When Dick Schulze started his business 52 years ago, he mortgaged his home to seed his business, the consumer-electronics retailer Best Buy.
This week, Schulze and the foundation named for him awarded $250,000 in startup funding to college students with great business ideas.
“It’s possible to build a meaningful company, a very successful, and in our case, a very large-scale company from a very, very small startup,” said Schulze from the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he is an alumnus, trustee and major donor. While Schulze has retired from Best Buy, the company just reported more than $42 billion in revenue, according to its annual report.
The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation notes age may no longer a barrier for young people with good business ideas, but funding remains a hurdle.
Ask sophomores Jackie Page and Meghan Sharkus, students at St. Thomas.
They make adhesive patches that secure medical devices like Dexcom, which monitors the blood glucose levels of diabetics. The adhesives are a less bulky alternative and secure the device during exercising or bathing. And Page and Sharkus designed them to make device-wearing attractive, rather than visually uncomfortable.
Of 25 college-age finalists with business models, Page and Sharkus’s ExpressionMed, won them $75,000 from Schulze's foundation.
“They took it upon themselves to align strategically with partnerships of other people that could help them understand what it was going to take to make their product really, truly different and better than what was in the marketplace,” Schulze said.
“So they distinguished themselves not only to us, but also to those who have had the opportunity to use the ExpressionMed ‘fashion,’ or form of adhesives that hold these absolutely necessary medical devices close to the patient.”
They started with $5,000 of Sharkus’s high-school graduation money. She earned $30,000 more in competitions the following year. They have generated sales revenue, and now add the Schulze prize money to their business.
Sharkus said St. Thomas has given her and Page time to spend with professionals and mentors from outside school, talking about business models.She said that this made the school the perfect place to start a business.
"Just being in that environment makes school the perfect place to start a business, and,especially for young people. You know, we do get looked down on sometimes by certain people, being women, being young, being new to the space. But if you are well-educated and you do your research ahead of time and you have the market stats and your product works you can really do anything," she said.
Page and Sharkus also credit their success to researching their product and market, and partnership with medical startups in Minneapolis, who helped them understand and overcome obstacles they would face.
“When I call someone, and they say something isn’t possible, that’s a challenge!” said Sharkus. “I just get so excited about it! And then when it works, that’s the most fulfilling thing.”
Sharkus said time management is the best advice she gives to students who want to start a business.
“The first thing that people worried about was balancing [entrepreneurship] with school and with friends,” Sharkus said. “But what we found was that you’d be surprised at how much time you have if you don’t watch Netflix, and, you know, go out every day.”
Other winning ideas devised a way to improve school bus routes to reduce carbon emissions and save money for school districts, a temperature-regulated mask for weather-triggered asthma attacks, and 3D printing for metal parts.
Schulze said the most successful people are typically the most passionate about building a business and following their dream.He said they don’t take “no” for an answer, seek out answers, network openly, and share ideas to grow their dreams.
The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation says it follows its founder’s beliefs in the value of innovation and in improving the lives of middle-and working-class families.”
Which is where Schulze got his start.
“For me, personally, it was really a matter of mortgaging the ranch. When I started the company back in 1966, it was really about taking what little funding we had and equity from our home, a loving spouse that was willing to take that risk with me, and we invested it in a business with the help and support of, in my case, manufacturers,” Schulze said.