Business Administration Alumna Shares Professional Roadmap

Students listening to Michelle Smith '15 speak.
Students listening to Michelle Smith '15 speak.

Students listening to Michelle Smith ’15 speak.

Full circle moments happen a lot here at the School of Business! It is not uncommon for alumni to return to campus to speak to students as they cultivate connections and build their personal board of advisors. We recently welcomed back Michelle Smith ’15 (Honors Business Administration) to share her journey post-graduation.

Professor Lancie Affonso introducing Michelle Smith '15

On Feb. 25, Michelle (right) joined Professor Lancie Affonso’s (left) International Management class for “FanFare Friday” at the Stern Center Gardens.

Smith is currently entrepreneur-in-residence at Let’s Talk About Skills, Baby — an online media company founded by alumna Kelly Ryan Bailey ’01 — and program manager for Amazon’s Mechatronics and Robotics Apprenticeship program.

During her time at the College, Smith studied abroad during her freshmen year and participated in Project Okurase in Ghana. She also served as a Charleston 40 Tour Guide and was a Schottland Scholar. After graduation, Smith landed a management consulting position in Washington D.C., where she gathered experience working with a broad range of industries. After being laid off during the pandemic, she took time to consider her next career phase. She hired a career coach to assist in finding a breakthrough industry, which led her to a learning and development role in with Amazon.

Highlights of her professional journey include:

  • Consulting: being a subject matter expert for clients to provide business recommendations, design presentations and work on special projects
  • TED Tech: continuous education and upscaling/learning and development at the corporate level
  • Let’s Talk Skills, Baby: Helping job seekers with entry-level career and career transition
  • Amazon: one year logistics role, pinpointing new buildings and delivery stations
  • Amazon Robotics: learning and developing role, onboarding and training new engineers for robotic automation

Smith also opened the floor for questions related to resume and interview prep, personal financial planning and career direction. Here are some useful tips she provided to the class:

  • Practice visualizing your future with visioning exercises.
  • Include considerations for locations, interests, and cost of living in your job search.
  • Understand that “skills” are not limited to technical skills. Negotiation and life skills are just as valuable to employers!

Listen to Smith speak with Cory Werkheiser on the latest episode of Biz e-Werk on the future of work!

Alums Make Their Mark With Business Apis Mercantile

Apis Mercantile founders John Berdux and Liam Becker
Apis Mercantile founders John Berdux and Liam Becker

Apis Mercantile founders John Berdux and Liam Becker

 

As seen in The College Today.

Tucked into a nondescript string of warehouses on James Island is a burgeoning enterprise founded by two College of Charleston alumni and operated by several more. Liam Becker ’16 and John Berdux ’14 – the founders and proprietors of Apis Mercantile – are steadily making inroads with their business, which includes a line of health supplements and body care and specialty food products made from beehive ingredients and hemp extract.

Despite being a relatively young company – Apis Mercantile was established in 2017 – this business supplies products to over 300 stores across the U.S. And recently, Becker and Berdux have begun to provide raw honey to restaurants and specialty food makers throughout the Carolina Lowcountry.

“We started out as a hemp products company,” explains Berdux, who majored in anthropology and political science. “Our friend Matt Rowe ’14 started a hemp farm in Colorado, so we partnered with him for the hemp extract. But I’ve always had a passion for beekeeping, so it was only natural that we expanded from selling honey infused with hemp extract to selling raw honey as well.”

Becker and Berdux both trace their business interests back to the time when they lived together during college in a house on St. Philip Street.

“We all had different hobbies in college,” explains Becker, whose major was business administration. “Matt would always be growing something in the backyard – grapes, peppers, all kinds of vegetables. And John had his beehives back there, while I had a small surfboard repair business tucked away in the corner. It was a really creative household and we all supported one another.”

Shortly after they graduated from the College, this trio connected over the winter holidays and decided to work together. Rowe was already farming in Colorado, so Berdux and Becker decided they’d form a company to sell products made with hemp extract.

“We were actually the first company to approach the South Carolina Department of Agriculture about producing and selling hemp food products in the Palmetto State,” says Berdux. “Before we got the state to agree to regulate our industry, we had to do our infusions in Colorado and then ship the products back here to be processed for sale.”

Since those early days, Apis Mercantile has grown considerably. Berdux and Becker now employ three other CofC graduates: Robert Bernatavitz ’19, Rachel Tavolacci ’20 and Eliot Doub ’16. They also occasionally rely on Josh Schmidt ’14 to serve unofficially as the company’s chief financial officer.

Five days a week and sometimes six, the 1,500-square-foot space that the company occupies is as busy as a proverbial beehive. There’s usually someone operating the automated labeling machine while someone else is filling glass bottles with honey and another person is packaging products for shipping. Near the front door, Becker along with Berdux’s wife, Isabel, work the phones, talking with clients and arranging new orders.

Getting to this level of success hasn’t been without its hurdles. Both partners say they had to learn new skills and lean heavily on a network of advisors that includes several professors at the College.

