Mays Professional MBA graduate Brett Garbs feels like anything is possible after starting his own business. Two years of researching, planning and working toward what often seemed like an unfeasible goal finally came to fruition when he and his wife Laci launched their company VaryActive in March 2016.

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Brett and Laci Garbs founded VaryActive, a mobile app that helps users easily book seats in a variety of fitness classes.

Garbs is a Mays Professional MBA Class of 2015 graduate. He is now also co-founder and CEO of VaryActive, a free mobile app that allows users to search and book seats in a variety of fitness classes from CrossFit to Yoga, to Krava Maga and Piloxing, without having to sign membership contracts. His wife Laci is a Class of 2016 Mays Professional MBA graduate and president of VaryActive.

The Professional MBA program is offered at the CityCentre campus in Houston.

VaryActive is just one of many entrepreneurship endeavors generated by recent Mays Professional MBA graduates. Professional MBA Program Director Mike Alexander said many students have taken an increased interest in entrepreneurship. “Our students want to make a difference in the world – in the lives and well-being of themselves, their families, their business associates, customers and communities,” Alexander said.

Businesses like VaryActive start as class projects in the Mays Professional MBA Capstone course.The course is designed to encourage students to use their prior knowledge, their new knowledge and skills gleaned from the Mays MBA and their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to tackle a real-world business challenge. Some students turn their ideas into businesses, while others apply the knowledge and skills gained to other people’s startups.

A mobile app to add variety in your workouts

In the Capstone project, Brett Garbs collaborated on VaryActive with Marcos Mendez, a fellow Class of 2015 graduate. Brett Garbs and Mendez spent two years researching and planning their concept of a mobile app before partnering with local Houston app developer Whole Wheat Creative to launch VaryActive on all iOS devices.

Brett Garbs conceived the idea one day while running on a treadmill. “I looked around and noticed something: Out of five full-time trainers, only two had clients,” Brett Garbs said. “In the Zumba class right next to me, only half of the room was full. And in the spin class down the hall, there were only seven cyclists in a room that fits 30. This gym has so much to offer surely there is a simple, no-commitment-required, convenient way to add variety to your normal workout routine.”

A mechanical engineering major during his undergraduate years at Texas A&M, Brett Garbs had little exposure to business marketing, statistics, accounting and other business-related knowledge and skills that he would need to harness for a startup. But he said the Professional MBA program equipped him with the various business skills he uses every day as CEO of VaryActive. “Without the Professional MBA program I would have never had the confidence in myself and the courage to try something so far outside of my comfort zone,” he said.

For Laci Garbs, who was an economics major at Texas A&M, the best part about seeing their company’s growth is that everything from ordering marketing material to sponsoring local events to signing on new facilities is a series of firsts. “These little things are huge wins for us,” she said. “This is something we get to be incredibly passionate about, and I finally understand what it means to work fully with joy. Even the difficult days when it seems nothing is going right, putting out the fires is still fun because we are learning by doing.”

Brett Garbs admits the adventure of being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. “The workload is sometimes overwhelming,” he said, “but there is a powerful feeling of satisfaction you get bringing a vision to life.”

Brett Garbs said when developing his company’s business model, he drew from wisdom he heard from a professor in a negotiations seminar in the Mays Professional MBA program: “A good deal is one that is beneficial to everyone involved.” He said: “We have been able to mold VaryActive into what we feel is a win-win situation for all parties involved.”

Currently VaryActive has more than 30 partner facilities in the Greater Houston area, with plans for aggressive expansion throughout the country.

A fast, fresh and family-owned spin on Chinese food

Joe Chien, a graduate from Professional MBA Class of 2016, realized his dream of starting a local, family-run Chinese food restaurant called Lee’s Cafe that focuses on fast and friendly delivery of fresh food. Located in Katy, Texas, Lee’s Cafe has been in operation since July 2016.

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Joe Chien (center) with his team at Lee’s Cafe

Eight years ago, Chien made it a goal to open a restaurant. “However I didn’t feel like I had what it takes to start my own business,” Chien said. Fortunately, the Mays Professional MBA and the Capstone course, in particular provided him an opportunity to test and modify his business ideas and to develop the comfort level with such a long-term investment for himself and his family. Alongside his Capstone partner and classmate Ben Drews, Chien worked through his strategic ideas and options, the potential for alignment with his own values, the financials, marketing and all other aspects of his new venture.

Chien looks forward to mentoring his employees and seeing his business succeed, while better connecting with the community. “I want my business to be a place where I can be more involved in the community, build good relationships and become an integral part of the lives of people around me,” he said.  

Stepping up for friends and family

Other Mays Professional MBA alumni have also gone on to make an impact in startups of friends and family members.

Bryce London ’16 joined the Retail Coach as director of strategy and provided research, analysis and recommendations that have helped the company expand smart.

John Doolin ’16 helped transform Marie Oliver, a high-end designer clothing brand, by performing a deep analysis of the business.

Valentina Llano ’16 evaluated all aspects of her aunt’s Miami-based handbag business. Her analysis was instrumental in helping her aunt make decisions pertaining to sales channels, pricing and promotion.

Trey Scott ’16 analyzed his brother Todd Scott’s small business, Good Ol’ Boys Seasonings. Trey’s findings have helped Todd create significant value for the company.

Alexander said he is proud of the results the Mays Professional MBA students have attained.

“Through their skills and passion, and the leadership of Dr. Janet Marcantonio, our students experience tremendous personal and professional growth while completing their Capstone projects,” he said. “Whether solving problems within a Fortune 100 company, making information-based decisions with a local business or exploring opportunities for a new venture, our students continue to use their new knowledge and skills to make a difference in their lives and make a difference in the lives of the organizations and people around them.”