Diane Mastrull: Villanova student is already an entrepreneur

Charlie Dolan (right), a senior at the Villanova School of Business, peeks in on the office of Madonna Sutter (seated), Associate Dean of External Relations for the Villanova School of Business, and Cathy Toner, Director of Communication and Marketing for the Villanova School of Business. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)

Inside Bartley Hall, the epicenter of Villanova University's business school, senior Charlie Dolan isn't chased by screaming young girls or packs of unrelenting paparazzi.

But he is a big deal. Not that you have to take my word for it:

"He's our superstar," said Madonna Sutter, associate dean of external relations for the business school.

"He's just been a rocket ship," said Patrick G. Maggitti, the school's dean.

"We're so proud of him," said communication associate Mariana Martinez.

The fuss has nothing to do with grades. Though, rest assured, Dolan's are good. The dean's list is familiar territory.

What has everyone agog is Dolan's multitasking. Along with working toward a degree in management-information systems, he is co-running Sequoia Waste Solutions, a profitable high-tech waste-management company based in Pittsburgh that Dolan cofounded with a brother and a friend the summer between his freshman and sophomore years. Annual revenue at the company of 12 employees is about $5 million, Dolan said.

"It's impressive what you can do when you stop playing video games," Dolan said during a recent interview on Villanova's campus, where his scuff-free dress shoes, Oxford shirt, and khaki trousers stood out in a sea of shorts and flip-flops. He insisted he dresses that way only for business meetings and, evidently, newspaper interviews.

Sequoia Waste Solutions' aim is to turn the oft-overlooked matter of trash handling at businesses into a highly efficient, cost-saving process - especially at small companies. Part of Sequoia's secret is data - on hauling fees, miles traveled, types of trash - that Dolan, the company's technology specialist, compiles.

His brother Brian, 30, runs sales. Operations are headed by Graham Rihn, 26, with whom Dolan worked one summer at a private-equity firm, where the two started noticing trash-handling inefficiencies and got to thinking about turning that into a business opportunity.

They seem to have identified a promising niche. Launched in September 2011, Sequoia now has 180 clients working out of 352 locations in 25 states.

"Rather than charge a fixed per-user or per-location licensing fee like many tech start-ups, we make money by creating economies of scale in waste services at our client's location, and not at a distant landfill, transfer station, etc.," Dolan said. "Our ability to make money is wholly based upon our performance to save money and improve sustainability at the client's location, on a localized basis."

Did I mention he's just 21? Then again, he held his own with Bill Gates during a dinner his father, Jim Dolan, a Villanova alum (Class of '76) and successful serial entrepreneur, hosted when Charlie was 14.

"He wasn't scared by that," Jim Dolan, who lives in Naples, Fla., recalled of his son's reaction to being in the presence of a tech giant. "He wanted to talk about Halo," the enormously popular science-fiction video game Gates owned via Microsoft subsidiary Bungie Studios.

Jim Dolan said his youngest of six sons is unflappable and "manages his time and his obligations much better than I did at his age."

On a visit to Villanova, where the senior Dolan is on the board of the Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship, he said he joked with Maggitti, the business school dean and the ICE Center's founder, that "nobody knew me when I was here."

By contrast, Charlie Dolan made himself known from the time he arrived on campus, recalled Maggitti, a member of the faculty since 2008 and business school dean since June 2012.

He said Charlie Dolan asked him for advice and seemed to take advantage of every program at the ICE Center when he was forming Sequoia.

Maggitti, himself the founder of two companies, said he was impressed that Dolan "had a fully articulated idea" for the business he wanted to start.

"He had a great pitch," Maggitti said. "He had mockups, spreadsheets on how companies would pay, where revenue streams would come from."

He concluded that companies would find it "very easy" to deal with the technology platform Dolan had developed. Still, Sequoia "has exceeded my expectations," Maggitti said. "It's the real deal. This is really a tremendous growth story."

American Thermoplastic Co., a Pittsburgh manufacturer of custom-imprinted ring binders for businesses and schools, is a Sequoia client. Steve Silberman, American's president, said Sequoia had lowered his company's waste-disposal costs by 12 percent, in part by rerouting to local recyclers that which the company used to throw out. Those materials were most likely hauled to a far-off landfill, which meant higher fuel costs and associated expenses the hauler passed on to American.

"What they're doing is making the trash collectors be more competitive," Silberman said.

He was not aware that one of the company's principals is still in college.

"I know at least one kid at Villanova who's going to have a job when he gets out," Silberman said.


Diane Mastrull: >Inquirer.com

Charles Dolan talks about actions both before and after trash gets to the curb that can make a difference.


Contact Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com, or follow @dmastrull on Twitter.