Student Entrepreneurs Win Seed Capital

What would you do with $15,000 and the charge to start your own business?

That’s exactly what Imran Khoja ’12 and Katy Gathright ’12 are discovering. They won Williams first business plan competition in April and have been launching Designed Good this summer. Designed Good allows signed-up members to buy clothing, artwork, gear, and gadgets from sustainably sourced manufacturers. “Millennials don’t just want to buy more consciously,” Khoja explains. “We have a real need to connect with the products we buy. This is why Designed Good tells the stories behind the products we sell.”

Khoja was an economics and psychology double major and has long been excited about social entrepreneurship. An opportunity to pursue his passion arrived last year with Entrepreneurship@Williams, a new initiative in experiential education that helps students develop and hone their entrepreneurial skills. E@W brings programming to students through workshops, Winter Study courses, and presentations by local business leaders.

It all culminated with the business plan competition, which began in April with 22 teams pitching their plans. Alumni judges first selected nine semi-finalists, and then met individually with each team in a mentoring session. Four teams were selected to present their plans in the final round, and Khoja-Gathright’s winning team received $15,000 in seed money, pro bono legal support, and summer office space.

“I was always interested in learning more about alternate career paths at Williams,” Gathright recalls. An English and history double major, Gathright took advantage of Williams’ experiential education programming during last year’s Winter Study, when she completed a social media/blogging internship with the web-based luxury hotel finder TravelSort. “My internship related closely to the work I’m doing now at Designed Good,” she explains. Khoja is also using skills he gained during a Winter Study called “Design Garage,” in which students received hands-on experience with sustainable design. He says the experience “made me understand the importance of knowing your customers and designing around their needs.”

Alumni judge Malcolm Smith ’87 describes the Designed Good plan as being “the most holistically thought out” of the finalists, adding, “as far as the likelihood of business success, Designed Good has the goods.” Smith describes experiential education at Williams as “our opportunity to step in and provide some life guidance, because these things are incredibly important to leading successful, vibrant, fulfilling lives.”

Read this ”Under30CEO” piece by Gathright on engaging alumni in a start up.