Getting a leg up

The business that once sold pool tables out of their parents’ Sandy basement has now become the U’s most promising competitor for the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge.

Kimball Thomas, Davis Smith, Jayson Ahlstom and Jared Allgood won the U’s first Opportunity Quest, a business competition designed to help give U students a leg up on the competition.

“We wanted to give motivated students the opportunity to become brutal competitors in the challenge,” said Jack Brittain, Dean of the U School of Business.

“Primarily [Opportunity Quest] is a competition, but our business is education and new business innovation,” said director Leonard Black.

Brittain added that for the last few years, BYU has swept the competition.

“It was not because of the quality of the students, but because they had already made a presentation and had a critique by judges,” said UEC Chairperson Brian Wells.

And so Opportunity Quest was born.

“There’s a $40,000 check [and] I’m tired of giving that check to BYU,” Brittain said.

That $40,000 has helped such former UEC winners as LoveSac and Mediaport get started.

Thomas and Smith’s business, Billiardex, received $5,000, in addition to semi-finalist status in the UEC. “We wanted to compete in the UEC since last summer,” Thomas said.

The senior finance student and his partner started their own online billiard store, Billiardex.com, in April 2004.

“We wanted to make high-quality pool tables available to the middle class,” Thomas said. “We’re both the manufacturer and the reseller, so our prices are about half” of what the bigger billiards companies are selling.

But the pair soon found that many of their online customers wanted to see and touch the tables before buying. So they used Thomas’ parents’ basement in Sandy as a temporary showroom before buying a store on State Street.

Thomas said that while business has been booming, Opportunity Quest has helped them not only organize their business plans, but also prepare for the UEC.

“[Opportunity Quest] forced us to buckle down and put our pitch together,” Thomas said. “We feel infinitely more prepared” because of the competition. He said he and Smith ran into some unique difficulties because their business is real, as opposed to the hypothetical businesses many of the other contestants entered.

It was difficult “nailing down plans about something that’s still evolving,” he said.

Wasatch Microfluidics, a medicinal company created by Josh Eckman, Jim Smith and Maghan Jobson, received $3,000 for second place. Mirai Studios, a video game company created by John Tran and Darren Lum, took third place and won $2,000. Richard Wood, an Opportunity Quest organizers, said he hopes more students from a variety of colleges enter the competition next year.

“Even if they have a ballet studio or an art studio, it’s still a business,” he said.

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