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BYU student entrepreneurs struggle to find balance between their business and education.
Forbes recently named Provo as the “No. 1 best place for business and careers.” The local business landscape provides many students the courage to try their luck with their own ideas. The temptation to drop out of school arises when the students’ up-and-coming businesses begin to demand extra time and attention.
Nile Hatch, associate professor of entrepreneurship, said this can be a tough decision for students to make, especially when a student has a business that requires full-time attention. “It’s always a difficult decision; I sympathize with them,” Hatch said.
Many student entrepreneurs question the need for an education once they see an open door to their dream careers.
Chase Armstrong, a sophomore from West Jordan studying entrepreneurship, wrestles to find an equilibrium between his business and schooling. “You want to be a really, really good student and get straight A’s, but at the same time you have to put time into your business — answer emails, you have to talk with founders, partners, investors, establishing media relationships and all of these other different things,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong’s brainchild is NeverSnooze, a two-piece alarm clock designed to get one out of bed for good. One piece is left on a nightstand, and the other is placed in the location where one begins the day, such as the bathroom or kitchen. The first piece will not stop ringing until plugged into the second.
NeverSnooze will be released early next year. Armstrong plans on completing his education, regardless of the success that may arise from his business venture, because he sees education as an investment for his business.
“I am going to school for my business, so I am not so concerned about getting straight A’s, but more like I need to learn about this material so I can apply it to my business,” Armstrong said.
Matt Alexander, a fellow entrepreneurship major and the founder of the website and newsletter “Provo Scene,” said developing his business has provided him with many insights into the business world, causing him to rethink the value of his education in comparison.
“I’ve learned more from just doing it than I have from the last couple of years of school,” Alexander said. “If you want to be a doctor or an engineer I get that, but if you’re going to be starting your own business, a piece of paper that says, ‘I have a degree’ isn’t gonna get me a business.”
Professor Hatch counters Alexander’s thought process, advocating for an education.
“There is an active debate over whether or not entrepreneurship requires an education. I would argue that entrepreneurship definitely needs an education,” Hatch said.
Hatch admitted he is biased in his opinion because he speaks as a professor. He said he believes education is bigger than someone’s long-term financial standing and that people better themselves through education. Hatch acknowledges there are those who can learn without structure, but he sees them as the exception rather than the norm.
Jeff Larson, an assistant professor of marketing at BYU, believes all education has a goal that can be reached several ways.
“I think you would assume that I would say yes, they should come back and finish their schooling, but education should have a purpose, and if you have already fulfilled that purpose and you have the education and experience … starting a business itself is its own education,” Larson said.
The three innovators behind Swop, a revolutionary geo-social networking app, would agree with Larson. Swop takes existing technology and brings it to a new level, enabling users to “swop” contact information. The exchange is not limited to phone numbers but also includes social media outlets like LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. Swop decreases manual transfer mistakes and helps to avoid potentially awkward situations.
Mitch Fultz, a finance major from Westminster, Maryland, created Swop. Fultz’s closest partners are friends Sean O’Rourke, an advertising major, and Jameson Gardner, a microbiology major. All three students deferred this semester in order to devote their full attention to the business.
“We all had to make the decision to jump on this wholeheartedly or not at all. You can’t be really sitting on the fence with it,” Fultz said.
Swop embarks on a multi-phase campaign beginning Oct. 3 at the BYU v. Utah State game, with a tailgate party and other events before and during the game.
The trio has not determined if they will return to school after this semester.
Whether or not these students decide to stay in school, their families remain supportive. Some parents held reservations at the start, but once they saw the passion and devotion their sons had to Swop, they jumped on board and have been great sources of encouragement.
All of these young entrepreneurs give credit to BYU, and Provo in general, for their opportunities to enter the business world. From networking and engaging with entrepreneurs in the community to finding quality partners at BYU, these students were exceptionally grateful to BYU and the local business community.
“We love BYU … we are grateful for everything BYU has done for us,” O’Rourke said. “Without BYU, this never would have happened. All of it was facilitated by the university.”