Online marketing platform to help Simpson entrepreneurs


Photo Courtesy of Marilyn Mueller

by Randy Paulson, Editor-in-Chief

Simpson College entrepreneurs looking to expand their business potential now have a new online option available to them: Maple Tree Marketplace.

Senior management capstone students Alli Platte, Jose Lopez and Rebecca White launched the marketing platform at StartUp Storm on Nov. 16, where they presented it in front of students and faculty.

Platte said the main purpose of the website is to provide clients access to a greater audience.

“But we’re also helping advise them which type of business to start and some of the legal ramifications,” Platte added. “We’re just kind of educating entrepreneurs that don’t really know where to start.”

Marilyn Mueller, professor of management and adviser for the management capstone class this semester, said Maple Tree Marketplace started a few years ago in the capstone. The first iteration of the platform was a website called Simpson Arts Lab.

Eventually, the project merged with advertising work EMERGE@Simpson Program Coordinator Todd Kielkopf was doing at the time with Indianola Municipal Utilities.

“There was also a CEO (Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization) team that wanted to do more of  ‘how do we sell business services to each other?’” Kielkopf said.

“I was like ‘OK, now we have all these ideas, we have student energy, how do we ramp this up to an online platform?’” he added.

Platte said the platform is open to all Simpson students, faculty and staff who have their own business or who seek to start one. When they hear about someone with a special skill or brand who they think would be a good fit for Maple Tree Marketplace, they reach out to that person.

This was the case with junior A.J. Jackson, who uses Maple Tree Marketplace to promote his business, Advertising by Jackson.

Jackson, a public relations and finance major who has contributed to The Simpsonian, said the Maple Tree team had reached out to him on the advice of Kielkopf.

“Maple Tree Marketplace has a great potential to benefit college businesses in the surrounding community,” Jackson said in an email. “I hope to see it grow in the future.”

Jackson’s business had already been operating by the time Maple Tree Marketplace launched, but Mueller clarified in a separate email that students don’t need an existing business to join.

“We will help them establish themselves so they can develop and grow their idea,” she said.

Senior Andrew Bowles, another business management major who has been working on Maple Tree Marketplace, said those wishing to join the website do so by clicking the Join the Market button in the top-right corner of the site and fill out a form.

“And then we pretty much take all that information and throw it on the website so people can look at it,” Bowles added.

However, the team screens applications to make sure they would be a good fit for the website, according to Lopez.

The team encountered several challenges turning the idea of Maple Tree Marketplace into a reality. For example, Platte said they had originally tried to make the website a transactional one.

“Originally, we were going to get a share of every sale with our vendors, but it just got to the point where it was too complicated,” she said.

She also explained the end goal of the platform wasn’t for them to make money but rather to help entrepreneurs in the Simpson community.

Lopez said another challenge was making the website user-friendly. He and Bowles collaborated on designing the site, and their goal was to make it easy to use.

Meanwhile, White said she was able to use skills she developed in her accounting major and from preparing taxes last spring to educate entrepreneurs on how taxes and liability would impact their businesses.

She said she has been working on a module to eventually put on the website that will “help (Maple Tree Marketplace clients) decide on a business structure and just get them thinking about the different liabilities that happen when you start a business.”

Now that the website has launched, Platte said the current goal is to get more people on the website and help them set up their businesses.

“And then long term, we’ve talked about maybe creating an app and then also revisiting the money situation about getting a percentage from the sale,” she said.

Kielkopf said another goal is to get more student leadership involved with Maple Tree Marketplace and perhaps even start paid internships for students to oversee the website outside of class.

“We’re wide open for students, faculty and staff to participate in any number of ways,” Mueller said. “And the management capstone class next semester will continue with this project, and because we’re tied to the capstone, we are gaining more and more momentum so we’ll continue to grow and flourish.”

Students interested in getting involved with Maple Tree Marketplace can contact Mueller at [email protected] or Kielkopf at [email protected].