By Matt Watson
What if children’s play sets were designed by children’s teachers?
Lily Armijo is answering that question herself, designing her own educational toys as she prepares to enter the field of teaching. The senior early childhood education major realized during her field experiences in schools that teachers expend a lot of energy putting together play sets that take up a lot of space in classrooms, so she came up with a solution herself and plans to share it with others.
“I realized going into all the classrooms I’ve been in how much equipment it takes and how time-consuming it is to set up, so I figured why not make it easier on teachers and families?” Armijo said.
Armijo decided to design and build a compactable storefront that folds up like a suitcase, a quick set-up play set for teachers or families that fits behind a door or underneath a bed. She got the inspiration from a side business she runs with her mom – throwing trunk birthday parties. They bring everything needed for a children’s birthday party in one convenient trunk.
Armijo has no business or design background, so she enlisted the help of industrial design student Collin Adair, who is using the play set as his senior project. They built a prototype by laser cutting Falconboard to form the base of the play set and using a 3D printer to create plastic pieces, all at the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building on campus.
To learn the business strategies needed to market the product, Armijo signed up for an entrepreneurship class that includes mentoring from local entrepreneurs. Armijo even brought her long-time business partner with her to class.
“My mom and I are working on this together. She attended the first class with me – she felt like she was in college all over again,” Armijo said. “The class has been very helpful giving tips on general business background that I didn’t have before.”
Armijo is one of a dozen enterprising students from MSU Denver and the University of Colorado Denver who started the semester in a class taught by Travis Luther, an alumnus of both schools and founder and president of LawFather.
Luther has taught entrepreneurship courses previously at MSU Denver, but this class is different. He’s lecturing pro bono, every other Monday night, and the students aren’t earning credit. Instead of a final grade, they might just receive seed money for their businesses.
The class culminates in a year-end pitch contest, judged by three members of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the organization Luther belongs to that provided mentors for the students throughout the class. EO is a group of individuals from all over the world who have successful businesses with a minimum $1 million revenue. The pitch contest is a part of EO’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, which has more than 2,000 competitors from more than 56 countries.
The winner of the Auraria Campus contest will receive $2,500 and advance to the national round of EO’s student competition in February, when he or she will compete to get to the global finals in April. The second and third place finalists receive $1,500 and $1,000, respectively.
Luther brought the competition to campus because he believes there is untapped entrepreneurial potential at his alma maters.
“There’s certainly not a lack of talent or a lack of ideas. There’s not a lack of students who want to network and be successful and meet other successful entrepreneurs,” Luther said. “I came back and taught entrepreneurship because I feel called to these students. This is a special campus.”
A good indicator of the interest of enterprising students was the number who signed up for the class to begin with.
“Our goal was to have six students, and we blew that out of the water. We accepted 12, and I think we’ll have between 8-10 participate in the competition,” Luther said.
Cathy Hehr, internship coordinator at the Applied Learning Center, heard about Luther’s class and pointed several students in his direction.
“During my time as an internship coordinator here, I have worked with many students who have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and great product or business ideas which they have shared with me,” Hehr said. “Most are very early on in developing their idea, and they aren’t sure about their next steps or where they will find the resources to make their dreams a reality.”
Some of the students have been running their own businesses for years and hope to take them to the next level. Ariane Vigil started Teal Poppies, a clothing and accessories boutique for women and girls, four years ago.
“It’s a part-time thing – I do school full time and I have a part-time job, so this is really on the side,” said Vigil, a senior business management major. “When this competition came into play, I figured this is my last time to go for it, mainly for the mentoring. But if I win, that’d be pretty cool too.”
The pitch contest is Friday, Dec. 8, at 6 p.m. in the Tivoli Community Theater. The event is free and open to the Auraria Campus community.
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