This is the fourth installment of an ongoing series about first-year students’ journey through the Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME) course.
When Sophia Pantos ’24 and her teammates returned from winter break, they had one thing on their mind: figuring out exactly who is going to manufacture their product.
Their business, PRO, which stands for portable remote office, is planning to sell physical workstations for people working or going to school remotely. It’s a timely idea for a business, and the team already has performed a financial analysis, market research, and a host of other tasks to get it off the ground.
All of that effort, however, doesn’t get them anywhere if they don’t have a physical product to actually sell. That means they must contact manufacturers and find a suitable one to make their portable offices. “Reaching out to manufacturers is incredibly difficult. None of us have ever done this before,” Pantos says. “There’s no website for manufacturing for college kids.”
Students in Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship course—or FME, as it’s commonly called—spend the school year fine-tuning business ideas and turning them into reality. As they returned to classes in January, students had roughly a month before their business’s products were set to launch. With time running down, they rushed to hammer out any last-minute details.
“We’re hoping to finalize a manufacturer as soon as possible. That is the first order of business,” Pantos says. “Our biggest fear right now is that we don’t launch on time and miss that window of opportunity.”
As part of an ongoing series, we’re telling the story of the FME experience, from the pitches and presentations to the pivots and products. In this installment, we follow the student teams in the home stretch to their product launches, a moment the entire school year has been leading up to.
“Everything we have been taught has set us up for success in the spring semester,” Pantos says. “I think we are ready to take a leap of faith and start this business.”
For the business G & C Kit, which will sell eco-friendly shower kits, Arya Patel ’24 and his teammates have been working with manufacturers around the world. One in Turkey is supplying soap and shampoo for the shower kits, while another in China is providing toothbrushes. The students have a lead on two other Chinese manufacturers that can supply toothpaste. The team also needs to find a manufacturer who will provide bags for the kits.
“We’re hoping to finalize a manufacturer as soon as possible. That is the first order of business. Our biggest fear right now is that we don’t launch on time and miss that window of opportunity.”
Sophia Pantos ’24
In all, the team is ordering 250 to 300 units of each item. Since their venture is focused on sustainability, Patel and his teammates sought out manufacturers who are environmentally friendly and don’t test their products on animals. They also wanted manufacturers who offered custom labeling.
Finding manufacturers who meet all these requirements wasn’t easy. “It was time consuming,” Patel says. “Some get back to you, some don’t. Some don’t want to do business with such a small order. You had to reach out to a lot.”
Many manufacturers are seeking long-term sales and might not be interested in working with students whose ventures will disband at the end of the school year. “It’s just not worth it to them,” Pantos says.
As with G & C Kit, the PRO team has its own wish list when seeking manufacturers, focusing on U.S. factories with fair working conditions and a solid environmental record. Factories also need the required expertise to make PRO’s unique workspaces, which are essentially a foldable, three-panel screen that gives users a touch of privacy and professionalism as they study and work remotely.
Pantos says the team is aware the perfect manufacturer might be hard to find. “There is definitely going to have to be compromising,” she says. The PRO team plans to initially order 25 units, though they’ve calculated that they ultimately need to sell 81 to be profitable.
All FME teams receive their startup funds directly from Babson, though teams aren’t on the hook to pay the funds back if their businesses prove unprofitable. “If the venture doesn’t work out, you are in a safe space. There is no obligation to break even, but it would be great if we did,” Pantos says. “We feel responsible to create something that Babson will be proud of. This is something I think all the members have thought about. We are representing our school at the end of the day.”
Beyond finding manufacturers, PRO and G & C Kit have been working on myriad other projects, such as setting up social media accounts and websites and contemplating how to get the word out. PRO, for instance, will be utilizing Facebook ads, while G & C Kit has been planning social media contests.
“So far, we have everything under control. The real problems might come once we launch. Once the venture really gets going, you never know what is going to happen. You can’t afford to be complacent.”
Arya Patel ’24
Pantos has been thinking about how to create the right copy online that is interesting and has something to say without being too complicated. “You can create an account that you think has amazing posts, and you use the right hashtags, but if everyone is scrolling by you, you have no luck,” she says.
For his part, Patel believes that G & C Kit is just about ready to launch, but he knows the semester, and his venture’s journey, are far from over. “So far, we have everything under control,” he says. “The real problems might come once we launch. Once the venture really gets going, you never know what is going to happen. You can’t afford to be complacent. You have to be ready and on top of things.”
Part 1: A Babson Rite of Passage Begins
Part 4: Preparing for Launch: It’s All About Manufacturing (above)
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