Skip to main content
Student Experiences

Students Find Connection, Motivation Through Founders Conference

Students who participate in the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at the BYU Marriott School of Business know they can find financial support, mentorship, and motivation for their entrepreneurial ventures through the center. Those themes were magnified during the center’s annual Founders Conference, which allowed students to connect with and showcase their business skills to members of the Rollins Center’s Entrepreneur Founders organization.

BYU alumnus and NFL quarterback Steve Young shared inspiration with Rollins Center students, founders, and faculty.
Photo by Doug Nuttall.

Founders are entrepreneurs with various connections to BYU Marriott who donate their resources and time to the Rollins Center and its participants. “Founders give because they want to support BYU Marriott and are most interested in impacting the lives of students,” says Mike Hendron, Rollins Center academic director. “One purpose of the Founders Conference is to show founders how their donations impact students. Founders enjoy the conference because they can directly interact with and meet students.”

The Founders Conference was held October 28–29, 2021, at various locations on or near BYU’s campus. One event that showcased student success was Investors Day. Participants presented their business models and products and not only allowed founders to further encourage young entrepreneurs but also enabled them to join startups as investing partners.

One participant in Investors Day was Jacob Sheffield, a native of Chicago, who is in the second year of a mechanical engineering master’s program at BYU. Sheffield has participated in a variety of Rollins Center programs, including Founders Launchpad, the New Venture Challenge, and the Seed Program. Along with his business partners, Sheffield presented Bloom Surgical, a medical device company featuring a product to clean surgical cameras during operations.

“Our team didn’t go in trying to find investors immediately,” Sheffield explains. “We looked to form relationships that could lead to future investments down the road. Another thing we tried to obtain was a network in the medical device industry. Our presentation yielded positive outcomes—some people reached out willing to invest, and others said they have connections that could help us.”

Because connections are so important to starting and growing a business, the Founders Conference also tried a unique networking event. An informal pickleball tournament paired students and founders together for several games. “The pickleball tournament was a unique opportunity to connect on a more personal level with founders,” Sheffield says. “Instead of just having a mentorship relationship with the founders I met, I tried to generate more of a friendship. Being on the pickleball court together facilitated a more casual, personable relationship.”

Founders Conference included an informal pickleball tournament that facilitated networking.
Photo by Doug Nuttall.

In addition to providing valuable business and networking opportunities, the conference provided inspiration and motivation for students and founders alike. The conference’s keynote speaker, who presented after the pickleball event, was BYU alumnus and former NFL quarterback Steve Young, who is also a successful entrepreneur. Young shared a message and answered questions about a wide range of topics, including entrepreneurship, family life, law school, and the NFL.

Young’s message centered around fulfilling potential and overcoming doubt. As a professional football player, he reached the pinnacle of his sport when he joined the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. However, when he first arrived in the NFL, he was a backup quarterback, so he rarely played in games. Young was frustrated by this because he wanted to make a bigger impact on his team.

He shared that he eventually found joy in his situation and became a starting quarterback, NFL MVP, and Super Bowl champion by working hard to improve personally instead of worrying about situations beyond his control. Young used this story to help conference attendees realize they too can change their futures, even if they are overwhelmed by challenges right now.

The purpose of Founders Conference and all Rollins Center programs in general is enabling the growth of student entrepreneurs in a variety of ways. Faculty hope participants are encouraged to not give up on their dreams and given the tools they need to control their future business and life opportunities. “The Rollins Center programs are a catalyst to drive progress and ideas,” Sheffield says. “The center is helpful at providing connections and resources, along with the motivation to keep going.”


Writer: Mike Miller