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Taking care of 'real' business: Class helps students start, fund an enterprise

February 21, 2011

Most new businesses wind up failing, not helping the economy or our communities… but imagine a place where you can come up with a new business idea and have experts right there to help you improve it, walk you through the steps to make it a reality and even get some funding to help pay for it. That’s exactly what students are able to do through the Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

“We don’t just teach about business here,” says W. P. Carey School of Business dean Robert Mittelstaedt. “We also want to help students create real businesses and contribute to the business community. That’s why this class is open to all Arizona State University students in any major, so they can turn their passion – whether it’s music, law, medicine, really any subject -- into a true enterprise.”

In the Introduction to Entrepreneurship class, first offered in 2009, teams come up with product concepts and then learn skills in leadership, finance, innovation, marketing and other areas. Sidnee Peck is the program manager and class instructor, and she has watched her students get a firsthand understanding of what it takes to start a business.

“This is a really good taste of how much time and hard work goes into this,” says Peck. “They’re taught how to perform market research, get a prototype built and begin the manufacturing process. My biggest hope is that students learn whether entrepreneurship is really right for them because it’s not for everybody. I want to give them a safe place to experiment with this in college and work through it before they invest any of their money or their loved ones’ money in an idea down the line.”

During the course, students are required to prepare an application about their proposed businesses for the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative at Arizona State University, which can help with funding, office space and advising. They also get to pitch their ideas to an angel investor, who supplies some seed money to at least one of the class concepts each semester.

One of the ideas receiving seed money came from a group of seven students in last semester’s class. They continue to meet on their concept for a website that lets users create and post their own video reviews of local restaurants, shops and other businesses.

Chris Gruler, one of the students involved, says, “I would hands-down recommend this class to other students; I absolutely loved it. I like to be challenged. A lot of college classes are very curriculum-based and cookie cutter, but this class atmosphere allowed me to find my niche and what I’m passionate about, to lead and guide me to be successful in pursuing it as a business. Other classes teach you skills that you may or may not use. No matter what you’re passionate about, you will use the skills from this class.”

Peck says, “Hopefully, within 10 or 15 years, I will see a solid group of class alums starting businesses, and that will be success for me.”

About 50 students are in the current Introduction to Entrepreneurship class. While students can take it alone, it’s also the third of three W. P. Carey School entrepreneurship classes that may soon be applied toward a proposed new certificate in knowledge entrepreneurship and innovation.

If the certificate series is approved for fall 2011, the business classes will be followed by two capstones in the student’s own colleges. ASU schools participating include the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the College of Public Programs and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. For more information about Introduction to Entrepreneurship (MGT 360), My Life Venture (WPC 294), or Creativity and Innovation (WPC 394/MGT 394) and the certificate series, visit