“You’re the girl who pitched me!” said Kevin Dillon, an actor on the HBO series “Entourage,” when he saw Jolijt Tamanaha, a senior in Arts & Sciences, at the Austin, Texas, airport.
Tamanaha had pitched an idea to Dillon earlier at the South By Southwest (SXSW) conference, where her startup Champio was one of the Entrepreneurial Eight finalists. These finalists formed an elite group of eight digital media startups selected from a pool of more than 150 teams to participate in the Student Startup Madness tournament at SXSW.
“You walk down the street and there are people pitching their companies on every single corner. Everyone is just about being there and meeting the people,” Tamanaha said of the atmosphere at the conference. After her friends spotted Dillon at one of the events, Tamanaha made a quick decision to pitch him an idea for a Champio marketing campaign that involved celebrities.
“I met him and the funny thing is I was the only person who didn’t recognize him immediately,” she said. “I pitched him the idea and he really liked it, so then we got to talking about it, but then he got mobbed by people who wanted his picture and knew him. And then I ran into him again at the airport, and we got to talking again because he recognized me as the girl who pitched him.”
During her college career, Tamanaha has made a name for herself in the startup community from pitches like these. In her sophomore year, she took the Hatchery course through the Olin Business School in which she worked on a business plan and prototype for her first startup, Farmplicity. The company connects farmers and restaurants through a database of available ingredients that restaurants can order online. She sold Farmplicity at the end of her junior year and only a day later began brainstorming for her next venture, Champio, a crowdsourcing site in which “employees compete to capture and share valuable brand moments,” which means showcasing what a company does well, for example taking photos of a great dish at a restaurant and sharing it on social media.
Despite her entrepreneurial success, Tamanaha said she did what any Washington University student nearing the end of their junior year would do: She applied for an internship that would hopefully lead to a post-graduation job.
“I was actually on the phone with the woman who was offering me the internship [when] I realized, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want this internship,’ ” Tamanaha said. “There was this voice in my head that screamed, ‘I want to spend my summer on Champio,’ and that’s kind of when I knew [entrepreneurship] is what I want to be doing.”
She now has found a passion for helping her classmates “figure out what [she has] figured out” in her journey as an entrepreneur thus far. She encourages students to learn more about entrepreneurism and helps aspiring innovators connect with the St. Louis startup community that has supported her own growth.
“One of the most rewarding things I get from starting a company is the energy,” Tamanaha said. “I think when you have an idea and you spend day after day on the nitty gritty of turning that idea into something that people can actually use and then you get someone to actually use it … that’s just a moment and a level of satisfaction that I think is really hard to get out of anything else.”
After graduation, Tamanaha plans to continue growing Champio into the best company it can be. Looking back, she said she has changed in a million ways from freshman to senior year, but she’s emerged from her college experience with a newfound confidence and a clearer direction.
“Whenever you tell people, ‘Oh, I’m going to graduate and then work for my own company,’ people think that you’re either absolutely crazy or absolutely naïve, but I came into college not knowing that’s what I wanted and left knowing that’s absolutely what I want,” Tamanaha said. “It becomes irrelevant to you what other people think because it feels so right that this is what I want to do and be.”