Students Win Fortune Small Business Competition

Marriott Alumni Magazine
January 1 2004


Like a good husband, David Bateman listened when his wife complained about inefficient software used at the apartment complex where she worked. Then, like a good entrepreneur, the business student started a company to make the most of the situation.

Bateman's company, Property Solutions International, Inc., and the business model he helped develop worked so well it won Fortune Small Business magazine's first nationwide business plan competition.

Joined by his business partners -- BYU students Benjamin Zimmer and Michael Trionfo and non-students Jeramy Morrill and Jordan Jones -- Bateman accepted the $50,000 award 30 October at a ceremony in New York City. The BYU undergraduates beat graduate students from the University of Georgia and Harvard, the second and third place winners, respectively, to claim the top spot in what was dubbed the "MBA Showdown." The BYU team is featured on the cover of the November issue of the magazine, a sister publication to Fortune.

"This is unbelievable," said Bateman, president and CEO. "We are so excited to have won the showdown, especially with such stiff competition."

The management team got its first taste of victory in April when it won the $25,000 grand prize in BYU's annual business-plan competition, thus qualifying for the national showdown. Fifty-nine entries from forty-nine top-tier schools like the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business were submitted to the competition. In July, eight teams chosen as finalists made ten-minute teleconference presentations to venture capitalists and magazine officials judging the competition.

"It's been hard to wait these last few months to see how everything would turn out," said Trionfo, an electrical engineering student and lead requirements analyst. "But it was worth the wait."

Bateman and Zimmer took the company from paper to the real world in the spring. Property Solutions now boasts thirty full-time employees in Dallas, Las Vegas, California, Idaho, and Utah. Using the company's software, called VantageXP, apartment complex managers can easily create individualized web sites that let potential tenants take virtual tours and allow current tenants to pay rent online. An impending version of the software will synchronize with managers' accounting systems to save time and money. The product is currently being used on forty-five properties in Utah, Idaho, and Texas -- the biggest being Utah-based Triton Investments, which manages close to three thousand units.

The students credit BYU and its Center for Entrepreneurship for helping them win the competition and start their business.

"The analytical and writing skills that I've learned as an English major have served me well; they've been very applicable," said Zimmer, executive vice president, from Port Orchard, Washington. "The resources at BYU are unbelievable for students who want to start their own business. We really owe a lot to BYU -- everyone has been very generous."

Bateman, who founded another web-based company, DearElder.com, agrees.

"I never would have started Property Solutions were it not for BYU's Center for Entrepreneurship," said Bateman, who used $160,000 in profits from DearElder.com to fund the development of his new company. "Beyond my regular classes, the business plan competitions and the student entrepreneur of the year competition gave not just me, but many students, the incentive to go out and try new things. I think that later in life I would have arrived at this point, but I certainly wouldn't be here now were it not for the involvement I've had with the Marriott School."

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