Back in fall 2010, McPherson College started a simple little entrepreneurial experiment: Give MC students with great ideas a little seed money to turn a dream into reality.
And so the Horizon Fund rose…pun intended.
Now more than three years and 100 ideas later, McPherson College has the privilege of seeing what most of those first recipients are doing today after graduation from MC.
The Horizon Fund hasn’t resulted in the next Microsoft, Kiva or Kickstarter, but that was never really the point.
The point was to allow MC students to learn through one of the most powerful motivators - their own dreams and passions.
Here’s an update on three grant recipients in Horizon Fund - year one: Zack Gaddis, Emily James and Dale Schwartz.
Gaddis ’12, Oklahoma, Okla., received a grant along with Jared Stevenson ’11, Broken Arrow, Okla., to pay for initial copyrighting fees to start their own label called G-1 Entertainment (G-1 for “God first”).
The grant allowed them to secure copyright and for Gaddis to release his first album - “College Boy” - as a free download.
After graduation, Gaddis returned to Oklahoma. There his full-time careers have been solid - even though outside of the music industry - as an insurance agent with AAA Insurance and a student adviser at Mid America University since July 2012 in Oklahoma City.
The grant has still had a profound influence on his life, however, that he never would have access to without the Horizon Fund. He’s enjoyed something of a parallel or shadow career as a Christian music artist all along the way. This has led to opportunities to travel and perform - including Houston and San Antonio in Texas and Nashville, Tenn.
His largest audience so far has been a crowd of about 10,000 people at the Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas, in 2012 as he opened for the Reach Records concert tour. Reach Records is a large Christian hip-hop label out of Atlanta.
Gaddis also received an invitation in summer 2013 to perform praise music on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) - the most-watched faith-based television channel in the United States. That, in turn, led to at least two more concert invitations.
He’s continuing to develop his style and has even released his second album - “Here Now” - which can be heard at iamzg.jimdo.com and has been downloaded more than 6,000 times so far. His inspiration always comes from his life, Gaddis said, and sometimes the words are raw and brutally honest.
“Every single song I write comes from a life experience,” he said. “Whether that’s a good experience or a bad experience.”
For example, in his recent song “Lonely Road,” he sings:
“Life seemed perfect on my own. But then I found Christ, everything went wrong.”
But the message in the end comes back around to faith and trust.
“I need to bow down and get off my throne,” he sings. “I need you, Lord, ‘cause now I feel so cold.”
His style is changing, too, becoming more acoustic. Music has also affected his personal life, as one of the strong points of personal connection with his newlywed wife, April. They are now composing music as a duo under the name “From A to Z.”
“The Horizon Grant really helped me gain so much confidence with what I was doing,” he said. “It got me to work even harder knowing that what we were doing was getting noticed. Eyes were watching and ears were listening. I would still be doing music, but it wouldn’t be on this scale.”
The community garden on the McPherson College campus has endured and thrived even after James of Westminster, Colo., graduated in 2013. This is largely because a current student - Lara Neher, junior, Grundy Center, Iowa - is still at MC and helping to organize work days and keep the project active.
But James also helped establish an idea with her Horizon Fund grant that both McPherson and McPherson College have embraced and made their own.
The Horizon Fund grant helped with initial equipment such as fertilizer, hoses, wheelbarrows and other tools. It also helped set up infrastructure such as water pipes and compost bins.
“One of the things I like about community gardens is it’s an easy way for people to be involved in planting things and the environment,” James said.
While James still checks in from time to time on how the garden is doing, her direct involvement is minimal.
In her career, however, she has not strayed far from her interest in the environment and growing plants. Currently she’s part of the plant ecology lab at Utah State University, helping to map the status of grasslands at three sites in Idaho, New Mexico and Kansas. Her work builds upon a huge set of data at those sites, going back more than 90 years.
Using a device called a pantograph, her work involves precise record-keeping of each plant and blade of grass - by species - one square-meter plot at a time. Each plot takes 15 minutes to three hours to complete.
