Student Entrepreneur Series: Riley Seith
This week our Student Entrepreneur Series continues with Champlain College marketing student Riley Seith. Riley is the founder of Laces, an app created for users to make running safe, easy, and more fun! Part one, part two.
Tell us a bit about where you are academically and in your entrepreneurial life.
I’m a senior at Champlain College majoring in marketing with minors in public relations and event management! The company I own with my partner Mackenzie is called Laces! It’s a mobile app centered around running safety, and our targeted audience is female college students. We recently finished an initial round of funding which has helped us with some of our legal costs and getting started with research, marketing, and receiving feedback on the app. Now we’re gathering quotes for development and preparing to fundraise again in order to cover those costs.
Riley at the Stiller Women in Business Networking Event.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
When I first got to school I would go on runs and there were parts of Burlington where I was unsure if I felt comfortable running. I would usually run alone because I didn’t have friends yet and I was continuously getting lost. Burlington’s not gridded like other cities, and as a result, most of the time I had no idea where I was going. Laces incorporates a few different safety features including drawing out your route just like if you were driving, receiving audio directions so you don’t have to constantly look at your phone, and incident reporting after your run like suspicious activity that made you uncomfortable. You can also report things like no street lights, traffic, no crosswalks, or sidewalks, and you can receive these updates in real-time! We initially developed the concept our freshman year of college and we’ve slowly been rolling it along. Last summer in July we were able to file our LLC as a corporation!
Were you planning on being a student entrepreneur when you first started college?
This is something I definitely didn’t see myself doing. I always knew I wanted to work in marketing – my dreams never involved starting my own business. They were all associated with working for big companies. As a student with this idea for a startup, it all seems so crazy and surreal! It’s been the best way to learn that no one really knows what they’re doing when it comes to starting your own business. I felt unqualified to do what I was doing because I was a student and no one was telling me what to do or guiding me at the internships I was a part of. But, I’ve had a lot of mentors along the way, and they’ve told me that there’s never a clear answer and it’s something you have to figure out on your own. It’s been an interesting learning curve – realizing that I’m not doing any worse than anybody else! Being a student can give you imposter syndrome, but it’s important to acknowledge that you’re learning as you go. I will be in class and a professor will say something interesting that I think is cool or a good idea and I’ll find a way to implement it into my business plan. Being a student entrepreneur means you get to grow with your startup!
Riley at the Student Innovation Fair, October 2021.
What are the resources that have been offered to you by Champlain College?
We had the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), but they were going through some updates around the time we were starting up, so we didn’t get to utilize those resources a lot. By the time they were really up and running again we were past the phase of needing that initial support, but they are there to help students get from the idea stage to figuring out how to start their company, and if it’s really something that they’re interested in pursuing! Within the school, the Stiller School of Business has been a huge help. There hasn’t been a single faculty member whom I haven’t been able to run ideas by. The CIE also organizes a pitch competition every year called the Launch Champlain Pitch Competition and we were able to participate in that earlier this year. In addition, the Career Collaborative has amazing resources that help students find career-focused academic programs and connects them with relevant learning opportunities. They also run the Elevator Pitch Competition, which was a great way for us to spread our business across campus. The Champlain marketing department is also such an amazing resource we utilized; they would email us asking if they could write articles about our business and they’ve provided us with a lot of photos and content we make use of consistently. Last but not least, a program that I got access to through Champlain was the Jumpstart Colligate program that is organized by Launch VT, VtSBDC, and Generator!
What would you say were some of your biggest challenges? Lack of funding, resources, clients, burnout?
Our two biggest challenges were connecting with developers and burnout. I had a lot of ideas about what the best options for a developer would be – if we should go with a student at Champlain College, a freelancer, someone local, or a bigger company and eventually find a way to raise the exorbitant amount of money that we would need to fund that. Without the background in development and tech, that was a huge challenge for us! On top of that, being a student is hard – I’d be in class all day, then come home in the afternoon and work on my internship or have to show up to one of my two on-campus jobs, and then at night I’d start working on the app. It’s been such a long-term process working on Laces alongside my time here (Champlain College). I’ve been working on the same thing for years, which seems surreal now, so getting burnout is tough but inevitable. I’m personally not a huge fan of social media analytics, so I quickly developed a lot of stress for Instagram. Opening the app devastated me simply because of all the posting we were doing. It was draining logging into all our platforms every single day, but thankfully my co-founder Mackenzie was able to take that on. One thing that I found helped combat my burnout was finding new things to work on. If I knew I needed to post, I would do it quickly and switch to doing something like finance. It may seem boring but it was something different to keep my brain stimulated. Right now I’m focusing on development research, which is not the most interesting but it’s new and it’s keeping me going!
Laces pitching for Samsung, 2019.
What’s been the most exciting part of being a student entrepreneur?
I’m insanely passionate about our project! The first iterations of our pitch go into some of the statistics found through a study that was organized by Runners World magazine indicating how many women feel unsafe running, or how many have been harassed or attacked. The research I’ve gotten really deep into is very moving. The one-on-one interviews I’ve had with people sharing their personal experiences have made working on this entire project unbelievably rewarding. Even interviews like this one – I love it when people reach out just to have a conversation around the app. All the support on campus has been really exciting! It’s so cool when I meet someone on campus, especially second-years who are now back in-person post-Covid, who I’m meeting for the first time but they already know of me because their professor mentioned Laces in class. It’s all very rewarding.
Laces pitching for Samsung, 2019.
Last but certainly not least, do you have an ask for our community here at VCET?
Right now we’re still exploring developers, and we’ve decided to take a step back and just get more feedback. We want to connect with people who don’t have the technical background and have gone through a similar experience as ours, and we want to do it right. We specifically want to hear from individuals who are not developers but who have been able to build an app and get to know what channels they went through, what they wish they knew, what they would have done differently, what worked really well, and what was reasonable for them to learn would be a huge ask for the community at VCET!
Interested in reaching out to Riley? Find her on LinkedIn!
Published and edited by VCET Marketing Associate Nicole Mattos-Parodi.