Palm Beach Atlantic University junior Emily Hochheiser found a profitable way to combine her dreams of starting a business with her love of sun and surf.
She wrote a plan for a company called Mahalo, a mobile rental and retail business for various beach-related products, from chairs and umbrellas to paddle boards and sports equipment.
“I just wanted to figure out a way to put my passions into my job,” said the Manchester, Maryland, native who is majoring in management and minoring in communication. The company’s name, Mahalo, is a word used to express gratitude in Hawaiian.
Her idea now has the financial support to get it off the ground. As the first-place winner in the University’s fifth annual J.J.’s Entrepreneurs business plan competition, Hochheiser now has $10,000 in seed money to begin renting equipment to beachgoers from a vehicle similar to a food truck, a concept with potential to spread throughout Florida’s coast and beyond.
The United Franchise Group, the global leader for entrepreneurs, is home to seven leading franchise brands that can be found in more than 80 countries. It partnered with the University to create J.J.’s Entrepreneurs in 2011 to encourage and teach college students about the benefits of entrepreneurship and owning their own business.
The second-place prize of $5,000 went to Heidi Ferguson of West Palm Beach, a mother of two who is majoring in psychology. Her business is called Stitches & Rust, a multiple-dealer collective vintage store specializing in vintage clothing, handmade artisan goods and unique home accessories.
Ferguson said that while walking to class one day, she noticed several signs advertising the competition and decided to apply. Though she had already laid the groundwork for her business by that point, “writing the business plan was daunting,” she said.
Hochheiser agreed. For advice she turned to her parents, Bryan and Melaney Hochheiser, who operate a plumbing business in her hometown. She said she also consulted with PBA alumnus A.J. Titus ’14, grandson of the competition’s namesake, J.J. Prendamano. Titus also mentored several other entrants.
“This has been the toughest year to decide the winner,” said Titus, who serves as operations manager of United Franchise Group. During the awards presentation, he urged the remaining finalists to return and enter again next year.
That strategy worked for Hochheiser, who said she entered the contest previously but did not make it to the final round.
In all, four business plans made it to the final round of the competition. Like the entrepreneurs on television’s Shark Tank, each finalist faced tough questions from a panel of judges.
Also making it to the final round was the student team of Fabio Nagy and Christian Segurado. Their plan is for a business called ScholarAgents, a provider of a web-based service for transferring German athletes to American varsity teams.
The other finalist was Keenan Kauth, the founder of a startup called Church-Taxi. His company is a ride-sharing software application/phone call service that provides reliable transportation to churchgoers free of charge.
This year’s judges were Dale Hedrick, Ray Titus, Jim Tatem, Penny Murphy and Jared Reuter ’12. Reuter was the competition’s first $10,000 prizewinner.
Palm Beach Atlantic University is a private, independent university offering undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees in West Palm Beach, Orlando, Wellington and online. The University is dedicated to the integration of Christian principles to prepare students for learning, leadership and service.