The Global Student Entrepreneur Awards: Inventing the Future

Like a lot of teens, Milun Tesovic spent
countless hours listening to music.
But the 16-year-old took his interest a
step further, developing a Web site that
provides a library of music lyrics. Now 24,
Tesovic has the third-largest music site in
the world, has developed partnerships
with some heavy hitters in music and
the Internet, and is fielding offers to buy
his company.

Tesovic, of Vancouver, British Columbia, recently took the top
honor at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards competition that
drew some 1,500 applicants—all of them college students who run
their own businesses. He was among 30 semifinalists competing in
the global finals in November during National Entrepreneurship
Week at the Kaufmann Foundation in Kansas City, Mo.

The GSEA’s purpose is to help young entrepreneurs take their
businesses to the next level. Run by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization,
a global network of more than 7,300 business owners, the competition
provides a chance for young entrepreneurs to network and be
mentored by seasoned pros. “It’s all about multiple generations of
entrepreneurs supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs,” says
Kevin Langley, GSEA global chairman.

But there’s a higher objective, too. “Supporting
and encouraging entrepreneurs is critical to the
success of our world,” says Janice Reals Ellig, a
judge and E.O. member. “They are the true builders,
the lifeblood of innovation spurring the growth of
our country.”

Adds Peter Thomas, a judge and chairman
emeritus of E.O.’s international advisory committee:
“I am in awe of the students. The world depends on
entrepreneurs.”

Almost 40 percent of the U.S. gross economic
product was generated by small businesses formed
in the last 20 years, says Carl Schramm, president
and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, the
largest foundation devoted to entrepreneurship.
“Entrepreneurship channels talents in ways that
will improve all of human welfare, connecting
people across the globe. These young entrepreneurs
are inventing the future.”

Past participants say the relationships formed
with E.O. members are invaluable. Dominic
Coryell, the 2008 GSEA global champion, says
these successful entrepreneurs have assisted him
in his personal and business development. This
mentorship helped Coryell formulate his five-year
plan for Garment Valet, a laundry and dry cleaning
valet service. “In 2015, I see my company operating
in 10 major cities and having franchises in a
dozen others. That will put us at a revenue mark of
$35 million.”

Competing businesses this year ranged from
sole proprietorships to businesses with a few dozen
employees. Some had not yet turned a profit,
while others already had revenue in the millions.
Businesses included high-end fashion, Internet
gaming, a grocery store and Web hosting. With
more than double the number of participating
countries since last year, student entrepreneurs
for the fi rst time came from countries including
Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Indonesia and
South Korea.

After making their individual presentations,
contestants each had 10 minutes to field judges’
rapid-fire questions, which ranged from challenges
they had overcome, financial business models,
sustainability of their businesses, as well as their
future plans. Many of the winners said their biggest
challenge is their age—and being taken seriously.
But clearly none have any intention of letting their
age stop them.

Milun Tesovic MUSIC & TECHNOLOGY LEADER

Milun Tesovic’s MetroLyrics.com is one of the most popular and complete
online lyrics properties in the world. His flagship product, MetroLyrics.com,
reaches more than 35 million unique monthly visitors, receives 100 million
monthly page views, and hosts more than 20,000 music fans on its site during
peak hours. His largest competitor is trailing behind him by more than 50
percent, and advertising revenue made his business profitable from Day One.

“Lyrics are the emotional connection between the song and individual,”
Tesovic says.

As a 15-year-old researching lyrics online for his own curiosity, he discovered
lyric searches were among the most popular on the Web, but nobody
seemed to do it comprehensively, accurately or legally. “All of the existing
players were doing a poor job at maintaining an up-to-date database and good
offerings,” says Tesovic, now a full-time student at Simon Fraser University in
Burnaby, British Columbia.

He researched copyright laws and realized other sites weren’t licensing
lyrics provided to users. His site doesn’t allow users to copy, paste or print
lyrics. “Lyrics are copyright and the result of hard work. We don’t feel it’s fair
and right to benefit from somebody’s work without proper compensation back
to the individuals,” he says.

The integrity of his decisions built his credibility, and big companies took
notice. MetroLyrics.com is now the exclusive lyrics partner for all AOL Music
properties and Billboard.com. “AOL actually approached us once they realized
that the lyrics space is a specializing space that requires a specific way
of thinking to grow it. Working together, we get the best of both worlds,”
Tesovic says.

In addition to lyrics, Tesovic’s MetroLeap Media offers widgets, games and
mobile applications for users to share lyrics for free.

