By ALAN J. ORTBALS
The interest in promoting and fostering entrepreneurship has also found a home in higher education. The SIUE School of Business uses everything from a specialized curriculum to business plan competitions to help educate entrepreneurs of the future.
“Entrepreneurship has really grown,” said business school dean John Navin. “Ten years ago it was not something that schools were taking the lead on. We’re not really teaching people to be entrepreneurs because entrepreneurs are generally self-motivated, driven, risk-taker personalities. They come up with a concept and go with it. What we’re teaching them is what they need to take their idea and make it a success.”
At SIUE business students can select a concentration in entrepreneurship as the focus of their degree. The entrepreneurship specialization focuses on the special problems of new venture development and the management of the small-business enterprise. A practicum is required in which students work with start-up ventures, small businesses or small-business development groups to apply their knowledge to small-business problems.
The business school also holds a business plan competition for students regardless of major. Called The Other 40 (based on the statistic that 60 percent of all new businesses fail), budding entrepreneurs compete for $10,000 in prize money. That purse is donated by John Martinson an SIUE MBA graduate who went on to found the venture capital firm, Edison Partners, in Philadelphia.
There’s a Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO), a club for entrepreneurial students on campus in which they can discuss ideas and share information.
In addition, SIUE brings back alumni such as Larry Heitz who received the very first MBA from SIUE in 1969, to speak with students through its Executive in Residence and Power Lunch programs,.
One of the SIUE School of Business’ recent entrepreneurship graduates is Jeffry Harrison. Harrison started SIUE’s CEO chapter when he was a student in 2009.
“I wanted to create an organization that would bring together people who were interested in entrepreneurship,” Harrison said, “so we could talk about struggles, ideas, help each other on things like writing a business plan or how to raise money. For me that was all fascinating.”
Before graduating, he teamed with two SIUC students, Mike Philip and Mike Rzeznik, to start a company called RoverTown.
RoverTown is an app that connects college students with discounts and coupons offered by retailers, restaurants and service providers. Traditionally, colleges and universities worked out special offers for their students with the local business community. When the student presented his/her student ID card, they received the discount or bonus at the time of purchase. Harrison and his partners saw several problems with this. One, it was not clear or readily accessible who was offering what under what circumstances. Two, the offers were limited by geography. An SIUE student ID card was only accepted by those local businesses who had agreed to accept it. And, three, it was static. Deals were worked out in advance and there was no way to modify them or offer temporary “specials.”
RoverTown remedies these problems. Harrison and his partners have essentially taken over the discount offer programs of more than 100 colleges and universities from Florida to Hawaii. The offers are accessed through a smart phone app which can be downloaded for free and is accessible anywhere. The student simply logs on using his/her .edu email address. The smart phone tracks students’ location and they can see all the offers that are available to college students where they are. If an SIUE student is visiting friends in Champaign, for example, they can see everything that is available to them there. They simply need to be a student at one of the participating colleges across the nation.
“It uses geo-location technology,” Harrison said. “They can see anything from the local pizza places to national retailers like Best Buy to on-line discounts from Amazon.”
The RoverTown team works to procure offers from businesses across the nation. The St. Louis Cardinals, for example, use RoverTown to promote $15 student discount nights.
And businesses can also log in to RoverTown for Business to make special, temporary offers in real time. For example, a bar or night spot might piggyback on the Cardinals’ student discount night and offer a special deal following the game. The student simply clicks the “Redeem” button at the point of purchase and shows their phone to the cashier, waiter, etc.
RoverTown receives between 3 percent and 10 percent of every purchase made by a student using the app. With over 100 participating colleges and universities and countless businesses, this might sound like a budding business with a big future but Philip, Rzeznik and Harrison don’t intend to stop there.
“We want to be the standard provider for all mobile coupons,” Harrison said. “That means not just our RoverTown platform for students; we want to power the back ends of other applications as well.”