Entries in Entrepreneurs (5)


Kid Who Squatted at AOL for 2 Months Aims for $500K for Startup ALTO, Calif.) -- Eric Simons, 20, had all the attributes of a passionate entrepreneur: hungry, visionary, resourceful and willing to do whatever it took to get his startup off the ground, including squatting at AOL’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.

But after surviving on office catering leftovers and snacks for two months, the entrepreneur has now put his startup in motion with $50,000 from investors.

Simons moved to Silicon Valley from Illinois last year when he was 19 years old.  Accepted into the inaugural class of the Silicon Valley startup incubator, Imagine K12, he decided to pursue the dream of his startup instead of college.

He and his friends were given $20,000 for ClassConnect, which allows teachers to create and share lesson plans with students and other teachers. After the four-month program ended, his friends quit to attend college and the money ran out too. But Simons, with a working AOL badge, continued coming to the office, as first reported by CNET.

Simons showered in AOL’s gym, slept on company couches, and ate snacks and leftovers from the frequent catering that served the employees and other entrepreneurs working at the office. Because AOL allows other entrepreneurs and programs to work in its office, Simons was able to stay through October and November last year.

On the hunt for investors, he said moving back to Chicago would have meant shutting down ClassConnect.

“What we’re working on is extremely important and will have an important impact on educational system,” he said.  ”I couldn’t bring myself to pack up, which is how I got clever and figured out how I could stay out there.”

His parents and family knew he was squatting, but almost everyone he knew applauded his dedication, including his parents.

“They knew of it. It killed them to see me living on couches and eating scraps but at the end of the day they were pretty proud of me for doing that,” Simons said.

ClassConnect’s $50,000 seed investment, half of which is closing Tuesday from Ulu Ventures, may be giving Simons’ parents another reason to be proud. Simons said he received the first of the investment two weeks ago. The first thing Simons did with the money was rent a three-bedroom home in Palo Alto where he and his two partners are working. He plans to rent out the master bedroom for extra cash.

Clint Korver of Ulu said the company is helping Eric raise the remaining $500,000 from other investors.

Brett Kopf, 25, and his brother, David, were part of Simons’ Imagine K12 class, and housed Eric on their couch when he wasn’t living at AOL. The Kopf brothers launched Remind101, a service which helps teachers text homework reminders and other messages to students and parents, eight months ago.

“He’s the most energetic kid I know,” Brett said of Simons. “For a [then] 19-year old it’s just very impressive, for his tenacity, to do that.”

David Speiser, spokesman for AOL, said he the company does not encourage employees or intruders to sleep in its office, but he does applaud the spirit of Simons’ dedication.

“We did not know that Eric was sleeping in the offices and that’s obviously not something we can or want to encourage. We have to maintain a professional workplace,” Speiser said. “At the same time, as a company we’re working very hard to encourage employees to work very hard and create an environment to promote Silicon Valley dream of entrepreneurship and dedication to an idea.”

“It was always our intention to facilitate entrepreneurialism in the Palo Alto office -- we just didn’t expect it to work so well,” David Temkin, SVP of mail and mobile for AOL, said in a statement.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Made in America: Truck Rack Still Afloat After "Shark Tank" Rejection

Nick M. Do/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Donny McCall, the inventor of the Invis-a-Rack—a retractable cargo rack designed for pickup trucks—appears to be healing nicely after his much-talked-about dip in the popular reality show Shark Tank.

"We've got product. We've sold product. We're ready to go," McCall said. "We just need money to create more product to be able to actually sell it. ... If a half-a-million dollars came in, we could be up and running and moving product and making money by year's end."

During a January episode, McCall appeared before the show's entrepreneurs requesting $100,000 for a 10 percent stake in his company and help making his product. The entrepreneurs turned down his proposal after he refused to consider their suggestions that he make his rack overseas.

"Let's just say that a manufacturer in Asia could make that for $150 [from $250] in quantities of, let's say, 1,000," said entrepreneur Kevin O'Leary during the show. "That puts you in business right there, my friend. ... And yet you're saying 'No.'"

"It's not what I'm going to do with my company," McCall told the "sharks."

After the show aired, hundreds chimed in on social media sites and blogs, urging McCall to not lose hope in his company and his goal to make his rack stateside.

"The best thing that any American can do if they really support Don and Don's dream is to become a customer ... or help him to find one. I don't own a truck myself ... but I know if I did, I would definitely be placing an order for his Invis-a-Rack," commenter Douglas posted on a blog.

The Sparta, N.C., inventor told ABC News recently that he had not given up on his dream of making and selling his Invis-a-Rack in the United States, specifically in his Allegheny County hometown where factory after factory has shut down or moved.

"I've lived here my whole life. I served my country in the United States Navy, and I love it," he said. "It's not just about profit."

On Shark Tank, McCall said that while he knew the truck rack would not save the U.S. economy, he still wanted to try to bring jobs and hope to Sparta.

"I'm one man trying to do his best for this country," he said at the time. "I want to help my family and my investors financially but also my church, community, state and country in any way that I can."

