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Entrepreneur Extraordinaire: Notre Dame Student Rounds Out Education by Winning Startup Company Seed Funding, Soccer Title

Inspired by his professor's systems-wide approach to entrepreneurship, a Notre Dame College student has connected with unlikely counterparts to start a company that has received $45,000 in seed funding from a business incubator.
 
Stefan Bogdanovic '15, a business administration major with a minor in public relations, recognized the synergy in skill sets when he teamed up with two budding engineers and a computer science student at a recent Cleveland networking event.

The young entrepreneurs have since formed the company they named Bookwork and are launching a service to screen and certify area engineering student workers and connect them–through a proprietary online system–with local companies looking to hire short-term help.

"I saw in them totally opposite skills from mine," Bodganovic said. "Today, if you don't have diversity of skills in a company, you are not going to be successful. You have to have a good team. That's what I learned in class and have confirmed now in real life."
 

The Outcome

At the networking event, Bogdanovic sold his new business partners on his complementary competencies. A few weeks–and detailed business, marketing and revenue models–later, their pitch was selected from among hundreds of startup submissions to local launch pads.

They won a $25,000 grant, downtown Cleveland office space and three months of intense mentoring from Bizdom, a nonprofit entrepreneurship accelerator founded by Dan Gilbert. Gilbert also is chair and founder of Quicken Loans and majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Bogdanovic and his team's Bookwork is one of about 15 companies Bizdom has launched in Cleveland in 2013. And since the initial startup grant, the entrepreneurs have won an additional $20,000 in seed funding from the accelerator.

"I already have this great experience in real world business," Bogdanovic said. "We might fail, but once you give 100 percent, you'll want to do it again. If I have to, I will take what I am learning and try again."

But the student entrepreneurs are off to a good start. That's why their venture keeps winning over investors.


The Idea

With partners, Rakesh Guha and Sam Roberts, both engineering majors from Case Western Reserve University, and Naji Kelley, a computer science student from Cuyahoga Community College, Bogdanovic has helped build this business from the ground up.

He has assisted the enterprise in setting up infrastructure, as well as aided in the design and marketing of the database the partners are building.

Their business, Bookwork, is focusing on recruiting engineering students from Case Western Reserve for placement in engineering and related firms first in Cleveland. Growth potential includes engineering students from other schools and related firms across the country, even expansion to interns and industries other than engineering.

Bogdanovic said Bookwork is unique in the marketplace in that the company attracts top talent and certifies workers' skills first and provides a quick and convenient online application connection. The bigger benefit: Clients don't pay until after they see results on the job.

The company also offers industry a more community friendly and inexpensive alternative to outsourcing and competes with the wages–and, according to Bogdanovic, can beat the performances of employees from temporary agencies. "I really do think this company could be a job for the rest of my life. There is huge potential," Bogdanovic said. "And even if I don't succeed, this experience is great, and it is a huge opportunity."


The Inspiration

Bogdanovic not only learned about the need for a continuum of skills in the leadership team of a startup but also of the networking event that led to the creation of Bookwork through his entrepreneurship course with Vincent J. Palombo, assistant professor of business, at the College.

The student said he was inspired to live–not just learn–business from his instructor. Palombo owned and operated his own company for many years before becoming a teacher and coming to Notre Dame.

"You ask him a question, and he won't repeat what's in the book," Bogdanovic said of his instructor and academic advisor. "He tells you a story from his own life. He's been in that business. He's been in that job."

The small class sizes at the College and the personal attention afforded professors like Palombo also encouraged Bogdanovic to experience entrepreneurship and, so far, have helped him succeed in his own small business venture.

"I can come to Dr. Palombo's office anytime with ideas–a lot of them are ideas that need work–but he listens. He is honest with me, and he helps me understand how to make them better," Bogdanovic said. "All the professors here make you think. They have the experience, the knowledge and the time for you."


The Ultimate

A native of Cacak, Serbia, Bogdanovic is not just a full-time student at Notre Dame. He is not just a part-time small business owner off campus either. He also is a soccer player.

Ranked No. 6 overall in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, the Notre Dame men's soccer team, with Bogdanovic playing midfield and striker, captured the 2013 Mountain East Conference season title and qualified for nationals. Bogdanovic also was part of the 2012 campaign highlighted by the College's first soccer national tournament postseason berth as an NCAA Division II institution.

"My education is for a lifetime. This business is a great experiment, and soccer is my passion," he said.

Bogdanovic had several full-ride athletic scholarship offers to NCAA Division I schools in the United States. He also left a life of celebrity in his home country, where, as a teen, he hosted a televised singing competition and several other live stage and screen performances.

He chose Notre Dame because he wanted all these options.

"I came here because I didn't want to make a decision that would hurt me. I didn't want to choose school or soccer. I wanted to be able to experience both–and business," he said. "I couldn't miss this chance to learn."

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Palombo, Bogdanovic's academic advisor, not only helped inspire his student to become an entrepreneur but also recently concluded research that can help small businesses in Northeast Ohio, even those like Bookwork, succeed. Learn more about the faculty member's study.