Junior management major and entrepreneur Colton Arias recently won the “Forged in Fire” History Channel blacksmithing competition a second time at age 20, its youngest two-time winner. As a busy startup owner attending the College of Business, he enjoys building on the interest he first discovered as a child.
“I started out super young, probably about 10 or 11, making stuff out of wood or metal, learning blacksmithing. I started making knives because I've always liked swords and medieval stuff,” said Arias, a Ceresco, Nebraska, native.
Over the years, as his work improved, people saw his creations and asked whether they could place an order. As a teenager, he received increasingly more requests, realizing he could make a lucrative business out of it.
Arias launched Bridger Forge LLC in 2016, when he was still in high school. In his shop in Ceresco, Arias started to fulfill custom orders. However, he knew a college education would better position him for future success.
“I chose to come to the Nebraska College of Business because it’s a great business school. My family attended the university, and if I ever decide not to continue with this business or get another job, I’ll have a degree and business skills from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln that can go with me anywhere I choose,” he said.
Arias shared how many of the skills he uses daily were gained in his accounting, entrepreneurship, marketing and management courses. On top of being a full-time student and running a business, Arias also competes in bodybuilding and trains others in weightlifting. With so many irons in the fire at once, he finds the lessons from his college classes about managing time, finances and employees apply as well.
“It’s hard to put a ton of time into the whole college thing, getting involved in organizations or networking outside of class. A few classes, like my management and entrepreneurship classes with Andrew Hanna, assistant professor of practice in management and entrepreneurship, were excellent. They taught me about managing my business and my employees. I keep those notes and still go over them regularly,” he said.
In Hanna’s class Intro to Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ENTR 321), students learn what is required of them when starting a new venture. Then in Managing Behavior in Organizations (MNGT 360), also taught by Hanna, they focus on how to be a good manager and leader.
“The first course I taught Colton helps students establish a business, and the other helps them develop skills necessary to manage people effectively and stay on top,” Hanna said. “Having student entrepreneurs like him in class is a lot of fun for me. When the coursework is immediately relevant to them, it really makes those interactions meaningful.”
A typical day as a full-time college student, business owner and creator does not allow Arias much free time due to him putting in three to six hours a day on his business after completing his schoolwork. He launched the Bridger Forge website for orders in 2019. Especially since appearing on TV twice in the past two years, business boomed even more.
“I’m finding a way to balance it all. Free time isn’t really a thing for me right now. After graduation, I plan to continue working on my business, saving and investing money and possibly expanding to a larger shop in Lincoln,” he said. “Building a business is a lot of work, but in the end, it is super rewarding because you can have absolute freedom in what you want to do, where you want to sell, who you want to sell to and what you do with your money.”
Despite the demanding hours, Arias advises aspiring entrepreneurs to take advantage of opportunities, even when they sound unconventional, like competing on a TV show.
“Say yes to everything offered to you. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to go on the show, and it is scary, but turned out to be an amazing experience.”
Learn more about Arias, his appearance on “Forged in Fire” and his business Bridger Forge LLC at www.bridgerforgeblades.com
. To learn more about the management major, visit: https://business.unl.edu/managementmajor