Kathryn Gissiner is a classic entrepreneur. She saw a hole in a market and figured out how to fill it. The hole? Student groups didn’t have an easy way to book inexpensive flights. Her solution? Easy Group Airfare.
Gissiner, an economics major from Ann Arbor, Mich., and her partner Aaron Sanfield realized how difficult it is for student groups to book the best airfare for their trips. College students have grown up using sites such as Kayak and Travelocity to book their own flights. While those sites are useful for individuals, they are not geared towards groups, especially student groups that typically travel for humanitarian work.
Sanfield had been researching group airfares for his own use and had built relationships with airlines to book his flights. Gissiner realized that they could create a business from this knowledge base. After much planning and discussion, she built the Easy Group Airfare website, which they launched together on January 14, 2014.
Easy Group Airfare is like an old-fashioned travel service for student groups. But this service comes with a special bonus. Five percent of the business’s annual profits will be donated back to the nonprofit groups who book their flights with the company.
“We want to give back to our clients, and we think it’s a smart business strategy, too,” says Gissiner. “By donating back five percent of our annual profits, we become invested in our clients. We’re not merely a hired service.”
Her marketing plan is a grassroots effort, with outreach to student groups online and through word of mouth. Two of their current clients are MedLife and Biology without Borders.
“We are continuing to make connections with people, to tweak the website to make it more robust, and to work with our clients to give them the best possible service,” says Gissiner.
Their clients appreciate the perks of hiring a travel service. “When the MedLife group from the University of Michigan was on their way home from Lima, Peru, their flights were canceled the day before,” says Gissiner. “We ensured that all of the group members were put up at a hotel, given food vouchers, and put on the next flight for no additional charge. The passengers also received a $200 off coupon for their next flight with that airline.”
“Kathryn is an excellent example of the integration of the liberal arts and entrepreneurship,” says David Przybyla, associate professor with Denison’s Organizational Studies Program, “More people need to appreciate that the two domains foster indispensable characteristics — critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and innovative approaches to looking at the world.”
After graduation, Gissiner is moving to Detroit where she will work with Deloitte Consulting before attending graduate school for an M.B.A. She also has plans to establish an LLC to operate and expand her business.