UNC Charlotte Entrepreneurship: Ventureprise and LEADS Collaboration
This past spring semester Ventureprise, UNC Charlotte’s innovation and entrepreneurship center, partnered with the LEADS program for it’s Spring 2019 Ventureprise Launch NSF I-Corps cohort. Cole Nastasi, a history major, and Hunter Heavener, a computer science major, met in the Spring 2019 cohort and now consider each other business partners and friends. Nastasi and Heavener were both seniors who graduated in May and have been working on a business idea called Mello, a platform that facilitates social learning between students by providing exclusive access to a curated selection of course materials and study aids in an innovative way.
Marketing and Communication Intern Madison Brewington sat down with them to hear their experience with Ventureprise.
Q: Hunter, how has having a student from CLAS partner with you, helped you?
Heavener: It has been immensely helpful. Cole and I have very similar personalities and we both share a vision, desire and passion to help this thing move forward.
Nastasi:We also have the system genius of having two different skill sets. He is a computer science guy and I have a narrative and marketing background. He is more analytical and I am more creative.
Q: You did all 51 interviews together throughout the program. What did you learn?
Heavener: Cole has been instrumental in this customer discovery process because if I did not have him with me I would be doing these interviews alone. In the first week I did do it on my own which was fine, I have the personality for it and I am not shy. However, with a partner I am able to bounce ideas off of him and he asks questions that I may not think to ask.
Nastasi: Communication with us is pretty air-tight with us, we constantly communicate with each other and talk about our ideas together.
Heavener: It is pretty cool too because I got a friend out of it!
Q: What have you learned from each other?
Nastasi: I had a very limited knowledge of computers and programming, but seeing it happening and having Nadia and Hunter teach me so much about computers, I have a basic understanding of it and I can be that voice for them when explaining things in simpler terms to people who don’t have that knowledge. It actually gives our team an advantage. My naive eye on the subject oddly steers this business where it needs to go.
Heavener: Cole has taught me how to work effectively with a team and how to build a team dynamic. He shares passion and he takes it seriously and he’s shown me what good teamwork looks like.
Q: Has being able to be apart of the process given you any ideas in starting your own business?
Nastasi: 100 percent. I am honestly invested in Mello, but I did not know I had this inside of me. I had the luck of being around intelligent people like Henry, Laura and Devin who have guided me in a nice way. The experience taught me that I have the ability to create a business from scratch.
Heavener: He has the drive to make it as an entrepreneur.
Nastasi: We are both seniors, so there is always the fear of financial stability after graduation. So I think that fear is closley associated with our drive and it's kind of exciting.
Q: What advice to do you have for anyone interested in the program?
Heavener: If you have an idea you think is solid, go for it. It wont hurt. This is a good program that teaches you, "hey this is the way you need to think before you go out and do something." It forces you to go out, do the interviews and find a market. For me that has been one of the most helpful things. If I have an idea it doesnt matter what I think, it matters whether or not people want it. The program is very infomative even if you dont make it through.
Nastasi: People tend to think this isn't something that is real. They think it's practice, I can't image thinking of it like that because NSF gives us grant money that could turn this into a multi-million dollar business. I guess my advice would be to treat it as a real start up, take it very seriously.
Q: Why do you feel entrepreneurship is important?
Heavener: You can never succeed if you dont try. There is a certain value in attempting to do something your own way. Its not for everybody, but the opportunity to have something we can control and were in charge, just having something that is YOURS is important.
Nastasi: You definitley don't get as much fulfillment going and working for someone else as opposed to dioing something you created and love.
Heavener: You can be an entrepreneur without NSF, people do it all the time. BUT the program gives you years of knowledge needed to start a successful business in a matter of weeks. Everyone who has an idea or business plan should do the NSF I-Corps customer-discovery program.
Check out Hunter and Cole’s pitch at Charlotte Venture Challenge here