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Successful entrepreneur starts young
Successful entrepreneur starts young

Do work and education mix? They create perfect synergy, if you're Paresh Patel '96, founder and president of Courtesy Vending, Portland's largest vending business.

While Patel, 31, was getting straight A's at PSU and building his business in Southeast Portland, his classmates were scratching their heads and wondering what he knew that they didn't. Patel had discovered the magic of applied learning. He gathered principles learned in his human resources and general management courses and used them in his growing company, which started with one vending machine when he was in high school. Today, he has 17 employees and more than 1,000 snack and drink machines.

"When the company was not even walking, basically crawling, I was already putting business concepts into it," says Patel, who went on to earn an MBA from University of Washington and was named 2005 Oregon Small Business Owner of the Year by the Oregon Small Business Administration.

Born in Vancouver, B.C., Patel grew up in Portland's Parkrose neighborhood, not far from his new 18,876-square-foot warehouse. The family ran a small motel in the area, and at age 11 or 12, Patel was encouraged to keep accounts.

Instead of saying, "You're too young for that," his father, Kishor Patel, encouraged him to learn the business as a child.

"By the time I was 16, I already knew a lot about small business."

In return, Patel has helped his dad run the family motel, a more difficult task since a 1996 accident left the elder Patel a quadriplegic.

"Paresh has high standards and a lot of integrity," says Lisa Huddleston, special assistant to the president at Courtesy Vending. "The bar is set pretty high, but once you understand that, it's not hard to make him happy."

Says Patel of his education, which is ongoing, never-ending: "The more I know, the more I can learn. It's just one of those paradoxes, but it's true." –Holly Johnson