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Economy fears mix with hope for Class of ’12



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He traded painting cars and assembling doors for designing menus, sculpting ice sea horses and whipping up lobster bisque and pan-seared fish during an internship at a Las Vegas casino restaurant.

Ad much as he enjoyed school, Chrysler’s comeback has given him pause. "Man, I kick myself sometimes," he says. "Some part of me says, ‘Hey, did you do the right thing?’"

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He reassures himself by remembering there are more opportunities in food than there are in building cars. But at 43, he’s naturally apprehensive.

"Of course," he says, "there’s that fear. Can I do this? Am I cut out for this? ... I’m really happy I do have a job and I don’t have to go searching. That’s a huge relief. It’s a whole new life. And I’m following my dream."

———

TAKING A GAMBLE

At 23, Daniel Shani launched his first business — an online professional networking site.

At 24, while in school, he was working on his second venture — an alternative outdoor advertising company.

In June, at 25, Shani graduates with an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Up next: a job heading his own company, Energy Intelligence LLC, an alternative energy startup based in Massachusetts.

Many of Shani’s classmates will join high-powered financial, consulting and marketing firms (93 percent of last year’s graduates had job offers within three months; the median starting salary was $107,000). But he’ll be his own boss, trying to convert a bold idea into a successful venture.


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It’s a gamble, but he’s game.

"There’s probably a fine line between anxiety, confidence and craziness," Shani says. "You absolutely need a very high tolerance for risk. I have given up amazing opportunities in terms of recruitment on campus. ... (But) I’m more excited about building something from nothing."

Shani already is talking with venture capitalists and corporations about financing and collaboration and has applied for two federal grants. Though the fragile economy could squeeze potential investors, he isn’t discouraged.

"I think now is a great time to start a business," he says. "It’s so cheap today relative to any time in history to test an idea and put together a product."

Energy Intelligence wants to embed devices in road surfaces, mostly busy streets and highways, that would capture some of the energy vehicles lose (through heat, friction and pressure on the pavement) when they slow down — for example, when they approach toll booths. That energy would be transformed into electricity and sent to the national power grid or directly to street lamps, toll booths, or illuminated signs, for example.

Some advantages: No emissions, no fuel and a cost-efficient way to re-channel energy and generate power when demand is highest.

Shani has consulted with engineers and researchers on the technology and sought advice from the Argonne National Laboratory, which uses supercomputers to analyze traffic patterns and can test how the devices perform.

When Shani first had this idea while driving home to Massachusetts, "embedded devices seemed almost laughable," he says. But after several talks with his father (Shani calls him a "serial entrepreneur") and others, he forged ahead.

"I feel like I’m a problem solver," he says. "Entrepreneurs first and foremost are looking to solve a problem. They’re much less drawn to the dream of glory and fame. It’s really not about the money. ... I really would like to make a difference in the world."

But Shani, who has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Brandeis University, understands the long odds.

"Even if it does not succeed and we do not bring this to the market, it’s a great idea," he says. "The timing might not be right but you’re giving it your best shot."

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