Student business attracts investors

Sicong Li started his own nonprofit organization at OU. His business, Ohio Think Design, received $30,000 from venture capitalists to create a business to connect Graphic Design majors to organizations and business in Athens and OU. (Greg Roberts | Picture Editor)

Following in his father’s entrepreneurial footsteps, an Ohio University student hopes $30,000 from investors will help transform the nonprofit organization he founded into a profitable business.

Sophomore Sicong Li, a student from China studying graphic design, founded Ohio Think Design last quarter to act as a matchmaker between organizations seeking help with graphic design and students specializing in graphic design.

The organization helps students gain real work experience, enhance their resumé and promote campus culture. Li said he had the idea for the organization while advertising events for the Chinese and American Business Organization and OU Media Catalyst.

“I noticed that the logos of our organizations were quite underdeveloped. But there are a lot of talented students out there who are eager to show what they’ve got,” Li said. “Then I realized someone needed to build a bridge between the two.”

After an informational meeting and sending out fliers, the organization received 50 applicants thus far, Li said. Ohio Think Design has helped design a poster for the College of Business, lay out a school magazine and create the logos of three school organizations.

But for Li, that is just the start. He is in the process of establishing a limited-liability company named Initio Creative with five other board members — including Russian, American and Chinese students.

Li said the team spent Winter Quarter preparing legal documents and fundraising. The group estimated that they would need $9,800 to make their business a reality, Li said, but managed to raise a total $30,000 dollars from two venture capitalists and Li’s family corporation in China.

Li said the key to successful fundraising is to provide potential investors with a well-prepared, comprehensive business plan, including how the team is going to run the company, who the company is targeting, the company’s goals and how they would spend the money.

Although Li has not encountered any significant problems so far, he said the process of establishing a company can be tricky, especially for an international student.

For example, a company has to have at least one native American as a board member, because international students are not eligible for establishing a limited-liability company alone.

Also, collaborating with people from different cultural backgrounds requires adaptation and patience from everyone involved, Li said.

Having known Li since he first joined the Chinese and American Business Organization last spring, Jeff Douglas, president of the organization, said Li is doing a great job.

“When I first met him, he was very humble, like most Chinese students because of the culture,” Douglas said. “But now, he is more confident, more of a leader.”

Once officially established, the company will work with Ohio Think Design on campus. Applicants will be interviewed and evaluated according to their skills. Qualified “talents” will be asked to sign a contract with the company so it can distribute their resumés to the most suitable potential employers.

Once the talents get hired by the matching employers and get paid, the company charges commission, Li said. Applicants whose skills don’t reach a certain standard will be kept within the organization and work with other nonprofit organizations on campus.

Although the company is not yet formally established, it is already attracting interested students such as Michelle Doe, a junior studying design who said she is interested in page layout and local branding advertising.

“What they do is really good because they give you the opportunity to work. That’s what a lot of us are in need of,” she said. “At the same time, they don’t encroach your schedule; they don’t let you work too much.”

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