U club seeks student fees to continue expansion

Dan Haugen

As the elevator doors closed, Entrepreneurship Club President Britta Anderson gave her teammates one final pep speech before the group’s first-ever fees presentation.

“All right, it’s game time!” Anderson said.

After five years of steady membership growth, the Entrepreneurship Club is asking the fees committee for $15,000 this year to help fund the organization’s speaker events and other activities.

Clad in tan khaki pants and matching black embroidered Entrepreneurship Club polo shirts, six executive members made their case before a fees subcommittee at Coffman Union on Saturday.

“We’re needing to expand and that requires more dollars,” Anderson said. “We need to be able to support all the members we have now.”

Part networking circle and part social club, the student group runs a twice-weekly lunchtime lecture series at the Carlson School of Management that features local business leaders.

Every Wednesday and Thursday, between 50 and 100 students pack into a classroom to munch on complimentary food and listen to real-world entrepreneurs share “pearls of wisdom,” as one recent speaker said.

Guests have included top executives for small startups, such as Simon Delivers, to Fortune 500 companies, such as Best Buy.

At every event, Anderson and the group’s Vice President Justin Porter greet attendees, shake hands and pat backs as they snake toward the food table.

As students settle in their seats, the officers run through announcements, including a cheer for first-time attendees. Then, they hand the floor to the day’s guest speaker.

Planting seeds

This semester’s inaugural speaker was Simon Foster, founder and chief executive officer of online grocer Simon Delivers.

“There are going to be lots of seeds planted in this room, and they’re going to blossom some day,” Foster told the crowded classroom. Before sharing lessons learned from his entrepreneurial career, he first relayed some advice from his grandmother.

“She used to say that if you want the pool to ripple, you have to throw a stone,” he said.

It’s that spirit of risk-taking and a fun, informal atmosphere that attracts so many students to the club’s events, Anderson and Porter said.

“I think a big part of our club is our culture,” Anderson said. “People feel like it’s really a community.”

The club’s attendance and budget has increased significantly since it started in 1999. The number of paying members has nearly tripled from 40 in 2000-2001 to this year’s 110.

Income from member dues, grants and other fund raising more than doubled in the past year, from $11,625 last year to $24,033 this year, according to the group’s fees request. Members hope that with help from the fees committee, the group can increase that total to $37,666 next year.

The added dollars would go toward financing a trip to Chicago for 50 club members to attend a national collegiate entrepreneurs conference. It would also cover the cost of digital video equipment so the group can put speaker talks on its Web site and in a DVD library.

Food expenditures eat up more than $10,000 of the club’s budget. Every speaker event starts with a fast-food feast and the group’s year-end dinner features more upscale catering.

“(The food) definitely works as an initial draw for people,” Anderson said, adding that it’s the speakers who keep students coming back.

Beyond business school

Although they currently meet at Carlson School, not all members are business students. Porter told the fees subcommittee that approximately one-fifth its regular attendees are from outside the business school. He said he sees no reason why that percentage could not increase.

That is also a goal for the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a national association for student entrepreneur groups.

“You don’t have to be a business student to be interested in entrepreneurship,” said Joanna Wolek, the organization’s program coordinator.

Through their member organizations, she said, the group has been trying to draw students from art, engineering and medical fields.

Student entrepreneurship clubs are popping up at colleges nationwide. The Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization was founded in Chicago in the early 1980s as a regional association, but in the past few years it has seen a huge increase in membership, Wolek said.

“Students are realizing that entrepreneurship can be a career,” she said. “You don’t have to work for somebody else.”

The upward trend probably has something to do with the Internet startup boom in the late 1990s, Wolek said. But she said there are likely other factors.

Member organizations range in size from five to 200 people, Wolek said, making the University’s Entrepreneurship Club one of the larger groups nationally.

On Wednesday, attendees showed many reasons for coming. Some wanted extra credit for Carlson School courses. Others mentioned the free lunch, and there were also the earnest entrepreneurs of the bunch.

Danny Vogel, a business management senior, first started attending the club’s speaker events earlier this semester, and is drafting a business plan to open a snowboard and skateboarding shop.

“It’s really cool to hear people share their stories about how they got started Ö and the free food,” he said.