A craving for sunflower seeds caused David Lorenz to miss the only scoring play during a 2010 San Diego Padres baseball game. But his untimely trip to the concession stand that day sparked an idea that has since captured the attention of a student business incubation program in Flagstaff that wants to help the new college graduate and his business partners succeed as entrepreneurs.
“I had the idea of texting in my food order and having it delivered to me at my seat,” recalls Lorenz, who at the time realized that such a service could guard stadium-goers against missing out on big moments as he had.
A series of fortunate events over the year-and-a-half that followed is helping to bring his idea to life, and now Lorenz, who graduated last week with his finance degree from Northern Arizona University, is poised to take the business to the next level.
It began the semester after that day at the ballpark with an integrated management, marketing and communications class at NAU called BizBlock. The class challenges teams of students to create a business plan around a real business idea, which is how SMS Snacks was born. Since then, Lorenz and two other students from the class have been aggressively trying to nudge the concessions texting service into the marketplace.
As the company’s brainchild and CEO, Lorenz handles the finances for the “lean startup,” seeking out new business opportunities while making sure they’re not spending too much. Rounding out the trio are management majors and now fellow NAU graduates Zach Doth and Chad DeAlva, and together they’ve been refining their business plan and engaging the complimentary skill sets that each partner brings to the table. Doth is chief operations officer and handles most of the marketing, and DeAlva is the chief technical officer, using his technology skills to help put the team’s ideas into action.
“Something we all have a very good understanding of is what it takes to come together as a team,” DeAlva said. “It’s definitely been clearly defined for me because of BizBlock.”
That sense of teamwork is what helped the company get its foot in the door to begin pilot testing its service, incidentally on the same campus where they first crafted their business plan. After pitching their concept to NAU Dining Services and its food vendor, Sodexo, SMS Snacks was invited to take its service for a test drive.
“I was impressed by the professionalism of the presentation and their eager, ‘can do’ attitude,” said Glenn Kvidahl, resident district manager for Sodexo, which partnered with SMS Snacks for the last two weekends of the semester to try out the ordering and delivery service for students living in selected residence halls on campus. “They were able to demonstrate that the technology worked and I think we are both interested in pursuing the program in the fall.”
The start-up got another recent boost through the support of the Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology “LaunchBox” program, which provides area students with experience in entrepreneurship. The program is providing SMS Snacks with a $5,000 grant that will keep it headquartered in Flagstaff through 2012. It also is giving the partners access to numerous other resources to help them succeed, such as office space and access to mentors from all business backgrounds and specialties.
“More and more the university is focusing on helping students build real-world experiences into their education,” said Laura Huenneke, NAU vice president for Research, which sponsors the LaunchBox program. “Wrestling with a real challenge like starting up a business has as much or more impact than sitting in a classroom or reading a textbook.”