BYU’s Business Startup Factory

Dec 27 2010


In the world of college sports, Brigham Young University is known as a quarterback factory, producing the likes of Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer and Max Hall. But more recently, BYU is being recognized as a business startup factory — churning out hundreds of student-run ventures each year.

Unlike some factories that produce thousands of identical products, BYU creates an array of different business ventures. The Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology is at the core of this process, aiming to help students across campus become successful entrepreneurs.

"We are reaching out to other colleges on campus and partnering with them," says Scott Petersen, past founder's chair of the Rollins Center. "We want students from different disciplines to know how to commercialize their educations through entrepreneurship."

The Rollins Center also encourages technological innovation, as it becomes increasingly important in today's business world.

"Technology is a big game changer," says Jeff Brown, a Rollins Center assistant director. "Young people have grown up with technology and understand it much better than their mature counterparts who already own businesses. Even though young entrepreneurs don't have a lot of capital, they have ideas that spur innovation."

Such innovation is what drives the BYU Business Plan Competition and brings in students from across campus to compete for more than $100,000 in cash and in-kind prizes. Competition winners have gone on to become some of the most enterprising and recognizable names in their fields.

Businesses that have come out of BYU's assembly line include Josh James and John Pestana's Web analytics firm Omniture, which was recently acquired by Adobe Systems for $1.8 billion; and Jonathan Coon's 1-800-CONTACTS, which now supplies contact lenses to retail giant Walmart.

Bill Price, former executive director of the Rollins Center, says successful ventures from BYU should come as no surprise, since innovation and self-reliance are part of the school's culture. As Price points out, the university's namesake, Brigham Young, helped build a thriving society in the desert out of nothing. That tradition continues today with students currently running more than 200 businesses, according to a recent survey by the Rollins Center. That doesn't include basic service businesses such as lawn mowing and window washing.

As entrepreneurial opportunities expand, BYU's startup factory will likely become more efficient, Price says. "Perhaps in addition to looking for the next big BYU quarterback, you should also be looking for the next big BYU business," he suggests.

The Marriott School is located at Brigham Young University, the largest privately owned, church-sponsored university in the United States. The school has nationally recognized programs in accounting, business management, public management, information systems and entrepreneurship. The school's mission is to prepare men and women of faith, character and professional ability for positions of leadership throughout the world. Approximately 3,000 students are enrolled in the Marriott School's graduate and undergraduate programs.

Contact Joseph Ogden (801) 422-8938
Writer: Dustin Cammack and Bethany Morgan