Carl H. Lindner College of BusinessCarl H. Lindner College of BusinessUniversity of Cincinnati

Carl H. Lindner College of Business
Josh Rudd Spotlight

An Entrepreneurial Spirit

Budding businessman launches shoe career overseas from a classroom at the Carl H. Lindner College of Business.

From a young age, Josh Rudd had an entrepreneurial spirit. Before he could drive a car, he began a lawn care business that catered to 80 customers and employed two full time.

“My dad had to drive me around,” says Rudd, BBA ’12, recalling his first foray as a businessman at age 15.

When he graduated from Princeton High School in 2007 and enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, he knew business would be his college pursuit. He had no trouble in choosing entrepreneurship as his major in the Carl H. Lindner College of Business, a path, he didn’t realize, that would forever change his life.

Rudd found the prospect of being an entrepreneur appealing, an undeniable attraction because of its uncertainty, he says.

“You have a vision of where you are going, but you can never truly plan for how you are going to get there,” he says.

For Rudd, the desire to start another business persisted. As a college student, he started two business ventures— a real estate investing company that never got off the ground because of the housing market crash and an energy auditing business that is set to hit $1 million in sales this year. He opted to leave the energy business prior to its current success; it just wasn’t quite the right fit, he says.

While pondering his next enterprise, little did he know that one class he took as a junior would lead him to his next business endeavor.  

A business plan writing course taught by Charles H. Matthews, executive director of the UC Center for Entrepreneurship Education & Research and management professor, paired him with Antoine Burnier-Dechon.

Burnier-Dechon, 25, was an international student from the Audencia Nantes School of Management, a Lindner College of Business International Programs partner school in Nantes, France.  Burnier-Dechon  came to the Lindner College of Business for a study abroad course to complete his master’s degree. Matthews asked Rudd to help Burnier-Dechon refine his business plan.

“The entire paper was written in French,” Rudd says.

Between Burnier-Dechon’s conversational knowledge of English and Rudd’s ability to translate and fill in the language blanks using Google translate and online wordreference.com, the two fashioned a successful 59-page business plan. The two young men became fast friends and Rudd liked what he saw unfolding. 

It wasn’t long before Burnier-Dechon asked Rudd to join him as a business partner, and the two were off and running in the shoe business. A third partner, Quentin Richard, of Lyon, France, oversees marketing and social media efforts.

“I helped him [Burnier-Dechon]secure funding of 75 thousand Euros (nearly $100,000 USD) from students and young business professionals,” Rudd says.

Piola Shoes launched in September 2011. The France-based company manufactures eco-friendly high-end fashionable sneakers in Peru and transports them to France, where they get distributed to 30 boutiques in three countries: Italy, France and Luxembourg.

The trendy Piola Shoes (“piola” means “elegant” in Peruvian Spanish) are available for men and women and made of two-tone colored leather in four styles with 15 different color combinations. The shoes cost between 65 to 140 Euros; or $80 to $180 in the U.S. Add an extra 20 Euros to ship. After nearly a year, the business has grown with sales of 125,000 Euros, or more than $165,000.

Rudd says the past year has been the most fun he’s had in his college life. He’s traveled three times to France and, within the last six months, twice to Peru. This winter he’s completed a study-abroad trip to Toulouse, France, and Barcelona, Spain.

“My travels have allowed me to meet new people, make new friends, experience new cultures and try new foods; things I would have never done if not for this business opportunity,” he says.

In spring 2012, he’s back at the college to complete a paper on his study-abroad experience and finish an international accounting/financial management course. His new friendship and business opportunity inspired him to change his minor to international business.

He credits Matthews and the Entrepreneurship Center  for helping him to network, secure funding and gain recognition through publicity and sales competitions. He also praises Tom Dalziel, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and strategic management, entrepreneurship undergraduate program director and incoming Small Business Institute director, for challenging coursework. The business plan writing and capstone strategy courses are among Rudd’s favorites, allowing him to parlay what he learned in the classroom to the real world.

“[Dalziel] had a way of challenging you to exceed your expectations; he was very demanding yet inspirational, always offering constructive feedback,” Rudd says.

Matthews says Rudd is “a great example of the outstanding entrepreneurial talent in the Lindner College of Business, across the UC campus, and indeed the world! Josh personifies the drive, determination and dedication needed to identify, plan and act on an underserved market opportunity and pursue the entrepreneurial path,” Matthews says.

Rudd has developed a habit for start-up projects, reviving the inactive UC Student Entrepreneur Club (E-Club) in 2009. As president, he increased its membership from a handful of students to more than 50. He is also a member of Alpha Chi Rho, a social fraternity that started a charter in fall 2011. In his freshman year, he was a walk on kicker, playing football under former coach Brian Kelly. Injuries sidelined him for good.

His growing business and college workload has caused him to step back from his campus involvement. He’s now trying to carve time to finish a paper while running a business abroad.

Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons shows off his pair of Piola Shoes.

He seizes marketing opportunities for his shoes whenever possible. At the Lindner College of Business, he advertises and builds brand awareness on a daily basis, donning a pair of Piola Shoes in every color that he swaps with his wardrobe. Sometimes, it works. “Students often ask ‘Hey, where can I buy those at?’” he says.

Rudd uses the power of celebrity status to further promote his product by gifting a pair of shoes to well-known personalities.

“When Russell Simmons came to speak, I gave him a pair of shoes, took a photo and tweeted that,” Rudd says. Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam and author of “Super Rich: A Guide To Having It All,” came to UC May 18, 2011, to speak about money and happiness. As E-Club president, Rudd, along with the Entrepreneurship Center and alumni, had a hand in bringing Simmons to UC.

Famous UC alumni have also bolstered the company’s marketing success. Josh Harrison, former UC baseball player gone pro as a third baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber also have received a pair of shoes.

“They are Twitter followers, so when Piola sends out a tweet, they retweet to the thousands who follow them,” Rudd says.

On the international front, he is learning French and improving his Peruvian Spanish. He’s also learning about fashion and getting an economics lesson on exchange rates of Euros, dollars and the Peruvian Nuevo Sol. Through the technology of Skype, Facebook and Google Chat, he’s in constant contact with his business partners.

Meanwhile, he’s working to develop the U.S. market and, after his spring graduation, plans to move to New York City, where he’ll continue to contact specialty stores to find additional distribution points, hire sales reps, and target both California and New York City markets.

“If you asked me in high school what I’d be doing [now], I would not have envisioned I’d be traveling across the world,” Rudd says.

When asked where he sees himself in five years, Rudd says half-jokingly, “The cover of Forbes,” but “still travelling and starting many other ventures.”

­­­­­­­­­Follow Piola Shoes on Twitter @piola_shoes, or visit them at www.piola.fr, or on Facebook at facebook.com/piola.sneakers.