| Fourth Quarter 2012 | story by TONI DIXON |
“Entrepreneurship is a very broad topic. It’s not just about starting something in your garage,” Charlotte Tritch said. Not all entrepreneurs are the people with big ideas and a new product to launch, she explained. It also encompasses the small business owner who buys a franchise or the person who plans to be a part of the family business. Th e definition of entrepreneurship even expands to employees who bring an innovative mind-set to their corporate environment.
As Associate Director of the Entrepreneurship Program and lecturer at the University of Kansas School of Business, Charlotte teaches three very different courses within the subject area: “Management of Small Business,” “Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Corporate Environment,” and “Entrepreneurship in Practice.”
Because her classes attract a range of students, from those who do, in fact, have the next great idea, to those who have worked in the family business since childhood, to those who want to bring new innovations to the corporation, Charlotte tries to fill in the big picture.
“When I teach entrepreneurship, I try to frame it through the idea of bringing everything together, covering all the disciplines involved in running a business,” she said. “If you’re the founder of a business, you may not be an expert in each area, but you will touch on each area. You have to wear many hats, and understand all aspects of the business.” Th is includes production and manufacturing, distribution, marketing, advertising, product development, finances, employees and human resources, and more.
Students use a business computer simulation called Mike’s Bikes, then work in teams to run a company over several simulated years. Students’ companies then compete against one another. They make decisions about which customer segments to target, market spending, product development, manufacturing, quality, financial decisions and more. “They see how all the functions come together and learn the cause and effect of the choices they make.”
Charlotte offers an example of just how that connectivity works. Business owners need to know that if they put a lot of emphasis on marketing, but they didn’t order the extra materials so that production can meet the demand, problems could arise quickly. “My students are finding out that this is challenging. You pull one lever and it has a ripple effect in another area. They enjoy seeing how that works.”
Guest speakers, oft en local business owners, are a big part of teaching entrepreneurship. A business owner can provide the real-life answers to students’ questions. “We spend a lot of time studying franchising in the Management of Small Business course. Students learn about the nature of owning a franchise from franchise owners. Th en we review case studies and have in-class exercises where we examine real life franchise documents, in order to better understand how franchise ownership works.”
“One of the best ways to understand small business is to give students hands-on experience working with area businesses, Our big focus is on the experiential learning.” A key component is a project where students work in a small group with a local business on a particular business challenge the business has.
“It’s really a mini consulting project, Charlotte said. Th e project might be a pricing assessment, competitive analysis, development of a marketing plan, or assessment of expansion opportunities. “It really depends on the needs of the client business. Th e goal is to add benefit for the client company while providing a rich, hands-on learning opportunity for the students.” Last semester her student groups worked with local businesses Wave the Wheat Pizza and Lawrence Montessori School, among others.
At the end of the semester, students present their research, findings and recommendations. It’s a great opportunity for students, as well as for a business that might not have the resources for research such as an in-depth study in pricing.
Th e students are learning and the clients come away with valuable information they can apply to their businesses.
Charlotte adds that it’s not just small start-ups that need entrepreneurs. “In today’s competitive environment, an entrepreneurial mind-set can help larger, established companies achieve sustained competitive advantage. Th rough case studies, guest speakers, and many practical examples from the students’ own work experiences, we talk about how to apply the entrepreneurial process in a corporate environment and understand what might encourage entrepreneurial behavior and innovation. We also look at ways to overcome obstacles that might inhibit entrepreneurial activity.”
Charlotte adds that the question of money always comes up. “We explain the nuances of financing options and discuss everything from venture capital, and angel investing to family members or bootstrapping a business. We tell them it’s most likely that you’ll need to have skin in the game.”
Is it rewarding? “Absolutely!” she said. “It’s fun to get to know the students and find out what they are passionate about.”