Enterprising students try their wings in campus-based small business ventures
by Debbie Fried
Between classes on any given day, don’t be surprised to see students gathered out front of Solutions, grabbing a quick drink or snack, thanks to prompt customer service and a minimum of time wasted waiting in line. The Solutions kiosk, located just east of Pollock Theatre is an excellent example of student entrepreneurship in action.
‘Solutions’ was implemented one year ago by Kelly Hall, Associate Professor of Business, and was created as a “solution” to a dilemma students often faced when needing supplies very quickly, such as a Scantron for an impending exam. Before the kiosk, students in a bind had to traverse greater distances to the campus bookstore. Solutions was just that: a solution to tardiness and stress issues by providing more convenience for COD students.
Participating students “plan, organize, operate, staff and manage a real start-up business; each semester represents an entire business life-span,” says Hall. The revenue generated by the customer base on campus sustains the business activities.
Prof. Hall’s invitation to business students to be a part of the Solutions team seems to mirror the succinct way she describes this unique and enriching opportunity:
“If you want to learn to swim, you may read a book on swimming. You may listen to a lecture on swimming. But you cannot learn to swim until you actually get into the water!”
Student-run kiosks provide “experiential learning that they cannot get from traditional classroom instruction, integrating cooperative learning experience and entrepreneurship,” says Hall. Students are even in charge of inventory, marketing strategies and the preparation of financial statements.
Chris Fernandez is taking 19 units this semester, three of which are earned working as part of the Solutions team. Fernandez is an Accounting major, minoring in Business, who thought his participation “would be a great experience and would give me a [business] edge later in life.” He adds, “it is a lot of work, but in the end, even though there is a stipend involved, it’s really the experience that I’m gaining that outweighs the financial incentive.”
The team has decided to form a scholarship fund with a portion of the proceeds, the goal of which is funding four $250 scholarships. Hall says the team hopes that local businesses and other groups will match this “seed money.”
The big picture is in allowing students the chance to apply learning objectives in a structured learning environment in a real world activity. Hall tells of an unfortunate phenomenon, “Today’s employers are lamenting incoming employees who lack the soft skills of business.” Hence, the experience it provides is another reason the kiosk is aptly named.
Hall explains, “we are teaching our students to bake cakes, design marketing logos, grow produce, draw architectural plans and more. But that is only part of the equation. The other part is actually knowing how to make money with your education and skill.”
When asked about the most gratifying part of the Solutions project, Hall responded, “It’s the students, no question.” Fernandez sums it up this way: “So far, it’s really been a great experience”.