Tuesday, July 16

Ahead of their time


Tuesday, November 26, 1996

Undergraduates take initiative and create their own businesses
before graduationBy Dean Cheley

Daily Bruin Contributor

No one told David Wong that he would have to wait until he got a
degree to start his own business.

At 24 years old, he has already co-founded a business that
markets computer products. Today, an executive for Simple
Technologies ­ a prestigious computer firm ­ Wong
believes he has secured this position as a result of his
undergraduate entrepreneurial experience.

"I was brought on board (to Simple Technologies) because of the
relationships and networks that I established with software
companies while creating my own business," he said. "I gained
practical experience working with cash flow and marketing, hands-on
skills that are a valuable asset to any business."

Wong is one among a group of young entrepreneurs who have
created their own businesses while pursuing their bachelor’s degree
at UCLA. Each is fulfilling their dreams by taking a simple idea
and turning it into a hands-on experience while gaining valuable
knowledge.

"Being an entrepreneur is a working experience just as important
if not more important than standard education," Wong explained.

David Ptak, an avid fan and player of inline hockey, turned his
dreams into a real-life experience without an MBA three years ago.
Disappointed when he could not find an active league in the area,
he decided to pursue his vision of a collegiate inline hockey
league by creating his own.

Now a fourth-year international economics student, Ptak is
co-founder of the Inline National Hockey League with Mike Nelson, a
Pepperdine MBA graduate. The corporation acts as a national
governing body for inline teams across the nation.

"We started with a total of four teams in 1993, two from UCLA,
one from USC and one from Pomona," Ptak said. "Today, there are 44
teams nationwide and an annual national championship.

"This past year’s championship tournament took place at Cashmen
Fields Convention Center in Las Vegas and attracted about 44,000
people," he added.

Fulfilling his first goal by playing hockey in his league, Ptak
now plays the game of business by arranging television contracts,
sponsorships with hockey labels such as Easton, Mach 1 Pox, and
this year’s championship co-partnership with USA Hockey.

In order to continue expanding, Ptak has developed two modern
resources, including a World Wide Web site (www.cil.usa.com) and an
interactive CD-ROM with full video, sound and graphics to aid
college men interested in starting a team or tournament of their
own.

Ptak attributes his success to just "getting things done," which
means "creating a strong working group that works well together."
He admits that half the time the best things happen by accident,
but they happen while his group are working together on a given
plan.

"The biggest thing I have learned is that you have to construct
a talented working team which have many resources within their own
reach," Ptak said.

"You are bound to have problems, so you need members in the
group that can go to their resources to solve those problems,
whether it’s ‘my Dad’s friend the lawyer,’ or ‘my cousin the
accountant’ … the team should work pro quo."

Teamwork is also the core of a multi-talented UCLA-based theater
production company known as The 9th, created by fourth-year theater
students Amir Proushani, Ryan Williams and Marvin Safford.

The group built a talented network of artists by collaborating
with students from theater, film and art.

"Everything we need is right here," Proushani said. "There is
great talent at this school so we get the best together and put
fate in our own hands."

Although many theatre majors are never discovered, The 9th
allows students the opportunity to produce and star in their own
play. This idea spawned after Williams’ return from a series of
performances in England.

"(Williams) had done his own shows and asked why not put on our
own pieces here," Proushani said. "And so, together, we put our
ideas into action."

The 9th also modeled themselves after Actors’ Gang, an actors’
troupe formed by Tim Robbins during his undergraduate stay in the
theater department. But to reach the caliber of Robbins’ success,
creators of The 9th know they must work well together.

"It takes a 110 percent commitment and really believing in the
people that you are working with," Williams said. "We are depending
on everyone to work like a machine, every part has to perform to
perfection. The minute one slacks off, the rest of us are there to
motivate."

The 9th’s work is paying off ­ their first show,"Dutchman,"
is scheduled to run in January at Glaxa Studio off Sunset
Boulevard. They hope to continue their success by performing this
summer at one of the world’s largest playwright festivals in
Edinburgh, Scotland.

Looking ahead, Proushani adds "if you feel passionately about
something, the limits are endless."

