UW-Whitewater fueling entrepreneurial fire
WHITEWATER Kaylin Flynn wants to open a Mexican bakery.
She’s got the talent and the motivation, but she needs the business know-how.
Flynn of Janesville turned to UW-Whitewater, which quickly is becoming a regional powerhouse in educating students for careers in small business and in helping small businesses flourish.
More than 50 students are enrolled in a new entrepreneurship degree program.
Why has UW-Whitewater become a hub for entrepreneurship? Because many people—from the chancellor to the dean of the business school to the marketing, accounting and management professors—believe an entrepreneurial spirit is the key to economic sustainability.
“It’s really important to encourage students to pursue their dreams—whether that’s to become an entrepreneur or to work for a big company—and to give them the tools and experiences to do that,” said Jimmy Peltier, marketing professor and former Irvin L. Young professor of entrepreneurship. “That can translate into how they might become successful someday. That’s the goal.”
The university in 2007 started work on a new business degree in entrepreneurship, transforming the former emphasis into a major.
“Business schools have realized that because of current economic conditions, socializing students to start their own businesses is as important as the old way of socializing students to be employees of large companies,” said Bill Dougan, professor of management and current Irvin L. Young professor of entrepreneurship.
Faculty and staff from several departments in the business school worked together to develop a curriculum. They expanded existing course offerings and created new classes geared toward students interested in starting a small business.
The UW System Board of Regents in September approved the entrepreneurship major, and UW-Whitewater opened it up to students last semester.
“It’s really a market-driven major,” said Debra Malewicki, assistant professor of management and coordinator for the entrepreneurship major. “We want students to start innovative, not imitative, kinds of businesses that are positioned for growth.”
Interest among students has grown. In the fall 2008 semester, about 40 students were enrolled in the entrepreneurship emphasis. This semester, 55 students consider themselves entrepreneurship majors.
Kaylin Flynn realized her Mexican bakery would compete with similar shops in Janesville and Delavan. She adapted her business plan and came up with an original idea.
“The classes are focused on what you need to know to start a business,” Flynn said. “And (the professors) are encouraging. They try to help you broaden your idea … to something more innovative, more self-sustaining.”
Flynn wants to develop magnetic dishes. She’s taking her idea to the annual Warhawk Business Plan competition for a chance to win $5,000.
“I’m putting (my bakery plans) on the back burner for a while,” she said.
Professors in the business school have given new life to a student organization for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“I know the power of student orgs,” said Peltier, who for more than 20 years has been the adviser to the local chapter of the American Marketing Association and who in 2006 revived a chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization. “It made a lot of sense to me that, for students looking for exposure to what it’s like to be an entrepreneur, we needed to have a student org.”
The group now offers the annual Warhawk Business Plan contest and the new Warhawk Elevator Pitch contest. The group brings in speakers and conducts personal development workshops.
“For the type of students who are predisposed to start and run their own business, often an extracurricular is a better way of getting the appropriate information to them,” Dougan said.
The university is working to ignite the entrepreneurial fire in its students as a way to reinvigorate the region in a time of economic turbulence.
“Creating something from nothing always has value,” said Peltier, who also owns a marketing research company. “It starts with jobs. Jobs stimulate revenue and revenue stimulates tax dollars. There’s really a multiplier effect that applies to small business.”