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By STEPHANIE DULANEY
p14 TeepleTravis Teeple, an alumni of McKendree University and the founder and president of PlayKleen, LLC. in Spokane, Wash., encourages students to find a mentor in the business community.     They are creative, passionate, perseverant, and willing to take risks. They put in long hours, build their dreams with their own two hands, and will tell you there is not anything else they would rather be doing. This fall, McKendree University is blending its rich history of alumni who own their own businesses with a new Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Entrepreneurship degree designed specifically for students with that same drive.
    Focused on student success, the university offers specialized programs and activities designed to support the development of entrepreneurs. From undergraduate and graduate business degree programs, to classes on free market and capitalism, to guest lectures on entrepreneurship in the Wayne E. Lanter Memorial Lecture Series, to an entrepreneurial lunch series, McKendree’s programs and curriculum integrate entrepreneurial and small business themes into real-world business opportunities.
    The unique major in Entrepreneurship gives students all the tools they need to take an idea and transform it into a successful business. Housed in the School of Business, the program equips students with the latest strategies and theories to create a comprehensive business plan tailored to their own professional interests. They will gain experience in every level of business, from managing employees and daily operations to making executive decisions on finance and sustainability. They will take an active approach to learning with practicums and internships that allow them to learn “on the job” in a real entrepreneurial setting. With hands-on coursework in everything from raising venture capital to franchising and consulting, the program prepares students for embarking on their own business enterprise upon graduation.
    “Most statistics indicate that entrepreneurship is on the rise in the U.S. and many other countries,” said Dr. Jean Sampson, professor of management and marketing, and a McKendree graduate.
    “Some of our professors in the School of Business are or were entrepreneurs, and we believe our experience will support such a major. I think the background of the professors and the focus on all aspects of owning one’s business will set students up nicely to open the doors to their business as soon as they leave our steps.”
    For many business alums who have since become entrepreneurs, the new degree demonstrates McKendree’s continued commitment to helping students achieve their goals while benefitting the local economy. Much like the valuable relationships they have formed as business owners, the supportive community they encountered on campus as students helped give them the confidence to take a chance on their dreams and succeed.
    McKendree has produced hundreds of business leaders who have built global companies, owned chain franchises, run mom-and-pop businesses, started consulting companies and opened health-related establishments. Three alumni, Mike Yociss, Travis Teeple, and Sandy Richter, are among McKendree’s outstanding alumni.
    Mike Yociss, owner of Scuba World Inc. in Swansea, first got into scuba diving at McKendree when he took it as a physical education class.
    “I knew I wanted to start my own business, and I fell in love with it. I was simultaneously going to McKendree for business while I was getting trained in scuba. Then I ended up working at the shop where I got certified.” He recalls the main reasons he started the business, “Number one, I had a passion for it. Number two, I saw things that could be improved upon if I was running my own scuba business. Like most entrepreneurs, I saw a niche where I could succeed and grow, and we have been in business for 25 years now.”
    Travis Teeple, the founder and president of PlayKleen, LLC. in Spokane, Wash., encourages students to find a mentor in the business community.
    “When you have a relationship with a mentor, you can see what you’re learning applied in the real world,” he said. “While I was at McKendree, I had a mentor who ran a local insurance group. I would go to lunch with him periodically, and what stood out to me was how his company treated their people. They communicated with their employees on a professional, fun, energetic level. Learning does not stop outside the classroom, and that willingness to learn will go a long way.” Founded in 2009, Teeple’s company manufactures microfiber golf towels used by players on the PGA Tour.
    Sandy Richter is the owner of Sandy’s Back Porch in Belleville. She earned her accounting degree from McKendree, however she has always enjoyed gardening so she decided to merge her two passions and start her own business. Her uncle who owned a greenhouse business in Nashville, Ill., put her in touch with the owner of a tree farm in Belleville who was interested in selling. She saw the place one time and fell in love. It was actually built to be a nursery, so she continued that tradition by remodeling and buying two greenhouses.
    “We need more entrepreneurs and small businesses,” said Richter. “Buying local puts money back in the community. It’s also good to know about business no matter what your major because it can go with other things. If you are majoring in biology, you will need these entrepreneurship skills if you want to open your own lab.”
    If you would like more information on the B.B.A. Degree in Entrepreneurship, check out McKendree.edu.