TAMPA – What they lacked in team-naming creativity, they made up for in sales revenue.
Student entrepreneurs on Team 11 won the top $75,000 prize in the inaugural HUSTLE competition — a contest where University of South Florida student teams went head-to-head running a hot food kiosk vending business.
The challenge: use $250,000 in capital to start a business, identify prime locations, manage the kiosk set-up, sell tons of giant cinnamon rolls, chocolate lava cakes, and White Castle cheeseburgers through Just Baked vending kiosks, and make the most profit.
The HUSTLE (Helping Undergraduate Students Tackle Leadership and Entrepreneurship) competition was a joint initiative between the USF Center for Entrepreneurship at the Muma College of Business and Chessler Holdings, a Sarasota-based family investment firm that committed $600,000 for the initiative. Organizers announced the winners at a closing event on May 9.
For four months, three student teams ran a real-world start-up venture using the autonomous and robotic food production kiosks available through one of about 20 Chessler Holdings’ portfolio companies.
David Chessler, the founder of Chessler Holdings, said he launched the HUSTLE competition as an experiential learning project for students.
“It’s really about learning how to be entrepreneurs. There are things you can’t learn from a school book. It’s the hands-on experience that is valuable,” Chessler said. “It’s taken a lot of years to fine-tune the skills to be an entrepreneur. It’s challenging. Things change all the time. That’s what being an entrepreneur is about. It’s figuring out how to make businesses work.”
He said he wasn't the only one teaching entrepreneurial skills. The teams taught him valuable lessons, like introducing him to new venues and marketing tactics.
“All of you have done an incredible job,” he said. “All of you should be really, really proud of what you’ve accomplished — and that is success.”
More than 150 students applied for the competition. Organizers chose three, four- to five-member teams, to compete as finalists.
Since January, teams have been working to secure locations, make cold calls, identify new markets, get contracts signed, and monitor sales and inventory. The teams also met once a month with the Chessler Holdings Board of Directors to give updates on their business, resolve issues, and to gain advice.
“This exemplifies what entrepreneurship can do,” said Dirk Libaers, director of the USF Center for Entrepreneurship. "It is incredibly difficult for students to move far out of their comfort zones, but all three participating teams did just that. It made for an unsurpassed learning experience."
GJ de Vreede, the interim dean at the Muma College of Business, congratulated the teams on their perseverance.
"Everybody is a winner, because you have risen above and beyond," he said. "The is the most exciting experiential learning you can offer at a school. This is not a simulation. This is real. As they say, if you want to swim, you have to get wet. And I bet all of you got very wet."
Team 11 won first place and $75,000. The team’s main focus was placing kiosks in off-campus
student housing complexes.
They had one vending kiosk at The Standard at Tampa and two kiosks at The One at University City in Miami. In addition, the team signed five letters of intent for other student apartments. As of May 1, the team generated almost $25,000 in revenue.
Team members included Alberto Celli, Maxwell Cooper, Viviane Kunak, Andrew Seafield, and Yves Uwimana.
Team SmartServe won second place and $25,000. Members included Junayed Jahangir, Huzefa Johar, Arth Patel, and Eric Stewart. The team contracted with nine clients, placing 15 kiosks within seven industries, such as hospitals, car dealerships, gas stations, warehouses, and student apartment complexes.
Jahangir, a USF finance and accounting major who served as CEO, said the team had a slow start getting clients and finalizing contracts, but they worked through those struggles and ended the competition with great growth potential and momentum on their side.
Highlights from the team’s marketing efforts included participating in a 1 Million Cups pitch competition and being featured on the April 18 episode of “That Entrepreneur Show” on Apple Podcasts.
He said he was happy to see that their team was close to breaking even. They learned the importance of building strong client relationships, as 40% of the team’s portfolio was based on references, he said.
“Those months where you don’t get more clients doesn’t mean your work is for naught,” he said.
And sometimes timing is what makes or breaks a deal. The team secured a contract with Tampa General Hospital to place vending kiosks at four locations just as the hospital was closing its café for renovations, he said.
Chessler said he was happy to see them overcome their struggles to succeed. “It’s been a lot of fun watching you guys grow. It’s been an amazing jump,” he said. “That’s what being an entrepreneur is — sticking with a plan.”
Team Edi-Bulls came in third and won $10,000. Members included Trisha Ganguly, Cole Drake, Patrick Meehan, and Kannon Acocella. The team's first location — and their top-selling location — was at MOSI. The museum market was also a first for Just Baked.
Other kiosk locations included a La Quinta hotel and the Halo 46 student apartment complex. As a way to gain customer feedback, the team placed QR codes on vending machines to encourage customer interaction.
“This has been an incredible learning opportunity,” said Drake. “It taught me the importance of organization and discipline. Communication is key. There’s no such thing as over communicating. And don’t be afraid of failure. You have to embrace it.”