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Starting a business is rarely part of the plan for people beginning college.
Most students just dream of passing American Heritage or completing a grueling pre-med program. But tuition and rent bills start rolling in, and finding a stable way to pay for those can be difficult, as Jenna Miller, a BYU graduate and founder of Puppies For Rent, can attest.
The Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, in the Tanner Building, advocates encouraging students to be innovative and, if the need arises, create their own careers.
“Especially in today’s economy, sometimes it’s tough to find a job,” said Assistant Director Jeff Brown. “It’d be very smart for people, in every discipline, to learn more about the principles of entrepreneurship, just in case they have to go and create their own job.”
That’s what Miller did.
Miller had planned to go to law school. At BYU she majored in English and wrote for an on-campus magazine to pay the bills. Miller lost her writing job when the periodical was cancelled the summer after her sophomore year. She started the job-hunting process but struggled to find a reasonable position.
“I was having a really hard time finding a job that was a mutually good fit, and I was getting pretty frustrated about it. So that’s when it occurred to me, like, ‘Hey, maybe I should try and do my own thing instead,'” Miller said.
She beta tested several ideas that summer and decided on the one that is a hit among Utah college students: Puppies For Rent, a puppy-loaning and prospective adoption service.
“I had no idea what would happen, because several of my friends just laughed in my face when I told them about the idea initially,” Miller said. “But there were all these cool strangers at BYU who were open-minded enough to try it out, so it was able to start catching on.”
Renting puppies plays a new role in the BYU experience, and it began with Miller posting her first sign on campus and receiving storms of phone calls and emails from interested students.
“I think Puppies For Rent has been a hit because we are satisfying the needs of the puppies who need homes … and a need I honestly didn’t know existed until I got involved in the company of holding a puppy,” said Miller’s manager, Lane Lawrence.
Puppies For Rent started out as a phone and email service, with such a high demand that appointments sometimes overlapped. Former co-worker and fellow student Brad Corry can remember one instance in which the company had to purchase an additional puppy an hour before an appointment to keep up with the demands.
Corry said his vision for the company grew within those first few busy months. “I knew Puppies For Rent could be a legitimate business when I spent more time during the day answering phone calls and delivering puppies than I did actually studying or going to class,” he said.
The company hit a few roadblocks as Puppies For Rent was established. The initial media coverage brought a wave of criticism from people who thought Miller and her company were exploiting the puppies they rented out. Miller staunchly disagreed and is proud to say that Puppies For Rent has been able to place each of its animals with permanent families by the time the puppies reach 12 weeks of age.
Miller and the company has been featured on Good Morning America, the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post and Yahoo. Puppies For Rent has its own website, Facebook page and Instagram account with more than 3,500 likes or followers each.
Miller expanded her company and brings puppies to college students in Logan and, more recently, the University of Utah.
She has accomplished all of this while graduating from BYU with an English degree. Miller also found time to prepare and take the LSAT, scoring within the top one percent on the test. She was offered a position teaching an LSAT prep course around the nation.
Miller is currently teaching in San Antonio, Texas, while Lawrence oversees most of the business. Miller maintains her involvement with the company on a financial and managerial level, and she particularly enjoys brainstorming new ideas and marketing strategies for Puppies For Rent.
“Jenna is a brilliant girl. She is very driven and open minded,” Lawrence said. “She’s always thought outside of the box, and … it doesn’t surprise me that she has started a successful business.”
Miller still plans to go to law school. She’s currently looking into a rigorous dual law and business degree, and her friends and family members are highly supportive.
“She’s ridiculously smart. She could do literally anything she set out to do simply because of her sheer willpower,” Corry added.
Miller isn’t sure what the future holds for her and her company. Whether she sells Puppies For Rent or maintains her position from a distance, one thing is for sure, however: between her business experience, creativity, drive and intelligence, there’s not much she can’t do.