Centsless? Students Launch a Venture for Their Empty-Pocketed Peers

Originally posted: May 14, 2012

Centsless, a new business venture created by three University of Puget Sound students, has won a top entrepreneurial prize and is looking so promising, the students plan to haul it out of the classroom and launch it in the real world.

Michael Haas ’13, Allen Ward ’12, and Jessica Shiarella ’12 are the three young entrepreneurs behind Centsless, a start-up company that aims to give college students a way to borrow books, bicycles, tents, tools, electronics, or whatever they need from other students on the same campus—at no cost.

Haas created the concept early this year as part of a business class project he was doing with fellow student Ward for Professor Lynnette Claire’s entrepreneurship class. When the two students heard about the first Pacific NorthWest Economic Region Business Ideas Competition (PNWER-BIC), they worked frantically over one weekend, using music created by Marcus Chen ’12, to create a three-minute video portraying their business idea—and submitted it to the contest.

In April Centsless was chosen as one of four “best and brightest” business ideas by PNWER-BIC, winning Haas and Ward an invitation to the Entrepreneurial Boot Camp at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia.

“It quickly became less of a school project and more of a business venture,” Haas said. “We really want to make it happen.”

Haas and Ward, joined by Shiarella as their social media specialist, began running focus groups among Puget Sound students to see if their idea would fly. The reaction was enthusiastic.

“What you have on any campus is a surplus of needs, with a shortage of goods,” Ward said. “We intend to be the bridge between those.”

The three partners began designing a Web-based system in which students can scroll through items that are available for borrowing on campus, or else post their own items. Borrowers and lenders contact each other via the website and then meet in person to exchange the goods. Lenders set sums that have to be paid if an item is lost or damaged, and both lenders and borrowers allot each other “karma points” based on how well the transaction went.

The system will initially work on an “honor code” and an understanding that students on a small campus would not wish to sully their reputation. Students need a Puget Sound email address to access the site. At a later stage other security may be incorporated. Centsless also will use the Facebook tactic of creating “packs” of friends who can view each others’ borrowing and lending activities.

“People are interested in this because it’s bringing people together face-to-face, and because it’s all about people doing good for other people,” Shiarella said.

Chief Executive Michael Haas, Chief Operating Officer Allen Ward, and Social Media Specialist Jessica Shiarella are currently working on the Centsless website and expect to have it running before the fall term. They also are looking at fundraising options. Eventually they hope to have small sponsor ads on each listing to generate ongoing revenue.

Though Shiarella graduates this May and Ward next fall, the three students say they will all remain dedicated to Centsless. They point out they know their “customers” all too well, and they have faith in their marketplace. As Shiarella comments:

“As college students we are looking for every deal we can get. This idea is taking that concept to a whole other level.”

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