Interview with Brent Andersen, founder and CEO, Loveland Living Planet Aquarium
Brent Andersen was inspired to become a marine biologist at five-years-old when his grandmother gave him me him a Time-Life book about the sea. When it came time to choose a path in college, there was very little offered in Utah, so he moved to California to pursue his passion for marine biology.
Andersen quickly completed his SCUBA diver certification, and during college, and spent his free time diving along the coastline of California as well as trips to the Caribbean and Hawaii. Whenever he was underwater, he felt at home and truly in his element. To this day, he never stops marveling at the amazing underwater world.
To no one’s surprise, Andersen followed his passion and is now the founder and CEO of Loveland Living Planet Aquarium. The aquarium is home to more than 4,500 animals from around the world. It showcases ecosystems from around the planet that include Antarctic waters, Asian cloud forests, South American rain forests and many others.
How did you get started in the industry?
I listened to an audio tape suggesting I answer a question that ultimately catalyzed my dream into reality. That question was, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” My answer was I would build several world-class aquariums, and share all that I learned about the oceans and our planet with as many people as I could. In 1997, I created a nonprofit organization and went to work on this endeavor.
For six years, I saw my bank account balance whittle down to zero several times a year. All my credit cards were maxed out. I had one long shot left. I felt if I could get a sample of my vision created, people would be supportive. I cobbled together enough donations from philanthropists who shared my vision, and in only five months, we built the “preview exhibit” aquarium at the Gateway Mall.
From the very first day, we had lines out the door, and that was the beginning of the idea that an aquarium in Utah would be a success.
What recent professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
We broke ground on a nine-acre expansion in October 2018, and working on that project is an inspiring endeavor. There are so many innovative pieces to the expansion, from U2’s former stage to the Eco Command Center where visitors will engage in exploring Earth through virtual reality. What I enjoy most is hearing and seeing the excitement from our visitors and knowing we are making a difference.
What are the top two most recent professional accomplishments you are most proud of?
As a scientist, I also enjoy researching and finding solutions to problems. Another project I initiated at the Aquarium is restoring coral reefs in the South Pacific. My team members and I developed an artificial reef system that will facilitate faster growth and restoration of coral reefs. It would typically take up to 10 years for a reef to be reestablished, but with this system, we can achieve the same growth in only three years and simultaneously select genetic strains that can thrive in warming temperatures and increasing acidity.
What drew you to Utah?
I grew up in Sandy, so creating a world-class aquarium in my own backyard was a special opportunity.
What do you like most about living in Utah?
I enjoy the diverse climate and how close everything is. I can be in the beautiful desert and only an hour away in the majestic mountains.
What do you like most about doing business in Utah?
The state and local governments are business-friendly, and the economic stability of the state is among the very best in the nation. Those ingredients certainly have helped our organization become successful.
There is a spirit in Utah that supports entrepreneurship, and those who are adding to the community. Being a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, I am grateful for the many donors and sponsors that have made the Aquarium possible over the years and who continue to invest in Utah’s Aquarium.
What advice do you have for individuals considering starting a business, or relocating their business, to Utah?
My business advice is always to remember there are only two guaranteed ways to fail. One is to quit, and the other is to never begin. I encourage individuals considering starting a business to follow their dreams and don’t let others (or oneself) discourage you. Utah has a great community with many entrepreneurs who are happy to give advice and help support new startups.
What is your primary challenge of doing business in Utah?
Tourists don’t expect a world-class aquarium so far away from the oceans. I have read many reviews about how surprised out-of-state guests were with their visit.
Tell me a fun fact about yourself.
I am a diver, and I have been on diving expeditions around the world. My next goal is to create a Living Planet research ship (just like my childhood hero Jacques Cousteau) and travel the world exploring and sharing our discoveries via a television program.