Carlson students get hands-on experience

Faculty experts work with students to run a business in a real but safe environment.

Derrick Biney

Sometimes learning in the classroom is restricted to understanding theories and concepts without much hands-on application.

However, a group of students at the Carlson School of Management is learning how to run real-life businesses with an alumni sponsorship and Carlson’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. Students in the Entrepreneurship in Action course have developed two businesses.

John Stavig, professional director for entrepreneurial studies, said the center wanted to create a safe environment for students to run a business in an entirely real business setting.

The center pulls faculty experts from within the school to work with students, and it created a board of directors that advises the students.

“(The Entrepreneurship in Action course) allows them to learn a lot of lessons that could be very costly if they tried (to start up a business) on their own,” Stavig said.

At the beginning of the course there were many student business ideas such as a dating service or an event planning service, said Joe Thomas, an entrepreneurship senior.

After students voted on possible business concepts, Thomas said, two business ideas proved to be able to come to fruition ” U-Suits and U-Guide.

U-Suits

Entrepreneurship and finance senior Reed Robinson, who came up with the initial concept for the U-Suits business, said he was thinking of something that would appeal to students.

When he saw so many students with iPods, eventually a light bulb came on in Robinson’s head. He thought to create an iPod cover that had the official University logo on the front because no one else had done it.

Robinson, who is also the chief executive of U-Suits, said he didn’t understand the business concepts presented in textbooks until he was faced with running the business.

“It’s not just a program, it’s a business,” Robinson said. “We have to pay taxes and we have to meet our projections. If we don’t make our money back, it comes out of our instructor’s pocket.”

Robinson said he did not understand the importance of communication in a business until he engaged in this project.

Stavig said that along the way students are learning about steps businesses must take to succeed.

Those steps include registering with the state and talking with lawyers about legitimate business practices.

U-Guide

Ryan Broshar, an entrepreneurship management and marketing senior, said his group had challenges along the way, but the course has been his best learning experience in college.

Broshar’s group created a product called U-Guide, a 70-page publication that includes a student directory, a listing of student groups, information on local businesses and maps of the area. The guide is a compilation of information that students would normally have to seek, he said.

“We hope it’s more of a resource than a publication,” Broshar said.

The guide will be distributed to incoming students in the residence halls this fall.

The two businesses are expected to run only for the duration of the course, Stavig said. The students ultimately will have to make a decision in regard to the future of the business.

Students were advised to anticipate closing their business to get more of a feel of what often happens to real-world businesses. However, because they have created valuable products, the decision to close will be a challenging one, he said.

If the student-run businesses are able to make a profit, additional proceeds will go to fund the program for next year. The profits will also go toward creating scholarships, to University departments or to a charity or nonprofit organization of choice, Stavig said.

Students in the course will be involved in deciding what to do with the money, he said.