Two GVSU students win $10,000 each in ‘Dolphin Tank’ entrepreneurship competition

GVL / Courtesy - (taken by Wrinkle Creative) 
Rhoda Klomega, left, and Katarina Samardzija each won $10,000 at the 2017 Dolphin Tank Entrepreneur You Business Plan and Pitch Competition November 9.

GVL / Courtesy – (taken by Wrinkle Creative) Rhoda Klomega, left, and Katarina Samardzija each won $10,000 at the 2017 Dolphin Tank Entrepreneur You Business Plan and Pitch Competition November 9.

Theresa Mueller

Grand Valley State University recently co-hosted the 2017 “Dolphin Tank” competition, a less intense version of the popular TV show “Shark Tank,” focusing on gender equity. Two GVSU students, Rhoda Klomega and Katarina Samardzija, each won $10,000 at the Entrepreneur You Business Plan and Pitch Competition on Thursday, Nov. 9.

Over the last three years, GVSU has collaborated with the Michigan Women’s Foundation to host the Dolphin Tank competition, which is a funding opportunity for women who wish to start a new business or expand an existing business.

“This program is really important not just for Grand Valley but to the Michigan community to help ensure that we’re advancing and accelerating women in business and entrepreneurship,” said Shorouq Almallah, director at the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI).

Almallah said the issue for female entrepreneurs is not a problem of access to funding but rather a disparity in the amount of funding provided for women compared to men. 

“Dolphin Tank and Michigan Women’s Foundation business plan competition(s) help provide the gap funding, get women the skill sets, the mentoring and the coaching that get women to the next level of funding,” Almallah said.

Klomega and Samardzija are both looking to expand their businesses and now have an opportunity to do so. 

Samardzija, a junior and marketing major, won $10,000 in prize money in the growth category for pitching her business, called Locker Lifestyle. 

Locker Lifestyle offers various products for wearable storage, such as wristbands and headbands that hold small items, including money, keys and even phones.

The Dolphin Tank award is one of many successes in entrepreneurship for Samardzija, but she has not always been interested in business. Upon coming to GVSU, she thought she was set on studying medicine, which almost caused her to opt out of joining GVSU’s varsity tennis team. 

It was Samardzija’s active lifestyle that inspired her products. She said she first got the idea for a product in June 2016 when she and her teammates went to the gym only needing keys and their IDs but were carrying extra items, including money and bulky wallets. Samardzija recalled they didn’t want to leave the valuables unattended in a locker without a lock or in an open cubby.

“I knew there had to be a solution, and I had to do something about it,” Samardzija said. 

This incident led her to begin collaborating with the seamstress at her mom’s bridal shop to create her first prototype. At that point, Samardzija knew her interests lay elsewhere, causing her to officially change direction from medicine to entrepreneurship.

“It’s been an exciting process,” she said. “It stems from being an active athlete my entire life and wanting a more convenient and versatile way to store small valuables.”

Samardzija has a good handle on balancing school, being a member of the GVSU tennis team and running her business. She portions her day in 30-minute increments and is always doing something to occupy her time, whether it be prepping meals, attending class or updating her website.  

“I personally don’t like having free time,” Samardzija said. “So, I enjoy putting all that effort into the business. I don’t mind it because I’ve learned so much and I get so much out of it, and people love to see the potential in the product, which is the most rewarding thing to me.”

Samardzija continues to refine her business ideas, and she has been utilizing various resources at the CEI.

“It was exciting to see her take the idea and grow it,” Almallah said. “I think the main thing she did so well was that she really leveraged the resources. I’ve seen her a lot in our offices, working with faculty, students, continuing to build on the idea.” 

Samardzija’s business efforts have been mostly independent, but she said her business would not be possible without the help of her mom, her aunt or the bridal shop seamstress. 

“I am a one-woman show right now, but I can only go so far on my own, and I am fully aware of that,” she said. 

As Samardzija considers new partners to collaborate with, she is planning to expand the brand around an “excuse-free, worry-free, active lifestyle.”

Almallah said being a student is the perfect time to start a business, as students have resources such as funding from competitions, scholarships and grants.

“It’s more difficult after graduation because you don’t have the same resources,” Almallah said.

Klomega, a senior and engineering major, is a member of Collegiate Entrepreneur Organization. She received the $10,000 prize money in the lifestyle category for her custom and handmade clothing business, Delasie. 

The business’ website describes Delasie as a fashion brand that specializes in custom and ready-to-wear handmade clothing and accessories that merge both European designs and meaningful African fabrics for men, women and children.

Klomega could not be reached for comment.