Reality is all the rage on television; and at the University of Missouri-Rolla, reality-based education is just as popular. In a senior-level course designed to fit UMR’s experiential learning philosophy, 66 students from the School of Management and Information Systems are forming real-world companies this semester.
Although students won’t be fired like participants in the popular reality show, "The Apprentice," they are taking out real loans and trying to make real profits.
This semester, students enrolled in the course are running four companies. The students in each company research potential products, develop a business plan and implement a marketing strategy.
Green Lamb Co. is marketing a book, "The College Success Guide: A unique perspective for students by students." The book includes chapters on laundry, homesickness and partying. Another company, Open Edge, is selling stadium chairs. MORE Designs is building customized websites and CPSI is promoting a coupon book.
The capstone course draws students from three UMR academic departments: economics and finance, business administration, and information science and technology. The class is taught by Dr. Lance Gentry, assistant professor of business administration, and Dr. Madhu Reddy, assistant professor of information science and technology and business administration at UMR.
"Last year was the first time we offered this class," Reddy says. "We had 33 students and two companies. The combined profits were more than $5,000."
Reddy says the professors let the students divide responsibilities and grade each other based on perceived contributions to the companies. Each company elects a chief executive officer and chooses a team to make presentations to Phelps County Bank representatives, who approve the business plans before extending seed money loans.
"By the time students get to this course, they should have taken all the classes they need to be successful," Reddy says. "In theory, they are ready for the real world.
"But the whole goal in many ways is to let them make mistakes. This is probably one of the last times they can make business mistakes without serious consequences."
Each company is expected to wind down operations and repay loans to the bank by the end of the semester. Profits are donated to charity. Two of the companies are donating profits to Prevention Consultants of Missouri this semester. Phelps County Community Partnership and Habitat for Humanity are the other designated charities.
"The bank was so impressed last year that they donated an extra $500 to each company’s charity and sponsored a banquet for the students," Reddy says.
The following UMR students are company CEOs: Chip Carden of Green Lamb Co. is a senior in business and management systems from Cuba, Mo.; A.J. Larson of Open Edge is a senior in business and management systems from Joplin, Mo.; Sabrina Jones of MORE designs is a senior in business and management systems from St. Louis; and Juan Salas of CPSI is a senior in information science and technology and business and management systems from Waynesville, Mo.