Dave Vilhauer, Brianna Kusler and Cam Schock each run quite distinct businesses, but they had similar words of wisdom for high school students who were the finalists for the 2022 Big Idea contest in Aberdeen.
The annual contest is organized by the Small Business Development Center with support from a host of sponsors. Finalists in the competition presented their business ideas in a two-day event with a virtual event on Tuesday featuring the out-of-state entries and a live event Wednesday for the in-state participants at the Johnson Fine Arts Center at Northern State University.
This year’s contest saw 277 applications from students from 54 schools not only in South Dakota but across the country. Overall finalists are selected for this contest as well as winners for a marketing design contest; wellness category; agriculture innovation business ideas; and home business entries. Of those categories, 177 marketing design entries were submitted; 50 came in for the wellness category; 33 for agriculture innovation; and 120 home business entries, which was a new contest this year.
Vilhauer, Kusler and Schock were featured during a panel discussion where they talked about starting their business. Vilhauer operates SD SportScene, a subscription-based website for local sports coverage, which he started in 2021. Kusler runs Kusler Klinics, which he started six years ago. Through her business she offers athletic clinics. Schock is president and co-owner of Climate Control, a local HVAC company in Aberdeen, which opened in 2000.
For each, it was a leap of faith decision to start their own business.
Vilhauer said he’d never been a business owner and often didn’t think of himself as one.
“I’m a sports writer who happens to run a business,” he said.
He launched his website as he noticed less and less local sports coverage. While people suggested he start a website, Vilhauer said, he didn’t know how it would work as a business model until he talked to a few people who thought it would work.
“I gave up steady income for the great unknown,” he said and he continued to expand his coverage area.
So far, he said, the local response has been good and more continue to check him out.
Kusler said his business started as something to do during the summer while he was going to college. A local athlete, Kusler said he had a passion for both coaching and training, so he started a volleyball program for small group training events. Now, six years later, she and her partner offer volleyball, basketball and football clinics focusing on underserved populations.
Schock said launching a business for him meant building capital furth to get the necessary equipment. That, he said, took seven years. When he quit his job to start his business full time, Schock said some of the enthusiasm to start his business turned into absolute fear.
“And that’s just as powerful,” he said of that fear.
Schock said it’s also just as important to have a business plan because that plan will help take some of that fear away.
All three reminded students that it’s ok to try different ideas and see if they’re going to work. Not all will, they say, but even an idea that doesn’t work is a learning experience.
“You can’t have a fear of failure in business,” Kusler said. “You never loose, you learn.”
Schock also said he’s found a ton of help in visiting with other business owners.
“Don’t feel like you’re on your own,” he said. “There’s a ton of people experiencing what you’re going through. Spend time and foster that communication with other businesses.”
Students presented a host of ideas
From freeze-dried food snacks to the creation of a spring-loaded hand-held punch tool, students presented a variety of ideas this week.
Winners of the virtual contest were:
Third place, Arush Sharma and Tanush Garg from Ashland High School (MA) with their business CulturalMunch, a subscription box company.
Second place, Samuel Fan and Steve Xu from Valley Christian High School (GA) with their company KindKibble, a company that proposes the use of invasive species to create treats for pets.
First place, Stefan Neuber of Windsor High School (CA) with his business MatheX, an app for teaching elementary students math skills.
Winners of the live contest were:
Third place, Cole Bisbee of Groton High School with his business Punch Out where he developed a spring-loaded hand-held punch tool.
Second place, Pack Forster, a homeschool student from Howard with his business Free Bird RC, which uses a 3D printer to make parts and accessories for RC cars.
First place, Noah Felderman of Doland High School with his business Feldy’s Ice Cream, a mobile ice cream company using a converted school bus.
Other category winners include:
Marketing design: Beau Price, Aberdeen Roncalli, Freeze Dried Fun.
Wellness: Kamryn and Kendyl Anderson and Kiah Koch, Warner High School, Countryside Living.
Agriculture Innovation: Cole Bisbee, Groton High School, Punch Out.
Hometown Business: Blaize Larson, Webster High School, Staging and Design Success.
This article originally appeared on Aberdeen News: Entrepreneurs describe the leap of faith decisions to start businesses