“I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, even in the seventh grade, I just didn’t know what kind of business to start and pursue. I remember seeing a news story about Ashley Qualls who had started her own online company called WhateverLife.com to provide layouts for MySpace pages. She built the website at 14 and over the course of five years built it into a $1 million company. I was about the same age and to learn how she started a business, took it to the next level and became really successful was very inspirational for me,” recounts Matthew Turcotte. “It also opened up my eyes to starting an internet business because it could be done at home with low upfront costs.”
At just 14, Matthew Turcotte developed his first website and hasn’t looked back. His web development company, North Shore Solutions, counted his hometown of Clayton, its fire department, and the local opera house as his clients just two years later. Since he hadn’t earned his driver’s license yet, Turcotte’s mom had to drive him for his first appointment with Watertown Small Business Development Center business advisor Sarah O’Connell. The SBDC advisor was able to help him obtain an employer identification number, review tax forms, and understand eligible business expenses. Turcotte’s company revenues increased and he was able to purchase a better computer and upgraded software to serve his expanding client base.
By the end of his junior year at Thousand Islands High School, Turcotte’s business won the top prize at a local business concept competition for high school students. That year he also published his first book, “From Main Street to Mainstream, the Essential Steps to Getting a Small Town Business Online,” sold as an e-book on his website and Amazon.com and in paperback. Appearances on local television news programs for his book and award-winning business generated positive publicity for North Shore Solutions, resulting in more clients in the Watertown area.
“In my senior year, I was looking at universities and colleges and wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do after graduation. With the cost of a higher education, I was looking at taking out student loans to attend college,” said Turcotte. “Fortunately, all of the publicity for my business caught the attention of Clarkson University’s President Tony Collins. I had already scheduled a campus tour and the president met with me when I visited the university. I talked with him about my business and he encouraged me to attend Clarkson. I said I would love to, please make me an offer.”
Shortly thereafter, an amazing opportunity was developed for Turcotte. His business acumen was recognized with Clarkson University’s first-ever Young Entrepreneur Award, where he was offered full tuition valued at $150,000 for four years, office space and mentoring in exchange for a 10% equity stake in his business. This unique arrangement has enabled other promising young entrepreneurs to follow in his footsteps and garnered Clarkson national attention. Turcotte’s story has been featured in Business Week’s online magazine and Money Magazine, and may even inspire the next generation of student startups.
Turcotte’s advice for young people who might want to start their own business: “Take business courses, talk to other entrepreneurs. Depending on what the business is, you may be able to start it while still in school. If you can’t start it until after graduation, think about getting a job in that field and see if an owner or manager will mentor you. Stick with it if it’s truly what you want. Consider finding a university with a great entrepreneurship program where you can be with like-minded people.”
North Shore Solutions has grown tremendously during Turcotte’s time at Clarkson, increasing revenues to six figures, while he has maintained a Presidential Scholar grade point average. Attending college while running his company sometimes requires 100-hour weeks, but the coursework in the innovation and entrepreneurship program has been a natural fit for Turcotte. North Shore Solutions has expanded its services to offer logo design, web hosting and marketing for clients ranging from 35 municipalities in Upstate New York to small and large businesses as far away as Canada, England and India. In 2013, Turcotte expanded his horizons to real estate and purchased a commercial office building and a storage unit facility, called U-Store of Watertown in Watertown, NY.
The most recent recognition of Turcotte’s success was his selection by the U.S. Small Business Administration Syracuse District Office as the 2013 SBA Young Entrepreneur of the Year. But all the accolades haven’t changed the humble North Country native. As Turcotte enters his senior year in college and eighth year in business, his passion is contagious. “As time has gone by, I have found that I really like being an entrepreneur and running my own business. I find it fulfilling. The risks and rewards of entrepreneurship are greater than if you worked for someone else, and I love it. I’m in it for the long haul.”