Trio of Entrepreneurial ODU Students Wins Accelerator Grant for ‘CampusWise’ Project
Franck Tchouambou came to Old Dominion University with an entrepreneurial spirit. A chance link-up with two like-minded undergraduate students, plus a good idea, has earned the trio a startup grant from a local agency charged with spurring entrepreneurial growth in Norfolk.
Tchouambou moved to Norfolk from Northern Virginia two years ago. On a budget and always looking to save costs, he noticed that the system through which ODU students posted information about sharing rides home wasn't well organized.
Tchouambou, a sophomore from Fairfax studying business administration, put a post on the ODU Facebook page, inquiring about student interest in the formation of an entrepreneurs club at the university.
Daniel Calabro, a sophomore marketing major from Annandale, Va., and John Polizos, a sophomore political science major from Sterling, Va., responded to the ad. Together, the three entrepreneurs founded CampusWise, a company that aims to make some aspects of college life more convenient for students on a budget.
"There is a lack of convenience when it comes to finding rides and books," Tchouambou said. "We came up with the idea of a general online hub that's exclusive to ODU students."
Once the website is fully operational, students will sign in with an ODU.edu email address, then post and respond to listings about conveniences such as rides home and textbook-sharing.
Polizos said he, Tchouambou and Calabro, who previously had never met, were instantly on the same page about entrepreneurship. Their collective strong personalities have made for some passionate discussions about CampusWise, but together they share the same outlook for the project.
A connection made in an ODU economics class has helped take their project beyond the concept stage.
Last semester, Tchouambou was in a class taught by Ian Taylor, a recent graduate of ODU's master's program in economics, when Taylor talked about Hatch, a mentor-based startup accelerator program for technology and design entrepreneurs ready to build a product and launch a company.
Through local business and industry connections, Hatch has launched a program to provide incubator grants and mentoring help to local entrepreneurs with startup ideas. Taylor is part of a startup health care service provider known as One Care Direct, which was in the first class of Hatch incubator grants.
"He came up to me after the first time I mentioned Hatch, and talked about his idea," Taylor said of Tchouambou. "We hit it off, and I invited him to come over to Hatch (in downtown Norfolk). He really made an impression there."
Convinced they had a winning idea, the three ODU undergraduates worked like crazy through the fall to prepare for the next round of Hatch accelerator grants. "It really has happened so fast. I can't tell you how many times we worked until 3 a.m. on this," Calabro said.
Their efforts paid off. Early in January, CampusWise was one of a handful of projects selected for the second round of Hatch accelerator grants. In addition to an award of $15,000, the three ODU students get incubator space in the Hatch offices downtown and are being matched with business mentors who will meet with them several times per week. The goal is to develop a product and a more complete business plan to present to investors at a national event in April.
Tchouambou, who looked around and couldn't find an entrepreneur's club at ODU when he arrived on campus two years ago, said he is happy now to see an emerging business startup culture. "At the start of last fall, I didn't see the entrepreneurial community here. But I notice it now, and it's growing rapidly," he said.