Jessica Baier ’12 (left) and Steven Fitzgerald ’12 (right).

Mac students are enthusiastic about a revived class in entrepreneurship.

Although most students don’t start a business right after graduation, it’s likely that someone from their class will.

With that in mind, Max Fram-Schwartz ’12 (Greenwich, Conn.) asked economics professor Joyce Minor to teach a class in entrepreneurship, a course that hadn’t been offered in seven years.

Twenty-four students eagerly signed up and each was asked to pitch a business idea. Six of those ideas were chosen for class members to develop more fully formed business plans; CEOs are the students who came up with the winning ideas.

The final business ideas are imaginative and quite varied in nature: an iPhone app for ordering food at your next airport stop; a private prison focused on the needs of senior citizens; an online learning marketplace; a social media website for showing clothes and where they were purchased; a pregame bar for athletic events; and a bus route digital screen company.

Although most of the students are economics majors, “everyone has a different style,” says CEO Steven Fitzgerald ’12 (Two Harbors, Minn.), “and it’s interesting to see how differently we all approach problems.”

Many of the students have an entrepreneur in their own family. CEO Jessica Baier ’12 (Seeley Lake, Mont.), for instance, often works in a gas station/grocery store owned by her father; Fitzgerald’s dad owns a trucking company and a firewood business; Fram-Schwartz’s grandfather started a real estate development firm.

Others, like An Xia ’13 (Shanghai), have clear plans about someday starting their own businesses. Xia, whose frustration about where to buy clothes prompted her fashion social media idea, “has always wanted to start my own catering business someday,” she says, “this is one of my dreams.” The entrepreneurship class, she says, allows her to test the waters before going out in to the real world.

Guest speaker entrepreneurs—many of them Mac alumni, such as Omar Ansari ’92 of Surly Brewing and Kate Ryan Reiling ’00 of Morphology Games— have discussed with students the nuts and bolts of start-ups, financial projections, financing alternatives, and the challenges of managing growth. “Our guest speakers have really brought class concepts to life,” says Minor, “but they’ve also sometimes told us things that conflict with the ‘textbook approach’ to starting a business.”

None of the CEOS who are seniors will immediately launch their own businesses, though all five have secured post-graduation employment.

Fram-Schwartz is among those who will start out his career working for others. However, his first job—at a Silicon Valley venture capital firm called 500 Startups—is probably the most closely related to the course material. Perhaps that’s not surprising given that he’s the young man who prompted the entrepreneurship class to be offered once again.

Why did he push so hard for it? “Because I’m always amazed by how passionate entrepreneurs are about what they’re doing,” Fram-Schwartz says. “Being an entrepreneur is a really powerful thing. You can change the world in the way you want to.”

April 6 2012

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