Archive for the ‘BizWatch’ Category

Young Millionaires Who Made It Bigger

October 5, 2007

By Kristin Edelhauser Chessman

What do Sir Richard Branson and Michael Dell have in common? Aside from their obvious success and wealth today, they were both recognized by Entrepreneur magazine as “Young Millionaires” in the late ’80s. When we first interviewed Dell, he was 23 years old and fresh out of college. He spoke about the struggles of running a $6 million business while attending school, but said the rewards were more than worth it. And you can bet that today, as the world’s second-largest PC maker, he’d say the exact same thing.

Our past Young Millionaires have plenty in common; for instance, many of their ideas were initially greeted with skepticism. That’s what happened to California Pizza Kitchen founders Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield, who told us in 1986 that people thought they were crazy for going into the restaurant business. Yet today, CPK is an industry leader with more than 210 locations in 29 states and eight countries.

Liz Lange, 40
Founder of Liz Lange Maternity
Featured in November 2001

Then: In 1996, prospective retailers told Lange that pregnant women wouldn’t spend money on her sophisticated maternity wear. Ignoring them, Lange borrowed money from friends and family and opened a small office in New York City, where she sold made-to-order clothing to women by appointment. Thanks to word-of-mouth, Lange’s business started booming, and in 2001, she reported $3 million plus in sales.

Now: Lange continues to prove those retailers wrong. Today, the Liz Lange Maternity Collection, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, can be found at Lange’s three Liz Lange Maternity flagship boutiques, and her secondary line, Liz Lange for Target, is the exclusive maternity line at all Target stores and on Though Lange wouldn’t release sales figures, she says the company has grown in huge multiples since 2001. Lange adds that her constant activity, which includes lecturing around the country, writing her monthly column for Prevention magazine, and spending time with her family, suits her perfectly. “I’d be very bored without it. I’ve always dreamt big, but never thought it could be like this,” she says. “Not a day goes by that I don’t get stopped on the street or receive an e-mail from someone telling me I made a difference in their life.”

Larry Leight, 54
Co-founder of Oliver Peoples

Featured in October 1989

Then: How many companies can say their second year of sales surpassed their first by 400 percent? Not many. But Oliver Peoples, which began selling antique eyewear in 1986, reported that statistic to Entrepreneur back in 1989. “The business has been a giant success, and we’re still young!” said Leight. In 1987, Oliver Peoples created its own brand, Oliver Peoples Eyewear, and named Leight the chief designer.

Now: Oliver Peoples is now preparing to launch its 20th anniversary campaign and showcase its new collections. Since we last spoke with Leight, he’s been named one of the top nine American designers by Conde Nast Publications and Ford Motor Company. Though the company has changed, it’s continued to grow dramatically. In fact, Leight says the company continues exceeding sales projections each year. Perhaps the most important business lesson Leight has learned is to not give up. “Even if everyone is against you, if you are passionate about something, you have to fight for it,” says Leight. As for the next 20 years, Leight hopes to continue designing expressive, stimulating eyewear that will appeal to the brand’s global clientele.

Richard Allred, 44
Founder of Toes on the Nose
Featured in November 1999

Then: Sometimes you have to test out more than one path before settling on a career. That’s what Allred learned after graduating from the University of Southern California and getting involved with real estate. After he realized it wasn’t the right path for him, Allred decided to take a leap of faith and gather $110,000 from friends and savings to build his company, creating Hawaiian-print clothing. When interviewed in 1999, Allred’s 7-year-old company was expecting to double from $5 million to $10 million in sales that year.

Now: When we last spoke with Allred, he said he hoped his casual, classic surf clothing would become timeless fashion. Now, with 33 employees and about eight years under his belt, Allred can be confident that Toes on the Nose has done just that. Though Allred prefers not to release his total sales volume anymore, he says the company has been focusing on expanding internationally and has established beneficial partnerships with International Marketing Group. “We’re doing a lot. We’ve leveraged our brand in different marketplaces, which has allowed us to grow with the help of other peoples’ expertise,” says Allred. But more than anything, Allred says the last 15 years have taught him the importance of a good internal support team. Since his marriage and the birth of his daughter, Allred has been forced to learn how to delegate and trust in others’ abilities.

Tony Hsieh, 33

CEO and Director of
Featured in November 2003

Then: It all started in 1999 when Nick Swinmurn made an unproductive trip to the mall in search of shoes. Disappointed by his lack of purchases, Swinmurn got the idea for, a one-stop shop for men’s, women’s and children’s shoes. But first, Swinmurn needed financial backing. He persuaded Tony Hsieh, who had earned $270 million from selling LinkExchange to Microsoft in 1998, to jump on board. “On the surface, it seemed like the quintessential poster child for a bad dotcom idea,” said Hsieh four years ago. But after recognizing the $40 billion market, Hsieh saw potential. By 2003, the company was projecting $65 million in sales.

Now: Potential was an understatement. This year,–which is derived from the Spanish word for shoes, zapatos–is projecting $800 million in sales, bringing the company that much closer to its original goal of achieving $1 billion in gross merchandise sales by 2010. But not everything has remained constant with the company, starting with its image. “Back in 2003, we thought of ourselves as a shoe company that offered great service. Today, we really think of the Zappos brand as about great service, and we just happen to sell shoes,” says Hsieh. has expanded by adding apparel, handbags, sunglasses and watches to the site, and is promising more to come. Another key change: Founder Swinmurn left Zappos in 2006 to start STAGR, a website focusing on customized apparel.

Julie Aigner-Clark, 41
Founder of The Baby Einstein Company
Featured in November 2000

Then: From the beginning, Aigner-Clark’s business ambitions have been focused on her family. They started with her infant daughter, Aspen, in 1995, when Aigner-Clark realized there were no age-appropriate products for sharing her passion for art and classical music. So the former teacher took matters into her own hands and created her first video, Baby Einstein, featuring captivating pictures and mothers speaking different languages. After pitching her idea for two years and not making any progress, Aigner-Clark got her big break at the American International Toy Fair in New York City, where buyers snatched up her product. By 2000, the company had reached sales of $10 million.

Now: In 2001, Baby Einstein was acquired by The Walt Disney Company, who continues nurturing the brand and has seen sales climb past the $200 million mark. As for Aigner-Clark, it’s been a bittersweet transition. “It’s not as if my ‘baby’ grew up and went to college; it’s as if my baby was picked up by an alien space craft and beamed to another planet,” Aigner-Clark says. Perhaps the best lesson she’s learned through it all: “Don’t take anything for granted. Enjoy the moment. Recognize the beauty and good fortune. And take pictures.” This ambitious mother of two, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, shows no signs of slowing down. She recently started a new business, The Safe Side, a nonprofit that deals with children’s safety, and she’s gone back to her roots by teaching literature two days a week.



Apple, Target, Facebook Tops for College Students

October 4, 2007

By Beth Snyder Bulik

They love Apple, shop at Target, use Facebook online and are split on whether they adore or despise the Geico cavemen. They wish they were better at sports, watch TV more often than surf the web and view a lot of YouTube videos, but generally don’t create them.

Meet the next generation of leaders and consumers: today’s college students. Anderson Analytics’ third annual fall brand survey of college students queried their likes and dislikes as well as brand affinities and media consumption of the 18-to-24 set and came up with plenty of lessons for marketers.

Women and social networks
While Facebook ranked as the most popular website among this demographic, social networking is twice as popular with young women as young men. MySpace, which was No. 1 last year, ranked No. 2 with females but dropped out of the top five for young men. That means marketers using social-networking sites to target young people are reaching far more females than males.

“The gender differences here are significant,” said Jesse Chen, lead consultant for Anderson’s GenX2Z youth-research group. “It’s the opposite of what we see when looking at use of social-networking sites for business purposes among adults, where men are far more likely to use sites such as LinkedIn. Among this younger demographic, it’s the women who are the über networkers.” Which also raises an interesting question: As these women age, will they change the networking dynamic between women and men in the future? And will new LinkedIn-type competitors rush to fill that need?

Tom Anderson, managing partner Anderson Analytics, offered anecdotal evidence of his own LinkedIn list of 800 with many more men than women. “We’ve seen older adult women tend to be more careful with networking and sharing information. Obviously, that’s not the case for younger women,” he said. “As these women age, I think the disparity will go away. … The question is what kind of choices will be available for them?”

