SALT LAKE CITY — If you're looking for a reason to hope for the economy — not to mention hope for humanity — a crucible of sorts for startup businesses and the entrepreneurially obsessed called The Foundry has some prime examples.
Consider, for instance:
A Priori, an already profitable new import/distribution company of fine specialty foods that was willed from dream into reality by Nick Frappier, a young painter who can give "a 10-hour discourse on chocolate and how most of what Americans call chocolate isn't even close to the real thing."
META, a new catering business being nurtured along by founder Adam Kaslikowski that invokes ethically sourced eating and defies the credo of American fast food that, if it's fast, it's bad for you.
Novobi — a software company with roots in Utah, Michigan and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam — was envisioned almost by accident, then realized and retooled by University of Utah MBA graduate and self-labeled insomniac Ha Pham. He is so sure he's onto something with re-engineering and developing software for small businesses that he just gave his two-week notice at his day job.
Premier Tax and Accounting, an accounting and tax preparation business started by U. post-graduate Yohauna Allart, who has two employees and a novel approach by providing a still-valued characteristic of American small-business owners: legitimately accounting for your company's finances.
Redflower, a startup beverage company that has blasted off on Pat Duke-Rosati's bet that, even in the age of premixed drinks and bottled water products lining miles of aisles in grocery stores, people still have a taste for the unique and simple blends of fruit juice and water.
The Foundry, which was launched barely three months ago by the U.'s Eccles School of Business and is located in the Salt Lake Chamber building downtown, is offering the ideal counterpoint to an economy stuck in the doldrums — a rigorous entrepreneurial practicum worthy of its name.
All 49 entrepreneurs enrolled and 15 startups workshopped there are part of the business school's tradition of fostering economic development in Utah by providing hands-on business training, both to make an entrepreneur's good ideas become real companies and to provide a peer-reviewed approach to help them through the managerial shoals that five startup owners interviewed Monday said is invaluable. And all of it is done while engendering a civic-minded savvy about doing business.
The fledging Foundry is an entrepreneurial endeavor in its own right and already has an enviable bottom line: 23 teams of innovators drawn from an applicant pool from the U., BYU, Utah Valley University and Utah State University; 12 full-time jobs created; eight companies actually making nearly $100,000 as of July 31.
The shop is an unusual blend of characteristics that faculty adviser Rob Wuebker describes with terms such as "boots-on-the-ground," "battle-ready," "heroic," "obsessively passionate," "trench warfare," "atavistic terror" and "love."
"We're giving them the experience of growing up in a cohort that they will stay connected to their entire lives in an aquarium where that can occur naturally," Wuebker said. "This is an opportunity for them to explore deeply what they want to do, and how to make it real, then once they've brought it to reality, how to execute it and to be responsible for it — forever. Something will occur to help, and everyone here has learned to expect miracles; they happen almost every day."
What's also going on there is capitalizing on the inherent pay-it-forward approach of many Utah business owners who are ready, willing and more than able to give back to a new generation of entrepreneurs trying to make it, said Bill Schulze, an Eccles professor, noting that business owners "regularly parachute in to see what's going on and how they can help." Schulze said that, as a professor, he is naturally interested in trying to bottle the approach for academia — a mentor-oriented rather than peer-based, information-disseminating institution.
"That really hasn't been the norm at the Eccles business school," he said, noting that since its founding in 1917 it has emphasized what is called experiential learning.
That kind of applied education launched what is now the country's largest, $18.3 million, student-run investment fund. It's the same approach that put the U. in a tie with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the number of spin-off companies from technology developed or perfected there.
"A lot of good things can happen when you have a college and a dean who say, 'Yes,' " Schulze said
While there is a shared belief in making a dream a reality among the field of entrepreneurs at The Foundry, Frappier said, they also have an abiding desire of what they don't want: "Never work for somebody else. Never send out a résumé."