By Eric Barrier/ News writer
The banner on the table in front of the room said it all: $1,000. That’s what was on the line at the Student Enterprise Group’s competition to design the best business concepts. Four finalists were selected to attend this semester’s first SEG meeting, where each presented his or her proposed endeavor.
First was Esther White, a Berea College student whose business concept was to have children display and sell their artwork in galleries to fund summer camps for underprivileged Appalachian children. Second was Erik Davig, SEG president, who wanted to create a Lynard Skynard-themed restaurant and bar. Third was Philomena Swiderski, a junior broadcasting and electronic media major, who proposed creating a history-tutoring Web site in which students chat live with history experts playing the role of historical figures. Fourth was Chris Backe, another Berea College student, who discussed his already-established business, AudioServants.com, which acts as a go-between for Christian musicians and churches.
Provost James Chapman was on hand Tuesday in the Herndon Lounge in Powell to announce the contest’s winner. I was sitting beside Swiderski, whom I had interviewed before the meeting. At around 4:45, she spoke casually about the contest. By around 5:35, she had grown tense.
Chapman began by announcing the runners-up. First was Backe.
One down; three remaining.
Second was Davig.
Two contestants were left: Swiderski and White, whose names were both misspelled on their certificates.
Chapman chose to forego the customary extended pause. The final runner-up was White.
SEG adviser Steve Brown and Glenn Barnett, who is in charge of marketing for the group, were two of the first group members at Herndon Lounge. They began to set up by hanging the “Win $1,000” banner.
Swiderski was the first contestant to arrive. She spoke enthusiastically of her business concept as well as her various other interests. Swiderski said the idea for TalkHistory.com came to her while she was working for a similar tutoring Web site, SmartThinking.com. She noticed SmartThinking.com didn’t offer history tutoring. So she designed a way to fill this niche. Then she took it a step further.
Having real-time tutors play the role of historical figures would make the lessons easier to learn for students, Swiderski said. For example, a student could log onto the site and have a conversation with Ulysses S. Grant about his service in the Civil War.
Swiderski, the broadcaster-in-training and online tutor, said she also likes to write fiction for fun.
“It’s on my own terms,” she said.
She also said she enjoys graphic arts. This is evident in the logo she created for TalkHistory.com: a cartoon of a shouting Abraham Lincoln.
I asked if she ever slept.
“Barely,” she said.
Swiderski, the broadcaster, tutor, writer and graphic designer, said she has the layout done for the site.
She mused about how she could actually create the site if she had the startup funds.
“I think in the future, if I could get the money, I would like to (start up the business),” she said.
Her projected funds, however, require that she make $2 million a year for three years to afford the startup costs.
Which brought us back to the issue at hand, the issue on the big banner – money. I asked what she would do with the $1,000 – provided by a grant from the Kentucky Science & Technology Corporation – if she were to win.
She said $500 would go to school costs, $400 would go into savings, and the last $100 would be set aside for spending.
“I have to get done with my education before I can focus on anything else,” she said.
However, her focus shifted when Chapman announced she had won the business-concept competition.
Swiderski was all smiles as she described her surprise.
“Even though I see (the site) as something doable with today’s technology, I was afraid they would see it as something overblown,” she said.
Swiderski, the $1,000 richer student, doesn’t have to worry about that now.
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