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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Student Entrepreneurial Expo Showcases Student-Owned Companies at Strome Center

By Brendan O'Hallarn

When freshman Jonathan Haughney visited the Strome Entrepreneurial Center earlier this fall, executive director Nancy Grden thought he and his business looked familiar. "I asked him, 'Haven't I seen you before?'" Grden said.

Then Grden and Haughney made the connection. When he was still in high school, he took part in a pitch competition through Virginia Beach City Public Schools, showcasing his start-up company Spirit Socks.

Grden was a judge at that competition. Now, Haughney and business partner Chase Walls, a fellow freshman student from Fredericksburg, Virginia, market and sell socks printed in various high school colors around the state, providing a fund-raising opportunity for the schools.

Spirit Socks was one of 20 businesses created by current Old Dominion students or recent alumni showcased at the Strome Center's second Student Entrepreneurial Expo Nov. 17.

Grden said there has been an evolution in the entrepreneurship movement at Old Dominion, which was fueled by a 2014 gift of $11 million by the charitable foundation of alumnus Mark Strome '78.

"Now you see students like Jonathan and Chase, students coming to the University with fully formed businesses. These are 18- and 19-year-olds with manufacturing facilities, marketing strategies. It's really impressive," Grden said.

As a freshman entrepreneur, Walls said being in this environment is empowering. "It's an opportunity to learn and grow. And I had no idea there was such a strong culture of entrepreneurship at ODU," he said.

While Walls spoke about Spirit Socks, several Old Dominion students examined the company products on display at the expo. In all, a few hundred students visited booths for businesses ranging from professional services to 3-D printing during the mid-day event.

Steve Lanivich, assistant professor of entrepreneurship in the Department of Management at the Strome College of Business, browsed booths at the expo as well. He suggested a few of the student entrepreneurs reach out for resources from the Strome College of Business.

"Our building is right next door. These students need to know there are faculty experts who are eager to help. My door is always open," he said.

Lanivich balanced school and three separate business start-ups before coming to Old Dominion as a faculty member. He said student entrepreneurs need to be prepared to juggle multiple responsibilities.

"You have to be willing to go above and beyond. You have school and your start-up, which is like a full-time job," he said. "Then after you graduate you may need another job to support yourself while the business grows. It's like always having two jobs."

One thing that Lanivich noted was that these students are not only pursuing a business dream - they're frequently funding it themselves as well.

"These didn't start as family businesses, by and large," he said. "This is true bootstrapping here by these students. They're doing it themselves."

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