Virginia Tech students, along with local business owners and residents alike, packed into Davidson Hall auditorium for a lecture from Marcus Lemonis, a millionaire businessman and star from CNBC’s reality TV shows "The Profit" and "The Partner" on April 7.
The event, however, was less of a traditional lecture and more of a discussion, facilitating a conversation with real people about their own stories, purposes and goals.
Lemonis’ visit was a long time in the making. Virginia Tech initially collided with Lemonis when the Virginia Tech football team was set to compete in the 2015 Independence Bowl — an event put on by Camping World, of which Lemonis is CEO.
Prior to the game, then-sophomore Miya Grimaldi began a social media campaign to bring Lemonis to campus, saying that if the Hokies prevailed, Lemonis would have to come to Blacksburg.
When Grimaldi initially came to campus her freshman year, her living-learning community, Innovate, asked every student the same question: “If they could bring anyone to campus, who would it be?" Grimaldi’s response was Lemonis, her longtime inspiration and role model to become an entrepreneur. So, when the Hokies were slated to play at the Independence Bowl, Grimaldi saw her opportunity.
“I started a social media campaign (to bring Lemonis to Virginia Tech),” Grimaldi said. “That’s the moment where I thought, ‘This could actually work.'”
The challenge gained a following on social media, with over 200 people supporting Grimaldi’s proposal, which Grimaldi says “definitely got his (Lemonis’) attention.”
And it certainly did grab the attention of the millionaire businessman, as he responded, agreeing to Grimaldi’s challenge. The Hokies ended up defeating Tulsa in a shootout game, 55–52, which Grimaldi says left her “absolutely, very nervous, the whole time.”
Lemonis’ lecture had interactive elements, regularly talking to audience members about their lives, their purposes and motivations and their aspirations in business. He even went so far as to call particular students up to the front of the auditorium to address the questions they had and to create a true relationship with those in the audience.
The session was divided into two parts — the first hour began with Lemonis talking about his personal experiences with life and business and the second half was a Q&A session, which included Hokies from the Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship pitching their own ideas to Lemonis, in the hopes of obtaining an investment from him.
Grimaldi remarked that the second half of the lecture really brought out the idea of Lemonis’ purpose, to serve others instead of himself.
“It’s not for him, it’s really not about the money," Grimaldi said. “He’s a very personable person, and he’s there to help these people, and all of their employees, and he cares about their livelihood.”
One of the individuals that Lemonis had significant interaction with during the session was sophomore Danielle Jeffers, who founded "Dough 4 Degrees" in 2016, a scholarship coaching service that helps students that are seeking scholarships. According to the D4D website, these students “earn scholarships and graduate (college) debt free.” So far, D4D has helped more than 30 families earn over $60,000 in scholarships.
The idea grew out of Jeffers’ personal experiences of applying to college. Through her hustle to find scholarships, she managed to obtain over $100,000 for her education, and amassed 14 different scholarships.
Jeffers was one of the students to ask a question, raising her hand with a question about how to approach her own business which intrigued Lemonis, and soon had him inquiring questions of his own about Dough 4 Degrees.
What happened after, Jeffers described as “truly a blessing,” as Lemonis proceeded to offer a sizable investment of $30,000 in Jeffers’ business. Through the talk, they established how the money would be spent, constructing an app version of the scholarship coaching system.
Jeffers became instantly emotional upon hearing Lemonis’ proposal, saying that his investment meant the world to her. For Jeffers, this opportunity not only helped her receive valuable financial assistance, but also gave her a strategic partner and someone that she can go to for advice on how to make her business successful.
“I was not expecting an investment," Jeffers said. "I was nervous while pitching (Dough 4 Degrees), but I felt more comfortable as the conversation (with Lemonis) progressed.”
When Lemonis began hearing and possibly investing in the entrepreneurial ideas from Virginia Tech students, Grimaldi felt particularly touched, especially given that many of the students that pitched their ideas were close friends of hers.
About the investments that occurred at the session, Grimaldi said, “After that, I realized that I started this campaign, and it turned into so much more than I would have expected.”