MBA design 1MBA design 2

TCU MBA Student Partners with TCU Design Students for New Biz Idea

When Nick Fender needed designs for his app idea, he looked in his own backyard to the TCU Department of Graphic Design. Students Jessie Edwards and Brooke Davis proved more than worthy for the job.  

January 18,  2016

By Elaine Cole

Nick Fender, a second-year TCU MBA student, knows the power of networking and making the best use of his time.

During a flight, he realized there was a lot of wasted time that could be used for networking.

“There is a lack of value add during air travel. There’s not a lot to do during the flight process, from waiting at the gate to being in the air to picking up your luggage. Any discussion with other passengers usually occurs at the end of the trip, if at all. My idea is for an app that initiates networking pre-flight,” Fender said.

Fender came up with a business plan for Climb, a networking mobile application that bridges connections using LinkedIn and travel itinerary profiling to provide a forward-thinking alternative to business networking throughout the entire travel experience. He pitched it to Startup Weekend Fort Worth and won third place and space at Idea Works.

To move the business forward, he needed design help, but, as he said, “full-time MBA students don’t have a lot of money.” He bootstrapped it by developing a prototype in China. When he received the basic designs, he knew it needed to be better. He searched the TCU website for graphic design and called the first name on the faculty list, Jan Ballard.

“I didn’t know what to expect. I just reached out to the resources I had here at TCU,” Fender said.

Ballard immediately saw a huge opportunity for graphic design students to extend the studies they do in corporate identity.

“Web design, app design, this is what they do, except for fictional clients. This was a great real-world scenario,” she said.

Ballard offered the opportunity to two students with outstanding skills in design and color, Jessie Edwards and Brooke Davis.

The TCU MBA student and undergraduate design students met often in Rees-Jones Hall to go over ideas, share designs, look at competitors and discuss possibilities and practicalities.

“It was the perfect opportunity for us,” Edwards said. “Since we were pitching designs to Nick, we also came up with brand standards, icons, colors, fonts and what type of photos to use. We gave him a guide for what his brand should be. We helped get the look down for what these business professionals who will be using the app will be attracted to, what will stand out from competitors.”

“Jessie and I not only learned about the process of designing and creating an app, but also what it takes to have a successful relationship between client and designer,” Davis said.

Fender had no idea how much assistance his TCU design classmates would provide.

“I didn’t know these designs would look so professional. I didn’t think how nice a product can turn out. The next thing you know, you have a product that looks attractive and can sell,” he said.

While Fender learned about corporate branding and design, Edwards and Davis learned about business plans and communication, including how to pitch their own business idea.

“Often our students have great ideas for products or services, but if they had to pitch it to a business professional they would be asked questions they wouldn’t know how to answer,” Ballard said. “They learned a lot by working with Nick on this project.”

“It really made us think about things like looking at competition and feasibility,” Jessie said. “It was nice to have this interaction of two different parts of the brain.”

Fender eagerly tells his classmates and professors about the collaboration, as does Edwards, Davis and Ballard. Both hope more cross-discipline projects happen at TCU.

“This is exactly what Rees-Jones was built to do, bring different parts of the university together,” Ballard said.

The project has already spawned similar opportunities. Michael Sherrod, the William M. Dickey Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the TCU Neeley School, recently introduced 20 startup companies from TECH Fort Worth and the Dallas Entrepreneur Center to Ballard and her design students. Over the course of the spring semester, TCU design students will create logos, branding packages and website designs for the startups.

“It is a very interesting partnership between the Neeley Entrepreneurship Center and the TCU design program, one where we are letting the market and real experiential learning do the teaching,” Sherrod said.