nnovators seek fortune through graduate group

Ingrid Skjong

Nike head Phil Knight got his start in his track coach’s kitchen making running shoes with latex and a waffle iron.
While filling Knight’s shoes is a tall order, one Carlson School of Management graduate student wants to follow in the entrepreneurial footsteps that now makes Nike almost $3 billion a year.
“It’s becoming more sensible to create wealth by going out on your own,” said Pete Lewis, a first-year master of business student and co-founder of Carlson’s new entrepreneurial group Innoventures.
Innoventures began last fall after Lewis and other students recognized the need for a group geared toward entrepreneurial-minded graduate students.
Lewis, one of about 30 Innoventures members, is interested in the growing arena of new product development.
And he’s not the only one.
More young entrepreneurs are taking the initiative and making their own fortunes than ever before. According to a recent study conducted for the National Federation of Independent Business and Wells Fargo Bank, most new businesses today are initiated by people under 40 years old.
Within Carlson last year, about 40 percent of the second-year M.B.A. class took one or more entrepreneurial courses, said Carlson professor Richard Cardozo.
Alexander Ardishvilli, co-director of the Entrepreneurial Studies Center and faculty adviser for Innoventures, said the popularity and growth of business start-ups makes this an ideal time for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Insiders agree that most new jobs are created through entrepreneurial ventures and not large existing companies, Ardishvilli said.
Business schools have recognized this and acted accordingly. As of 1996, 370 of the nation’s schools offered entrepreneurial courses or concentrations. The number is probably even higher today, Ardishvilli said.
Although Carlson has established groups for areas such as finance and marketing, Innoventures is the first designed specifically for entrepreneurship. The Entrepreneurial Center is supporting the fledgling organization and has set aside funds to help it get off the ground.
“It gives a good forum for exchanging ideas and provides them with exposure to other entrepreneurial communities,” Ardishvilli said.
Aside from hosting informational speakers and acting as a valuable networking outlet, Innoventures is an active promoter of Carlson’s first business plan competition. Sponsored by several Twin Cities corporations, the competition is meant to be a springboard for potentially successful business ideas.
There are 104 applicants vying for three top spots, which will be decided by a panel of judges May 4. Because of the high number of responses, the University and sponsors agreed to make the competition an annual event.
“Our projections were to get 50 maybe, so we didn’t really expect this many,” Ardishvilli said.
The success of young, innovative entrepreneurs, such as former Stanford graduate student Jerry Yang, who co-founded the highly lucrative Internet server Yahoo, gives Lewis confidence that success is not only found in the confines of “big business.” However, money cannot be the sole motivation.
“If you want to just make money, go into investment banking,” Lewis said. “If I’m going to put that much work into something, I want a piece of the action.”