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Entrepreneur Programs Gaining Popularity With Students, Schools

There were enough holes in the first two business ideas presented by Marco Iturri and Kathy Schafer to play a full round of golf.

From peddling oils and tea products over the Internet to selling packaged milk, the fledging entrepreneurs didn’t have a chance with either, their colleagues said. So, after two mulligans, they finally landed on the fairway by pitching an online European gay wedding service.

“No one has done it and there’s a market for it,” said Schafer, while the same group of skeptics probed with pointed questions.”We would be the middlemen.” Iturri and Schafer spent the next 25 minutes defending their concept.

But eventually, the room and mood-started to turn.”That’s what entrepreneurship is about-thinking,” said Tim Burns, author of the book”entrepreneur-ship.com.”

“You start tossing the idea around and ask ‘what if, what if.'” Burns, a CPA and attorney, is also an adjunct instructor at the AB Freeman School of Business at Tulane University. He teaches in the school’s Levy-Rosenblum Institute for Entrepreneur-ship. Iturri and Schafer, both seniors, are two of his students, and the presentation- was a classroom discussion designed to form them into future entrepreneurs.

And while their classmates were rigid, they’re not nearly as brutal as the marketplace. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 85 percent of all businesses fail within the first five years. That’s not discouraging students from taking entrepreneurial courses, though. In fact, at more than 1,500 schools nationwide, at least one class is offered in entrepreneurship. And these types of majors are becoming more visible and available, up to 550 related degrees are currently available in the U.S.

The growing number of entrepreneurial classes is part of an explosion of interest that started more than 20 years ago, said Gerald Hills, founder and chairman of the Chicago-based Collegiate Entrepreneurial Organization, a non-profit network of more than 100 universities.”The major factor has been the [lack of] security provided by large corporations,” he said.

That doesn’t make entrepreneurship any easier.”There’s no free lunch, man,” Kenneth Lacho reminds students.

According to Lacho, professor of management and entrepreneurship coordinator at the University of New Orleans, more than 2,600 students have taken a class in entrepreneurship at UNO since 1994.”These courses train people how to start a business, manage franchises and family businesses,” he said. And plans are in the works to offer entrepreneurship-currently a minor-as a major.

Lacho admits few students walk out of the classes armed with everything they need to hang their own shingle. Most take the classes in order to acquaint themselves with the concept of entrepreneurship, or simply to fulfill an elective. Iturri, a triple major in finance, economics and management at Tulane, originally enrolled in the entrepreneurship course as a way to fulfill curriculum requirements. But once in a while, there are students whose lives are changed by taking one of these classes.

Take Thanh-Mai Nguyen for example- one of UNO’s recent success stories. Five months after opening”Cool Beans,” a local coffeehouse, the operation has already paid for itself. And it’s done so about a year ahead of her most optimistic estimates.”I knew I wanted to open a business in my 40s,” Nguyen, 27, said.

Instead, she enrolled in a business plan development course in May 2001-her last semester of school-that altered her timeline and, ultimately, her life. But it happened only on a whim.”I didn’t know they even offered the class,” she said.”I needed it for my elective.” During college, she worked a stint in the Starbucks management training program and used the experience to plan her own coffee shop. A year after graduation, she did it.

With start-up costs and elbow grease assistance from friends and family, she and her sister, Jessie, opened in May 2002, with mixed results.”It’s the most thrilling and exciting thing until you open the doors and no one comes in,” she said.

Eventually they did come, and now she’s working on a marketing plan and T-shirts to get more repeat customers.

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