While the college group is one of the smallest demographically in the U.S. — about 18 million projected by the U.S. Census this year vs. around 80 million baby boomers — it is one of the most influential. And the one paid most homage by marketers.

“They have huge impact on what their parents buy, and then they have their own money, more than any other generation before them, and of course they are the consumers of tomorrow,” Mr. Anderson said, adding that marketers also target the 18-to-24 crowd to reach society at large. “In America, everyone wants to be younger, so we look to younger people. We think they’re happier than us and we want to be like them, resulting in a younger-targeted marketing message,” he said.

Not surprisingly, the brand that ruled with this group was Apple. It ranked as the No. 2 overall best brand by 17% of the students; ranked Nos. 1 and 2 as most anticipated products with iPhone and new iPod versions; ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in product recommendations with iPod followed by Apple products in general; and ranked No. 6 in most popular commercials.

Love and hate for lizard
As for commercials, the ads these kids love are also some of the ones they hate. Geico ranked No. 1 on both the best and worst list of commercials — 25% ranked it good, 26% ranked it bad. Axe Bodyspray, iPhone, Burger King and Apple also made both lists.

While their preference for technology was apparent, particularly among men who ranked Digg and Engadget among their top 10 websites, they didn’t make the leap to consumer-generated media. Only 8% said they uploaded videos to YouTube. And in fact, 64% don’t make videos at all while another 14% who do make them said they don’t share them with anyone. While 75% surf social-networking sites and 71% read news online, only 14% said they wrote their own blogs.

Other than online habits, there were plenty of other disparities between the sexes. More than 71% of the young women recently read a book for pleasure vs. 55% of men, while more than 55% of men played video games alone vs. just 21% of women. But even togetherness didn’t up the video-game-play time: Only 17% of women said they had recently played a game with others, while more than 40% of the men had.


A Marketplace with a Mission

October 3, 2007

By Laura Tiffany founder Rob Kalin hasn’t just created an online marketplace for crafts; he’s built a site that creates entrepreneurs and strives for a sustainable future.

After speaking with Rob Kalin, the founder of handmade products marketplace, it’s apparent that like any true entrepreneur, his company isn’t just a means to a paycheck. It’s a mission: A mission to change the way commerce works; a mission to promote sustainable products; a mission that, much like eBay, is creating an exponential number of entrepreneurs in its wake.

EBay is an apt, but ironic, comparison. It was frustration with the online auction giant that first inspired Kalin to create Etsy in 2005. As a woodworker, he was looking for a place to sell his wares. “I [felt] like eBay [had] grown to the point where it’s this faceless corporation, and I wanted to create a company that would have a handmade feel to it,” says Kalin, 27. He and a group of college friends holed up in his Brooklyn apartment for six weeks before launching the initial beta version of, with Kalin on design lead and his co-founders, Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik, handling programming.

A little more than two years later, Etsy has 100,000 active sellers and 500,000 members. More than 1 million items have been sold through the site, which has become synonymous with handmade goods. Part of the site’s attraction is its simplicity. With just a few steps, a crafter can set up his or her store with a subdomain and list items at a set price. Users pay 20 cents to post an item for four months plus 3.5 percent of the selling price.

And the site already has gained cachet in the crafting world. It’s not considered unprofessional to forego building your own website in favor of having an Etsy store; in fact, some crafters who already have established websites build a presence on Etsy, too.

This rapid growth has proven to be a challenge. Etsy now has 47 employees; building the engineering team was so difficult that Kalin opened a new office in San Francisco to attract talent. While rejecting the idea of bringing in an outside CEO to manage Etsy, he has hired a financial person. “We have a really good advisory team, but I also want to keep that experimentation and I don’t want to feel like I have a formula for how things work,” he says.

For the Long Haul
Kalin applies his deep interest in sustainability to his company, not just the products that are sold through it. He views Etsy as a long-term commitment, not as a ticket to dotcom 2.0 wealth, and treats his employees like a community. He pays them a fair wage and provides good benefits and profit-sharing, as well as a casual work environment. “I wanted the company itself to be a community, based on how much we see each other but also because we do have this common purpose,” Kalin says.

This sense of community also pervades Etsy on the user end. The forums hum with Etsy members answering other users’ questions. The latest feature on Etsy, The Storque, is an online magazine written by members. And Kalin hired five of the top Etsy sellers to run Etsy Labs, a community crafts center that shares space with Etsy’s 7,000-square-foot Brooklyn, New York, headquarters. “It’s been incredible,” he says. “Two nights ago at 11 p.m., there were 10 people sitting around cutting patterns, learning how to make their own skirts and shirts.”

For Kalin, it all ties back into his bigger mission: helping to build a sustainable future. “[An item] has this whole other layer of meaning to it if you know who gave it to you, who made it, or if you made it,” he explains. “When it breaks or needs alteration, you can fix it or you know somebody who can fix it. Instead of living in this utterly throwaway culture where if something doesn’t work or doesn’t fit, you just get rid of it.”

Kalin and the 100,000 Etsy sellers aren’t alone in this mission to create. The Craft & Hobby Association charted a 3.3-percent annual increase in the crafts market from 2002 to 2005. The association also says 4 million people each year discover crafts. This all bodes well for Etsy, which should bring in more than $2 million in sales this year.

Right now, Etsy’s engineering team is catching up with the site’s growth, but Kalin’s mind is always racing ahead, thinking of new features. He sees a huge opportunity in internationalization, where Etsy will be served up in local languages, showing items in a user’s native currency first.

“I think there’s still 99 percent of the world who doesn’t know who the hell we are,” says Kalin, in a very glass-half-full manner. That just means Etsy is still on its way to becoming the sustainable world marketplace that Kalin has always envisioned.


Dorm Room Dreams

October 3, 2007

By Sarah Pierce

Sure, there are plenty of college students that charge $5 for a cup at a keg party. Rarer are the students that see opportunities in their collegiate surroundings and start successful businesses aimed at serving other co-eds.

From the educational to the entertaining, these three companies started by twentysomethings are making it by “real world” standards. Read on to find out what inspired them and whether being a student has been a burden or an asset to their growing ventures.

Who: Joe Leary, 21; Peter Handy, 21; and Dan Abrahamsen, 22
What: Moving and storage company aimed at fellow college students
Year Started: 2005
Startup Costs: $30,000 self-funded

Moving On Up: It was in the back of a dirty U-Haul truck where inspiration struck Joe Leary and Peter Handy. Handy had enlisted the help of Leary and a few other friends to help him move his belongings at the end of his freshman year. They found few options for storing their belongings over summer break and instantly knew they could cash in on helping other students facing the same problem every year.

“We were pretty blown away by the demand that took place our first year,” says Handy, who recalls the excitement of seeing the orders pour in slowly turn to fear. “We had to basically close the order process down on the website because we had such high demand. We wanted to make sure we could serve our customers the best we could our very first year.”

To prepare for the next year, they hired professional moving companies and launched a new backend of the website to provide better customer service. It was a smart move that helped push their first year’s sales of $50,000 close to $200,000 the following year.

Successful Students: According to the trio, being full-time students has actually made it easier for them to run their business.

“Probably the most advantageous aspect of being a student entrepreneur has been being here among our own customers,” says Leary. Most students don’t know he owns the company, so he’s able to get honest feedback from them about what they like and what needs to be changed.

“We get a lot of support from the university, which is very helpful,” adds Handy. BoxMyDorm is now the official moving and storage company for the student body at Penn State and serves a select number of other college campuses. But the box doesn’t stop there.

“We have a very aggressive growth plan,” says Handy. “You’ll see us next year in a lot of new places across the country.”

Mi Maestro
Who: Archie Jeter, 26
What: Live, interactive Spanish classes taught by Latin American tutors via virtual classrooms
Year Started: 2006
Startup Costs: $15,000 from an angel investor

My teacher: Archie Jeter is no stranger to Spanish classes. In addition to his college courses in the U.S., he spent a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain. It was in Guatemala, though, where he learned to embrace the language.

“There was something special about the immersive style of teaching that takes place in Latin America,” says Jeter, who spent two months in Guatemala before his senior year. “I saw how much everyone enjoyed learning–and how fast they learned Spanish.”

