Leo Marzo and Dr. Karri Perez stand in front of Marzo's iTaco Food Truck.
Leo Marzo has been around the world a few times. He deployed several times with U.S. Air Force and worked as a crew chief on a C130 airplane. After eight years in active duty he decided it was time to find his way home.
"I have a daughter, and she was just a few years old at that time. I wanted her to experience the culture in Guam and the feeling of having a close knit family nearby," Marzo explained.
Marzo made his way back to Guam and decided to follow his true passion.
"I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I have a passion for business," he said. Although Marzo ran a small enterprise while he was in the military, he knew he needed more skills to be successful. "I chose to go to UOG mainly because they offered the business program I wanted. A semester after I started, UOG began offering the entrepreneurship program and I switched over."
Dr. Karri Perez said the entrepreneurship program was started because faculty, "saw a need to focus students on how to start their own business." Many students getting business degrees were being hired by corporations or working in government, she noted. During discussions about the military buildup, it was noted that there would be opportunities for more locally-owned businesses.
"Why bring all these other people to Guam for food, beverage or consumable product businesses when we could train people to start their own companies and provide these services," Perez explained.
Now, the success of the program is evident. Marzo and Professional Master of Business Administration (PMBA) graduate Mitch Taylor have taken business concepts born of the entrepreneurship classes at UOG and grown them into realities.
Taylor studied at UOG as an online student and discovered backpackers need a place to connect their thoughts, itineraries and experiences. Now, a few short months later he and his business partner are beta testing their Travel Roulette, Inc. site. The site fills the gap Taylor experienced while traveling the world.
One day during class, Marzo and his classmates chatted about the food and beverage industry. Six months later, Marzo had a retrofitted trailer ready to find customers and serve tasty tacos.
Perez said other business concepts have been incubated and born out of the entrepreneurship program, including a low cost housing community project. The concept was developed into Ironwood Manor, Ironwood Glen and Ironwood Estates in Dededo and Ironwood Heights in Upper Tumon.
Not only are the ideas coming out of the program varied, but the students are from a wide range of backgrounds and have diverse personal and professional goals.
UOG Professional Master of Business Administration graduate,
Mitch Taylor develops a website for people passionate about traveling.
Taylor grew up in Texas and Virginia and completed his undergraduate degree in business marketing and management at Virginia Tech. He studied abroad in Switzerland and it changed his outlook on life.
"That opened the floodgates to traveling," he said. He made his way through Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Antarctica and South America. To pay for his trips he did stints in various areas of the travel industry including trying his hand with a restaurant venture, operations for a shuttle service and on fishing boats. He also experimented with traveling to work on farms in exchange for room and board.
During his travels he was taking online classes from UOG for his masters degree in business. Through his classes and globetrotting he discovered that many backpackers are a wealth of information but there is no website that captures the group's experience and knowledge. Thus the company Travel Roulette, Inc. and website mytravelroulette.com was born.
"This site is a one stop shop. It's one website connected with different travelers," Taylor explained. "I can find a person who has been all around the world. You can quickly find the information you are looking for and the site builds community bonding."
Travel Roulette is different from social networking sites like Facebook because it is not corporate with advertising, Taylor said. It is also a different format than sites like Trip Advisor because backpackers can blog about their journeys. Friends and families can follow the blog and keep track of the traveler as they make their way around the world.
The site is currently in testing and continued development but Taylor anticipates it will go live very soon.
Once that happens, Taylor wants to keep traveling and developing the site to help backpackers connect and share information. If investors decide to support the ideals and goals of the site, Taylor said they may bring them on, but he can't stomach the idea of going "corporate."
"Our site is built for a specific user base. We are hitting that core group of people we understand," Taylor said. "We are looking for people that are in it for the experience, not just to check things off of a list."
Students line up to try the iTaco food truck at UOG Charter Day festivities in 2014.
On the other end of the spectrum, Marzo is focusing on growing Guam-specific businesses. He ventured into business in Guam while he still lived in Japan. His parents helped him invest in rental properties and succeed in that industry.
His parents are business savvy, Marzo explained. Both are full-time accountants and ran a food truck while he was growing up. Helping with his parents' truck led Marzo to the conclusion that he didn't want to be in the food business.
"The last thing I thought I would get into was food," he said laughing. "But then the idea of opening a restaurant came up in class and we got into a discussion. It went from a restaurant, to catering to finally a food truck. To tell you the truth, it was kind of a joke in the beginning but then we went through the whole business plan process and saw the numbers."
The market surveys indicated a mobile taco truck would do well in Guam, so iTaco was started.
Although getting the recipes fleshed out and finding the correct location took some time, Marzo succeeded and handed the successful taco businesses off to his brother who recently returned to Guam.
He then began building his skills in completely different areas. He opened an auto detailing store and started working to get his real estate license. Now he is selling and marketing leases for solar panels to homeowners.
"Solar panels are a pretty big commitment for a customer because it's a 25-year lease. It's not like, 'Here. Buy a taco and if you like it try another one for $2.00,'" Marzo said. "But I love it. I believe in it and the commissions are great."
Marzo wants to expand his skills and see the fields of renewable energy and real estate merge. All the while, he is still essentially working for himself and dreaming big dreams.
"If you have the passion to become an entrepreneur, you just have to jump on it. That's why I got out of the Air Force," he said. "It's risky but it is so rewarding."
For more information contact the School of Business and Public Administration.