Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge: SpareSpace

Inception

The whole thing started in the summer of 2016. I was interested in being more involved as an entrepreneur and was looking for another venture to undertake. My brother-in-law, Stuart, mentioned at one point wanting to go into his own business, so we met up in Old Town at The Red Poppy Cafe for a “brainstorm brunch”. He pointed me towards Dr. Jeff Street at Idaho State and his new project, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CEED). It’s a wing of the business building that incorporates different organizations like the Small Business Development Center.

Dr. Street had just the project for me! He was pushing to get ISU involved in the annual Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge. Our school has never competed before, so I became the spokesperson of the initiative, forming ISU’s first team.

IEC

Development

I have a mental “mastermind list” of friends I bounce ideas off of or who are very good in their respective field. It’s perfect for starting a business, so I messaged my buddy and fellow ROTC cadet, Tim. We started working on a project, hoping to incorporate both of our fields of study to add to our résumé. He’s a nursing major, I’m in engineering, and we’re both in ROTC. We landed on a field medicine device for military use. That quickly transformed into an idea for a field workstation that collapses into a rucksack. Our problem, however, was that we were trying to take a solution to a problem, not the other way around.

Eventually, after weeks of going nowhere, Tim mentioned a friend, Jeff, who also uses him as a sounding board. Jeff’s a computer science major minoring in entrepreneurship at Gonzaga University. Without really ever making the connection until then (and having never met Jeff myself), all three of us have wanted to own our own storage units. For a class project, Jeff’s team had developed the idea for SpareSpace, a college student storage solution. His partners had no intentions of taking it further than the scope of the class project, so Jeff brought it to us. The three of us now had a problem.

SpareSpace addresses three issues:

  1. Square Footage—College students commonly want to leave their belongings locally for the summer (especially out-of-staters or international students). Most students, however, can’t fill up an entire storage unit on their own. SpareSpace is itemized storage, where you pay per item per month, only getting charged for the space you’re using. On our side of things, we can now play Tetris with everyone’s belongings in our warehouse, tagging each item so we know where it’s at.
  2. Truck—Everyone has that one friend who has a truck, and everyone asks that same friend to move their couch. SpareSpace does pick-up and delivery, helping the customer maintain their friendships!
  3. Finals—Moving always overlaps with Finals Week. No one wants to stress about where they’re going to leave their things when they should be studying. On top of that, your friend with a truck? He has finals, too. SpareSpace offers streamlined coordination of moving at designated pick-up sites on campus through our mobile app.

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The Competition

Thursday, we pitched our idea briefly to a panel of ISU admins, then headed to Boise. When we got there, we attended a workshop on crafting a company’s positioning statement, then had a meet-and-greet dinner on the top floor of the Zion’s Bank building. The IEC had a few gifts for us, including a sweet hiking day bag. After the dinner, we split to finish our presentation items.

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Friday, we pitched to three panels of judges. It was a pretty cool experience. For the first group, our presentation had formatting issues. We downloaded our Google Slides presentation as a PowerPoint and forgot to check it.

In some cases, the judges gave great feedback. Most of them were investors, CEOs, or other business executives. One in particular—Scott Crouch, CEO of Mark43—said he operated a similar business for police evidence and gave us some things to implement. Another judge said his daughter (and everyone at her school) uses our urban competitor at her university in LA and that this idea would happen with our without us.

After the pitches, we had a few workshops on angel investing and intellectual property. The latter of the two was put on by Bradlee Frazer of Hawley Troxell, the lawyer for Boise State! Then, we got a tour of Boise Trailhead and Trailhead North—Boise’s hottest entrepreneur hangouts.

Results

Next up, everyone had a booth in the BSU Alumni & Friends Building for the public to come see our ideas. Those were also judged, but we were pretty unimpressed with our competition. We had a couple of boxes with labels, bubble wrap and bubble gum, and peanut M&Ms and packing peanuts. We went for modern and minimalist. We thought we were pretty slick.

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It turns out that ISU had a great year. We made up 11% of the applicants, 25% of the finalists, and took home 31% of the winnings. SpareSpace won runner-up in the most congested category (Tech, Consumer Product, or Service), and we brought home $6,000, plus the bonus $300 given to every finalist team.

The Future of SpareSpace

Our team is in a bit of a tight situation. Tim and I are both ROTC cadets with summer training and internship commitments. Jeff is also gone for the summer for an internship. So basically, no one is here nor available to run our little operation. Furthermore, Tim and Jeff graduate and move on next spring, so it’d just be me for that summer if it got going. We’re not really in a position to launch, which is unfortunate, because our idea is solid, and the market needs us. We ultimately opted for a soft launch that didn’t work out, due to the timing of the competition, so we plan on just splitting our winnings.

At a minimum, we each have gained valuable transferable skills and learned the ins and outs of business development. Personally, I’ve taken some of my winnings and am learning how to invest in the stock market. To new opportunities!

Cheers.

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