'There’s no other place where we would have found people so united'
One of BYU’s student startups just walked away with the most prize money at the biggest and most prestigious collegiate business plan competition in the country.
“Zaymo,” with its e-commerce tool that embeds the online shopping experience within a customer’s email, took home $875,000 in total cash investments after taking third place at the 2023 Rice Business Plan Competition last month. This comes after winning the $30,000 grand prize at the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge earlier this year.
One of the brightest sandbox teams from BYU’s Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, Zaymo bested 42 other startups competing for $3.4 million in total prizes at the Rice competition, now in its 23rd year. The BYU team of students Brice Douglas, Santiago Gomez-Paz and Daniel Jones, won six investment awards after pitching their business plan to investors, entrepreneurs and executives. The nearest competitor received four investment prizes, and other winners typically receive only one.
“This is amazing agreement across multiple investor groups picking Zaymo for their prize money,” said Michael Hendron, academic director for the Rollins Center. “It shows the strength of their pitch and the appeal of the business idea.”
Zaymo essentially moves the online shopping experience from a website to an inbox by allowing consumers to access a company’s site in the same email the company sends them, without having to change tabs or go to a new webpage. With the embedded web app, users can change options, read descriptions, look at images, add a discount code, or change their order without leaving their email.
The startup is the latest in a long line of successful startups to come out of BYU. According to research from Stanford’s Venture Capital Initiative, it takes 11 years after graduation on average for people to found startups that go on to become unicorns (companies that reach a valuation of $1 billion without being listed on the stock market). For BYU graduates it takes less than six years.
Douglas, Gomez-Paz and Jones credit much of the success they had at the Rice Business Plan Competition, as well as the success of Zaymo overall, to the unique environment of BYU and its emphasis on spiritual learning coupled with secular education. In particular, the students credit Chris Crittenden and the BYU Sandbox program, as well as Mike Levinthal and the Levinthal Fellowship experience for getting their idea off the ground and being influential to the formation of the company.
“I love BYU for providing a place where all aspects of life can be brought together; we can have the business, entrepreneurship, education, and spiritual side of things all in one,” said Jones, a computer science major with a minor in entrepreneurship. “Prayer and revelation have been an important part of the decision making in our business.”
Gomez-Paz mentioned specifically how the spiritual values students embody at BYU personally made all the difference in his life. He shared how at one point when times were tough and he was barely getting by with food, his teammates intervened.
“They had noticed that I was going through hard times, and they stepped up and helped me,” he said. “That’s because they’re not only smart and capable people, but they’re also disciples of Jesus Christ who look for the needs of others and act to fulfill those needs.”
The students all agree that experiences like these have brought the team together in powerful ways and allowed them to create a successful startup. The unity they have developed is something they feel has been unique to their time at BYU.
“I think there’s no other place where we would have met other people who were so united,” Jones said. “Not only are we united around the product, the company, and the vision we have, but we go to the temple together and we start out meetings with prayer. We talk about all aspects of our lives together.”