• Breaking New Ground

    February 2000. Best Buy founder Richard M. Schulze and his wife, Sandra, now deceased, donate $50 million to the University of St. Thomas. To mark the occasion, Schulze notes: “We realize that this institution shares our entrepreneurial approach to life. This is an extremely rare quality among universities. The people at St. Thomas realize that accomplishment is the product of calculated and managed risk. It is a result of the strong desire to deliver value and service to the community.

    Five years later, one of the most visible fruits of this donation has emerged in downtown Minneapolis: Schulze Hall, the new home of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. The building is impressive, but future achievements by students, alumni and faculty will reveal the true impact of St. Thomas’ entrepreneurship programs.Point of PrideSt. Thomas began its trek into entrepreneurship in 1982, when it set up an endowed chair in small business and entrepreneurship. The next decade saw the launch of the Center for Entrepreneurship and a Department of Entrepreneurship and Business Law within the Division of Business. National recognition soon began to roll in. In 1993, the entrepreneurship program was given a National Model MBA Entrepreneurship Award. A National Model Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Program Award followed in 1999; meanwhile, St. Thomas began to receive a series of rankings in the top 25 schools for entrepreneurship education by Success magazine, including a fifth place ranking in 2001. Another ranking, this one by Entrepreneur magazine, found St. Thomas in the third tier of the top 50 national entrepreneurship programs with universities such as Stanford and Duke.

    Entrepreneurship is a popular undergraduate major. Last year there were 281 undergraduate entrepreneurship majors, up from 116 in 1995. It is one of the top 10 majors chosen on campus. The MBA in Venture Management had 20 students in 2004.

    In addition to the undergraduate major in entrepreneurship and graduate track in venture management, the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship includes the John M. Morrison Center for Entrepreneurship. The center offers general outreach to entrepreneurs, as well as more specific offerings through the Small Business Development Center and Center for Family Enterprise. Faculty associated with the center engage in research and offer programming for entrepreneurs, from those who are exploring a business launch to seasoned business owners.

    The Schulze School also serves as the home of the Norris Institute, which has been a part of St. Thomas since 2001. Established by the former Control Data Corp., the institute provides seed capital for entrepreneurial activity that leads to valuable technology-based products and services.

    St. Thomas’ entrepreneurship programs have attracted people such as Sapor Cafe owner Julie Steenerson ’00 M.B.A. Steenerson was looking for an M.B.A. program where she could develop an effective business plan for her restaurant. “I was aware of the statistics against successful new restaurants,” she said, “but I felt that with a passion for the business and a sound business plan I could combat the odds.”

    Steenerson also was attracted to the small class sizes, practical orientation and dedicated faculty at St. Thomas. “The faculty has been exceedingly supportive from the early stages of my business through today,” Steenerson offered, “and they are still customers and fans of the restaurant.” Sapor Cafe has now been open for five years and has received excellent reviews.

    Supporting the Highly Creative Current and aspiring entrepreneurs receive support not only from faculty but also from each other. The undergraduate Practicing Entrepreneurs Group has been meeting for about five years. Open to anyone who has a business or is working on a business idea, the group has between 20 to 25 active students. About a dozen students attend the weekly meetings, where members discuss business issues and ideas.

    The group also takes occasional field trips to talk with local business owners. During a visit to Stogies on Grand, students talked with co-owner Howard Bream about how anti-smoking laws have affected business. Assistant professor Jay Ebben, faculty adviser for the group, glows about the students in the group: “They’re very creative. They build on ideas and brainstorm solutions.”

    Brian Cox is one of these creative undergraduates. Cox, who will graduate in December, is a seasoned entrepreneur. His high school experience included an informal soft drink business and a lawn care business, which he sold when he graduated. He knew he wanted an entrepreneurship major in college and chose St. Thomas for its reputation and location. Among the benefits of his education was the chance to meet other entrepreneurial people. “Networking has been key,” he said.

    Since he started college, Cox launched another lawn care business, BCGreenscapes. A brother does most of the managerial work, so “it doesn’t take a lot of time and energy to run.” This has allowed Cox to start up an auto dealership, Simple Luxury Imports, with his father and another partner. Cox also recently purchased property, part of which he rents out. In hindsight, he would discourage other college students from running multiple businesses. “That is not to say that people should not start a company or two while they are in school; I think it can be the best way to provide yourself with an income. What I am saying is that you need to make sure you’re not stretched beyond your means,” he said.

    A graduate Practicing Entrepreneurship Group started meeting this year with faculty adviser Alec Johnson, assistant professor of entrepreneurship. The group meets about every two weeks, usually at lunch, and there are eight active members from both the full- and part-time MBA programs. “They are all either entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs,” Johnson said, “and they get together to discuss ideas, issues, problems, opportunities. We have members with business ideas that involve sophisticated software, a winery, a new magazine and a pizza business, among other things.”

    Building for the FutureThe School of Entrepreneurship is not about to rest on past success. Schulze Hall and an intensive new course for MBA students will ensure that future entrepreneurs are well served.

    The new building feels spacious, but it is packed with activity. The four stories include a cafeteria, a 324-seat auditorium (which can be converted to a 64-seat classroom), 10 standard classrooms, 16 breakout rooms, offices, conference rooms and spaces for student work. The building allows for 30 square feet of classroom space per student, a generous amount.

