Donaghey Scholar’s final project helps establish business

Fred McAllen is the founder and owner of Safe Ice, a business that was established as part of his Donaghey's Scholar final project.

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock alumnus and former Donaghey scholar used his capstone project as the foundation of his now thriving business, Safe Ice.

Fred McAllen, founder and owner of Safe Ice, moved from Hot Springs, Arkansas, to Little Rock two weeks following his high school graduation in search of more opportunities.

After a few casual jobs, he went to work for his dad’s refrigeration repair company. With four years in the business, McAllen learned refrigeration inside and out, eventually becoming his dad’s business partner.

Hoping to take his career to the next level, McAllen decided to attend UA Little Rock to pursue a premedical degree.

“I was fixing refrigerators, and I thought I wanted to fix people,” he said.

Although he was initially set on practicing medicine, McAllen realized his passion was elsewhere.

“When I hit organic chemistry, I decided I was done with science,” McAllen said. “It was more of a hobby, so I decided I was going 100 percent into business.”

While working toward his business degree, McAllen was introduced to the Donaghey Scholars Program. After applying and multiple visits to the office, he was accepted, making his experience as a nontraditional college student more meaningful.

As he spent time studying in abroad in Spain and making memories with his peers, McAllen was faced with an unexpected dilemma.

“In 2012, my dad said he was retiring,” he said. “He wanted to shut the business down. He was tired of emergency repairs.”

As a business major with the mind of an entrepreneur, McAllen decided to start his own business. A month following his dad’s retirement, he started Excel, an emergency refrigeration repair company.

As a new business owner completing as-needed services, McAllen experienced numerous days when there was no work and no pay. Eventually, McAllen used what he had learned in his business courses to devise a Plan B.

“I learned that I needed a recurring service, so I started looking for opportunities for a better business that I could be passionate about,” he said.

While looking for business ventures, McAllen was also in search of a final project for the Donaghey Scholars Program. Because his business seemed to consume his life, he hoped to find a way to tie the two together.

Things worked out in McAllen’s favor.

One morning, he received calls from a restaurant owner whose freezer had shut down and a restaurant owner whose ice machine had gone out.

Following the calls, McAllen called his secretary, who was also his grandmother, to let her know they’d meet for lunch once he finished repairing both the freezer and ice machine.

While working on the ice machine, he made a discovery that would take his business idea to the next level. The water level sensor was covered in mold, a fungus he learned about during a science class.

“I was thinking ‘I’m going to meet my grandma in like 30 minutes here for lunch,’” he said. “‘She’s not eating this ice. Period.’”

Before he left the restaurant, McAllen scheduled cleaning for the ice machine to be done the next day.

“I got in there and I was really passionate about it that morning,” he said. “I tore everything apart and got all of the mold out of this thing. That’s when it dawned on me, this is a real business.”

After that day, McAllen cleaned the ice machines of all the restaurants where his grandmother dined, making this duty an extension of Excel.  

Realizing he was onto something big, McAllen decided to use the ice machine cleaning as the basis for his final project. After presenting the idea to the Donaghey Scholars committee, it was approved and McAllen was ready to begin research.

To craft his idea into a business plan, McAllen came up with the name Clean Ice, but quickly reverted back to what he had learned in his business courses to create a better foundation.

“It’s hard to protect a name like Clean Ice, because it’s too generic,” he said. “Safe Ice has just enough difference to be brandable and protectable. It sends a clear message about what we do.”

After securing a plan for his 2012 project, McAllen chose his committee of faculty advisers, and together, they worked on Safe Ice for more than a year.

“My advisers helped me to make Safe Ice a real business,” he said.

Focusing his efforts on his latest creation, McAllen decided to close Excel.

By the time he presented his final project, Safe Ice was already profitable.

Because of McAllen’s determination and skill set, Safe Ice is growing steadily, gaining new customers steadily.
McAllen hopes to see his business become the largest ice-cleaning franchise in the nation. Safe Ice now services restaurants, hotels, theaters, factories, and the UA Little Rock residence halls.

For more information, visit the Safe Ice website.

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