BY KEVIN MOE
Experiential learning is fundamental to entrepreneurship. The Carlson School curriculum is designed to introduce and apply critical competencies while providing the opportunity for students to experience the process of new venture creation. “We have an incredible group of practitioners and industry supporters who complement the research strengths of our faculty,” says Holmes Center Director John Stavig. “Students leave our program with knowledge and experience in the venture creation process, plus connections in the entrepreneurial business community.”
Carlson Ventures Enterprise
As shown elsewhere in this issue, the Carlson Ventures Enterprise is a course that gives students the opportunity to work with new business opportunities, be they pre-venture ideas within the University to new initiatives of Fortune 500 companies. “Students spend a full year in Ventures Enterprise learning about entrepreneurship, business creativity, and innovation in multiple contexts,” says director Toby Nord. “We teach through a traditional curriculum supported by guest experts and activities and more importantly, by having the students continually engaged in student-managed real projects with real organizations.
The true value of the Ventures Enterprise is in giving students exposure to new ways of thinking, new career avenues, and new opportunities for self-fulfillment. As this is practice for the real world, they become better interviewees, better employees, and better entrepreneurs. We hope they learn how to collaborate, to look at an idea or an opportunity and to judge if it is good or not, to make decisions without all of the facts, and to recognize the value of getting out of their ‘cube’ and into the field to figure out what people really want and need.”
Jon Pearce, ’09 MBA, found the Ventures Enterprise to be instrumental in shaping his understanding of both core start-up business concepts and the “entrepreneurial” lifestyle. “It galvanized my belief that I was on the right path—and that has made all the difference,” he says. Pearce went on to found Zipnosis, an online diagnostic system that allows patients and their doctors to confer virtually. Winning the Dennis Anderson Student Award at the 2009 Minnesota Cup, Zipnosis now operates the largest virtual care network in the country, providing service in 12 states and reaching nearly 100 million Americans.
Entrepreneurship in Action
In the two-semester Entrepreneurship in Action course, students conceive, launch, and operate real businesses. “There is nothing theoretical about this course,” says instructor Stavig. “Students gain hands-on experience with all aspects of business, including product development, sales, marketing, finance, accounting, supply chain, human resources, and information technology. They are encouraged to take risks, to fail and learn from their mistakes, and to lead their team to create a viable business.”
Students pitch and vet dozens of initial ideas before selecting two to three businesses that receive loans of up to $15,000. Teams of eight to 12 undergraduate students then launch and operate their business. One of this year’s businesses, Sante Foods, LLC, has leveraged the Greek yogurt trend by creating a product line of low-fat, all-natural yogurt cream cheese spreads and securing distribution at five Twin Cities’ co-ops. Total time from the initial idea to having a licensed manufacturing process and approved product on retail shelves—three months. “It would have been faster if half the team hadn’t been studying abroad over winter break,” says student-CEO Andrew Fuller. His teamates include Kelsey Atherton, Danny Chahla, and Connor McIatire.
Another team produced a “Soundband,” a 3D, physical representation of sound waves, translated into the form of a wristband. “Our product is designed to build increased interest and engagement among members of targeted groups by drawing upon a closely held group song or phrase,” says finance and entrepreneurial management major and CEO Bohdan Tyshynsky. “In the case of the Carlson Alumni Soundband, it is in the form of the ‘Minnesota Rouser.’ Carlson alumni all across the country can show their school pride by actually wearing the Rouser on their wrist.”
Carlson School faculty and industry practitioners regularly join the class to lead workshops on current issues facing the businesses. “Students are extremely interested in learning when it helps them to solve a real problem in their own business,” says volunteer co-instructor Roy Wetterstrom. “It is amazing how engaged they become.”
An advisory board of alumni entrepreneurs helps to guide the student entrepreneurs along the process—teaching them to seek out assistance and advice. “This class is an invaluable opportunity for these students to grow and to hit the ground running after graduation,” says advisory board member Mary Pat Blake, ’77 BSB. “I can hardly wait to see what they do after they graduate. Even if they enter large or mid-sized companies, they will have had real experience running a company which will serve them well throughout their careers.”
In addition to receiving support from faculty and experienced entrepreneurs, students interact with attorneys, bankers, accountants, and other professional service providers. One outside expert students work with is Joan Roisum, an agent with State Farm Insurance Companies, which also gives a grant to the Carlson School each year.
“I work with the students to manage their business risks, and to secure the insurance required to protect their company,” she says. “Our underwriting department finds a way to insure each company.” Roisum spends one class meeting discussing risk management and the various types of insurance, and why each product may or may not be needed, required, or wanted. “I try and make what could be a boring topic interesting and relatable,” she says.
