Students takin’ care of business

William Schertz

Entrepreneurship group, lab allow students to dabble with hands-on experiences

Coming from a long line of businessmen, Sarah Hansel has been exposed to the world of entrepreneurship practically her whole life.

Hansel, a sophomore business management and marketing major, remembers running around like a “little hooligan” inside Institutional Foods, the wholesale food store her grandfather started nearly 40 years ago in Warren.

“My grandpa passed away two years ago, and now my dad and his brothers run it,” she said.

Being around the business instilled a desire in Hansel to eventually run a company of her own. Her interest led her to a small university organization called the Kent Association for Entrepreneurship (KEA).

Hansel has been a member of KEA since fall semester, helping to organize and plan several of the group’s activities. Next year she will be co-president of the group.

Networking works

The organization has been around for several years, said KEA’s advisor Pamela Grimm. It began as an organization for students who were ready to start their own business.

“The group first was started when a student approached me about the idea,” she said. “That student was very entrepreneurial, though, and he already had several businesses. A lot of students aren’t at that point where they’re ready to start a company.”

Now the group serves as a networking organization for students who may one day want to start their own businesses. Grimm said members learn about things like writing business plans and how to get funding, in addition to listening to guest speakers from the area.

For example, KEA was one of the organizations that hosted the Fireside Chat on April 25 featuring John P. McConnell, chairman and CEO of Worthington Industries, Hansel said.

The group also participates in other activities such as creating and selling business cards to students.

“It allows students to dabble in what it’s like to run a business,” Grimm said.

With only a handful of active members, the group has been struggling to expand this year, though Grimm is confident its numbers will increase in the fall.

Though the group may appeal more to students majoring in business, Hansel said students from all majors can participate. It meets every Sunday at 7 p.m. in Room 324 of the Business and Administration Building.

Young consultants

Hansel’s experience in KEA helped prepare her for working in the Entrepreneurial Lab, a program that gives students the chance to offer business consultation to actual businesses.

“It exposed students to real-life aspects of business and potential problems you may run into,” she said. “The lab serves as both a learning tool and hands-on experience for the student, as well as a helpful tool for troubled, new, or inexperienced businesses.”

Some of these businesses include Postal Connections and SteamMatic.

Lee McMannis, the entrepreneur-in-residence, started the lab in October 2005.

“The purpose of it is to offer experimental learning for students and to provide local clients with very inexpensive, but high quality consulting,” McMannis said.

Not only is advising less costly with the lab, but it also allows businesses to get an unbiased, one-time consultation rather than being pressured to take part in other offers.

He said when companies need advising, he will assemble a team of students, typically consisting of two to five members, to help with feasibility studies, creating business plans and analyzing competition.

Hansel said when she participated on a lab team, the company her group advised treated them as professionals rather than as students.

“We advised the business we analyzed to close their doors,” she said. “They valued our educated opinion and ended up following through on our advice. Although it was unfortunate they closed, I am glad that our lab team was able to help them make the best decision for their business.”

KEA has typically been somewhat of a stepping stone to working in the Entrepreneurial Lab, said McMannis.

“I give high priority to KEA students in selecting people to participate in the lab projects,” he said. “They’ve already started to understand entrepreneurial spirit. I think the lab is natural progression from involvement in KEA.”

Students from any major can apply to work in the Entrepreneurial Lab, and taking part can get students a small monetary stipend based on the performance of the team or even course credit, McMannis said.

Contact features reporter William Schertz at [email protected].