“Tons of people have made offers to buy us,” Tesovic says. Right now, he’s
weighing his options and thinking of potential new ventures. “I can’t wait to
see what the future holds.”

Richard Littlehale REUSE & REPURPOSE

When a new version of the iPhone was released in June, Yale
student Richard Littlehale dressed up as a human iPhone
and walked outside the Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New
York City to encourage people not to throw away their old electronics,
but rather to sell for reuse. He did it to market his business,
YouRenew.com, specializing in the reuse and recycling of
used electronics.

“My Web site is like the
Kelley Blue Book for electronics,”
says Littlehale, 23,
GSEA first runner-up. “We
believe reuse is the highest
form of recycling, so we
promote reuse first and recycling
as a last resort. We aim
to get used devices back into
the market—primarily to
people who cannot afford to
buy new devices.”

The judges were impressed
by the social impact of his
business—helping both the environment and people who might
not be able to afford new electronics.

Being socially responsible was a driving influence for Littlehale,
even before founding YouRenew.com in 2008. An earlier
entrepreneurial venture was Party For a Cause Foundation, a
nonprofit that helps college groups host parties for charity, using
its tax-exempt status to help the groups get the money where it
is needed. The organization is national now, with thousands of
dollars raised for various charities on multiple campuses.

Littlehale, of Norwell, Mass., has led YouRenew.com through
a successful round of venture funding and is looking forward to
his company’s continued growth.

Lawrence Kim TECHNICAL INSPECTION
SOLUTIONS

Lawrence Kim decided to become an entrepreneur to take
control of his income. “People looked down on me and thought I
was stupid because we didn’t have a lot of money,” Kim says. “So,
I told myself, I want to get out of this; I want to be known.”

Kim, who is from Singapore, was 17 when he founded Ebenezer
Print Solutions Pte. Ltd. in 1999, with a $2,000 investment he
earned working as a part-time waiter. His company bought and
sold reams of paper and provided basic printing services. He
obtained 100 corporate clients and made more than $165,000 in
annual revenue after three years.

But his business suffered because he was a student and unable
to devote sufficient time to it. He sold his company in 2006,
and invested in his father’s then-stagnant marine inspection
business, Ebenezer NDT Services Pte Ltd. He converted it into
a quality technical inspection company for oil and gas, marine,
petrochemical plants and power stations. His business has grown
into a multimillion-dollar company with operations all over
Southeast Asia.

The judges were impressed by his resiliency and ability to come
back, which resulted in his being awarded the Lessons from the
Edge award.

Lawrence has also founded a research and development house,
HTT International Pte. Ltd., which has one patent pending. He
recently celebrated his 27th birthday by starting a nonprofit,
Eliezer Pte Ltd., which provides more than $100,000 in funding
and scholarships to help other entrepreneurs in Singapore.

Julie Thatcher ALASKA WAFFLE
RESTAURANTEUR

Like many college students, Julie Thatcher used to
get hungry late at night, but there was no place to go.
Everything closes early in her hometown of Juneau,
Alaska, she says. She made waffles in her dorm room
until she realized she could turn it into a business.
“I looked for some space to rent, and I found
a garage filled with old cars and junk. I thought,
‘It’s perfect.’ ” The bank was so impressed that she
had already saved $15,000—the 30 percent down
payment needed to start her business—that she Thatcher, 25, wanted to create a cozy coffee shop but differentiated her
business by offering waffles. “They are easy to make, cheap and everyone
loves them.” She also set herself apart with
her long hours, 6 a.m. to midnight, as well
as comfortable couches and free Wi-Fi,
appealing to students at nearby University
of Alaska Southeast. Her restaurant,
Southeast Waffle Company, is also near
the local elementary school, where teachers
bring the kids in groups for a treat.
Thatcher managed to pay off her loan in
her fi rst year of business and now makes
more than $500,000 annually. “I found a
need and I went for it.”

Jonathan Manzi
WEB SERVICES PROVIDER

When Jonathan Manzi was 6,
he was selling painted rocks. By
11, he was brokering baby-sitting
and landscaping services. He had
$8,000 in capital by eighth grade.

Today the 18-year-old owns
Vintage Network and has two
offices in his hometown of Boston,
where his company, Vintacore.com,
offers tailor-made advertising solutions
and helps publishers and other
businesses monetize their Web
traffic. He recently moved to California to attend Stanford, but he hired two managers to
run his business while he’s on the opposite coast.

Manzi recently launched an investment firm, where he’s starting off by managing his
own assets.

He says GSEA was an eye-opening experience. “I never knew there were so many
people like me,” he says. “It shows me I am not crazy.”

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