Student entrepreneurs find success in the midst of schoolwork

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In spite of all the demands that face the working student, Kaleb Thompson has grasped entrepreneurship to propel his family into success.

With the financial crisis threatening our nation’s economy, many students are looking toward self-reliance and self-sustainability to pull them through tough economic times and rising unemployment. Entrepreneurship is the answer for many BYU students, not only because it encourages financial freedom but also because it is a way to build the economy and the community around them.

“I didn’t want to do summer sales because I don’t do so well at being directed,” Thompson said. “It’s been nice to pick my own partner, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Thompson, a senior studying Spanish, has been an entrepreneur for the past three years. Together with a childhood friend, Thompson created the asphalt seal coating and repair company, ICD Seal Co. LLC. What started out as a way to bring in some extra income during the summer has developed into a company that has given Thompson life skills and positive experiences.

Thompson said he has gained valuable talents that will jumpstart his eventual dental practice after graduation. Although Thompson said he maintains a busy lifestyle as a student – running a business, working at the Missionary Training Center, managing an apartment complex and raising a family, he expressed his joy in building and developing a company.

“We have been very successful,” Thompson said. “Mostly not on the monetary payout, but to be able to build the business and put it back into the business. Also networking has been successful. I am learning how to, so I can hopefully have a successful dental practice someday.”

Entrepreneurs take innovative ideas and products and offer goods and services that were not available before. Managing and creating a business from the ground up is difficult for some and profits don’t always follow the amount of work invested into a business.

Entrepreneurs face fluctuating work hours and a roller-coaster of successes and failures. Because many entrepreneurs are entering unestablished markets, ingenuity and creativity is often met with setbacks and disappointments.

“Like any startup, we have had our share of hoops to jump through and brick walls to face, but the thing that has been the most important to remember is that failures are the best learning experiences,” said Bryan Bennett, COO of Mealdrop. “Even if you don’t make a lot of money, it is worth everything you put into it.”

Bennett created Mealdrop with a fellow BYU business student one and a half years ago. Mealdrop offers meals to students all across campus without the need for a student to visit the Wilkinson Center. Mealdrop has recently grown to serve business parks in addition to providing meals on BYU campus. Mealdrop was developed and created while Bennett and his partner were full-time BYU students.

“There are great resources and professors on campus,” Bennett said. “Most of my education was filled and surrounded by a great entrepreneur spirit on campus. I’ve had a dream ever since I was a kid to be an inventor, finding problems and fixing them. And when I came to BYU there were great students that I met that shared my feelings.”

Bennett said he urges students to get involved and participate in entrepreneurship activities on campus.

“There are at least 10 different business competitions on campus,” said Spencer Harman, a teacher’s assistant for the entrepreneurship lecture series offered by the Marriott School. “I’ve gained so many connections and even if you don’t win, the networking opportunities are amazing.”

Harman is one of many student entrepreneurs on campus. Last year he won the idea-pitch competition and is currently developing a universal battery pack for power tools.

“BYU has had so many amazing successes come from student entrepreneurs – Joshua James sold Omniture for $1.8 billion,” Harman said. “1-800 contacts made around $300 million, and KT Tape has been very successful. They were students here only a few years ago.”

Many BYU entrepreneurs are not business majors. The Rollins Center of Entrepreneurship and Technology is aware of over 200 student ventures with only a portion of those studying business.

Ryan Whiting has registered a personal business license with the city and state. While majoring in Japanese as a full-time student, he created businesses selling bee-keeping equipment, tuning pianos and translating business documents into Japanese. He said although a business background would have been helpful in creating all of his businesses, a diverse skill-set has put him far ahead in certain industries.

“An entrepreneur really needs to know a lot,” said Steve Liddle, academic director of the Rollins Center. “An entrepreneur can’t say ‘I’m going to sit in my little cubicle here and I’m going to focus on my one skill-set.’ Entrepreneurs need to be micromanagers in all things, they need to be jacks-of-all-trades, they need to know a lot of stuff and do it well.”

Liddle encouraged all students to get involved with one of many entrepreneur events and activities that are offered on campus. The business plan competition, the business model competition, the Crexendo SEO competition and the home-based business plan competition are just a few of the events sponsored by the Rollins Center. Tens of thousands of dollars are given to students each year for competing in these events.

Students can learn more about how to pursue entrepreneurship ventures by attending BYU Entrepreneurship Week Sept. 26-30.

“What you need to do is get outside your little team and get out and talk with customers about your ideas, and don’t be afraid,” Liddle said. “Go talk to people, not just your significant other, or your mom or your dad. Go talk to people, then you will have more confidence.”

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