As a self-described “internet nerd,” Jeter began wondering how he could connect people in the U.S. that want to learn Spanish with the unique learning opportunities in Latin America.

The answer was Mi Maestro, a site that provides live, one-on-one tutoring with a native speaker located in Latin America. Mi Maestro students book the classes based on their own schedule and click on a link when they’re ready to begin the lesson. Once inside the virtual classroom, they have access to a chat feature, an interactive white board and a video window where they can see and hear the tutor in live video and audio.

Double Duty: Jeter wrote his business plan, pitched the idea to investors and analyzed the Latin American market to choose the best location for teachers–all while doing an internship and completing his senior year in a master’s program at Florida International University.

“It was what I wanted to do and I had a lot of passion for it, so I made the time and made it a priority.”

Final Connection: For Jeter, learning Spanish from a native speaker is crucial to fully understanding the language. “Learning a language is more than just learning words or grammar; it’s actually learning the culture,” he says. “Through Mi Maestro, you’re able to make a real connection between the two.”

Who: Ricky Van Veen, 26; Josh Abramson, 26; Zach Klein, 25; and Jacob Lodwick, 26
What: T-shirts with humorous, tongue-in-cheek sayings aimed at twentysomethings
Year Started: 2004
Startup Costs: $4,000 self-funded

Wearable Wit: What began as a fun side business for Ricky Van Veen, Josh Abramson, Zach Klein and Jacob Lodwick is now a successful company that has people wearing the friends’ jokes. The team sat down in March 2004 to sketch out 10 shirt designs with the goal of selling the shirts on to fund the then-fledging site. The funny T-shirts were an instant hit with the CollegeHumor fan base.

Tees with ‘Tude:BustedTee‘s shirts range from the topical–“Leave Lindsay A-Lohan”–to the old-school, with inside jokes only their targeted age demographic would understand. A picture of a Nintendo cartridge that says “Blow Me,” for example, is only funny for those who owned a Nintendo and remember having to blow the dust out of the cartridges to make them work.

“Culturally speaking, our humor is very on point with our age demographic, which is 18 to 28,” says Josh Mohrer, director of retail.

That sort of focused marketing is what makes BustedTees so successful–not to mention they’re just plain funny.

Graduation: BustedTees now sells about 1,000 shirts a day and can be found in retail chains like Urban Outfitters. But it was the acquisition by IAC last year that really pushed the small side venture into a bona fide company.

The interactive conglomerate acquired a controlling share of Connected Ventures, the four-company group started by Van Veen and Abramson that includes CollegeHumor, BustedTees, video-sharing site Vimeo and a second T-shirt business called Defunker.

“Despite being owned by this big company, we’ve really retained our personality in a big way,” says Mohrer. “This company has always been run by and for 20-year-olds, and to change that would be a mistake.”


Asia’s Young Entrepreneurs

August 21, 2007

By Brian Bremner
Asia is home to the fastest-growing pack of economies on the planet, including China, India, and a resurgent Japan. Less appreciated is the growing and dynamic entrepreneurial class of young managers cropping up in the region who are starting to make their presence felt. This new generation is globally aware, extremely Internet savvy, and willing to pounce on a smart idea even if it means grueling hours and financial risk early on in life.

For the past month, has set out to find the most interesting examples of this new breed. We asked readers to nominate standout young entrepreneurs. Our editors reviewed the nominations and narrowed the field to this group of 20 finalists. Take a look at them and their businesses, and at the end of the slide show, we’ll ask you to vote for the biz whiz you think shows the most promise. Browse through, cast your vote, and will report the results.

Arif Ayub
Karachi, Pakistan
Age: 23

Ayub launched Softflux back in 2000 as a one-man operation. Today the IT solutions firm offers everything from Web development services to high-end management consulting to help companies boost their profitability and the productivity of their mobile networks. It has roughly 70 employees and development associates in Beijing, Dublin, Romania, London, and Silicon Valley. Softflux’ clients include a variety of Pakistani banks and pharmaceutical companies, and Ayub plans to expand the company’s operations globally in 2007 and boost annual revenues to $120 million by the end of the decade. He is also the founder of Saltflow, a private-equity firm specializing in tech investments.

Bellamy Benedetto Budiman

Founder & Designer: Neuro-Designs
Jakarta, Indonesia
Age: 23

Bellamy started Neuro-Designs back in high school when he realized he had a knack for design and started doing freelance assignments. Today, the firm handles Web, print, logo, and multimedia assignments, as well as design consulting, for various clients in Indonesia. It has formed alliances with other design firms, photographers, and printing companies to better serve its clients. Neuro-Designs is also an active supporter of, an Indonesian design community.

Surya Budiman

Chief Technical Officer: PT Asia Lintas Media
PT. Asia Mobile View
Jakarta, Indonesia
Age: 25

After studying data communication and software engineering in Australia at Queensland University of Technology, and doing a stint with an IT company in Singapore, Budiman decided to run his own show in early 2005. Result: PR Asia Lintas Media, a system integration and IT solutions outfit with special expertise in satellite communication networks. Budiman is also playing a big role in the development of another company called PT Asia Mobile View that is providing content services such as news, music, and video streaming to Indonesian cell phone users.

Sasikanth Chemalamudi

CEO: Habits
Hyderabad, India
Age: 23

A graduate with honors from the Birla Institute of Technology & Science in Pilani, Chemalamudi turned down an offer from outsourcing powerhouse Infosys to pursue his passion for entrepreneurship. He co-launched Habits, a creative learning resources company that encourages more creative thinking with the aid of educational materials such as musicals, plays, and interactive games. Habits is also involved with projects in rural India to encourage self-employment.

Rama Krishna Gaddipati

Co-founder: Bridle Information & Technology Solutions
Tenali, India
Age: 24

Bridle is a mobile applications and services outfit—and that is a good space to occupy given the explosive growth of mobile telephony in India. And Bridle co-founder Gaddipati (the 2001 winner of the Intel CyberFiesta national software development contest) may already have a hit on his hands. The service is called SchoolMATE, and it is a comprehensive student analysis system that allows parents to monitor their child’s progress at school. The service feeds information on conduct, examinations, and report cards to subscribers, and employs technology such as mobile text messaging, the Web, and e-mail. The company has gained about 70,000 subscribers in Hyderabad and Vishakapatnam in India.

Dinesh Goel

Director: Blue Ribbon Industrial (int’l marketing site)
Indore, India
Age: 24

A recent business school graduate from Thunderbird’s Garvin School of International Management, Goel took on a major operational role with his family-run, $10 million-a-year wool products business started by his father and uncle. It’s a tough business, and the price competition is fierce. Still, since signing on as a director and key executive in February, Goel has boosted production at the company’s two manufacturing facilities by 50%, and sales are improving. He is focusing on product innovation and also looking for retail tie-ups to get wool products directly to consumers faster.

Christian K-L Yau Heilesen

CEO & Founder: Funmobile
Hong Kong
Age: 22

Heilesen hit the ground running when he arrived in Hong Kong in 2002 from his native Denmark. (He is of Danish and Chinese descent.) A year later he launched Funmobile, initially as a game developer supplying mobile phone companies with content for their WAP (wireless application protocol) portals. Funmobile has since expanded overseas to developing, licensing, and distributing games, music, graphics, news, and other services sold directly to mobile phone users in Australia, Belgium, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Britain, and the U.S. Today, the Funmobile group of companies employs about 185 employees and is global in reach.

Nguyen Minh Hieu

Director and Co-Founder: DreamViet
Hanoi, Vietnam
Age: 25

After spending about a year as a financial analyst for a U.S. investment firm in Vietnam, Hieu decided to strike out on his own and launched DreamViet. His vision is simply to create the best Internet company in Vietnam. The flagship product is an e-commerce research and technology guide Web site at It provides search tools to research and buy consumer electronics. DreamViet also provides Web site development advice and services for Vietnamese merchants.

Darshan Hiranandani

Director & Chief Executive Officer: Hircon International
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Age: 24

Darshan started working for Hiranandani Group, India’s leading real-estate group and the family business, while attending high school and college in India. His deal-making synapses started firing early, however. When he was 17 he launched a go-kart track called Hakone and a family entertainment center in Bombay. He currently serves as president of the Bombay operations of Hiranandani Group. On top of that, he led the conglomerate’s expansion into Dubai, where he founded Hircon International. That company is involved in helping develop the “23 Marina” Project, which, when completed in 2008, will be the world’s tallest residential tower. In the first two years of operations, Hircon has generated more than $100 million in revenues. In Bombay, Hiranandani has projects under way that involve 300 million square feet of new developments.

