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Talk about starting small: Last year, Vinny Pasceri and Jim Kazukietas, both 21, launched ProductivityNet Inc.-a software company whose products allow administrators to monitor computer networks remotely-in a shower stall at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's on-campus business incubator in Troy, New York. Surprisingly, personal space hasn't been an issue. "It's a nice, cozy office," jokes Pasceri, the company's CEO. "There were no more spots in the incubator center, and we wanted to move in. We painted the walls, but if you look closely, you can still see the blue shower tiles."
All problems with mildew aside, Pasceri and Kazukietas proved size doesn't matter much when you've got a great concept. Last year, the school's Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship invested $20,000 of seed capital into the shower-stall start-up, choosing ProductivityNet's business plan over 40 others. "They have a really good product idea," says Bela Musits, director of the incubator program. "It certainly looks like there's a large enough market out there."
Pasceri got the idea from his high school computer lab. "I noticed everyone was playing solitaire instead of researching," he says. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool for the teachers to have a program to monitor what the students are doing?' " That notion might not fly with Solitaire addicts, but he's confident his product will find a niche.
Before ProductivityNet, Pasceri started two other businesses, gaining valuable experience in the process. "I learned not to have too many partners," he says. "With my first company, it was hard to make decisions because everyone wanted to do their own thing. With my second company, I wound up going into debt because I didn't have a shareholder's agreement. I was the only one buying things for the company, and I had no way of proving it."
In addition to the real-world lessons, starting a business in college also gives Pasceri and Kazukietas a chance to actually do the things they're learning in the classroom. Pasceri (computer science major) works on software development, while Kazukietas (finance) takes care of the business plan. "The business has taught me more than my classes have," says Kazukietas, vice president.
They're even surprising their mentor. "I'm amazed they find the time to go to school, get good grades and run a business," says Musits.
Kazukietas says it's not that big of a deal: "If the company flops tomorrow, I'll still wake up and go to class."
|Warm And Fuzzy|
Why start your business in an incubator? "It's a great environment," says Vinny Pasceri, who, as CEO of ProductivityNet, got started at the Troy, New York-based Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's on-campus incubator. "Just having all these other companies around to exchange resources with [is great]."
Working in the incubator also gives the business some legitimacy. "I was [running] my first two companies out of my dorm," adds Pasceri. "Now callers don't hear Metallica blasting in the background."
Partner Jim Kazukietas also likes the atmosphere of Rensselaer's incubator, which was one of the first of its kind when it opened in 1980. "The incubator centralizes a knowledge base that young people like myself can tap into," he says.
Having a mentor like Bela Musits, the incubator's director, is another bonus. "We help students with everything: business plans, attorneys, accountants, VCs," he says.
"There's a lot of very smart students floating around here," adds Musits. "Companies want access to them. That's why they come here."