Bradley Foster, the repeat entrepreneur
Foster started his first company at age 10. Since then, he acquired six more
April 12, 2012, 8:31 pm · Updated April 15, 2012, 11:29 pm·
Maegan Cadet | DP
So it’s true — not all Wharton students go into finance.
In his “spare” time, Wharton sophomore Bradley Foster runs a restaurant in northern Michigan, a hotel in Costa Rica and five other companies.
The serial entrepreneur was featured for his successes on ABC News in Michigan, his home state, last week.
Foster started what would become Spark Force, his computer repairs company, at the age of 10.
“I called it BCS Computers: Brad’s Computer Service. I was 10 so a lot of people didn’t trust me to fix their computers,” he said. “So it started with my family and friends, neighbors, that type of thing, and it slowly grew and gathered momentum.”
His eighth-grade math teacher introduced Foster to people outside of his own family and friends, which helped the company grow and spread.
“My sophomore year, I decided I didn’t like BCS Computers because it didn’t sound professional.” So Foster scribbled out a whole page of possible names as he sat in physics class and came up with Spark Force. “It’s my longest-running success,” he said.
Along with Spark Force, Foster owns a hotel in Pavones, a small town in Costa Rica — something he bought on impulse.
“Most people impulse-purchase watches or sunglasses or clothes or something; I impulse-bought a hotel.”
Foster might say he bought the hotel for a place to stay over spring break because it’s easier to explain, “but the real story is, I was looking for hotels for sale and I found this one.”
The hotel suffered last year when it caught fire after a guest threw a cigar over the edge of the lookout tower at the top.
“An hour and a half later the fire department shows up, the fire’s already out — it burned all the way, and then it starts pouring rain, of course,” Foster said. “I’m in the middle of a BPUB review session, and my phone is ringing like crazy, it goes like 25 times so I’m like, ‘This must be important.’”
But, Foster admits that’s not the worst thing he’s encountered as an entrepreneur.
He bought his northern Michigan restaurant, now known as Tin Fish Boathouse, from a woman who then had seller’s remorse and tried to claim the property back by telling people that he was running the place poorly. Her husband also voiced his hope that Foster would default on his payments so that they would have it back.
“I thought I was doing her a favor, I was doing the right thing by buying this place,” Foster said. “This is someone that I knew for 10 years, I would have trusted this person with my life, probably and she just turned it on me.”
Since then, Foster’s turned the situation around and the restaurant is successful, but “I’ll never forget being taken advantage of.”
Foster said there have been many supportive people in his life, firstly his parents, who owned a printing company before he was born.
“I don’t like to believe they know what they’re talking about but they do know what they’re talking about,” he said. “They’re like my sounding board so when I’m like having a bad day or I don’t know what to do I’ll call them.”
At Penn, he has found a mentor in admissions officer Blair Godfrey, who met Foster when she visited his Michigan high school during the application process.
“I will say that he was an impressive student and young man even then,” she said. “I’ve just been impressed to watch him achieve as he has.”
His roommates at Penn have also watched him manage his various business while at college.
College sophomore Kjell Pu has known him since they were freshmen. He said Foster is modest, down to earth and never boasts about his achievements.
“He honestly treats it as no big deal,” Pu said. “It’s just how he rolls.”
Foster does spend a lot of time on the phone or answering emails and last month, he spent perhaps five days on campus going to class. “In spite of this,” Pu said, “we have established a great relationship both as roommates and partners,” he takes a pause, “… in shenanigans.”
Pu vouched for Foster as a roommate. “He is very bearable […] He does snore occasionally, but if you yell his name he stops immediately.”
Foster loves being a Wharton student, but admits there are things he has learned as an entrepreneur that school just can’t teach.
“I learned how to do business in a foreign country, I learned how to manage people who are only making like $2 an hour and I learned about the pride of having a job and managing managers who come from America down there [in Costa Rica].”
He added, “I could take insurance whatever class at Wharton, or my hotel could just burn and I could learn a really quick lesson about insurance.”