Passion comes in many different forms, and for third-year
psychology student and entrepreneur Lisa McTiernan it’s in the
classic Scandinavian wood shoes called clogs.

"I’ve worn clogs all my life and have always had people asking
me where to get them," McTiernan said.

McTiernan, who spent five years as a marine at the Marine Corps
Air Station in El Toro before attending UCLA, noticed that it was
nearly impossible to find clogs in Orange County.

"I’ve had the idea in the back of my head for the last five
years to open a small specialty store selling clogs," McTiernan
said. "And the perfect opportunity arose when an ideal vacancy
opened in the Lake Forest strip mall."

Since her business opened in October, she has seen her clogs
gain popular support ­ especially among the medical
community.

"Doctors and nurses wear the shoes because they relieve foot
fatigue by taking pressure off the balls of your feet and place
them in the ankles and knees," McTiernan said. "It’s great for
anyone that’s on their feet for long periods of time."

Original Dutch and Swedish clogs, made of willow with leather
uppers, fit like a glove and come in various styles. These
200-year-old classics continue to persuade customers from buying
the modern padded Nike sneaker, McTiernan said. "Once they try
them, they wear them to death."

The success of a business does not necessarily reflect the
achievements of the entrepreneur.

David Wong began his computer business, Objét Computer
Corporation, when he was a second-year political science student,
and attributes his accomplishments more to the experience and
connections he gained than the performance of his business.

"Our company marketed and distributed high-tech computer
peripherals such as Allegro Power’s Surge Guard," Wong said. "Surge
Guard was a unique high-quality power protection unit we placed on
the market. We distributed them through mail orders and retail
outlets. At one point they were even available at the ASUCLA
computer store."

Although Wong spent many hours on the project, he admits that
the product success was narrow, in part because the market got too
aggressive.

"It was a dog-eat-dog market and consumer knowledge wasn’t
great," Wong said.

At Simple Technologies, he enjoys an executive position in new
product development and strategic partnerships with a company
ranked 13th among the fastest-growing privately held companies in
the nation, according to Inc. magazine.

Regrading his salary, Wong modestly ensures, "well, let’s just
say I am making more than the average graduate with an MBA."

Although financial success after graduation is likely, many
young entrepreneurs encounter monetary hardships while attempting
to begin their business.

"Since you don’t make much salary when first starting a
business, I am forced to keep my other job for income," explains
McTiernan, who commutes from her business in Orange County to
waitressing in Santa Monica. "I definitely give credit to the
Marines for the extreme discipline and focus that I’ve
learned."

In addition to financial difficulties, undergraduate
entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance a business as well as
classes, grades and a social life.

"My GPA fell to a 3.0 and I never had any free time," Wong
said.

Ptak voiced frustrations with dating, saying "you can’t have a
girlfriend, only a girl that’s a friend. I never know when I’ll be
flying to Atlanta for a trade show or to meetings in Southern
California."

At times, Ptak found that being boss had its downside.

"Being 20 years old, it was really tough to fire a talented
marketing director with an MBA in the best interest of the
business."

UCLA Anderson School alumni Brian Hoff, who co-founded Thermal
Snowboards, a leading snowboard manufacturer, believes hardships
are all part of the game and supports the endeavors of
undergraduate entrepreneurs.

"I would give half my (undergraduate) GPA for some quality
experience," Hoff said, noting that if Wong had not started his
business when he was an undergraduate, it probably would have taken
him five to seven years longer to be where he is currently.

The reason many undergraduates do not create a business is
because they are unaware of the value that such an experience
provides, Hoff said.

The entrepreneurs agree with Hoff, noting "when a company looks
at your resume they look at what the applicants will bring to the
table, which are the skills gained by experience," Wong said.

For students interested in starting their own business, the best
route is to not only pursue an internship but also to work with an
older, more experienced mentor, Hoff said.

Both Ptak and Wong had mentors who were 10 years older and had
graduated from college with MBAs.

"The relationship works well for both," Hoff explains. "Students
usually work their butt off for the mentor and in return they get
the advice and experience they need."

JUSTIN WARREN/Daily Bruin

Lisa McTiernan, a third-year psychology student, models the
clogs which she sells at her store in Orange County.

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