Considering St. Thomas’ Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at Opus College of Business is ranked by the Princeton Review as the best in Minnesota, it’s only natural many successful businesses have been born at the university.“Never before have the tools and resources to launch a business been so readily available, requiring relatively few resources and experience,” said Schulze School of Entrepreneurship Associate Professor Alec Johnson. “We live in a great era for college students to launch and succeed with a new venture.”
The Newsroom highlighted some of St. Thomas’ many successful college entrepreneurs.
Love Your Melon – Zachary Quinn (co-founder and president) and Brian Keller ’15 (co-founder and CEO)
The $40 million hat company that donates half its profits to fighting pediatric cancer was started by Quinn and Keller in their first entrepreneurship course at St. Thomas.
Quinn recently shared Love Your Melon’s path to success on the By All Means podcast.
“I was excited to go into the entrepreneurship class, which I took very seriously to mean that I could go start a business that would be successful, and that’s in fact what happened,” Quinn said.
“In the beginning we both had a sense that this could go somewhere,” Keller said. “It’s been a good relationship and friendship.”
The Social Lights – Emily Pritchard ’11 (CEO and co-founder) and Martha McCarthy Krueger ’11 (co-founder)
The Social Lights is a social media consultancy that drives results for some of the world’s largest companies and brands. The agency helps its partners resonate with their communities on social media through strategy, management, content production and advertising.
“As an undergraduate student, I was able to participate in the Fowler Business Concept Challenge, the Damus Board, and the Practicing Entrepreneurs community – all while pursuing three major concentrations and competing as a student-athlete,” Pritchard said. “Early support from the St. Thomas business community helped The Social Lights hit the ground running when we launched during our final semester.”
College Nannies + Sitters + Tutors – Joe Keeley ’03 (founder)
College Nannies + Sitters + Tutors is described as “the nation’s most respected, complete and professional resource helping busy families raise smart, confident, well-adjusted kids.” The company, started by Keeley in 2001, was acquired in 2016 by Bright Horizons Family Solutions, the largest corporate sponsored childcare operator in the United States.
“[As an undergraduate student], I started working on the concept and the business as a case study in my entrepreneurship classes,” Keeley said. … “The Entrepreneurship Department and the professors were all very encouraging.”
AutoMotion – Ben Anderson ’05 (CEO)
AutoMotion is an automotive mobile app platform that connects mobile shoppers with the cars, trucks or SUVs that fit their needs. The company’s suite of products simplifies the process for consumers looking to buy, lease or subscribe to their next vehicle using a smartphone. AutoMotion is the fastest-growing suite of consumer-focused automotive apps for the App Store and Google Play Store, with a network that includes more than 3,500 OEM and dealership customers. The company’s “Get a Car Experience” uses artificial intelligence to help match shoppers with the perfect vehicle based on a two-way conversational approach.
“My St. Thomas experience began alongside the infancy of the entrepreneurship program at St. Thomas. As a Tommie I was able to leverage real-world experience from professors and faculty that applied to my current experiences as a new entrepreneur,” Anderson said. “One of my largest takeaways was learning the value of the St. Thomas network and establishing the courage to utilize it. That foundation, learned from my St. Thomas experience, is one of the critical aspects of building a successful enterprise.”
Simply Street Bikes – Brian Cox ’05 (owner/general manager/visionary)
Described as “Minnesota’s premier used motorcycle supercenter,” was named a Powersports Business magazine “Top 50 Dealer” for four years in a row. In addition to selling used motorcycles, the Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based company has a service department with technicians who repair all makes and models. Simply Street Bikes also offers a wide selection of motorcycle parts and accessories.
“My education at the University of St Thomas helps me in business every day. Financial modeling from the Entrepreneurial Finance class helps me build our financials every year. Business classes helped me to understand how to consider new products and markets,” Cox said. “Entrepreneurial classes took me on a deep dive into the core of my business at the time, and helped me apply classroom knowledge in real life. Public speaking class helped me to build confidence when presenting to investors, banks, our staff of nearly 30 people, or customers. St. Thomas introduced me to the Entrepreneur’s Organization (a peer-to-peer network) that I’m still a part of today. And finally, I still stay in touch with two or three of my professors from school. We talk on occasion about the business successes and struggles and they help me with insights. In general, my education helped hone my skills in many areas, and gave me tools and resources that I still lean on today.”
Minnesota Ice – Robbie Harrell (CEO)
Minnesota Ice is known as one of the largest manufacturers of sculpture-grade ice and as the leader in artisan ice cube production in North America. They produce a series of products including:
packaged ice; cocktail ice; crushed ice; shaved ice blocks; sculpture ice blocks; and ice sculptures.
Minnesota Ice maintains relationships with the owners and managers of major bar, restaurant and retail outlets, supplying more than 165 businesses with different variations of its product lines. Minnesota Ice also works directly with NFL, NHL, MLB and MLS franchises, as well as planners of local and regional events and festivals of all sizes.
“As a student of the entrepreneurship program at the University of St. Thomas, I gained the knowledge and skills necessary to create a successful business from the ground up,” Harrell said. “This helped me turn a small start-up that began inside a St. Paul garage into a growing corporation that services the Twin Cities, surrounding communities and beyond.”
“As a student, you are surrounded by professors who are happy to serve as advisers and can connect you with other professionals who serve as knowledge resources,” said Associate Professor Alec Johnson. “Your classmates are willing helpers, partners and employees. Classes provide an opportunity to develop and test concepts. Competitions, like the Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge and Fowler Business Concept Challenge, provide additional opportunities to hone your concept and potentially raise money. College is as good a time as any to launch a business.”