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Beyond the classroom

A cornerstone to any new business is a well thought-out and detailed business plan that includes critical elements such as a marketing plan, management team's qualifications, operations plan, industry analysis and target markets. The business plan is the key to taking a great idea and creating an actual business. At Anne Arundel Community College, students are crafting real business plans through the school's annual Business Plan Competition for cash prizes; however, what they gain is much more important than cash.

Carlene Cassidy, chair of AACC's Entrepreneurial Studies Institute and associate professor of  business management and entrepreneurial studies, says that each year, approximately 12 qualified plans are submitted – others that are not quite fully developed are submitted for the school's "Big Idea" competition – and three to five of the plans are presented to a panel of business leaders. "All students who submit a business plan receive critical feedback from bankers, entrepreneurs and others. It's free consulting advice and a great experience for the students to go through the process," Cassidy says.

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"Students must also know how to properly articulate their business ideas via a presentation," she adds. Cassidy gives the example of one student who wanted to launch a Middle Eastern restaurant. "The plan was very detailed – types of food and live entertainment was included, and research had been done with an analysis of the industry and the target market."

Cassidy says students have access to a number of databases at AACC, including census data, and the educational level and household income of the area, to help assess the market. "If an idea is to launch a carpet cleaning business in Annapolis, you have to know the percentage of owned-occupied households vs. rentals, for example. Once you identify the market, how will you reach it? What is your marketing plan and what is the management experience of your team? We also help them understand licensing, commercial real estate and financing."

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Cassidy says the most difficult element for most students is finance – income statements, balance sheets and statements of cash flow, for example. "In the end, it has to be a realistic and feasible plan, but we also look for intangibles such as passion, energy and confidence," she says. The winner receives a $3,000 cash prize and space in AACC's Business Incubator where they are teamed with a mentor.

Satisfying a need

For many college students, finding time to grab a meal on campus while jetting from class to class, extracurricular activities and possibly a job, is challenging. Business majors at Towson University spend a majority of their time in one building, Stephens Hall, which offered little in the way of food other than a vending machine. Recognizing the need for something more substantial for breakfast, lunch or dinner, a group of entrepreneurial students from Enactus, a business club at Towson, decided to open a café in Stephens Hall.

"Students were having a hard time grabbing food between classes as the closest place to Stephens Hall sometimes had long lines," says Redate Haile, a junior at Towson who is majoring in business administration with a concentration is project management. "So we came up with the idea to launch a café, which we did last August."

Haile explains that Enactus Café is done in partnership with Chartwells, which handles Towson's dining services. "We order all the food through them, yet we handle all the decisions and are very particular to ensure that we are using local suppliers such as Baltimore Coffee and Tea, when possible," she says. The café, which is open Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-7 p.m., as well as Friday from 8 a.m.-Noon, serves sandwiches, salads, snacks, baked goods, beverages. "The response has been amazing and sales doubled from the first week we opened in just two months," Haile says.

Haile explains that four Enactus club members manage the day-to-day operations and hire students to work the café. Towson University invested in the café's start-up costs. "It's difficult to run a business and handle supply chain management, marketing, staffing and customer service, but it's been a great experience," she says.

Teaching tomorrow's leaders

Notre Dame of Maryland University's mission statement says the school "educates leaders to transform the world." Deborah Calhoun, Ph.D., chair and associate professor in the business and economics department, says that while the importance of leadership is stressed in all disciplines at Notre Dame – nursing, education, political science, etc. – it's critical in her department. One of the methods of instilling leadership is the Coached Leadership Practicum, which is available to both undergraduate and graduate students.

"The employers who looked at our program loved the fact that we teach leadership and management, but they also wanted students to experience leadership first-had," Calhoun says. In the Coached Leadership Practicum, students are paired with a leadership coach to initiate a project at their work, community, church, child's school, etc. "The coaches come from varied industries and are trained by Notre Dame. Students receive knowledge from a seasoned professional who doesn't tell students what to do, but rather helps them get there on their own," says Calhoun. She notes that the practicum is open to any major on the undergraduate level, and students are current leaders on campus in some form – student government, youth group leader or a team captain, for example.

Calhoun says that another way Notre Dame uniquely teaches leadership is in its approach. "Leadership is not just about maximizing profitability … we also look at leadership through a lens to see how a leader's actions will affect a company's employees and its customers. What will be the social impact of your decisions? At Notre Dame, leadership is all about inspiring and moving people forward with society's best interest in mind," says Calhoun.

In addition to leadership skills, soft skills are also emphasized. "We teach professional communication skills, how to manage projects, how to receive and give feedback, critical thinking and how to work together as a team. For example, when my students perform calculations, I have them write the answers in memo form to force them to communicate the effect the numbers will have on a company's decision making," she says.•

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