The Global Student EntrepreneurSM Awards are collegiate entrepreneurs’ version of football’s Heisman Trophy. Last year, 18 regions, including all of North America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and China participated in the competition. From that group, 10 regional winners came together to compete for first-place honors and a grand prize of $10,000. The innovation and social impact category winners each earned $3,000.
The awards were presented at the recent College Entrepreneurs’ Organization annual conference in Orlando. Since 1998, the GSEAs were run by the John Cook School of Business at Saint Louis University. However, the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a global community of entrepreneurs, will be the new facilitator of the GSEA program beginning in 2006.
First Place Award
Texas Christian University
Adam Blake is a junior at Texas Christian University majoring in finance and entrepreneurial management. Blake has always been interested in the theory and practice of investing money. Early in his freshman year, Blake noticed that TCU students were spending enormous amounts of money to rent houses and saw an opportunity to begin investing in rental properties. That same year, he earned his Texas real estate license and formed B&B Acquisitions, LLC with a partner.
After forming the company, he began conducting due diligence and found a few properties with astonishing returns. Blake acquired four properties in his first summer at TCU and rented them all out to students. Since then, B&B Acquisitions has moved on to property management, buying and selling for short-term gains, and commercial real estate investment and development.
B&B Acquisitions currently owns and manages an investment portfolio worth nearly $3 million that contains real property, stocks and options. Blake is now raising capital for his new company, Blake Venture Corp.
What are the biggest keys to your business success?
The biggest keys to my success have been staying determined and being surrounded by good people who are encouraging. It has been hard from the beginning to buy property and be a landlord at such a young age. The first bank I went to for a loan the banker basically laughed in my face and sent me on my way. I also have people around me that encourage me to keep succeeding, make smart decisions, and try new things. These are people like my father, first partner Jordan, mortgage broker and people at TCU such as David Minor. I know I can go to any of these people with any questions and get good advice.
How were you able to find the money to acquire the original properties you rented out to students?
I started buying my first residential properties with a partner, Jordan Bastable, who had access to the initial capital. After the first couple of houses we bought, it became a little easier. My dad co-signed on the first four houses to help me establish credit, and since then I have been able to obtain financing on my own. I also got my real estate license so I could start earning commissions on purchases and crediting them to the closing costs.
What advice would you offer for college students who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs?
The first thing I would say is to take advantage of your youth and the resources available at your school. People in the business world are very responsive to young entrepreneurs and more than willing to help, mentor, and give free advice. Once you have started a business it is important to efficiently manage your time between working and going to class/studying. It is hard to go to class and focus on school when there is work to be done and you feel like your learning much more running a business than you could in a classroom.
What are your future business plans?
My plans right now are to liquidate my residential assets and focus more on commercial real estate investment. I have also started a new company with a partner met through the GSEA awards, Adam Farrell. The new company is Silicon Solar Housing Solutions Inc. It is a subsidiary of his company that sells solar products. We already have two patents pending on new products. We have incorporated the company in Texas and plan on getting office space there and hiring two full-time employees by February 15th. Most of my time in the future will be spent with this new company.
Inspired by a ninth-grade science project for which he designed a miniature solar house, Adam Farrell founded Silicon Solar at the age of 15. At the same age, he also began installing residential solar systems. With only a few hundred dollars and a small workshop in his bedroom, Farrell began selling solar cells and educational kits with the intention of increasing student awareness of solar energy.
Shortly thereafter, his business expanded to design and manufacture solar integrated products, including solar lights, fountains and portable systems, among many other energy products. His customer base grew from his next-door neighbors to higher institutions of education and the U.S. government, serving more than 58,000 customers.
Operating out of 10,000 square feet of company-owned property, Silicon Solar has grown into one of the world’s largest providers of solar energy products. Farrell has further developed his business and engineering skills as an applied economics and management major. He is also a varsity track athlete at Cornell University.
What is the most innovative aspect of your company?
