“If I want to learn something, I just go dive in,” Ian Stasko, junior business management major, said.
Stasko is an “entrepreneurial leader,” at JMU. according to the student’s fact sheet, created by collaborator Tristan Williams, junior communications studies major with a public relations concentration. Stasko is also the founder of 360 Timber Services, which specializes in the removing and repurposing of large trees around the area.
Stasko’s business venture, however, differs from that of his classmates. The student explored multiple fields of work during a two-year academic gap in New Jersey, including oyster farm management and the acquisition of a real estate license.
“I didn't really want to go to college,” Stasko said. “I just needed to make sure that it was worth it. It’s gonna be worth that investment.”
Once returning to Virginia, Stasko then joined the class of 2024.
Suzanne Bergmeister, executive director of the Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship (GCFE), said Stasko is slightly older than the other juniors in his class, though the experience he gained in the workforce supports his entrepreneurial endeavors.
“I think just feeling a little bit awkward around peers because you are a little bit older, but, at the end of the day, advantage wise, it is the biggest leg up in the world,” Stasko said.
Also contrasting Stasko from other students, was his approach to the “pipeline of entrepreneurial programs,” a guided route for student founders by the GCFE which typically begins with entrepreneurs taking on “The Fallon Challenge,” and working their way through the four levels, ending with the “Bluestone Seed Fund.”
Stasko, however, started with the seed fund by receiving equity funding last fall after a ten-minute, “Shark Tank”-style pitch to an investment committee, Bergmeister said. The student then worked his way up by joining Madison Inc. and then was accepted into the Dukes Venture Accelerator program.
“He kind of did it backwards,” Bergmeister said. “In the entrepreneurial world, you have to be flexible.”
Stasko’s growth throughout the pipeline has been centered around his timber services project, with his first large tree removal occurring in nearby Crozet, Virginia. With 360 Timber Services, Stasko repurposes the timber by creating slabs of wood that can be used for tables and related objects, Bergmeister said. Each slab can turn into $1,000-$5,000, but the material requires both time and equipment once harvested.
Because of 360 Timber Services, GCFE recognized that Stasko already had a profitable “side hustle,” which is unusual for beginning entrepreneurs, Bergmeister said. With this base project, the GCFE can assist Stasko in making connections in the industry, assist in creating a website for the business and aid with the “intellectual property” of any kind of patent, trademark or copyright.
Part of GCFE’s financial assistance for 360 Timber Services included a $5,000 investment in the project from the Bluestone Seed Fund. In terms of other support, Stasko said Bergmeister helped his entrepreneurial endeavors “immensely” and has taught him a great deal about the area of work.
Bergmeister has been both an entrepreneur and venture capitalist over the course of her five careers surrounding the business world. Upon meeting, Stasko described Bergmeister as a “go-getter” who’ll push you to the next step.
“Suzanne always has high energy and is willing to give you the truth,” Stasko said according to his fact sheet. “This has been very important because I like to hear it and know what works and what doesn’t.”
Bergmeister said, like most successful entrepreneurs, Stasko is a “serial entrepreneur,” meaning his attention spans to multiple projects at a time. Williams was introduced to Stasko’s business scope upon meeting him.
“With our first conversation, I really kind of thought we were gonna be talking about 360 [Timber], which is awesome,” Williams said. “But, I was really taken back by all these different endeavors.”
Apart from timber, Stasko has found project inspiration in mushroom farming. At the Rainey-Shepard Business Plan Competition, Stasko competed with a Mushroom Technology company plan.
At the event, Stasko’s team placed third and received the “best idea” award. Ian was merited MVP for his efforts and plans to continue working with mushrooms for his senior capstone project along with vertical farming.
“This is the future of agriculture,” Stasko said. “This is something I definitely want to pursue in, there’s a lot of potential in [mushrooms].”
Moving forward, and since receiving financial support from the Bluestone Seed Fund, Stasko aspires to expand 360 Timber Services by purchasing tools equipped for larger projects, according to his fact sheet.
On top of this aid, Stasko will compete in the Dukes Venture Accelerator Program over the course of six weeks this summer. Akhil Kanodia, assistant director of the GCFE, said the program accepts “about 10 students” through a competitive application process. This project will include a $4,000 grant with the opportunity of a $1,000 reimbursement for business spending.
At the end of the program, Stasko, along with other JMU entrepreneurs, will participate in a “demo day” complete with five-minute pitches and the eligibility for a $5,000 payout, Bergmeister said.
Stasko’s long-term goal is to collect all of his companies under “one main parent company,” drawing inspiration from Andrew Carnegie’s “vertical integration” business model and to not rely on outside monetary sources. This involves combining Stasko’s skills of welding, woodworking, mushroom farming and more for environmental improvement.
“He’s shown a lot of initiative through his life,” Williams said. “I really just felt like I was on a podcast speaking to this guy. It’s obvious he has a great understanding of entrepreneurship and the history of the industry.”
With the combination of self-reliant companies, Stasko’s dream goal is to “end global warming,” according to his fact sheet. Williams said he was impressed that Stasko had so many “moving parts” to this company, and that it had “obviously” shined through his merits and awards.
“We’re seeing the beginning of something big,” Williams said. “I think it’s a lot of possibilities [for Stasko] moving forward throughout JMU and beyond.”
For Bergmeister, she expects nothing but success for Stasko, one of 21,000+ students that the GCFE hopes to reach for assistance.
“I’ll be able to say I knew him when” Bergmeister said.
CORRECTION (4/18/2023 12:27 p.m.): A previous version of the article falsely stated that the Bluestone Seed Fund pitches are five minutes. A correction has now been made to state that the pitches are ten minutes. A previous version of the article also stated that Stasko wanted to go to college initially, when, in fact, that was not the case.