Mao Kankan

Chief System Architect & Chief Executive Officer: Majoy Entertainment
Age: 23

Chinese gamers’ appetite for cool, interactive games via personal computers is pretty much bottomless. But Kankan created Majoy Entertainment in 2005 to offer an entirely different gaming experience. In Majoy’s role-playing games, participants actually gather in the same physical location and use an array of wireless digital devices to interact in a virtual gaming environment. It sometimes gets rough. Players often try to “kill” each other with digital tools such as infra-red toy pistols.

Vikas Kedia

Founder & Partner: MobiTrail
Bombay, India
Age: 25

The next big platform shift in online gaming will be to mobile handsets, and Kedia thinks his company is positioned to capture that growth. This 25-year-old programmer based in Bombay is founder of MobiTrail, which develops and delivers games to mobile phone users. Its games and applications can run on networks using J2ME, Symbian, and BREW operating systems. The company is developing some hot games of its own and has such clients as Reliant Online Gaming in India and Hong Kong-based Mobile2win, as well as other international customers.

Atul Prakash Khekade

Co-Founder: Innovation Trip
Bombay, India
Age: 24

Khekade launched his first business, a Web technology and software applications company, at 17, and has written a book on graphical user interfaces. Now the University of Mumbai-trained engineer and scholarship recipient is trying his hand at the business tourism market. Last year he co-founded Innovation Trip, which sets up U.S.-based workshop-and-trip combos for senior executives in the developing world interested in the latest best-business practices in the States

Kentaro Iemoto

President & CEO: Clara Online
Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan
Age: 24

Iemoto has packed plenty of drama into 24 years. Consider: At 14 he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, underwent surgery, and spent several years in a wheelchair. He pulled through, and in junior high school, at 16, he launched Clara Online with $9,000 in seed money. Today he is a well-known figure in Japanese technology circles. Clara became the first player in Japan to offer Linux-based virtual private servers connected to broadband networks and leased out to clients. Iemoto now manages six data centers in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Seoul from offices in Japan and Taiwan. It’s hard to imagine anything slowing him down, but a newborn baby has Iemoto thinking about work-family issues for his 38 employees. At Clara, they all have the option of taking annual child-care leave.

Victor Lang

Senior Partner: Global Futures Educational Consulting
Hong Kong and Chicago
Age: 22

It’s your world—fix it! That’s the kind of youthful zeal driving Global Future Educational Consulting, which provides educational materials for those interested in learning about international conflict resolutions and diplomacy. The company’s core service is hosting simulated U.N. conferences where students role-play as ambassadors and debate the issues of the day. Hong Kong native Lang splits his time between Chicago (the company’s U.S. office) and Asia. This year and next, Global Future will host “model” U.N. confabs in Chicago, Hong Kong, and Bombay.

David Lee

Chairman & Co-Founder: Team & Concepts Limited
Hong Kong
Age: 25

Lee learned something about adversity early in life. To help the family’s strapped finances, he hawked oranges on the streets of Hong Kong at age 7. Tough times, though, spawned a burning desire to succeed. In 2003, Lee and friends launched TnC, an information technology service that offers an array of online services for event planners. The company manages membership databases and online registration, sends e-mails to conference participants, and provides companies with interactive editing tools to update their Web sites. Earlier this year, it rolled out a beta version of EditGrid, a spreadsheet service where users can upload and host a spreadsheet on the Web, share it with colleagues and friends, and collaborate with other users on the same spreadsheet in real time.

Ario Pratomo

Founder: PT. Unique Kargonize

General Sales and Service Agent (Cargo) for Etihad Crystal Cargo
Jakarta, Indonesia
Age: 23

Pratomo has been on the fast track since he graduated early from Edith Cowan University in Australia at the age of 20. While working at Speedmark Indonesia, a freight forwarding company, he helped design a new operating system to improve the speed of bookings and tracking shipments. He was then asked to create a service agent company called Unique Kargonize to sell cargo space for a unit of Etihad Airways, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier. He is a logistics whiz to watch.

Vishal Sampat

Founder: Convonix
Bombay, India
Age: 24

Sampat caught the entrepreneurial bug early in life. While still in his teens, he launched his first venture, a streaming online music radio service featuring Indian tunes. His latest venture, launched in 2001, is Convonix. It is an Internet marketing firm with more than 35 employees that helps clients enhance their online traffic and get better placement in search engine results. The company has also developed its own Web analytics and campaign management programs

Hendy Setiono

Founder: Baba Rafi Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia

Age: 23
Baba Rafi Indonesia founder Setiono is a 23-year-old in a hurry. Back in 2003 he launched the Kebab Turki Baba Rafi fast-food chain, and it now has 65 outlets across 10 cities in Indonesia. Its kebab sandwiches, as well as chicken and beef burgers, are sold in a variety of restaurant formats from portable booths to shopping center outlets. His company is also branching out to franchise business consulting. Setiono is the recipient of the Indonesia Small Medium Business Entrepreneur Award (2006) sponsored by the government.

Eric Tsai



Age: 21
Talk about a global mindset. Tsai was born in Taiwan, attended high school in the U.S., and picked up a degree at Sophia University in Japan. (Yes, he’s fluent in Chinese, Japanese, and English.) He blitzed through both high school and college and managed to graduate two years ahead of schedule. Tsai was then hired as the youngest fixed-income analyst on the payroll at Credit Suisse. Now, Tsai (together with 10 former Sophia classmates) has just launched a beta version of a new portal called, available in both Japanese and English. (The formal launch is in September.) Tsai hopes to establish it as the can’t-miss site for all sorts of industry, brand, and product popularity ranking data provided in a reader-friendly format. If it attracts enough traffic, Tsai thinks the online advertising will follow.

Divyank Turakhia

Co-Founder, President & Director: Directi Group

Bombay, India

Age: 24

Turakhia tried his hand at Internet consulting in high school at age 14 and, two years later, launched Directi Group with $600 borrowed from his parents. In the first month of operations, the business managed to generate enough revenues to return the borrowed amount and get the company rolling. Today, the company is debt-free, has more than 1 million customers for its array of domain name registration, Web hosting, and site building services, and employs more than 250 people. It is one of the fastest-growing domain registration companies in the world. When Turakhia isn’t running the show, he pursues hobbies such as sky diving, paragliding, and flying airplanes.


Take Two Yields One Speedy Startup

April 16, 2007

Will Anderson, a 2006 Stanford B-school graduate, knows something about making the most out of a business failure. Despite winning the 2005 Business Association of Stanford Engineering Students (BASES) business-plan contest, his company, Adaptive Hearing Solutions (AHS), which aimed to revolutionize the hearing aid industry with its sound filtering technology, proved to be a dud. “We had gotten to the point where we could test the technology, but in the end, the tests didn’t pan out,” says Anderson. “The assumptions didn’t hold, and we had to give up. Otherwise, we could have spent four years trying to make something out of nothing.”

Since shuttering the fledgling business, Anderson, 30, started Start-up Fund, an incubator designed to test potentially VC-worthy business ideas. Anderson was determined not to waste any more time than necessary on ideas without legs. “The purpose of Start-up Fund was to find, test, and launch one company that would have a high probability of success (compared to a typical seed-stage startup). Once this company was formed, Start-up Fund would be folded into the new company. It was not meant to be a perpetual new venture incubator,” says Anderson. His plan was simple: He’d spend about one month assessing each opportunity, identifying the critical assumptions upon which its success would depend, and then spend the next four to six months testing the assumptions, with a target budget of less than $100,000 per idea.

Multiple Pitches

For money, he relied on a handful of investors whom he knew through Stanford and the BASES business plan contest. Unlike traditional investor/startup relationships where investors bet seed capital on a single entrepreneurial venture, Start-up Fund relied on investors willing to throw in between $50,000 and $150,000 each, who would count on Anderson’s experience with the failed AHS to determine each idea’s viability. Since Anderson wasn’t pitching one idea, investors had to be convinced that he would be able to find good ideas, identify and test the critical assumptions, and then execute a business strategy to make the company successful. And Start-up Fund was designed to own equity in the company that resulted from it, so the investors wouldn’t receive a payout until the company achieved a successful exit in either an IPO or acquisition.

