When Stewart Vernon ’02 enrolled in Tommy Baker’s Seminar in Entrepreneurship class, he kindled a spirit that first started as a 12-year-old boy with a car-washing business in Macon, Ga.

Opting to earn a dollar rather than play catch, swing a bat, or shoot hoops, Vernon grew up knowing that some day, he would be self-employed. Baker’s inspiration, course structure, and guest speakers were just the spark that Vernon needed to venture out after graduation.

Read the interview to learn more about Vernon’s entrepreneurship journey and why he is a driving catalyst to keep the seminar in entrepreneurship as well as the entire entrepreneurship program thriving for the next generation of the College’s students.

Stewart Vernon receives $500 check from Tommy Baker in 2002.Q. What was it about Tommy or his class that gave you the confidence to pursue your start up business?

Tommy and his class played an instrumental role in my business start up and career today. It was a combination of factors, and timing was everything. I was in Tommy’s class the last semester before graduation. During the time, I was planning my new business. Running to his class each week and soaking up the lessons shared by him and his caliber of speakers was invaluable. I would leave class and apply exactly what I had learned – in real time – to develop my business plan. Nothing could have better prepared me for true self-employment than that class or Tommy Baker.

See Stewart Vernon featured in video on Tommy Baker

Q. Why did you earn the $500 award at the end of his class? Explain what you did with the $500 check given by Tommy at the end of his class.

I was fortunate enough to be named the Entrepreneur of the Class by my peers and was rewarded with a $500 check from Tommy. That check literally went into the first business bank account I opened less than a week after graduating from the College.

Q. Tell us about your business and where you live today.

My wife, Shannon ’02, and I live in my hometown, Macon, Ga., where we have two beautiful children.

When I left Charleston immediately after graduation, I went home to start a swimming pool cleaning, repair, and restoration business. After seeing success in our initial location here, we expanded by franchising our business model and teaming up with other like-minded entrepreneurs. We launched our first franchise location in South Carolina in late 2005. Today, America’s Swimming Pool Company (ASP) is the largest swimming pool maintenance and repair company in the U.S. with 60 franchise owners operating 130 franchise territories in 16 states.

Within the past year, Entrepreneurship Magazine recognized ASP with two prestigious awards: Best in Class Industry Leader and a Top 100 Fastest Growing Franchise.

Learn more about America’s Swimming Pool Company

Stewart Vernon ’02 with his franchisee owners in the College of Charleston Cistern Yard where he graduated 12 years ago.Q. Fast forward to today. You are now inspired to “give back” in a way that allows Tommy Baker’s inspiration and legacy to carry on. Why did you and Shannon decide to establish the Tommy Baker Entrepreneurship Fund? What specifically do you hope it will accomplish?

As you can see from my experience, his renowned entrepreneurship seminar had a profound impact on many former students over the years. When we heard that Tommy was stepping down from the class, we had to step up and ensure its continuity. After meeting with Dr. Shao, dean of the School of Business, and Colby Rankin, director of development, we devised a platform to support some of Tommy’s special traditions.

Most importantly, the fund is going to create a formal “Entrepreneurship-in-Residence” position in the School of Business. Each year, a seasoned entrepreneur will be appointed to this role and tasked with leading the entrepreneurship seminar and carrying on the unique learning and engagement that is the hallmark of Tommy’s legacy in the classroom.

And, each semester’s “Entrepreneur of the Class” award of $1,000 will be given to a deserving student. These traditions have long set this class apart from other college courses and give students confidence that they too can be successful.

Q. Not only are you giving your financial support to the program, you are committing your time by serving on the new advisory board for the Center for Entrepreneurship. What impact do you want to have on the Center and the new director, Dr. David Wyman?

Dr. Wyman is playing an instrumental role in advancing the seminar, the Center, and awareness of entrepreneurship on the entire College campus. He has a vision for the entire campus to embrace the spirit of entrepreneurship, not just limit it to the business school. Entrepreneurial-minded people are in every classroom, enrolled in every major at the College. We share the desire to see that spread campus wide and I want to be part of implementing his vision.

Q. If you can reach out to other entrepreneurship graduates, what would you encourage them to do? How can they play an active role in the program?

I urge anyone who attended Tommy’s class or had any involvement with it to join Shannon and me in supporting the Tommy Baker Entrepreneurship Fund in order to ensure that the class carries on and the College’s entrepreneurship program is positioned to thrive. We also need to fund other student-focused entrepreneurship initiatives such as events and activities in which entrepreneurs from the campus and community can be celebrated and supported.

For more information about the Tommy Baker Entrepreneurship Fund or to make a gift to it, please contact Colby Rankin at 843.953.3633 or rankinc@cofc.edu.

Article originally published by College of Charleston SBNews