Clothing store wins contest for startups

Yoki’s Garden, which will open a store in the University Village selling clothing and accessories  made from game-worn USC athletic gear, was named the first winner of Trojan Start-Ups Student Business Challenge.

The plan won Derek Belch, a first year graduate student studying business administration, a semester of free rent in the U.V. after completing businesses gave their final pitches Friday. The business will be located at the site of  the former USC Blood Donor Center.

Starting up · Yoki’s Garden won the first Trojan Start-Ups Student Business Challenge. It will receive a free semester of rent in the U.V. - Photo courtesy of Trojan Start-Ups

Three groups pitched their business plans at the final pitch event.

“The product has been selling on Saturdays before football games so now we’re exited to be selling our clothing on campus full-time, around the clock,” Belch said. “As Marshall students, it’s great to have a couple guys from our class being able to be the first students to have a business at the U.V. and really see the fruits of our labor take off.”

Trojan Start-Ups was founded this semester by a team of seven students from The Art and Adventure of Leadership (MDA 365), which was taught by former USC President Steven B. Sample and  USC Leadership Institute Founding Chairman Warren Bennis. Trojan Start-Ups member Sarah Barrett, a senior majoring in business administration, said the class decided to start the organization to provide students with a business opportunity they hope will thrive in the future.

“Our group project for the class was to observe and practice leadership,” Barrett said. “It really struck a chord with us to have a space for student entrepreneurs and to have it be an integral part of our campus and student experience.”

Alex Park, a senior majoring in business administration and the creator of MOVE!, a business devoted to providing exciting group exercise classes, said he wants to develop a relationship with his customers that goes beyond the one hour per week they partake in a fitness class.

“When you come in, we’ll know your name and we’ll know what your working towards,” Park said. “As the owners, we want the students to know we are there for them.”

Austin Hay, a senior majoring in environmental engineering and creator of USC TechForce, said the competition has helped encourage him to develop a comprehensive business plan, including finding sponsors and sources of capital.

“As a part of our business plan, we have figured out our capital cost and received funding from other businesses as well as support from our friends and family,” Hay said.

Six expert judges consisting of university officials, representatives from USC Real Estate and Asset Management, sponsors and experienced alumni entrepreneurs judged the finalists based on the criteria of exemplifying entrepreneurial leadership and the ability to lead a support system for fellow Trojans.

“Of the final competing businesses, we have seen students who have demonstrated such leadership capacity and such a passion for their project that wouldn’t have come to fruition if it wasn’t for Trojan Start-ups,” said Chris Makiuchi, a senior majoring in business administration and a student in The Art of Leadership.

Though most of the organization’s founding members are seniors, they hope the organization and competition will become an annual event.

“We’re developing the framework for not only our project but our organization framework for the future,” said Trojan Start-Ups member Christianna Kyriacou, a senior majoring in print and digital journalism and political science. “We will be inviting other students who have an interest in supporting that sense of innovation and entrepreneurship at USC to help carry on this program in the years to come.”

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