By: Zack Plair, MSU OPA. Photo by Beth Wynn.
STARKVILLE, Miss.–A startup business created by a Mississippi State student team plans to use a record-setting private investment and its first formal office space to develop an even more sophisticated product.
The recent $100,000 commitment by a Gulf Coast investor to social media website CampusKnot should be enough to fund its operation for a year, agreed Rahul Gopal and Hiten Patel two of the company’s four co-founders. To date, theirs is the largest recorded private investment to a startup developed by students at the 137-year-old land-grant university.
Earlier this month, the company consolidated operations in MSU’s business incubator building at the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park.
Gopal, Patel and third co-founder Perceus Mody are all natives of India. Gopal is a senior aerospace engineering major, while Patel graduated in 2013 with an information systems degree and now pursues a second degree in marketing. Mody is a senior in medical technology.
German native Katja Walter, a May magna cum laude graduate in art/graphic design, is the fourth co-founder. She and the others all reside in Starkville.
Gopal said a private investor put up the $100,000 in exchange for 10-percent equity in the company, which effectively values CampusKnot at $1 million.
“We’re excited, but we’re scared at the same time,” Gopal said. “It’s funny, I guess, how I feel about it, but I’m looking forward to continuing to grow the company.”
CampusKnot, which currently has about 150 users, employs an ever-evolving social media platform to connect students to MSU academic and campus-life resources. The owners expressed hope that the no-charge service eventually can provide a single site for students at their alma mater and at other universities and colleges in the future to easily reach teachers and classmates, as well as residence halls and student organizations–and have space for faculty to post course syllabi and related academic material.
“The faculty will be the celebrities of this site,” Gopal said. “They can post access to knowledge for their ‘fans.'”
The completed site also would allow students to access automated calendars based on their network groups.
After launching in 2013, CampusKnot’s creators said they spent two years refining their project at the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the College of Business. Along the way, their work was honored with a second-place award in the center’s 2013 startup competition and, in December, earned a $2,500 E-Center Startup Grant.
Though still in a testing phase, the company currently is recruiting student leaders and faculty members to form focus groups for a soft launch of the site this fall.
From the process, Patel said he and his colleagues hope to learn how best to seize the company’s market and offer a product that best fits their consumers’ needs. A part-time employee may be added to help achieve those goals, he said.
E-Center director Eric Hill said that “sheer drive and determination” are the CampusKnot team’s biggest assets.
“They are in a very competitive market where the process for generating revenue isn’t very quick, but they’ve stuck with it because they believe in their vision wholeheartedly,” Hill continued. “This is the sort of thing you see when you have a student base that buys into the concept of entrepreneurship. It’s nice to see these guys get a win for their hard work.”
At the center, Hill advises both faculty and student business startups, shepherding them through a “startup pipeline” that takes an idea and moves it toward a graduation goal of either a $1 million valuation or more than 10 full-time employees. Through the process, would-be entrepreneurs discover their market, learn about legal structuring, develop prototypes, refine their products and learn other critical aspects of successful business ownership, he explained.
As of July 1, Hill said the E-Center is supporting 69 startups, though only a fraction of those are expected to complete the pipeline to becoming a viable company.
Even for startups that do not come to fruition, the program’s hands-on process helps students develop critical skills necessary to make them very marketable in today’s business world, Hill emphasized.
“Most of our entrepreneurs whose ventures weren’t successful either become repeat entrepreneurs who are now successful or they take the skills they learned and are successful in an existing business,” he said. “Students who have been through this program are very attractive to other businesses.”
Clearly, Patel and his colleagues are enthusiastic about their accomplishments.
“We’re not looking to have a job; we’re looking at creating jobs and helping to solve educational problems,” he said.
He also invited anyone interested in joining a fall semester CampusKnot focus group to contact the company at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original article online at http://msstate.edu/web/media/detail.php?id=7355