July 17, 2024

TNJN Spotlight: Finding Your Balance

Being a full-time college student is hard.  While students are given the freedom of being away from home and on their own, they also face the bitter realities of life and the constant fear of their next exam.


Now add running a company on top of that.


The pressure of acing the test coupled with the need to find manufacturers to make products; the five page essay on Roman Classicism has to compete with the two clients who are looking for services on Tuesday afternoon; and the group project due by Monday at midnight goes down to the wire after a last-minute order requires attention.


The school-business balancing act requires skill, but the engineering and business students who take on the task know what it takes.


Andrea Hayes, founder of It’s About Thyme, says the balancing act is like working two full-time jobs. “It’s tough because even when you’re doing it part-time, it is still a full-time job,” Hayes said. “Figuring out a customer base, how do I reach that (customer base), you don’t want to waste time with the wrong people and I look at it as an every day all day thing.”


Hayes’ love for cooking helped her springboard the idea of cooking meals for people who may not have time to do it themselves. That’s the goal of It’s About Thyme: a company made up of only Hayes, who goes, to houses and prepares meals for those without a lot of time on their hands.


“I heard about the industry and thought it was neat,” Hayes said. “I was working at an office at the time and didn’t think it was something I could do. But I also didn’t like what I was doing.” Hayes said she had the idea for the business four to five years ago but didn’t have the formal business layout she needed to really be taken seriously.


Luckily for students like Hayes, the University of Tennessee offers resources through the Anderson Center to help steer business owners in the right direction. Staff at the Anderson Center offers not only advice but also competitions as a way for students to get the in-field experience they need along with exposure to the community of entrepreneurs. One event, the Undergraduate Business Plan competition, has students developing ideas and pitches for local entrepreneurs, including venture capitalists and accountants.


Renamed in 2010, the Anderson Center got its name from an endowment made by Charlie and Moll Anderson, both UT alumni. Charlie is CEO of Anderson Media Corporation and hoped that his donation would help other UT students find their business and grow as entrepreneurs.


The center has since transformed into a place where students can start their business, grow it and eventually take what they’ve learned over time into the real world.


“One of the things that is very important to us is to make sure that students aren’t just given some money and abandoned,” Tom Graves, a professor of business at the Anderson Center said. “We want them to have that mentoring and developmental exposure so we can make sure that the business gets launched.”


Graves is one of the center’s many mentors and oversees the Vol Court competitions, give students the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges who critiques them and offers advice. On-hand education has become a crucial part of every young business’ early stages.


“My eyes have been opened to so many different resources,” Justin Clark, one of the co-founders of Catalyst Wheels, said. Clark, a sophomore engineering major, and his friends Zach and Nick McCormick started the company as a way to help themselves with their triathlons by making wheel covers for their bikes. Using carbon fiber, they created covers that increase aerodynamics and don’t bog the bike down like wheel covers made with heavy plastic.


“Tri-athletes and cyclists love it,” Clark said. “They will spend a few hundred more to save a few grams (on their bikes).” Clark said their market is wide open with only one other company working on the same product, and by using carbon fiber, they set themselves apart.


For Catalyst Wheels, having three partners involved in the process helps to make the work load easier, giving them a chance to grow as a company. “It is easy with three people because some can be doing something while the others study or do homework,” Clark said.


But both Clark and Hayes agree, going to the experts early is the best way to get started with a business. “Research the industry of what business you’re looking into, plan like crazy,” Hayes said. “You can’t do too much is what I mean.”


For Clark, conversing with people is the best way to learn. “Talk to everyone you can, talk to as many people as possible; email people in the College of Business or Law, anyone who can potentially help you.”


Hayes found help through one of her English courses, which helped her to focus on technical writing and format some of the business documents she ran into along the way. Julie Tyler, who teaches English 295, says she expands the title from “Business and Technical Writing” to “Professional and Technical Writing” because it can be used for any professional purpose, not just business.


“It allows students to explore a career, explore their major and then figure out the writing that is used,” Tyler said. “I help them figure out what they can write, but it is really student-centered and really the student deciding what his or her interests are.”


Tyler said that what is different for students who run their own business rather than work for someone else is the act of being in charge of every aspect of production. “All of that brain power is not just about the time it takes but requires you to be intellectual as a student and as a professional,” Tyler added.


The act of balancing life is something that every person has to deal with. Throw a young business into the juggling act and everything can fall down without the right steps in front. But it all starts with that first plan.


With help from instructors and mentors around them, students at UT have found a base to start from and a foundation to build off of. With the tools they are given through the Anderson Center and other courses, they enter the world not only as an accomplished student but also as a well-rounded professional.