Class Of '98

Alumnus/age: Joanne Schroeder, 32

Company/description: Environmental Data Solutions Group LLC, a Foothill Ranch, California, environmental health and safety solutions provider

Education: She wins our education overachiever award . . . or she would, if we had one. She left the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles with an MBA in entrepreneurship in 1998 after already receiving a master's in environmental engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1992 and, before that, a bachelor's from the University of California, Irvine, in civil engineering.

Background: Even Schroeder admits the explanation of what her company does is a tough one: "We implement third-party software for industrial customers," she begins. Ah, it's all clear now. But if this were an easy topic, Schroeder's clients wouldn't need her.

Essentially, Schroeder's company provides software solutions for environmental, health and safety management compliance-something that confounds many entrepreneurs in the industrial world who need to comply with these regulations. Schroeder's firm selects and implements the software for companies that need to use it.

What an entrepreneurial education taught her: "The value of market research-how market research is really nothing until you have a customer in hand."

Schroeder recalls being given an analogy she once heard being the parent of a homely child. "Nobody wants to tell you that you have an ugly baby, just as everybody wants to say 'Great idea for a business!' Market research is useful, but until you take it to the level of asking customers for money, you never know just how good your business is."

What it couldn't teach her: "They told me that I would never get customers to pay 30 to 50 percent deposits upfront, and I have."

How her peers are faring: "A good percentage have their own businesses, but not everybody. We have a great alumni network, where every four to six weeks, we meet and talk about the issues we're facing, and we exchange war stories."

Is she glad she went? Certainly. "I'm an engineer by education, and I'm used to numbers and formulas giving me an answer. So it was hard for me to believe that entrepreneurship can be taught, but it can."

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the May 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Class Of '98.

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