BYU Produces Young Entrepreneurs

Preston Shumway
June 21 2004

The Tanner Building on the Brigham Young University campus houses the Marriott School of Management as well as multitude of business students. Faculty members encourage undergraduates to generate innovative ideas for the businesses of the future.

"We give them hope in the classes," said Gary Rhoads. "We tell them this is an idea you can make money on. Then we work on some tactics. I think a lot of times they have ideas, but they don't truly believe in their ideas, yet. I think they need people to say it is a great idea and could be financially successfully. They need someone to reinforce their belief structure."

The Marriott School's Center for Entrepreneurship was created to support young entrepreneurs. The Center encourages students to take their ideas from imagination to reality. David Bateman, an entrepreneurship student at BYU, received a scholarship from the center as a sophomore to start up his own company.

He not only established a successful company but gained real life experience with what he was learning in his classes.

"It's amazing as you are building your own business while taking classes," said David Bateman. "You are in the classes, and everything you are learning in your classes can be applied in your business. I had a few classes that were very boring, but I was riveted because what I was doing in my business perfectly paralleled what they were teaching in class. It's great to parallel your classes with the actual experience."

Before long, Bateman had another business idea. After talking to his wife about frustrations in her work, he could see a solution to her problem in property management software. So, he gathered a small team of students and put the idea on paper.

"We wrote a business plan and submitted it to the BYU competition and took first place in that," said Bateman. "We submitted it to four competitions in total. Second was the Utah Entrepreneurial Challenge, and we got first runner up in that. Then a third one by Fortune Small Business Magazine. We finally heard that we were first place in that competition. We won $50,000 with that one."

Their success didn't come easy. Being undergraduates, the team often felt mismatch with other competitors. Their most recent competition, the Venture Bowl, sponsored by Forbes Magazine, took them to New York to compete against the country's best business plans.

"We have always gone in these competitions like we were the underdogs, and this was no different in that we were a couple undergrads and we're competing against MBAs and doctors," said Zimmer. "Some of the faculty members were in 40s and 50s. It was pretty intimidating. But when we played like we didn't have anything to lose. It was a healthy attitude, and we ended up getting really lucky or -- it was a real honor."

Coming in first runner up amongst hundreds of entrants earned the team $250,000 in company seed money. In preparing for the competitions as well as in creating their company, the students drew on resources BYU had to offer.

"When I was going full-time, I just did all my homework on the sixth floor and, as professors passed, I would pick them off and just chat with them--get their input," said Bateman. "Everything we worked on there was an expert on that at BYU, so we'd go knock on their door and get all the input and advice we needed."

"These capital competitions were national had two BYU teams in them," said Mike Trionfo. "What does that say about BYU with Harvard, Stanford, MIT and all these other universities that are great? It shows that BYU has a high caliber of student that they are putting out. Bottom line."

BYU student companies sell a wide variety of products and services--from clothes and strollers to landscaping and outdoor cinema. One company even offers pet carnivorous plants. But despite their differences, these student run companies share common values gained while studying at BYU.

"I think BYU has helped us to maintain a healthy perspective with the success and financial goals of the company," said Zimmer. "We've tried to maintain the attitude that this is not just a company we are building for financial gain. Instead, we are able to help a lot of families in the process, and there is a lot more riding on it than money."

"At BYU we do not have a problem of great vision. What we have a problem with is that very few students will actually go out and do it. It's the doers that make the difference in the world, right?" said Rhoads. "The only difference between an entrepreneur and a student is the entrepreneur student is one who'll do something today that others won't."

While Bateman, Zimmer, and other entrepreneur students work to make their companies successful, their accomplishments contribute to BYU School of Management's top 10 percent ranking among business schools nationwide.

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