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Entrepreneurial Learning

  • Leigh Jones WORLD News Services
  • 2012 8 Aug
  • COMMENTS
Entrepreneurial Learning

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.

At Indiana Wesleyan University, students in the entrepreneurship program are expected to start their own businesses as part of their coursework. The experience allows them to encounter the challenges they will face in the real world while they still have a safety net. The campus has three businesses operated by students each semester--a coffee shop, a video store and a hair salon. This fall, students in Shawn M. Carraher's classes will own and operate a RedBox DVD rental station on campus while others manage a small business consulting firm.

Operating small businesses while still in school lets the students figure out whether they really want to be entrepreneurs, Carraher said. The program also allows non-business majors to learn entrepreneurial concepts that could help them in their own disciplines. School administrators even encourage ministry majors to consider how social entrepreneurship could help their future work.

At Baylor University's entrepreneurship program, one of the top-ranked programs in the nation, students follow the natural sequence of the entrepreneurial process. They start with discovering opportunity and move through feasibility studies, funding models, business organization and day-to-day management strategies. The program offers special courses in internal entrepreneurship--thinking like an entrepreneur within an existing corporate structure--and running a family business. The school's entrepreneurship minor draws students from other disciplines interested in learning business start-up skills.

Steven Bradley, an assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship, hopes to teach his students to be alert to changes in the market that might create a business opportunity. The ability to recognize a potential product or service that's worth pursuing ultimately makes someone an entrepreneur, he said: "Many of our students will not immediately start a new venture out of college. Their knowledge set is fairly limited. However, we train them in how to be alert for possible opportunities and how to evaluate and pursue them as they come along."

Students sometimes talk about entrepreneurial superstars like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, but Bradley steers them back to ventures they could envision themselves starting. One of the program's graduates, David Grubbs, founded noozhoo.com, a social storefront designed for college clubs and organizations. Grubbs now helps teach a class that requires students to start their own companies. Like Grubbs, Stresen-Reuter, and other high profile entrepreneurs, students and recent graduates are drawn to Internet ventures, something related to their current knowledge set, Bradley said.

Now that he's out of school and piloting his own business, Stresen-Reuter realizes how well-rounded he needs to be to succeed. His days don't just consist of marketing and business-related tasks, but communication, financing, reading and writing as well. Entrepreneurs are required to do a little bit of everything, he said. And while he learned a lot in class, some things are hard to teach in theory.

"The best way to learn it is through trial and error," he said. "But I think it can be learned."

(c) WORLD News Service. Used with permission.

Publication date: August 28, 2012