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Students’ bicycle business model earns 2nd-place finish

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A proposal to develop a community-based biking experience propelled three Columbus North students to a tie for second-place in the regional finals of the Maverick Challenge business planning competition.

Seniors Braden Trimpe and Taylor Balser, and junior Nick Streit, were awarded $1,500 for their healthy community initiative.

The students, who are all 18, advanced to the regional contest by receiving first place honors, and $3,300, in the Bartholomew County competition.

“From the beginning, we said if we are going to do this we want to win,” Trimpe said. “So we feel pretty good about how it turned out.”

The Maverick Challenge was introduced in 2008 by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and is designed to give high school students hands-on experience in the practice

of entrepreneurship.

Proposals for the challenge must include a pitch and a business plan with a narrative and a financial component.

On course Columbus North teacher Laura Daily has incorporated the Maverick Challenge program into the curriculum of her principles of business management class.

Students are not required to enter the competition, but they do have to develop a concept based on the criteria.

The Columbus North students’ community-based biking proposal, called Wayfare, was designed to allow customers to rent a bike for half an hour at a time and return it at any kiosk within Columbus.

Trimpe said he saw a similar business on a trip to Boston and pitched the idea to Balser and Streit, who agreed to develop the concept with him for the competition.

“I thought it was one of the coolest ideas ever, and I thought it would be awesome to bring to Columbus,” Trimpe said.

Daily has been involved with the competition from its inception and said the biggest challenge is to impress upon the students the value of the program and get them to develop ideas.

“At the beginning it’s difficult because they don’t have any  comparable experience to attach to it,” Daily said.

“After they have finished the class or have gone to a networking event, they think it is pretty cool.”

Dailey used the prize money, and the odds of winning it, as motivation.

“This year I really impressed the money part on them because we only had (about 18) competitors, so there was an opportunity for some real cash at the end of this stick,” Daily said.

Not discouraged

The students admit they were a bit overwhelmed initially because of the amount of work involved and their unfamiliarity with the concept.

The project laid out for them is incredibly detailed and includes about 18 spreadsheets, and it must result in a viable business concept.

Templates for the pitch and both phases of the plan and a sample concept are provided to point students in the right direction. Mentoring help also is offered from chamber members throughout the process, but the feedback is not always positive.

“A lady told us not to do it; that it just wasn’t a good idea,” Balser said. “She thought it was too small of a community for it to work here.”

The challenges of sustaining the business during cold weather, the availability of public transportation options in Columbus and the relatively inexpensive cost to purchase a bike were also seen as drawbacks.

The team took the advice as constructive criticism and looked at factors within the community that could offset those disadvantages.

They geared marketing toward the local tourism industry and companies such as Cummins, that have a lot of employees from other parts of the world where biking is a common form of transportation. The availability of trails and tours in Columbus were also identified as factors that could be used to help promote the healthy-lifestyle concept.

Winning idea

The Wayfare concept involved locating unmanned kiosks with about a dozen bikes, which could be added to or decreased based on volume, at strategic points in the city.

Customers who want to use a bike would either be given a code or a swipe card, depending on whether they purchased a daily, weekly or annual pass, to unlock the bike from the docking station.

A toll-free number would be available on the kiosk and on each bike for customers who needed assistance or had maintenance issues during a rental. The use of credit cards would ensure that anyone who was either late returning a bike to a kiosk, or did not bring it back, would incur an additional cost.

The students gathered information that included the population of Columbus, how many people older than 16 rode bikes in the city, and how many potential customers from each target segment were likely to use the service. They compared that information with the costs to implement and maintain the service to establish rates that would make the business financially viable.

“That was probably the hardest part because it can’t cost too much or people won’t use it, but it can’t be too little or you won’t make any money,” Trimpe said.

Their marketing strategy included the slogan, “Without a worry, start a journey.” They also developed a plan to identify target audiences at businesses such as fitness facilities and to utilize social media to keep costs down.

Trimpe said the business would probably never generate a large profit in a city the size of Columbus, but could sustain itself and be used to promote tourism or employee health in a large company. The students have received inquiries from three companies or organizations in the area, including Cummins, asking for more information on the concept.

Teamwork critical

The students say they were more nervous at the local competition because it was all new to them. They gave a presentation and answered questions from the audience.

Streit said it helped that each student brought a different skill set to the project.

“Braden was good with the sales pitch; Taylor was good with digging up the numbers, and I brought my presentation skills,” Streit said. “I’m pretty fearless, and public speaking really isn’t a problem for me.”

The regional competition included 13 teams of students from Bartholomew, Brown, Dearborn, Franklin, Jackson, Jennings and Ripley counties.

Nigel Myers, Clay Brown and Noah Killey, all juniors from Brownstown Central High School in Jackson County, captured first place at the regional competition and were awarded $4,500, for their Boxlift7000 idea. The concept was designed to help electrical companies perform box pad transfers more safely and decreases the chance of damaging supplies, while cutting employee labor in half.

Crystal Nichols, a senior from South Dearborn High School, tied for second-place and was also awarded $1,500 for a creative way to provide jewelry kits to customers.

Since its inception, the Maverick Challenge has attracted more than 500 students and awarded more than $45,000.

Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Cindy Frey said the Maverick Challenge fits the organization’s goal of fostering a community where start-ups and small businesses can thrive.

“This competition is important because it illustrates to kids at a young age that having your own business is a viable career option,” Frey said. “I was able to watch them present at the regional competition, and I was so impressed and so proud that kids from all over southeastern Indiana were so mature and had such great presentation skills. These kids just shined.”

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