Davis College: Rooted in Entrepreneurship

The sputter of a plow and the gritty feeling of soil on your hands. The swift movement of a herd of cattle in the moonlight. Spotting a sunrise over a cotton field that has been nurtured for months on end, ready for harvest. All are depictions of the great industry of agriculture, and the entrepreneurial grit to keep it alive.

Agriculture has always been a cornerstone of entrepreneurship. Texas Tech University and the Davis College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources foster an environment of entrepreneurialism from day one within the classroom. This instinct and drive of entrepreneurship occurs in the early stages of professional development with internships, course structure, and faculty members across the college.

Lauren Bogle, a 2012 graduate in agricultural communications answered the call of becoming an entrepreneur after her experiences in the Davis College as an undergraduate student.

“My time in the agricultural communications program taught me to be flexible and extremely resourceful,” Lauren Bogle said.

However, the journey and path to becoming an entrepreneur is not the same for all and can be a daunting leap. Many individuals are catapulted into the lifestyle of being an entrepreneur because of setbacks and life changing rapidly.

Clifton Hall, a 2007 graduate of the department of landscape architecture took a leap of faith starting his own business, Cross Timbers.

“The Davis College truly helped me find the tools within myself to not only be a professional, but also the business owner I am today,” Clifton Hall said.

Even though the pathway to becoming an entrepreneur can include hardship, it can also find great success. Nonetheless, there comes a period where being an entrepreneur ends.

Passing the torch to the next generation of entrepreneurs is happening for James and Patti Simpson. Both graduates of Texas Tech, James obtained his degree from the Davis College and Patti from the College of Human Sciences, respectively.

“The connections we made at Texas Tech and with the community have helped our business stay alive and be passed down to the next generation,” James Simpson said.

The road to entrepreneurship is drastically different for each individual, but each story holds the spirit of entrepreneurship that begins within the roots of agriculture and Davis College.

In the Face of Adversity & Obstacles

Entrepreneurship and obstacles are no stranger to Lauren Bogle, owner of The Bogle Agency based in Fort Worth, Texas. During her time on campus, Bogle had many internships and opportunities to grow herself into the entrepreneur she is today.

“I just remember deciding to jump in feet first with any opportunity that was presented in front of me during my undergraduate experience,” Bogle said.

 She boasts that the agricultural communications program also gave her the title of being a triple threat, meaning that she can be useful in any capacity to an organization or company. Bogle also credits the Davis College with her early professional experiences, and the connections those gave her.

“It was the little nuggets of experiences that made my time at Texas Tech so valuable, and I will be forever thankful for that,” Bogle said.

Bogle remembers sitting in the office of Erica Irlbeck, Ph.D., in the agricultural education and communications building on campus and how she was introduced to radio and broadcast.

“I started out working for a news station helping with broadcast and wound up working for the sports talk at one of the news stations in Lubbock,” Bogle said. This experience laid the foundation for her to be an asset to any building or office she walked into.

After graduation, Bogle did what many fresh graduates pursue, going after that first job. Her first job came out of the internship opportunity she had in sports radio, and later to follow on Fox. Combining her background in broadcast and radio, Bogle went on to work with several different advertising and videography firms for several years as a social media specialist. However, she would soon be laid off not once, but twice during her career.

While being freshly laid off from the company she was working for, Bogle took out a whiteboard one day and started writing out the connections and individuals she knew. This is the moment where the idea of owning her own advertising agency came to fruition.

“I just knew that one of them had to give me a chance, and that’s where the Bogle Agency came from,” Bogle said. Starting with just a few clients, Bogle built up the agency she has today. Bogle has successfully owned the Bogle Agency for almost six years and has worked with many different organizations and companies across different industries, including the Cowboy Channel.

“Many of our clients are in the agricultural industry, and some are not, so it’s a lot of fun to work with all of them,” Bogle said.  

Lauren Bogle photographing content for a client.

Not only is Bogle operating her advertising agency, but she is also part owner of her family ranch in New Mexico.

“We are the sixth generation to come into ownership of the ranch, and we are the longest-standing operation in New Mexico,” Bogle said. She explained that she is proud of this fact and that it also inspires her to continue her work. Bogle went into depth about her upbringing on the ranch and how seeing entrepreneurship from a young age is what inspired her to start the Bogle Agency.

