While some may assume that COVID-19 is a period of pessimism for entrepreneurs and business owners, many of the University of Arizona’s student entrepreneurs have turned this unlucky situation into a time of opportunity.
Lars Severson and Dani Neuberger, senior students in the Eller College of Management, have spent this summer developing Re-Live, a digital scrapbooking app. Re-Live is their concept for a customizable scrapbook that students, teens and adults can create for any occasion.
The idea was born after both Severson’s and Neuberger’s siblings graduated high school during the pandemic. Severson realized yearbooks can be expensive and most people either can’t find theirs or don’t interact with them after they graduate.
After conducting market research, the pair of entrepreneurs found that most people cared more about their college experience and wanted a yearbook with their own memories and personal touch.
“Everyone loves sharing photos and yearbook signing was so big for us when we were younger, and we don’t get to do that in college, so we’re trying to bring that aspect to this demographic.” Neuberger said.
Neuberger and Severson are currently creating an app with various templates for digital and printable scrapbooks.
“We’re developing a software that allows you to add all the pictures you want, and the templates will format them on the page for you.” Severson said. They hope to have their app and website running by May 2021.
Neuberger noted that although COVID-19 has limited their resources for networking without in-person connections, it has also allowed them to focus a lot of time on this new project.
“It would’ve been really easy to look at this whole pandemic as an excuse to not do anything and wait to get started,” Neuberger said.
However, the team quickly adapted and found creative ways to connect with others through LinkedIn and the UA alumni network.
A popular industry among student entrepreneurs is apparel that supports a greater cause.
Robby Orona, a senior studying finance and entrepreneurship, started his clothing business Arcane Studios to raise awareness for mental health and create a supportive community through his brand.
“Arcane by definition simply means to be understood by few,” Orona said, “The goal of the brand is to connect people who feel that way and create a community around that feeling.”
Orona started the brand about a year and a half ago and has been posting blogs on his website that promote a healthy lifestyle, physically and mentally.
According to Orona, many new clothing startups have emerged as a result of COVID-19 so he is working hard to make Arcane Studios stand out from the rest.
Another student apparel brand with a cause is Zac Armbruster’s Free The Fish. Armbruster began the company as a high school project to raise funding and awareness for a social issue. He donates 15% of all profits towards ocean conservation and prevention of commercial fishing practices.
“I’ve always been really passionate about the ocean, and I wanted to give back and this was the best way I could do that.” Armbruster said.
His goal for the future is to expand the business, beginning with raising awareness around campus.
Armbruster said that not much has changed for his business as a result of COVID-19, and he’s hoping to boost sales with the release of new designs soon.
Brooke Schwartz, a junior majoring in business marketing and minoring in fashion, started her clothing brand B.S. Designs during COVID-19, which focuses on customization and individuality.
“I’m very conscious of the consumer and I’m always trying to please them.” Schwartz said. “Everyone has different body shapes so that’s why I do customized shirt lengths as well as sizes.”
To appeal to a wide range of customers, Schwartz offers shirts with various patches as well as her handmade tank tops that feature safety pins in the design.
Lacy Cain, who graduated from the UA in 2018, shared her experience as an entrepreneur after graduation.
Cain’s company, WildJoy, helps pair people seeking new experiences with local businesses and opportunities.
Cain created the idea during her senior year through the McGuire Entrepreneurship program and is now working full time on growing her business.
“The mission of the company is to empower people to seek and find adventure and experience their own wildjoy,” Cain said.
WildJoy offers suggestions to customers looking for experiences in food, entertainment, art, sports, or outdoor adventure throughout Ariz. and neighboring states.
In March, WildJoy gained many new followers due to their social media presence, specifically on TikTok, and focused mainly on promoting outdoor activities for people to experience during COVID-19.
“Because of COVID I lost my job — I lost my income — so it forced me to go all in and put my full effort into WildJoy,” Cain said.
Cain and her team are currently working on developing a free app called WildJoy Maps, as well as adding a concierge hotline to foster one on one relationships with members of the WildJoy community.
Cain also shared that she is passionate about giving back to the community and supporting local causes. WildJoy is currently donating 10% of their profits from their apparel sales to the Navajo Nation relief fund.
Caleb Piti, the owner and co-creator of Boom Barn Discount Fireworks, just finished his third season running the stand and is preparing for his senior year at the UA Eller College of Management.
Piti started the firework business with his older brother and now runs and operates the business on his own with the help of a few employees in South Dakota.
Sales for Boom Barn Discount Fireworks increased dramatically this summer in response to COVID-19.
“The pandemic actually really helped us this year because many large commercial fireworks shows cancelled,” Piti said, “I had to restock my supply half way through the season due to the spike in demand.”
Piti is hoping to retain his new customers for future years with competitive pricing and reliability.
Severson believes that adaptability and curiosity are key aspects to entrepreneurship and are especially crucial to success during difficult times like this one.
“Ask questions and be curious,” Severson said. “Being open to all sorts of ideas can be helpful in any situation and can open you up new ideas you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.”
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