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Entrepreneurship Takes Many Forms

Tuesday, July 21, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Guin Griswold
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One student is learning to deliver a strong business pitch, while another is getting credits for manufacturing and selling science kits. A third is taking her successful start-up to the next level.

All of them are in community college entrepreneurial programs. These programs do a lot more than teach students how to start a business: They can support a college’s completion agenda, help  students develop “soft skills,” like teamwork and problem-solving, and boost the local economy, said Rebecca Corbin, president of theNational Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE).

Encouraging students to become excited about running their own business can motivate them to stay in school, Corbin added. Some colleges are reaching out to students in the arts to help them develop  “an entrepreneurial state of mind so they can pursue their passion and also know how to translate it into an economic vehicle.”

Colleges have also responded to declining enrollment by creating business incubators or providing entrepreneurship programs to K-12 students.

A strong pitch

Kingsborough Community College (KCC) in Brooklyn, N.Y., is hosting a science-related entrepreneurship program for high school students this summer funded by the AT&T Foundation.

The Brooklyn Science Initiative calls for about 25 high school students to take an earth science course at KCC with supplemental instruction in business and then create business plans based on what they’ve learned. Once they have “a taste of the college experience,” KCC hopes they will enroll, said Edgar Troudt, the college’s technology director.

When the program was piloted last year, KCC students created a simulated business centered around selling meteorites to collectors or donating them to museums.

Reaching rural entrepreneurs

“I would never have dreamed up a meteorite-chasing business. We believe in students’ creativity,” Troudt said.

KCC also participates in the citywide Entrepreneurship Challenge launched last year with funding from the Capital One Foundation. Students create a business plan, develop a pitch and compete for prizes in the “Business Bowl.”

Among the project ideas from last year’s finalists: a meeting planning business; a platform for connecting young entrepreneurs; and a plan to refurbish and sell electronics bought from a pawn shop.

“As a teacher, I’ve had a lot of students with great ideas, but don’t think they can do it,” Troudt said. This program helps them develop the confidence to try once they understand the steps they need to take and learn how to draft a strong pitch. “Our hope is whether they win or not, they will end up with the direction to move in and the actual possibility of starting a business.”

Lean business model

Entrepreneurship education has moved away from requiring students to piece together comprehensive business plans in favor of the “lean business model,” Troudt said. Instead of requiring students to draft a lengthy narrative, he adopted the approach popularized in Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder that reduces the business model to a simple chart that spells out the relationship among customer, product and marketing.

There’s also a trend toward pitch competitions that provide incentives, such as seed money or incubation space.

“If you tell students they can get a prize, they will try harder,” Troudt said.

In the old days, the goal was to write a big business plan and find someone to fund it or get a loan, Troudt said. Now, with online tools like Twitter and Kickstarter and pitch competitions, budding entrepreneurs need to focus more on “communicating your business idea, being able to answer serious questions about the business and convincing people on the spot.”

With Kickstarter, he said, it’s mostly about creating a short video and brief text.

“It’s essentially made these startups heavier on the story and heavier on the showmanship,” Troudt said. 

Experienced faculty

Most of the students taking entrepreneurship classes at Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College are pursuing degrees or certificates in other fields, such as culinary arts or heating and air conditioning technology, and want to start their own business, said Steve Bryant, executive director of the Cook Center for Entrepreneurship, based at the Bloomington campus

Ivy Tech offers six entrepreneurship courses at 11 of its 23 campuses, but any student can take the courses online. In fact, Bryant said, the online courses, launched three semesters ago, are already three times more popular.

​Ivy Tech was among nine community colleges that in June participated in the NSF-sponsored Community College Innovation Challenge, a competition aimed at boosting entrepreneurship in STEM fields.

Just about all of the instructors have an entrepreneurial background, and “that’s what makes it a more enriching experience,” he said.  Bryant had co-founded a company producing injectable pharmaceuticals before switching to education and brings what he learned about the importance of planning and running a low-cost marketing campaign to his students.

One Ivy Tech student who completed the program opened his own shop selling board games, while several others already have a business and want learn how to expand it.

In many cases, people intrigued with the idea of going into business for themselves take the introductory course, to “kick the tires” so to speak. “The program pushes people to think about whether they really want to start a business.”

He’s seen hair stylists who want open to open their own salon, for example, and decide it’s not for them once they understand how much capital they need and how much taxes they’ll have to pay – or they decide to wait until they’ve saved more money.

Students need to start with feedback from potential customers and learn quickly whether they can generate enough revenue to make it work.

“You have to be able to pivot really fast and change your business plan,” he said. “Make sure you have good data and validate what your customers are telling you,” he advised. “How much are people willing to pay for your product? Hopefully, you learn that before you start.”

And for many who come in with a great idea for a product of service, he said, the hard truth is, “you have a product but do you really have a business?” He estimated that only about 10 percent of people who take an entrepreneurship class actually start a business, but everyone can learn useful skills, such as teamwork and critical thinking.

Growing a business

Central Wyoming College’s (CWC) entrepreneurial efforts focus on workforce training and community education for adults.

“Almost none of these students are interested in an academic credential. They are looking at opportunities to launch a business,” said President Cristobal Valdez.

CWC is based in Jackson Hole, an affluent community with a competitive climate where people starting a business “know what they’re doing and just need some extra support to get to the next level,” Valdez said.

The college partners with Silicon Couloir, a local nonprofit that promotes networking opportunities for entrepreneurs, in hosting an intensive Startup Institute several times a year.

Several local businesses set up by people who’ve participated in the Startup Institute have an environmental theme or take advantage of the community’s position as a hub for outdoor recreation, Valdez said.  Bob Fuziak, for example, invented eyeglasses with a built-in action camera – like a cross between Google Glass and a GoPro camera – that can be worn while riding a mountain bike. Amy Hatch developed an online store, Garage Grown Gear, that sells high-quality clothing and equipment for camping and other outdoor activities.

Not all the businesses are outdoorsy. A local attorney created a website, called Uncouple Law, to guide people through the divorce process, and another Startup Institute alum is developing a distillery using pristine Teton snowmelt to make craft vodka and gin.

Entrepreneurial thinking

An entrepreneurial program at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) in Utah, puts students to work creating and selling DNA testing kits to educators, mostly for dual-enrollment courses. Their business, called STUDENTfacturED, was started with anAdvanced Technological Education grant from the National Science Foundation.

“We’re an actual manufacturing company,” said Mary Nelson, program manager in SLCC’s  biotechnology department. Students write the protocols for manufacturing, carry out the cost analysis, set up a production line, market the kits and develop new products.

Their first product is a kit used to extract DNA from cells inside the cheek that sells for $2. It’s a learning tool that enables people to see their own DNA, with the goal is getting younger students interested in biology careers, Nelson said.

The students sold more than 500 kits during the past year, while learning to follow “good manufacturing practices” as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationfor medical devices.

Nelson’s students have recently branched out to create and sell plasmid assessment kits for teaching scientific procedures to identify DNA molecules commonly found in bacteria. They are developing another kit using fluorescent dyes to analyze DNA samples.

Students can get three or four credits working at STUDENTfacturED, but, more important, Nelson said, “having actual products to sell provides a more realistic situation for students interested biotechnology careers.” 

“Through this program, students gain experience in how a biotech company works as a whole. It gives them the ability to think like an entrepreneur,” she said. “In biotech, you need a good idea and the ability to produce it.”


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