Growing up in a small Wyoming town, Tyler Johnson, a senior at Kansas University, spent a lot of time hiking and backpacking.
In many areas, though, there weren’t trails to follow.
“It’s easy to get lost and it’s dangerous,” he said.
Johnson took an entrepreneurship class at KU, where his assignment was to write an original business plan. Johnson wanted to create a business model to restore trails in national parks.
“I called government offices and basically got a lot of information and validated that there’s a need for my project,” he said.
Now, Johnson’s business plan has evolved into a real venture that will begin with restorations this year in Yellowstone National Park. He estimates his business will have about 20 employees by summer.
Wally Meyer, director of entrepreneurship programs at KU, teaches entrepreneurship skills in several courses, including the class where Johnson wrote his business plan.
Meyer said that for someone who wants to be an entrepreneur, some of the most important characteristics for them to possess are passion, creativity, perseverance and tenacity.
“You have to be a person who can dedicate themselves to working very diligently,” he said. “If you’re the kind of person who has a high level of motivation to realize the dream that you create for yourself, then this is a terrific way to experience one’s self.”
It’s very easy to come up with ideas when looking to start a venture, Meyer said, but what’s important is whether the ideas are in demand and whether people will pay for them.
Johnson believes his business plan, which earned funding when Johnson won the Mark L. Morris Jr. New Venture Development competition in 2009, was successful because it’s a specialized work with no other competitors.
“People don’t like to get their hands dirty,” Johnson said. “There’s a huge market for this kind of work.”
Starting a business with a partner or several others may also help, Meyer said.
“Research has indicated that the entrepreneur is much more likely to be successful if he or she combines with a team instead of individually,” he said.
Being flexible with the venture is important as well.
“You may have a terrific product whose function satisfies consumers, but it’s not exactly in the right packaging or you’re not distributing in the right stores or the prices could be improved,” Meyer said. “There are so many factors here that it’s important that you give yourself the opportunity to learn and go back at it again.”
Meyer said there remains a significant interest in entrepreneurship, and it’s a trend among the millennial generation.
“They appear to want more to be their own boss,” he said. “I think a lot of folks are seeing that corporate havens, where people used to join and stay for their livelihoods, are just not available anymore. Being in greater control of one’s destiny is very appealing.”
Meyer’s Introduction to Entrepreneurship class has increased in enrollment from about 60 students to about 150 students over the past five years, and he said it’s the largest elective the business school offers.
Meyer said that because of increased interest in starting new businesses, a new program for nonbusiness majors will begin in the fall. After completing four entrepreneurship classes, students will receive a certificate in entrepreneurship.
Johnson plans on graduating in May and called his business a never-ending process in the meantime.
“It’s a 24-7 venture because there’s never a time that I’m not thinking about how to make my projects better,” Johnson said. “The ability to follow something you love is better than any feeling in the world.”