Project Springboard jumpstarts student entrepreneurs

November 7, 2011

By Elise Dismer ’13

One Bradley student might not have to worry about finding a job after college in this tough economy; he may just make his own.

Through Project Springboard, an annual entrepreneurial competition at Bradley, Nicholas Swiatkowski hopes to launch his ideal career.

“The coolest thing about the competition is that I actually get to take the idea that I had and put it down on paper, make money off of it and formulate a career out of it,” Swiatkowski said.

His business, Swiatkowski Welch Real Estate, centers on using a client’s budget to find, renovate, design and furnish a home so it’s ready to live in on move-in day.

“It'll be great for people in our generation who are more worried about the finished product than the process that goes into it,” Swiatkowski said.

But Swiatkowski is only one of 22 businesses competing for the top Springboard prize.

The grand prize is valued at more than $100,000 and includes a cash prize (sponsored by Ditch Witch Midwest, The Harbaugh Family), business counseling from the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship, market analysis from Junction Ventures, brand and message advertising from Converse Marketing, insurance advice from the Coyle Insurance Agency and much more.

“It’s a great package,” said Project Springboard Director Amy Fairfield Doering. “Project Springboard gives students a hands-on experiential opportunity; it gives them the opportunity to take their own idea and to learn how to put it in a business plan format so that they can go out and seek money when they’re ready for that step.”

Kelly Heisler, another Bradley entrepreneurship student seeking the top prize, values the opportunity Project Springboard provides.

“It would give me the confidence to go out there and show my business to other people, knowing that it’s a good plan,” she said.

Heisler’s business idea, Bridal Grace, is a store that sells bridal dresses to plus-size women.

“It’s hard for girls of different shapes to find dresses,” Heisler said. “I want women to know they have the ability to come to me and have their dream dress appear out of nowhere. My focus is to make women’s dreams come true.”

Heisler isn’t the only business team concentrating on the human element however.

Catherine Agallo, a Kenyan grad student studying in Bradley’s Department of Leadership, Human Services, and Counseling, wants to open a Social Change Café.

Her café would use theatre to generate discussion on topics like teen pregnancy, crime and drug abuse.

“These are issues that everyone faces,” Agallo said. “They are real situations. It's not only where you come from, whether you are rich or poor; they can happen to anyone.”

Fairfield Doering said she’s excited about the diversity of business ideas in Project Springboard because it shows how the competition is bringing together people from all sorts of majors.

For example, Dan Wood’s team has four members each pursuing a different major –finance, computer science, sports communication and engineering. They’ve united under one business idea: creating cost effective mobile applications for businesses.

“It's a great service for almost anybody,” Wood said. “There's nothing that can't be enhanced by a mobile application and as people get more and more iPods, it's going to be something that's more and more prevalent.”

Overall, Fairfield Doering said Project Springboard is a win-win-win: a win for students, a win for Bradley and a win for the community.

“This is what we do at Bradley,” she said. “This is what we’re about: students coming and learning and getting a real life experience, going on their merry way and making us proud.”

Read more about Project Springboard.