Many students who have chosen to enter the field of engineering are faced with the task of balancing rigorous coursework, adjusting to the raised expectations of higher learning, and developing and maintaining a viable social and professional network.
However, there are a select number of individuals who choose to take the balancing act one step further by becoming entrepreneurs. Communications assistant M.B. Humphrey sat down with three students who own businesses to discuss their keys to success.
Name: Richard Sherwin
Major: Mechanical engineering senior
Company: Central Green (2006) and Triton Business Solutions (2015)
Secret to Success: Know your market and know your customer
Sherwin started his first company, a landscaping business named Central Green, in 2006. The business started as a hobby and grew into something larger after cutting his parents’ and their friends’ yards.
One reason his company quickly expanded was his lower rates. He’s able to keep his prices “below south Baton Rouge prices” by repairing his own tools and equipment. His prices, along with the care and attention he was known by his customers to put into each yard, increased demand. So much, in fact, customers began calling upon his services during study and class time.
But that doesn’t mean he answered. “School comes first—always,” he said. “I sometimes contract our the yard work to friends of mine, if I’m not able to get to a property because of things I have going on with school.”
His prioritization skills have proved useful, he said, because the lawn business isn’t his only one. At the end of 2015, Sherwin and his wife, Natalia, decided to start another business, Triton Business Solutions. Through that company, they outsource machine parts by acting as a “middle man” between the company that makes certain parts and the companies who need them.
Prior to coming to LSU, Sherwin worked as a millwright and machinist in the oil field industry, often making these same parts that he helps connect others to in his newest business venture.
“I can tell companies, ‘I know your product, and I know that it’s not performing at the level you want it to,” Sherwin said. “And they trust me on that, because of my previous experience, and they are aware that I know what I’m talking about.”
Sherwin said keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in your respective market is necessary for any student interested in starting a business of their own.
“You need to network and know the types of people you will deal with in your field from day to day,” he advised. “Be knowledgeable about what you’re talking about and knowing how to communicate with all types of people will get you very far.”
Name: Joshua Manriquez
Major: Civil engineering senior
Company: Leontos, LLC (2015)
Secret to Success: Build and maintain a network of supporters
“Surround yourself with friends that are supportive and that want you to achieve those goals and dreams, no matter how crazy they are.”
That’s what Joshua Manriquez has learned since starting Leontos in 2015. The company, which is named after his mother’s maiden name in Greek, acts as an umbrella technology company currently seeking to create mobile apps with the intent of connecting individuals.
“We’re looking at old school concepts and recreating them for the new world. We’re looking to keep that same sort of nostalgia alive,” he said. “Our latest app takes the concept of social networking and puts a nostalgic spin on the concept of data sharing.”
Leontos will release the app within the next two months, making it available for download on iTunes. Within the next year, he plans to continue developing the app and furthering the company’s reach. Because the mobile app is still in trademark legal processes, Manriquez and his team have decided not to publicly share further details about the program at this time.
What he can say is that prioritization has been key in owning a business and that school comes first. He also said it is necessary to understand that “every person you spend time with isn’t always the best person for you to spend your time with.”
“When pursing something, don’t listen to anyone else’s doubts,” he said. “There are always going to be people that think it can’t be done.”
Manriquez also reccommends other young entrepreneurs use resources like LSU’s Business and Technology Center (LBTC) to help with their start-ups. The LBTC Business Incubator is specifically designed to “assist the growth of businesses by assisting entrepreneurs with company operations and supplying resources that are fundamental for success.”
Manriquez took advantage of this resource, he said. He worked with Student Incubator manager Kenny Anderson to set up his business structure and to get in touch with lawyers to ensure that intellectual property of the companies were protected.
Name: Reed Stephens
Major: Mechanical engineering sophomore
Company: Ambici (2014)
Secret to Success: Take advantage of the available resources
Reed Stephens is another student who tapped campus resources when starting his high-quality wooden watch company Ambici.
Stephens and his younger brother, Riley, learned about LBTC’s Student Business Incubator after participating in the incubator’s “Venture Challenge” last year. The annual challenge is hosted to showcase LSU’s student entrepreneurs and to provide their businesses with the necessary resources to achieve success.
“We had to draft a business plan and present it,” Stephens said of the challenge. “They really helped me fill in the gaps as far as a business plan and just sort of the small things you overlook or may not know about when starting a business.”
The duo began the watch company in the summer of 2014, just before Stephens started his freshman year in the College of Engineering. He initially raised money for his business through the crowd-funding site KickStarter, where he garnered over $20,000 for the wooden watches.
They sell the watches through their website and through Etsy, an e-commerce site. They’ve also recently started selling their product in brick and mortar locations like H.W. Rosenblum, a fine clothing store for men in Mandeville, Louisiana. His goal for the company is to further expand the brand into retail stores this year.
“It’s tough sometimes, just sort of making time for everything,” Stephens said about balancing his company and course load. “Last semester, when I got into classes like thermodynamics, school took up a lot of time. So, I ended up spending my entire holiday break doing things for the company, just to make up for the lost time during the semester. This semester, I’m definitely trying to spend more time balancing both.”
Ambici has given Stephens hands-on experience in learning the ins and outs of how to run a business, he said, and he aims to start another one in the future that allows him to help people more directly. He said the best thing a student should do when thinking about becoming an entrepreneur is to go ahead and start.
“Start early. People tend to use being in school as an excuse, but you’re never going to have as many resources as you do in college,” he said. “Most people likely have less financial burdens during this time, more time to invest, more connections and more opportunities to network.”