by Bobbin Wages
E-House is so much more than a residence hall. Provided in collaboration between University Housing at Georgia State University and the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Institute (ENI) at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business, the community offers undergraduate students not only a dormitory but also an environment that encourages them to act on their entrepreneurial ambitions 24/7. The collaborative study room contains dry erase walls scribbled with sudden insights; in the same place on a Friday night, it wouldn’t be uncommon to find a young business owner discussing her pathway to success with residents casually over pizza. Beyond souped up lodging, students receive invitations to tour local businesses, attend networking events, participate in competitions and engage with mentors. In addition to the typical smells emanating from an undergraduate’s living quarters (Ramen noodles, sweaty socks, Pantene Pro-V), E-House participants constantly breathe business.
E-House denizens hail from a variety of academic majors, but most of them are pursuing a minor in entrepreneurship from ENI. Charisma Dozier belongs to the College of Arts & Sciences’ film and video program, and hatched a product idea that will make artists’ lives easier: the Zyl, a cylindrical lumbar pillow that provides back support during long nights of drawing, writing or video editing. An Amazon search for “lumbar pillow” produces page after page of results, and most of them are a boring solid black. Dozier plans to set the Zyl apart from the competition with attractive interchangeable covers. The initial cover will comprise a black and white marble print, but eventually artists will be invited to contribute their own designs to be selected and released on a monthly basis.
Dozier has done her research regarding materials and places an emphasis on sustainability, hence her intention to fill the Zyl with buckwheat as opposed to a more popular stuffing like feathers or foam. “Buckwheat can last up to 10 years, and you can put your own fragrance in it,” she says. “You don’t even have to clean it. I wanted to find something that’s easy for my customers to take care of.”
After Adesuwa Imafidon, a managerial sciences major at the Robinson College of Business, joined E-House and enrolled in ENI courses, she realized she could use entrepreneurship to solve a lifelong problem: acne. Imafidon and a classmate from ENI 3103: Commercializing the Startup are launching a skincare product line that includes an acne mask, moisturizer, toner and eczema treatment cream.
Last fall, both Imafidon and Dozier as well as fellow E-House residents visited Switchyards Downtown Club, a 19,000-square-foot startup hub where local movers and shakers can work on growing their companies. The activity struck a chord with Imafidon because some of her loved ones have suggested she pursue a career that involves less risk, such as medicine. “It motivated me because I saw people doing what I want to do,” she says. “I saw that it’s possible to have a dream and be successful.”
Both young women also attended an internship fair at Atlanta Tech Village last semester, and because of the networking opportunity, Dozier made a connection that might be beneficial down the road. “I met an industrial designer who could help me finalize my product,” she says. “I just added her on LinkedIn.”
E-House students take just-for-fun excursions, too. Javon Walton, who is working on a bachelor of interdisciplinary studies in media entrepreneurship, cites a recent whitewater rafting trip as the catalyst to relate to his peers. “I had to trust everyone in my boat within a short period of time,” he explains. “That bonding experience could expand into a full-blown business partnership in the future.”
Walton is in the process of developing TalentLine, an app that will help connect agents with inner-city talent who might not have the resources to otherwise promote themselves. Walton grew up in urban areas frequented by gifted street performers and felt convicted to widen their audience beyond pedestrian traffic. His next step is to find a developer to whip up a prototype — an introduction that an E-House function very well could facilitate.
“E-House gave me the confidence boost I needed to go for my dreams in life,” Walton says.