Starting early: Student entrepreneurs aim high

By Martha Groppo

Not all entrepreneurs drop out of college. Famous businessmen like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates may have made it to the top without a degree, but several UK students have their sights set on graduating with both a diploma and their very own business.

Wes Brooks is one of these students. The materials engineering junior is the president of UK’s Entrepreneurship Club.

“We feel it’s incredibly important to start a business while you’re in college,” Brooks said. “You really only have to worry about rent and tuition. If you look at the statistics, it’s actually a lot easier to do it in college.”

The club shares an office with the Wildcat Investors Club. The simple room doesn’t have much decoration, but it’s full of ideas.

“I’ve got a countless number of ideas,” Brooks said.

Last month, the group began the Wildcat Venture Fund, which allows students to pitch their concepts for new businesses to panels of local businesspeople and investors for the chance to win money to help them get started. The next pitch is April 14.

“We have a lot of connections with local entrepreneurs and investors,” Brooks said.

The cash awarded for these business pitches varies, but it can lead to the ultimate goal of the exercise: more capital.

“$1,000 really is a drop in the bucket, and we know that,” Brooks said. “The point is to get you to the next conversation.”

The next conversation might be with a venture capitalist, a person who gives capital in return for shares in the profits, or an “angel,” a person who typically gives less, but also requires less ownership.

The benefiters of last months’ Wildcat Venture Fund proposed Beta Base Company. The pitchers were avid climbers who want to launch a business that makes high-definition videos of all the foot and hand holds in climbing routes across the U.S. The winners now get to enter their idea in Idea State U, a competition that could award them an additional $35,000.

UK President Lee Todd, a man Brooks describes as “a sort of serial entrepreneur himself,” began the Entrepreneurship Club in 2002. Brooks became president in August 2010, and things have been picking up since then.

Brooks’ most recent idea for a new business involves his schoolwork. Brooks is exploring the idea of creating an iPhone app that allows students to more easily use scientific and mathematical equations.

“There’s not really one place that has a calculator with major-specific equations,” Brooks said.

Unlike a site like Wolfram Alpha that requires students to know equations before using the calculator, Brooks’ app would take equation sheets like the ones made for tests in common classes and digitize them. Brooks said he didn’t think professors would have any issue with this kind of app because, “You have to understand what numbers go where.”

Brooks plans on going to Silicon Valley for several years, but wants to ultimately bring his technology ventures to Lexington.

“I don’t plan on being the next Steve Jobs,” Brooks said, citing the tendency that some entrepreneurs demonstrate to become obsessive about work and sacrifice friends and family.

“You have to balance your aspirations with what you want to do outside of work,” Brooks said.

Woods doesn’t just aspire to start one successful company.

“My passion is serial entrepreneurship,” Brooks said. “I want to start companies for the rest of my life. I’m an entrepreneur, and I know it. I was born to do it.”

Brooks said he is drawn to “the concept of growing something from scratch that can literally change the world.”

Brooks believes in the power of entrepreneurship to tackle problems both abroad and in his beloved home state of Kentucky. He cited TOMS shoes and UK’s own DanceBlue fundraiser as examples of ideas that became reality with the ability to effect positive change. Mainly, he believes in aiming high.

“Just because you’re from Kentucky doesn’t mean you’re subpar to the rest of the world,” Brooks said. “I really want students to understand that they don’t have to wait until after college. Go out there and start something.”