It’s unlikely you’ve ever encountered anyone as animated as Eli Dent. With a megawatt smile and a penchant for punctuating sentences with hand gestures, this marketing major seems equal parts motivational speaker and cartoon character.
But don’t let outward appearances mislead you. Dent is a serious entrepreneur. In the brief time he’s been at the College (he transferred here as a junior), Dent has participated in ICAT (Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Technology) and NGAL (Network Globally Act Locally), both of which are entrepreneurial-focused academic programs where student teams create products and businesses to support them. He also helped create TIDES (Technology, Innovative Design and Entrepreneurship Studio) – a makerspace on campus where any student can give life to his/her creative ideas. And last spring, Dent won the School of Business competition for Entrepreneur of the Year based on a 60-second pitch for his product, the SideKik.
A small rubber disc with colorful feathers attached, the SideKik is Dent’s adaptation of jianzi, a hugely popular pastime in China. It’s both a juggling toy and a training apparatus for soccer players, which makes sense because soccer – outside of entrepreneurism – is Dent’s other principal passion. He’s been playing since he was 4 years old and played midfield on the College’s men’s soccer team.
“Soccer has definitely been the biggest driving force in my life up to this point,” says the senior from Charleston, S.C. “It provides a lot of structure for me. I have weight training in the morning and practice in the afternoon, and, of course, I have classes and my SideKik business.”
Recently, Dent succeeded in getting SideKik placed in 47 retail stores across the nation. “That’s huge for us,” he says. “It’s what I regard as serious market traction.”
The “us” he refers to is SideKik’s marketing-management team, which includes fellow student Rett Stevens, who is assisting with marketing, and two alumni, Donnie Exelbierd ’04 and Arianna Weber ’17, who are advising Dent on business development and supply chain management.
It’s a busy and exciting time.
“There are moments when I have a 20-minute gap between classes and I realize that I can rush back and ship the next order of products,” says Dent. “It’s a frenzied lifestyle sometimes, but it’s always fun.”
And when SideKik wasn’t initially scoring many customer reviews online, Dent, ever the problem solver, convinced his ICAT team to develop an app to facilitate feedback and reviews for businesses engaged in e-commerce. Thus, Txtra was born. The app, which was deemed a finalist by judges at last spring’s ICAT Demo Day, provides an efficient way for consumers to offer product and service reviews online. And this fall, Txtra launched in Shopify’s e-commerce platform.
Have these successes gone to Dent’s head? It doesn’t seem so.
True success, he says, will be achieved when SideKik is on the shelves at gift shops in every professional soccer stadium in the U.S. In the meantime, he’s got classes to attend, matches to play and other products to develop. A true entrepreneur never slows down.