Loyola University Maryland

Simon Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Q&A with Student Innovators

We are excited to have students share their stories of innovative projects and entrepreneurial endeavors! If you'd like to contribute a story for our Spotlight, email innovation@loyola.edu.

AJ Tolentino, '23

AJ Tolentino, sitting at a counter in a business suit, hands foldedAJ is a business management major and an innovation and entrepreneurship minor. From lemonade stands to school candy sales in his hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia, AJ’s entrepreneurial spirit was evident from a young age. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he began developing Freeneur, an online platform connecting freelancers and entrepreneurs, and continues to research and develop this concept. AJ is also passionate about finance and is gaining experience in the field as an intern at Greenspring Advisors. He aspires to teach others with his own financial consulting and education business. AJ is active on campus in the investment club, crypto club, club basketball, CI&E student steering committee, and the Black Student Association.

How did you get your idea for Freeneur?

My idea for Freeneur came during COVID when employers were laying off their workers and people began to start their own businesses and side hustles.

As an entrepreneur, what are your future aspirations for Freeneur?

I want to help individuals take their businesses/side hustles to the next level by providing them with the necessary tools and resources to be successful.

What have you learned about entrepreneurship and innovation through working on Freeneur?

I‘ve learned that innovation never really ends, and that the concept  will always continue to develop. I have also learned that facing obstacles and being competitive is what makes me a better entrepreneur.

How has Loyola been able to provide opportunities in your business venture?

Through my interactions with students and faculty on campus, Loyola has been able to provide me many opportunities in my business venture. I have made many connections with innovators and would like to meet more individuals with a similar mindset.

Abigail Decker, '22 

Abby DeckerAbby is the owner of Agui Swim, an eco-friendly bikini brand. She majored in accounting and information systems and was co-captain of Loyola’s tennis team. As a native of the Jersey shore, she is very passionate about the beach.

How did you get your idea for Agui Swim?

In November 2020 I decided to start Agui Swim after the pandemic robbed my team of a tennis season. Since I am my happiest self at the beach, I wanted my brand to inspire the same joy and comfort in others. At their core, Agui bikinis are the byproduct of my desire to create a sustainable business and a community of people supporting and inspiring confidence in one another.

As an entrepreneur, what are your future aspirations for Agui Swim?

My aspirations for Agui are to become an established, reputable swimwear brand with exposure all over the US, while retaining the authenticity of a small business. I also want to be able to expand on our sustainability mission by increasing the amount we donate and finding additional ways to make the business model sustainable.

What have you learned about entrepreneurship and innovation through working on Agui Swim?

Launching a business does not come with step-by-step instructions! There are a lot of things I have needed to learn on the fly. I learned to not be discouraged by obstacles or small failures because they are an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t. Most of all I learned that while funding is important, successful entrepreneurs learn to use all the resources available to them to get as far as they can.

How has Loyola been able to provide opportunities in your business venture?

Loyola has been my biggest resource in launching and growing Agui, specifically the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. I am currently participating in Loyola’s Baltipreneurs Accelerator, which will help me grow into the role of an entrepreneur and apply the wisdom of various coaches, my mentor, and the other participating entrepreneurs to Agui. I am looking forward to hosting popups on campus and utilizing all the resources and connections Loyola has to offer.

McKenna Moors, '22 

McKenna MoorsMcKenna is a marketing major and an innovation and entrepreneurship minor. McKenna's business, McKenna's Kupcakes, is one of eight chosen as part of Loyola's inaugural Baltipreneurs Accelerator Program. She is excited to expand her business into the Baltimore market and is well on her way to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

McKenna's Kupcakes specializes in making mini cupcakes of all types of varieties and flavors with her signature frosting. Everything is baked from scratch while using only the freshest and highest quality ingredients available. The mini cupcake choice is her favorite because it allows her customers to enjoy all different flavors as opposed to just one flavor of a large cupcake (although she does bake those too). Some of McKenna's Kupcakes most popular flavors are Oreo Cookie, Salted Caramel Chocolate, Maple Bacon, Coconut Cream, Peanut Butter Cup, and Lemon Blueberry Parfait.

How did you get your idea or concept for McKenna's Kupcakes?