By the time she’s done with this mapping, she’ll have completed about 100 plots across the three sites. This is roughly akin to going to the grass tennis courts at Wimbledon and precisely recording each blade of grass on one side of the net.
The information has important implications for how cattle rangers manage their land and for tracking how climate change is influencing - and may influence - the distribution of grasslands.
The community garden taught James about motivating others and organizing groups, she said, as well as convincing her of the importance of good communication with the wider public. That will be an important part of her future research.
On a personal level, it’s changed some of her own daily habits, such as keeping a personal garden of her own and learning how to can her extra produce for later.
If an opportunity to do another community garden or similar project came her way, James said, she’d like to work on one again.
“I’m looking for ways that people can be involved in scientific understanding,” she said, “In a way that affects the choices they make.”
A career in automotive parts had long been Schwartz’s plan even before the Horizon Fund. That plan got an extra twist, however, as a result of his Horizon Fund grant and a gentle nudge from his mother to try something creative and artistic.
When the Crystal Lake, Ill., native first revealed his creation in front of the Horizon Fund committee, it took a moment before they realized what they were looking at - a stylish lamp made entirely of authentic car parts.
Now Schwartz, who graduated in 2011, works full-time at his father’s business, Schwartz Performance, which builds performance-oriented muscle cars, and also manufactures chassis for them. They’ve received recent awards and honors, including “Pro Builder of the Year” by “Carcraft Magazine” and working on a car that was named “Popular Hot Rodding Magazine’s” “Muscle Car of the Year” in a racing and design competition in Columbus, Ohio.
But even during his regular job, his artistic brain never really turns off, especially because he handles all purchasing for the business.
“Pretty much every part that I look at, something hits me that makes me think of lamps,” he said. “I’m constantly researching, but not really meaning to. There’s a ton of possibilities.”
He’s now opened a shop at Etsy (www.etsy.com/shop/speedlamps) - a website for crafters to sell their handmade work directly to consumers. He’s also planning to have a tent at the “Fair Diddley” arts and crafts fair in Woodstock, Ill., next year and is considering putting some of his work on consignment in some family-owned shops in Woodstock Square.
He’s now sold about 20 lamps using such diverse parts as camshafts, exhaust pipe, master cylinders, brake lines, brake rotors, distributors, ignition boxes, mufflers and air filters (as a lampshade).
The experience of creating Speed Lamps has influenced his daily work, too, as he now considers what he orders beyond its function as a car part. Aesthetics and design are aspects he considers as well because of his lamps. In turn, industry contacts in his full-time job have provided him with parts for free that didn’t meet quality standards but that are perfect for lamps.
He admits that he may - at times - take it a bit far. For example, if his girlfriend loses track of him at the store, there’s a sure bet of where she’s going to find him.
“It’s pretty crazy how much I think about lamps. It’s the weirdest thing to say,” he said. “Every time I go to WalMart, I take a look at the lampshades to see what they have that’s new. I could go there twice a week and both times I would wander down the lampshade aisle.”
Schwartz gives the full credit to McPherson College and the Horizon Fund for encouraging him in his artistry.
“The whole fact of the Horizon Fund ignited that spark for lamps… ignited the light bulb on a lamp,” he said, with pun presumably intended. “The idea wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the Horizon Fund.”
Micro-grants of just $500 through the college’s Horizon Fund have made a significant difference in the lives of enterprising MC students.
See what Horizon Fund students are doing
An update on three grant recipients - now grads - from year one of the Horizon Fund.
Zack Gaddis, Emily James and Dale Schwartz
In Kansas, a Young Investor Navigates the Stock Market
The Chronicle of Higher Education
President Schneider is interviewed by KWCH (CBS) about the $1.2 million anonymous gift to entrepreneurship initiative.
Dr. Betsy Gatewood talks about the Entrepreneurship Fellow position and entrepreneurship at McPherson College.
President Michael Schneider introduces the Horizon Fund initiative to help fund students who have original entrepreneurial ideas.