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US Students Get Tips on Starting a Business


The field of entrepreneurial studies is becoming ever-more important in U.S. business education. At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Anderson School of Management, successful entrepreneurs shared their advice on starting a business with students.

For students of entrepreneurship, this is an exciting time. The business world is changing with the opening of new markets and creation of products based on new technology.

Recently 300 students met with successful entrepreneurs, who included Scott Ingraham, the founder of Rent.com, an apartment rental service. He sold the company to Internet giant eBay for more than $400 million.

Auto importer Malcolm Bricklin of Visionary Vehicles also shared his thoughts on starting a business. The entrepreneur introduced a number of foreign cars to the U.S. market, including the Subaru from Japan and the Yugo from the former Yugoslavia. He is now planning to import a car called the Chery from China.

UCLA business student Jeremy Milo helped direct the conference. He says the advice the students heard from entrepreneurs had some common themes. "Don't give up, be perseverent, be adaptable. You don't know how things are going to turn out, so have a plan, but be ready to change things at the drop of a hat because you can never plan perfectly for the future," he said.

Mr. Milo has a plan with two of his fellow students to create a business after they graduate. Partner Marc Lebovitz says the company will lease electronic items. "We're targeting consumers with good credit and our initial list of devices we're thing about are laptops, MP3 players and digital cameras, the types of devices that consumers want to keep up with changing technology or are interested in techno-fashion, and our segment of the consumer population wants to have the latest, greatest thing," he said.

Business student Dora Karali has another plan. A native of Greece, she came to California for a master's degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University. After working in several high tech firms, she came to UCLA to study entrepreneurship.

A new mother, Ms. Karali had just given birth to a baby boy a few days before this conference, and despite her a busy schedule, she plans to start a business. "I have an idea that I'm working on right now. It's in wireless home automation, and the idea is to build a wireless controller to control various devices," she said.

She says the wireless device could control all of the appliances and electronic equipment in a home.

Marc Lebovitz says the leasing business he plans to start with two of his fellow students needs careful planning. He says that leasing consumer electronic items is difficult because the cost of new products keeps dropping, so it is hard to predict the future value of used goods. The team is collecting sales data and using probability theory to determine resale value, which is the key to the leasing business.

He says this meeting with business owners has given him ideas, and inspiration. "I've learned that a lot of what makes an entrepreneur successful is the desire and the willingness to take on the risk and to get your hands dirty, and to work hard. And it's something that's accessible to many people who have taken that risk and taken that first step. And that's inspiring to those of us who are thinking about it," he said.

Mr. Lebovitz and partner Jade Van Doren say they are looking for investors.

"We do need funding, and if any of the listeners are interested in talking to us… . But in all seriousness, we don't need that much money. One of the neat things about the idea is that it ends up funding itself, and so we're looking for a relatively modest amount of capital up front," he said.

Mr. Van Doren says the team needs up to $1 million, which he says is far less than what is required for many high tech start-ups.

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