By Molly Loughman
This spring,14 students proved nothing can stop the Emerson Entrepreneurial Experience (E3) — not even a global pandemic.
“E3 is the only course I’ve taken that is entirely driven by the real world. So all the assignments and everything we do is for our own understanding of an entrepreneurial experience,” said Chris Rodriguez ‘21, a Visual Media Arts major who won the E3 Expo first-place prize award of $5,000 for his alcoholic beverage business concept, TipƧyFizz. “I felt I wasn’t doing it for a class project, but for my career — and that’s something I personally really care about.”
Started in 2005, the E3 minor in Emerson’s School of Communication (SOC) is a yearlong immersive program designed to teach students from all majors how to build and launch their own business ventures. Directed by Lu Ann Reeb, senior executive-in-residence in Marketing Communication, this year’s E3 class went remote along with the rest of the College in March due to the COVID-19 crisis, leaving Reeb to instruct students both one-on-one and as a group across five time zones and four countries, including China, India, Costa Rica, and the U.S.
“There’s nothing I love more than the E3 cohort, and they’re all different every year and so are the challenges,” said Reeb. “This semester’s program was super challenging for everybody. It was important for them to get that individual attention — and we ended this semester with what I think was a great satisfaction among students, and that’s evidenced by the E3 entrepreneurs about to launch their ventures because that’s what E3 is all about.”
This spring’s cohort consisted of students majoring in Visual Media Arts (VMA), Theatre, Business of Creative Enterprises (BCE), Marketing Communication, and Communication Studies. “It’s always a different combination of majors every year, but it makes for a really rich experience. It opens the door to really cool collaboration, understanding and thinking,” added Reeb. “This year’s cohort was really bound together. They helped edit each other’s video pitches, even though they were competing with each other for cash awards. That’s what Emerson students do. When there is a crisis, there is definitely an organic coming-together.”
Jessica Costas ’20, a Theatre Education major who landed the second-place award, said, “While we were all still competing for the best pitch, the words of kindness and sharing of resources among our cohort is what got me through remote learning. COVID-19 affected everyone’s venture in some way, but it was so rewarding to watch everyone’s final pitch and see the adaptability that came with these challenges. While COVID-19 disrupted what might have been planned, for me it bolstered one of my core values of my venture and myself as an entrepreneur, which is community. It is in everything we do and it’s what will keep us motivated during these times, and that is what the E3 cohort did for me.”
OUT OF COMFORT ZONES…
Stepping out of their comfort zones during the first semester, students learn the business acumen needed in a sustainable entrepreneurial environment. For the first several weeks, they study entrepreneurial and design thinking along with problem solving, and visit start-ups to hear from experienced business creators. The visits inform the five-week group midterm projects, where students collaboratively launch small campus-based business ventures. With each student taking on specific business roles, teams sell products or services to the Emerson campus community.
“The learning aspect is they have to explore the value proposition, marketing and public relations, and delivering on a high-quality product. So all of the things baked into entrepreneurial thinking, they had to figure this out,” said Reeb, noting the second half of the first semester is spent brainstorming students’ individual entrepreneurial ideas and writing a value proposition for their idea. “Learning by doing is so fruitful.”
…AND INTO BUSINESS
The second second semester requires students to build a business plan for their venture and create a five-minute pitch. Normally, E3’s spring semester culminates with the E3 Expo, a large event inside Bill Bordy Theater, where students deliver and pitch their ventures before judges and a live audience.
For this year’s E3 Expo, students submitted their pitches by video for judges to review. Reeb announced the three winners after video pitches were presented during an E3 Expo Zoom award ceremony, where judges, mentors, students, and family members tuned in for over an hour. (Mentors included public relations, legal, and finance professionals. This year’s E3 judges included Emerson alumni).
According to Reeb, first-place cash prizes can go a long way toward launching a business, including funding needs such as web development and staff compensation. “It may not be a million dollars of funding, but $5,000 will allow an entrepreneur to get a prototype out there and try and build a community. And maybe you get feedback allowing you to make improvements and changes to its features, as students learn in design thinking. Or, you can ‘bootstrap’ it, like Chris Rodriguez did.”
