ILR student entrepreneurs' "Big Idea" leads to successful web business invites public to save on burritos, rain boots and pizza
ILR student entrepreneurs’ “Big Idea” leads to successful web business
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Blend "scrimp" and "simple" with splashes of lime green, $9,000 in capital, dozens of clients and two delightful, vigorous entrepreneurs under the age of 22., managed by a pair of ILR students, has taken off.

Affirmation has come the way of 11,000 site visitors and a $2,500 first-place prize in "The Big Idea" competition sponsored by Entrepreneurship@Cornell in April.

More than 5,000 coupons showcasing deals in Collegetown and downtown Ithaca have generated an estimated $20,000 in sales for the local economy since the site launched last year.

From's website, coupons can be printed or texted – just show the cell phone text to a participating merchant and, voila, the discount is yours.

Each time a coupon is redeemed at Subway in Collegetown, Fontana's Shoes or dozens of other businesses, 20 cents to one dollar goes into's pocket. Free cookies, 15 percent off dinner or a dry-cleaning deal goes the other way – to the consumer. CEO and founder Matt Ackerson '09 is cagey about how much revenue has come in the door.  He would rather talk about plans to take the company national, one campus at a time.

Ackerson has his summer cut out for him.  When not interning at Cayuga Venture Fund in Ithaca, he will troll the Marshall Street shopping district on the edge of the Syracuse University campus for new clients.  He'll look for a second round of funding and tinker with to see if coupons can be integrated with point-of-sale system.

At the same time, managing partner Kerry Motelson '08 will test's downstate waters.  After hours as an investment banking analyst intern Goldman Sachs, she'll network with potential investors.  She'll visit businesses which cater to Columbia University and New York University students to see if those locations are a fit for

It's all part of the business plan.

To execute the plan, Ackerson and Motelson  say they each spend about 30 hours a week on  "We go to school on the side," said Motelson, who will enter ILR's graduate program in the fall.

The two ILR students hope to give a national footprint before selling it in two to four years.  By then, they say, they can pay back start-up money.  About half came from Ackerson's savings and half was lent by family and friends.

Momentum is everything, he said. started as a class project for a course Ackerson took at the Johnson Graduate School of Management.

It turned into a business when he bought the original website code for one dollar and raided his savings account.  He confided in mentors, named a board of directors – most of them established business people with Cornell connections – and launched the site in April 2007.

He's been on a dead run ever since.

"There's no lollygagging," said Ackerson, who spent his first year of college focused on fiction writing at Stony Brook University. He transferred to Cornell, and now funnels his creativity into building a bold company.

"The nut we're trying to crack," Ackerson said, "is how do you convert on-line ads to off-line purchases? How do you make the return quantifiable for merchants."

An ILR background contributes to strategy and planning, he said.  "It's really fusion of HR (Human Relations) and Organizational Behavior.  You can see how it applies." picked up steam during the December-January break, when Ackerson was joined by Motelson.

"One of us couldn't talk and one of us couldn't walk," said Motelson, her knee still immobilized in a brace after a skiing accident in Lake Tahoe in January.

Ackerson's mouth was wired shut until February after jaw surgery in December.

No problem.

Verbal communication gaps were superseded by Motelson's corporate financial experience – she interned at Lehman Brothers last year -- and Ackerson's ability to mete the company's progress into tangible steps.  E-mail helped, too.

Franchising could be right around the corner, the partners said.

"We're ready," Motelson said, "to rock."