Earlier this year, Ricole Wicks ’20 found herself on the set of a commercial shoot in Nashville. She was the subject, an opportunity that she says seemed to come out of nowhere. While in Tennessee, she got an email from one of her Bryan School professors, informing her she’d finally earned her B.S. in Entrepreneurship from UNC Greensboro.
It was shaping up to be one of the greatest weeks of her life, and she couldn’t help but reflect on everything it had taken to get there.
Wicks has never had trouble dreaming big. She’d like to work in sports media, launch her own clothing line, start a nonprofit, and maybe someday own a television network. After beginning her UNCG journey in media studies, she considered a program with the Bryan School.
“When I first started I didn’t see it as something new, but this will give me the business background,” she said. “I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I was the kid in school that sold candy to my classmates on the playground. I was always that kid, but I never knew how to do it on paper. So when I originally heard about the entrepreneurship program, I didn’t see it as a new direction, but something that could open up another avenue for me.”
Wicks said she loved how inclusive the Bryan School was.
“Even though I was in the entrepreneurship program, I had to learn everything,” she said. “I had to learn about marketing, accounting, and international business. I took a class on how to become a franchise owner. Those kinds of things opened my eyes to a whole bunch of stuff. Already having that entrepreneurship mindset, this just kind of stoked the fire.”
Of all her dreams, Wicks says one, in particular, is a passion project.
“What I’ve been doing is trying to start a nonprofit organization that will help people that have been diagnosed with Cerebral palsy to get the equipment or other resources that they need. The passion comes from the fact that I was born with Cerebral palsy,” she said.
Wicks says depending on a person’s circumstances, the process of getting that equipment becomes more complicated as you get older. For all of the challenges people with Cerebral palsy face, she says getting equipment shouldn’t be one of them.
“People tend to run from what they don’t understand. And in their running they make assumptions,” said Wicks. “A lot of times I’ve had to walk into rooms and prove I’m a normal kid. As I got older, I found that my work proved that on its own, so I would just do what I wanted to do and let that speak for itself.”
Whether it was financing her education, or needing help with a little bit of math homework, Wicks admits there were days she didn’t want to be in her wheelchair. Throughout her time at UNCG, she was always able to find solace in the gym, helping out the men’s basketball team.
“They saw how much I love basketball,” she said. “Coach would let me sit in the gym and I’d help out with practice. On my hard days when I don’t like the chair, I would just come and sit. Some of those guys have helped me move. The team has been like a family to me.”
Toward the end of her entrepreneurship program, Wicks says she was beginning to hit a wall both emotionally and financially.
“I’m not a quitter,” she said. “I’ve written thank you letters to every professor who told me not to quit. They knew I was paying out of pocket.”
Wicks recalls one assignment that really had an impact.
“The assignment was to write what I wanted to do as an entrepreneur, and why,” she said. “I see myself being a mom one day and having a family and I don’t want them to struggle the way I’m struggling. I want to build an empire for them through many different avenues. The professor came and told me, ‘You’re going to do everything you wrote on this paper.’ It hit me like a ton of bricks. Someone believes I can do this. I was like, ‘Oh, wow!’ I’ve always seen myself as an entrepreneur, but for the world to see that has been a huge struggle. It definitely made an impact.”
Around that time, Wicks saw an ad on her Facebook timeline. It was from the international wheelchair company Permobil.
“I was scrolling down Facebook and I didn’t even follow Permobil at the time. Why they popped up to this day I have no clue but it popped up. And I scrolled past it at first and I got this feeling, like, I should do this,” she said. “I filled it out and sent a picture and told them about myself.”
Wicks didn’t hear anything for about a year. Then, in June, someone reached out.
“They said they voted on models and told me my smile jumped off the page,” said Wicks. “The board voted. It was unanimous for me to be a model in their new wheelchair release. I didn’t think it was real at first, that was a year ago. I did some investigating on it and it was real. They flew me to Nashville the first week of July and we did a photoshoot and a movie clip. I was the actual cover girl for the website and the brochure and I’m in the video for the new chair coming out.”
Wicks said she didn’t want to waste the opportunity of being on the set of her first commercial shoot, and pulled from her experience practicing elevator pitches at the Bryan School.
“The whole day I told them I would love to work for you guys and I just kept saying if you guys ever doing this again I want to work for you. And because of my media background when they were shooting I was freaking out and had never been on a movie set where there were really directors. They saw my passion,” she said.
A little while later, Wicks got another call from Permobil. She learned that the company’s CEO got a hold of her story, and wanted to give her one of their best new chairs with upgrades completely free of charge. She learned the company wanted to hire her to do blogs and vlogs for them, in an effort to better connect with potential customers. She also learned the company was considering partnering with her on her idea for that nonprofit she’d been dreaming of all this time.
“They kept saying, ‘You tell your story in a way that we can’t. And we just want to let you tell it,'” said Wicks.
With a B.S. in Entrepreneurship now in hand, Wicks is ironing out the details with Permobil. She says this whole process has felt like a dream come true.
“You have to push yourself,” she said. “I’m not quitting. I would not be here if I didn’t set my mind to it. Fight for it. Nobody expects you to get it. Go get it. Have that fight. That’s all I can say. Figure out what works for you and go.”