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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

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SDSU student entrepreneur Tiffany Gil (left) is shown with her Great Grass Race teammate Katie Knight. SDSU student entrepreneur Tiffany Gil (left) is shown with her Great Grass Race teammate Katie Knight.

SDSU Student Entrepreneur Mows Down Competition

SDSU student Tiffany Gil is using her prize money from “The Great Grass Race” to fund her startup company that she founded in SDSU’s ZIP Launchpad.
By Fowler College of Business News Team

“I would highly encourage people to explore outside of their comfort zones. If you never push yourself, you may never discover what you’re capable of.”

Imagine traveling from Los Angeles to Tampa, Florida, on a riding lawn mower, moving only about five miles per hour. Now picture yourself making the journey with no money, no food and no gas.

Tiffany Gil doesn’t have to imagine it — she’s done it. And now she’s about $40,000 richer for it.

Gil, a management and entrepreneurship senior at San Diego State University, plans to use a portion of her prize money to launch her sock company, which is one of the student-established businesses within the university’s ZIP Launchpad. The competition also served as an opportunity to test the socks, which she wore periodically throughout the race.  

On Your Mark…

The race was set to begin over the summer while Gil was on break from her classes at SDSU. After she met her teammate, Katie Knight, on the set of “The Great Grass Race,” they were given their lawn mower, a trailer, and a list of rules for the competition that had contestants riding lawn mowers from coast-to-coast. Episodes of the web-based reality show are currently streaming on Menace Vision.

During the show, Gil revealed that her only previous experience with a riding lawn mower was when she burned her leg after bumping into one during her childhood. But after the COVID-19 pandemic shifted all her classes to virtual, she looked for something to take her mind off of the quarantine and stumbled upon information for the competition. 

“Traveling is one of my greatest passions and I would much rather be on the road than quarantining in my home,” said Gil, a native of Huntington Beach, California. “I found the application and decided ‘why not?’ So, I applied.” 

The six two-person teams left Moorpark, California, on the morning of July 10 on their Craftsman riding mowers, however, it quickly became a five-team race when two people abruptly left the competition within the first few days. About three weeks later, when remaining competitors reached Colorado, they were told that their new final destination had shifted from New York City to Tampa.

“The producers informed us of the destination change at the last minute to add more drama,” said Gil. “NYC had COVID-19 restrictions and they didn’t want us coming into their city. Luckily, nobody participating in the race got sick.”

Kindness of Strangers

The competitors were not allowed to accept money, but instead had to ask strangers to donate food, fuel, lodging and other assistance. At first, Gil said this was difficult to do. “However, after a while of perfecting the pitch, it wasn’t too hard,” she said. “We already knew what we were going to say and we became used to constantly asking for help.”

As the racers slowly made their way across the nation, Gil celebrated a birthday, crossed the Continental Divide, slept in the homes of strangers and, yes, even mowed grass a few times. However, she had an extra challenge on August 24, when she began the fall semester at SDSU. Gil said she compensated for her inconsistent schedule by taking a lighter class load and “taking quizzes and tests on hotel computers at night when we were lucky enough to get a room donated to us.”

While Gil and Knight were not the first to cross the finish line in Tampa on September 16 (they crossed second), they racked up the most points during the race and were declared the winners. “I believe we will get between $70,000-80,000 because the prize money depends on how many points were accrued at the end of the race,” said Gil. “Then, we will split the prize money we receive.” 

Business Dreams

Gil, who was inspired by her parents (both entrepreneurs) to establish her own business, has other plans for the money as well. 

“I want to donate 7% of my earnings to a charity that fights child trafficking. It’s horrible about what’s happening to innocent children and I want to help in any small way I can,” said Gil. “Secondly, I want to invest about 10% in stocks and my Roth IRA.” 

However, the bulk of the prize money will be invested in her startup business — washable/dryable socks that are designed with a thin layer of foam to prevent foot pain and blisters — founded  in the ZIP Launchpad. 

The ZIP Launchpad at SDSU is a resource for students interested in entrepreneurship, helping them launch a startup from their early-stage idea.

After wearing a prototype of her socks during the show, she realized that she has to make some product adjustments. “I realized how durable the socks are to endure all that I went through,” said Gil. “It also made me realize that I should get a thinner and more breathable material for sporty activities.” 

After returning to Southern California following the conclusion of the race, Gil summarized the friendships, skills and lessons she took from her journey, saying: “It made me much more patient. I’ve also learned that things will work themselves out and that, in the end, everything will be okay.” 

For those considering embarking on a new adventure, Gil advises them to go for it. “I would highly encourage people to explore outside of their comfort zones,” she said. “If you never push yourself, you may never discover what you’re capable of.”