new dean of the College of Nursing! (Also, see the Orlando Sentinel article.)
  2. The superheroes at Limbitless Solutions have done it again! This time, they partnered with the Orlando City Soccer Club to donate a 3-D printed arm to a 6-year-old Brazilian boy.
  3. Things may be a little quiet around UCF this time of year, but our regional alumni chapters and clubs — including Austin, Jacksonville and Boston — are keeping busy!
  4. Speaking of travel, did you know that the alumni association has partnered with many different companies to offer great benefits, including discounts on rental cars, hotels and even LEGOLAND? Visit our benefits page to check out all of the awesome discounts you can take advantage of as a UCF Knight!
  5. ICYMI: The Blackstone Launchpad at UCF is helping to propel students toward their entrepreneurial dreams. Read about three such Knights who have started their own unique companies.