Students gather to plot their entrepreneurial projects at Montclair State University. / Provided
Look out, “Shark Tank” contestants; budding entrepreneurs are honing their pitches. Montclair State University students are flexing their abilities by participating in its new Certificate of Entrepreneurship program.
Launched this fall, the program consists of three three-credit courses for students of every major. Dennis Bone, director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at the School of Business, says it’s no surprise it’s hot, hot, hot. ““Students innately understand that the economy has changed and it is different than the economy in which their parents created their careers. Students totally get that they’re entering the DIY (Do It Yourself) economy.”
For sophomore Megan Blust, the DIY economy is spot-on. She enjoyed the entrepreneurship course because “every class was different,” she says. “I never saw myself working behind a desk. Could I ever see myself taking an accounting course? Never! If I can focus on something I love, I can make it into something special.”
Her mindset changed in the creativity boot camp module when asked to create something from random objects like tarps, balloons, sunglasses and a jump rope. Bone explains, “During these three weeks we challenged students working in teams to test their creative problem-solving skills by creating solutions using random materials.”
Although Blust was “extremely intimidated” by a limited supply of materials on campus, she learned a lot. “It was completely insane but it taught us how to create something out of nothing,” she says.
As students work on projects like solving doctors’ offices’ long waiting times and promoting non-GMO food, their goal is to launch an entrepreneurial venture by May. Bone adds, “Teams spend the majority of their time testing their solution in the marketplace, getting feedback from potential customers and refining their solution and business model.”
Jen Groover, a serial entrepreneur, says this process is critical. “Recognize that failure is just part of the process,” she says. “Obviously, no one wants to fail, but if you aren’t failing, you aren’t taking enough risks and growing.”
Nick Friedman agrees. The president and co-founder of College Hunks Hauling Junk, a junk removal service, co-created his business prior to his senior year of college 10 years ago, quit his “miserable” day job soon after graduating and now has 51 franchises. He suggests that students should start with their vision and work backward. “You reverse-engineer to the present so you have the destination or the picture in mind of what you want your business to look like in three, five, 10 years and work backward to the present. What’s step one to make that vision a reality?”
Ultimately, Groover, the author of “What If? and Why Not?” advises would-be entrepreneurs to smell the roses: “Be sensible but don’t always play it safe. Entrepreneurship is a journey of self-transformation. Embrace every moment as an opportunity to learn, grow, and gain experiential wisdom.” So you have an idea, now what? • Talk to an intellectual property attorney. Bone recommends getting advice to understand the way you can protect a truly innovative idea. • Use a Business Model Canvas. Begin testing your idea with potential customers to see what they think. • Develop it. In this stage, Bone suggests entrepreneurs can develop their operations and execution plan. From there, they can determine how much capital is needed and what resources exist to launch the venture.
More advice from the experts:
• Expect failure and learn from it. “All entrepreneurs fail,” says Bone. “The most important aspect of failure is to learn from it and then leverage what you learned.” • Network, network, network. “Surround yourself with creative and supportive individuals. Learn from them. Collaborate with them.” • Always seek mentorship. Groover explains, “Find people who have accomplished what you want to accomplish and be willing to learn from them.” • Take action. Business ideas mean nothing without action. Friedman explains, “It’s fun to come up with ideas and come up with creative solutions but take action on it and try to test it.” • Rely on resources. Friedman recommends reaching out however you can. “As a student, you have so many resources at your fingertips with professors and alumni, and when you’re young, you have so much less to lose than when adult responsibilities pile up.” Go for it!