Sunday, February 23, 2003

Youngsters schooled in being their own boss

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio - The job insecurity that has settled over the nation during the past few years has made the idea of self-employment more appealing to college students. And so a growing number of colleges and universities are offering courses and even degree programs in entrepreneurship to prepare young people for the challenges of working for themselves.

"People realize that rather than get a job, I've got to make a job," said Erik Pages, policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based National Commission on Entrepreneurship.

In the 1980s, only a handful of business schools offered entrepreneurship programs, Pages said. At least 550 colleges now offer classes in entrepreneurship, with 49 offering it as a degree program, he said.

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

"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 Reina Hayes, a sophomore at Dayton.

"I didn't even know it was a major," she said.

Students in the program 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 first be approved by the students' professor, who evaluates the chances of success. However, grades are based on business plans and team interaction, not the success, failure or profits of the business.

Hayes 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 student entrepreneurs $5.46 and sell for $10.

Hayes said the company's inventory of 300 bottles sold quickly and there are plans to order up to 200 more. She said the experience has helped her learn how to write a business plan, motivate employees and resolve conflicts.

Pages said entrepreneurship becomes more popular in a weak economy, when laid-off workers can't find jobs at existing companies. But it is also attractive in better times - people know they can fail at a new business and still recover, he said.

Entrepreneurship programs are no longer limited to 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.

Mendes said students in many majors aren't willing to settle for working for large institutional companies. "They want the option of creating their own destiny," he said.

At Dayton, sophomore Laurel Reeber 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," Reeber said.

She said her company plans to step up door-to-door sales at the dorms and might try to sell the Frisbees to local retailers.

Reeber said she plans to run her own business someday, planning weddings, anniversaries and parties. She said she was inspired by the independence of her father, a financial planner.

"My dad kind of works for himself," she said. "He can make his own appointments. He can be in the office when he wants."

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

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

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

Chelle said about one-third of the school's entrepreneurship graduates have gone to work for their family business. Others have joined small, emerging companies or landed jobs with state or local development departments.

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