A crop of students at UR’s Robins School of Business is getting a financial boost to further pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.
Five students recently earned cash prizes in the school’s annual business pitch competition, while a junior, Virginia Myers, was recognized by the local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, which awarded her with $2,000 and its Student Entrepreneur Award.
Myers was recognized for a food-centric app she developed, Rove, and her food-and-photography Instagram account, Eatstagrama, which she has grown into a profitable business.
Myers described Rove as a combination of apps such as Yelp and Yik Yak to help users find food, news and activities by showing social media posts from other people in real time. She said she started the app as a senior project in high school in Connecticut, after a friend introduced her to coding and app development.
“I’m a huge foodie, so I always would google ‘best donut near me’ or something like that,” Myers said. “Yelp would come up, and it would show me these top three reviews that didn’t seem honest or even relevant to me. Like, how do I possibly decide where to go or what to eat based on a random review? So we combined these ideas to start Rove.”
By the time she started the app in 2015, Myers had created her Eatstagrama account, which she said combined her love of food and photography. In three years, the account, which showed pictures of food often accompanied with a pun, has grown to 12,300 followers.
Upon reaching 10,000 – an Instagram benchmark that Myers said designates her account as an “influencer” – she started getting calls from food-delivery platform UberEats, which offered her stipends to pay for meals for potential mentions on her account.
Soon enough, Eatstagrama started turning a profit – not enough to cover her tuition, Myers said, but a welcome contribution toward weekly school expenses. The 20-year-old, who is majoring in business administration with concentrations in marketing and management, said she is developing a website to include recipes, a travel blog and promotional posts.
“It’s connecting people based on shared experiences, and really just discovering what’s going on,” Myers said of her ventures. “I feel like we’re so trapped in social media and looking at what’s already happened, but this is a time where you can be present and be like, ‘Let’s go do that right now. This is still happening.’”
Myers also is providing services as a social media consultant, having worked with three clients on the marketing potential of platforms such as Pinterest. Earlier this year, she wrapped up a six-month stint as social media director for Map My Customers, a local startup selected last year for Lighthouse Labs’ accelerator program.
This summer, she plans to take part in another internship and ultimately hopes to work at a tech company after graduating next year.
Five of Myers’ schoolmates pitching three business ideas also received cash prizes in this year’s pitch competition, which was judged by a panel of businesspeople.
Those students include: Jeffrey Weinert and Will Klingner, who won first place and $3,500 for Keybodo, a keyboard cover with raised letters placed above each key to aid in improving typing speed and character recognition; Marc Kessler, whose FeelTheVibe app for purchasing merchandise from artists and venues during concerts earned him second place and $1,000; and Pep Ruckpanich and Oliver Parker, who won third place and $500 for Feasy, a protein powder that can be customized to suit different health needs.
It’s not just local college students pitching their business ideas. Earlier this year, West End private school The Steward School kicked off its new entrepreneurship program with a pitch contest for students in grades nine through 11.