“I’ve always had a knack to be an entrepreneur, and now I am one,” Bogle said. Whether she has one client or twenty, Bogle is grateful for sticking to her roots and morals.

“I built my agency on my morals and values, where I will not differ from them,” Bogle said. She also said that many individuals who were raised around agriculture have a motivational drive to be entrepreneurs due to seeing it from a young age like herself.

“We all have a cool opportunity to start our own businesses because we saw our parents, grandparents, etc., operate their own ventures,” Bogle said. “There is a spirit or mentality that has been instilled and handed down generationally.”

Lauren Bogle is one of the many stories that began with the educational foundation she received from Davis College. Grit, adversity, and success make up her diligent rise to owner of a successful advertising agency. However, across the street in the Agricultural Pavilion on campus, years after Bogle, a new story of entrepreneurship was budding.

Taking a Leap of Faith

Once a housing facility for livestock and the epicenter of graduation ceremonies, the Agricultural Pavilion is a graceful presence near the middle of campus at Texas Tech. It has watched thousands of students walk by for almost 100 years, including many landscape architecture students. One of those students to walk through its doors was Clifton Hall. Since 2017, he has been the owner of Cross Timbers, while working as a one-man operation out of his home.

“The landscape architecture program was the best fit for me at Texas Tech,” Hall said.

Being a business owner was not always the case for Clifton, though. After his graduation, he went on to work in several different landscape architecture firms while the 2008 financial crisis swept across the United States. After many years practicing his profession, a turning point would happen for Clifton; the company he was working for would soon close their office.

“The company I was working for started to let employees go, and I hoped it wouldn’t be me,” Clifton said. “I knew after this, it was time to change directions.”

During this time, he would continue to work on client projects from the company he previously worked for. Clifton described this time as a tough learning experience for him.

“They just kept giving me more and more projects to do, and I thought, I could do this on my own,” Hall said. This would be where the birth of his business venture occurred.

Clifton gave his full attention to starting his own landscape architecture firm, Cross Timbers. Since its founding, he has taken on many different clients varying from big named boxed stores to residential estates. He has found great success with his business because of his knowledge learned in the firms he worked previously at and his experiences at Texas Tech.

“The professional practice class was hands down the most influential learning experience I had as an undergraduate student,” Hall said. He noted that he was fortunate to have had the experiences in the landscape architecture program that ultimately helped build his industry relationships.

“I am lucky to have known so many people that enlisted me to work on their projects, and it makes what I do so worth it,” Hall said.

Within the department of landscape architecture, students are required to enroll in the professional practice class during their time as an undergraduate student. The course includes instruction from industry professionals and alumni of the department.

“It truly is an immersive experience,” Hall said, “Without this class, I would have truly been lost, and maybe have left the landscape architecture program.” The skills Hall learned in this class helped him develop professionally and open Cross Timbers. Not only was taking the professional practice course a lifesaver for Hall, but he would soon return the pavilion and mentor future students. Clifton was asked to help teach the professional practice class with Charles Klein, Ph.D., at the undergraduate level.

“Years after I graduated, Dr. Klein asked if I would come and assist with the class, and of course I said yes,” Hall said. It was during this time that he was introduced to his wife, Lara.

Clifton and Lara Hall in front of the Agricultural Pavillion on campus.

Lara obtained her master’s degree of landscape architecture in 2016 from Texas Tech. Clifton and Lara crossed paths in the agricultural pavilion during the professional practice class. Lara was a teaching assistant for Dr. Klein in the professional practice class while Clifton was a guest lecturer. “Dr. Klein was the one who introduced us, and the rest was history,” Lara said.

After Lara graduated, she would move to the  Dallas-Fort Worth area to join Clifton, while also working for a landscape architecture firm. Cross Timbers was soon brought to fruition, where Clifton worked out of their home, and continues today. Like many small companies or businesses, Clifton is a one-man shop, working on various client projects and even being utilized as a consultant for other landscape architecture firms.

 “It’s funny, because I always had a desire for owning my own business, and now I get to do that,” Hall said. However, the Halls would soon decide to add a new employee to the payroll at Cross Timbers. Within the last year, Lara decided to join Clifton and Cross Timbers full-time.

