The Entrepreneurial Residential Learning Community, a cohort of 64 first year students exploring entrepreneurship together while living in Sellery Hall, has launched many startups over the years. And this past year was no exception. With the help of a modest Dream Big Venture Grant (one of the ERLC’s signature programs), 2015-16 residents Matt and Joey Schlidt launched Smile On Clothing—a socially-conscious t-shirt company which encourages people to flash their pearly whites. Earlier this summer the ERLC sat down with the entrepreneurially-oriented twin brothers to get the lowdown on what their expanding company is all about.
ERLC: Can you tell us a little bit about Smile On Clothing?
Matt: Smile On Clothing is a lifestyle brand that encourages others to do what makes them happy. Our current product line, predominantly t-shirts, merely serves as a reminder to our consumers and those around them to smile. We are proud that a portion of our profits go to Children's Hospital Foundation for Dental Care to support kids who can't afford dental care. We also donate to the Make a Difference Foundation, which empowers teens from under resourced communities via financial literacy.
ERLC: What was your inspiration for the product line?
Matt: Before I began my freshman year at UW-Madison, my brother and I ran our own Landscaping Company called Lawn Rangers Landscaping, so we had some entrepreneurship experience. But upon getting to UW-Madison I was eager to start something new and started brainstorming right away! After 50 bad ideas or so, I realized, while playing around with the letters in the word Wisconsin, that the word "on" was embedded in it. I also discovered that if I placed the word "Smile" above the arched word "WiscONsin", it looked like a smile. With the help of Badgers Jeremi Zuba and Elias Meyer-Grimberg, who were heavily involved with the student run MadVentures Co-Working space on campus, I was able to create the current logo.
ERLC: Where can folks buy your products?
Joey: Just go to www.smileonclothing.com and order. Or you can find them at the University Bookstore on State Street and in Brookfield Square!
ERLC: What else are you up to this summer?
Matt: Well, besides trying to grow the Smile On brand, I'm interning with gener8tor, the startup accelerator, in Milwaukee. I've also been taking a summer accounting course so that I can reduce my credit load during the fall semester so that I can focus on the business. I also recently started my own promotional products company called Octagon Inks (www.octagoninks.com), in which I work with clubs, schools, businesses, and organizations to try to help create branded merchandise. My hope is that Octagon Inks will give me the ability to have better control of Smile On Clothing's operations.
Joey: I’m super focused on trying to get the word about Smile On out there, but working as a server in the Milwaukee area has also provided some much needed summer income.
ERLC: How did winning the Dream Big Venture Grant from the ERLC help set you up for success?
Joey: The Dream Big Venture Grant from the ERLC was a huge help for us at Smile On Clothing because it allowed us to get our first run of product shipped. Starting your own business can be really risky, but the grant gave us the confidence that we had a big idea.
ERLC: What's been the most surprising part about owning your own business?
Joey: The most surprising part about owning our own business is how work doesn’t really feel like work. When you own a business and are responsible for making the gears turn it takes a lot of self-discipline to be on top of everything, but at the end of the day when you’re passionate about what you’re doing then you enjoy all of the hard work.