Her Campus and Aussie Help Graduates Turn Business Dreams into Reality
Her Campus and Aussie host a competition to help graduates go after their passions in the wake of a pandemic and uncertain job market.
The global pandemic has made 2020 challenging in multifaceted ways, especially for college seniors who were on the verge of graduating in the spring. Not only were these students forced to finish their college careers remotely off campus, they now face job-hunting in an uncertain market.
But if you think these young graduates are giving up, think again. “Gen Z is a generation of doers,” says Windsor Hanger Western, co-founder of Her Campus, an online publication for college and GenZennial women. They’re getting creative and taking matters into their own hands.
Supporting college students has always been a goal of Her Campus — and now, with support from Aussie Hair Care, they’re giving this generation of creative go-getters the resources they need to take their passions to the next level.
Introducing the Aussie Business Plan Competition
After COVID-19 canceled many graduation ceremonies, the Aussie brand partnered with Her Campus to celebrate college seniors through a nationwide virtual graduation. But they didn’t want to stop there.
“We have been so inspired by our consumers and by what these graduating seniors were doing already — before they entered the real world. They’re trying to make a start and make a footprint in the world. We wanted to celebrate that, but meaningfully support it, too,” says Jen Thompson, Aussie’s senior brand director.
According to Western, hosting a business plan competition seemed like the perfect idea to continue to lift these students up. Having co-founded Her Campus by winning a business plan competition, she knows how crucial early support and funding can mean for eventual success.
Her Campus and Aussie launched the Aussie Business Plan Competition to help students and recent graduates start or grow their own businesses. “We wanted this business plan competition to be different,” says Western, so they recruited Gen Z entrepreneurs who weren’t your typical startup competition candidates. To qualify, the entrepreneurs had to be 18 to 24 years old, own a majority share in their business and have earned no more than $25,000 through their business annually. They wanted businesses that were sustainable yet creativity-focused and making a positive impact within their community.
The competition received more than 200 entries, which were narrowed down to 41 candidates. Throughout the competition, Aussie provided more than $150,000 in grant money, along with mentorship, college entrepreneur classes and more. Of the 41 candidates, 20 “Roo Crew Fellows” were invited to the final round to participate in a Virtual Pitch Day with Her Campus co-founders and P&G executives. Based on the pitches, 10 finalists were selected and awarded an additional $10,000 each.
“Having cash grants with no strings attached is rare and the most beneficial thing for a young business,” Western says. “It can be a real game changer … and can be the difference between, ‘Do I do this or do I not do this full time?’”
In addition to grant support, “there’s a lot of expertise and mentorship that we can meaningfully provide as an Aussie team to these movers and shakers,” Thompson says, noting that the team is excited to help accelerate and support these young entrepreneurs’ dreams.
Meet the Finalists
While it was difficult to choose the 10 finalists, Western says they selected the winners based on the candidate’s strengths, how well they reflected the values of the Aussie brand and how they enacted social responsibility. Learn more about the 10 finalists below.
Giving Young Women a Platform Where Their Voices Can Be Heard
Rising up while the world is crashing down is familiar territory to Western and her business partners, Annie Wang and Stephanie Kaplan. “We launched Her Campus in 2009 in the wake of the ’08-’09 financial crisis, after winning a business plan competition,” Western explains. “We’ve always believed that having that competition and having that structure in place really helped us put our idea down on paper and execute against it.”
Over the last decade they have created a successful media brand that elevates female student voices and gives college students the resources they need to start their own campus-specific online magazine. Today, Her Campus remains 100% women-owned and operated, with more than 400 campuses represented nationwide, making them the No. 1 publisher for college-age and GenZennial women.
Looking Ahead to What’s Next
Now more than ever, it’s important to invest in young entrepreneurs, especially women, who can bring a fresh, creative spin to our changing world. Looking ahead, Western hopes to make the business plan competition an annual event: “Providing opportunities and empowering young women is essential to everything we do.”
To the recent 2020 graduates, Thompson offers a heartfelt congratulations: “These are unusual times; these are difficult times. But what is difficult now is going to make you so much more resilient for what comes ahead of you from here.
“You are so inspiring, and you have big dreams … use those dreams as a compass to help guide you through, and know that we will be rooting for you every step of the way.”