Making the most of a college education
Rachel Brown’s approach to her education at Oklahoma State University, and life in general, can best be described as “all in.” Brown, a senior, immersed herself in the Spears School of Business and in her major, entrepreneurship. From working in the Riata School of Entrepreneurship to taking part in countless Spears’ programs to starting a business to traveling to 26 countries in four years, Brown has packed as much as possible into her university experience.
“I started out in the (entrepreneurship) program three years ago and since the very beginning I knew I wanted to be more involved,” said Brown. “I knew I wanted to be a part of this accelerator, incubator, startup experience that they talk about. So, I was going to make myself as involved as I could be from the git-go.”
The Stillwater, Okla., native jumped into the program immediately during her freshman year in 2016 by entering and winning a category of the Riata Center’s Reverse Pitch Challenge that required student teams to come up with solutions to address a community concern. Brown and fellow freshman Jake Swanson won for their proposed program to entice young professionals to stay in Stillwater. That competition was just the first of many she has entered and won, especially after starting a business as a student-entrepreneur in 2018.
Launching a startup was central to her goal of becoming an entrepreneur, but Brown’s chosen venture was emotionally difficult because the business addresses a need laid bare by a family tragedy. Brown’s cousin and fellow OSU student, Brayden James Little, died after battling debilitating depression. Deeply affected by the loss, Brown said she did the only thing she could think of.
“My response was just throwing myself into researching how, why and what could have been done to have a different outcome and in all that I discovered that there’s a proven benefit of physical activity on mental health,” said Brown, an avid runner and fitness enthusiast. “All the science on endorphins, serotonin and the remaking of pathways in the brain, when you look at anxiety and depression, physical activity helps improve those systems and is beneficial to physical and mental well-being.”
Her research also told her that most mental health providers don’t have the resources, capacity or expertise to provide their clients with anything more than merely suggesting that exercise can improve how they feel. Brown’s solution was launching Strides, an online business platform for mental health professionals who will be able to subscribe to the service. Strides will allow providers to add questions to their client assessments resulting in a detailed, quasi-custom exercise plan for their clients.
“They can provide something tangible to their clients as they’re leaving a counseling session that tells them, alright, Tuesday I need to go walk for five minutes or around the block or start out really small like walk to the mailbox to get the mail, but the plans can be customized for that individual,” Brown said.
Since launching Strides, Brown has relied on faculty expertise and the myriad resources of the entrepreneurship program to fine tune and focus her original concept for the venture into a viable business plan. Much of her guidance has come from her advisor and professor David Thomison, who brings real-world entrepreneurial experience to Spears, including formulating business plans and raising capital.
Brown said she’s also benefited from participating in numerous entrepreneurship contests like idea pitch and poster events and business plan competitions. So far, she has won $20,000 in competitions requiring students to explain their business concepts to judges who are often established entrepreneurs and investors. Prize money becomes important seed capital to get a venture off the ground while judge feedback helps make sure a business provides a solution to an actual need.
“The structure of the business has changed a ton since the original idea came into my head,” Brown said. “A lot of that is from going through business plan competitions. Those iterative processes have just shaped and molded the business so much.”
Comments from one judge in the Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs at Smith College in Massachusetts this spring bolstered Brown’s confidence that her concept for Strides was on the right track. The judge pointed out that Brown’s emotional and personal investment in the business following her cousin’s struggle with depression made her commitment to the venture tangible.
“The tenacity and grit to not give up is definitely coming from a truer place for me and so that was really encouraging to hear that feedback,” she said.
Other Draper Competition judges must have agreed because Brown was named a runner-up in the contest out of 70 teams and awarded $5,000.
Brown is now working with student web developers at OSU to create the Strides’ website, which she says should be ready for beta testing in spring 2020.
Brown’s four years at OSU weren’t limited to time spent at Spears Business. She also took time to study abroad for a semester at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, and traveled to Thailand earlier this year with a group of faculty and students as a Spears Scholar Leader. That 10-day trip led to Brown continuing her tour solo and visiting Australia, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, before stopping in England on her way home to Oklahoma and starting her senior year at OSU this fall.
These days, it’s unusual not to find Brown in the Riata Center giving tours of the entrepreneurship program’s student epicenter. As an employee, she says the center has become her second home in the Business Building.
“I basically live in the Riata Center now between working on my business and being a student employee,” she said. “Now I get to be part of student coaching and interacting with freshmen and sophomore students and telling them about the programs we have. I love getting to be an ambassador for the program in that sense.”
Media contact: Jeff Joiner | Communications Coordinator | 405.744.2700 | firstname.lastname@example.org