Guiding Young Businesses to Success

Ritika Shamdasani and her sister Niki, walk on a runway at a Sani fashion show.

Every semester, students come to campus with big ideas about how to improve their communities and the world. With numerous courses, experiential learning programs and funding opportunities, NC State Entrepreneurship helps make those ideas a reality. 

NC State Entrepreneurship offers students a strong infrastructure of academic programs, faculty talent and investor networks across colleges. This year, the Princeton Review ranked NC State as the No. 10 best undergraduate entrepreneurship program in the United States. And students’ and young alumni’s accomplishments are proof of what’s possible.

Fresher Food, Fresher World

When she was in high school, Shraddha Rathod crafted a way to connect North Carolina food suppliers and distributors while reducing food waste. But it was the entrepreneurship programs at NC State that helped her flesh out Freshspire.

Freshspire is an online portal that facilitates relationships among local food suppliers, like farmers and small businesses, and distributors, like restaurants and grocery stores.

While Rathod was studying electrical engineering and computer engineering at NC State, she participated in the Engineering Entrepreneurs Program and went on a spring break trip to meet university alumni working at startups in San Francisco.

“That trip really motivated me and opened my eyes,” she said. “I thought, ‘I could do that, too.’”

In the Engineering Entrepreneurs Program, Rathod learned hard skills needed to launch a business. 

“It really helped me figure out what you have to do and what you have to know to be able to start a company,” Rathod said. “Who you have to talk to, how you talk to people — the whole process of starting a company.”

Freshspire won first place in the Social and Environmental Impact category at the 2018 Lulu eGames, a university-wide entrepreneurship competition. 

After Rathod graduated a month later, the company took off.

“Our sense of direction was more momentous,” she said.

Revitalizing Art Online

Téa Blumer acquired the online art platform iScribble in 2018, when she was studying art + design and graphic design in the College of Design. iScribble was a site that allowed artists from around the world to work together on drawings and illustrations. Blumer used it for years until its creator announced he wasn’t able to sustain it. 

Blumer remembers telling the creator, “I love iScribble so much. I’d love to take the project off your hands because I’d like to see it continue.”

For the rest of her time at NC State, Blumer delved into the Entrepreneurship program as much as possible. She won first place in the Arts Venture category at the 2019 Lulu eGames, and she frequented the Entrepreneurship Clinic in HQ Raleigh downtown, where students can observe and learn from startup founders. 

Tea Blumer holding her award onstage at the Lulu eGames. Kathy Hengen, COO of Lulu is at left, and Tom Miller, senior vice provost for academic outreach and entrepreneurship, is at right.
Tea Blumer (center) at the 2019 Lulu eGames, standing between Kathy Hengen, COO of Lulu (left), and Tom Miller, senior vice provost for academic outreach and entrepreneurship (right).

“The environment in HQ Raleigh was really great — it’s beyond the classroom,” Blumer said. “You get hands-on, real-world experience.”

She graduated from the College of Design in 2019 and participated in the Miller Fellowship, which helps young alumni jumpstart their entrepreneurial careers with mentorship and funding. 

She’s now working on getting iScribble back online. A Kickstarter will show Blumer and possible investors how many people are interested in the program. 

“Even if iScribble doesn’t work, I’m still going to be able to take the skills that I’ve learned from it to another creative job,” she said. 

The Business of Style

For sophomore Ritika Shamdasani, entrepreneurship is a family affair.

The sophomore in the Wilson College of Textiles created fashion brand Sani with her older sister when they couldn’t find clothes in America to wear to an Indian wedding.

“Our options were either overly traditional or overly blingy,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to go to India every time we need an outfit.”

Sani offers formal pieces like long lehenga skirts, flowing anarkalis and bright gowns as well as bomber jackets and jewelry. Shamdasani said she and her sister are designing loungewear, too. 

“We never wanted to be a South Asian occasion wear brand,” she said. “We wanted to be a South Asian-inspired fashion brand.”

Shamdasani was in high school when Sani launched, and she knew the College of Textiles would take both her education and the company to the next level.

“The college is way beyond today’s world,” she said. “It’s thinking ahead about how fashion’s changing and how intertwined it is with technology.”

Shamdasani is now applying what she learns at NC State to Sani. She’s found mentors through the Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs, and she’s participating in the Andrews Launch Accelerator, a 14-week program that guides students through developing their concepts and building their companies.  

“Having the opportunity to be in an accelerator as a student in college is priceless,” she said. 

The accelerator has taught her how to think about Sani in a strategic way and how other businesses overlap with Sani’s business model. 

As an entrepreneur, Shamdasani said, the most valuable part of studying at NC State has been relationships she’s developed. 

“The best part is the people there,” she said. “That goes from my classmates to the professors to the advisers.”

This post was originally published in NC State News.

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