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July 14. 2012 11:47PM

Send student care packages the e-way


The Regaalo team, founded in southern New Hampshire, has a vision of becoming the number one gift provider to students away from home. (Courtesy)

Graduating from college can be a liberating and yet frightening experience as young men and women prepare to enter the work force, many worried a job offer might not be immediately extended.

Recently, a group of graduates from the University of New Hampshire took that fear and trepidation and turned it into an opportunity for self-employment, something more and more graduates are considering.

Abandoning the typical business world, six 2011 graduates embarked on a journey that eventually sealed their own employment fate, creating a small start-up company that sells mobile gifts to college students away from home.

“This is part of a new wave called social e-commerce, and it is big. We are so excited about this venture,” said Jessica Streitmater, one of the co-founders of Regaalo, Inc. “We see a huge opportunity with this. We all chose to take a risky path, but we have the inkling that we can take it even further.”

Streitmater, 23, graduated with a major in business administration. During her last semester at the University of New Hampshire, she and some classmates created a business plan for the UNH Holloway Competition, surprising themselves when they placed second.

Using the prize money, along with support from the New Hampshire Innovation Commercialization Center, their business plan was implemented and Regaalo Inc. was eventually founded.

Regaalo.com is a gift-giving website for families with students away from home. Parents may select gifts from local merchants in the area where their children attend school, and use the website to send a mobile gift card to their student.

Pizza shops, flower shops, grocery stores and office supply shops are rated in the list of merchants, which is actually expanding into the Boston area so that families to the south can also take advantage of the offerings.

Streitmater, who lives in Londonderry and grew up in Litchfield, says her parents were incredibly supportive of her choice to pursue a small start-up company.

Scary times

“New graduates are scared right now. We are all at a turning path in our lives where we can enter the corporate setting with a normal job, or take a risk,” she said. “We took advantage of a risky concept, but so far it is paying off.”

Greta Johansson, New Hampshire district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration, said college seniors are understandably nervous and anxious about finding employment after graduation.

“The job market is different now than it was years ago,” said Johansson, stressing there are many resources available to help young entrepreneurs trying to get their ideas implemented.

Starting a new business fresh out of a college is a possibility that should not be ignored, but graduates must do their homework before embarking on a risky investment, she stressed.

“It all depends on having a marketable idea,” added Johansson, explaining the people at Regaalo Inc. started off with a worthwhile business idea that attracted attention.

Gretchen Eastman, another co-founder of Regaalo Inc., says she never considered herself an entrepreneur until Regaalo introduced her to the exciting new world of social e-commerce.

“Honestly, I was so relieved to have a next step after graduation. Some of my friends who graduated last year are just now getting jobs,” said Eastman, 22, of Portsmouth. “I think everyone knows that the job economy stinks, but you still try to remain optimistic. In your mind, you think you will get a job, but the reality is that it is much more difficult.”

Money struggle

The company didn’t happen overnight, and the founders are still struggling to secure funding.

“The economy is not poised right now for small start-ups,” admits Streitmater. “The cards are not in our favor.”

Still, the company is moving forward and growing, making itself a nationwide business by offering care packages that can be delivered all over the United States. In addition, Regaalo has plans to expand its customer base from colleges and universities in New Hampshire, to schools in Massachusetts, including private boarding schools.

It currently has more than 500 buyers and 2,000 email addresses, and continues to see increased interest, according to company officials.

“People are a little timid to take this route and ignore the traditional go-to-college-and-get-a-job mindset,” said Eastman. “But I think more and more that young entrepreneurs will begin networking and realize that starting their own business can be a valid option. The atmosphere of a start-up is so unique, that it really is incredibly attractive to people our age.”

Johansson said it is unclear how many New Hampshire graduates are opting to start their own small businesses because of having difficulty finding employment, but added that many new start-up companies are taking advantage of crowdfunding campaigns to jump-start their immediate and long-term goals.

Regaalo is one of those businesses that launched a crowdfunding campaign, with a goal to raise $5,000 by June 30. Although the company did not reach its mark, Streitmater says it is still aiming to hire interns to promote their website in the Boston market, and is still collecting funds for the initiative. Other members of the Regaalo team, in addition to Eastman and Streitmater, are Christine Dinisi and Matthew Robinson.

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Kimberly Houghton may be reached at khoughton@newstote.com.


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