PROVO — If you start a business in a garage using about $250,000 in credit card debt as seed money, you have to be a pretty big dreamer. If after just a few years the company you created is prospering, then you can count yourself not only lucky, but good.
When Ken Martin, chief operations officer of Ogden-based Campus Book Rentals, was relating to the audience at the Utah Valley Entrepreneurial Forum about the early days of the company, he drew gasps when he recalled how the company's executives used their credit cards to fund the initial development rather than take capital from outside sources. Though using credit was risky, he said they managed to make it work in their favor.
"We didn't take on a lot of funding. As the money was there, we used it up but didn't go beyond it," Martin said. "It's been kind of a slow, steady growth."
Launched in 2007, the online textbook rental company has grown into a major player in its niche, doing business on nearly every college campus in the country. At peak times at the beginning and end of the school year, CBR employs more than 120 full- and part-time workers and generates millions in revenue, said chief financial officer Jaime Harper.
"We really took a leap of faith," Martin said. "It's the entrepreneur spirit … to find a good goal and keep after it."
"It's about having enough passion and belief in what you're doing … to take that leap," Harper added.
The UVEF, in its 13th year, honors the top performing startups five years of age or younger throughout Utah, according to John Plimer, past chairman of the UVEF board of directors.
He said the winners being recognized these days are different than those first honored years ago.
"It's very exciting to see this new crop of startup companies that have potential to do great things," Pilmer said. When about 15 percent of small businesses do not last five years, recognizing those that prosper is well worth it, he said.
"We're trying to assist these companies in getting word out about what they are doing, celebrating that as a milestone of revenue and job creation here in Utah," Pilmer explained. "The winners represent 600 new jobs in Utah and more than $135 million in annual revenue."
He said this year there were a record number of applicants representing more than 1,000 jobs created. Previous honorees include "superstars" like Omniture, Skullcandy and XanGo, he said.
"Some of these small companies will go on to become the superstars of tomorrow," he commented.
Finishing just behind CBR in second place was a Utah County company called Goal Zero. Headquartered in Bluffdale, the company develops portable solar power systems that are sold worldwide through major retailers including REI, Cabela’s, Costco, Best Buy and Lowe's. Its products feature portable solar panels and power packs for recharging and powering electronic devices.
The company has gained more than 30 percent market share in fewer than three years, with products sold in more than 15 countries as well as 2,000 domestic and 1,000 international retail locations.
"In the last two years, we've provided about 80 jobs," said Cody Thomas, international sales manager. "
With projected revenue of $25 million to $35 million this year, the company has even loftier goals for 2013.
"We'd like to be a $75 million to $100 million company by next year," said chief financial officer Trent Reid.
Thomas said the recognition received by all of the honorees showed that success is within reach for those willing to persevere.
"If you've got a good idea and you work hard, the opportunity is out there," Thomas said.