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Student entrepreneurs show off businesses at BYU competition

Students at Brigham Young University are out to prove there’s no need to wait until after graduation to get a big idea off the ground. Many of them had a chance to demonstrate how they’re turning ideas into reality at the 2009 Student Entrepreneur of the Year Competition.

During the annual event, hosted by the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, student business owners competed for a chance to win a combined total of $10,000 in cash and in-kind contributions. Three finalists presented their businesses in front of a group of successful entrepreneurs, who selected the winning individual or team.

Paul Dickson, a junior studying public relations from Cedar Park, Texas, and Taylor Turnbull, a junior neuroscience major from Alpine, Utah, won first place with an idea inspired by the desire to give college students an alternative to summer sales.

The duo’s company, Meter Solutions, installs utility meters that remotely report usage to the utility company, a technology that cities around the country are rapidly adopting. Because they have been able to keep their overhead low with a simple business model, Dickson and Turnbull’s company has landed big contracts that should keep seven-figure revenues coming in over the next few years.

“We wanted to build a company that would provide an opportunity for hardworking college students to make money,” Dickson says. “We identified an industry with large growth potential and created a business model that would fill the need we saw in that industry.”

John Keller, a first-year Executive MBA student from Salt Lake City, came in second place with a business built around the idea that making money and positively affecting the world aren’t mutually exclusive.

“I'd been on a number of humanitarian trips where I visited villages that had few if any books,” Keller says. “I also vividly remember trying to find a solution for all of the leftover books I had when I was getting ready to graduate.”

The result of these two observations was Worldwide Book Drive, an organization that collects used books and donates the majority to developing countries, while selling some of the books on the Internet to fund the enterprise.

Third-place winner Craig Guincho, a junior studying history teaching from Miami, addressed what he saw as high prices in the hair cutting and styling industry with his venture $7 Cuts. The business manages to keep its prices well below the industry average by focusing on only one aspect of the trade: the haircut itself.

Guincho says building his business has provided valuable lessons.

“Being an entrepreneur is about building relationships,” he says. “Since I can't cut hair, our barbers and stylists are a very important part of our team, along with our investors and managers. As owner, my job is to put it all together.”

Supported by the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, the SEOY Competition was founded in 1992 to reward degree-seeking students who manage their own businesses. Past winners of the SEOY Competition include Jonathan Coon, founder of 1-800-CONTACTS; David Bateman, founder of; and Jonathan Freedman, founder of DownEast Outfitters.

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Writer: Dustin Cammack

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