BYU fosters entrepreneurship environment

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Carter Smith's company manufactures and sells pieces of composite structure known as Isotruss. (Carter Smith).
Carter Smith’s company manufactures and sells pieces of composite structure known as Isotruss. (Carter Smith).

The Princeton Review ranked BYU the No. 2 school for undergrad entrepreneurship in the country, confirming many students’ beliefs that BYU cultivates an environment where an entrepreneurial spirit thrives.

BYU business strategy major Lee Chang said he started his business career by fixing sinks and drywalling before college. Countless late nights and early mornings of hard work led to calloused hands and an experiential knowledge of business. He said the foundation of entrepreneurship he established as a teenager only grew when he got to BYU.

“The BYU business environment encourages a spirit of courage… Because everybody is so encouraging, you feel like you can do anything,” Chang said. “But that alone is not good enough because a lot of people… think they can do this big thing and then they fail. But BYU is different in the sense that the LDS culture is born on hard work and the pioneer spirit.”  

Chang said this culture encouraged him to develop Venga, an app that helps both renters and properties screen potential tenants at the swipe of a finger. He said after doing property management for so long in a technologically-stagnant industry, it was time to make things easier.

Chang said it is not so much BYU as an institution, but the people who create an environment where entrepreneurship thrives.

“Professors are so approachable. They are so willing to help, and they are very supportive of entrepreneurial endeavors,” Chang said. “That’s the biggest thing — the people. Students and professors are really supportive.”

He said his greatest tool has been the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology in the Tanner Building. The Rollins Center has information about competitions, potential BYU alumni mentors and funding opportunities, according to Chang.

Rollins Center Managing Director Steven Fox said what really sets BYU apart from other schools is the 150 alumni mentors who freely give their time to help coach students. He said BYU’s full curriculum on innovation and entrepreneurship has 43 classes at the undergraduate level and 29 at the graduate level.

“Due to the focus of the Rollins Center and colleges [and] departments on campus that partner with us, nearly 1-in-6 students at BYU take at least one class in innovation [or] entrepreneurship during the year,” Fox said. “That approximately 5,000 students! We doubt any other university has that level of involvement.”

Fox said the Rollins Center is unique because it helps students from all majors connect and innovate together. This environment has started hundreds of businesses, increased their revenue by hundreds of millions of dollars and employed tens of thousands of people.

One such entrepreneur is Carter Smith, who recently graduated in information systems from BYU. When he was younger, he started a Christmas light installation company and quickly realized he never wanted to work for someone else again. Smith is what people call a “serial entrepreneur,” he said, because he just continues starting businesses.

Smith said the business he is now chief operating officer for began when he bought the patent for Isotruss from BYU. Isotruss is a composite structural material that is 10 times stronger than steel, one-tenth the weight of steel, is cheaper to manufacture and can be used to build cell towers, concrete reinforcement, utility poles and airplanes.

Through his experience starting many businesses, including Isotruss, Smith learned what is most important in entrepreneurship.

“One thing I would recommend to all entrepreneurs is not to study entrepreneurship…you need a skill,” Smith said.

He said companies like Google and Apple want to hire him because of his skills with information systems, and with these skills there is always a safety net of steady job opportunities if entrepreneurial pursuits fall through.

Smith said his friends attending other universities are there to find jobs with companies, while BYU cultivated in him the belief he could actually work for himself the rest of his life.

“I feel really grateful that I got to go to a school that is so focused on creating jobs in the economy and creating entrepreneurs,” Smith said.

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