“You would think this would be scary, having to only rely on the business as our sole income,” Clifton Hall said, “However, this couldn’t have come at the right timing than now.” Not only does Lara have a different perspective of design than I do, but she will help tremendously with the workload.” Lara herself also exhibits an entrepreneurial spirit.

 “I remember from a young age selling vegetables from my family garden and always being in the role of a boss,” she said. She went into depth on how many individuals from agricultural backgrounds have been entrepreneurs from a young age. “I have always seen myself more as an employer than an employee,” Lara Hall said.

Clifton added that the highs and lows of owning a business are what might deter many people from the start-up process. He discussed in detail the importance of networking, and how he and Lara have made themselves contenders for projects.

“There is even a potential opportunity to continue working on projects from the firm I am leaving because they know the quality of my work,” Lara Hall said. Both talked about the importance of the quality of your work and how that is the dividing factor for many businesses.

“I have always made it my number one priority to produce the best work I can for my clients,” Clifton said.

The Halls are thankful to have taken on their own business venture and can see expanding one day. Clifton says he contributes his success to the skills and relationships he made during his time in the landscape architecture program.

“The both of us truly learned the importance of building relationships with others in our field and it has certainly paid off with the business,” he said. “My biggest piece of advice for those who want to start their own business is to just do it.”

Clifton and Lara both emphasized that starting your own business venture is a scary process, but the first step is the most crucial at the end of everything.

“Take a leap, take a chance, and pray about it,” Clifton Hall said.

Take a leap, take a chance, and pray about it

Clifton Hall

Passing the Torch

Right outside of the city limits of Lubbock, At’l Do Farms has established itself as a fall staple outing for many families, friends, and community members. In its almost 22 years of operation, the farm has been operated by the Simpson family, who have a long-time connection to Texas Tech. The chief operators behind the farm are James and Patti Simpson, along with their children. They jumped feet first into the industry of agritourism, where they converted their production-based farm into a corn maze with various other attractions during each fall season.

“I never saw myself getting into an industry like this,” James Simpson said. However, many don’t know that the property where the yearly corn maze is located used to be the home of a large production-based agriculture operation.

Water and operational costs tend to be a high level of concern for farmers in the South Plains region of Texas. James Simpson was one of those producers and was looking for a change to support his family.

“I knew that something needed to change, so I started to get creative and research,” Simpson said.

While flipping through a magazine one day, he stumbled upon an article about agritourism and how an individual transformed his production-based farm into a seasonal attraction for the public.

“When I saw that article, I knew that I came across something special,” Simpson said.

After showing the article to his wife Patti, they sought out advice and began to plan for their new business venture, At’l Do Farms. James chuckled and remembered the day he told his wife the plan of At’l Do Farms.

“I told Patti what we were going to do, and she just said okay, let’s do it,” he said. Starting out with just a small ticket booth combined with a concession stand, they opened for their first season in 2001. The Simpsons’ son Eric remembers manning the ticket booth and working from a young age.

“We had one cash box, and we would just take cash at the door for the maze, that was it in the beginning,” Eric said. “I was in charge of tallying each person who came, just on a scratch piece of paper at the time.”

Within the first couple of years of the corn maze venture, the Simpsons were shocked to see the outpouring of support and attendance numbers from the community and surrounding area.

“Each year, we would exceed our attendance goal, and everyone loved the maze each year,” James said.

Unfortunately, this is where the family came to a crossroads with both of their businesses. The question was whether they stay in production agriculture or pursue agritourism full-time. James Simpson explained that staying in production agriculture would be the comfortable, easy thing to do at the time. However, pursuing agritourism full-time was a lifestyle and generational change for the Simpson family.

In 2007, the Simpsons shifted their sole focus to operating At’l Do Farms year-round. James Simpson went into depth about the financial risk and legacy that was at stake.

“It was kind of scary to decide to pursue this full-time, but it worked out in the end for our family,” James said. The farm and maze have grown tremendously since its first year of operation.

James and Eric standing at the front entrance of At’l Do Farms.

