Ashley Zahabia and Desiree Archie photos atop blackboard with all kinds of symbols drawn with chalk.


Student entrepreneurs are set to launch businesses from campus

Ashley Zahabian (top) and Desiree Archie both started companies while they were students.

Montclair State junior Ashley Zahabian doesn’t like to waste time. Perhaps that’s why she has already become a successful motivational speaker and YouTuber, developed an app and begun writing a book – all while earning straight As.

“Honestly, I’m constantly running around,” the economics major says. “Being busy, though, is a necessity for me – I don’t like free time. Management of this lifestyle is pure discipline and sacrifice.”

Zahabian’s motivational videos range from relationships to entrepreneurship, and one of them has received almost half a million views on YouTube, where her video channel has 7,672 subscribers. She hopes to reach a wider audience by sharing her thoughts about opening minds and accepting wisdom in her upcoming e-book.

Zahabian is just one of a number of current Montclair State students succeeding in business – before leaving campus.

Inspiring entrepreneurs

The three-course Certificate of Entrepreneurship offered by the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship, which is housed in the Feliciano School of Business, is playing a crucial role in transforming students from across the University into success-ready entrepreneurs.

“We provide a pathway for students to explore their capacity to solve problems with innovative solutions and take those solutions to the marketplace for validation,” says Dennis Bone, director of the Feliciano Center.

“Then the magic happens,” he says. “As their ideas begin to be validated, students start believing their new product or service can be successful. It’s transformative for many students as they continue to work on their entrepreneurial ventures long after the classes are over.”

In spring 2015, Zahabian completed the Feliciano Center’s entrepreneurship certificate program, where she worked with teammates Matthew Ferro, George Holmes and Priscilla Ofori to develop ReminU, an app that delivers voice reminders or messages when and where needed. “ReminU has evolved a lot since then,” says Zahabian. “I’m speaking to an intellectual property attorney about novel ways to power the product prior to getting a patent.”

What sets students like Zahabian apart from other students? According to Information Management and Business Analytics Professor Ross Malaga, who works with students in the entrepreneurship certificate program, it is a passion for their ideas and the persistence to see them through. “To some extent, these qualities go together,” he explains. “If entrepreneurs aren’t passionate about their ideas, it is unlikely they will be persistent in pursuing them.”

The winning pitch

The final step in earning the 9-credit Certificate of Entrepreneurship is the student pitch competition, when student teams pitch the products or services they created during the program.

“The Feliciano Center provides seed funding for each team in the program,” notes Malaga. “The teams are also taught how to pitch their ideas to investors, with help from a professional pitch coach.”

The three-woman team of Christi Himiob, Larissa Elvers and Sacha Vincent won the December 2015 preliminary pitch contest. Since then, they have been honing their pitch for the annual TeleBrands Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs contest in May, where they, and other entrepreneurship students, will compete for a $10,000 prize.

The team founded Karuda Skincare, Inc. while pursuing their certificates, and incorporated the company in January 2016. “By incorporating, we took the product outside of school and it became much more than just a class project,” says Himiob, a junior Spanish translation major who serves as the fledgling company’s CEO.

“As their ideas begin to be validated, students start believing their new product or service can be successful. It’s transformative for many students as they continue to work on their entrepreneurial ventures long after the classes are over.”

Dennis Bone

“Karuda is a name inspired by the Greek word for coconut,” explains Himiob. “Coconut oil, which is antibacterial and restores the skin, is the main ingredient of all our skin care products.” Karuda’s all- natural products include makeup remover, lip balm, scrub, deodorant and hand cream. While they initially made their products in the kitchen, Himiob reports that they are working with a private-label cosmetics company that will formulate them in the lab.

According to finance major Vincent, who is Karuda’s CFO, the students prepared for the Inventor’s Day pitch by building their business. “We’re all super excited about the TeleBrands pitch competition and we all want to win, but our priority is to develop a strong brand and product,” she says. “Succeeding with that will bring us success in everything else.”

Elvers, a senior child advocacy and policy major and Karuda’s chief compliance officer, credits their success so far to teamwork. “We have all been extremely supportive of one another in accomplishing tasks and shifting the weight of responsibilities to relieve any stresses or burdens.”

Time will tell how their roles will evolve moving forward, although each member of the Karuda team plans to pursue a future with their new company, which is already marketing its products on social media.

(L to R) Christi Himiob, Larissa Elvers and Sacha Vincent founded Karuda Skincare, Inc.
(L to R) Christi Himiob, Larissa Elvers and Sacha Vincent founded Karuda Skincare, Inc.

A brush with success

During the brainstorming portion of the intro entrepreneurship course called “Entrepreneurial Mindset and Innovation”, junior Desiree Archie and teammates Stephanie Da Silva, Ilya Kogan and Dean Mulzac came up with a novel idea: an “ultimate,” all-in-one toothbrush equipped with floss, picks and tongue scraper to meet all dental care needs.

“We wanted to create something realistic that, if we had the opportunity, we would be able to take to market,” Archie recalls. “We also wanted to improve an existing product to make people’s lives easier.”

Archie, a psychology major who is also studying fashion merchandising, created the prototype of the toothbrush on a 3D printer in the University’s new MIX Lab, which she will use to support her patent application.

“Designers, innovators and entrepreneurs exist in every field of study, so opening the entrepreneurship courses and MIX Lab to all majors gives everyone the opportunity to explore their creativity,” says Archie. “Doors have been opening for me since working with both the MIX Lab and the Center.”

Archie is excited about her future as an entrepreneur. “I’ve always wanted to be my own boss and the University is giving me the tools I need to get started and ensure my success.”

Guaranteed parking

As senior Eunice Choe sees it, finding a parking spot is often a stressful, frustrating and time-consuming experience. She hopes that ParkAlong, an online parking marketplace, developed with classmates while working toward the Certificate of Entrepreneurship, will improve the parking experience, while tapping into today’s sharing, or collaborative, economy.

“With ParkAlong, we connect homes and businesses with drivers, by enabling a driver to reserve a convenient and cost-effective parking place – in a business parking lot or a private driveway,” Choe explains. “Once ParkAlong launches, the Montclair community can start reserving parking spots near area homes and businesses. They’ll be able to access this marketplace simply by signing up on our website or on our app.”

Photo of Eunice Choe.
Eunice Choe is launching ParkAlong to help students and others find parking.

Choe, a business management major with a minor in entrepreneurship, hopes to recruit some interns to her current team, which includes alumni Marco Chang ’13 and Eray Tonyali ’14 as well as a graduate student at Pratt Institute. They plan to launch a pilot test in Montclair before slowly expanding it across the country. “Eventually, we hope ParkAlong will become the leading online parking marketplace in the world.”

For Choe, her success as an entrepreneur is all about networking. “Without networking, I would not have advisors, mentors and a brilliant team,” she explains.

ParkAlong is expected to make its debut this spring. As for Choe, her future path is clear. “I see myself working on projects related to the collaborative economy because I realize there is a great potential for its growth,” she says.

Seizing opportunity

Successful student entrepreneurs, like all entrepreneurs, share a willingness to seize opportunities as they present themselves.

“Students who go through the entrepreneurship certificate program are taught to think like entrepreneurs and see opportunities everywhere,” says Malaga. “They’re also taught how to validate those opportunities to align their ideas with what customers really want.”

Zahabian would agree that this outlook makes all the difference. “You can take anything and everything and turn it into a business,” she says. “You can either spend the rest of your life making money through something you hate, or you can take what makes you smile and monetize it by giving value to those who need what you have to offer.”