The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship proudly celebrates achievements in the world of student entrepreneurship beyond our competitions and programs like the Lavin Entrepreneurship Program, the Entrepreneurship Minor, and the MS in Entrepreneurship. This guest blog post comes to us from UW Foster School of Business Evening MBA graduate and cycling enthusiast Aaron Mass—who worked with other students to turn a Capstone project into a startup. These words represent his journey so far.
Adrenaline surges through my body as I enter Paccar Hall after a 10-hour day negotiating with suppliers on Boeing’s 787 airplane program. It’s a state of mind that many Evening MBA’s experience as they begin their second shift. Balancing a full- time job with a 10-12 credits of graduate school each quarter is no easy task, but it also offers enormous upsides. Surrounded by and working with 100 highly accomplished, determined, and intelligent individuals is inspirational to say the least. The Foster School of Business, and the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, created an educational ecosystem to foster entrepreneurial studies, ideation, and startup formation. That ecosystem feeds into a place like Seattle, which has earned, and even outgrown, the moniker of “Silicon Valley North.” It was in this environment as an Evening MBA that my startup Rider Oasis was created.
It started in January 2015. I’m in Professor Andy Boyer’s Entrepreneurial Marketing class, surrounded by 40 students from over 10 different graduate school programs. This eclectic and dynamic mix enables us students the opportunity to gain perspectives not usually found in a standard business school course. The key quarter end deliverable is a Capstone project to create a tangible business plan and a go-to-market strategy to solve a pain point in consumer experiences. My group focused on addressing an issue each of us had experienced numerous times as cyclists. Specifically, while out on a bike ride a tire tube would pop, a gear stopped working, or an intense need for health fats and energy/protein bars would creep over us. We lacked a real-time solution and were left frustrated and often exhausted.
Our solution was to create a network of interconnected, 24/7 outdoor vending machines for active individuals. These machines would be strategically located in areas with high biker density, such as parks, along bike trails, near cycling-themed venues, and near light rail stations. The machines would have the items necessary to serve a large market of active individuals who needed an available solution outside of the normal business hours of “brick and mortar” bike stores.
To help define this concept we needed to choose a name. We knew in our minds what we were seeking—an Oasis. By adding “Rider” before “Oasis” we captured the exact mental image we were seeking to convey to our potential customers. Two months later, with our project’s company name and numerous milestones behind us, we needed to pitch our business plan to a panel of angel investors invited by Professor Boyer to evaluate the projects. Using the business pitch training obtained in the Entrepreneurial Marketing course we went ahead and shared our vision. What happened next left us with smiles ear-to-ear. We were voted by our classmates and the panel as the “Project Most Likely to Succeed.” The amazing support we received from our peers, professors, and the Foster School of Business gave us the confidence and understanding to form a business.
The next few months featured an entirely new set of challenges and successes. We identified a company in New York City that had six high-security bike-part and accessory outdoor vending machines and learned a great deal about customer segmentation and pricing strategies. We also worked with their same machine manufacturer to order our vending hub station. In June, our 48-SKU machine was delivered to Rider Oasis’ first private business partner Peddler Brewing Company in Seattle. This partnership made a ton of sense for us. Peddler is a cyclist-themed brewery, with a very large and loyal cycling-customer base, that co-sponsors summer events with the Cascade Bicycle Club. Our partnership blossomed over the months as we witnessed our business revenue expand through amazing support from the local cycling community and digital media sources, such as GeekWire, SeattleBikeBlog, and Cascade Bicycle Club.
We are super ambitious with our 1- and 5-year expansion plans. Currently, we are working with several cities in King County to place machines along high-density bike trails. Private businesses are also potential partners, especially along the Burke Gilman Trail. We also believe as the weather turns cooler, a large segment of bikers and active lifestyle Seattleites could benefit from having our machines placed at entrances to light rail stations.
We are also seeking new ideas from the public on where to place our outdoor machines. Any new location we select will not only feature our outdoor cyclist-themed machine, but also a free tire pump and repair tool station to truly aid cyclists in need of replacement parts and accessories. We hope each and every customer will come to identify Rider Oasis by our motto: Repair, Refuel, Ride. And we won’t stop spinning the wheels until we live up to the expectations Seattle, the Foster School of Business, and the Buerk Center has inspired us to set for ourselves.