The ideas Anderson tested came from a variety of sources. Some of the 10 or so on his list were his own. Others were technologies developed at Stanford or ideas referred through contacts in VC firms, where partners see a lot that are just too early for their funds. “It used to be the case that an engineer could get funded with little more than a patent application,” says Anderson. “But, in the last seven or eight years, VCs are now doing less but bigger deals. This means they have to chase the bigger, later-stage deals and can’t focus so much on the seed deals. This is the market gap that I wanted to exploit,” says Anderson.

The Bottom Line

Anderson believed an entrepreneur with a good idea might only need $100,000 to test a potential blockbuster, but with all the other costs—including manpower, technology, market research, and other resources—the actual cost could approach $500,000 to prove its worth. Start-up Fund’s system was designed to wipe out the extra $400,000 in expenses.

Many times, entrepreneurs need to raise seed capital from a number of different investors, only later going to the VCs if the idea has the promise of scalability and big profits, says Anderson. But he believes it’s important to do the testing before building out a whole company structure. “You wouldn’t want to build a huge sales force before you know your technology,” says Ira Ehrenpreis, general partner at Technology Partners, a Palo Alto (Calif.)-based venture capital firm. “The [venture capitalist’s] discipline is in the initial identification in what the elements of risk are, and ensuring that you’re capitalizing a company to reach discrete risk mitigation milestones,” Ehrenpreis adds.

Start-up Fund embraced that idea. It just sped up the process by removing the inefficiencies of the startup process. It enabled Anderson to test several ideas under one legal entity, without going through a separate fund-raising process for each, while maintaining the ability to kill an idea that didn’t pass validation. “Rather than investing $500,000 to test one idea under the old model, a similar amount of money could test three or four ideas under the Start-up Fund model,” says Anderson. And they would get a bigger stake in the resulting company—providing it is successful.

In the Driver’s Seat

Anderson was in the process of testing various ideas when he hit pay dirt: a Web-based automobile loan origination platform with products aimed at solving problems faced by dealerships, lenders, and borrowers. He quickly set about launching the new business, folding Start-Up Fund into it and maintaining the same pool of investors. His new company, Risk Allocation Systems, closed its Series A funding and officially incorporated on Mar. 21. On July 1, the Redwood City, (Calif.)-based company will launch its first lending products in California, with initial customers consisting of Bay Area automobile dealerships and lenders.

“For me, I just wanted to build and manage a fantastic company. Start-up Fund gave me a better starting point for doing that,” says Anderson. Today he is doing what he originally set out to do—using his experience with failure to increase his chances of success.


The Perils of Being First

March 19, 2007


In July 2001, two young entrepreneurs clad in surfer attire strode into the offices of Juice It Up!’s California headquarters to present top executives with a rather audacious request: prominent display of their new brand on the chain’s menus.

The brand was Sambazon, and its product was the frozen pulp of a Brazilian berry called açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-ee), which was chock full of antioxidants and healthy Omega fats. The fruit was virtually unknown in the U.S., and these two brothers who ran Sambazon Inc., Ryan and Jeremy Black, by most accounts, were the first U.S. supplier. But to Larry Sidoti, Juice It Up! Franchise Corp.’s vice president of development, açaí was just another smoothie ingredient, like a banana or blueberry.

“We aren’t in the business to promote brands,” Mr. Sidoti says he told the Blacks. “We’re in the business to promote Juice It Up!”

To Mr. Sidoti’s surprise, Ryan looked at his brother and shot back, “I guess we don’t have anything else to talk about then.” Explains Ryan, now 32: “They must have thought we were crazy, but if they were going to say, ‘We’ll just sell açaí,’ but not Sambazon, I didn’t see that as even an option.” Fortunately, Mr. Sidoti kept listening, and an hour later the brothers left with an agreement to supply Juice It Up! with açaí — and have it billed under the Sambazon brand.

One cornerstone of entrepreneurship is to be at the forefront of trends, pushing the envelope to find and deliver the next big thing. But being ahead of the pack can also be a tough place to be, and — as the story of Sambazon shows — being first can be even tougher. From educating consumers to outmaneuvering new rivals and perfecting packaging, trailblazers like the Blacks face a raft of challenges.

“The first guy on the beach usually gets shot,” warns Jeremy Black. “That’s the danger when you are a small guy, a pioneer.”

Today some half-dozen serious players with names like Zola and Bossa Nova compete in the açaí space. Billion-dollar beverage giants, including Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc.,Anheuser-Busch Cos., as well as Bolthouse Farms Inc., are adding the fruit to their beverage lineups. Procter & Gamble Co. recently infused açaí into its Herbal Essence shampoos and conditioners. As a result, sales of açaí products catapulted to $13.5 million in the 52 weeks ended last October from $435,000 in the same period two years earlier, according to natural-food tracker Spins Inc.

Amid it all, Sambazon, which now has 100 employees, has more than survived. The San Clemente, Calif., company’s sales totaled about $12 million last year, and the Blacks this year expect sales to increase by 50%, and to turn a profit. Their products are distributed at such stores as Whole Foods, Wild Oats and Jamba Juice, as well as many conventional grocery chains, while Sambazon açaí is found in hundreds of other companies’ products, including those of Stonyfield Farm and Häagen-Dazs.

Is the company’s future guaranteed? Not yet. But how the Black brothers made it this far offers a road map for others forging new ground.

What exactly is açaí? That’s what Ryan Black wondered on a 1999 turn-of-the-century surfing trip to Brazil, where he marveled at the crowds downing bowls of the frozen purple mush. Açaí grew atop palms dubbed the “trees of life,” and locals waxed about its mystical powers of vitality. Workers would shimmy up trees, pluck the berries into baskets and send them by boat to processing plants, where the skin was scraped off the seed, blended with water into a pulp and then pasteurized and frozen to preserve its nutrients and flavor — a curious earthy blend of chocolate and red wine.

A health-conscious former college and (briefly) pro football player, Ryan Black sensed açaí would appeal to mainstream U.S. consumers craving healthier fare. After raising $100,000 from friends and family, he and his brother began setting up an infrastructure in Brazil to harvest açaí organically and do it in a way that protected the rain forest and promoted fair trade. The trouble was, almost no one stateside knew what açaí was — or even how to pronounce it, for that matter. So how could they get their story out with no real marketing budget?

The answer was, essentially, to be traveling professors on their own. They would personally teach the nation what açaí was all about, by visiting stores and giving the stuff away.

From the beginning, the Black brothers hit music and environmental festivals and marathons, setting up booths and building a grass-roots following. They canvassed smoothie vendors, their first customer base, blending açaí into drinks, leaving literature behind and hawking their broader mission. “They’d put on quite a show, going from store to store and putting on this Barnum and Bailey act,” recalls Mr. Sidoti of Juice It Up!, which now has 130 stores in California and other states. “It helped get people behind them.”

Such education is crucial if you’re introducing consumers to a strange, new product. Steve Demos, now a member of Sambazon’s board, spent 28 years struggling to educate consumers about soy before his company, White Wave, hit the jackpot with its Silk soy milk. Mr. Demos believes it’s imperative for Sambazon to “feed people everywhere you can.”

Even as Sambazon segued into mainstream retail outlets, even as it received some $9 million in outside financing, it pressed on with its educate-the-customer-by-giving-it-away approach. Sambazon spent $500,000 last year on store demos, doing 50 a week. Top retail executives took note. “Typically, smaller companies don’t have payroll to compete with bigger players who can kick in money for advertising,” says Chris Jacoby, a category manager for Albertsons grocery stores. “But Sambazon has been first-class in terms of setting up demos. I run into their reps in our stores more than any other company.” Adds Whole Foods Market Inc. president Walter Robb: “Guys like this, you keep an eye on.”

In the meantime, açaí buzz spread. Best-selling author and dermatologist Nicholas Perricone extolled the fruit on Oprah. Early last year, a study touting the robust antioxidant properties of açaí was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. This year, foods from the Amazon “such as açaí” are among top supermarket trends, according to Mintel International, a trend-spotting firm based in Chicago and London. The key for Sambazon is to now take advantage of the rising tide and not fall behind its competitors, which can take advantage of the trail that Sambazon has already forged.

