Ball State's Entrepreneurship Center is encouraging growth in student businesses by providing grants

Brenden Rowan, DN Illustration
Brenden Rowan, DN Illustration

In 2023, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported 33.2 million small businesses across the United States and 94,057 new business applications were filled out in just the state of Indiana. 

On Ball State’s campus, this number is not nearly as high, but full-time students are still creating, running and managing their own businesses. 

This was acknowledged by the Ball State Entrepreneurship Center, which launched the Pre-Seed Fund in 2019, a grant given to student entrepreneurs each semester. 

“Through the funding provided by generous donors to the Pre-Seed Fund, we are able to help students get a taste for real-world entrepreneurship,” program coordinator Marie Thompson said via email. “Some students really run with the ideas and see their businesses flourish; Others learn about how to pivot into a better idea. It’s all a learning experience, which is what we’re really excited about.”

Through Pre-Seed, every student on campus can apply for the opportunity to be awarded a grant worth as much as $2,500. In the application, students will have to provide information on how much money they need and why. 

Once applications are submitted, a committee reviews every applicant and decides whether or not the student's business or idea should be awarded the grant. 

From there, the top three applicants get selected and their plans are re-assessed to determine if the total amount of money they requested should be awarded. 

“The Pre-Seed Fund has allowed us to show students that their ideas are marketable and achievable while allowing them to overcome some of those financial obstacles that might otherwise be there,” Thompson said via email. “We encourage all enrolled students at Ball State, regardless of major, to apply for Pre-Seed Funding.”

For full-time students who are part-time small business owners, this grant can be revolutionary. 

“It felt like puzzle pieces matching together,” third-year organizational communications major Liliana Osborne said. “I felt like it was sent to me; it matched up perfectly.”

Osborne runs “Bee’s Bracelets,” a shop that sells bracelets and necklaces made of crystals, rocks and evil eyes. This was initially just a hobby and creative outlet until one of her friends said she should sell them. 

From there, the idea took off.

“I just want to make people feel good about themselves. I want them to have something that looks nice, that they like [and] that helps them accessorize,” she said.

Osborne was awarded $2,500, the full amount she requested when applying for the grant. She has since used this money to buy more products, advertise and begin taking custom requests from customers.

With the grant, she said she grew her customer base rapidly, alongside her business. Osborne is thankful for the grant, but also for the ability to run the business, as it helps improve her entrepreneur skillset. 

“It's kind of a proof that not only is it a creative outlet, but it's also builds my skills as an entrepreneur,” Osborne said. “It’s teaching about finances, customer service, bookkeeping, etc.”

Fellow grant recipient third-year entrepreneurship major Cheyenne McMullen has gained many of the same skills and experiences as Osborne after receiving the grant. 

McMullen's business, Cheyenne Marie Consulting, allows her to channel her love of economics and math; something she said helps her hone in on the creative and logical sides of her brain. 

“Last March, one of my mentors was like, ‘Hey, I need help with one of my other clients, would you want to help,’” McMullen said. “Then I was just starting to get more and more clients… and I started making money.”

Due to the grant, she has been able to expand her business and has been working on acquiring more clientele. Along with this, she has been able to purchase more tools to help her manage her business. 

She said that without the Pre-Seed Fund, and her time in Ball State's entrepreneurship program, she would not have been able to better herself as an entrepreneur or as a business owner.

“Just in the three short years, I've been here… it's been a wild ride,” McMullen said. “We're getting to a place where the professors understand what we need to complete our plans and we're getting the better financial help.”

For fourth-year Will Pancake, the Pre-Seed Fund allowed him to fulfill his purpose as an entrepreneurship major. 

Pre-seed 2.jpg
Will Pancake (Left) poses for a photo with Ted Baker (Right), the owner of Innovation Connector, Nov. 16, 2023 at Innovation Connector. Pancake is developing the app ‘Card Genie’. Innovation Connector, Photo provided

“Essentially what we do is try to find problems to solve and then build a business around it. If it's not a real problem, it's not going to be a business,” Pancake said.

Throughout his time as a Cardinal, Pancake has come up with numerous ideas in the entrepreneurship program. The majority of these have been tech-based, as Pancake said he is drawn to software and technology. 

When the time came to apply for the Pre-Seed Fund last semester, he had been working on an idea given to him by his fiance, Emily, last spring called “CardGenie.” 

“Emily mentioned that she has too many gift cards to try to store in her wallet and wished that she had a mobile app that would allow her to easily keep track,” Pancake said. “I discovered that it's actually a pretty big problem. There's currently $23 billion in unused gift cards in the U.S. and it's a huge waste.”

After recognizing the potential of this idea, Pancake got to work, creating a mobile app. The money he was awarded from the grant has helped him further the process of developing the app's software. 

He said he will be forever grateful for his time in the entrepreneurship program, along with the fact he was picked to be an award recipient last fall. 

“Ball State’s Entrepreneurship Center believed in me… I mean, the fact that they chose me as one of the people to be awarded funding was really meaningful because [financial backing] showed they believed in what I was trying to do,” he said.

The Pre-Seed Fund spring application cycle is currently open and will close Feb. 29. Those interested in applying can gain more information on the grant by heading to the Ball State Entrepreneurship Center website

Thompson also encourages those interested to meet with an Entrepreneur in Residence, which is promoted through the entrepreneurship Canvas community. If you are not an entrepreneurship major or minor, you can email Thompson at mathompson3@bsu.edu for more information.

Contact Trinity Rea via email at trinity.rea@bsu.edu or on X @thetrinityrea.

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