He was 26, and no one believed in his vision.
Amit Patel had a three-page list filled with contact information for dozens of banks, but each had rejected his idea to open a new inn in Columbus.
It was late 2008 and early into the next year, in the middle of the recession. But finally in the spring of 2009, one lender agreed to help Patel — now 33 — finance construction of the La Quinta Inn and Suites on the west side of Columbus.
That was the catalyst Patel said sparked his business career.
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Patel shared the story of his journey to business success last week at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s final SPARK Columbus event of the year. It was at the La Quinta Inn off State Road 46, the business that Patel owns and operates.
Plans for the future
Patel is well-acquainted with the Columbus business community. His parents were local entrepreneurs who ran the former Knights Inn when he was growing up.After graduating from Indiana University in Bloomington with a bachelor’s degree in finance, the aspiring entrepreneur began pursuing a master’s degree in finance from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. It was during his years as a graduate student that Patel said he began to formulate the plan for his business career.“I like to talk about what I consider the critical years — 2006, 2007 and 2008,” Patel said. “Those were the years where I really sat down and wrote down ideas and goals and looked at what I wanted to do and what challenges were presented.”
The Columbus native knew that eventually he wanted to work in the city where he grew up, learning from his parents.
However, another business venture would pull him toward Indianapolis, where he would begin his career before returning to Columbus.
Detouring into dentistry
As Patel was beginning his master’s degree studies, Dipesh Sitaram, now his business partner, approached him about opening what is now known as the Dental Solutions practice in suburban Avon. Sitaram would oversee the medical side of operations, while Patel would handle the company’s finances.“Neither one of us really knew what we were getting ourselves into,” Patel said. “We hadn’t had the experience, but we hired and teamed up with a lot of people in the industry who could help guide us.”The two young professionals dove into the unknown world of small-business ownership, a journey Patel said was sometimes difficult because of their inexperience.
However, after getting their feet wet in the industry, Patel and Sitaram decided to expand their business and create a new Dental Solutions practice in Columbus, which opened in November 2008.
“It was a like a breeze the second time,” Patel said.
Back to the beginning
But while Patel’s work in dentistry was thriving, the hospitality industry his parents worked in was beginning to look grim.Business at the Knights Inn slowly began to wither after Sept. 11, 2001, Patel said, and the 2008 recession only made matters worse. The building needed repairs, but making capital investments in it did not make sense, he said.After several discussions with his parents about the fate of the Knights Inn, Patel made a decision. He would raze his parents’ Knights Inn, and in its place would build the current La Quinta Inn even though the global economy was suffering.
“I had a lot of people who thought I was crazy, didn’t really know what I was getting into,” Patel said. “There was a lot of skepticism.”
As he began the arduous process of asking banks for a loan to finance the construction process, Patel said it felt like his efforts were futile. Every time he turned around, it seemed like another bank had closed it doors, he said.
Being a young entrepreneur made it difficult for him to find lenders who would take his ideas seriously.
Vision into reality
After months of searches and rejections, a lender from Tennessee finally had enough confidence in Patel’s vision to grant him a loan. When he received the commitment letter in April 2009, Patel said he began working furiously to turn his vision into reality.He broke ground on the new hotel on Nov. 1, 2009, and opened the doors of La Quinta on July 31, 2010.“We were really under construction during the greater part of the downturn, so the timing couldn’t have been better for us,” Patel said. “When we opened, the market started with the upswing. We surpassed the bank’s projections. We surpassed my projections.”
In the five years since it opened, Patel’s La Quinta Inn has won multiple awards, including consistent rankings as a top five hotel in Columbus on TripAdvisor.com. TripAdvisor rankings are awarded based on online customer feedback.
In addition to running La Quinta, Patel has expanded his work in the hospitality industry, becoming the owner of multiple hotels and sandwich shops, including the local Jimmy John’s franchise and a new Smashburger in Hamilton County.
In 2011, Patel ventured to the other side of the hospitality industry and opened a private equity firm, which has led him to close on 11 different investments in four years.
His work has taken him beyond Indiana into other parts of the Midwest and southeastern United States.
Patel’s story of triumphs and tribulations evoked awe and admiration from the business professionals in the audience.
Beth Goodwin, the business program chairwoman at Harrison College, said when she brings the story of Patel’s business ventures back to her students, she hopes his persistence will inspire them to continue pursuing their career goals, even when they face setbacks.
“He is exactly what we talk about (at Harrison),” Goodwin said. “He personifies the characteristics we talk with students about to be successful in business, like never giving up.”
Even residents with established careers said Patel’s journey to success sparked ideas for future business ventures.Joshua and Rishona Shelley, who live in Columbus, said one day they hope to go into business for themselves.Although they know it will be difficult to establish a company of their own, the Shelleys said Patel’s presentation showed them that success in the business world is not impossible.
“It’s good to hear how other people have done it,” Joshua Shelley said.
Although the results of his hard work and persistence are widespread, Patel says his time working in Columbus was most beneficial to his growing career.
The connections he made in Columbus — connections fostered by the chamber through events such as SPARK Columbus — allowed him to meet people who were willing to partner with him on each new endeavor he attempted.
Without those partnerships, the career he has built for himself would not have been possible, he said.
Upbringing: His parents are from India, but Amit Patel was born in the United States and moved to Columbus in 1992 when he was 10.
Education: After attending Southside Elementary School and Central Middle School, Patel graduated from Columbus North High School before going on to Indiana University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in finance in 2004 then enrolled in the Kelley School of Business in 2006. He graduated with an MBA in finance in 2008.
Business ventures: Since 2006, Patel has expanded his business holdings to multiple hotels, two Jimmy John’s restaurants, a Smashburger restaurant and most recently a private equity firm.
SPARK Columbus events are held throughout the year by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce to allow local entrepreneurs, small-business owners, young professionals, students and other interested residents form connections and glean business ideas from each other.
The chamber’s next SPARK event will be at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 25.
Information: columbusareachamber.com or 812-379-4457