Chris Starr ’83 (who taught computer science and entrepreneurship until recently) was a huge source of guidance for us,” Becker recalls. “Dr. David Wyman, who runs the ImpactX program, was also helpful. And we’ve gotten a lot of advice from Glenn Starkmann (the College’s entrepreneur in residence).”

All of that counsel came in handy as the duo navigated the challenges of growing a business during a global pandemic.

“I would say that Liam and I have become creative problem solvers,” Berdux explains, “and we’re not afraid to ask for help, but yeah, the past year was tough. A lot of our sales channels closed as businesses slowed or shuttered. So, we had to develop different revenue streams, and part of that was introducing raw honey to our product line.”

For both Becker and Berdux, being in business means much more than simply turning a profit. Their company has always been managed with sustainability in mind. On one level, that means packaging products in recyclable glass jars and compostable paper tubes. On another it means working directly with beekeepers so that those farmers realize a better profit margin without middle men involved. It also means modeling Apis Mercantile as a good community partner.

“We’ve always been community oriented,” Berdux says. “We work with and support several local nonprofits. To support organizations such as Surfers Healing, Warrior Surf Foundation and the Green Heart Project is important because these organizations do vital work and make a tangible difference enriching the lives of people who wouldn’t otherwise have that.”

In the near future, Berdux and Becker plan to expand their facility to accommodate a growing demand for Apis Mercantile’s products. Their plans also include taking on more employees.

“If we can hire more graduates from the College,” Becker says, “that’s what we’ll do. After all, we know the caliber of people coming out of there – it’s where we got our start.”

Accounting and Dance Major Counts Both Numbers and Beats

Double majoring in accounting and dance isn’t usual, but that’s the business school way. Many of our students complement their business education with coursework in the arts. The ability to study both accounting and dance is what drew Maggie Howe ‘21 to the College.

Watch below as Maggie attends her business and dance courses, enjoys Charleston’s beaches, attends site visits as a part of the Schottland Scholars program and more.

“You never know where the campus ends, and the city begins,” shares the Honors College student.

School of Business Named Official University Alliance Partner by CCIM Institute

The Commercial Real Estate Finance (CREF) program at the College of Charleston School of Business is raking in more career-boosting advantages for its ready-to-work students. Recently, the Certified Commercial Investment Member Institute (CCIM) named CofC’s School of Business a university alliance partner for its undergraduate real estate program.

Read More at The College Today.

Finance Alum Ventures Off the Beaten Path to Entrepreneurship

Photo of Mike Gelber
Photo of Mike Gelber

Mike Gelber ’17

When Mike Gelber ’17 graduated from the College of Charleston with a degree in finance, he was ready to make his mark in the world by working for one of the nation’s largest banking institutions. But, once he decided to trade in investments and financial markets for code, he struck gold.

Six months after working in the finance industry, Gelber left to pursue a career in technology ­— a tough feat considering he did not possess the background. Despite that, he landed a job at the internet advertising exchange company AppNexus in New York. While working there, he began to teach himself how to code and eventually enrolled in a coding boot camp at Columbia University. With two years at AppNexus, four months of boot camp and a new wealth of knowledge under his belt, Gelber left AppNexus to start his own company with his co-founder, Paul Ballas.

The company was built from the ground up thanks to endless hours spent coding — 14-hour days, seven days a week, for over a month, to be exact.

“In the end, we built a deeply powerful, but stunningly simple product,” says Gelber. Enter AdHouse.

AdHouse is a revolutionary online advertising product for health care providers such as doctors, surgeons, chiropractors, physical therapists and nutritionists. It gives health care providers autonomy while providing them more bang for their buck.

“Many healthcare providers are tasked not only with providing a service, but also owning a business and building a brand to get patients in the door,” explains Gelber. “Not only is that an incredibly difficult thing to do, but they are up against huge management companies that are paying agencies millions of dollars and can’t compete.”

Gelber says that AdHouse fills an important gap by giving small businesses access to a tool that large ad agencies use, but stripping it down enough to make it easy to use and inexpensive.

“Our service is so easy to use that a health care provider with no advertising experience can buy ads in less than 60 seconds,” he shares.

Healthcare practitioners can use granular targeting to display ads across the internet according to specific zip codes and those who have specific insurance providers. Their ads will appear in places like the New York Times, WebMD, USA Today, Men’s Health and more.

Although his current career may not directly align with his degree to the naked eye, even as a numbers-focused finance major, Gelber’s time at the School of Business gave him a glimpse of entrepreneur life. He credits his involvement in entrepreneurship classes offered by the School and the School of Business Investment Program led by Mark Pyles, Ph.D. as great trial runs for the duties he now performs as a co-founder.

“Constantly presenting in front of people and front loading that nervousness as a student helps so that later in life, you’re more comfortable talking to a room of people.”

According to Gelber, people made the transition from finance to owning a tech business easier.

“It really comes down to who is willing to talk to you and who is willing to teach you,” he says.

AdHouse officially launched last month to help health practitioners brand their practice at the lowest cost, with no prior knowledge and little time commitment. For more information, visit the website.