Never too young

Brian "B.K." Jackson is a busy man. As co-owner and direction manager of local production company Showcase Productions Unlimited, Jackson wears many hats: videographer, graphic designer, event coordinator and more.

But in addition to his duties as a small business owner, Jackson has other responsibilities — namely, school.

The 23-year-old is a senior at Columbus State University, set to graduate next year.

In fact, one-third of his team — 21-year-old information technology consultant Geoffrey Shoultz — is still a CSU student as well. And co-owner and production manager Michael Robertson, 23, graduated from the local university last May.

Those who may doubt a business with an under-25 set at the helm can check the team's resume for credentials.

The production company offers a variety of services, including videography productions, graphic and Web site design, and live event productions and promotions.

Since its April 2005 inception, Showcase Productions Unlimited has worked with the likes of Nickolodeon and Great Championship Wrestling. The three-man team has also created a buzz locally through their work with Acura/BMW of Columbus, Atmos Energy, various CSU departments and other local businesses and organizations.

According to Jackson, the team is booked until the summer and recently has had to turn potential clients away.

Yet despite their current demand, the three agree that their age and student status have presented particular challenges along the way — from balancing work and school to dealing with those that underestimate them.

Academics vs. business

Robertson said, while he was still a student at CSU, it was difficult to get clients and professors to understand their situation.

"We had to make sure people understood that even though we were students, we do take our business seriously," said Robertson, who graduated with a degree in communications. "With our teachers, if we weren't the first ones to volunteer for extra credit, (they had to understand) that we had other things we were dedicating our time towards."

Striking a balance between the business and school — and a host of other obligations — is what Jackson considers to be the biggest challenge for a young entrepreneur working toward a degree.

When he's not in class or handling business for Showcase Productions Unlimited, the communications major works as an in-house audio visual specialist and webmaster for CSU's Cunningham Center for Leadership Development.

He is also a freelance camera operator and multimedia producer for his school's communication department and a member of Phi Mu Alpha fraternity — which is how the three met.

"You don't sleep much," Jackson said.

In fact, when hard pressed, the team will sacrifice sleep to finish projects — sometimes running on two hours of sleep a night, or going "a few days" without sleep, Robertson said.

"I get stressed out a lot, especially if its a big project," said Shoultz, who also has a part-time job at the school's computer information networking services department.

On average, he said, Shoultz dedicates about five hours a week to the business. But when big projects roll around, it can take up to 20 hours a week of his time."As far as time, it was such a sacrifice," Robertson said. "There were times where we weren't sleeping as much as we should. There were certain things that weren't perfect, but fortunately we were smart enough to make the grade and pay attention in class. . . . It wasn't just our business that made us miss out on sleep."

Robertson — who now works as a video producer for Victory World Church in Norcross, Ga. and commutes to Columbus when needed — said balancing school and the business was "pretty tough."

"I think the thing we had to remember was school was our first priority," he said. "It did involve some sacrifices where academics were concerned, but we just had to find ways to spend time that we weren't dedicating to school, to video."

One of the first things to go?

"We cut back on our leisure time," he said.

The business's birth

The three met at CSU after joining Phi Mu Alpha, a social fraternity focused on music.

"We were fraternity brothers before we were bros, friends," Jackson said. "It's through our talent that we found a connection."

The fraternity required members to produce school events. In April 2005, during a CSU talent event entitled Showcase Productions, the team's work got noticed.

Some of their videos had been shown, and CSU's then-director of the music department, Lawrence Kaptain, approached Robertson and Jackson and suggested they turn their hobby into a business.

Naming their business after that event, Showcase Productions Unlimited began with Robertson and Jackson. As the two needed more lighting and Internet help, they turned to fraternity brother Shoultz — a computer science major — for a hand. Eventually he joined the team as its official IT consultant.

Through the help of their school advisers, local business and organizations began to hire the college students for production work.

When Nickelodeon traveled to Alabama to shoot part of the television show "Let's Just Play Go Healthy Challenge," a college adviser's New York City connections enabled them to snag a six-month contract for camera and production work.

They've also done consulting work for Great Championship Wrestling and video editing for DJ Jones' "Sportsvision."

"It's always been a word-of-mouth situation," Jackson said.

And that buzz has made it simpler to acquire clients, he said.

"It's really easy," he said. "As far as, if you're putting out good work, it's going to be easy."

"You never know who's watching you," he added.

But despite their track record, do some underestimate the young bunch?

"I definitely do think so," Robertson said. "I think they underestimate students, in general, and people our age."

Robertson said acting in a professional manner and presenting a professional product is what it takes to show people they're serious.

"When they see what we can do, that blows their underestimation away," Shoultz said.

As far as growing the business, Jackson said he sees the business growing into a corporation — hopefully delving into film production.

But in the meanwhile, it's classes, the business and other extracurricular activities for Jackson and Shoultz — at least for another year.

"We work really hard," Jackson said. "I don't know anyone else who works as hard."