Each student business is run out of the center’s Business Hatchery and profits generated are directed to the University or another non-profit. “Businesses in this class have generated revenue of $300,000 and donated more than $60,000 of profits,” Stavig says. “While the primary goal is always on learning, the students have been successful in developing viable long-term businesses. Four of the businesses have been purchased by the former students and are continuing to operate.”
Sante Foods’ Fuller says if someone told him a year ago he would be running a food manufacturing business, he would have called the person crazy. “But the pushing of boundaries and personal comfort is exactly what makes the Entre in Action class invaluable,” he says. “I’ve learned so much in such a short period of time, from managing FDA regulations, dealing with suppliers, and ultimately the importance of putting together a great founding team.”
Issues in Nonprofit Management
The school offers 16 unique entrepreneurship courses, ranging from financing business ventures to technology entrepreneurship to innovation and sustainability in Brazil. One notable class is a capstone for nonprofit majors that focuses on applied projects for social entrepreneurs. “We are using the ‘lean startup’ method, where the first third of the semester is spent identifying ‘pain points,’ the second third is implementing a pilot project, and the third part is analyzing results and making recommendations,” says Senior Lecturer Steve Spruth, who leads the class. The projects range from helping the group Students Today Leaders Forever create better short-term volunteer experiences to working with Cheetah Development to create new hybrid funding mechanisms for its agricultural development projects in Tanzania.
“We are helping students learn about current trends in the nonprofit world from successful and growing organizations,” Spruth says. “We are also helping them learn specific skills, like lean startup and appreciative inquiry, which will be useful to them wherever they choose to work. Hopefully, they will see how valuable it is to have cross-sector experience.”
The focal point for student start-up activity is the Business Hatchery, which enables students to utilize external resources to help launch their businesses. Students “hatch” their own independent businesses with help from outside legal, accounting, and other advisory sources. The hatchery also has tapped members of the entrepreneurial business community to serve as Entrepreneurs-in-Residence and to provide students with expert advice and opinions.
“I continue to learn so much from my students and be inspired by them,” says Linda Hall, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence who is currently on the boards of directors of numerous healthcare companies, including BodyMedia and Ascension Health Ventures. “They appreciate my ‘real world’ experience, as I share my mistakes and successes from nine start-ups.”
Hall, who was previously the CEO of Minute Clinic and chair of the 9th District Federal Reserve Bank, not only offers career advice to student, but also judges competitions, serves as a Minnesota Cup mentor, and teaches a class on entrepreneurship that focuses on navigating the stages of growth from post-launch to maturity.
A valuable component of the Business Hatchery is the new STARTUP independent study class, which Stavig and Nord piloted in fall 2011 and which has grown to support 11 new businesses this semester. STARTUP provides undergraduate and graduate students with structured learning and interaction with fellow entrepreneurs and experts to develop and test their own business concepts. Each entrepreneur is paired with an experienced entrepreneurial mentor midway through the semester, and the students receive pro bono legal advice from attorneys at Leonard Street & Deinard. The culmination is a presentation to mentors, faculty, and John Whaley ’74 BSB, a partner at Norwest Equity Partners and a major benefactor of the program.
“Our hope is that students have a real entrepreneurial experience—to really know what it’s like to build your own business, to succeed or to possibly fail in a safe environment,” says Nord. “Of course, we would like all the businesses to succeed but we know that won’t happen. Our real wish is that we light the spark and that they learn enough to succeed the next time, or the time after that.”
“This course is what I had hoped I could do when I returned to school for my MBA,” says Matt Long, ’12 MBA. Students seem to agree that the course has value, even if their ideas don’t go forward. “Through this course, I was able to realize that my original idea was great for philosophical banter, but had no potential as a viable business model,” says Amy Moore, ’12 MBA.
Vadim Komisarchik, a senior in finance, said STARTUP helped him to be honest with himself about his business, MYCLOK, a website and mobile app that promotes personal time efficiency. “This is the most important thing I learned,” he says. “It’s really important for me to admit when something is not working and to try another way. This also goes with the ability to take criticism when needed, without taking it personally.”
Business Feasibility and Planning
A requirement of Senior Lecturer Frank Beil’s Business Feasibility and Planning course is to have groups of students craft and present a business plan. For one group, its plan was more than just a class exercise; it was designed for an already existing, two-year-old business.
The plan was for HotWokDelivery, an Asian food takeout business founded by student Vuthy Taing in November 2010 and profiled elsewhere in this issue. To get the ball rolling, Taing and three of his classmates met with Stavig and serial entrepreneur Bruce Thomson, ’55 BSB, to tap into their business experience and expertise. They also interviewed and researched existing local delivery restaurants to make sure their projections were in line with the industry.
“We incorporated the research and the insight from local business leaders and what we learned in Frank’s class to craft our own business plan,” Taing says. “It did not feel like creating a generic plan on a sheet of paper. Instead, we were making decisions and setting the direction for a real business.”