University of South Florida St. Petersburg



Entrepreneurship Student has Knack for Startups

Entrepreneurship Student Makenzie Black holding a cargo trailer while leaning against a car parked on a beach

Entrepreneurship Student Makenzie Black, 20, is already creating her third startup, Bigfoot Skateboard Company.

Program cultivates students to forge new businesses, enhancing St. Petersburg’s culture of innovation.

Two years ago, student Makenzie Black started her first business called Mr. Jet Ski Repair. Her boyfriend did the repairs and she did the marketing. While they did well, Black said she wanted something bigger.

“We didn’t want to be jet ski mechanics. We needed something that was scalable.”

Next, Black and her boyfriend decided to lease out four cargo trailers she owned from the jet ski company. They outfitted them with GPS trackers and worked with a friend to create an online software platform that automated the rental process. Thus began her second company, Go Rent Me. She learned a lot, but soon found herself in the same position.

“I thought we would automate the process and scale up to 100 trailers, but we wound up having to repair trailers a lot,” she said.

So they sold that company, making enough to buy an RV and travel around the country for the summer.

Once Black enrolled at USF St. Petersburg in 2017, her knack for starting companies led her into the Entrepreneurship Program. “I had never taken any business courses. I wanted a challenge,” Black said.

Through the Entrepreneurship Program, Black has taken classes like New Venture Creation, Creativity and Innovation and Student Consulting with High Growth Firms. In one of her current classes called Scalability in Entrepreneurial Firms, students work on small solutions that can be scaled up to solve big problems like affordable housing, transportation and single use plastics.  Black is focused on learning not just how to start a business – she’s done that twice already —but scaling it so that it grows.

Her professor for the Scalability class, Steve Diaisio, said Black and her colleagues in the Entrepreneurship program are a unique breed of student.

“They are the types of people who create their own path. They aren’t afraid to go out and try to solve challenges.”

Diasio, an Entrepreneurship Instructor, added that the city of St. Petersburg makes for a great backdrop for this program because of its long history of innovation.

“Over 100 years ago, the first commercial flight took off from St. Petersburg and touched down in Tampa, launching the world’s first airline.” he said.  “Webb City Department Store, founded in the 1920s, was the one-stop shop precursor to Amazon, with its innovative sales tricks that influenced the development of department stores.”

“St. Petersburg was always innovative,” Diaisio said. “It’s in the culture of the city.”

The Entrepreneurship major at USF St. Petersburg, which began seven years ago, cultivates students who have that same spirit of innovation. Some, like Black, forge new businesses on their own, while others get experience by testing their chops during class projects and academic pitch competitions. For example, the Entrepreneurship Club traveled to Los Angeles and finished second place last year in Startup LA, where participants share ideas, form teams and launch companies – all within 54 hours.

Upon graduating, many students from the Entrepreneurship program have gone on to create businesses in the area.  A few former students who are now local entrepreneurs include:

“There is a great tradition in St. Petersburg of entrepreneurship.” Diaisio said. “We are honoring this by carrying the torch forward through our current students.”

With the consolidation of USF’s three campuses scheduled to finalize next year, there is an expectation that the program will expand. The Kate Tiedemann College of Business is the only College that offers the undergraduate major in Entrepreneurship, while the Muma College of Business in Tampa offers the graduate program. With consolidation, students from all three campuses will have the ability to participate in both.

“We took time to align the Entrepreneurship programs and the faculty in Tampa and St. Petersburg,” Kate Tiedemann College of Business Dean Sridhar Sundaram said, “Now, the Entrepreneurship program is well positioned for growth.”

As for Black, she has moved on to planning her next venture: Bigfoot Electric Skateboard Company. She said she got the idea from her summer travels.

“My boyfriend and I would go around the cities we visited, like Savannah and Charleston, on motorized skateboards. People all over came up to us to ask us about buying them,” she said, which gave her the idea to create her own skateboard.

She watched YouTube videos to figure out how to make her own board, and found a manufacturer in China that would build it and ship it.  Black, who will be graduating in December, said she hopes to get the skateboard company running soon.

“I am hoping to be profitable pretty soon so that my mom doesn’t have to worry about me after I graduate.”

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