I grew up in a household of cooks: my parents love to cook. My mom has a passion for baking, as well as my grandmother who owned her own restaurant and bakery for many years. On the weekends while growing up, I would spend time helping my parents cook and bake. In sixth grade, I had to do a project titled: "what you want to do when you grow up." I knew instantly that I wanted to do my project on baking, but it was an oral report and I am shy. I dreaded doing the report in front of all of my classmates, so I decided to bring in cupcakes as part of my report thinking that if I failed during my presentation, at least they would have my yummy cupcakes to eat! I brought in a variety of flavors for the students to try. One of my teachers loved my cupcakes and ordered them for a party she was having at her house later that month. From that very moment, McKenna's Kupcakes was born. My first customers were from my school community; teachers, the principal, and parents who knew I baked and had tried my cupcakes. From there, it really began to grow within my community. A local restaurant asked to feature my cupcakes on their dessert menu, and they began referring me for weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, and other types of private events. There would be weekends where I had to bake over 500 cupcakes at a time, and I loved every minute of it.

How has innovation and entrepreneurship helped you?

This endeavor has allowed me to transcend my creative boundaries and to enhance my thinking, planning, and organizational skills. I have learned valuable lessons in marketing—my desired field of study—as well as honed the necessary communication skills required to grow and develop my business platform. Just the thought of being able to bring my cupcakes to this community is so exciting to me.

How has Loyola been able to provide opportunities in McKenna's Kupcakes?

Loyola presents itself to my business as an entirely untapped target market. Since I was primarily based out of Uxbridge, Mass., Loyola appeared to be the perfect place for me to expand my business. Parents looking to send their children something for their birthday? Office workers looking to celebrate a milestone? McKenna's Kupcakes can deliver fresh, homemade cupcakes right to your door! Being accepted into the accelerator is giving me the structure and guidance I need to successfully expand in the Baltimore area. I will also gain valuable advice from my peers in the cohort as well—broadening my thinking by hearing about the experiences of the other members.

What are your future aspirations and missions for McKenna's Kupcakes?

My short-term goals consist of establishing a social media presence in the Loyola community, specifically on Instagram, in order to build brand awareness and recognition. I look to be receiving and fulfilling orders into the second semester after break. My ultimate long-term goal is to expand my catering business by opening up a storefront for my bakery.

Here are links to my Instagram and Facebook pages:

Franklin Parks, '21

Franklin ParksFranklin is an accounting major who is spending the summer working with a team of fellow student entrepreneurs and Sellinger Scholars to expand the business concept for Equalyze, which was a finalist for the Building a Better World Through Business pitch competition. The team for the education and training platform includes classmates Spencer Blair, Brendan O’Connell, and Katherine Sanders.

How did you get your idea for Equalyze?

I believe the following quote captures our vision: "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world," Nelson Mandela. My parents have always stressed the importance of education, so I believe in lifelong learning. All of our team members have a tremendous passion for this idea. Spencer and Katherine were studying abroad when he shared his inspiration for Equalyze with her. Back on campus this spring they pulled in Brendan and me, and the four of us teamed up to enter the Building a Better World Through Business pitch competition. Our platform will distill knowledge in a personalized way to combat information overload for today’s small businesses and young professionals.

As an entrepreneur, what are your future aspirations for Equalyze?

My aspiration is for Equalyze is to be an international business that is publicly traded. I want our platform to connect small businesses from all over the world. I believe education and learning allow a person to be a part of the change they want to see in the world. The spread of knowledge throughout our platform will give power and knowledge to all people, which is a beautiful thing to see. Our goal is to "equalyze" the playing field in the future.

What have you learned about entrepreneurship and innovation through working on Equalyze?

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. I believe if you aim for the stars, but miss, you will land amongst the stars. No matter where we land, the experience and relationships developed throughout our work in the various stages of our idea will be worth it. Entrepreneurship teaches you how to collaborate with your team members on a collective vision. I have learned the importance of self-discipline and the importance of holding yourself accountable. Also, I have seen the value of strategic planning in order to make progress building our platform and to achieve our goals.

How has Loyola been able to provide opportunities in your business venture?

Spencer will say that, since his first days on campus, he has seen that the Loyola community will always be there to provide a helping hand for those who ask for it. We are all blessed to have professors who genuinely care about our development inside and outside of the classroom. Astrid Schmidt-King, among other professors, has provided vital and insightful feedback for our platform and connected us to other resources. The Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CI&E), specifically Wendy Bolger, has been instrumental in mentoring us through this process and providing us more resources and pertinent feedback to help us develop ideas, set us on the right track with new avenues, and offer network connections to reach out to. The CI&E’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Bill Romani, and Startup Executive in Residence, Mustafa Wahid, have also been crucial in helping us refine our ideas and in giving us real examples of successful strategies from their own startups.

Collage of photos featuring group work and boards of sticky notes.
Innovation

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