Austin DeLonge '06: Embracing Vermont Academy's Entrepreneurial Spirit

Leyte McNealus '14
Favorite Courses: Conflict Resolution with Mr. John Bohannon P ‘89, P ‘93; Spanish with Ms. Maria Carreno P ‘05; Pottery with Ms. Mary Hepburn P ‘81, P ‘83; Math with Mr. Echanis ‘79, P ‘08, P ‘11, P ‘18
Favorite Place: Michael Choukas Skating Rink, Top of the Ski Jump, Dining Hall
Favorite Tradition: Mountain Day
One of Austin DeLonge’s ‘06 earliest memories is of skating on the Michael Choukas Skating Rink in hockey skates with Snoopy laces while his dad was at work as the rink manager. The Snoopy laces were replaced with team laces as DeLonge spent time on the rink as a student athlete at VA learning a lot about leadership from Mr. John Forbes, the men’s varsity hockey coach, who had high expectations of his athletes on the ice and in the classroom. The lessons he learned as a student at Vermont Academy helped shape him into a young adult.

As president of the Class of 2006, DeLonge used the opportunity to build his own leadership skills. He remembers learning about public speaking and interacting with peers, skills that have served him well as the owner of Big Mini Putt Club (Chicago, IL). DeLonge credits Forbes with demonstrating a leadership style that he tries to emulate. “There are things in the world to take seriously and try hard at, but nothing is serious enough to ruin someone's day or be upset for five hours. There's always a different way to view things and experiences that give you a positive outlook.” 

After graduating from the University of Vermont with a business degree, he had a series of jobs in finance, including one with a startup that gave him the opportunity to work in Chile. While he appreciates his time working in start ups and in finance, part of him has always wanted to own a business. DeLonge’s entrepreneurial side urged him to create a venture that was engaging and interactive. “I had that kinda entrepreneurial spirit. I was always that kid selling lemonade, or painting bandaids [to sell to classmates]…always trying to do a different little hustle.” Both he and his business partner, whom he met while at UVM, have fond memories of childhood mini golf outings - they opted to modernize the experience for their Chicago demographic. 

While initially slated to open during summer 2020, COVID-19 forced DeLonge to push the opening of his bar and mini golf venue back to March 26, 2021. Unable to have a full construction crew, DeLonge and his business partner followed safety recommendations, bringing in small crews of only two or three. This also allowed them to get more hands on with the building of the course, a childhood dream of DeLonge’s. “The Saxtons River Inn used to build a little mini golf course every year for the 4th of July…I must have been a seven year old kid telling my sister that looks so fun I wanna design my own mini golf course”. 

With Big Mini Putt Club now open, he is thrilled about the compliments he received from customers who enjoy the course. Looking to the future, DeLonge hopes to change or create new holes to continue to give customers a new experience each time they visit. 

Opening a business has shown DeLonge that “there is no point when you unlock all of the knowledge in the world”, it is just about learning as you go along. In opening a business he has learned new skills that he never would have learned before, such as how to operate a draft system -- the system that hooks up beer kegs inside the cooler and uses carbonation to send the beer through the line up to the tap tower which pours the draft beer -- and how many customers they need on a Tuesday night to meet operational costs. He implores the Vermont Academy community to think about what their 80 year old self would say about their life, to not get brought down by the rules of society or what their resume would look like, and take opportunities which excite them.
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Vermont Academy is a coed college preparatory boarding and day school in southern Vermont, serving grades 9-12 plus a postgraduate year.