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Training The Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

Mark Cuban just offered you $200,000 for 25 percent equity in your budding business. The panel of Sharks stares as you contemplate the deal—what’s there to consider? Cuban, from ABC’s hit show Shark Tank, wants to make you a star entrepreneur. Next stop, multimillion-dollar business.

Reality check—that made-for-TV moment isn’t a true reflection of what it takes to launch a product or business as an entrepreneur. That “big idea” or two-minute TV exposure isn’t a quick route to a fat check.

Dr. Otso Massala

Dr. Otso Massala

“There are many speed bumps along the way,” said Dr. Otso Massala (right), associate professor of finance and supply chain management and director of the newly established Charles H. Diller Jr. Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Innovation. “Most businesses don’t start with a big idea. It’s more about testing the field, refining ideas, and using available resources. You want to find the doers—people willing to take the risk.”

And for the past fifteen years, Shippensburg University’s John L. Grove College of Business has found, nurtured, and supported those doers through its growing entrepreneurship program.

What started as an entrepreneurship concentration when Dr. Shelley Morrisette, associate professor of management and marketing, joined the faculty in 2002 earned approval last year as the first entrepreneurship major in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. Having worked twenty-eight years as an executive and entrepreneur, Morrisette developed a cohort for young entrepreneurs during their junior and senior years at Ship. Over thirteen cohorts, Morrisette said he knows all of his students and what makes them tick.

“We’re not here to teach you to work with a corporation—we’re here to make you an entrepreneur,” he said. “Entrepreneurs share a common vision. …My kids are just gritty. They persevere. They work hard and don’t get discouraged.” 

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Alex Nosek ’17 can attest to that. The recent graduate is applying his practical coursework and real-world projects from the entrepreneurship major to prepare a business launch later this summer. Although the major included “by far, some of the hardest classes you can take,” the experience groomed him for the challenge ahead. “I always saw myself being able to launch a business, but never saw myself launching one this fast. It’s amazing how quickly you can do that when all the resources are in place.”

Those resources extend well beyond the classroom to what some in Grove College refer to as the “entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Students can attend events through the Charles H. Diller Jr. Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Innovation, take workshops and polish their business plan at SU’s Small Business Development Center, access the Brad E. Hollinger Stock Trading Room, and network with successful entrepreneurs in the community.

“The Diller Center together with our Small Business Development Center, which is celebrating its tenth year at Ship, combine to create a synergistic, hands-on learning environment that allows our students to apply and enhance the knowledge and skills they have gained in the classroom,” said Dr. Anthony Winter, associate dean of Grove College.

Planning The 'Next Big Thing'

Some success stories are true anomalies. Accidental inventions and tech stars aside, students in the entrepreneurship program quickly learn how much planning and research it takes to start a successful business.

“You have an idea—there’s no shortage of ideas,” Massala said. “It’s determining which of those are good and which are bad.”

I learned when you have to let go of something and move on. An entrepreneur has to constantly keep thinking forward.
— Sierra Peña ’17

In the entrepreneurship program, students use extensive research and planning to determine whether their business will thrive in the market, said Sierra Peña ’17. “A lot of times, people are so excited about their new business idea or product that they fail to realize there’s no market for it, or there are just too many expenses involved,” she said. “I learned when you have to let go of something and move on. An entrepreneur has to constantly keep thinking forward.”

A first-generation college student, Peña’s grandfather and parents inspired her to pursue a business career. Her grandfather is a business owner in Puerto Rico and her parents operate a salon in York. “When I was looking at schools, no one offered a program that really fit with my goals of becoming a business owner,” she said. “When I realized Ship did, I knew this was the place for me.”

Students in the entrepreneurship program learn to conduct market research, develop a business plan, determine opportunities and needs in the market, and identify investors. Peña credits the faculty for pushing and challenging students. “They’re giving us the tools we need to succeed.”

The real-world curriculum in the program motivated Mitch Nickerson ’17. Case studies and guest speakers helped him to consider others’ perspectives and learn from existing businesses, he said. “It’s great because they encourage creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. …We’re prepared for a workforce looking for people with a creative mind.”

In addition to classwork, both Nickerson and Nosek worked with the CEO Club, or The Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization. They said the club involvement helped with public speaking skills, developing marketing plans, and putting academics into action.

Nosek has always dreamed of being his own boss and transferred into Ship’s entrepreneurship program from Reading Area Community College. “It was quite intimidating at first,” he said of the program. “But it becomes less intimidating and more exciting as you learn to run a business.”

He and a fellow classmate will soon launch their first LLC, an employee monitoring software system for small businesses. The software will track what employees are doing as added protection for the business and the employee, he said.

