Hobby Express CEO turns College of Professional Studies capstone assignment into new business venture

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Mark Cleveland is a living, breathing definition of “entrepreneur.”

The owner and CEO of Hobby Express (formerly Hobby Lobby International Inc.), Cleveland is also the co-founder of Elicit Brands LLC, a company known for its Swiftwick brand of U.S.-produced athletic and medical compression socks. He launched an innovative ride-sharing company called Hytch that matches coworkers, neighbors and friends who are traveling in similar directions so they can share rides, cutting down on traffic congestion.

Cleveland is also known for his proposed Stanza Nashville Hotel, to be located in downtown Nashville. Stanza Nashville features a minimalist design and avant grade technology.

He is always on the lookout for a new business opportunity or venture. So, it is no surprise that when Cleveland decided to return to college to complete his degree he found an opportunity to develop an idea for a new venture.

His journey to Lipscomb began at the University of Oregon nearly two decades ago where he enrolled following high school. Toward the end of his junior year at Oregon, Cleveland launched a business, which proved to be so successful that he left college to run the company “and never looked back.”

Although a very successful entrepreneur, Cleveland said in the last few years the notion of getting a master’s degree kept tugging at him. But he had to take care of one major detail first — completing his undergraduate degree.

Cleveland learned about Lipscomb’s competency-based education program, housed in the College of Professional Studies. Competency-based assessment and development provide an opportunity for attributes such as life and professional experiences, as well as personal and behavioral skills, to be evaluated for performance goals, programs and outcomes. Following completion of the college’s CORE Competency Assessment Center, Cleveland was awarded 30 hours of college credit in addition to the credits he earned while at Oregon.

Last year, Cleveland enrolled in Lipscomb through the Adult Degree Program to complete the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership. One of the key elements of the program is a capstone project that is the culminating course for students, allowing them to synthesize the competency core, concentration and competency electives into a meaningful project that demonstrates their competencies and applies their learning.

The entrepreneurial wheels began spinning in Cleveland’s mind as he developed an idea for his capstone project. In the years prior to enrolling at Lipscomb, Cleveland’s company, Hobby Express, developed the TELEMASTER brand of radio control, balsa model airplane kits with a selection of nearly 20 models. As he thought about a project topic, Cleveland developed the idea to “use aerospace, design and modeling to incubate makers and creators” by developing a gamified, hands-on educational curriculum designed for the high school market that utilizes the existing TELEMASTER 1450 model and a new Ready to Fly (RTF) little TELEMASTER (aka "Lil Tele’). 

Cleveland said the program will educate the “next generation of makers” to create through hands-on experiences in supply chain management, quality control, manufacturing, building and design innovation that also connects to the emphasis on STEM in schools today.

The supply chain management component is set to launch in early 2018 and will focus on taking raw materials and moving through the processes required to produce a finished product, ready for the market. The fixed wing avionics module will give students the opportunity to learn to pilot and fly fixed-wing aircraft using the model airplane and will learn aircraft parts as well as about careers that make the industry work. That will be offered beginning in fall 2018. The final component focusing on engineering and innovation will be offered beginning in spring 2019. In this module, students will work on challenges given to them to upgrade and innovate on aircraft design, as well as test and measure the modifications made to TELEMASTER airplanes. Click here for more information.

Cleveland is scheduled to graduate from Lipscomb University in December.

Want to know more about Lipscomb University's degree completion programs? Click here.