THE BLOG
06/13/2013 05:33 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2013

How America's Universities Reinvent Business By Helping Students Adapt iPods for Underwater Audio Entertainment

When the going gets tough the tough gets going, even if it means taking something as delicate as an iPod shuffle or headsets under water.

At least that is what a young entrepreneur of one of America's responsive universities has come up with to create a new business employing 40 people and turning over $2 Million in 2012.

It seems to be a case of American enterprise yet again making it worthy of the old saying, by showing leadership, imagination and ability to adapt to dig out of the hole of recession it dug for itself by mismanaging the economy.

Different from Dragons' Den and The Apprentice

Though the popular TV shows like Dragons' Den and The Apprentice carry the semblance of promoting entrepreneurial spirit, no one seem to know if they have imparted much value.

Judging by the state the world economy has ended up since these shows went on air, it is questionable if they have catered for anything but the primeval urge for the spectacles of the Roman coliseum, where the spirit of enterprise is often mercilessly torn apart.
With more and more universities offering entrepreneurship programmes for aspiring students, Academic and Corporate America seems to be setting up a new worthwhile trend in education to meet the requirement of growth.

The trend seems to be catching up elsewhere in the G8 group of countries as well. What is important is their effectiveness can be measured, from statistics over a period of time at least.

But are they really helping American enterprise to regain its lost ground? Underwater Audio, a business started by Scott Walker under the entrepreneurship programme of Brigham Young University appeared to be proof of the pudding, but how does the new initiative work in practice?

An Under The Hood Interview With an Underwater CEO

How did you get the University to support the concept?

Brigham Young University did not support Underwater Audio in an official capacity. The university does support several entrepreneurship competitions. I competed in the Student Entrepreneur of the Year award and won $5,000 to help fund Underwater Audio's growth. The competition receives funding from many of the University's Alumni.

Did you take it to them or develop it within your academic work?

My professors at BYU constantly provided opportunities for me to apply our class work to Underwater Audio. In most of my classes, we had a team project to work with a real company that determined a significant portion of our grade. I worked with classmates on Underwater Audio in semester-long projects in Marketing, Sales, Negotiation, Entrepreneurship, Business Strategy, Global Business Negotiations, Market Research, and other classes. These projects enabled me to run Underwater Audio with experienced oversight from my professors and talented help from my fellow students.

• What sort of help did you get from the Industry leaders connected to the University?

After participating in the Student Entrepreneur of the Year competition, many industry leaders contacted me directly. I have received advice from many of these leaders and even entered into business relationships with many of them.

• What help did you get from the faculty?

The consulting and support I have received from faculty has helped me to guide Underwater Audio strategically. BYU has a very experienced Entrepreneurship faculty that has helped me to grow Underwater Audio in a manageable way. From every day decisions, to deciding which products to develop, my professors at BYU have helped guide the future of Underwater Audio.

• Which part of the story you built yourself? Technical (finding the way to seal etc)

My business partner and I decided early on that he would do the engineering, and I would do the marketing. That being said, I have helped develop the supply chain, including honing the process that each iPod goes through. I applied the principals I learned in my supply chain class at BYU to our small factory. My implementation of tools like JIT have improved our quality, speed, and ultimately our bottom line at Underwater Audio.

• or Commercial? (finding a market etc.)

When I started the company, I had no idea of the volume that we would sell. We started with a Wordpress website I built myself and a Google Adwords account. Today, we have an extensive paid advertising program that has made Underwater Audio into the company it is today. We advertise on many different platforms, implement CRM to drive a 4.7/5 ranking with 250 customer reviews on Amazon, invest in SEO, and interact with customers and their friends to drive over 35,000 Facebook likes. We have appeared in Swimmer magazine, Outsideonline.com, Technorati.com, womenshealthmag.com and other influential publications. My greatest contribution to Underwater Audio has been generating web traffic and revenue.

• How did you manage 40 employees and your studies together?

Over email. Honestly, choosing the right people to work with has made Underwater Audio a success. Without our virtually independent workforce, I could not have done both. Choosing honest, hardworking individuals that take initiative has given me enormous flexibility.

Do you visualize a growth in the swimming as a sport on account of the product and ways to capitalise? (From the feedback you have from consumers)

We do see swimming growing as a sport. Specifically, we see more and more people who turn to swimming because they see the impact other exercise has on their bodies. I have relatives who ran their whole lives. They are skinny, but they also have had multiple hip replacement surgeries. More and more people recognize the benefits of exercise that doesn't destroy your body.

• Do you visualize growing big by sell off or tie up with corporations?

Underwater Audio develops products like our waterproof iPod that appeal to people who swim. Most large companies aren't interested in this small niche, which we love. We have plans to grow in terms of our channels, product offering, and revenue, but we don't expect Walmart, Nike, or Speedo to call us anytime soon.

• In general how do the US Business and Government help, inspire, encourage ?

The Internet has opened up business to anyone with enough experience and determination to execute their ideas. Only 15 years ago, Underwater Audio would have no possibility of starting. How would we sell to such a small niche in retail? How could we advertise a waterproof iPod to people who swim more than once a week? The flexibility that I experienced in my education enabled me to learn the skills I would need to build a successful business. The business community in the United States provided internships, business relationships, and partners. These contributions have built Underwater Audio into a successful business that provides jobs, tax revenue, and a better life for swimmers.

Do we need MBA any More?

Student entrepreneurship programmes appear to meet the need of the hour and make costly MBA studies something to be considered, if you can start and run a business in the first place.
After all, aren't many of America's legendary business leaders school drop-outs even though that school was the Harvard?

Reach Author Sreedhar Pillai On Google