A business start-up launched by five Earlham College students has been awarded the $10,000 prize for winning the inaugural EPIC Grand Challenge, a competition that encourages social entrepreneurship and innovation with a focus on Wayne County, Indiana.
Gateway Restoration and Foundation is both a for-profit business and philanthropic foundation, that will deliver affordable, expert home renovation and lawn care to improve the quality of life for 25,000 citizens in Wayne County by 2025 — the objective of the challenge. The start-up will merge small businesses already owned by team members.
“Gateway Foundation’s mission will be to assist residents who need home improvements but may not have the resources to do so,” said Nathan Mynatt, a graduating senior who will earn his bachelor’s degree in global management later this week. The Indianapolis native, who already operates a home repair business with his father, will remain in Wayne County to handle day-to-day operations of the business.
“This will give homeowners access to partially funded or fully funded projects in order to help restore community pride and ultimately improve stagnant property values in Wayne County. We have already entered the Wayne County market and are very passionate about this business and this area. We will do everything we can to make this successful and make Wayne County a better place.”
Earlham launched the EPIC Grand Challenge in partnership with the Wayne County Foundation’s Forward Wayne County initiative, a county-wide program created to align community resources to tackle the county’s toughest challenges. The yearlong program incorporated workshops, classroom experiences and the actual competition. It challenged students to improve the lives of the College’s neighbors by developing ways to address gaps in the workforce and increase population homeownership or property values.
Teams competed in an elevator pitch round, where they gave two-minute presentations about their idea; a cameo round, where teams unveiled their business model; and a final round consisting of a 20-minute presentation of their comprehensive project plan. The various rounds were judged by six judges — three from the Earlham community and three from the Wayne County community.
Two other Earlham student ventures, Main Street Music, and Wayne Tech+, were awarded $4,500 and $1,500, respectively, for finishing in second and third place in the competition. Main Street Music is a venture with a goal of expanding the music scene in Richmond. Wayne Tech+ aims to offer online lessons for people and small businesses to take classes on how to implement technology for their business.
The Earlham Program for an Integrated Curriculum, or EPIC, provided $40,000 in seed capital that was disbursed to participants across several phases of competition. Additional funding of $18,500 came from the Wayne County Foundation and was used to award stipends to Earlham faculty who mentored student teams, offered workshops or developed key community partnerships.
“I could not be more pleased with the response from the Earlham community and the Wayne County community for this inaugural Earlham EPIC Grand challenge,” said Gene Hambrick, the director of Earlham’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and executive in residence.
“The EPIC Grand Challenge proved that an effective partnership can be forged between Earlham and Wayne County communities that can and will make a significant difference toward the goal of improving the quality of life for at least 25,000 citizens of Wayne County by 2025,” he said.
Joining Mynatt on this winning venture is Austin Green, a senior from Brownstown, Indiana, Marc Gendreau, a junior from Cincinnati, Ohio, Brian Pincura, a junior from Avon Lake, Ohio, and Kayla Newman, a sophomore from Richmond, Indiana. Green will leave the venture after graduating to pursue other opportunities.
“I will be able to consult with my other team members for large decisions and vision moving forward,” Mynatt said. “The for-profit side will cater to all socioeconomic backgrounds. The foundation side will focus more on people in need. We believe this is the best model because we want to change a whole community for the better, not just the members who can afford it.”
The EPIC Grand Challenge is the latest initiative funded by the College to encourage innovative thinking on campus. In previous years, the College supported the Earlham Prize for Creative Capitalism and awarded financial support to students with inspiring business plans in locations around the world. Students in recent years have developed ventures with the capacity to reduce indoor air pollution and create jobs for low-income people living in Haiti, create better accessibility for subsistence farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa to sell their goods, and transform the sanitation system in Ethiopia.
Earlham students also receive support from the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to compete annually for the Hult Prize, the world’s largest student business plan competition for the social good. In 2016, Earlham’s “Team Magic Bus” won the $1 million grand prize for an innovative transportation solution in Kenya. Former President Bill Clinton joined Team Magic Bus on stage and dubbed their idea “the Uber for buses.”