Silicon Solar Inc. was founded on the very principle of innovation design. Our ability to develop new applications for solar energy products has enabled us to remain ahead of our competition and new market entrants. The innovative aspect of Silicon Solar is our ability to create value-added products that enable solar power to bring a new value to standard products including telecommunications equipment, portable power systems, lighting systems and irrigation water systems.
Name one of the biggest lessons you have learned about entrepreneurship.
I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned about entrepreneurship is the ability to determine which projects to pursue and which projects to turn down. As an entrepreneur, you’re always exposed to new opportunities; and it’s important to have an ability to determine which projects are worth pursuing. This [ability] ties closely with time management and opportunity costs. I find that while being in college, on a varsity sports team, running a business, and having a girlfriend, it’s important to manage your time properly and choose the proper projects that fit your schedule and have the most value.
What motivated you to start your own company?
I have been surrounded by entrepreneurs within my family and have always had the desire to create something new and market it in some way. The ability to take an idea and turn it into something real that is offered worldwide is an excitement thath really drives me toward owning and operating my own company.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?
The biggest obstacle to overcome was the age barrier that was present when trying to move quickly in the business world with any type of scalable business. It’s difficult for other people to take you seriously when you’re talking about a $100,000 line of credit at the age of 16.
Social Impact Award
Ohio Northern University
Jason Duff recently graduated from Ohio Northern University with a degree in business management. Duff’s entrepreneurial career began by stocking vending machines at age 10. As his vending route grew, so did his commitment and aspirations. At age 18, Duff obtained his real estate license and became Ohio’s youngest Realtor®, providing him the opportunity to invest in property and learn the trade.
In 1998, Duff created Community Storage & Properties, Ltd., to help his hometown grow by developing and revitalizing commercial real estate. Standing behind his company mission of improving quality of life and economic stability, Duff researched the needs of his community and recruited a new bank, grocery store, investment office and industrial park – all properties owned, developed and managed by his company.
Duff also plays a big role in several community growth organizations and has been the driving force behind several government/private capital improvement projects, contributing to growth and reinvestment dollars well exceeding $3 million. Community Storage & Properties operates more than 500 self-storage units at four locations, numerous commercial and residential rentals, and more than 70 outdoor advertising displays.
What has been the largest impact that your company has made in your community?
The mission of my company is to purchase and manage projects that enhance the quality of life, economic stability and future potential of the communities in which I invest. I believe in investing in small town America and in areas that the "big box" developers overlook. Downtown communities are being reinvented at an incredible pace, and I see them as viable investment opportunity for my company. I purchase property, renovate it, and secure tenants that bring value to a downtown district.
Specifically, I have improved Lakeview, Ohio by opening a new bank, grocery store, and independent investment office, yielding new jobs and residual development in the surrounding area. Clustering service, retail, and manufacturing is an art and knowledge that I plan to share as I expand into other communities. Our impact is both tangible by the new businesses that occupy our storefronts and intangible by the perception changes in the communities we operate.
Why is community involvement such a key to a company’s success?
My success is based on knowing my market and, more importantly, my customers. Being a small business, I understand the importance of cash flow, finding and retaining good employees, and the importance of staying competitive. The health of our local economy is based on the success of our local companies – and I support local business by contributing both my time and resources to local non-profit organizations. Through those organizations I meet people, work with people, and learn more about their needs – an amazing source of new leads and referrals.
How did you find the money to start your business?
At age eight, I started my business with money that I had saved and made selling candy bars out of small honor system boxes at local business. As my vending route grew so did my aspirations to learn and develop my skills as an entrepreneur. At 16, I sold my vending business and my parents assisting in getting financing to purchase my first income producing property.
What are your future business plans?
I plan to continue to develop and expand my presence as a serial entrepreneur. I am not limited by industries or businesses and plan to continue my personal mission to remove complacency from my life and the lives of others. I will continue to develop the businesses that I have created and may start a few more. I’m always listening, watching, and ready to act.
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