After altering their business plan, each year they would add new attractions and structures to the property. In the first year of operation, the maze had 5,000 to 7,000 visitors in its fall season. This past year, At’l Do Farms had from between 75,000-80,000 visitors. “It just keeps getting better each year it feels like,” Eric said.

Even though attendance numbers are important to their operation, the Simpsons are dedicated to educating their community on the importance of regenerative agriculture. James Simpson is a proponent for regenerative agriculture within the South Plains region and brings this promise to At’l Do Farms.

“In the last year, we planted six to seven different crops around the maze,” said James, “All are drought tolerant plus don’t strain the resources we currently have.” Not only is preserving their resources important to the family, but so is education within the community.

“It is important that we leave resources for the next generation too,” James said.

James and Eric both talked about the high volume of school children that visit the farm each year, and the educational programming happening at At’l Do Farms.

“We think that a lot of folks just want to escape the city limits, and our farm is the perfect place for that,” Eric said. During peak season, the farm hosts field days for schools in the surrounding community

“We usually get a great turnout each year,” James said. Not only does the farm have a corn maze each year, but it also has a petting zoo with common farm animals plus a pumpkin patch.

“In the coming years, we hope to expand our educational efforts within the surrounding schools so that they know where food comes from,” Eric said. Not only do the Simpsons want to expand their educational efforts, they also plan on hosting a summer art residency program.

“Much like other kids, I didn’t want anything to do with the farm or live on it,” he said. He described a time where he was in an art gallery in upstate New York, and he saw a cow walk by him. Suddenly it all came together; art and agriculture.

“It wasn’t until I could combine my passion of art with the family business that it all clicked for me,” Eric said. After this event, he moved back to Texas and the farm, where he has been involved with the business ever since. However, change is on the horizon for the Simpson family in the form of ownership of At’l Do Farms.

Within the next year, James and Patti are going to hand over the reins to their son, Eric. For over twenty years, they have owned and operated the business and commented that it was time for a change.

“I am excited to see where the farm will go underneath the leadership of Eric, especially with the art aspect,” James said. He went on to explain the decision to hand over operations within the family instead of an outside buyer.

“We had many offers over the years to sell, and many were very good,” he said. “However, we wanted this place to be culturally rich, instead of just a balance sheet for someone.” At’l Do Farms started as a family-operated business and will continue that legacy with Eric.

Since coming home, Eric is wanting to establish a summer art residency program with the School of Art at Texas Tech in conjunction with the farm. The program will let students work at the farm doing daily tasks and chores while staying on the property. From here, they will also be producing art inspired from their workings and day-to-day life on the farm.

Even though James and Patti are passing At’l Do Farms operations to Eric, they will still be involved in the day-to-day operations.

“Our business really came from a love of our family and the desire to provide for them,” James said. Eric will have full control of the operations of the farm, and James is excited to play more of a consultant role.

“I will still be here, but Eric has the responsibility of making the decisions,” James said.

With the start of one small building and cash box, the Simpson family has transformed their farmland into a seasonal family favorite that has attracted attention from all over the South Plains. Today, the farm has a bright future to inspire artists, while also educating the Lubbock community on the importance of agriculture. At’l Do Farms is an example of the entrepreneurial spirit within the West Texas region and how agriculture ignites this desire. James Simpson said the business was rooted not only in family, but also agriculture.

“We just liked to farm, plain and simple,” said James, “Now we get to be a part of so many families memories and education, and that’s what counts.”

Entrepreneurship is Alive in the Davis College

Entrepreneurship is alive and well in the souls of individuals within the agricultural industry. The desire, passion, and hard work are the three pillars that form entrepreneurism and can be found within agriculture in all fields. The Davis College acknowledges this, and lets students embrace this desire and calling. However, each path and journey to entrepreneurialism appears in different shapes or sizes. Taking a large leap or even a jump from the side of certainty to the unknown of entrepreneurship can be found in many instances. Entrepreneurship takes gusto, which is exhibited by the Halls of Cross Timber Studios. Taking a risk passing the business along is what the Simpson family will experience. Experiencing gut wrenching adversity and rising to success is the motto for Lauren Bogle’s road to entrepreneurship. However, each started with the spirit of entrepreneurialism embedded in agriculture. The Davis College is home to entrepreneurship of all forms and continues to ignite this spark from day one.