PROVO -- In just a few days, investors and a handful of new business owners will gather at the Park City Egyptian Theater to formally celebrate 11 startups emerging from incubation.
"All of the companies are doing reasonably well, with some doing better than others. It is expected all would be allowed to present on the 'Demo Day' [the finale] stage in Park City next week," BoomStartup founder John Richards said. He is also a BYU professor, entrepreneur and angel investor.
Still fledglings, the new companies and their owners have been mentored through the BoomStartup program. Their mentors have been where the young entrepreneurs are today and became so successful that they now are helping others as angel investors, bankers and venture capitalists.
"Two hundred fifty-plus people are expected to attend and watch the investor presentations. We have more investors than ever expected to attend the event. The event is essentially sold out already," Richards said.
Craig Nordstrom and Jeremy and Sierra Penrod and their company, The Dress Spot, will take part in one of those presentations. They have been through the 12-week BoomStartup program at Camp 4 in Provo and are spending 12- to 17-hour days to build their company as quickly as possible.
Richards encouraged Jeremy Penrod to apply for the summer program.
"Jeremy Penrod is the kind of guy investors bet on. He's a winner. He will figure it out and be successful," Richards said.
Nearly 100 applicants and their team members applied for the Provo summer session after Camp 4 opened in May and the organization leaders and mentors sifted through the applications, tossing out roughly 40. From the remaining applications, they whittled the number down to 20.
Then the interviews and callbacks began. The Dress Spot was one of six business ideas selected for the incubator program, $10,000 in funding and a mentor -- Dan Ashworth, vice president of BlueHost.
While Nordstrom was listening to his friend's first presentation in front of BoomStartup leaders, he had doubts about what they were doing. They were creating a website and program for brides who wanted to find bridesmaid dresses of a certain hue and color.
"I never saw myself doing dresses ever, ever," he said with a loud emphasis on the last "ever."
"I am not a fashion guy. I was thinking how did I get myself roped into this, but then I saw the potential," Nordstrom said.
He saw the potential in their business as Jeremy Penrod pitched at Camp 4 and he saw the reaction of the investors.
"I realized this could go beyond dresses to online retail," he said.
Penrod said it was the same for him.
"When they took us seriously, that gave me the confidence to move forward," Penrod said.
Their idea made the cut while Nordstrom was taking finals and graduating from BYU business school. He had recently received a lucrative job opportunity.
"Up to that point, I just helped him with little things. We were just doing it on the side, but after talking with Richards we dropped the other job opportunity and went full time on this," Nordstrom said.
An unexpected surprise, they had to shift gears in projected life plans and climb on board BoomStartup.
"Honestly yes, I literally was only part-time the day before and all of a sudden the next day I was full-time at The Dress Spot," Nordstrom said.
They have no titles because at this stage of growing their business, they are doing everything -- cold calling, working with retailers, networking, readying the site and planning future operations.
Listed as the CEO for the One Spot Shoppe, the corporate name of The Dress Spot, Jeremy Penrod and Nordstrom put in long hours and work as a team.
The pace has been intense, Nordstrom said. They are talking with wedding planners, wedding bloggers, working Pinterest and other social sites.
"We drove ourselves, this became our source of income. We had foregone other opportunities for this, and the bottom line is we both have a desire to succeed," he said. "We both knew this would have to provide our livelihood."
Where it began and where it's going
Nordstrom served as best man at Penrod's wedding in 2011 when Sierra Penrod got very frustrated trying to find the right color -- slate blue and peach -- and style for her wedding. One bridesmaid was expecting and needed a maternity dress, another was exceptionally petite. She was in tears.
"I can fix this," her fiance said. And Jeremy Penrod began working on the online concept of choosing dresses by color.
At the beginning, before they were admitted into the program, they had 6,000 to 7,000 dresses from a small group of retailers for brides and bridesmaids to choose from at their site, thedressspot.com. They currently have more than 22,000 dresses and a long list of companies who work with them -- Asos, Ruche, ModCloth, Dorothy Perkins, Macy's, Nordstrom, Dillards, Lochmanns, The Limited, Express, Forever 21, Tommy Hilfiger, Lucky 21, Pretty Girl, Eve's Apple and many more.
Not only can the bride pick the color, but the type of sleeve and hemline. When they go into the site, they pick the colors and sleeves and hemline and the program calls up all the dresses. "It's a bridesmaid's dream," Nordstrom said.
If they see a dress they like they can save the item for later, or they can click on the dress and go right to the store selling it. A tracking cookie lets the store know the customer buying the dress has gone through The Dress Spot, and a small percentage of the revenue is paid to The Dress Spot owners.
And there is revenue, but every penny the team takes in is reinvested in the company. Their marketing process has just begun.
They survive on their dream and also with a lot of help from Sierra Penrod.
"One of the best ways I decided I could help was by funding it. I love teaching so I get the best of both worlds," said Sierra Penrod, who teaches English at Timpview High School.
A lot of the creative ideas for the program and company come from her. "It's fun. I am learning so much about business," she said.
They have had one or two mentors come in weekly at Camp 4 to give young entrepreneurs advice and help them expand their vision of how much they could accomplish.
"That has been the biggest thing is the constant stream of mentorship," Nordstrom said.
As a mentor, Ashworth was available, practical and pragmatic, according to Nordstrom and the Penrods.
"Not on just how to make a beautiful site, but how to drive customers to the site," Nordstrom emphasized.
Initially the mentors would scoff at The Dress Spot idea, not realizing the scope or scalability.
"And then they see it and they go 'Whoa, this is a lot cooler than it sounds,' " he said. "Anyone who has had a daughter go through a wedding knows this instinctively."
Jeremy Penrod said the BoomStartup program was humbling. He's a computer programmer, but no one cared about his computer skills.
"Nobody here cares if you can program. They care if you can navigate raising a lot of funding, figure out a reasonable compensation package and understand cap tables," Penrod said.
"Interestingly, the Dress Spot owners did OK, about middle of the pack," Richards said.
The team started strong, but then got lost a little bit in the middle of the program figuring out their truly scalable model according to Richards.
"That's how it can go. However, in the end, right now, they are coming on strong and have a good model in place. They are making revenue, and their team is strong," he said.
What happens after graduation is pretty much what they have done before. They are moving as quickly as they can to grow their business.
"The only thing holding it back is our own energy," Penrod said. The faster they work, the more hours they put in, the faster the company grows.
"Honestly we are tired, but we are hopeful and we are excited for what the future holds because we have great plans. We still have our mentors, we love the response of the customers, the comments on Twitter," Nordstrom said.
"We are giving others what Sierra wished she would have had when she was getting married," Nordstrom said.
The next BoomStartup session begins in summer 2014.