At Samford University, there are numerous opportunities for students to get involved on campus, from Greek life to intramural sports. Some students, however, want to participate in a different sort of extracurricular: managing a business.
On Jan. 31, many of these college entrepreneurs were recognized for their hard work at the local competition for Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA). The event was hosted at the Brock School of Business by Birmingham’s chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Winners of the local round continue to participate nationally, and national finalists have the opportunity to compete internationally. GSEA winners are awarded cash prizes, mentorship, networking opportunities and media exposure for their business.
Matt Mazzei, the Brock family chair in entrepreneurship, coordinated the event with Birmingham’s Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
“It takes an immense amount of time- and a lot of courage- to start a business,” Mazzei said. “To go from an idea or concept to actually building something that serves others and creates value is a grueling process.”
The local competition is open to college students from Samford and other nearby institutions, but many applicants come from Samford’s Startup student business incubator program, which recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary. After submitting a questionnaire about their businesses, a committee chooses which students will present their pitch before a panel of judges.
This year’s winner was Titus Moore, a Samford MBA student and owner of “Moore’s All-Natural Granola Bars.” His business began in 2023 in the Samford Startup program. In an interview with Samford, Moore said the idea came from being a student athlete facing the challenges of balancing an athlete’s diet with a demanding college schedule. He created the bars to be a healthy option for when the cafeteria and University Center are closed.
Grace Gamboa, owner of “Reclamation” and 2023 GSEA competitor, said that GSEA was vital to her business and presentation abilities.
“[The GSEA pitch competition] truly has been a catalyst for the way my confidence has grown in Reclamation and in my presentation and business skills,” Gamboa said. “One of the biggest rewards is getting to explain your dreams to people who believe in you and want to support you.”
Although the local GSEA competition has concluded, Samford’s entrepreneur program shows no signs of stopping. The program’s new “Innovation Lab” will be opening next year in Cooney Hall, which will give the startup cohort a collaborative space to work. Applications for the 2024-2025 cohort open after spring break.
Mazzei is excited to continue mentoring students to chase after their creative ideas. Interactive learning, he says, is at the heart of Samford University.
“Students who make this choice sacrifice many things in pursuing this vision,” Mazzei said. “We want to encourage their growth and fan the flames of their entrepreneurial interests… Samford is known for experiential learning, and student entrepreneurs are a complete embodiment of this approach to education.”
Arts & Life Editor