John Bruer ’16 recounts how St. Olaf’s Piper Center for Vocation and Career helped him to grow one idea into a campus-wide success. The Piper Center is committed to helping all students leverage their liberal arts education to achieve their full potential after graduation. To learn more about the Piper Center, click here.
“There has to be a better way.” Maybe it’s just my curiosity, but I find myself saying that line quite often. I’m always willing to give something new a shot, whether that involves figuring out a better way to enjoy a cookie in the Caf– the result, a Panini-pressed peanut butter cookie sandwich– or trying to save a few bucks on my own textbooks. Who knows, it may be the next big thing.
During my freshman year, after forking over hundreds of dollars to the bookstore for textbooks, I started searching for a cheaper way to purchase textbooks. I called up a classmate of mine, and we began talking about creating a space for students to buy and sell their books with other students safely and quickly. Hours later, we landed on the concept for a preliminary solution: U-Swap.org. It’s an online campus marketplace that allows students to buy and sell books with others on their campus.
Over the following few weeks, I picked the brains of students, professors, and staff from our Piper Center for Vocation and Career in hopes of entering into the world of entrepreneurship with this new idea. Their responses were incredible, and several encouraged my classmate and me to enter into the 2014 Ole Cup (a brand new entrepreneurial competition with $20k in prize money). We received $5,000 to help launch our business, which allowed us to expand into student housing as well. In its first few months following the competition, U-Swap actively saved students over $17,000 on textbooks. And, with the help of several entrepreneurs across campus, a textbook exchange is scheduled to hit St. Olaf in the coming year.
Now in its second year, the Ole Cup helps advise and support over 50 student business ideas. St. Olaf’s culture of entrepreneurship has helped U-Swap and several other student ideas grow through connections with alumni, funding, and has even helped ventures gain recognition from competitions like the Minnesota Cup, one of the largest statewide entrepreneurship competitions in the country. Campus is packed with students who are constantly generating new ideas and are surrounded with faculty and staff resources all working to bring those ideas to fruition.
Besides the Ole Cup, the college has tons of other resources for entrepreneurs, including the Ole Ventures Club and the Finstad Entrepreneurial Grant program. Thousands in seed money are available for innovative ideas each year through the Finstad Grants, which help get ideas, like U-Swap, get off the ground. The Ole Ventures club meets weekly to help innovators test drive new ideas with other students. Each week, a top idea is selected and the students receive a $50 gift card to the St. Olaf bookstore.
Everyone at St. Olaf loves the cutting edge, whether that’s in science, technology, or the arts. So, if there’s something you’re passionate about, find a community that will support you and your idea, and get after it. Who knows, it may be the new “better way”!