Rodriguez’s $5,000 will help produce and distribute his product prototype for TipƧyFizz. He will then use the funds from selling the product to continue producing prototypes. “Bootstrapping may be a bit slower, but it will avoid giving up equity in the business,” Reeb said.
TipƧyFizz was inspired by Rodriguez’s older sister and her love for drinking mimosas while tailgating with friends at the University of Miami.
“It just came to me one day. It’s so complicated to do the whole buying Prosecco, the orange juice, and the plastic cups, and then mixing it yourself. I thought, why can’t they just crack it open the way you would in any other ready-to-drink product?” said Rodriguez, explaining the product doesn’t exist nationwide, but does locally, only at a pricey rate and in carbonated form. “Champagne isn’t carbonated. It’s just fermented a second time, which is why the bubbles are a lot thinner and give a different flavor.”
After conceiving his own version of canned mimosas last fall, that same week Rodriguez began networking with others in the alcohol beverage industry via networking events and contacts suggested by Reeb. “That helped me realize I can make this product that isn’t just still wine, orange juice and carbonation — that there are ways to do it right.”
After Rodriguez’s sister agreed to co-found TipƧyFizz, he began producing his product in bulk and selling it at small scale events to eventually get on the market and into liquor stores. “That’s the great thing about the E3 class — Lu Ann teaches us all how to pivot when things don’t go right. Now being awarded the prize money, it’s a lot easier to see [my next move].”
Rodriguez plans to officially launch TipƧyFizz in 2021.
“I’m extremely grateful to Emerson, which I feel has given me so much, not only getting awarded the prize, but that I’ve been put into contact with all of these incredible role models and mentors,” Rodriguez said. “I feel the same gratitude for other students in my cohort- we all helped each other so much.”
- First place award – $5,000: Christopher Rodriguez ‘21, a VMA major from Miami, Florida, who created an alcoholic beverage business for canned mimosas called, TipƧyFizz.
- Second place award – $3,000: Jessica Costas ‘20, a BFA Theatre Education major from Kingston, Massachusetts, developed a nonprofit called Senior Theatre, which brings intergenerational programming into elderly communities. Costas strives to build community and understanding across generations using a type of theatre known as Playmaking. Costas plans to launch Senior Theatre once visitation is back to normal.
“E3 is such a unique program and holds a huge place in my heart. Passion is what drives Emerson students and E3 is the place where you can see that passion thrive and come to life. Winning second place felt amazing! I surprised myself with what I was able to accomplish this year in E3 and award or no award — I felt like I shared something I was passionate about and I was being heard!”
- Third place award – $2,000: Jose Garcia ‘21, a Marketing Communication major from Columbus, Ohio, created Martin’s World. A fun, engaging children’s educational app, Martin’s World, which fosters creativity and empathy through cultural identity exploration.
“Usually the gaming world promotes violence with an all-white cast of characters. I wanted to disrupt the gaming world with a new game that shows players how to be kinder, and represent people of different backgrounds… Winning third place at the expo is a DREAM. All of my classmates’ pitches were amazing, and I’m so unbelievably happy and humbled that all my hard work this year paid off! It’s truly exciting.”
Karl Baehr Memorial Scholarship Award – $1,500: Rana Saifi ’21, Marketing Communication major
This award goes to the E3 student for academic excellence, innovation and creativity demonstrated during the entire year – chosen by Reeb. This scholarship fund was started by Karl Baehr’s family after his untimely death in 2013. Karl started E3 in 2005.
Entrepreneurial Spirit Award – $500: Amanda Benevente ’20, Business of Creative Enterprises major
This award is chosen by the E3 cohort and given to the E3 student who has shown collegiality, kindness and support for fellow students above and beyond her/his own venture development.
- Trish Cotter, executive director of the MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship
- David Breen ‘78, entrepreneur and founder of VDA, a Boston-based experiential marketing agency and member of Emerson Alumni Board of Directors.
- Tripp Clemens ‘13, entrepreneur and co-founder of Windy Films in Boston
- Aaron Weinstein, entrepreneur and executive VP at FastPay, based in Los Angeles, with offices in New York, San Francisco, Boston, and London