- Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Jared Stresen-Reuter stood in front of six judges and steeled himself for their skeptical questions. He had just finished a 15-minute presentation detailing his plan for toodol.com, an event promotion website. The panel of successful entrepreneurs and business professors wanted to know whether his idea could become a money-making venture. Stresen-Reuter hoped to convince them he deserved the $10,000 startup funding that would go to the competition winner.
After a short pause, the questions started. How will this work? How will it help our company? Stresen-Reuter slowly started to grin when he realized the questions were in future tense. The judges expected his business proposal to become a reality.
Just a few months later, Stresen-Reuter sat at his desk at United Franchise Group, finalizing plans for a meeting in Boston with the website's design team. His $10,000 seed funding--the competition prize--would cover most of the site's development costs. This month, Stresen-Reuter launched the site at Palm Beach Atlantic University, his alma mater, ahead of a planned nationwide rollout next year.
Stresen-Reuter knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur from the time he first learned what the word meant. He watched episodes of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" and longed for a similar opportunity to prove himself. He had plenty of ideas but knew nothing about running a business. When he enrolled at Palm Beach Atlantic, he immediately gravitated toward the school's entrepreneurship program.
No classroom environment can give someone the daring, determination and drive it takes to be a successful innovator. But entrepreneurship programs aim to teach students the skills they need to capitalize on their natural talents. Although they can't make someone an entrepreneur, professors who lead programs at several Christian schools say students can learn the management, accounting, finance and marketing skills they need to make their future businesses successful.
The entrepreneurship program at Palm Beach Atlantic, a Christian college in Palm Beach, Fla., is part of its Rinker School of Business. Entrepreneurship classes focus on learning how to operate a small business and finding solutions to common start-up problems. Aside from what they learn in the classroom, successful entrepreneurs must be creative and willing to take risks, said Leslie Turner, the business school's interim dean.
"But we can teach skills around that to help them use those God-given gifts," he said.
Last year, the school partnered with United Franchise Group, an area conglomerate of franchise brands, to create a program that would help students test both their training and their natural ability. Through the JJ's Entrepreneurs competition, students can submit a business plan, get startup funding and work with a team of experienced business leaders to bring their product or service to market.
The program is designed to teach students about real life, something they don't get in the classroom, said JJ Prendamano, who lent his name to the competition. During his time as a franchise owner and mentor to new business owners, Predamano has seen plenty of business owners fail because they didn't have the basic business skills to keep their company afloat.
"If you have an idea, that's wonderful," he said. "But if you're not an entrepreneur you can take that idea and stuff it. Or give it to someone entrepreneurial. An idea is not enough. You have to know how to market it and promote it."
Stresen-Reuter sees failure as a pre-requisite to success. His first business idea--the Relaxation Station--failed before it ever got started. Inspired by the nap pods popular in Asia, Stresen-Reuter dreamed of bringing the concept to America's corporate centers. But the overhead was too high for a college sophomore and finding investors in a culture that prizes work over rest proved difficult. Stresen-Reuter wrote a business plan and made a few pitches to potential investors before setting the idea aside. But his experience with the Relaxation Station helped prepare him to make a more successful pitch with toodol.com.
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