Guest Blogger: This piece was contributed by Lily Pezzullo-Frank, Coordinator of External Programs and Communications for the Cameron School of Business and program administrator for the Cameron Executive Network. (this post originally appeared on WilmingtonBiz.com on July 30, 2020).
In January 2020 Cameron Executive Network mentor and Cameron School of Business alumna ‘07, Liz Roesel, and CSB alumna ‘17, Arianne Branch, launched a new business, just weeks before the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic rocked the United States.
Headquartered in Wilmington, North Carolina, SEA Level Social offers marketing services for school district nutrition departments. The SEA in SEA Level Social stands for Serve, Engage, Attract. “While this industry may be stereotyped as ‘lunch ladies serving mystery meat,’ that could not be further from the truth,” says owner, Roesel, “We help school nutrition programs educate their communities on what they bring to their district and in turn, feed more students and fuel them for academic success.”
Roesel and Branch met at the UNCW Cameron School of Business through the Cameron Executive Network (CEN), a program that pairs CSB students with local business executives who serve as mentors to the students during their time in school. The two met at a mixer event and were “matched” as each other’s top choice. From there, the mentor-mentee relationship blossomed into a friendship and business partnership after Branch graduated from UNCW.
Roesel, who had been establishing a presence in the school nutrition industry for a decade prior, saw immediate potential in Branch: “Arianne stood out amongst the crowd by truly understanding what it meant to be a marketer. Once she made the full-on leap into entrepreneurship with me, we decided moving forward as business partners that I would focus on the school nutrition side and she would focus on marketing strategies and trends.”
Roesel reflects on their time in the Cameron School of Business by noting, “the opportunity [Cameron offered] for us to make our mentorship whatever we wanted, but it was up to us to continue the conversation after Arianne's graduation.” Branch credits CEN with aiding in some of the skills she relies on in her new position. “Networking is huge in our industry. I would never have thought that networking would be so important, but it is.” When speaking about a recent trip to a marketing convention in San Diego, she reflects, “ I was a little rusty [at networking], but once I remembered the tips that CEN taught me, it made it a whole lot easier.”
While starting a business together felt like a natural progression for the team, doing so at the onset of a global pandemic was not the intention. They quickly adapted to the challenges the school districts faced and began offering creative solutions to unprecedented needs. “We positioned SEA Level Social as a ‘valuable distraction’ while school districts scrambled to feed students outside of the cafeteria, and our fan base continues to grow,” Roesel explains. “We started creating video content, designing free marketing resources, hosted webinars for the national School Nutrition Association, and host weekly virtual meetups on Facebook Live to combat the fact that we can't travel to network and generate leads.”
However, school nutrition programs have lost more than $1 billion dollars nationwide, so SEA Level Social is currently building a low-cost subscription service of marketing materials to be able to help. In the spirit of true entrepreneurship, it's been a family affair: Roesel’s mother handmade over 500 masks for school nutrition friends, some of which went to local districts. The company also hosted "Brainstorming and Baking Day" where school nutrition directors signed up for an hour marketing brainstorming session while Roesel baked cookies for the nutrition teams at New Hanover County Schools.
“The community that the Cameron Executive Network is has helped in coming into the school nutrition industry. Just like CEN, the school nutrition industry is a community of people who just want to help each other and support one another,” Branch reflects. As the company grows, Roesel has already identified students she mentored that she wants to bring into SEA Level Social. “We cannot wait for the day that we can create internship and job opportunities for fellow CSB alumni while helping school nutrition programs feed more children."
For more information about SEA Level Social, visit https://sealevelsocial.com/
To learn more about the Cameron Executive Network, click here: https://csb.uncw.edu/cen/index.html
Robert T. Burrus, Jr., Ph.D., is the dean of the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, named in June 2015. Burrus joined the UNCW faculty in 1998. Prior to his current position, Burrus was interim dean, associate dean of undergraduate studies and the chair of the department of economics and finance. Burrus earned a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree in mathematical economics from Wake Forest University. The Cameron School of Business has approximately 90 full-time faculty members and 30 administrative and staff members. The AACSB-accredited business school currently enrolls approximately 2,600 undergraduate students in three degree programs and 750 graduate students in four degree programs. The school also houses the prestigious Cameron Executive Network, a group of more than 200 retired and practicing executives that provide one-on-one mentoring for Cameron students. To learn more about the Cameron School of Business, please visit http://csb.uncw.edu/. Questions and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.