1870 Mag

Dear Alma Mater…O-HI-O

OSU graduates dish out what it takes to be an entrepreneur in Columbus.

Still dreaming of opening that small-town, restaurant from the ground up? Don’t feel like you have the tools or money readily available to do it? If this sounds like you, you probably have the Business Blues. 1870 is here to help! We reached out to Ohio State alumni who did the unthinkable: start a personal business after graduation.

Ellen Shirk was studying architecture as a junior at Ohio State when she started taking fashion classes for fun. As a lover of online shopping, she began wondering if she could make a business of her own selling clothes online.

This woman is only 24 and already gets to call herself a business owner. Unlike some young professionals who find success early, she was incredibly humble and eager to learn. However, working with the construction team for her new store, she said her age is something that is still in the back of her mind.

“I’m 24 and a girl, and these guys are pretty much all guys and the youngest one is probably in his 30’s. They’re all listening to me. It’s weird that they’re listening to me, but the other side is ‘I hope they take me seriously.’”

Shirk explained she got her start through school by reaching out to her professor in the fashion department for a mentorship in an independent study. Instead of just one professor, Shirk and her two friends were able to secure two mentors: Alex Suer and Wendy Goldstein.

“Be persistent; I would call someone every day, twice a day, because I knew if I didn’t find another space I wouldn’t be able to continue doing business. I was persistent until I got an answer. I knew I needed it.”

Soon, the passion for fashion quickly became more serious for Shirk. For Christmas, her mom for gifted her a $97 year-long subscription for a website to build her brand. After graduation, Shirk set a goal to launch a website to sell some products. That turned into investing $500 for one little rack of a few things, and then quickly evolved into pop-up shops in Columbus on the weekends.

Shirk didn’t jump into the deep-end of the business pool, she played her first year out of college smart and safe. She had a full-time job in architecture, so working on VAMP was a side project at the time.

And a lot of the time when it comes to opening your business, timing is everything. For Shirk, she found herself in a lucky situation with the lease on her first VAMP location: the owner was going to let the lease sit empty for a year. Shirk took her chances, asked if she could use it until the lease was up, and soon had her first brick-and-mortar location in the Short North.

When it came to her new store, which just opened Dec. 1, Shirk knew it would take a little more than luck to keep the business running for more than a year.

“Be persistent; I would call someone every day, twice a day, because I knew if I didn’t find another space I wouldn’t be able to continue doing business. I was persistent until I got an answer. I knew I needed it.”

Even though the business belongs to Shirk, she was consistent in reminding me that she couldn’t have done this alone and is grateful for every helping hand along the way.

This goes for Shirk’s family who helped build half of her store’s interior like the shelving, the tables, the light fixtures, and more, as well as professionals she met along the way who have been working with people like her for years.

Titles like these may seem so distanced from whatever career field we see ourselves in after college, but the truth is that the whole world is connected, person-to-person. Relationships are key and you can find new mentors and members of your business’s family anywhere. They’re key in helping
you grow.

Maybe you came into college already knowing the entrepreneur-look suited you. For some students, it’s always been the dream. Take Austin Pence for example. He worked back home on school breaks at his friend’s dad’s t-shirt shop called Cold Duck in Youngstown, Ohio. By his sophomore year of college, the two friends knew that his dad was ready to pass the business down to his son, Chad, so it was on the top of
Austin’s mind.

“There we were: barely two months after graduation and my friends and I were transforming an old beef jerky spot on High Street into Pop’s Printed Apparel.”

“We often tossed around the idea of how cool it would be to bring the shop to campus. In an odd series of events, Chad’s father lost his business due to an illness at the same time I graduated from Ohio State, and suddenly the idea didn’t seem so far-fetched. There we were: barely two months after graduation and my friends and I were transforming an old beef jerky spot on High Street into Pop’s Printed Apparel.”

While a random turn of events like this can surprise you with unexpected luck, there are a few questions you should ask yourself before pursuing your idea. Is there even a market for it? How much is the startup capital going to cost? For a t-shirt shop sitting next to a college that houses the largest number of student organizations in the country, Pence’s numbers were set to work out well.

“At the end of the day, whether you’re creating a new product or entering a mature market, investors want to see how they’re going to make their money back. It all goes back to the fundamental question of whether or not there are enough customers who need whatever it is you’re selling.”

The numbers can’t predict everything, though.

“Without a doubt, the toughest part in my career thus far was when a large client went bankrupt and we were left footing an enormous bill that they couldn’t pay. Not only were we not paid for all of the work we had done, but we also had to pay off our suppliers who provided the garments and materials for the client. It was a huge hit for our business and it fell squarely on my shoulders. I felt like I had just dropped my baby down the steps from the beginning of that one Ace Ventura movie.”

“Creating a tight-knit group to work with makes life much more bearable even on the worst days. Whether it be choosing a business partner or hiring your first employees, the people you surround yourself with to help build your business will be crucial in the long haul.”

Money isn’t the only thing that will keep your business resilient, though. It’s also about creating a workplace family. Especially while it’s still kicking off the ground and it feels like you’re working 24/7.

“Creating a tight-knit group to work with makes life much more bearable even on the worst days. Whether it be choosing a business partner or hiring your first employees, the people you surround yourself with to help build your business will be crucial in the long haul. Chad is a super laid back, easy-going guy while I’m very detail-oriented. If we were doing this thing alone, nothing would get done.”

The community doesn’t stop there. Pence places a lot of the business’s success on the Columbus clients who helped him off the ground, both by doing business with him and spreading the word about the new t-shirt kid in town.

“I’ve gotta give a shout out to Scott Ellsworth and Dan Starek here. Scott’s bar Too’s (R.I.P.) was one of our very first clients. Through Scott, I met Dan who owns Oldfield’s and they’ve been clients and friends ever since. Scott gives me the dad treatment every once in a while, and Dan claims Chad and I are the little brothers he never wanted, but they’ve both helped our business through word of mouth and given us a ton of advice along the way.”

“There are times when things get incredibly tough as an entrepreneur, and it’s all too easy to look at your friends who work ‘regular’ jobs and think, ‘Man, that would’ve been so much easier.’ But the most worthwhile endeavors are often the most difficult, and I try to live by that.”

Shirk encourages you to be realistic with your time, energy, and know-how.

“Everyone will say you should do things in a certain order. ‘Do this photo shoot! Do this fashion show! Take pictures of the customers in your store! Have your website look like this!’ I also need to sleep at night. Watch a movie with my roommate. Go out at night. See my family on the weekends. It’s a balancing act with my life and my work.”

Pence admits he can get caught up in asking himself, “Why am I doing this?” Finding the energy and the optimism to push through are what makes young business owners different than your other average grads.

“There are times when things get incredibly tough as an entrepreneur, and it’s all too easy to look at your friends who work ‘regular’ jobs and think, ‘Man, that would’ve been so much easier.’ But the most worthwhile endeavors are often the most difficult, and I try to live by that.”

Feature illustration by Ryan Caskey.

Madi Task

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Alex T. that works at Scott. You really know how to close that Mongolian line. Wanna crack a different kind of egg?

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Not Alex Dodd idek you but you gotta stop replying to every tweet on here shit isn’t funny

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Not Bert Harill for killing my GPA with his stupid Jesus class

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Stavan Shah I’m feeling really gay for you

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Delete the OSU crush account

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