McCall told ABC News that he was 100 percent certain he could still make the cargo rack in America. He said that since the show had aired, his company had sold out of cargo racks—a total of 300—but it had not made a net profit. But McCall said that he was in talks with a manufacturer who wanted to invest in his product and then make and distribute it at stores in six to nine months.

Home Depot also told ABC News on Thursday that it was interested in speaking with him about his product.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Kiva Offers Free Loans to Women Entrepreneurs

Creatas/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Kiva is offering 4,000 free loans to women borrowers in celebration of International Women’s Day. connects lenders to mostly low-income entrepreneurs and families around the world for “micro-loans” of as little as $25. Kiva lenders receive the amounts they lent without interest at a repayment rate of 98.91 percent, according to the non-profit organization.

Over 1 billion people live in extreme poverty, 75 percent of whom are women and girls, Kiva said, and women produce half the world’s food, but own only 1 percent of the world’s farmland.

Kiva said skin-care company Dermalogica will provide free trial loans to the first 4,000 registrants, allowing lenders to make a loan of $25 free of charge.

These 4,000 free trial loans are disbursed to borrowers in the same way other loans are disbursed on Kiva, headquartered in San Francisco. However, since Dermalogica is funding the free trial, any repayment funds from the free trial loan will go back to Dermalogica, not to the free trial lender.

Kiva lenders are usually paid back their loan in a manner of months from a loan recipient whom they choose on the Kiva site.

“New lenders invited during the promotion dates may use their own funds to make a loan, in which case repayments will go back to the lender,” Kiva said.

Since Kiva was founded in 2005, it has arranged $291 million on loans to 698,064 people in 61 countries. In 2009, Kiva made its lending network available to borrowers in the U.S.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Immigrant Entrepreneur Gets Visa After 'World News' Story

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- On Tuesday ABC' World News shared the story of Amit Aharoni, an Israeli national and a graduate of Stanford Business School, who secured $1.65 million in venture capital funding with two cofounders to launch, an online cruise booking company.

The company hired nine Americans in just one year. But Aharoni hit rough waters after he received a letter on Oct. 4 from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denying his request for a visa and notifying him that he needed to leave the country immediately. Aharoni moved to Canada, where he was forced to run his company via Skype from a friend's living room.

After the broadcast, World News heard from many viewers baffled by USCIS's decision.

"This is extremely ridiculous to me considering I haven't been able to get a job for almost 2 years in California," Karen Beck wrote. "It would be great to add more jobs here."

"These are the people we need to bring into the country," Billy Kat posted on Facebook. "We need the most talented of the world to become Americans."

"Smart, educated, high-tech and making his own way while taking others along for the ride. This is exactly the kind of immigrant we need," MJ Shenk told ABC News.

While World News viewers voiced their disappointment, Wednesday morning, Aharoni received an email from USCIS. He was told that his petition had been reconsidered and approved. He is once again able to work in the U.S.

He told ABC News Wednesday he is "ecstatic and thankful" for the USCIS's reversal, and plans to return to the U.S. as soon as possible.

Experts say America's immigration policy is putting it at a competitive disadvantage. There are other countries that are eager to have entrepreneurs, enticing them with special visas and funding. According to Partnership for a New American Economy, an organization that advocates "the economic benefits of sensible immigration reform," countries including the United Kingdom, Singapore and Chile have visas for entrepreneurs. Chile even has a program that offers $40,000 in seed funding.

It is a problem politicians in America acknowledge, but have not solved.

According to statistics from Partnership for a New American Economy, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.

President Obama addressed the issue during a town hall in July.

"What I want to do is make sure that talented people who come to this country to study, to get degrees, and are willing and interested in starting up businesses can do so, as opposed to going back home and starting those businesses over there to compete against the United States and take away U.S. jobs," he said.

In a May op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, headlined "A New Immigration Consensus," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg advocated for reform.

"When every other country wants the best and the brightest, we're trying to keep them out. It doesn't make a lot of sense. ... [T]he truth of the matter is we are sending the future overseas," Bloomberg told ABC News. "We need people to start companies and create jobs. People that come from overseas are something like ... five times more likely to create jobs than people who are here. ... So we've got to do something about this."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Apple’s Steve Jobs Most Admired Entrepreneur Among Teens

Photo Courtesy - Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) -- Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg may have created a product with a half a billion users and be the subject of a hit Hollywood movie, The Social Network, but a new survey reveals he’s not the entrepreneur teens admire most.  A 2010 Junior Achievement Teens and Entrepreneurship survey finds Apple co-founder Steve Jobs sits atop a list of most admired entrepreneurs.

Here’s the top five from the survey:

1. Steve Jobs -- 23 percent
2. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling -- 17 percent
3. Oprah Winfrey – 14 percent
4. Music artist/businessman Jay-Z -- 13 percent
5. Mark Zuckerberg & skateboarder Tony Hawk (tied) -- 9 percent

When broken down by gender, teenage girls ranked J.K. Rowling as the most admired entrepreneur, with 23 percent, followed by Oprah with 21 percent and Steve Jobs with 17 percent.

For teenage boys, Steve Jobs is the most admired with 29 percent of the vote, followed by Jay-Z at 17 percent and Tony Hawk at 14 percent.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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