A young Grand Falls-Windsor man took his business acumen and creativity to the Atlantic stage of an awards program last week.
Alex Hennifent, currently a student at the College of the North Atlantic, participated in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, Atlantic Canada Qualifiers event last Thursday in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The only student entrepreneur selected from Newfoundland and Labrador, Hennifent competed against four other student entrepreneurs for a chance to represent Atlantic Canada at the nationals in Toronto, Ontario. He placed second, earning himself a prize package estimated to be worth more than $15,000.
The young entrepreneur took a positive approach to his finish.
“Obviously placing first would be fantastic, but now that I look at it I am thinking the prizes that were included for second place may even be better in my opinion,” he said.
“I’m very excited to get to work with the very reputable Journeyman films. It’s still not set in stone as to what the film will be exactly, but we will be working together to develop a film for VOLTFUSE. This will be a large boost to my marketing for sure. Along with all of the other prizes included, they will definitely be utilized to the maximum. I am very excited to see what the future brings.”
The winner moves on to compete against the world’s best student entrepreneurs at the Global Finals for their chance at the grand prize of $50,000.
Before the competition, Hennifent said one of the biggest challenges was paring down the information about his business and his passion into the 12 minutes allowed.
“It was a great experience to come out here and able to tell the story behind VOLTFUSE and the future plans,” Hennifent said the day after his participation. “I’m very happy with how I performed and the information I presented, but like anything there is always room to improve. I have some more future events coming up so being able to attend this was a great trial-run to prepare me for (those) events.”
Building a business
Hennifent, 19, started his business, VOLTFUSE, five years ago. While it started as a way to promote local snowboarding in his hometown, Hennifent has since turned his passion for snowboarding into something much more – a successful Newfoundland-based headwear and clothing brand.
“I started VOLTFUSE in June 2010 because I love snowboarding. I knew the chances of making it as a professional, paid snowboarder were very unlikely so I needed to find a way that would allow me to snowboard and do something that I loved. That inspired me to create a headwear and clothing brand, focused on snowboarding and skateboarding,” Hennifent said.
“Looking at the snowboard industry, I knew that a lot of the brands owned by corporations are not snowboarder owned and driven, and that’s what I wanted to position the brand as; creating products by snowboards for snowboarders,” he said in a press release issued by his college. “I’m tall and skinny so growing up I had hard time finding comfortable fitting clothing. That inspired me to create a tall fitting clothing line for lanky, skinny people to encompass snowboarding and causal fitting clothing.”
He started off small, with an initial investment of just $500 which he used to buy blank t-shirts and screen printing supplies. Originally, Hennifent handmade all of the products himself.
“I spent my time printing the shirts and hand sewing on the tags and patches on the hats and facemasks. I used to get my friends and local snowboarders throughout Newfoundland to wear the products and endorse it,” he said. “Through their snowboarding and travels more people heard about the brand. From their feedback I was able to improve the product and ultimately grow the brand over time.”
Reinvesting all of his profits kept him from taking out loans and eventually moved the production to overseas suppliers.
“I design the product, source it, market it, advertise it, I do it all myself. The business allows me to apply my creative outlook to develop new types of products and improve them. It’s sold in retailers throughout Newfoundland, as well as online, which makes it available all over the world,” he said.
“It’s in the core area of snowboarding and skateboarding and I sponsor athletes all across the world who endorse the brand. I sponsor 20 snowboarders worldwide who are up-and-coming professional snowboarders that I’ve met through my travels while snowboarding, and who I felt would be a good asset to the brand,” Hennifent continued. “They fit my brand image so I use them to promote it through the contests they compete in and snowboard movies they are featured in.”
His passion for snowboarding brought him to Corner Brook, so he could access the west coast ski resort at Marble Mountain and also attend CNA’s Business Administration Marketing program. Hennifent is in his second year of studies.
“I had the practical, from running and starting a business myself, but then I wanted to apply more of the book background. I wanted to get some actual structure behind it and to back it all up with book knowledge. CNA best suited me because I didn’t want to do university for four years. I wanted something quicker so I could have something to show for it in less time.”
For more information about Hennifent’s business, VOLTFUSE, visit www.voltfuse.com.