Started in January as part of a new capstone business course in the School of Management and Information Systems at the University of Missouri-Rolla, two student-run companies raised enough funds to repay their business loans and raise more than $5,000 for two local charities. The course was so successful the school plans to offer it again next spring.
"The course was an unqualified success, both financially and as a learning experience for the students," says Dr. Madhu Reddy, assistant professor of business administration and information science and technology at UMR and course instructor.
The course is part of a new mind set in business school capstone courses, says Dr. Ray Kluczny, associate dean of the UMR School of Management and Information Systems and chair of the school’s business administration program. The course, SM&IS 397, allowed students to gain valuable hands-on experience in a business environment.
When the course ended in May, the students had written a business plan, built a profitable business from the ground up, written a comprehensive annual report to its shareholders and closed the business.
In addition to the nuts-and-bolts of running a business, students learned to be responsible citizens. Each company chose a local charity and spent time throughout the semester performing community service.
"I can’t explain how satisfying it is to know that our hard work not only developed our minds with knowledge of entrepreneurship and the business world, but also enhanced the community of Rolla," says Charlene Baker, a senior in management systems from Davisville, Mo. Baker worked in the technical and operations departments of Managen Enterprises, one of the two companies.
Managen Enterprises sold products such as mugs and wine glasses with laser-engraved designs. Their profits, approximately $3,100, were donated to Prevention Consultants of Missouri. Managen employees also performed 160 hours of community service for the group, assisting with a carnival and a five-kilometer run/walk. In addition, the students saved Prevention Consultants of Missouri nearly $1,000 by setting up their computer network when the agency moved to a new location.
Miner Solutions sold sunglasses that are replicas of styles by Adidas, Calvin Klein and Armani, among others. Their profits, nearly $2,500, were donated to Rolla charity GRACE. Miner Solutions employees tutored students in Rolla schools through the Adopt-A-School program and built picnic benches and a lemonade stand for Phelps County Community Partnership.
"One of the goals of this course was to give students those opportunities in an environment where they can make mistakes," Reddy says. "We encouraged them to learn about the problems they’ll face in the business world after graduation."
In traditional capstone courses, students haven’t been given the responsibility to make decisions that have financial and product implications, says Reddy. Students may have held internships in a company and worked on projects, but they lack that comprehensive experience starting a business provides.
Phelps County Bank in Rolla saw the value this course could offer to Missouri’s future small businesses and provided funding to each of the course’s businesses just as it would to any other small business that applies for a loan. Bank officials were so pleased with the success of the program they donated an additional $500 to each charity. The bank plans to continue its partnership with the UMR School of Management and Information Systems, providing funding for next year’s capstone course.