Six weeks, five dollars, no experience – mission possible?

Apr 3 2014

What could you do with $5? As it turns out, the sky’s the limit if you’re as innovative and hardworking as students enrolled in BUSN 200/201. In the Fall 2013 and Winter 2014 terms, students were assigned the Mission Possible project, which takes the first-year/introductory course and introduces a community service learning component.

Faculty member and course leader Leo Wong had heard of the Mission Possible concept — in which students start up their own micro-venture — done elsewhere and decided to implement it in the BUSN course as a way of making it more experiential for students.

Leo approached ATB Financial about the idea, and the financial institution sponsored the project with $5,000. Each student would receive $5 to start up their business venture, but would be required to repay that amount by the end of Mission Possible. (At the end of the Fall term, ATB did not collect its loans to the students; rather it asked that the School of Business use the $5,000 to help sustain the project for future students.)

With money in hand, students broke into groups of three to five. They were responsible for coming up with their own idea for a business, organizing themselves, gathering their materials or products, and figuring out how to market and sell to people.

“Last term, we had no idea what business ideas the students would come up with,” says Leo. “We weren’t prepared to tell them or suggest what types of businesses they could do, so we gave very simple suggestions.”

Micro-ventures included raking leaves, selling chocolate bars, and making homemade products like knitted scarves, spring rolls and baked goods. One of the more successful teams developed a wedding photography business and landed a couple of contracts that made the group over $1,000. Another team created a custom sign-making business and called upon the help of local artists.

A hands-on sponsor

Allard Chair Dave Mowat, president of ATB Financial, even got into the spirit by pitching in as part of the Snow Pixies business, clearing snow and ice for local homeowners.

(As part of his involvement at the university as Allard Chair, Dave visits classrooms, meets with program chairs and has a dialogue with leading business students. He will be honoured at the Allard Chair in Business Luncheon on April 8.)

As the students developed their plans, Leo enlisted the aid of Enactus MacEwan University to ensure the project ran smoothly – after all, 386 students were taking part. Thomas Stachowski, vice-president of operations for Enactus, took on the role of project manager, assisting the budding business owners with their ventures.

“Enactus’s role is to approve projects, assist groups with resource requirements and monitor and assist in venture development,” he explains. Thomas was also a student of BUSN 201 before Mission Possible was introduced.

“The course contains a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship and creating action and change within the community,” he adds.

IMAGE-MissionP-donationA key component of Mission Possible is the charitable element: teams choose a charity to receive a portion (10 to 100 per cent) of their profits. Leo says donations of 100 per cent were incentivized because the students’ grades were determined by their profit amount — revenues minus expenses — and by how much they donated to charity.

“Most teams chose to donate 100 per cent to charity,” says Leo.

When the project came to its end, the students had raised and donated $22,930 in the Fall term and $31,643 in the Winter term — a total of $54,573. Leo says that in the first term, the faculty members were not expecting this outcome, and they were further blown away by the results of the recent term.

“A lot of students come to business school because they want to make money and be successful,” says Leo. “Now they’re making money and being successful, but also seeing the charity side and how business can help the community.”