No Big Idea? No problem!

Justin Phillips, an MBA student at OSU and intern with the Advantage Accelerator, is an entrepreneur who helps make things happen. He’s also the CEO of an emerging technology startup.

JustinPhillips, RAINCorvallis

Justin Phillips

What makes a great entrepreneur? Some might say it’s a brilliant idea that can change an entire industry. But obviously it takes more than that for a startup to succeed.

Justin Phillips is an MBA student at Oregon State University and an intern with the RAIN Corvallis/Advantage Accelerator. He also was recently named CEO of Sunshot Energy, an emerging solar-thermal technology startup. It wasn’t his brainchild, but that’s OK with him.

“I believe there are two types of entrepreneurs: those with an idea, and those who help make it happen. It’s pretty rare for someone to be both; those are the Elon Musk’s or Steve Jobs’ of the world. It took some time, but I finally figured out that I was the latter type,” he said.

Like many entrepreneurs, Phillips grew up knowing that he wanted to start his own business; the only question was what kind of business. After graduating from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2013 with a degree in management and marketing, he spent several years in the workforce trying to answer that question. While the “Eureka!” moment continued to elude him, Phillips narrowed his focus on startups. And when he decided to go back for his MBA, Phillips saw a natural fit at OSU — with it’s small town feel, natural beauty, and connections to the Advantage Accelerator.

Phillips started his internship with the Advantage Accelerator last spring, and while he found immediate value in working with the mentors and assisting clients, he struggled without his own idea.

“I was wanting to start something, and it annoyed me that I couldn’t come up with an idea. Finally I told myself, ‘If I don’t find anything soon, I guess I’ll help someone else,” he said.

And as fate would have it, Phillips was approached by Sunshot Energy Founder Paul King with an opportunity to help build the startups’ business model. And just a couple months later, Phillips was hired on as the CEO.

“When I look back on it, I see that I was naturally poised to join a startup. The focus of my MBA program is building the commercialization plan for technology-based products, and I was already helping Paul with his market research,” Phillips said.

As Phillips explains, an internship with the Advantage Accelerator works best for those with a true entrepreneurial spirit. No two startups are alike — and neither are their needs — so the “curriculum” is unpredictable. And for many founders, their startup is their life’s work, and being asked to join that startup requires genuine interest in their work.

“These opportunities don’t just present themselves. It’s a serious thing, and you can’t commit superficially. But there’s value in sticking with it. You end up learning what it really takes to be an entrepreneur,” he said.