Contributed by Lauren Sieben for Marquette University
Like many college students, Kristen Carter is on TikTok.
But Carter’s presence on the fast-paced social media platform isn’t just a pastime or play to become an influencer—it’s a crucial marketing tool for the business the Marquette University senior launched during the pandemic. Now, she’s tapping into its resources for student entrepreneurs.
Last October, Carter launched the first product under her newly-formed LLC. The Krisband (a wristband that dispenses hand sanitizer on-the-go) is benefitting from demonstrations and promotions on TikTok: in just a few weeks, one of her first posts generated more than 50,000 views. “From there, I was getting orders from all across the country,” says Carter, an advertising major. “It was crazy.”
Before she became the owner and CEO of Carter Health & Wellness, Carter grew up in the Chicago suburbs, where she watched her parents run a successful home care business. In 2016, her mother passed away and her father stepped aside from the business. Carter knew that eventually, she “wanted to continue that legacy” and become an entrepreneur like her parents.
But she wasn’t sure she could pull it off. “I thought it was something where I wasn’t good enough or smart enough or capable enough,” Carter explains. “Entrepreneurship really wasn’t on the tip of my mind until I came to Marquette and got involved with the 707 Hub.”
The 707 Hub is a campus space that fosters collaboration and innovation among students across colleges, while offering resources for aspiring entrepreneurs. Carter’s first encounter with the 707 Hub came as a sophomore, when she started interning for the Women’s Innovation Network (WIN), a program housed in the same space as the Hub.
“I worked there every day, and [found that] just being in that space of entrepreneurs and young people starting up their own businesses, there were so many resources,” she says. “Constantly being in that space made me think that maybe I could do entrepreneurship.”
The 707 Hub opened in 2017, in the welcoming ground-floor space of a renovated office building on the eastern edge of campus, near downtown Milwaukee. The idea was born from a student proposal for a space that would encourage collaboration between students across majors and provide on-site resources to help turn ideas into ventures.
“I think there is still this underlying notion that entrepreneurship is only for certain majors, and we’ve worked really hard to dispel that myth,” says Kelsey Otero, associate director of social innovation at the 707 Hub. “We’ve been able to create a space where there are these natural collisions and cross-disciplinary work occurring . It’s not uncommon to have a communications major, a business major and an engineering major working in the space together.”
The 707 Hub hosts speakers, networking events, a pitch competition, and a student-run venture capital firm called the Dorm Fund, through which student associates hear pitches from their peers and dole out investments of up to $2,500 per business idea. During the pandemic, the 707 Hub has mostly pivoted to virtual programming. When students can convene in person, the building’s unfinished open ceilings and concrete floors invoke a casual start-up vibe, with student art decorating the walls of conference rooms that students can reserve for presentations and meetings.
Before launching her business, Carter took advantage of the 707 Hub’s bootcamp, which offers a crash course in topics like creating a business model canvas, financial modeling and prototyping. When Carter became an intern for the Hub’s WIN program, staff members nudged her to explore her entrepreneurial interests. Her ambition and creativity were obvious; she just needed to start working through her ideas.
So Carter set up a meeting with Tom Avery, the 707 Hub’s entrepreneur-in-residence. “As a serial entrepreneur, Tom brings a lot of experience and passion to helping students think through their businesses and determine the next steps to move from idea to action,” says Otero.
Avery and the 707 Hub team have become a resource for Carter as she navigates the ups and downs of business ownership. “They were sending me emails about patent attorneys and helping me out so I can make sure everything’s good for my business legally,” she says.
The 707 Hub’s staff also helped her create a marketing plan and promote her business in on-campus publications. Carter’s success on TikTok came as a bonus. “TikTok surprisingly has been helping me a lot with sales,” she says. “It’s a whole community of small business owners that sell and market their products.”
While Carter stays busy selling the Krisband, the pandemic hasn’t hindered progress at the 707 Hub either. Otero say she’s seen a surge of students interested in starting new ventures since March 2020. Cierra Griffin, an engineering student, is collaborating with a recent Marquette graduate to create a subscription box for young girls interested in STEM. Other students, like Graham Bowerman, founder of Starving Artists (a collective for Marquette student performers, now featured in a weekly livestream series), repositioned their ventures to better serve the community during the pandemic.
“This has been a period of creation in a period of isolation,” Otero says. “I think we will see some disruption come, especially from young people who have ideas and might use this as an opportunity to turn them into something.”
Marquette’s 707 Hub stands out among other collegiate entrepreneurship programs in part because of its Jesuit values. Otero explains, “We’re encouraging students not just to think about building an app or creating a new business, but to think about how this new business is inclusive and solving a real problem. That goes above and beyond the potential economic impact. It’s rooted in something.”
The problem-solving approach also speaks to Carter, who plans to grow her business beyond the Krisband and sell other wellness products to help improve health and daily life for her customers.
Carter explains, “My favorite part of this entire experience is hearing people’s feedback about how much they really enjoy the product and how it’s helped them.”