Emily Armenta
Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business

When Emily Armenta enrolled at Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business in 2002, her plan was to return to Morgan Stanley after she graduated. Her first sweat equity case in Professor Al Napier's The New Enterprise course changed that.

Napier instructed his class to create a business plan for a fictitious company. Armenta took it a step further and created a line of jewelry. along with a business plan for a fine jewelry manufacturer. The sample line sold out in a local Houston boutique. A few weeks later the buyer wanted to place another order. "I laughed and said the project was over," she says. "But the shop owner said, 'No, your jewelry is selling out. We want more product.'"

That's when Armenta asked school administrators if she could expand her project into all of her classes. The school agreed. "All of the sudden I had all these resources -- students and professors giving me feedback on this growing company," she says.

One of the most important pieces of advice she received was from her Managing Growth professor, Leo Linbeck. Within the first few months of making her handmade, precious-metal necklaces, earrings, and bracelets, retailers such as Neiman Marcus asked to carry her line. Linbeck told her to refuse all offers and instead focus on the company's infrastructure and business model.

Even years later, the jewelry line -- called Armenta -- is carried by nearly 100 independent boutiques and department stores, including Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. The company is projecting $4 million in revenue this year. Armenta has 30 employees and is in the process of hiring another eight to 10 employees in the next few months. "I had no idea this is what I'd be doing with my life," Aremnta says. "One entrepreneurship class completely changed everything." -- Sommer Saadi, posted Oct. 18, 2010

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