December 20, 2010

Students gain entrepreneurship experience

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- “Experience is a dear teacher,” Benjamin Franklin said.

Students in Kay M. Nelson’s small business management class at Southern Illinois University Carbondale learned first hand this fall the educational value of experience coupled with classroom instruction and practical information from business experts. In teams, the students studied a new product and its feasibility and created marketing campaigns and proposals. As the semester wrapped up, they made formal presentations in a special competition.

Judges selected two winning teams and members even got cash prizes from entrepreneur and judge Tony Wells. The students say the experience has been invaluable and provided the tools they need to become successful entrepreneurs now and in the future.

“SIUC’s entrepreneurship program gave me both the technical skills and interpersonal skills I’ll need to start, manage and grow my business. I plan to start my own business over winter break, developing apps for the iPad and Android platforms,” said Donovan LeMay, a senior management/entrepreneurship major from Elk Grove.

As LeMay kicks off his new business during the break, Drew Barko is already in the midst of putting the lessons he’s learned to work.

“I have started my own residential development marketing service. I target residential builder/developers and make contacts with all possible Realtors within the scope of their business and inform them about new and improved commission structures and other various incentives in an effort to generate sales and motivate Realtors to bring potential customers around. I am able to do this via phone, allowing me to work in the comfort of my own home,” said Barko, a senior from Orland Park majoring in management/entrepreneurship.

Nelson, a professor in the College of Business’ management department, has extensive entrepreneurship experience herself as the owner of a software company and as an angel investor. She conceived the plan for her class during the 2009-2010 school year. Her friend and associate, Ohio philanthropist Tony Wells, was quick to hop aboard. She met Wells, a “dot com” entrepreneur, when she operated the Center for Information Technology Management (CITM) at The Ohio State University. Wells sold his Internet company and founded the Tony R. Wells Foundation, helping non-profit organizations with technology issues and also working with college students.

Last year, SIUC students worked with Wells to develop marketing ideas for a coffee table book and related merchandise benefitting the “A Kid Again Foundation.” The project was such a success that Nelson again teamed with Wells to offer her students a unique hands-on learning opportunity this fall. This time, the challenge was to develop feasibility studies and ideas for an expanded product line based on a new time/task educational learning tool that students at The Ohio State University developed for parents and caregivers of children with Down syndrome.

The educational tool helps the children learn to tell time and how to manage their time for simple tasks and activities, Nelson said. The 51 SIUC students received documentation and a video about the product and then Nelson divided them into eight groups, each working throughout the semester to learn about small businesses, product development and feasibility and much more.

Lynn Andersen Lindberg, director of business innovation and research at SIUC, and Heather Walls, an MBA student from Carterville who is a graduate assistant in the University’s Business Incubator Program, worked with the students to instruct them how to conduct secondary market research and helping them perfect their presentations. The eight-minute presentations included an overview of the product and its uses, study of its feasibility and financial viability, and data about additional market and accessory possibilities.

Judges were Lindberg, Wells, and Peter Rogers, visiting professor of integrated systems engineering in the Engineering Education Innovation Center at The Ohio State University. The Blue Team won for best overall project while the Orange Team took top honors for best design concept. Wells provided a $50 prize for each member of the two winning teams. Wells and Rogers also provided the students with valuable information and insight.

“One day I hope to be a prominent influence and mentor for children on the south side of Chicago, as well as a successful entrepreneur, and this class project has helped me get one step closer to my goals,” said Stephen Perkins, a junior business management/entrepreneurship major from Chicago who was part of the Orange Team.

Nelson said Wells and Rogers were very impressed with the creativity, ideas and work ethic of the SIUC students, and she is as well.

“As the management department faculty has shrunk, I have assumed leadership in several undergraduate entrepreneurship courses. Entrepreneurship is the largest undergraduate major in management and I have been very impressed with the quality of the students’ work and how many of them have plans to or are currently in business,” Nelson said.

Daniel Blank, a member of the winning Blue Team is one of those aspiring entrepreneurs.

“This class gave me the chance to prepare and present a business plan in a realistic environment. It has reinforced my decision to be an entrepreneur and I look forward to starting and developing my own business using what I have learned here,” said Blank, a senior from Highland Park majoring in management/entrepreneurship.

“This project is a great example of learning by bringing together management and small business theory and classroom instruction, practical information from the Illinois Small Business Development Center, and real-world application from Tony Wells and the newly developed product,” said Lindberg.

Members of the Blue Team, winner of the best overall plan competition, listed by hometown with major and year, are:


• Aaron Barnard, senior, technical resource management.

Elk Grove

• Donovan LeMay, senior, management/entrepreneurship.


• Jason Kopochis, junior, business management.

Highland Park

• Daniel Blank, senior, management/entrepreneurship.


• Blayze Miller, senior, technical resource management.

Orland Park

• Drew Barko, senior, management/entrepreneurship.

The Orange Team, winner of the best design competition, included, listed by hometown with year and major:


• Charles Glover, senior, technical resource management.


• Stephen Perkins, junior, management/entrepreneurship.


• Zach Fischer, senior, technical resource management.

Coal City

• Jennifer Miller, senior, management.


• Brian Henderson, junior, management.


• Evan Simmons, senior, automotive technology/management minor.

Norris City

• Rhyanna Hucker, senior, management.

Park Forest

• Amber Stigler-Baker, junior, management/entrepreneurship.