Two MBA@Denver students start their own businesses

It appears that for some students, class time and homework just aren’t enough to keep them busy. No, some prefer instead to dive headfirst into entrepreneurial waters even while navigating full-time jobs and their MBA course loads.   

MBA@Denver student Rich Camillieri

For Rich Camillieri, starting his own food company—Olives So Divine—while in school made perfect sense.

Camillieri, a second-year MBA@Denver student with a full-time job in finance, said his marketing class proved “especially valuable” as he set out to build his business.

“During the course, I was able to research public opinion, write a marketing plan and I got to apply what I learned all at the same time,” Camillieri said. “It’s been an excellent way to integrate my education into real-time business development. I can’t think of a better approach to education.”

Camillieri’s teacher, Marco Bonilla, an affiliate professor specializing in marketing in the MBA@Denver program, estimates that about 8% of the students he’s taught have started their own businesses during their time at Daniels.

“I think some of our MBA@Denver students feel safe taking that leap while they have the faculty and staff of the University in their corner,” Bonilla said. “And some are at that stage in their lives where they feel confident to go on their own—they’ve been in their industry long enough to have gathered the skillsets to take that leap.”

MBA@Denver student Thuy Turner

That sounds like another student, Thuy Turner, who after more than 16 years working in urban planning, launched her own consultancy in that field in July of 2020, two years into the MBA@Denver program.

“My MBA studies and support from my classmates and professors gave me the courage to do it,” Turner said.  

She added that when she was taking Bonilla’s marketing class in 2019, he talked her through the mental process of making a big decision. “He asked some very good questions. He was patient and kind with his time to help me learn.” 

Turner said it also helped that some of her classmates were entrepreneurs. “Quite a few have their own business—some have had one for many years,” she said. “They helped me step forward, to take the chance. It’s a different group of people from my current network, so it’s nice to have different insights and to get their viewpoints.”

Bonilla, who teaches Introduction to Marketing Concepts and Insights to Innovation, said both courses emphasize the customer is always at the center of the conversation.

“You are in business to solve a customer’s problem,” Bonilla said. “The other overarching focus in the courses is about brand … that your reputation as a business or individual means everything. Once a customer associates you as a good brand, they’ll continue to hire you to address their need.”

He said that Turner and Camillieri have embraced the notion that marketing is vital.

“It’s very apparent that they understand who the target customer is, how to communicate to that market, and deliver a quality product or service that not only meets the needs but exceeds and delights their customers,” Bonilla said. “The goal is to have a reoccurring stream of happy, loyal customers.”

Both students report early success with their businesses.

Camillieri, who sells a medley of black, green and kalamata olives mixed with artichokes and cheeses, marinated in a special blend of olive oil, has exceeded sales projections. At the end of 2020, the company sold 805 units from a projection of 720 units.

And Turner said she’s “happily adjusting.”

“I’m deliberately not pounding the pavement to get more clients because I want to focus on the few I have now to provide excellent service,” she said. “I want to spend this slow time to focus and develop my business.”