Skills for ownership: Area universities teach tools to thrive

In the spirit of fostering new ideas and long-term business success, two area universities have substantial entrepreneurship programs with both undergraduate and graduate options. Here is a little bit more about the programs located right in our backyard that foster an environment for running a successful business venture.

Northwood University
Overall, Northwood University focuses on business and free-enterprise and the school’s Entrepreneurship major includes a range of 60-70 students in the program annually. The major includes instruction on the tools necessary for starting or running a business with a focus on the capstone course, the New Venture Business Case. In NU’s New Venture course, seniors research and write up a full business plan using LivePlan software as well as deliver a verbal pitch for the plan.

Students either select a business they want to work on launching, continue the development of an existing business they have already started or enhance and continue to learn the mechanics of a family-owned business. In addition to coursework, students provide written and verbal business model generation projects as well as a marketing plan project.

In addition, complementary coursework is implemented through the Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity and Enterprise, including the Bauervic Business Pitch Competition which takes place each November during Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Northwood’s Entrepreneurship Week, held each November, hosts several speakers from the business community and alumni who share about their journey since graduating from Northwood. This year’s event had help from the Institute for Human Studies at George Mason University and The John Templeton Foundation. Featured speakers included members of San Jose State University, North Dakota State University, American University in Washington D.C. as well as Associate Professor James Hop.

The program also runs an annual business pitch competition each spring and the Family Business Forum. Students work on several internal university projects including Northwood’s McNair Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship’s Entrepreneurs in Action Program, which produces content on the stories of successful entrepreneurs.

The program has long been a draw for students interested in running their own business. “The Entrepreneurship major at Northwood is one of the sole things that sold me on enrolling here,” said Jessica McNeal, a senior majoring in the discipline. “It has taught me how to adapt to any environment and the opportunities presented to students are endless, with the professors acting as a support system for our ideas along the way.”

Northwood also plans to bring back the student-run Entrepreneurship Society in the spring of 2018. A business-focused student group that all majors are welcome to join, the society previously operated on campus in years past.

“We believe entrepreneurship is not an industry, but a way of life in many respects,” said James Hop, associate professor and department chair for Entrepreneurship and department chair for Franchising Management. “Students in this major must build a broad skillset that includes all of disciplines necessary to run a successful business. Passion is not something we can teach, but instead can equip students with the tools to make them successful.”

Several student-run businesses have launched out of Northwood’s Entrepreneurship major and include industries ranging from apparel, haircare and sporting goods, to name a few.

Central Michigan University
Hugely successful, Central Michigan University’s Entrepreneurship undergraduate program currently includes over 300 students majoring in the discipline.

The program’s coursework prepares students for all aspects of owning and running a business, with the capstone challenge being CMU’s annual New Venture Competition. With over $250,000 raised in capital since 2010, more than 15 former competitors’ businesses are still thriving today.

“Throughout all the pitch and idea events each year, we typically average between 20-30 teams competing in the final event at the New Venture Competition each spring,” said Bruce Marble, executive director of the Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship (IBIE), CMU’s official entrepreneurship center.

“It’s a fantastic way to have the teams test their business concepts and gain valuable feedback on the viability of their ideas,” said Marble. “Each year, of the all the finalists, we usually have about 10-15 businesses that actually launch from this event.”

Winners also receive mentoring and support from the Blue Water Angels, a local venture capital group.

Based on the real-world challenge offered to students, the New Venture Competition has been recognized as a valuable educational experience, receiving ‘Educational Program of the Year Award’ from Automation Alley, Michigan’s largest technology business association. The grand prize, for teams of students who make it through several rounds of competition, is a $30,000 cash prize to help with the development of the business.

With the New Venture Competition now in its eighth year, CMU has also invited Michigan Technological University in on the action. The two schools have collaborated for five or six years, but the first official ‘joint team’ competed last year.

CMU has several other events that led up to the New Venture Competition, including Make-a-Pitch Night, which is a ‘Shark Tank’ like event designed to prepare students along the way of developing their business. Make-a-Pitch Night took place on December 6 this year, with the top prize of $500 and valuable feedback for development.

These events help participants launch successful businesses, including Elemental LLC (currently in the process of a name change from Embrace Bras), which makes thermal warming bras for breast cancer patients. Another business from the recent competition is a new cellphone security app called Guarded developed by Hailey Polidori and her team. Guarded is a mobile ‘blue phone’ system that is currently used by CMU students and other universities.

CMU alumni Emily Austin is one of the four team members working with Elemental LLC to grow the thermal bra initiative and has secured a partnership with Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids to test the product.

“The program really prepared us to launch this idea in the real world,” said Austin of her entrepreneurship experience at CMU. “We had the room and the tools to grow, yet we also had the support from classmates and professors to bounce ideas off of and work through issues when they came up. It is a really close-knit community at CMU, which helped us.”

In addition to CMU’s undergraduate program, the university recently developed a new Master of Entrepreneurial Transactions program for entrepreneurs looking to expand their skillset in partnership with the Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship (IBIE).

Executed through a global campus, CMU’s Master of Entrepreneurial Transactions offers students a online experience that is focused on navigating the runway toward the startup of a sustainable business venture.

In it’s first year in existence, the CMU Masters program cohort includes 12 students, nearly all of which are working full-time in the industry or business they are trying to grow. The group represents a range of industries and include both for-profit and social or non-profit initiatives.

“It is immensely rewarding to work with our graduate students on issues and challenges they experience in their day-to-day careers,” said Kristi Kozubal, adjunct professor with Central’s Master of Entrepreneurial Transactions Program. “Focusing on the practical tasks of launching and growing a business provides students in the Masters program with tremendous value they can implement immediately. They come in with the ‘what’ and ‘why’ and we show them how to get it done.” Kozubal also serves as the regional director for Great Lakes Bay Region of Michigan’s Small Business Development Center.
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