Starting From Scratch

Photo by Duane Zehr

By Matt Hawkins
November 19, 2014

An alternative energy startup rose from the drawing board last summer with the help of Bradley entrepreneurship major Blake Collins ’16 of Indianapolis. Collins, as an employee for NEC Corporation of America’s Indianapolis office, laid the foundation for the company’s first multimillion-dollar solar panel opportunity.

Because of the small staff, Collins played a significant role in breathing life into the business owned by entrepreneur Jeff Lackey, who also is the chief operating officer of sales software company Salesvue.

“This was a tremendous experience because I really got to see the business and helped from the ground-up,” Collins said. “I got to see what it takes to start a business and make it profitable.”

The intern started the summer compiling a long list of potential clients. By the end, he was in regular contact with corporate executives across the country. He learned research tools, refined communication skills and learned corporate culture while observing the fine-print details of entrepreneurship.

“This showed the nitty-gritty of how a company starts,” Collins said. “This taught us what effort and time we’d put into starting a company, seeing the backbone of it if we’re wanting to start from the ground. It was so cool to be a part of that.”

Collins admitted the toughest part of the summer was cold-calling CEOs as a 21-year-old intern. A handy set of call scripts and a month of practice eased his fears, with the payoff coming when a textile executive based in Atlanta, Georgia, took Collins’ offer. Those communications led to a site visit by the NEC trio and continued negotiations.

“When I was first making those calls, I was terrified,” Collins said. “Rejection stings at first, but the practice took my professional confidence up a couple notches.”

Collins also benefitted from a close relationship with Lackey, whose son is friends with Collins. While the familiarity made it easier to learn the business, it also put Collins in the hot seat with higher expectations.

“To have somebody who knew me so well was invaluable because he’s started and sold multiple companies,” Collins said. “I learned from someone who does what I want to do. You can’t put a price tag on that.”

The summer affirmed Collins’ entrepreneurship ambitions. As he looked back on the unique summer, he recognized its value on his future. 

“I know I’ve chosen the right career path,” he said. “I can’t wait to get out into the workforce. I’m ready to start working.”