New Course Targets Non-Business Major Entrepreneurs

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Just as he did a year ago, Mark Owens’ summer break from CSU classes includes working for a small, family-owned computer and multimedia services provider.

But different this summer is new insight he brings, thanks to “Small Business and Entrepreneurship for Non-Business Majors” — a new course through the D. Abbott Turner College of Business.

Owens, a sophomore music performance major, was part of this spring’s inaugural, 14-student class that studied the fundamentals of starting and operating a small business.

With JMX Services, Inc., in his Fayetteville, Ga. hometown, Owens’ primary job was installing software and audio systems. However, now he said he better understands his employer from a business standpoint.

“I can really appreciate the growing pains he’s gone through,” said Owens, referring to JMX’s owner who started the company as an electrical engineer without formal business training. “This includes everything from keeping balance sheets and effectively communicating with employees, to having a feel for risk-taking. Taking the class has put me in a position, I think, to help out on the operations side if needed.”

KirkOwens’ employer represents a growing trend, said CSU Associate Professor of Management Kirk Heriot, right, who designed and teaches the new course. “More and more, businesses are being created by those without a formal business education.”

However, Heriot said Owens’ situation — in the position to immediately apply what he’s learned in a job setting — is not the norm for his freshman and sophomore classmates or future students taking the course. “The goal with this course is not necessarily to prepare these students to immediately go out and start a small business, but to create a spark in their minds that this is something they could do when an opportunity might present itself further along in their careers.”

Success stories Heriot shared with his class include Doris Christopher, the home economics teacher and at-home mom who founded “The Pampered Chef” from the basement of her suburban Chicago home in 1980. Now her direct-sales operation of kitchen accessories has offices throughout the world and a corporate staff of more than 950. Also, Columbus’ Ashley Hatcher, a pharmaceutical representative and mom, recently patented a non-slip serving tray that she sells worldwide as “The Lapper” through her new, home-based business. She and her product have been featured by the likes of ABC’s Good Morning America and ForbesLife magazine.

To help prepare for potential, similar endeavors, Heriot guided various research projects by his students, who ranged from computer science and art majors to future chemists and communication professionals. Owens and fellow music major Justin Worley studied and interviewed a local pair of music instrument dealers. The students learned location (Gorilla Guitars on Broadway and AJ Music on 13th Street) and customer satisfaction have keyed the success of both businesses in competing with larger “box stores.”

“With limited advertising budgets, both stores have found customer word-of-mouth’ to be very effective. This has been achieved by keeping prices low and maintaining a personalized, customer-friendly atmosphere,” said Owens.

Other group projects included a study on “The Impact of War on Veteran-and-Reservist Entrepreneurs and Those Who Employ Them,” and a feasibility study for a downtown Columbus laundry and dry cleaning operation.

Heriot said entrepreneurship is increasingly viable with the Internet as a vehicle and with non-business professionals seeking more control and options in their careers in an era of global outsourcing. “In the early eighties, Jerome Katz (St. Louis University entrepreneurship professor and author) pointed out that just 20-25 colleges and universities offered at least one such course, today that total is over 1,600 schools.”

Heriot joined the College of Business faculty last fall to serve as the Ray and Evelyn Crowley Endowed Chair of Entrepreneurship — a position created during the recently completed $100 million capital campaign with a gift from the Crowleys to enhance entrepreneurship education at CSU.

In addition to teaching, Heriot is developing a CEO-entrepreneur speaker series and a “business plan” competition to attract prospective entrepreneurs among CSU students and the off-campus community.

For more information about the course “Small Business and Entrepreneurship for Non-Business Majors,” call Heriot at 706-562-1674 or e-mail heriot_kirk@ColumbusState.edu.