People of OU: Student entrepreneurs Jada Samuels, Drew Ulmer

In colleges across the country, there are plenty of students who currently or plan to run their own business. This is no different at Oakland University, where two public relations majors are each showcasing their passions through their own businesses.

Jada Samuels and Drew Ulmer are both seniors who, within the last five years, have begun their journey of being both a student and entrepreneur. What each does is different to the other, but they each find their own joy in their business.

Samwell Solutions

Samuels, alongside her mom, Renee, runs a wellness business called Samwell Solutions where she tackles social, academic and mental wellness. They registered for the LLC in 2019 before the pandemic, and Samwell Solutions has come a long way since its inception.

“The website definitely looked different, and we were still brainstorming, like, ‘what are we doing?’ Originally, we were targeting parents specifically,” Samuels said. “That’s what it is — it was analysis paralysis most of the time. But it’s not a process that I regret, because I’ve learned a lot through it, and that’s why I’m even pursuing the degree I’m pursuing right now.”

The focus is now on three groups — students, teachers and parents — with resources like an online blog as well as a book written by Renee called “A Parent’s Guide to Supporting Children in Learning at Home.”

With her mom being a special education teacher, Samuels and her mom shared a passion for the wellness of students.

Of the three types of wellnesses, Samuels said they need to focus a little more on academic wellness by introducing simple strategies people may not be familiar with.

“There’s a knowing-doing gap, like, sure, you might know how to do better, but you don’t actually necessarily do it,” she said.

They would form ideas on resources for students to use throughout school, but for the parents and teachers as well, hoping to create a better learning environment and better foundation for these practices. With the ideas in mind, they struggle with the consistency of scheduling, as well as the promotion of the business.

“What we realized, though, is with our focus on mental, social wellness, it’s kind of wild how if you want to be successful and get the word out, you have to obviously use social media. However, social media is also a huge detriment to your mental health,” Samuels said. 

With her major and her entrepreneurship minor, Samuels said there was content which made her think more critically about the business and how to shape it, but public relations wasn’t always the focus. In the beginning, she wanted to go into education reform, but for now does not want to be involved in the education system.

One of the biggest focuses for Samwell Solutions has been boundaries. Samuels said it feels it is suddenly becoming a big thing, and she wants to help normalize it. 

“I think boundaries are such an abstract concept that people don’t exactly know — ‘how do I even implement that?’” Samuels said. “It’s so vague, and yet it’s talked about so much.”

One project for them is the creation of a game called Why The Fuss (WTF), which helps explore these ideas in simpler terms. With this game still in the works, one thing they are still determining is who to market it toward. A diagram of determining who’s in your circle and determining boundaries has helped her understand boundaries more.

After graduation, Samuels hopes to take some time off from school while learning more about social media and promotions for her own personal brand to transfer that knowledge to Samwell Solutions. She has learned many lessons from the process so far, but one of the biggest is the importance of vulnerability.

“I always looked at it as weakness, as a lot of people do,” Samuels said. “With wellness in general, to make genuine connections you need to give a little, you need to be open and vulnerable — you don’t always have it together, and that’s okay.”

Ulmer’s Unreal Creations

Ulmer’s passion led him to start a leatherworking business during COVID-19 to stay busy at home. Now at OU, he has mobilized his business to offer things like wine bags, bookmarks and his personal favorite, tarot cards.

He is able to work at OU with the limited tools he brought from home, and is typically still able to finish projects in a couple of days, when he has the time.

“I definitely have to prioritize classes and getting work done before I can do a hobby, and I kind of treat it as a reward, almost, where, if I can get this assignment done, or get this amount of work done, then I’ll be able to have time to do something that makes me really happy,” Ulmer said.

What started as making armor and memorabilia from the media turned into everyday items which people can see on Ulmer’s Instagram page. While the end result is unique, the entire process is not wildly different, as it all starts with a rectangular piece of leather.

“I’ve done a few with deer hide, which is a softer leather — much more malleable, like, you could fold it if you wanted to, and that’s really soft and that one you can’t do a lot of tooling on,” he said.

“Whereas the veg-tan leather, which is what I use for the tarot cards and a few other packs that I’ve made, that’s a lot thicker. It’s more durable, and that’s the one that you can use stamps and the swivel knife to carve in designs and all the different patterns,” he said.

Ulmer echoes Samuels in the assistance the public relations major has given him to help grow and understand his business. He credits Dr. Chiaoning Su’s class where he learned the importance of a social media presence and trend following.

One of the hardest challenges aside from time conflicts has been the learning curve of it all. Ulmer would do research on proper tools and the craft itself — starting with basic tools can be relatively cheap, but the advanced projects can tend to be more expensive. 

He plans to continue with leathermaking, whether it be as a hobby or a way to make money on the side. 

“It started out as kind of a form of therapy for myself during the pandemic, where there wasn’t a whole lot of what I could do between going to class, going to work and going to sleep,” he said. “It became an outlet for me, something that I could express myself, something that I’ve found passion in.”