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From class concept to venture

DeaconVend founders innovate to serve fellow students

By Jake Graham ('13), intern Office of Communications and External Relations
Hannah Whitaker and Alex Gromer reload their vending machine which sells items like pencils, note cards and cough drops. Z. Smith Reynolds Library is the first location for their company, DeaconVend.
Hannah Whitaker and Alex Gromer reload their vending machine which sells items like pencils, note cards and cough drops. Z. Smith Reynolds Library is the first location for their company, DeaconVend.

In the fall of 2011, five students in an introductory level entrepreneurship class came up with an idea for a group project. Their research revealed an unmet need facing students and generated a hassle-free solution. For students working late on campus, there were no convenient ways to get study and other supplies around the clock. Their proposed solution? A vending machine stocked with everything from highlighters to lip balm. One year and a lot of hard work later, DeaconVend recently went live in the Z. Smith Reynolds Library.

The premise behind the Entrepreneurship Department’s Foundations of Entrepreneurship course is to introduce students to the basic practices associated with starting an entrepreneurial venture. And under the guidance of professor Polly Black, who is also director of The Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship, several class projects have become longer-term businesses.

More information

  • Wake Forest’s Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise minor is the largest and fastest-growing on campus. Global Entrepreneurship Week is celebrated Nov. 12-18, and the Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship has many events scheduled to celebrate. Find out more »
  • DeaconVend is a student-run venture looking to meet the needs of fellow students. If you have any product or other recommendations, they would love to hear your feedback at feedback@deaconvend.com »

To get the venture operational the five co-owners first needed funding. The DeaconVend team applied for and received a New Venture Seed Grant from The Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship then formed two vital partnerships. Co-owner Hannah Whitaker (’12, MA ’13) said “Connecting with the University Bookstore and Z. Smith Reynolds Library allowed DeaconVend to actually exist. We can’t thank them enough.”

As time went on, Paige Beaumont (’12), Mary Katherine Callaway (’12) and Katie Wainwright (’12) graduated, while Whitaker and Alex Gromer (’15) continued to move DeaconVend forward.

With the funding, the duo purchased and retrofitted a vending machine to suit their unique product offerings. The machine, stocked and ready, began operating in early October.

“Our best selling items have been notecards, batteries and cough drops,” said Whitaker. “All our items range from 75 cents up to 5 dollars and sales have been going surprisingly well, especially once you consider the price of our items compared to a traditional vending machine.”

Next steps for the DeaconVend group include a more comprehensive marketing effort, attaining legal protections for the venture and the potential for expansion to other areas of campus.

Now enrolled in Wake Forest’s new MA in Management program, Whitaker feels entrepreneurship is the perfect way for students to collaborate between the schools. After all, Entrepreneurship & Social Enterprise is the most popular and fastest-growing minor for undergraduates proving the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well here at Wake Forest.

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