Kick-starting Memory: With the help of peers and mentors, Will Severns' startup launches to aid Scripture memorization
- By: Cassidy Grom
- Published: Jun 2, 2015 3:45PM
A plastic bag stuffed with multicolored wristbands flew through the air and was caught by a student in the first row of the Todd Beamer Center in Wheaton, Ill. From the stage, Taylor University student Will Severns ’15 declared that it was a reverse offering—he was giving to them, rather than asking them to donate.
The bag wove back and forth between rows. Each of about 200 audience members took out a silicone wristband. Off to the side, the judges of Elevate, a business plan competition for young entrepreneurs, found bracelets for themselves taped under their chairs.
Severns launched into the details about his startup initiative. He had given this pitch many times before, but his voice conveyed all the passion of someone who had just recently received inspiration. He told them about Membands™, silicone bracelets designed to help people memorize Scripture.
The bands work as a mnemonic device: the Scripture reference and first letter of each word in the verse is listed on the outside, and the full verse is written on the inside. People wear the bracelets and, throughout the day, glance at the front, trying to recall the full verse before checking themselves by flipping it over.
His first year at Taylor, through conversations with his father and professors, Severns began to more fully realize the importance of Scripture engagement and began making time daily to spend in the presence of God.
“You need to be filling up your cup so that you have something substantial to bring before the Lord when conversing with Him,” Severns said. “What better to pray back to God Himself than His own Word?”
That year, Severns was walking out of the Taylor Memorial Prayer Chapel when he was struck with inspiration for the project.
In high school, Severns would write verses on a plain rubber band—a trick he learned from family friend Adam Donyes—but the marker would wear off and the band would eventually snap.
Severns wanted to create more permanent bands not only for himself but also to share the discipline of Scripture memorization with others. When Severns shared his idea with Donyes, his friend gave his blessing to turn the idea into a business.
As the concept of Membands™ continued developing in Severns’ brain, he took advantage of other opportunities at Taylor. Severns studied abroad in Ireland the spring of his freshman year and was often involved with intramural sports. He formed relationships and was known for his fun-loving attitude in all three of the residence halls he lived.
“Every part of his life is influenced by the Scripture he memorizes,” said friend and fellow 2015 Taylor graduate Scott Collins, who helped Severns early on in the business venture. “The encouragement that he brings in different conversations is always scripturally anchored. You leave really encouraged when you have a friend who instead of giving you his own advice, he is just quoting Scripture.”
Sophomore year, Severns, after meeting regularly with Taylor alumnus and entrepreneur Patrick Sells, competed in his first business plan competition sponsored by the Grant County Economic Development Council and Taylor’s business department. He placed fourth out of five finalists and to this day uses the 20-page single-spaced business plan he wrote for the competition when he presents to investors.
Severns prayed often his junior year. Dozens of companies could produce the wristbands in bulk, but Severns asked God for one that would also understand and believe in the purpose behind them.
“The main idea isn’t just Membands™,” Severns said. “The main idea isn’t just getting things printed on a silicone wristband. The main idea is helping out as many people as possible in the area of Scripture memorization.”
Toward the end of his junior year, Severns was introduced to Jeff Aupperle, the director of Promising Ventures, a new co-curricular program designed to connect Taylor students with entrepreneurial aspirations to a network of startup business leaders. As Severns bounced from meeting to meeting with potential investors, Aupperle acted as an objective mentor and friend.
Fall 2014, the beginning of Severns’ senior year, Aupperle connected Severns with Darren Campbell, a local pastor and founding CEO of Tree of Life Bookstores. Campbell immediately latched onto the idea and introduced Severns to a network of professionals who became interested in the concept of Membands™.
“It’s been so encouraging in the first year of this [Promising Ventures] program on this campus to have a student like (Severns) who can set an example,” Aupperle said. “And for him to be a trailblazer for what we hope this program will look like five years down the road.”
In November, Severns won Taylor’s inaugural “Shark Tank” business plan competition. With the prize money, he ordered the first batch of 15,000 Membands™ and quickly sold them in bulk to buyers including Campbell’s Tree of Life Bookstores.
“[The network I have now] is a testament to the reality that this is of the Lord’s doing,” Severns said. “The people that He has put in my path with this business are why it is where it is today. It is nothing that I have ever really said or done other than walk through the doors that He has opened.”
Although Severns placed third out of seven at the Elevate competition in March, his network expanded even more. After his presentation, students approached him wanting Membands™ for their youth groups. Others gave him their business cards or contact information for organizations that may be interested in Membands™.
This June, Severns plans to bootstrap Membands™ with Tree of Life: Severns will be employed by Tree of Life but travel to conferences and festivals to promote Membands™.
Severns envisions Membands™ making every verse available in as many translations as possible and having the bracelets available in an assortment of colors. In the future, he hopes to develop a subscription system in which customers receive four or five bands each month with the hope that once they memorize a verse, they’ll pass the band to a friend and Christians everywhere will begin to know Scripture like the back of their hands.
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Deuteronomy 11:18
Contact Will Severns about Membands™ at email@example.com.