Thursday, December 8, 2016

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From left, SDSU entrepreneurs Dana Holliday, Craig Stern and Jenny Amaraneni.
 


The Gift of Sight

SOLO Eyewear, a company started by SDSU students, uses revenues to provide eye surgeries and prescription glasses to people in need.
By Samantha Afetian
 

San Diego State University has a legacy of producing successful entrepreneurs. Hoping to join the likes of Jim Sinegal of Costco, Ralph Rubio of Rubio’s and Thom McElroy of Volcom are Jenny Amaraneni, Craig Stern and Dana Holliday.


They are the visionaries behind SOLO Eyewear, an eco-friendly sunglasses company that is taking on the vision deficits of the world.

“Nearly one billion people in the world do not have access to eye care, and 80 percent of blindness in the world is preventable,” Amaraneni said. “I have terrible vision and I could not imagine living without eyeglasses. I couldn’t function. Giving sight to people is a great opportunity to make a difference.”

For every pair of sunglasses sold, SOLO Eyewear donates a pair of prescription eyeglasses or funds eye surgeries for those in need.

SOLO Eyewear is primarily sold online at www.soloeyewear.com and is also available for purchase at the SDSU Bookstore.

A big ‘eye-dea'

Amaraneni credited international entrepreneurship professor Martina Musteen for inspiring SOLO Eyewear. In Musteen’s class, students were required to design a business centered on social good.

Amaraneni, who graduated this spring with a master’s degree in business administration with a specialization in entrepreneurship, began to invest more time in the budding venture.

“I wanted a brand that inspires and empowers people to go out and do amazing things,” said Amaraneni. “You, alone, have the ability to make a difference in someone's life.”

The concept caught the attention of Stern while working with Amaraneni in SDSU’s Entrepreneurial Management Center, which provides programs and business advice to students, entrepreneurs and business leaders.

I wanted a brand that inspires and empowers people
to go out and do amazing things.

“When I first heard her idea I thought it was cool, but it didn’t hit me right away,” said Stern, who graduated this spring with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

“Three weeks later, it hit me. I imagined visiting underdeveloped countries, sharing time with the locals, giving them prescription eyewear and being surrounded by nature. It reminded me of when I was a summer camp counselor in the woods. Those were the most fulfilling days of my life. Once I realized that, I got extremely excited about this mission.”

Dana Holliday, who graduated last spring with a bachelor's degree in graphic design, recently joined Amareni and Stern as a cofounder. Holliday, who was a staff member at the Entrepreneurial Management Center, helped create the company's website and assisted with marketing and creative strategy.

Campaign Flag

Encouraging student entrepreneurship is just one example of how the university engages the San Diego region, a key initiative of the Campaign for SDSU. Whether it’s supporting programs that contribute directly to San Diego's growth or building academic programs to prepare for the region’s future, SDSU is an important community partner. Learn more about SDSU’s community engagement and how you can contribute.

Catching on

Since the beginning of the partnership, Amaraneni, Stern and Holliday have taken their idea to everyone and anyone who could help them. They have received advice from numerous SDSU alumni entrepreneurs and caught the attention of Fashion 5.0 Magazine, a fashion magazine for female college students in San Diego County. The magazine's founder urged the company to set up an in-store display.

“He met with us and said that we have a good product that we need to get in stores today,” Stern said.

The product gained traction with the help of the founders' friends and family who began wearing the shades in New Orleans, New York and the Bay Area, helping spread the word. One of Stern’s friends sold 45 pairs of sunglasses in two weeks.

“It’s been crazy. We haven’t even had to market them too much,” Stern said. “We feel like we can’t even take too much credit for that because our friends and family have been amazingly supportive.”

Living the dream

women wearing sunglasses
SOLO Eyewear is available for purchase online and in the SDSU Bookstore.

Amaraneni, Stern and Holliday have benefited from the help of SDSU’s Entrepreneurial Management Center.

The center was founded in the late 1990s with funding from alumni and local businesses, such as Qualcomm. It offers workshops, mentorships, and internships to SDSU students of all majors.

The Entrepreneurial Management Center has helped thousands of students discover and develop their passions and create startup companies.

Bernhard Schroeder, director of the center, helps SDSU student entrepreneurs achieve their goals.

“The Entrepreneurial Management Center is a crazy resource and Bernie will just spin your head around,” Amaraneni said. “He always tells us that entrepreneurship is a way to create your dream life, and that you will live your dream every day if you’re doing what you love.”
 
Amaraneni brought her ideas to Schroeder first. He recognized the possibility in the company and told her to “do it.” 

“Two key characteristics of being a successful entrepreneur is having trust in people and trusting your instincts,” Schroeder said. “Most people don’t trust their instincts, but I believe Jenny and Craig are.”

Find out more


For more information about SOLO Eyewear, visit www.soloeyewear.com.


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