After ten weeks in Trinity’s Summer Accelerator program, Chikanma Ibeh ’22 and her startup Storyspread are gearing up for the long haul.
The summer accelerator is part of Trinity’s Stumberg Venture competition, a year-long pitch contest run by Trinity Entrepreneurship that gives five Trinity startups a shot at $25,000. The accelerator period of the contest is well-named, Ibeh says, because it crunches years of vital business skills, networking, and personal growth, into about the same period of time that many college students spend perfecting their tans.
“This isn’t a part of my education that’s going to be on the degree,” Ibeh says. “But it’s going to be with me the rest of my life: this is probably the most I’ve ever learned at Trinity University.”
Through the accelerator, Ibeh and her business, StorySpread (a digital platform where kids can make comics) have started honing an operation that aims to do more than wowing the judges at the Stumberg finals this October. Now, Ibeh has the skills to control her own destiny.
“I’m not doing this for a check mark in a class, or a check at Stumberg,” Ibeh says. “I’m a completely different person now versus two or three months ago, because the accelerator develops you as a person and as an entrepreneur.”
This acceleration Ibeh says, comes from packing years of growth and development into 10 weeks.
Accelerator participants are put through a grueling, 10-week gamut of coursework and benchmarks, all while learning accounting skills, website design, and creating financial plans, among other skills. During this time, accelerator participants also receive free housing, and $10/hr pay for up to 40 hrs/week.
But another essential feature of the program is that participants get direct feedback on their startups from seasoned alumni entrepreneurs, and industry movers and shakers. This summer, Ibeh says she’s talked to “so many alumni and entrepreneurs” that she “can’t even begin to list” all the feedback she’s gotten.
From the beginning, Ibeh has envisioned Storyspread as an online platform that helps encourage young creatives to express their creativity through digital comic making—with no drawing skills required. But while Ibeh’s digital comic business started as a platform aimed at individuals, the feedback she received during the accelerator has inspired her to pivot to a more ambitious plan: pitching the StorySpread platform to school districts for entire classrooms to use.
Acting on this feedback, Ibeh chose to hire a partner, Wren Ramos '22, as chief marketing officer for the accelerator period.
“Classes end for us at noon, so from 12 to six, me and Wren are out of the office, out in the community, having meetings, doing interviews, doing whatever we need to do to get things done,” Ibeh says.
And this approach has already paid dividends.
“Wren goes out with me to make a better connection with schools, teachers, principals we’re talking to,” Ibeh says. “He knows how to build connections, engage with them, and learn what they want and expect from our software.”
Ramos isn’t the only Tiger who Ibeh has turned to for support. Trinity’s entire campus has been a goldmine of knowledge and talent relevant to Ibeh’s business.
Ibeh says the construction of the Storyspread software—which allows users to click and drag pre-drawn objects, characters, and backgrounds to assemble each comic—relied heavily on hiring the talents of her Trinity classmates.
“I don’t know how to code or draw, but at Trinity, there are so many students with these skills who were able and willing to help,” Ibeh says. “And this wasn’t just art majors or computer science majors: we have theater and business majors who we’ve got working for us. But that’s the liberal arts: you’re more than your major, and everyone here has these hidden talents. And if that’s what these people are doing on the side, imagine them doing this full time.”
Ibeh says she could only imagine building a business like this at Trinity.
“This is an experience you can’t get anywhere else,” she says.
Beyond the coding, financial planning, and business acumen, the accelerator has also imbued Ibeh with invaluable soft skills.
“The summer accelerator is an amazing opportunity. You have business classes where you learn new concepts; how to get your business off the ground, how to prepare for the long run,” Ibeh says. “But this also about the experience: we get to meet other entrepreneurs, explore the ‘landscape’ of San Antonio, and discover how this place can benefit you as an entrepreneur.”
This experience has helped Ibeh learn how to communicate positively with her employees, how to network, and how to manage her time.
But perhaps the most important takeaway from the accelerator has been Ibeh learning to manage her own motivation.
“My endurance has improved,” Ibeh says. “Being able to take challenges on for longer is so important. In school, life will be hard for like, one week of finals, so you grind it out that one week. But what happens in the real world, especially as an entrepreneur, when that grind takes six months?”
“Everyone can carry that same, heavy load,” Ibeh continues. “But now I know that I can carry it further: I can carry it as far as I need to.”
Between now and the Stumberg finals, Ibeh still has a heavy load cut out for her. She wants to finally cut a deal and move her software into that first classroom, solidify a partnership with an area school district, and discover how kids respond to StorySpread.
Even as Ibeh and her classmates return to school this fall, she’ll also have some tough times ahead meeting these lofty goals. But thanks to the accelerator, she’s up for the challenge.
“I don’t see tough times, I see turning points,” Ibeh says. “The summer accelerator is hard: that’s why they use the word ‘accelerator.’ But it’s meant to be hard because you’re not just changing your business, you’re transitioning to this different, improved version of yourself.”
With this kind of motivation, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Ibeh wins the $25,000 grand prize at the Stumberg finals in October. She just doesn’t want you to be shocked if her business succeeds without it.
“We’re not here to win Stumberg, we’re here to build a business,” Ibeh says. “And I know this business model works. So that prize money is great, but it’s not going to change my business: it will just make my next milestone that much easier.”