MBA grads Jason Harrington and Chris Bailey. (photo by Magnus Lindqvist, courtesy Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development)
New graduates of Bellarmine University's Executive MBA program -- located in one of the nation's best business schools, according to The Princeton Review -- recently won several innovation prizes for start-up businesses they developed during their time at Bellarmine.
In November, GearBrake -- launched in 2013 by Chris Bailey and Jason Harrington, who completed their Executive MBAs at Bellarmine last year -- won two competitions that netted the company $105,000.
The following month, Personal Mileage Capture -- under development by Steve Arkon, another 2014 EMBA graduate -- collected a $10,000 prize.
A third company - BLoFISH Clothing Co. -- launched last year by Caroll Logan Manford, who is currently completing his MBA -- has begun competing for similar prizes.
“The Bellarmine MBA program is structured to foster entrepreneurism and new business idea development," said Dr. Dan Bauer, dean of the W. Fielding Rubel School of Business. "Students develop and analyze a new business idea in their finance and marketing classes, further refine the idea in the entrepreneurial strategy class, and have the option to continue working on relevant ideas in the MBA project elective.”
The Rubel school was reaccredited last month by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, or AACSB International, which places it among the elite business schools in the nation. Fewer than 15 percent of business schools worldwide have achieved this distinction.
Chris Bailey & Jason Harrington, GearBrake
While pursuing their EMBAs, Bailey and Harrington launched GearBrake, whose success in two startup innovation competitions led to a recent Courier-Journal story:
"The company beat out three other finalist companies in late November to win a Vogt Award, a $100,000 prize that aims to spur new manufacturing-based businesses and ultimately create jobs and boost economic development.
"It was the second win last month for partners Bailey and Jason Harrington. They scored $5,000 at the Kentucky Angel Investors competition for new business pitches.
"Their product — which the company's website describes as "the world's most advanced brake light module" — connects to the wiring of a motorcycle's rear brake and flashes with deceleration or engine braking. Tests show a flashing light gives other drivers crucial seconds to react in traffic, helping reduce rear-end collisions."
"GearBrake was founded while we were going through the EMBA program," said Bailey, who is the company's CEO (Harrington is the chief operating officer). "We owe a great deal of our success to the help of the teachers, classmates and mentors of the Bellarmine MBA. They helped me vet my ideas and gain the marketing, financial and leadership skills needed to run and grow a company."
During his graduate studies, Bailey worked full-time at a sales job that required national travel. "It was hard work, but it paid off and I'm now full time with GearBrake." he said. "If you are considering an MBA, I suggest you go for it. The timing may never feel right, but you just have to jump in and enjoy the ride."
Steven Arkon, Personal Mileage Capture
Arkon's startup recently won a $10,000 pitch competition prize for his fleet management startup, as Business First recently wrote in a story on a startup training program organized by Nucleus:
"Arkon's startup, Personal Mileage Capture, uses data to help employees track their personal and business use of the company car. It also helps administrators manage a fleet.
"Personal Mileage Capture is part hardware and part software. A plugin on the car tracks behavior data, such as speeding, hard accelerations or hard breaking.
"The app allows company car drivers to easily input driving data, helping drivers be compliant with the Internal Revenue Service, he said.
"Arkon won an internal pitch competition during the program and, as part of the prize, he'll receive six months of free rent at iHub, a business incubator and co-working space, according to a news release. The prize also includes a package worth $10,000 donated by Interapt LLC, a mobile service development and strategy firm."
Arkon began exploring his concept while in Dr. Mike Ryan's strategic management course and further developed it in Dr. David Collins' MBA project elective course.
"Both professors were instrumental in introducing me to people or business tools to help me develop the business case and create the minimal viable product," he said, adding that Bellarmine's information technology staff also helped him make community connections.
Arkon said he also had weekly phone calls with EMBA classmates Bailey and Harrington of GearBrake, who advised him and made introductions in the local business start-up community.
"Today, I am working with a developer and we should be ready to test in mid January with a handful of select corporate fleets," said Arkon.
Carroll Logan Manford, BLoFISH Clothing Co.
Another great idea currently incubating in the MBA program is BLoFISH, an apparel company launched by Manford last year.
"We are the world's first non-gender specific clothing company," said Manford. "Imagine walking into a clothing store, and instead of men's and women's sections, everyone shops at the same place. We have developed our own sizing system to make sizing easier and more flexible."
Bauer encouraged Manford to present his idea during an innovation competition held last year at Bellarmine. "The Bellarmine MBA program was a huge part of us getting the company off the ground by sponsoring us in the Search for the Next Big Thing," said Manford. "The program has helped me to focus my vision of the company, and make sure the company is moving in a direction that stays integrally connected with our message. All of the professors were extremely supportive, with the idea and the message."
After launching the startup in early 2014, BLoFISH quickly found national attention on Instagram and began taking orders online.
"We are currently expanding our product line from T-shirts, hats, and bracelets into more formal wear, such as chinos and button-ups," said Manford, who added that the company hopes to expand beyond online sales by opening a retail location later this year.