Nicole Spewak | Editor in Chief
Student entrepreneurship was on display at the first ever Wheaton Shark Tank, with six student groups presenting their nascent businesses to a crowd of students, guests and — most importantly — a panel of judges.
In the end, Williston Optics LLC survived the sharks and was presented with a jumbo sized check for $2,000 at the end of the evening.
Williston Optics is run by three sophomores and has been in the works for around six months. Moriah Gonzalez is director of operations, Eliana Schulze is chief executive officer and Hannah Kellner has most recently joined as the graphic and web designer.
“We had so many great competitors. It is a huge honor for us to win this,” Kellner said. “The setup of this whole Shark Tank … is a really good idea. There are not very many small business clubs on campus.”
Gonzalez was pleased for the acknowledgment of the hard work that she and the others have put into the company. “When efforts like this pay off, that’s super rewarding,” Gonzalez said.
Another benefit of participation was the community Shark Tank created. “The thing about Wheaton Shark Tank that I really appreciate is that it created a system of networking that didn’t exist on Wheaton’s campus,” Gonzalez said.
The Shark Tank was a play off the TV show of the same name, in which individuals present business ideas to a panel of judges who decide whether or not to finance the business ventures.
In a similar fashion, the six student groups took the stage of the Meyer Science Center lecture hall on Monday, Dec. 2, using PowerPoint and props to portray their messages.
Williston Optics’ goal is to create eyewear that is affordable and “incredibly fashion forward,” Gonzalez said during the presentation.
Unique aspects of the glasses are that they are certified eco-friendly and manufactured in a factory with fair wages and a good working environment. Additionally, printed on the inside of every glasses’ frame sold is “1 Corinthians 13:12.”
“Glasses are much more than just something that corrects our vision and help us see a little bit better,” Schulze said. “They really act as an extension of our personality, and I believe that all the frames I wear in some way highlight a certain part of myself."
Williston Optics plans to use the $2,000 grant on a marketing strategy which focuses on just that expression of self. Williston will seek to collaborate with students and photographers from universities across America, taking photos of students modeling the eyewear. The student models then will distribute the photos via social media, reaching a broad audience base and achieving a unique credibility with other students through the endorsement of the Williston brand by fellow students. Schulze explained that although you might glance over an ad, “you aren’t likely to pass up a post from a friend.”
Each presentation was followed by questioning from the four judges: professor of business and economics Annette Tomal, Carl R. Hendrickson, professor of business Bruce Howard, and local businessman and Wheaton alum Tim Johnson ’97, who will serve as mentor to the winning group.
“I had a great time. The evening just flew by,” Tomal said.
Overall, Tomal said she was impressed with the ideas presented by the groups, how quickly some groups brought their ideas to fruition and with how some of the groups had already begun to work on developing their businesses.
“The other judges and I think that every group had merit and that most of those groups are going to succeed with or without that $2,000 grant,” Tomal said. “I would encourage them to talk with mentors ... but just to keep pursuing their ideas, because they all had merit.”
Williston Optics’ first order of glasses are currently being manufactured, and sales are projected to begin in June of 2014.