Student trio first La Sierra entrepreneurs on top funding site
March 23, 2012
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) It’s a challenge La Sierra University School of Business Dean John Thomas issues to all of his entrepreneurship class students: come up with a great idea, seek market validation through online crowd sourcing platforms or other avenues, and hopefully, launch a business.
Earlier this month, three students were accepted on Kickstarter.com, an international leader in crowd funding of creative projects. The launch of their language-learning concept, Languages That Stick, marks the first project by La Sierra students accepted on the site that backs concepts that cannot be capitalized through traditional sources.
The students now await an April 6 deadline at 1:10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time for securing $5,000 in pledges. If they meet the goal, they will collect the committed funds as seed money and move forward with their venture. If the goal is not met, funds are returned to the backers and the project is removed from the web site.
Jonathan Davidson, his brother and fellow student Berney Davidson, and Jonathan’s wife Ally Davidson, also a business student, conceived the venture as a way to make learning languages easier and more enjoyable. Languages That Stick provides literature classics digitally and in print, in English and Spanish, with lines of text in English followed by the same lines in Spanish. The first literature project offered is the “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Languages That Stick is seeking commitments in amounts ranging from $12 to $100 or more in exchange for various packages of Kindle and paperback books and versions of upcoming books. As of March 22, the venture had attracted 32 backers pledging a total of $1,242. The project and pitch video can be found at www.kickstarter.com/projects/1093192967/learn-languages-by-reading-a-favorite-story.
The student team conjured the idea after spending the fall quarter studying Spanish in Sagunto, Spain through the Adventist Colleges Abroad program. “We wanted to learn the vocabulary but we don’t like trying to memorize words,” Jonathan Davidson said. “We wanted an easy way to learn.” The idea took root when Jonathan and Berney read Jurassic Park in English and Spanish.
The team works with copyright-free classic literature and creates their own artwork. They plan to produce the Sherlock Holmes story in additional secondary languages in the future. They use Amazon.com’s print and ship on demand feature to publish print editions. They sell the books online for $15.95 each with $10 of the sale retained by Amazon.
Languages that Stick is based in the Davidson’s Redlands home where Jonathan and Ally work on their computer cutting and pasting text to create their bilingual books. “It’s a way for us to start at a very low cost,” Ally Davidson said. Berney Davidson also helps interlace text with other languages. Ally and Jonathan own 75 percent of the venture and Berney the remainder.
In fulfillment of entrepreneurship class requirements, the students are now striving to create a buzz about their idea and increase funding pledges by using social media outlets. The venture utilizes Facebook and email blasts as promotional tools, and is considering stumbleupon.com, a search tool that directs browsers to top web sites. “Creating a video pitch is easy,” says Thomas, but generating a following, or tribe to support an idea is more difficult.
As Languages That Stick scales up operations, the team intends to hire additional staff online through vworker.com. Future products include a line of children’s classic books including Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, and a bilingual interlaced version of the New Testament. “I think it would be a great supplement for students taking Spanish classes,” said Jonathan Davidson.
He is graduating in June with a bachelor’s degree in management and Ally Davidson is graduating in 2013, also with a management degree. The entrepreneurial couple has several other startup ideas in mind including opening a vegan restaurant. Davidson, who has written two books, plans to continue writing, and Ally plans to set up a photography studio. Berney Davidson is completing his management degree in December and plans to become a paramedic firefighter.
Online crowd funding has become an increasingly popular option for startups seeking seed money, including non-profits. Many sites fund specific types of ventures. Kickstarter’s guidelines state it accepts projects in the creative fields of art, comics, dance, design, fashion, film, food, games, music, photography, publishing, technology, and theater. Thomas has used online crowd funding in his entrepreneurship class the past two years. Students also use YouTube to post concept videos and gauge interest based on numbers of hits. The entrepreneurship class is required to submit 2-3 minute ‘elevator pitch’ videos to Kickstarter, Funding Square, YouTube and other sites and must receive at least 1,000 hits to show market acceptance. Most of the students in Thomas’s class this year have met the 1,000 hits requirement, he said.
This year’s class also produced several innovative ideas that can be funded through traditional sources, such as equity investors, government and bank loans, friends and family members, said Thomas.
The entrepreneurship course with its business plan assignment requires that business students use not only their creativity, but address virtually every aspect of business development and leadership including marketing, human resource management, finance, accounting, economics and other areas. “There is no project that you will pursue in your undergraduate or graduate career that is more demanding, at times frustrating, and in the end fulfilling, than putting together an excellent business plan. It is an exercise that if you put your heart and soul into it, will serve you well for many years,” the course description states.
“Languages That Stick is a creative idea that can be easily executed,” Thomas said. “The key question is market acceptance--will someone want to learn in this manner. If it’s confirmed, the product can be easily launched. The Davidsons are some of our best students and they have done their homework. I am blessed to mentor students who are creative and who can generate ideas that can make a difference in the world.”
La Sierra University’s business school strives to instill in all its students an attitude of innovation and risk-taking, whether their career path is aimed at Wall Street or a home-based enterprise, said Thomas. “Our motto is ‘create value, make a difference,’ and training our students to think entrepreneurially is a primary means of achieving that goal.”
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University