Concedes Ryan Black: “Açaí is moving a lot faster than Sambazon.”

Deciphering the best way to sell açaí wasn’t as easy as with, say, a new bottled water. Frozen berry pulp in small blocks — Sambazon’s original item — was fine for smoothie bars, but not for mainstream retail. In other words: How did consumers want to consume this new product?

Mr. Demos of Silk soy milk recalls his own battle on this front. “We went through hundreds of iterations of soy foods. We made hot dogs, hamburgers, dressings, dips and entrees before we found milk.” Putting Silk in clean, familiar refrigerated milk cartons took away the “weirdness” of the soy category, he says. Mr. Demos sold his company to conglomerate Dean Foods Co. in 2002.

The Sambazon brothers threw a lot of spaghetti at the wall — perhaps too much — trying to find what would stick with consumers and simultaneously protect the taste and superfood qualities of açaí. They tried boxed juice packs that would be shelf stable without refrigeration, but they thought it distorted the flavor. “We had test runs that cost us over $10,000, and we were doing less than that in [monthly] revenue,” Jeremy Black, 33, says. Going into refrigerated coolers made more sense. They started with a smoothie product in 2003 that had a 30-day shelf life, but realized that wasn’t a long enough window to get bottles shipped, stocked and sold. So they went looking for a packer that could bottle and flash-pasteurize the açaí so it would be stable for 90 days. Finding that partner delayed their entry into bigger stores and required a $1 million investment.

In the meantime, the company launched a line of açaí pill and powder supplements and a juice line. It’s still selling its frozen smoothie packs and recently introduced a sorbet. In total, Sambazon now has 26 flavors and makes of products, which has spread it thin on a manufacturing level. “The business guys say, ‘Which ones are you going to go big with?’ ” Jeremy Black says. “The fear is that as we take it to the next level, we’ll have too many moving parts.” He plans to cut out nine products this year.

One of the hardest tasks with both being first and then competing against new rivals has been honing the brand message. When consumers don’t even know what the product is, how much can they really think about the rain forest?

Consumers, says Mr. Demos of Silk, “think, ‘It’s great, warm and fuzzy that you are saving everything but the whales, but…all I care about is saving my sorry ass, and if you can do that with your food, great. If not, I gotta keep looking.’ “

To that end, Sambazon has boiled its message down to simple slogans such as: “Superhealthy. Supertasty. Superfood,” and “Get with the purple berry.” It now relies on its Web site to explain its social work in the Amazon. And it has scaled back the size of the word “açaí” on its bottle, focusing more on promoting the Sambazon brand to stand out. Given all its competitors, “the calculated gamble is people might be looking for açaí and miss our product,” Jeremy Black says.

The surge of açaí players has tested Sambazon in several ways. In 2003, the Blacks sued a rival, claiming his açaí company used similar marketing verbiage. “It was really rough,” says Jeremy Black. “They sent out all their [marketing material] to our customers. We were very fragile, and barely making any revenue.”

The lawsuit cost Sambazon $25,000, and the imbroglio underscores the fragile nature of nascent competitors. The suit was settled with the defendant, Amazon Preservation Partners Inc., agreeing not to use certain phrases such as “Amazon Açaí” or “Power Fruit of the Amazon” in its marketing. But today the company’s Zola juice products are in some 3,000 accounts nationwide competing directly with Sambazon’s new juices, and the rivalry is intense. Chris Cuvelier, Zola’s founder, says it was never his intention to create confusion among consumers. Still, he adds, “some people out there are more litigious, and some people just want to be entrepreneurs.”

Larger rivals brought other obstacles. “The big companies…want to wait and then jump in and blow it up bigger,” Jeremy Black says. “The danger is then that someone can take it from you.” For instance, Sambazon’s açaí products sometimes get stocked inside the coolers of Odwalla açaí juices; Odwalla is owned by Coca-Cola. Because Coke distributors are in stores several times a week, the Blacks say Sambazon product often gets pushed to the back of coolers. The only way to fight this is to get more Sambazon sales staffers into stores — a costly order.

Meantime, growth has brought trade-offs. Once Sambazon began signing deals with other big juice chains, Juice It Up! stopped promoting the Sambazon brand on its menus. “I don’t blame them,” Mr. Sidoti of Juice It Up! says. “But loyalty like that is a two-way street.”

The crowded field and Sambazon’s success has raised another predicament: whether to sell out if an offer is made. It’s a choice not totally up to the Blacks; their angel investors now own one-quarter of the company. “I was in one board meeting, and I said, ‘I started this to do positive things with the world and to do good in the Amazon, not necessarily to get a big payout,’ ” Ryan Black says. “And one of these guys looked me in the eye and said, ‘Well, the problem is, then you went out and took $9 million of other people’s money.’ “

Signs suggest they can stand alone for now. Sambazon açaí products accounted for 10% of total frozen-fruit sales in natural-foods channels in the year ended January 2007, according to Spins. And by one account, their early Juice It Up! gamble has paid off as planned. Says Mr. Jacoby of Albertsons: “When I think of açaí, I think of Sambazon.”


Bright Ideas from Young European Minds

October 9, 2006

By Andy Reinhardt

Europe’s economic growth may lag that of the U.S. and Asia, but there is no shortage of ambitious young people with good ideas itching to pursue their dreams and start their own businesses. In this first ever competition to identify promising young entrepreneurs in Europe, we asked our visitors to nominate candidates until Oct. 1. Now, for the next month, we’re hoping you will look at the intriguing group of nominees in the following slide show and pick the biz whiz you think shows the most promise. Browse through, cast your vote, and we’ll report later on the winner and runners-up.

Tristan Cowell

Sheffield, England
Age: 25

Despite its name, IC-Innovations has nothing to do with integrated circuits. Rather, it’s an ideas factory started two years ago by Tristan Cowell, then a recent geography graduate from University of Nottingham. The seed was planted when Cowell’s mother was looking for a way to display her Christmas cards and he noticed a strip of Velcro sticking out of her sewing basket. His “Eureka moment,” as Cowell calls it, was the idea of sticking the cards to a strip of Velcro hanging from the wall.

After incorporating in 2004 and exhibiting at trade shows in England, Cowell had his big break thanks to a 100,000-unit order from Asda Wal-Mart. But his local suppliers couldn’t possibly produce that volume in time for the 2005 holiday season, so Cowell hopped a plane to Shanghai, lined up manufacturing, and made the deadline. Since then, he has rolled out Photo Hangups, Fridge Hangups, and three other novelties for displaying cards and photos. Revenues in the year ended last June hit $285,000, and Cowell figures they’ll quadruple this year. For Cowell, who has had business schemes since he was a teen, this is only the beginning.

Ben Woldring

Usquert, The Netherlands
Age: 21

Child prodigy or early entrepreneurial itch? Ben Woldring started his first company in 1998 at the age of 13, and now ranks as one of The Netherlands’ best-known young entrepreneurs. That first site, known as, was a place where consumers could go to compare prices and rate plans for mobile phone services.

Since then, Woldring’s company, called Bencom, has expanded to eight sites that offer clear, detailed information about fixed-line and mobile phone plans, Internet services, and utilities. The comparison services are free of charge to users. How does Woldring make money? After reading Bencom reviews, consumers can also subscribe online to the phone or utility services of their choice, and Bencom gets a referral fee. Bencom also makes money from banner ads and licensing its tools ot telecom providers and resellers. Revenues are in the “multiple millions of euros,” Woldring says.

Karm Singh

Age: 25

Imagine a Web site that’s a blend of iTunes, MySpace, and YouTube, but stocked with Bollywood movies, soundtracks, and Bhangra music, and you get an idea of what Karm Singh is up to with Desitouch. A British-born Indian who built his first Web site at 16, Singh is fiercely proud of his cultural heritage yet firmly planted in the high-tech West.

His inspiration, dreamed up while studying computer science at King’s College, London, was to combine the two. Even the site’s name, which juxtaposes “desi,” the Indian word for “tradition,” with a “.com” suffix, fits the bill. Visitors can download South Asian music and videos in a variety of formats, and upload their own media from PCs or mobile phones. Singh aims to make money from transaction fees and advertising.

