Entrepreneurs Offer Real-World Lessons, Advice to Students
The scene was straight out of a typical business meeting. Men and women sat around a conference table, talking and jotting down ideas. A whiteboard on a nearby wall was filled with writing, and a nearly empty box of donuts sat at the table’s center as members of the group sipped from carry-out coffee cups.
While it may have looked and sounded like just another business discussion, it was actually a class in session in Kent State University’s John S. Brinzo Entrepreneurial Lab at the College of Business Administration’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation.
Students took notes and learned from their mentors, who were not college professors but entrepreneurs from the community offering expertise and experience culled straight from the real world.
Known as Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, or EIRs, these advisors are a critical component of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation, established in 2006 to answer a growing student and community interest in business start-ups.
EIRs come from the Northeast Ohio business community and are entrepreneurs in their own right. In addition to advising students, they are also charged with weaving Kent State’s entrepreneurial mission into the community by forging relationships between both high school and college students as well as business owners in communities near one of Kent State’s seven regional campuses.
“The Community Entrepreneurs-In-Residence program is a game-changer for us,” said Yank Heisler, dean of Kent State’s College of Business Administration. “Its best distinction is the linkage of a university – the new vogue of economic engines in many states – with the business community. We add the extra dimension of connecting to high school students, as well. Also, our prime EIR candidates are successful people from the business community. All of these ingredients make for a potentially powerful impact on our college students, the business community, and the high schools.”
“For me, it’s a feeling of giving back,” said Lee McMannis, a Kent State alumnus who started with the program in 2004 as its first Entrepreneur-In-Residence. “I enjoy watching students that are passionate about starting a business, about their ideas, and helping them through that. I had professors who mentored me who I will never forget. Some of those things they taught me I still try and live by today. If I can pass those things on, then I have been successful.”
McMannis, who sold his family-owned tire business in 2003 after a 40-year tenure, has watched Kent State’s entrepreneurship program grow exponentially since the early days. According to McMannis, the number of students who took an entrepreneurship course has skyrocketed from a few dozen in 2006 to 942 students in 2011.
Students can now choose to major or minor in entrepreneurship and often graduate not only with a degree but also with a job, running their own business.
“I think students today realize that, in this economy, starting their own business is a viable option,” McMannis said. “They see many of their friends with degrees who are unemployed. If you start your own business while you are in college, you come out already employed.”
The entrepreneurship program currently has eight Entrepreneurs-In-Residence. They are: Ken Alfred, based in Twinsburg; Mike Beder, based in Kent; Jack Burge, based in Aurora; McMannis, based in Kent; Chris Redmond, based in Canton; Joe Rozsa, based in North Canton; and Rodd Welker, based in Orrville. A Hudson-based EIR will soon be appointed.
These EIRs use various techniques to connect students and the community.
One option is offering college and high school students the opportunity to help a business owner with a specific challenge. Another approach is to recruit local business owners to come in, speak to classes and help student business owners navigate the maze of details that go along with a new venture.
On a recent morning, Mike Beder, owner of the Water Street Tavern in downtown Kent, came to the Brinzo Lab to help students with techniques for balancing a cash drawer. After passing out copies of a spreadsheet he uses, he went through the form line by line, explaining how attention to detail can keep a business from falling short.
“I identify with this program,” said Beder, who graduated from Kent State in 2000. “I always had a feeling I wanted to go into business for myself, so I enjoy being part of the process here. It’s exciting to see the generation of ideas and how they come to fruition.”
Students are proof that the partnership is working.
“The things I have learned in this program are light years beyond what I would have learned in a book,” said Chris Lintner, a Kent State senior entrepreneur and managerial marketing major, who is CEO of the campus-based laundry service Laundry in a Flash. “I have hands-on marketing experience and a resume that says I was president of a company.”
“This is a classroom outside of the classroom,” echoed Crystal King, a Kent State entrepreneurship major and co-owner of the student-run International Home Markets in downtown Kent’s popular Acorn Alley. “We are like any other business owner; it’s a lot of hard work and sweat. (The EIRs) step in when they think they need to but we do all of the work. They let us stumble, but they never let us fall.”
For more information on Kent State’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation, go to www.kent.edu/cebi.