Virgil Platt’s vision for a startup may have caught the eyes of judges in the sixth annual Clemson MBAe EnterPrize competition, but the real winners of the entrepreneur’s business idea may be military personnel.
As the winner of the graduate school’s competition, modeled after the TV show Shark Tank, Platt won $15,000. He’ll use the prize money to purchase inventory for his business, Armed Eyewear, which will provide fashionable, military-approved glasses to service members.
Platt, of Fayetteville, N.C., was one of 26 Clemson MBA candidates who competed for $26,000 in prize money at EnterPrize events held in Columbia and Charleston and at the finale in Greenville.
As an area manager for retail vision centers in the heart of military country, Platt identified an unmet need for military personnel. With Fayetteville being home to the U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg, the world’s largest military installation, Platt regularly heard of dissatisfaction over the limited eyewear choices available to service members because of the military’s restrictions on frame and lens aesthetics. In addition, glasses cannot have emblems or brand logos on the outside.
Realizing that more than 2 million U.S. military personnel were subject to these restrictions, he set out to find a solution. Platt discovered many alternative eyewear designs that his acquaintances in military human resources divisions said met standards. He was even able to work with frame manufacturers who would serve the military marketplace.
Armed Eyewear’s website is in development; Platt expects its soft launch by the end of the year with online sales. He would eventually like to sell through military channels as well.
Platt said Clemson’s part-time MBAe program was a good fit for him in several ways. “Having a network of cohorts in this with you really helped. You have 15 to 20 people all trying to open their own businesses, and they come with a wide variety of backgrounds, be it marketing, finance, sales or accounting,” he said. “When you add in the professors who have their own specialties, there’s so much expertise to tap into.”
Other winners in the competition included Jimmy Palmer, a full-time MBAe student who placed second and won $3,000. His startup, Comma Furniture, specializing in furniture that assembles and disassembles easily, is targeted to students and those early in their careers who are moving frequently.
Third place and a prize of $2,000 went to Michael Siegel, also a full-time MBAe student. His startup, Groundshare, allows landowners to rent land to hunters similarly to how Airbnb works.
EnterPrize judges included James Bennett, owner of Upstate Home Care Solutions; Joe Gibson, founder of Helping Businesses Grow Profitably; Beth Veach, career and business coach at Entrepreneur Acumen; Cory Bridges MBAe ’17, co-founder and chief operating officer for RingoFire Digital; and Sadie Perry MBAe ’17, an Eggs Up Grill franchisee.