Thursday, January 16, 2003

Learn to be a self-starter

Entrepreneurship being taught as college course

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio - Reina Hayes would go door to door at age 7 in her neighborhood selling stationery, diaries and other products.

"I used to sign up for those sales clubs. I loved it," said Ms. Hayes, now 20 and a sophomore entrepreneurship major at the University of Dayton.

"When I looked at different kinds of majors, none of them seemed to fit what I wanted to do until I looked at entrepreneurship," said Ms. Hayes, of Bellbrook. "I didn't even know it was a major."

The university began offering entrepreneurship as a major in 1999 and had 10 students. There are 83 in the program this school year.

The popularity of such programs has grown nationwide because of job insecurity and the ability to start a business with little investment due to an increase in service-related and computer-related jobs, said Erik Pages, policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based National Commission on Entrepreneurship.

At least 550 colleges now offer classes in entrepreneurship, with 49 of those offering it as a degree program, Mr. Pages said.

"We don't go for 30 years and get a gold watch anymore," Mr. Pages said. "People realize that rather than get a job, I've got to make a job."

Interest in entrepreneurship tends to go up in particularly good and bad economic times, he said. People sometimes start businesses when they can't get jobs at existing companies, and in good economic times they can fail at a new business and recover.

Entrepreneurship programs are spreading beyond business schools.

"We're seeing it in engineering, life sciences, liberal arts. A lot of entrepreneurship students are not business majors," said Tony Mendes, director of college initiatives for the Kansas City, Mo.-based Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

At the University of Dayton, students start their own companies as sophomores with $3,000 in seed money from the school. After a year, the businesses are liquidated, with any profits donated to charity.

As they start their businesses, students take classes in finance, marketing, how to create new ventures and how to write a business plan.

Ideas for companies must be approved by the students' professor, who evaluates the businesses chances of success. However, grades are based on business plans and team interaction, not the success, failure or profits of the business.

Ms. Hayes said she may someday take over her family's business, a chain of martial-arts centers.

She and five other students formed the UD Bottling Co., which sells 32-ounce unbreakable water bottles designed for rigorous activity such as mountain climbing. The bottles cost the students $5.46 and sell for $10.

"We got that idea and rolled with it," she said. "We set up tables in the cafeteria and dorm rooms."

Ms. Hayes said the company's inventory of 300 bottles quickly sold and there are plans to order up to 200 more.

Sophomore Laurel Reeber, 19, of Centerville, formed the Flyer Frisbee Co., which sells tournament-quality Frisbees with the Dayton Flyers team logo. Students earn about $4 in profit for each $10 Frisbee sold.

So far, the students have sold about 80.

"We have our work cut out for us," Ms. Reeber said.

Ms. Reeber said she plans to run her own business some day, planning weddings, anniversaries and parties.

Robert Chelle, director of the University of Dayton's L. William Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, said some students have seen their parents perhaps lose jobs or find only part-time work. He said that can give the students a greater desire for financial security.

"The students sense that if they are in control, that would be a better situation," Mr. Chelle said.

The program has seven companies operated by students, including businesses that market collectible cigarette lighters and beer steins. One business produces television commercials for local companies.

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