Chad Tjugum loves to flip a coin.
Not for love, but for money, to more or less coin an old phrase.
The sophomore at UW-Whitewater has been collecting coins since he was five. By the time he was 14, he began buying and selling rare coins. And he’s quite skilled at it, as that business has generated more than $1.3 million in revenue.
But Tjugum is the kind of guy not satisfied with success. He’s an entrepreneur, so he’s always looking for opportunities. It’s in his DNA and he believes he’s found one.
This year, he launched “RaritiesMarket,” an alternative investing platform which allows collectors and investors to buy part-ownership in, and invest in, rare coins and other physical assets.
“I wanted to do something a little more, something that would hit a bigger market and, overall, just be more scalable,” said Tjugum. “A company that I can get into on the tech side, and really innovate a market, like coins, that hasn’t had a lot of innovation in the past.
“And so we started out trying to introduce rare coins as investments, through a sort of fractional ownership, taking ultra-rare coins and allow anyone to invest in them like there were stocks. I decided the barriers to entry for that were a little high. And we needed a way to bring something to market quickly.”
So he pivoted.
“So, the way we would be running the investment platform, we would basically be a custodian for the assets,” he said. “Collectors or dealers could bring us their coins and then we’d offer them on our platform and basically facilitate the transaction.”
He entered his business idea in the Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge last week at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minn.
There were 110 submissions from across the country, according to Laura Dunham, Dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. They cut the group to 25, who then made their pitch in front of a panel of judges in a “Shark Tank” format. The panel awarded a total of $215,000, with $50,000 going to the winner.
The judges were entrepreneurs themselves, including Dick Schulze, the founder of Best Buy.
“So, their questions will be tough, but helpful and helping the entrepreneurs understand the strengths and weaknesses of their pitches,” Dunham said prior to the final presentations. “But the other thing is they know this is an undergraduate competition and these are all people who really want to support the development of young entrepreneurs. So, it’s also meant to be something that encourages them. So that gives them the feedback they need to continue to take their ventures to the next level.”
Tjugum said feedback he’s received, starting with the Launch Pad program at UW-Whitewater, as well as other competitions, has been invaluable.
“We have gotten some of our best criticism of the company from competitions,” he said, “realizing what works for us, what clearly doesn’t. After the last competition, we pretty much completely shifted what we’re doing. We were able to launch a platform within a month.
“So, win or lose, I’m excited to see what the judges have to say on what we learn is working and what we learn isn’t working and then how we can take that moving forward.”
Professor William Dougan, a co-director of the UW-Whitewater Launch Pad program, said Tjugum was a unique student when he arrived on campus.
“Chad came to us really, as an entrepreneur,” Dougan said. “He came to us with a working business. That’s relatively unusual, right? And so, because of that, and because of the years of experience, it became kind of a process of furthering his ability to vision what a business of significant scale and scope would entail. And of course, he has a kind of natural talent to understand that.
“You can say, when he showed up, it was like a mid-40s entrepreneur in the body of a 20-year-old. Actually, when he showed up, he might have even been a teenager.”
“Rarities Market” finished fourth in the competition and took home $15,000 to help develop its business. Tjugum plans to take that money, and the lessons he learned from the Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge, and keep pushing forward while running one business, starting another and still attend classes.
“Yeah, I put all seven days to work,” he said. “And that’s definitely something I’m trying to work on, but I enjoy it. I mean, it’s a hobby and I think when you’re working on something you really love, no day is a true day’s work. So, I appreciate every moment and I love it.”
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