WFU student-run businesses receive first and second places in regional competition

Two Wake Forest University students turned entrepreneurs recently took top awards at the 2001 Central Atlantic States Regional Entrepreneur Awards. Student entrepreneurs from 16 colleges and universities in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C., competed for the awards.

Ricky Van Veen, a sophomore from Baltimore, Md., earned first place for his Web site, The Web site, which is not associated with the university, has grown from a two-man shop to a national business that receives more than 500,000 monthly hits. Major sponsors for the site have included Sony and Comedy Central. Van Veen received a $4,000 award and will advance to the national competition to be held in Chicago in November.

Rob Holland, a senior from Jacksonville, Fla., took second place and a $2,000 prize for Exidos Films, his multimedia production company. He started the company when he was in middle school as a way to make money taping school productions. Today, the company offers video and film production, interactive CD-ROM mastering and digital 3-D animation.

Van Veen and Holland are students in Wake Forest’s Calloway School of Business and Accountancy. Page West, associate professor of business in the Calloway School, nominated them for the awards.

Van Veen started in the fall of 1999, during his freshman year at Wake Forest. Initially, the site archived jokes, pictures and humorous stories circulated by e-mail. But Van Veen and co-founder Josh Abramson, a freshman at a university in Virginia, soon sought out original submissions from Web surfers who visited the site.

“We stress the original content; that’s what keeps our site alive,” he said. “We have a proven success model for people who want to showcase college talent.”

The showcasing goes beyond the Web site. In June 2000, Zilo Networks, an entertainment network company in New York, bought part of Van Veen’s business and started a television show spin-off of the Web site. The show, “Get $tupid,” features college students doing pranks for money. Zilo produces the show and distributes it to college television stations throughout the United States.

Van Veen spends at least 20 hours a week on the business. The partners’ original investment in the site was $30, the cost of registering the domain name. Though the business has grown significantly, Van Veen still types a personal reply to the nearly 100 e-mails he receives each day.

“I’ve always thought you should reply to every e-mail,” Van Veen said. “College kids are good at spotting a phony.”

Holland, an analytical finance major, got his first business card printed when he was in fourth grade. Two years later he starting taping school plays, concerts and weddings, and used the money from each project to buy better equipment. By the time he was in 9th grade, Exidos Films was making a bid on an employee training video for the Florida-based General Parcel Service.

“My mom had to drive me to the interview,” Holland said. “I told the company to take a chance on me and I would consider the job my personal project. Since then, I’ve done three other projects for them.”

Exidos Films now includes interactive CD-ROM mastering and digital 3-D animation in addition to film and video production. Holland, a licensed pilot since his senior year in high school, even offers aerial film and video footage to his clients.

The company has produced several videos and CDs for Wake Forest, including an interactive CD on the university’s honor code that is distributed to incoming students. Holland said one of his most exciting projects was a documentary he filmed on the 2000 Presidential Debate at Wake Forest.

“I was concerned as a senior in high school that when I went to college I would lose the opportunities I had started, but Wake Forest has an encouraging environment that supports entrepreneurship. That was key in my decision to come here,” said Holland, who received a Presidential Scholarship for entrepreneurial achievement as an incoming freshman.

Under the direction of West, the Calloway School is developing a student incubator that will encourage venturing skills and entrepreneurship in students. The center will support students from a variety of majors, including business.

Categories: Recognition, Student