UrbanCents offers Groupon-type services for the WU community
The start-up, which follows a format similar to Groupon, offers students discount deals to businesses near campus, and donates a portion of its profits to charity.
Juniors Julia Pockros and Clara Jaques launched UrbanCents two weeks ago.
They began creating their business model last year and presented their ideas to the StEP Advisory Board. According to Pockros, she and Jaques have not seen this model at other universities.
“I was thinking of taking the model that was nationwide and making it for a smaller population,” Pockros said. “I had not heard of one that existed at colleges, so we decided to try to implement it at colleges.”
Generally, the business will offer a weekly deal of a 30- to 50-percent discount at a local business.
UrbanCents’ first deal was $10 for a dozen cookies and two glasses of milk at Dough to Door. The current deal offered is two large pizzas from Mike Duffy’s Pub & Grill for $17—50 percent off of the normal price. Future deals are planned for FroYo, spinning classes and Three Kings.
Unlike Groupon, none of the UrbanCents deals have “tipping points.” This means that each deal is guaranteed regardless of how many people buy it. Furthermore, UrbanCents’ deals are more targeted to the Washington University student body than those on St. Louis’ Groupon page.
“It is our goal to find vendors that we love, that we know Wash. U. students will love, that have been around for a while, that might not get the publicity that they deserve, and we try to seek those people out,” Pockros said.
Five percent of the proceeds from each offer will be used to support a local non-profit organization. The current charity is the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, whose long-term goal is to conduct scientific research that will increase the amount of sustainable food available.
“[Having the specific charities] makes it more tangible for our consumers than just supporting a blind charity,” Jaques said.
According to Pockros, UrbanCents plans on donating between $100 to $200 to the first charity before changing to a new non-profit to support.
“It was important for us to build a business that worked with the Wash. U. community as well as with the greater St. Louis community,” Pockros said. “The idea is that we are fulfilling the needs of the Wash. U. students while giving back to greater St. Louis.”
According to Jaques, the business differs from Bear Discounts because it offers larger discounts to help students try new things in the St. Louis area, whereas Bear Discounts offers smaller discounts to more vendors. Pockros and Jaques both hope to work with Bear Discounts in the future.
“Being students here, we know what the students want and we can look for deals that apply to all groups of students,” Jaques said. “We are open to suggestions from the Wash. U. community.”
UrbanCents is one of ten businesses in StEP. Others include Bear Discounts and Wydown Water.
According to Mary Zabriskie—the assistant director of campus life, StEP advisor, and the administrator in charge of meeting with students to discuss their business models—students from all different academic schools own StEP businesses.
“We are always looking for new businesses,” Zabriskie said. “It is always good to have this business experience, regardless of what you are studying.”
Now that UrbanCents has launched, Pockros and Jaques are focused on increasing the word of mouth on campus.
“Our biggest goal right now is to work on advertisement, since it’s just the two of us,” Pockros said. “We are having some trouble reaching out to undergraduates, graduates, faculty and staff, because this business is supposed to be accessible to anyone in the Wash. U. community.”
According to Zabriskie, it is typical for a new StEP business to be relatively unknown.
“It’s like starting a new business in any community,” Zabriskie said. “It takes time to get the name out and get the business to grow.”
Zabriskie is confident in the future of UrbanCents, especially once the word gets out about the deals.
“I think it’s a very exciting business proposition,” Zabriskie said. “It’s interesting that they have tied a popular concept to a student population.”
While the short-term goal is to build though word of mouth, Pockros and Jaques eventually want to expand the model to other universities around the country.
“I think if people could just try us, they’d love us,” Pockros said.