Group photo of students and administration for Starting Gate.

Starting Gate business accelerator serves 100th student company

Business accelerator serves 100th student company

“In my business, I am working to gain exposure in the LGBTQ+ community and entertainment market through advertising and marketing strategy,” says senior Mani Williams. Her company, Breaking Crucial Boundaries, is a podcast designed to have a direct mental and emotional impact on the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.

Williams, along with six other students, is taking her business concept to the next level through Starting Gate, a student business accelerator that assists Broncos in refining and growing their business ideas. “I have taken a small idea and developed it so that I am ready to pitch it to local investors,” says Williams.

Ten years ago, faculty in the Department of Management began talking with Haworth College of Business administrators about a simple yet powerful idea: A business accelerator that would give students the resources, office space and connections they needed to successfully launch a business during their time at WMU. That idea quickly became a reality, and the Starting Gate student business accelerator opened in summer 2013. Now, the accelerator is celebrating its 10th anniversary and serving its 100th student business.

Bartek Scheibe, Starting Gate student and owner of The Polish Express.

In fall 2022, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which provides no-cost small business consulting to more than 500 clients each year throughout Southwest Michigan, began operating Starting Gate. Tamara Davis, director of the SBDC, had been an advisory board member for the accelerator since its inception so the move was a natural fit.

“Our staff possesses extensive business knowledge and practical industry experience,” says Davis. “This expertise helps individuals assess and evaluate their business idea or opportunity, structure their business model and plan, and create a company portfolio in preparation for funding opportunities and investments. We mentor students in Starting Gate teams in a similar way.”


  • Through the support and guidance of Starting Gate, I am working toward several key milestones in my business.

    Bartek Scheibe, founder of The Polish Express

The year-long program gives...

The year-long program gives students confidential guidance and advice on key areas such as business planning, market research and financial analysis to help them develop and grow their startup companies, as well as prepare for pitch competitions and talking with potential investors. Starting Gate is open to students of all majors, which creates a great synergy as students with different talents connect and share their business concepts.

“Through the support and guidance of Starting Gate, I am working toward several key milestones in my business,” says Bartek Scheibe, a senior. “I have learned how to establish a strong and engaged community for my startup, The Polish Express. I am also working to increase brand awareness and diversify revenue streams. The accelerator’s support has been crucial in helping me navigate the many obstacles that arise during the process of building a business.”

Located right within the Haworth College of Business, the SBDC is easily accessible for WMU students. Its statewide business network connects students with industry experts, mentors and other resources to help them succeed during and after their college careers.

“When working with students, I try to be the mentor I wish I would have met at that point in my life: Someone who would tell me to ignore what other people think, get out from behind the computer, talk to clients and build something you will be proud of,” says Bob Armbrister, B.B.A.’06, MBA’13, president and CEO of SPARK Business Works.

“I also like to ask students tough questions about their business ideas, like why they want to start the venture and what success looks like for them. This type of perspective has changed many of my business plans for the better! The students who take advantage of the program gain so much knowledge and experience.”

Sarah Forrest, business consultant for the SBDC and Starting Gate staff member.

This past year there were seven companies in the accelerator, representing a range of businesses. A new addition this year is that students were able to request independent study of up to three credits for their work on their business through Starting Gate.

Students meet weekly, and each meeting begins with a discussion of “wins, losses and pivots,” which gives the entrepreneurs the opportunity to discuss the status of their businesses, the challenges they are facing and how they navigated those challenges.

“When I first joined Starting Gate, I had a rough idea of what I wanted to achieve with my crypto-mining startup, but I wasn’t quite sure how to get there,” says senior Payton Walker. “Thanks to the support and resources provided by the program, I was able to turn my idea into a reality, launching, an app that makes it easy for anyone to start mining crypto and earning rewards within days.”

“The guest speakers and weekly structure not only provided me with inspiration but also showed me that individuals in similar positions have been able to create impactful businesses,” says Walker. “The program has been an invaluable resource throughout my startup journey.”

Collaboration, networking and learning from one another’s experiences are central to Starting Gate, according to Sarah Forrest, business consultant for the SBDC. “Overall, the cohort experience in the accelerator is a valuable learning opportunity for students, providing them with the tools, knowledge and support they need to be successful in their ventures.”

2022-23 Student companies

The Polish Express is an Instagram page where instructional food and beverage videos, peppered with humor, are curated by founder Bartek Scheibe, a senior entrepreneurship major. Included with each dish is a recipe name, ingredient list and instructions.

CryptoShovel operates a consumer-focused, cloud-based crypto-mining service. The company, started by senior finance major Payton Walker, allows customers to start mining cryptocurrencies with no technical knowledge.

Happy Horn is the brainchild of Joseph Schwarz, a junior entrepreneurship major, and allows cars to have multiple horn sounds: normal horn, happy horn and cheerful horn.

Hidden Gallery, founded by senior digital marketing and eCommerce major Dior Rouseau, is a clothing company on a mission to inspire progress.

Breaking Crucial Boundaries is a podcast that focuses on stories about people from all walks of life. Mani Williams, a senior digital marketing and eCommerce major, is founder and host.

Viva Travel Lernen is a travel community, founded by senior personal financial planning major Alexia Gomez, which hosts group trips to different countries, exploring cultures and promoting language learning.

Efficient and Autonomous Vehicles Lab at WMU is developing a commercialization strategy for a product that allows automated vehicles to safely drive in snow. Bryan Hagenbarth, a junior integrated supply management major, is focused on the effort on behalf of WMU.


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