It was just another basketball game for SBCC student Justin Connell.
Connell has played basketball for as long as he can remember; he was an SBCC sophomore who earned a starting role on the varsity team. But midway through the game, he went up for a rebound and fell awkwardly on his back. He ended up fracturing a vertebra.
“I was bummed out,” Connell said. “I had to leave school and go home with my parents. After being depressed for a bit, I thought that I just needed to be productive with my time.”
Little did he know, it might have been a blessing in disguise. Connell began developing the Garden on Wheels, an elevated mobile garden that caters to people who can’t bend or don’t have much space. At 38 inches tall, the wooden garden features a sealed bed and draining system that recycle water, help keep pests out, maximize space and house a tool rack.
Connell’s business model rolled away with first place Friday at the SBCC Scheinfeld Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation’s New Venture Challenge.
“I learned how to talk in front of a big group, how to answer questions from investors on the spot, how to create a presentation and communicate effectively with an audience,” he said. “A lot of people hustled through their presentation, so I tried to make sure I connected with the audience and they understood me.”
The New Venture Challenge is a two-tiered business plan competition for students from SBCC, Antioch University Santa Barbara and South Coast high schools who competed for $15,000 in start-up grant money, according to Scheinfeld Center director Melissa Moreno. Lynda.com co-founder Lynda Weinman, Noospheric founder Jacques Habra and Montecito Bank & Trust associate Chris Morales judged the second annual challenge Friday afternoon at SBCC.
“I have to give all the credit to Melissa and Dr. Jon Anton,” Connell said. “I called them late in the night asking for help and they set me up with a patent attorney. Without Melissa running the whole thing and Jon mentoring and putting money into it, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Connell recently went to a farmers market where someone featured Garden On Wheels in a YouTube video that has amassed more than 6,000 views and 56 comments. The SBCC student received calls from all over the nation and has sold six units so far. He sold a test model to Emeritus Senior Living, which might buy gardens for each of its 500 facilities nationwide.
Now he has two options: Sell the idea and go back to school, or run with it.
“This could blow up,” Connell said. “It feels good to have a product that is helping people have a better quality of life and continue something they love. It’s something I can be proud of.”
Second place went to Kitchens of Africa. Patience Ncube came up with an organic hot pepper sauce that’s made from dried shrimp, smoked herring, vegetables and spices that can be used as a marinade or dip.
Ncube is an African immigrant who noticed there were no local African restaurants or goods in supermarkets. She will sell the sauce to retail stores, supermarkets and online.
Adam Korpas’ Santa Barbara Succulent Art earned third place. Korpas will offer consumers and business succulent living walls, constructed of high-quality redwood lumber and planted with low-water use succulents. He said they can be hung on walls, fences and indoors.
“The ones that we selected were based on the concepts that will have the most viability in the market,” Habra said. “That doesn’t mean the other concepts were not good ideas, we just felt the ones that were selected had the basic market thought out, had the passion well presented and we believe they will be in the marketplace and sell.”
Other SBCC contestants included Juice by Jennica Diaz; Treefish Inn by Scott Cohen; DN Fitness by Jeffrey Englert; CShell Boutique by Courtney Cunningham; Fuel Box by Robert Herr, Erik Stuckey and Dan Friedman; and Joesf by Josef Demangeat.
Anton said every university should have a mandated entrepreneurship program. He said half of college graduates can’t find a job, and many graduates haven’t learned how to pursue jobs outside of the corporate realm.
“These kids are learning a skill set that will serve them well no matter what they do,” SBCC acting President/Superintendent Jack Friedlander said.
In the high school contest, Duck Butter by Santa Barbara High School students Jeremy Wallop and Shane Meares took home first place. Fun Support Organization by Lompoc High School student Jose Guerrero earned second place, and the Ubuntu Box by Santa Barbara High students Olivia Alvarado, Alyssa Espinosa, Brandon Smith and Johnathan Ramos won third place.
Other contestants included Good by Santa Barbara High students Daniela Orozco, Jenny Aguilar, Teon West and Juan-Diego Lopez; Rising Sun Café by Dos Pueblos High School students Sean Handley, Jim Lam and Connor Colton; Swage Clothing by Santa Ynez High School student Robert Park; and Pack a Closet by San Marcos High School students Yazeed Alhashim, Maria Perez, Crystal Flores and Kristy Hernandez.
“What they are learning today is how to pitch a product and how to answer investors questions and if they learn the importance of being able to present and sell in a public forum then they are well on their way to the next step,” Moreno said.