Entrepreneurship students take the stage for Demo Day 2022
Standing in front of a room of your professors and peers to talk about your business can be intimidating, to say the least, but four brave Broncos accepted the challenge to take part in Demo Day 2022. This annual event is the culmination of WMU’s six-month-long business accelerator, Starting Gate, and provides an opportunity for student entrepreneurs to showcase their businesses to an external audience.
Dennivan Brunt, Siera Gunnett, Seth Byrne and Payton Walker participated in Demo Day, held at the Haworth College of Business. The purpose of this event is to give student entrepreneurs a platform to talk about their businesses, including how they started, the challenges they face and what comes next. The featured students were a part of the Starting Gate cohort for the 2021-22 academic year and spoke highly of the experience. Siera Gunnett, founder of She Makings, says, “Starting Gate and Dr. Ofstein have played a big role in my motivation and passion for my business. Having someone hold me accountable and push me to keep showing up helped me maintain my focus.”
Starting Gate is a unique opportunity for all WMU students who are ready to take the next step as entrepreneurs. The program begins each fall semester and is open to sophomores and above through a competitive application process. The centerpiece of the program is a weekly workshop where students learn about various facets of entrepreneurship, from raising capital to creating an investor pitch as well as the nuts and bolts of honing their business idea into something that can be profitable.
Dr. Laurel Ofstein, associate professor of management and director of Starting Gate, says that Demo Day provides a way to create excitement and give the students an opportunity to practice presenting their businesses to a larger audience. The audience is made up of faculty, students, community members and sometimes angel investors, making it a good real-life practice scenario for young entrepreneurs. Ofstein says, “Only one of the students had done an investor pitch before. I helped coach the students on the template for a pitch, and they rehearsed several times with other faculty members. It was great to see their growth throughout this process.”
As the Starting Gate students spent time together over the course of the year, they helped brainstorm ideas, solve problems and encourage each other during times of frustration. Ofstein was especially proud of the way this group of students supported one another throughout the year and during the event. “They took the initiative to connect and invest in the success of each other’s companies. They quickly started a group text and would get together at the Starting Gate space to bounce ideas off each other or work through challenges. It was great to see this diverse group of students come together both professionally and socially.”
Dennivan Brunt, founder of LifeSaver, valued the power of being with other students who were creating businesses. He says, “During the experience, I failed a lot—and the peers around me failed a lot, as well. We reminded each other it is all a part of the journey, and we need to learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward.”
Seth Byrne, founder of Sportwatch, praised the resources that Starting Gate provided. He says, “Throughout the program, I was exposed to business professionals who had a variety of expertise. Their advice and input helped me learn different revenue models, marketing strategies and improve my communication.”
Looking ahead to the next year, exciting things are in store for Starting Gate. The group recently moved into a new space in downtown Kalamazoo that will be open to students to use as a co-working and event space, beginning fall 2022. One of the benefits of being downtown is the ability to connect students with other local business owners. Ofstein says, “Having this space will really help us to grow the program and give students access to a creative space to brainstorm, strategize and network. Even though each student is working on their individual business, the teamwork component is a valuable aspect of Starting Gate, and having a dedicated and collaborative space to work in will be key.”