Four area entrepreneurs being honored at White House
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 1:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 1:59 p.m.
Four North Central Florida company founders will be honored Friday at the White House for being among the top 100 entrepreneurs under the age of 30.
Ethan Fieldman of Study Edge, Chad French of Peerfly Inc., Justin Jackrel of Road Rat and Ray Land of Fabulous Coach Lines are scheduled to meet President Barack Obama, along with the 96 other people on the Empact100 list, made up those 30 or younger making $100,000 or more in revenues.
Empact, a company that focuses on early support of entrepreneurship, and Startup America Partnership, a network and resource facility, put out the first list in 2011. Last year, there were six startups from Florida, most from South Florida. This year, there are seven — and more than half are from North Central Florida.
Ethan Fieldman, 30, Study Edge founder
When Ethan Fieldman walks around University of Florida libraries or other popular study spots around Gainesville, he said he's always amazed when Study Edge is open on students' laptop screens.
Fieldman noticed students studying between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. and on Sunday nights when no one is around to help. Just more than a year ago, he opened a company to fill in the gaps with an online tutoring program.
"(We're) trying to make studying the fun thing to do," he said.
Fieldman said he decided to create the company when he figured he could reach more students through outlets such as Facebook and the Internet instead of tutoring 10 students a week in person.
Even so, he said the leap from being a tutor to his own boss was a difficult leap.
"I call it my 80-hour-a-week hobby," he joked.
The company grew from providing services to UF students to the University of Central Florida and University of South Florida, and is now in Alabama and other states. He said the goal is to be in every university and college in the U.S. in three years.
"The best job security you have is employing yourself," he said.
Chad French, 27, Peerfly Inc.
Chad French's business sense started in middle school with a sign business. He and a friend would go around asking others if they would like their names written artistically for a fee. A few businesses later — failed and successful — he is the founder of Peerfly Inc., an Internet sales marketing firm. Based out of Alachua, the company has about 40,000 customers worldwide and continues to expand.
French said it was an honor to be on the Empact100 list considering the small size of his company.
"The whole thing has been a crazy ride," he said.
He said in the past few years he's had failures, but without them he wouldn't be where he is now. He said he trained himself as a programmer because he knew it would be a worthwhile industry to get into.
"Part of being an entrepreneur, you're going to steadily find failure," he said. "But if you're patient you'll get what you're looking for."
Justin Jackrel, 29, Road Rat
Justin Jackrel began his entrepreneurial journey selling candy at age 6. As he grew up, he became a little more specialized. At 17, he started a scooter repair business while still in high school.
From 2001 to 2004, he sold and repaired scooters from his dorm until he opened a storefront in 2004.
Jackrel graduated from UF in 2005, and by 2008 he went from a small office space to a 14,000-square-foot work area. "You work at everything — from 3 to 4 in the morning just answering emails."
He said he got the idea to start the business when he went to a trade show with a friend and saw an electric scooter priced far above what it cost to make. They thought it was ridiculous and decided to make better models for cheaper prices.
While the scooter and a go-cart business are his main businesses, he has a hand in a lawn care business, and his wife runs a cleaning business.
He said he thinks entrepreneurship is something with which people are born. He is the son of two entrepreneurs who made adjustments to and provided special equipment for cars for disabled people.
Ray Land, 25, Fabulous Coach Lines
For a while, Ray Land thought no one knew about his company. The phone didn't ring in the office, and there was more physical work than desk work in the beginning. But nine years later, with bus routes across the country and multiple bus tours along the East Coast, Land said he is thankful for every year that brought him to where he is now.
"It's a lot of making dreams come true," he said.
Fabulous Coach Lines is a motorcoach transportation service that provides charters, coaches and towncar services throughout the U.S.
Land said he had always liked travel, and that's why he decided to start a travel company.
The company is run from the small office near his family in Branford, a tiny town on the banks of the Suwannee River about an hour northwest of Gainesville.
Land was named one of America's Best Young Entrepreneurs 2010 by Businessweek.
He said he was incredibly honored to be on the Empact100 list competing with a spot in a group heavily dominated by tech and other established companies.