North Jersey college students invent their own businesses
* Passing up the cubical to aim directly for the corner office With the school year ending, many college students are starting to search for jobs. Some North Jersey students, however, are looking beyond getting a job and are trying to start their own businesses instead. From an app that connects college students with small businesses, to an improved design for traditional power strips, local college-aged entrepreneurs have taken their ideas and turned them into growing businesses. Fair Lawn residents at the State University of New York at Binghamton, Shachar Avraham, 19, and Scott Wisotsky, 21, launched an app called Campus Pursuit this January. It focuses on so-called treasure-hunt marketing. Each day, Campus Pursuit delivers three or four notifications to its customers' phones that gives clues that have been hidden around the campus for prizes from affiliated small businesses. "We like to think of ourselves as a pioneer of treasure-hunt marketing," Wisotsky said. "It's a form of advertising that reaches something traditional advertising really hasn't — college-aged students." According to the New York City-based marketing firm re:fuel's 2013 College Explorer Survey, college students have $404 billion in total spending power, and $117 billion in discretionary purchasing power. The survey said $42.1 billion is dedicated to food purchased in grocery stores, followed by $7.9 billion at convenience stores and $13.1 billion in restaurants – many of which Campus Pursuit has already partnered with on a local level. Avraham and Wisotsky said small businesses that sign up with Campus Pursuit will offer gift cards, one-month passes to local gyms and discounts for Avraham and Wisotsky to hide under bushes, benches or in bookshelves around the campus. Once a business is signed up with Campus Pursuit, someone using the app must watch a brief advertisement before being given clues about where the gift or voucher might be hidden. The advertisements are how Campus Pursuit makes money. Avraham and Wisotsky say the app has been popular at Binghamton, as more than 1,000 of the campuses' 15,000 students have downloaded Campus Pursuit. Small businesses have given away more than $4,000 in prizes. But as a business, Campus Pursuit said it offers analytics on who is engaged with their affiliated small businesses, including how many people use the gift cards they find, how many people use the app, as well as other data. "We have a product that really works,'' Avraham said. "Every week we are getting calls from new small businesses in our area." Avraham and Wisotsky said they are launching Campus Pursuit at the State University at Albany next semester. "Right now, we work with small businesses, but we think in the future this has potential to work with larger corporations looking to advertise to college-aged students," Wisotsky said. Also trying to convert an idea into a business is Northvale resident Greg McNeil, a freshman at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. McNeil is the team leader for five students who have created Modularity Inc., a company trying to create a power strip that has flexibility for different-size chargers and other devices needing power. "We sat down as a team and asked, 'What problems do we as college students have?' " McNeil said. "We decided that with all of the different technology we have, that a power strip would be a good idea." The idea for the Modu-Strip started as a concept in McNeil's entrepreneurial management course at Stevens. Now McNeil and his colleagues are trying to raise money for the Modu-Strip on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. The Modu-Strip essentially has differently sized outlets that link together in any combination, as opposed to traditional power-strip sockets that are evenly spaced. Modularity has a working prototype of the Modu-Strip and has drummed up $5,833 of the $10,000 goal needed to finance the project on Kickstarter, an amount it must raise by May 26. If successful, McNeil said Modularity will use the $10,000 to design a prototype that would more closely resemble the product it hopes to put on the market. McNeil said his team is focusing on attaining the Kickstarter goal before thinking of ways to introduce the Modu-Strip to market. McNeil said that if Modularity achieves the $10,000 goal, Stevens will offer the team free housing over the summer and give them access to legal support to help build the company. "Between all of our 18-credit course loads and different responsibilities, this has been a little difficult," McNeil said. "But we have been given an amazing opportunity, and we hope we can take advantage of that."