Loyola students create award-winning platform to assist small businesses in Baltimore
Equalyze platform ties for first place in Innov8MD’s AddVenture Program
Spencer Blair, Brendan O’Connell, Franklin Parks, and Katherine Sanders, Sellinger Scholars and members of the Class of 2021, were recently awarded first place in Innov8MD’s Pre-Accelerator AddVenture Program for their platform that connects small businesses in Baltimore with undergraduate students who are seeking real-world experience.
The idea for Equalyze was born when Blair was studying abroad in Newcastle, England, and it began with a different focus. “I had this idea for an app where anyone could go on and learn anything.”
Blair and Sanders first collaborated and started to develop Equalyze for Loyola’s Building a Better World Through Business. Their friends O’Connell and Parks joined their team for the annual Pitch Competition that takes place during the event sponsored by the Sellinger School of Business and Management. Many students submitted pitches, and Equalyze was one of the concepts chosen to move forward for the final competition on pitch day. (Unfortunately, Building a Better World Through Business was later canceled due to COVID-19.)
Baltimore is a city that is built off of (and made up of many successful) small businesses, and we have all of these students here looking for experience.
As time went on, the team’s idea evolved from an app where anyone can learn any hobby to a digital platform that connects undergraduate students who are looking for field experience or internship opportunities with small businesses in the Baltimore area.
“After conversations with people in the Loyola community, we examined our internal skills as business students, and we targeted our focus to a problem that could be fixed with a creative solution,” Blair explained. “Baltimore is a city that is built off of (and made up of many successful) small businesses, and we have all of these students here looking for experience.”
The platform is called Equalyze for its potential to even the playing field for small businesses in the greater marketplace.
“We recognize that while small businesses are a driving force in communities, small business owners are often under-funded, under-resourced, and under-supported,” Blair explained. “By connecting these small business owners with knowledgeable and driven undergraduate students who can complete projects, we not only address an accessibility problem, but we empower them to be able to allocate more time to focusing on their core business strategy. And in this way, our team believes our platform can help ‘equalyze’ the playing field.”
The students heard about Innov8MD, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing support for young entrepreneurs around Maryland, from Wendy Bolger, director of the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CI&E), and Kim Wagner, J.D., professor of operations and project management, who encouraged them to compete.
“I was so impressed with [the students’] sustainable business model and the fact that they wanted to help small businesses and non-profits grow their businesses in the worst of times,” Wagner said. “They had a well-rounded group of students with a solid skill set; they already looked like a small consulting firm. I’m very proud of them.”
The Innov8MD Addventure Pre-Accelerator program brought together more than 100 teams from 15 Maryland high schools, colleges, and universities to develop and pitch business venture plans over six weeks.
Equalyze was voted by Innov8MD Addventure Pre-Accelerator participants as one of two winning concepts, tying for first place with a digital tool called Fem Startup that provides strategies and resources for women to achieve career success and financial security. The winners secured $500 in funding and one-on-one mentoring from Innov8MD to further develop their businesses.
When asked how Loyola’s Building a Better World through Business helped them prepare for AddVenture, O’Connell said, “Continuous support, mentorship, and guidance from the CI&E and our professors had a huge impact and helped prepare us for AddVenture.”
“The Equalyze team displayed admirable grit and resilience—as well as innovation mindsets—in the way they took advantage of their time at home during COVID-19 to develop the business,” Bolger said. “Their commitment set them apart when it came time to pitch for AddVenture and helped them grow. The team consistently sought out support from the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and it was rewarding for us to see them facing challenges and actively applying the lessons they learned.”
Local businesses that Equalyze has partnered with include The Seasoned Olive, La Loupe Design, and Ama Wellness.
“The future of Equalyze is to continue to work with the small businesses we’ve connected with, and to gain insights and information to later create an app,” said Blair.
Students who have been working with the Equalyze team include Charlotte Flurry, ’22, Grace Kirkman, ’22, and Madison Ripp, ’22. Students who are interested in connecting with the Equalyze team can contact them at email@example.com.
“(Through this experience,) I have learned that entrepreneurship is built on trust between co-founders and the courage to takes risks. The biggest risk so far is our time, but our time spent working on this idea has already been transformational and meaningful,” said Parks.