Although large companies are using similar systems, Nosek said the research and business plan he developed in the entrepreneurship program helped him to identify and target an existing inefficiency in smaller companies.

“If a student wants to launch a business, this program is the only option that will help prepare them for it.”

Identifying Opportunity

Two key points Massala stresses to students in the entrepreneurship program are spotting opportunity and capitalizing on their resources. As director of the Diller Center, he works with students to develop and deliver new opportunities and resources outside of the classroom setting.

According to Dr. John Kooti, dean of Grove College, “The Diller Center offers great opportunities for all business and non-business students to take their entrepreneurial ideas to the next level.”

Jane E. and Charles “Chuck” H. Diller Jr. at the dedication of the new Charles H. Diller Jr. Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Innovation in February.

Jane E. and Charles “Chuck” H. Diller Jr. at the dedication of the new Charles H. Diller Jr. Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Innovation in February.

During the dedication of the center in February, namesake Charles “Chuck” Diller Jr. said, “A natural step from Ship’s degree in entrepreneurship grew the vision and need to develop this center, where students from different disciplines can be encouraged and supported in their entrepreneurial endeavors outside their academic coursework.”

Diller worked for John L. Grove at JLG Industries. He described Grove as a major supporter of Shippensburg University and “…by all accounts, one of the most successful entrepreneurs in this region.” Grove asked Diller to sit on SU’s College of Business Advisory Board over forty years ago. What Diller first considered an obligation quickly grew into a love for Ship. “I’m so happy to be a part of the university and its growth and to watch these bright students excel,” he said.

Since its launch, the center has hosted speakers, held networking events, and developed workshops. One entrepreneurship program held at the end of March provided students with a compressed, weekend-long workshop to test their ideas and learn from local business owners.

The 3-Day Startup, modeled after a program at the University of Texas, immersed students in an intense three-day training. “Students came in and tested their ideas on each other,” Massala said. “They got to meet potential customers to see if they could validate their idea; is there a need for this product or service?”

Open to students of all disciplines, participants started the program by proposing an idea, testing it on potential customers, adjusting plans, then presenting their results to mentors who have established businesses in the community.

Freshman marketing major Ethan Stratton said the program helped him to refine an idea into a more substantial business plan. “Many people think with a business you have an idea and go straight to the market,” he said. “But in reality, you have an idea, break it down, refine it, and look at what’s positive and what’s negative.”

Stratton and his student partner Jodie Meglio took their idea straight to customers at Walmart and Target. Stratton also developed connections with successful entrepreneurs during the event and is working on pitching the product he developed.

The Diller Center also is heavily involved with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s annual Business Plan Competition, which initially was established through SU’s Small Business Development Center. For the next three years, Ship will coordinate the Business Plan Competition with a grant from the State System. Massala said that this past year, twenty-eight Ship teams participated and several advanced. Of the 200 plan submissions, Peña moved on to the final round with her plan for a subscription box service for parents.

“I was really appreciative for the opportunity to share (my business plan) with others and be recognized for my work,” she said. “It gave me confidence in myself and helped me learn to roll with the punches.”

In the spring, Massala implemented a networking event at the SU Conference Center to connect students with business people in the community.

“All of our activities are very much inclusive,” he said. “People outside the university don’t always know how to get involved with students, and vice versa. We’re getting the parties together and connecting with a wider movement in society.”

Diller attended the networking event and plans to remain involved in the center. His hope is that these programs continue to educate students and stress the importance of entrepreneurship across disciplines. “I was encouraged to see the students attending,” he said. “I’m excited about the opportunities ahead.”

Work For It

America was built on the shoulders of big thinkers like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Ford. “Our country was founded on entrepreneurship and continues to thrive on it,” Diller said.

Given the bright, articulate, independent students attending Ship and the resources they have to capitalize on opportunities, Diller said our young entrepreneurs are ready to make a name for themselves. “They want to do it. They’re ready to go out and conquer the world.”

Although Morrisette is known for his intense courses in the entrepreneurship program, he said there are only two ways you can fail—cheat, or don’t put in the effort. “You don’t have to be the smartest person to get through this, but you do have to work for it. …They’re willing to work, and they’re willing to persevere.”

The measure of success for the entrepreneurship program has always been how successful his students are, Morrisette said. With more than forty new businesses started—and many more family businesses managed—by the 160 students who have graduated from the program over the past thirteen years, it seems the results speak for themselves.

In Ship’s entrepreneurship program, Massala said it’s about giving students the right skillset to be useful and creative in whatever business they want to pursue, whether that’s a tech startup or managing the family flower shop. “I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be an entrepreneur.”