Wanted: Business Visionaries
(Posted September 8, 2003)
Students have been creating small businesses to make extra cash for their studies for eons -- or at least since one of Plato's devotees organized a toga-cleaning business. Juniata students fall right into that tradition, whether the venture is a one-person deli-sandwich delivery operation or a Web-page design firm with employees, products and corporate bylaws.
To tap into the entrepreneurial energy of the College's student body, Juniata has started three innovative programs designed to nurture business ideas from epiphany to economic success. The first program will take a physical location at Huntingdon's former Alfarata Elementary School, transforming part of the schoolhouse space into the Bob and Eileen Sill Business Incubator and Juniata College Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (www.jcel.biz). The second program is academic, in which students take a four-course immersion in small business management taught from an entrepreneurial perspective. The third program is the College's Venture Capital Fund, which provides each student (individually or as part of a team) with $5,000 or more in seed money to pursue a business idea approved by the center.
"Helping create and grow businesses in Huntingdon County is in the long-term best interests of the College," says John Hille, vice president for advancement and marketing. "It also is one of the purest forms of experiential learning. If a student initiates a project and is making decisions about profit and loss, that becomes an intense experience that is quite different than reading a case study in a textbook or doing an internship at an established company."
That type of hands-on learning technique is at the center of the entrepreneurial sequence currently being designed by faculty in the Department of Accounting, Business and Economics. "We've been teaching a course in entrepreneurship for 23 years, called Small Business Management which was focused on a single project that ended when the semester ended," explains Jim Donaldson, professor of accounting, business and economics. "This year, we have refocused our Introduction to Business course into four semester-long labs in which students go through the steps of creating a business."
Students interested in business will take EB 101 Introduction to Business, followed by four semester-long Hands-on Enterprise Leadership Labs. Each entrepreneurial lab course (only the first lab sequence is a required course) will follow a business creation sequence: creating ideas and writing a business plan; refining the business plan, presenting the plan to the venture capital board and implementing the business if approved; and two upper-level lab experiences where students establish their business and manage the enterprise. "The idea is that students can create their own ventures or step into existing businesses that have been created in the Sill Incubator," Donaldson says. "Eventually we will have a collection of businesses at various stages of development where students can get experience in startup strategies, growth strategies and specialization skills such as marketing, inventory and management."
Ideally, Donaldson hopes the department will be operating a mini-conglomerate that will create one or two new startups each year. As the project grows, students interested in entrepreneurship can try getting a venture off the ground, and students interested in other skills can join existing enterprises. "You can't force people to be entrepreneurs," Donaldson says. "If we can create businesses that employ people in nonseasonal, above-minimum wage jobs, then that is a great community service. As we get community entrepreneurs in the incubator, we can place students in those projects as well."
To accommodate such an ambitious business vision, the College purchased the former Alfarata school. The former elementary school, located a few blocks from the College on Moore Street, will be totally renovated and refurbished to create the Bob and Eileen Sill Incubator in the two-story building's southwest wing. The rest of the school will be turned into single-room student housing some time in the future.
Juniata also has refurbished the classic business incubator model to better suit its educational mission and to better serve a changing local and regional business community. "Most incubators have the goal to make money by recruiting businesses and taking a percentage of the enterprise's equity or by acting as a landlord," Hille explains. "Our goal is to break even on the incubator and create the opportunity for experiential learning and a lasting impact on the community."
"A business incubator would have been a great help for me when I was at Juniata," says David Decker '00, a Web developer at Carnegie Mellon University. Decker joined an Internet business called Liquid Binary in his senior year at the College. "Even if an enterprise fails, it teaches you a great deal. It would be great experience to go through the process of starting a company and have the opportunity to touch every part of the business."
The Sill Incubator will operate in three separate models: virtual, hotel and dedicated. The virtual incubator offers services to students and regional businesses using Web-based technology such as distance-learning business courses, marketing and business plan evaluations and student-led information technology consulting services. The hotel mode offers access to all incubator services, but offers no permanent physical space for the business. Enterprises can use the building on an as-needed basis, such as renting a conference room for a two-day meeting, renting an office and equipment for a week, or using incubator space to assemble and package a product. The dedicated incubator mode offers entrepreneurs permanent office, storage and assemblage space in the incubator facility and full access to all services of the incubator.
The incubator will be staffed by a director, a program manager and an administrative assistant, positions that initially will be funded in part by a $121,000 "Stay Invent the Future" Challenge Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. The incubator also is expected to house offices for the director and business manager of the Huntingdon County Business and Industry (HCB&I) Office, as well as staff of the Small Business Development Institute at St. Francis University. Management personnel will be housed in the incubator's first floor. The rest of the first floor space will feature two conference rooms, computer operations, a copy and work area, a break room and bathroom facilities.
The second-floor space features six or more modular offices for incubator tenants as well as a large staging area that tenants can use for large-scale projects such as assembly or packaging. The offices and staging area can be used both by permanent tenants and on a temporary basis for firms in need of particular services or space.
The College also has signed a cooperative agreement with HCB&I, the Huntingdon-based economic development agency that recruits new businesses into Huntingdon County. The College will give the agency offices in the incubator and students and incubator tenants will have access to the agency's services, including tenants' use of a large industrial space if needed. "Every enterprise will have access to a wide range of services that can be used at the discretion of the business, but the incubator also features a variety of options that can be offered to a business as it expands," Hille says.
Donaldson says the incubator is open to any student or community member with an entrepreneurial idea. Juniata students must go through an approval process that includes writing a business plan, making a presentation to the incubator's board of directors, and applying for capital funds to start the venture. Juniata's Venture Capital Fund promises $5,000 for each student who has started a business individually or as part of a team. In addition, entrepreneurs can apply through the incubator for grants of $1,000 to $20,000 from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, a national program sponsored by the Lemelson Foundation promoting invention and entrepreneurship among college students. The incubator also can help businesses secure funding from the Small Business Administration or other venture capital sources.
"The incubator and labs in entrepreneurship will really give us true-to-life experience," says Carli Dale '05, a sophomore from Cochranton, Pa. "I can't imagine a better way to learn."
Contact April Feagley at email@example.com or (814) 641-3131 for more information.