McNeely Center presents awards to top student ventures

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May 7, 2019

The Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship celebrated the 2018-19 academic year at the annual McNeely Market Venture Showcase and annual dinner April 30 at the Founders Room, Quadrangle Building, Saint John’s University.

In addition to featuring the work of the program throughout the academic year, the center also awarded three honors – Student Venture of the Year to Edelbrock Greenhouse, Entrepreneur Scholar Venture of the Year to Triink LLC and Volunteer of the Year to Ben Trnka.

Edelbrock Greenhouse, located in Flynntown on the SJU campus, focuses on sustainability producing organic leafy greens. The greenhouse provides fresh greens to the on-campus dining services, members of the College of Saint Benedict and SJU community and the Minnesota Street Market, St. Joseph.

A seven-student team, led by general manager and SJU senior Gary Harala, saw the greenhouse turn a profit for the first time since its founding in 2013. It also implemented several social media goals and created a succession plan to maintain knowledgeable leaders from semester to semester.

Triink LLC is a student venture created by SJU Entrepreneur Scholars and juniors Joe Caughey and Bardia Bijani Aval. Together, they created a multi-purpose tool known as the Pickaxe, a stainless steel key ring geared toward beer and spirits enthusiasts. Among its uses are a can opener, bottle opener, screwdriver and box opener.

They took their project to Kickstarter and raised over $8,300 – 111 percent of their goal – in 35 days.

Trnka, a visiting assistant professor of accounting and finance at CSB/SJU, was honored for mentoring entrepreneurial students.

“Ben is always excited to see his students and is always excited about their ideas,” one student said. “When I see him around campus I always stop to chat and we'll often talk about our entrepreneurial endeavors together. He makes it known that he's nearly always available to meet up, even outside of center mentor hours.”

Six student ventures were also added to the Entrepreneur Scholars’ Wall of Fame – The Move, Ravivé Restoration, Greta Lee Design, Color Outside the Box, Hanna Degen and Triink. A total of 55 student ventures have been included in the Wall of Fame since the center’s founding 16 years ago.

Paul Marsnik, professor of global business leadership and founding director of the Entrepreneur Scholars, recognized the 12 Entrepreneur Scholars in the 14th cohort completing the 12-credit, three-course Entrepreneur Scholar curriculum.

That cohort included Bijani Aval (numerical computation major), Caughey (global business leadership), Bridget Erickson (global business leadership), Will Gillach (biochemistry), Samantha Halseth (art), Harala (economics), Lucas Harmon (accounting), David Johnson III (communication), Jacob Kirsch (mathematics), Hayden Lacy (global business leadership), Anahi Ortiz (global business leadership) and Muqkadeen Poole (peace studies).

In addition to the experiential learning element to launch a venture before completing the program, the students engaged in entrepreneurial business travel including visits to the Silicon Valley, Twin Cities, Vietnam, China/Hong Kong and Denver.