Students pursue entrepreneurial dreams

May 5, 2011 9:17:06 PM PDT
For some people, it is a dream to get rich. For others, it is a chance to become their own boss. The decision to become an entrepreneur can be both high risk and high reward.

Palo Alto resident Nancy Bain, 45, has embarked on that path and Thursday will be crucial for her. The mother of two children, Bain is competing in a business plan competition that could yield her a $5,000 scholarship. While winning is important, connecting to one of the 25 judges -- each of them a venture capitalist -- is the real payoff. The competition is at at the Foothill Entrepreneur Center at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills.

Bain has been a marriage counselor. She has formal culinary training. She also has a master's degree. But it was her 9-year-old son Zach who put her on the entrepreneurial track. He was playing with a toy one day in the bathtub and modified it so a nail brush could be tucked in the bottom.

"He was playing with a little toy turtle he had in the tub, and he kind of broke it apart and he took my nail brush and kind of stuffed it inside," Bain said.

Voila. Bain decided to create a line of bath accessories in the shape of marine animals. They are environmentally friendly, made of recycled plastic. They also have minimal packaging. While some people might call them bath toys, she calls them "pets." The line will include a dolphin, a sea turtle, an orca, a sea otter and a great white shark. The projected retail price will be $6.95.

She has spent $4,000 to file for incorporation and to pay for other start-up expenses. Now she needs $200,000 to launch the idea from a concept into a real business.

"I've taken an injection molding class, I've taken a silicon molding class, I've learned all about prototypes, and I'm going to take a class next week on three-dimensional CAD files," Bain said.

It is not going to be an easy road ahead. Glenn Violett, a business professor and head of the Foothill Entrepreneur Center, says failure is part of the equation. Starting up a business entails a steep learning curve, he says.

"Oh, failure will definitely be part of the equation," Violett said. "If they don't fail, how are you going to learn?"

One of Violett's former students, Brandon Barron of San Mateo, won the business competition three years ago. He went on to Colorado University where he won a $100,000 business competition. The venture eventually failed but he has not given up being an entrepreneur.

"Every day you wake up and create your own destiny, you control your own destiny, of course there are bumps and bruises along the way, but there's really a self-fulfillment there," Barron said.

Entrepreneurship is a process, and even if someone has a winning business plan, it does not necessarily guarantee success.

9 p.m. Update:
After this story aired, ABC7 learned that Nancy Bain won the business plan competition Thursday evening. Besides the $5,000 scholarship, she also receives a small start-up grant from Wells Fargo Bank.

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