The self-financed launched only a few months ago, but Singh expects to reach 100,000 hits a month by December. “I aim to be the world’s No. 1 South Asian entertainment Web site,” he says. At this rate, he might get there.

Lars Duursma

Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Age: 24

Teaching people how to constructively argue is the novel business concept behind Debatrix, based in Rotterdam. The company was started in early 2005 by Lars Duursma, the reigning world debate champion in the non-native English-speaking category. Clearly, Duursma is a believer in the power of persuasion. While a student at Erasmus University, he was hired by several Dutch firms and agencies to give speaking and debate training. “Then the entrepreneur inside me said, ‘Why not do this yourself?’” he says.

Less than two years later, Debatrix is one of the top four Dutch providers of persuasion training. It also coordinates debates for governmental bodies and companies such as ING that want to use an interactive format to present new ideas and generate discussion. Duursma is boosting his own visibility right now with a series of weekly newspaper articles analyzing the rhetorical skills of Holland’s major politicians.

With 15 freelance trainers on board and a growing roster of clients, Duursma looks to be well on his way to improving the quality of arguments in The Netherlands. That’s a goal every country might aspire to.

James Gibson

BinFix Ltd.
Nottingham, England
Age: 24

Necessity, invention’s mother. Back in 2002, when James Gibson was a student in sports management at Brighton University, his roommate complained that nobody ever emptied the overflowing trash pail in the kitchen or replaced the bin liner. “What we need is a liner that comes up from the bottom of the bin,” the roommate said. Lightbulb moment. Gibson became obsessed with the idea and, improbably, turned it into a company.

In 2004, he moved to Nottingham and applied for space at a local business incubator. By last year, he had filed for a patent, developed a working prototype, and started looking for manufacturers. The product: a triangular cardboard box, stuffed with extra-thick trash bags, that lives at the bottom of the can. Pull one bag out, and another comes up to take its place.

A few trade shows and an award for household cleaning product of the year by Grocer magazine got BinFix noticed, and Gibson started getting orders from supermarkets. But building a company with the scale to compete against giants like Proctor & Gamble looked too daunting, so Gibson decided to license the concept to an as-yet-unnamed consumer products company. Now, with a potential royalty stream of tens of thousands of pounds annually, Gibson is pursuing a raft of new business ideas. Clearly, a young entrepreneur to watch.

Marvin Dominic Andrä

Bagpax Cargo Systems
Saarbrücken, Germany
Age: 24

Like most inventions, Marvin Dominic Andrä’s “a-ha” moment came from a real-life experience. Asked by his father to take some garden clippings to the dump, Andrä was startled while driving by a spider that climbed out of the load and nearly got on his face. Had he been an arachnophobe, Andrä says, he might have crashed the car.

Thus was born BagPax, a series of padded liners that fit in the truck or back of a car and protect it from messy payloads-whether dirty children’s toys, sandy beach togs, or bug-laden compost. “Germans like clean cars,” says Andrä, who has sold hundreds of the patent-pending BagPax, which cost from $38 to $62, over the Internet and through German auto shops. Big contracts are on the horizon.

Andrä, an economics graduate from Saarbrücken University, set up BagPax from the beginning as a “virtual” company, with suppliers and partners in Turkey and Poland and a call center in Karlsruhe. For now, the trunk liners are only sold in Germany, but “it could work elsewhere, too,” Andrä says. Spoken like a true entrepreneur.

Neil Waller

Information Websites Ltd
Age: 22

While earning a degree in business administration from University of Bath, Neil Waller went to work for a private-equity firm in London. But like most Brits, he hankered for getaways to the sunny south coast of Spain-especially the resort of Marbella. Yet Waller was disappointed in the quality of information available on the Internet about hotels, restaurants, and local events there, so he decided to set up his own Web site.

Thus was born, whose traffic has increased fivefold in the past few months and now has 33 sponsoring companies. Waller’s real surprise, though, was how quickly evolved from a site aimed at tourists into a community site used by local residents to find services and exchange information. Seeing an opportunity for other such tourist-cum-community sites, he and his business partner are now aiming to roll out similar such sites for the Algarve region in Portugal and Dubai. Someday, he says, he hopes to offer a network of hundreds of cities. Not a bad dream for a guy who was just looking for fun in the sun.

Julien Genestoux

Lyon, France
Age: 23

French youth rallied this year against an aborted plan to make it easier for companies to hire and fire young workers. But they’re certainly eager to find jobs, as entrepreneur Julien Genestoux has quickly discovered. As a student at engineering school Insa in Lyon in 2000, he couldn’t find any summer job listings on the Internet. So three years later, he decided to build his own jobs service aimed specifically at students.

Now, a year after its launch, Jobetudiant (literally “student job”) has 200,000 registered job-seekers, an average of 10,000 open job postings every day, and should book more than $100,000 in revenues this year. Genestoux, now a business graduate student at Essec, outside Paris, thinks he could triple that in a few years. Listings are free, but lots of advertisers pay $64 per ad for higher placement, and many students pay up to $3.80 per month to see new postings via e-mail before they hit the site. More than 50% of revenues come from advertising. Genestoux attributes his success vs. larger rivals such as Monster to greater specialization. Looks like he has found the right formula in a country that needs to put more people to work.

Grant Lang

Southampton, England
Age: 24

As a business management and marketing student at Southampton Solent University, Grant Lang helped make ends meet by working in bars and cafés. But he was also passionately interested in sustainable development and local community. In March, 2005, he found a way to tie it all together by starting a coffee company, called Mozzo, that sells organic “Fair Trade” beans and helps local artists gain recognition.

Lang first tried to open his own coffee shop, but couldn’t raise enough money. So instead, he bought an Indian rickshaw, fitted it with solar panels and a wind turbine, and launched an eco-friendly coffee cart. To top it off, he hung the works of local painters on the sides of the cart and played local bands over the boom box. The bright red cart garnered attention, and soon stores and cafés asked to resell his beans. Last May, Lang started a coffee distributor, which he figures will notch sales of $225,000 in its first year. To stay true to his values, Lang will donate 5% of profits to community causes.

Next year, he finally aims to open that coffee shop, while continuing to branch out into other Fair Trade imports. Lang is convinced he can build Mozzo into a “sustainable lifestyle” brand. He’s in pretty good company: The success of The Body Shop, among others, proves that entrepreneurs can do well while doing good.

Fathi Said

Ecommerce Holding
Freistadt, Austria
Age: 24

German-born Fathi Said has the distinction of having launched and lost his first company, Web hosting outfit Hosting-Network Inc., by the time he was 20 years old. He says he got into business with the wrong partner-and clearly, the collapse of the firm, which hit $7.5 million in annual revenues in 2002, still hurts.

So guess what Said did? He started another Web hosting company in 2003-this time called Headquartered in Austria, but with its main data center in Kentucky, Ecommerce has attracted 80,000 customers and plays home to more than 150,000 Web sites. The company has 130 employees in five countries, and revenues should hit $12 million this year.

Matt Roberts & Irfan Badakshi

Bean2Bed Ltd.
Birmingham, England
Ages: 23 (Roberts) and 25 (Badakshi)

Back in Matt Roberts’ second year at Aston University in 2002, a bunch of friends came up for a weekend birthday party. An offhand comment planted the seed of his future inspiration. “Somebody said, ‘I wish I could flatten out this beanbag chair and sleep on it,’ ” recalls Roberts.

Two years later, Roberts and buddy Irfan Badakshi had run with the concept. They met with designers, worked through 44 prototypes, rejected polystyrene pellets, maxed out their student loans, and unveiled Bean2Bed at a home show in July, 2005, at Earl’s Court. The finished product is, in effect, a mattress filled with crumb foam that stuffs into a corduroy, denim, faux suede, or imitation fur sack the size of a beanbag chair. One minute it’s a comfy chair in the corner, and then presto, it’s a bed.

Thanks to publicity and word of mouth, Roberts and Badakshi have sold thousands of Bean2Beds, which cost $285 to $475. They’re available on and more than a hundred stores in Britain. The company figures to book sales of more than $570,000 this year. Not bad for the aftermath of a college party weekend.

