Student entrepreneurs drum up a win

July 05–GROVE CITY — Drumming up a business starts with, well, a drum.

And in Andrew Graber’s case, some splinters.

Graber, a junior at Grove City College, partnered up with his childhood friend, Mahlon Stoltz, to build and sell a box drum, called a cajón, through their business, Mahlon Acoustics. Graber described the instrument as a “portable drum set” because it can make a wide variety of sounds depending where and how it is hit.

Graber competed in the college’s 15th annual Grove City College Business Plan competition, which was renamed the Wolverine Venture Battle in 2017. Mahlon Acoustics came in first place and won $9,500. Graber said the money will buy tools needed to make the instruments and create marketing videos for the company.

Second, third and fourth-place winners took home $7,000, $2,000 and $1,500.

“The judges this year said that they wanted to support ventures that had momentum,” said Yvonne English, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation at GCC. “They wanted the prize money to have the most impact that it could in the smallest amount of time possible.”

Graber, originally from Lancaster, is doing just that — gaining momentum. He is spending his summer in Nashville, Tenn., with Stoltz to hone their business, whose website will be going live shortly.

A few months ago, Graber asked his friend to embark on this business venture. Stoltz does the majority of the craftsmanship, but Graber helps when there are multiple orders as he, too, grew up working with wood.

But mostly, Graber runs the business and marketing side of their partnership.

Stoltz, who lives permanently in Nashville, is a musician as well as a craftsman. He started drumming on a cajón about six years ago, and played it so much he put a hole in the instrument, Graber said. That’s when Stoltz began creating his own cajón.

He’s played on about 100 different cajóns, so he knows what to listen for when it comes to sound quality, Graber said.

“It’s hand-crafted start to finish,” Graber said. “It’s designed for and by musicians.”

That’s what makes Mahlon Acoustics different, Graber said.

Graber said he has talked with people in the music industry, and they all say there isn’t a cajon on the market that is high enough quality for recording in a studio. Mahlon Acoustics is hoping to change that.

Before starting his own business, Graber learned what it takes to operate a business with feet on the ground.

Before attending college, he worked full-time at his father’s business for three years, which helped prepare him for the leaps that he his taking now.

The first step was returning to school. Graber wanted to see the world through a “broader lens,” he said.

“I didn’t love high school, but after working full-time I got a new appreciation for learning — learning to garner bigger perspectives on life and everything I encounter,” Graber said.

GCC has empowered him to “run with ideas and just start doing it,” he said, because he can’t fix problems before he knows what they are.

Graber follows the “ready fire aim approach” by solving issues as they come, he said.

English said it would certainly make it easier to go into a business with all the answers, but that of course is impossible.

“As an entrepreneur, you enter a business venture with a collection of guesses,” English said. “We hope that they are educated guesses, but they are guesses nonetheless.”

Creating a business is all about thinking about who the customer is, the problems he or she might face and the solutions to solve them, English said. A traditional business plan usually does not survive after first contact with customers, she said.

However, by building a business alongside the customers and talking with them from all stages of development, an entrepreneur builds a product that someone in the world might actually want, she said.

Graber knows there will be mistakes on his business path, but he is unafraid.

“It’s just empowering to realize that not everyone you see out there doing business has every little thing figured out. It’s the people who are willing to go for it and try it who are successful,” Graber said. “…You don’t know if it’s going to work, but that’s part of the excitement and challenge of it.”

Other winners from the Wolverine Venture Battle:

Samuel Kenney ’18, Madeline Williams ’18, Austin Zick ’18, and Keith Meikrantz ’18, won $7,000 for their invention, Graphrite. Their tool helps engineering and math students draw clean and accurate sketches of graphs.

Mark Sotomayor ’20 and Ryan Budnik ’19, won $2,000 for Té Amo, an organic Peruvian tea business.

Jordan Hörst ’18 and Rebecca Krupp ’19 won$1,500 for Geniuscorps, an education program that teaches STEM skills.

The Wolverine Venture Battle was followed by the VentureLab Showcase. Audience members voted Chute! to win the $500 showcase prize. Chute! transforms military parachutes into draw-string bags and donates the proceeds to veterans. Stephen Weaver ’19, Levi Roberts ’19 and Boyce Cubarney ’19 are the business inventors.

This article provided by NewsEdge.