Finishing Up at Notre Dame

Now back to my schooling at Notre Dame--I was studying Industrial Design and Italian Language and Literature. I worked hard to stay involved on Notre Dame’s Cycling Team as well as being accepted into Notre Dame’s competitive Irish Guard. Each Spring, Notre Dame hosts the Gigot Business Plan Competition where any team with an idea and at least one member being an active Notre Dame student or alum is welcome to compete. Any team that makes it past the initial round is rewarded with a copy of some business plan-writing software. For me, that was enough of a reward to submit my idea of Weekend Student Adventures in the first place. I did it on my own, and laugh when I think back on the various holes in the concept, and continuously appreciate the patient advice I received from my advisors back in the Spring of 2009. Being a one-man show, I made it into the Semi-Finals but no farther.

A year later, I was able to take the written feedback of the judges from the previous year, compile them and use them as a road map to correct the mistakes I had made. In addition, I brought on a few teammates to compliment the classroom business knowledge I was lacking. With the help of a marketing student, Master’s of Accounting student, and a Finance MBA student, we were able to make it through the semi-final round, where they narrowed down the field to 6 out of over 100 entrants. The teams still standing each gave a 10-minute presentation with a 20-minute Q&A to follow conducted by a panel of hungry-for-dumb-meat ND alum entrepreneurs. In addition to the hours spent creating the business plan itself; I also designed a PowerPoint presentation that broke down our business model. We did our best to preemptively answer questions or tease out easy ones that we knew we could hit out of the park.

With sweaty palms and all, we were elated to hear we made it into the next round where the top 3 would present the next day to an auditorium on campus located in the top nationally ranked undergrad business school at Notre Dame. The next day, we stepped up to the stage and competed against concepts ranging from super-efficient hybrid diesel engine to advanced bone marrow transplant technology. As I was being mic’d up, hearing the team before us presenting, I could only think about how our idea paled in comparison in all aspects I could think of—exit strategies, P&L estimates, investment amounts and more. The Weekend Student Adventure idea was simple: weekend tour packages for the American student studying overseas in Europe. But the fact that I lived in the industry, had experience working in it, and had practically been indoctrinated by the top travel guru in the States, Rick Steves, gave the judges confidence enough to put their votes towards me, and we were selected as the grand prize winners of the Gigot Business Plan Competition for the Spring of ’10 just a few weeks before my graduation. In addition to that, we were selected for the Bernell Bootstrap award—given to any concept that could be started with under $100,000. Not a bad note to end on.

It was here I decided to go for it. I had been playing with the idea for the last few years, but it wasn’t until late in the year where I decided that I really had nothing to lose, and everything to gain in running with this idea.

 Over the summer, I road tripped all the way back from South Bend, Indiana stopping at a number of schools to introduce the WSA concept and get their feedback from it. On the first day, after packing until 5am, I left for Michigan State at 7am to be followed by the University of Michigan before crashing in Columbus that night. I spent a while in Columbus and Cincinnati before heading on to Kansas City for the 2010 NAFSA conference where we had paid for the distribution of 7,500 flyers with the tote bags handed out at the door. The conference was a great introduction to the industry that Pat and I would be jumping into later in the summer. We spent the week chatting it up with numerous people in different positions, learning from each as much as possible. 


Kyle Cook, Lebanon Valley College

Happy Backpackers

I went to Rome with a few of my friends. Before we got there, our tour guide, Rhianne, sent us plenty of information regarding how to arrive at the hostel, and what our Itinerary would be like. She also made it a point to meet up with people the night before if their flight got in early so students would have something to do. Having a tour guide that lived in the city was amazing. It made me not have to stress about getting lost, and provided many opportunities to eat at the best restaurants, and, most importantly, the best Gelato places. By the end of the tour, I was good friends with each of the 14 members of the tour group, including our tour guide. I definitely recommend taking a tour through WSA because the guides make you feel like they actually care about each person on the trip. I knew that I could just relax, and enjoy my trip.

Kyle Cook, Lebanon Valley College ~ Kingston University, London, Fall 2015

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