The ambitious project challenges business students to create and run their own $5 start-up companies
Budding entrepreneurs excitedly swarmed the Paul J. Byrne Hall on November 26. Candles, car detailing services and canine treats were among the fledgling businesses vying for top spot in the six-week assignment that is Mission Possible. In Mission Possible’s sophomore year, faculty members ratcheted the difficulty up a notch, giving many first-year School of Business students a new challenge.
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This term, first-year students not only had to create business proposals based on a $5 per student startup fund, the top money-making teams also had to present their business plans on stage before a panel of judges, which gets students to communicate their ideas effectively and really look at the long-term viability of their business.
“Mission Possible grew from just running a business for six-weeks to looking long-term and asking how students would continue,” explains Leo Wong, faculty member and course leader. “Then we judged the whole process in a competitive environment.”
He says the process of running a start-up combined with the panel evaluation grounded the students to some degree. “Without that start-up part, they may have thought, ‘we could make a million dollars doing this.’” He adds, “They need more education, insight and experience, but this a good start.”
The faculty members applaud the efforts of the students, especially the groups that presented their proposals on stage. Many of them are straight out of high school and at the start of the project, most were overwhelmed by the thought of creating a real business.
“At first I thought I was going to hate it,” says student Laura James, whose team, Candles With Buzz, made and sold beeswax candles. “I ended up really liking it. It was different from any other project I had done. I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, so it was interesting to see it from that perspective.”
For other students, like Josh Letendre, entrepreneurship is a real possibility for a future career.
“Mission Possible was exciting,” he says. His group created Speed Demon Detailing (pictured left), a mobile fleet vehicle cleaning service. “It brought us out into the business world to show us what actually happens.” Josh adds that while graduation is a couple of years down the road, he could see himself getting into the fast-lane of running his own business.
Risks and rewards
Each student starts with a $5 loan, then they merge into groups of three to five and combine their funds. This term, a few students raised their game—asking to take out larger loans to run their companies. (Leo says faculty members are considering a discussion about what the “right” amount of start-up money should be.)
Students weren’t bound by the walls of the campus either—many chose to spread out into their communities and reach out to different markets. Faculty members wanted to see students experiment and take risks because there were few real consequences if they failed.
Madison Lang, also with the Speed Demon Detailing group, says she was expecting a theory-based project. “We hadn’t done a hands-on project like this before. It involved so much work and reaped such a high reward.”
Discovering “aha” moments
Teams that made a profit at the end could choose to keep the money they made (after paying back the loan), or they could donate all or a portion to one of three designated non-profit groups. Many teams chose to donate 100 per cent of their profits; others paid themselves or chose to reinvest in their business after donating a smaller amount.
Not all teams were profitable—three came up short. “Either they couldn’t get their product or service together in time, or it was an idea that might have paid off if they had three months to run their business,” says Leo.
But whether they succeeded or failed, there was much to be learned.
“What I found most personally and academically rewarding, was seeing the learning that happened in students who struggled to make money or work with their teammates,” says Leo. “They had the insight to say, ‘I’m grateful for this experience because I’ll know what to anticipate and how to work around those barriers in the future.’
“When the students came to me and said that, it was one of those aha moments—both for them and for me as an instructor.”
By the numbers – Mission Possible Fall 2014
Overall profit: $47,289
Donation to charity: $34,146
- Enactus Student Entrepreneurship Fund: $4,019
- Elizabeth Fry Society: $11,118
- YESS: $19,009
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