When Enrique Novella travels to his native Guatemala once a year, the requests from friends and family for American products come in waves. A cousin needs a new MacBook Pro. A friend wants the latest J. Crew apparel. For others, perhaps it’s a designer handbag, video game system or specific brand of chocolate.
Those items tend to be more expensive in the Central American country, if they’re available at all, Novella said. As a result, travelers heading overseas find their luggage weighed down with merchandise for other people. This summer, the Georgetown MBA student created a Web site called Pax Seeker to connect travelers with those seeking items.
The young venture was one of seven to present Wednesday night at Georgetown University’s Summer Startup Showcase. The event marked the end of a two-month program in which undergraduate and graduate students from schools across campus develop business ideas and learn the basics of being an entrepreneur.
A total of 18 companies took part in the Startup Hoyas Summer Launch Program, the highest number since it formally launched three years ago, said Jeff Reid, founding director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative. Students attend weekly sessions on how to raise money or land their first customer, then hit the street to talk with prospective buyers and hone their idea.
Participants also visited entrepreneurship hubs around the region, including 1776 in the District and the Crystal Tech Fund in Virginia, and met regularly with a list of local mentors that includes university faculty, serial entrepreneurs, and early stage investors.
“It’s not a textbook program. It’s not a classroom format,” Reid said. “It’s interacting with real business people.”
Luisa Santos may have had the most heavily trafficked booth of the night. The recent graduate with a degree in political economy started a business six months ago making ice cream using liquid nitrogen. Attendees last night were lined up to taste scoops of the sweet treat flavored with Nutella, coffee, banana-peanut butter and Bellini.
“We use liquid nitrogen to freeze our bases, which makes the smallest ice particles possible. The texture of our ice cream is much smoother than regular ice cream,” Santos said. “More importantly, actually, our ingredients are locally and seasonally sourced as much as possible.”
Santos has taken Lulu’s ice cream — which is made without preservatives and has a texture similar to gelato — to farmer’s markets and festivals in recent months, as well as children’s birthday parties, reunions, and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. To date, she’s pulled in $20,000 in revenue.
“The idea developed a lot during the program and there were a few pivots throughout the program,” Santos said. “You’re never going to have all the right answers and you’re not actually going to know, a lot of the time, what you don’t know, so that’s where my mentors have been able to guide me.”