“College is the perfect time to start a business. You have access to tons of resources, and it never gets easier to try something new.”
Ryan Vaughn (@RyanHVaughn) is the Co-Founder of Varsity News Network (VNN), an online high school sports media network, empowering high school journalists to gain relevant experience while ensuring that athletes from every sport receive the coverage they deserve. He earned his Master of Communication from Grand Valley State University in 2010.
Vaughn was accepted into the 12-week Momentum-MI seed accelerator program in 2010, providing him with $20,000 seed money to work on launching his new company and access to seasoned entrepreneurial mentors to help guide him throughout the process. While juggling his work with VNN and graduate courses, he also worked as an outreach consultant for the GVSU Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI). In that role, he worked on promoting and marketing CEI’s community initiatives, coaching and mentoring GVSU student entrepreneurs, and fostering connections between CEI and the young entrepreneurial community in West Michigan.
All that hard work and determination paid off in just two years. Since the launch of VNN, Vaughn and his partner have secured 24 customers and generated over $70,000 in sales. In March 2012, Vaughn closed on a seed round of $500,000 from West Michigan investors and the State of Michigan to grow across the state.
Vaughn’s determination, intellect, and perseverance have played a major role in his success. At the same time, GVSU’s commitment, through CEI, to foster, impact, and provide a foundation to help budding entrepreneurs, has been crucial in helping students like Vaughn start and succeed at their own ventures.
How has GVSU played a role in your business development?
CEI gave me the opportunity to connect with people around the community and to get accepted into Momentum Michigan, which gave me seed funding to launch. The School of Communication was flexible enough to allow me to write VNN’s initial business plan as the capstone project for my master’s program.
Were there any particular classes, subjects or professors that made a positive influence along your entrepreneurial trek?
Pete Haines, an adjunct professor at GVSU in the School of Communication, was the advisor for my independent study classes that pushed my business forward with business-plan writing, feasibility analysis, and more. He still serves as an informal advisor.
Do you feel that GVSU fosters entrepreneurship?
I feel that GVSU does a lot to foster entrepreneurship, but there is still a long way to go. West Michigan still feels like, to some extent, if you’re not getting a job at a big company after college, you’re somehow doing it wrong. That’s an uphill battle for CEI to fight.
What improvements could be made to help students who want to start a business?
Allowing students an opportunity to intern with startup companies in West Michigan would go a long way toward giving them the information they need to know if they really do want to start their own business.
The tough thing here is that the best students want a paycheck, but the startups with the most valuable internships most often don’t have the resources to pay interns. Establishing a program in which GVSU compensated interns for their work at local startups would be valuable.
|Early Stage| The term “early-stage” is broadly defined as pre-revenue business development. Often, it means a company possesses a working prototype or defined service model, and has a detailed sales and marketing plan.
Check VNN out online at varsitynewsnetwork.com
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