Matteo Böhme

Dresden, Germany
Age: 24

A self-confessed inline skating fanatic, Matteo Böhme began organizing skating events five years ago at the age of 19. His great knowledge of the sport and the skating scene in Dresden made him a natural to set up and manage local competitions and celebrations.

But now, Matteoevents, the company he set up in 2001, has blossomed into something bigger: a general events management business with three full-time employees and 25 contractors. Böhme presides over a group that has managed events for Red Bull, local breweries, and even the family day at the nearby AMD chip factory. Böhme may have been just a skating dude once, but now he’s got a growing business on his hands.

Matthew Hubbard

Reels in Motion
Stoke-on-Trent, England
Age: 24

Three partners, all recent graduates in media from Staffordshire University, started Reels in Motion in late 2004. It was a classic entrepreneurial gambit. “Given how creative we wanted to be, we felt we wouldn’t be doing ourselves justice to give our talents to a larger organization,” says co-founder Matthew Hubbard. “So we just went for it.”

The trio found office space in a local business incubator supported by the Enterprise Fellowship Program, which provided administrative support and a business mentor. They started to make a name for themselves producing educational and training DVDs, especially in the area of special-needs education. Hubbard knew the subject from personal experiences.

Now business is starting to come in over the transom. Turns out there’s healthy demand in the West Midlands for the talents of three ambitious filmmakers who wanted to go their own way from the start.

Joav Ben Jaakow

BJ Bewässerungstechnik
Lengfurt, Germany
Age: 22

When Joav Ben Jaakow was just 15 years old, he and his parents went into business together importing state-of-the-art drip irrigation systems from Israel and selling them to farmers in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Now, eight years later, the younger Jaakow is the manager of the business and will become its top shareholder when it’s converted into a limited liability corporation next year.

“We started in a garage, just like HP,” Jaakow says. The whole family helped with packaging products, sending out bills, and other jobs. The younger Jaakow even dropped out of school for a while to help grow the business. Now the Ben Jaakow company has 10 full-time employees and books nearly $4.5 million a year in business.

Wayne Berko

Age: 24

Working as an extra in a movie: It’s a quick, easy way for students to make cash, and you can’t deny the glamour of being in a film. But, it turns out, production companies don’t always have an easy time finding extras, especially in off-beat locations. And many people interested in being extras don’t know where to look for jobs.

Enter Uni-versalExtras, a matchmaking Web site launched a year ago by Wayne Berko. The site has now signed up 30,000 students who want to work as extras. Film companies find them there, and Berko takes a 15% cut. He has recently expanded as well into professional extras, who pay a one-time $20 fee to post their profiles. Already the site gets 800,000 hits per month, and Berko aims to start selling ads to sponsors who want to reach his attractive student demographic. Lights, camera, startup!


Europe’s Young Entrepreneurs

October 9, 2006

Entrepreneurialism knows no borders. Though the popular image of the startup centers on American—and, increasingly, Asian—enterprises, Europe also is alive with small companies. All told, there are 23 million small to midsize businesses in the European Union, accounting for about 75 million jobs and much of the Continent’s employment growth. And with many large corporations increasingly sending jobs elsewhere, young people are attracted as never before to the idea of starting their own businesses.

To be sure, Europeans still tend to be more risk-averse than their counterparts in the U.S. and Asia. The culture of entrepreneurialism isn’t as well developed—nor is the infrastructure of business mentors, startup support services, and risk financing. But for a growing class of young entrepreneurs with good ideas and a strong work ethic, those impediments don’t matter. Their passion to succeed overcomes the barriers.

Governments, too, are waking up to the job-creating capacity of startup businesses. The European Commission is spurring high schools across the 25-nation bloc to offer courses in business, including encouraging students to set up small companies. Initial studies suggest that up to 20% of students enrolled in such courses try to start their own businesses after graduation.

GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE. Britain, meanwhile, is setting the pace in its support of business incubators, where entrepreneurs can set up shop in subsidized office space and work with mentors to develop their strategies and business plans. From 25 such facilities in Britain in 1996, the number has now surged to 270 around the country, according to figures from the Trade & Industry Dept. Britain also now hosts nearly 100 science parks, up from 39 in 1998.

One advantage many European entrepreneurs seem to enjoy is a more global perspective. Many are multilingual and have lived or worked abroad. “We are starting to see very interesting companies forming that are capable of competing on a global basis from day one,” says Danny Rimer, general partner at venture capital firm Index Ventures in Geneva. “It’s partly generational, but also a case of success breeding success. Companies like Skype have served as an inspiration to a whole generation.”

Since the middle of the summer, has set out to find the best examples of this new European spirit. We asked readers to nominate outstanding entrepreneurs age 25 or younger, and now we present the candidates in a slide show that showcases their remarkably imaginative and successful businesses. You can view the presentation and cast your vote on the last page for the entrepreneur who seems the most promising. We’ll present the results of the voting in November.

FROM EUREKA TO EARNINGS. What all the nominees share is a spirit of adventure and opportunism. For many, the inspiration for their businesses came from a momentary observation that lodged in their minds and became the seed of a startup. Overflowing garbage cans in a college apartment? That gave James Gibson the idea for trash-bin liners that pop up from the bottom of the can. Partygoers trying to sleep on a beanbag chair? That was enough to inspire Matt Roberts and Irfan Badakshi to develop a plush chair that morphs into a bed.

Similar “Eureka” moments made other young entrepreneurs diverge from the safer course of corporate careers into the treacherous waters of a startup. Tristan Cowell’s mother was looking for a way to display her Christmas cards, and now the 25-year-old Brit presides over a thriving business that sells all manner of gewgaws for displaying photos on walls, refrigerators, and doors. Marvin Andrä, 24, of Saarbrücken, Germany, turned a harrowing trip to the dump into the inspiration for BagPax, removable soft-shell containers that save car owners from dirtying the trunks of their cars with refuse.

For many young entrepreneurs, starting their own companies is a way to unite different threads in their lives. That was what moved 25-year-old Karm Singh, a British-born computer science graduate of Indian heritage, to launch a Web site called that features music and video from South Asia. Something like a cross between iTunes, MySpace, and YouTube, but for Bollywood productions and Bhangra music, and it has already attracted a strong following from the South Asian community at home and abroad.

THE WEB WAY. A similar passion moved Grant Lang, 24, to start a coffee company called Mozzo. Sure, Lang loves coffee. But he’s also a big believer in organic products and “Fair Trade” business practices that give growers decent wages and work conditions. He also loves art and music. So he pulled them all together into a “sustainable lifestyle” coffee brand that espouses environmental and social responsibility—and makes money.

Then there’s Lars Duursma, 24, from Rotterdam. The reigning world debate champion in the non-native English-speaker category, he has a passion for good language and clear argumentation. Now, he has leveraged his skills into a thriving consultancy that teaches politicians and corporate leaders how to communicate better.

Of course, today’s young entrepreneurs grew up with the Internet, so many of their businesses revolve around the Web. Dutchman Ben Woldring, 21, launched his first Web site at 13 and now offers his compatriots four online comparison sites that let them shop for the best rates on fixed and mobile phone service, Internet access, and utilities. Austria’s Fathi Said, 24, started a Web hosting business at 18 and lost it at 20, then started another that’s even more successful.

TRADITION THRIVES, TOO. The Web is also home to Julien Genestoux’s, a job site aimed at French students that has already attracted 200,000 registrations. London’s Wayne Berko is running a similar site—but aimed solely at getting students and professional actors jobs as film and TV extras. And Britain’s Neil Waller has turned the notion of an online travel site on its ear. He launched to give British travelers better information about the Spanish coastal resort city, only to discover that the locals liked using it just as much. Now he aims to launch travel-and-community sites for other popular destinations.

Despite the Web’s allure, some entrepreneurs are sticking to more traditional fare. Matthew Hubbard, 24, started a film and video production company in the West Midlands that has gotten traction producing media for special education programs. Matteo Böhme turned his love of inline skating into a thriving events-planning business in Dresden. And Joav Ben Jaakow started a business with his parents when he was 15, importing and reselling drip irrigation systems in Germany.

The variety of ideas is dazzling, and the energy and excitement of these young entrepreneurs is infectious. Take a look at our slide show to learn more, and then be sure to send a vote of support to the entrepreneur who you think has the best idea. Europe is hungry for more examples of such derring-do and optimism.