    The skyway, which connects Schulze Hall to the School of Law and Terrence Murphy Hall, extends the downtown skyway system to the parking ramp near the law school. A “Wall of Fame” featuring outstanding St. Thomas entrepreneurs will give pedestrians a chance to learn more about the successful business people who graduated from the school. Passersby also will be treated to a window display of some of the equipment used by St. Thomas as a Sun Center of Excellence. (See story on Page 20.)

    A key feature of Schulze Hall is the entrepreneurship lab. This lab will provide gathering space and resources for people such as the Cattin brothers, an entrepreneurial family of Tommies. Older brothers, Paul, who runs a tea shop in Colorado, and Brian, a business management consultant, have already graduated. Greg, the third of the brothers to major in entrepreneurship at St. Thomas, will have two years to benefit from the new facilities. Owner of a carpet binding business, Greg plans to use the audio-visual suite with a team of fellow students and solicit advice from one of the guest entrepreneurs who will have offices in the entrepreneurship lab. The lab also includes student office space, which will allow for up to three student-run businesses to share an office, each business receiving space during certain hours of the day.

    Although the building was designed primarily to serve entrepreneurship students, it also will provide space for students in the Master of Science in Accountancy program. Other amenities in the new building include a student commons and a changing room for students who need to dress up for interviews or internships.

    The most impressive feature of Schulze Hall is the technology. No business school in the United States surpasses the level of sophistication found in this new building. The dean’s suite includes a conference room, which is equipped for video-teleconferences. The entire building is wireless, and all phones use voice-over-Internet protocol. In addition, all classroom and conference room tables are powered so that students can plug in PDAs, laptops and other electronic resources.

    Schulze Hall represents St. Thomas’ most active partnership with Opus Corp., a construction company that has built many of the university’s academic and residential buildings in recent years. Lessons learned from implementing new technology during this project will set the standard for future academic buildings, including McNeely Hall, the new undergraduate business building currently under construction on the St. Paul campus. According to senior associate dean Bill Raffield, all classrooms in McNeely will have the same technology as those in Schulze Hall.

    Launching Determined Dreamers This fall also sees the start of a new class for promising M.B.A. students. The intensive business lab, informally know as the launch lab, is a two-semester, six-credit course. It can best be compared to the yearlong Aristotle Fund class, in which students manage a fund for St. Thomas. Students who wish to take the intensive business lab must apply to enroll, and not all who apply are accepted. For this first year of offering, 14 students applied and eight were accepted. (The class allows for a maximum of 10 students.) As part of the application process, students must demonstrate an idea for starting a business and a strong intent to launch it.

    The course integrates the best theoretical content into the practice of developing a business. Students are learning in real time as they work toward launching their business. A board of advisers will serve as mentors and resources to the students. Johnson, the main instructor for the course, said there is an additional carrot for students enrolled in the course: they will have the opportunity to compete for start-up money from the Norris Institute, though there is no guarantee that any will win assistance. Jay Schaper, ’03 M.B.A., can confirm the importance of assistance from the Norris Institute. Schaper has always been an entrepreneur. When he decided to get an M.B.A., he chose St. Thomas because of the instructors’ entrepreneurial experience. As the son of orchard owners, Schaper developed MANAGEtheFARM, a customer relationship management platform for producers and retailers in the agriculture industry. Though he loves being an entrepreneur, Schaper finds that the downside is trying to get funding; it is difficult to get a new product to market with a small budget. The Norris Institute helped provide some of the funding to launch MANAGEtheFARM.

    Schaper is grateful for the help he received from the Norris Institute. And, like other St. Thomas entrepreneurs, he treasures the time he had with students and faculty who shared and nurtured his entrepreneurial bent. “It’s fun to hang out with like-minded and passionate individuals.  St. Thomas has been instrumental in helping me screen the opportunity, prepare the business concept for market, raise money, build the team and get it firing on all cylinders.”

    Perhaps the two words to describe the entrepreneurs who come from St. Thomas are “determined dreamers.” Like Schaper, they speak about business and their goals with a passion. Also like Schaper, they take risks and put in lots of hours to pursue their passion. For them, there is no choice. Schaper puts it best: “I thrive on creating, building and developing new things. We entrepreneurs have been told that we have a high disdain for the status quo, and I think that’s true.”

    In 1998, St. Thomas trustee John M. Morrison and his wife, Sue Schmid Morrison, recognized the importance of entrepreneurship by giving a major financial gift to help establish the John M. Morrison Center for Entrepreneurship. Like the Schulzes, the Morrisons understood the important role that entrepreneurs play in our world. Entrepreneurs bring their creative spirit to existing businesses, helping them break into new ventures. They bring their wisdom to family businesses, fostering continued improvement. They start new businesses, bringing new products, services and job opportunities to the marketplace.

    Now with the opening of Schulze Hall, St. Thomas is poised to begin a new era in entrepreneurship education. The innovative technology and dynamic learning environment offer aspiring entrepreneurs an opportunity to follow their dreams and grow as creative business people. In the end, all of us will be the recipients of their success.

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