First-year Student Takes a Top Prize
Best Undergraduate Venture at McCloskey New Venture Competition Awarded to
Saint Mary’s Innovator
Last August, Sofia Dolan '26 entered Saint Mary’s College with a desire to fully immerse herself in the campus community and develop herself both personally and professionally. In late September, an invitation to participate in the McCloskey New Venture Competition from Stacie Jeffirs, director of the Career Crossings Office, piqued her interest. Her eagerness to be an engaged student on campus led her to submit an idea to the competition hosted by the Idea Center at the University of Notre Dame. Dolan’s answer to the call provided a transformational experience for her as a first-year student, and, on top of that, the EquiCorp Award for the Best Undergraduate Venture for her product, Bike Basics.
After hearing about the McCloskey New Venture Competition, an opportunity open to all students where they can test and present ideas, receive mentorship from area experts, compete for prizes, and strengthen startup venture skills, Dolan began to consider her own experiences on campus. Then she started the work of brainstorming ideas to solve a problem faced by students. “As I was riding my bike down a dark road, I felt very uncomfortable and uneasy. I decided to do something about it, so women can feel safer knowing they have tools to protect themselves.” From this initial observation, the idea for Bike Basics was born.
Dolan knew that any consumer could buy individual tools for self-defense online. Her prototype, however, provides the mechanism to attach these tools inconspicuously to a bike seat while remaining easily accessible. The product can also be adapted to different modes of transportation, like scooters and skateboards. The Idea Center helped her develop and manufacture her product. The result is a neat package of emergency equipment that includes a red pepper spray, flashlight, and pocket knife, all securely attached underneath a bike seat.
After just one month of conceptualizing, Dolan submitted her idea to the first round of the competition on October 25. She was up against 141 teams from across the world, some of which had been working on their products for years. The fact that Dolan was a team of one with an idea mere months in development separated her from the pack. Though she ran solo at this stage of the competition, Dolan created two advisory boards of friends, students, and other connections to provide valuable feedback to her work. She eventually added her parents to her team, too, creating more support as she launched her product. Dolan also looked to Saint Mary’s faculty James Rogers and Jessica White for mentorship in business marketing and finance. Her work and dedication landed her a spot in the semifinals among just 30 teams, an achievement she had never expected.
On April 20, Dolan presented her prototype to a panel of 20 judges as the founder and CEO of Bike Basics. One of the requirements to enter the McCloskey New Venture Competition is that teams must include at least one student from the campus community. Semifinalist teams ranged in size, and some were led by professionals with experience in startup businesses. Dolan stood out among competitors from South Bend to Ireland, who were offering solutions to challenging problems including social media addiction, gender and racial biases in business, and food insecurity.
After her presentation in the semifinals, Dolan said many of the panelists approached to congratulate her on her professionalism; some even offered her internships with their companies. Dolan credits an acting course in the Theatre Program taught by Professor Susan Baxter with giving her confidence and preparing her for the stage. The judges were surprised to hear Dolan was only a first-year in college and were thrilled to have a Saint Mary’s student represented in the mix of semifinalists.
At the McCloskey Startup Showcase held in the Joyce Center on April 21, Dolan’s hard work and enthusiasm were recognized with the EquiCorp Award for the Best Undergraduate Venture and a prize of $10,000. She plans to invest her prize money in Bike Basics, and hopefully, in time, bring it to market. Dolan’s next steps are to give free prototypes to college students in return for feedback to help her improve her product to meet consumer demands. From there, she’ll scale up to reach college campuses across the United States, eventually selling directly to bike manufacturers.
Dolan said the entire process was a “great learning experience.” Her hope is that she might inspire other Saint Mary’s students to get involved and take risks, thus opening doors to new possibilities.
April 28, 2023