Earning A's For Entrepreneurial Effort: E-Scholars at St.Mary’s University make plans for future businesses.
TE wanted to learn more about the E-Scholars program offered at the Meadows Center for Entrepreneurial Studies located in the Bill Greehey School of Business at San Antonio’s St. Mary’s University. We recently visited with the program’s director, Dr. Brooke Envick, and three current E-Scholars.
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TE: How long has St. Mary’s offered this opportunity for students to learn more about what it takes to start their own businesses?
Dr. Envick: We started the E-Scholars program in 2004, as a way to offer entrepreneurship education to non-business majors. There are entrepreneurial ideas and activities going on across the campus, whether in the School of Humanities and Social Science or the School of Science, Engineering and Technology. In 2004, our cohort was pretty small, with only five students. But it’s grown since then. This year, 52 students applied to be E-Scholars, and we accepted 12. We keep it fairly small because we do many things outside of the classroom and in the community, such as networking events, workshops and a speaker series. We also take two domestic trips and one international trip each year. Over the past nine years, 16 different majors have been represented, from psychology and electrical engineering to English and accounting.
TE: How much interaction do the E-Scholars have with the San Antonio business community?
Dr. Enrick: Our main connection there is through the Forum for Entrepreneurship Breakfast Series, which is a joint partnership between St. Mary’s University and the business community. We also have over 35 sponsors and most of them are local banks, law firms, accounting firms, marketing companies, and entrepreneurial companies. We get four speakers per year to come in to share their insights with the students. We’ve heard from people such as Charlie Amato of SWBC, Bill Greehey of NuStar, and Colleen Barrett of Southwest Airlines, so we’ve hosted a number of business leaders from both inside and outside of San Antonio. The students help organize these meetings, which attract about 300 people per event. So there’s networking opportunities there. Last week, when we had our internal elevator pitch competition, we had people from the board and also our title sponsor, South Texas Money Management, come in and help judge. In addition to that, we get involved with the local chapter of The Entrepreneurs’ Organization. They do a workshop type event for us in the fall. We’ve also started a relationship with Geekdom, and that will grow in the years to come.
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My name’s John Sandoval, and I’m a junior accounting major here at St. Mary’s. The E-Scholars program has given me a new way of thinking. It’s taught me to look at my surroundings differently and to be a little more creative. The experience has helped get me out of my accounting box just through networking with others. That’s enabled me to developing ideas. I can now see a problem one day and be like, ‘Oh, that could be a business plan,’ and I could try to make something better out of it.
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My name is Esperanza Gomez. I’m an Entrepreneurial Studies major and a senior here at St. Mary’s. Last year, I attended the CEO Elevator Pitch competition. I really didn’t know what I was going to get into. I didn’t make it far (laughs), but it was such a good experience because it gets you a lot of exposure. So I thought, oh, well, what the heck, and applied again this year. It’s been great. I’ve learned so much about what I want to do with my life. Last semester, we looked at social entrepreneurship, which I didn’t even know existed. I thought going into business was just about making money, and that was it. So I now know a lot more about what I want to do with my career in the future.
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I’m Abigail Hernandez, an accounting major and a junior here at St. Mary’s. What originally interested me in the program was that I have a really good friend who was a sophomore when I was a freshman, and all he ever talked about was the E-Scholars program. He’d go on and on about E-Scholars and what he was doing all kinds of stuff and how he was going here and there. So I was kind of jealous. Last year I participated in the CEO Elevator Pitch. I didn’t think I would get in; I didn’t think I would have to pitch, but I did. It was my first experience ever talking in front of large groups of people and really trying to sell an idea that was so personal to me. But I had a great time. I was able to talk with so many students and entrepreneurs that were there and it’s why I’m going back – that ability to network and realize that regardless of age, people are doing so much right now. Even though they’re in college and they’re worrying about loans and the job market, they’re putting themselves out there.
Last year we got to go to Hong Kong and Macau in China, which was amazing. I’ve never really traveled abroad anywhere, so going to an Asian country was fantastic and it was really cool. Usually we work on a group project where we collaborate with two other students in the E-Scholars program and come up with a business idea. I worked with an English major and a political science major to pitch an educational consulting program that would be based in Hong Kong. Obviously, as a business student I primarily interact with business students, so it was a really cool opportunity to work with people outside of my discipline with completely different views on life and ideas of places they were going. And just being able to kind of talk and learn about international business was a good capstone to what I had learned the previous semester in the CEO Elevator Pitch competition.
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TE: It sounds like the E-Scholars Program really prepares students for the business world – whether they decide to start their own businesses or work for someone else.
Dr. Envick: I think the students who graduate with the E-Scholars program under their belt have a leg up in the job market. I’ve had students directly tell me ‘During the interview, they kept asking me about the E-Scholars program. Tell me more about your international trip or tell me more about your business idea.’ Same thing with internships. Students say the E-Scholars program really helped them. I think employers are interested in them because they don’t just have the traditional college experience. One thing that we do on some of the trips is we make the students conduct business meetings, even on the international trip. They’ll go ‘I don’t know anybody in Hong Kong. How can I set up a business meeting?’ But they’ll figure out how to do it. And they come back with a lot more confidence. That’s the one thing I’ve seen consistently in the students. When they start the program they’re a little bit unsure, and then they do their first competition or trip. You see a little bit of confidence build up. By the time they come back from their international trip, they’re the most confident students on campus. And that confidence carries over into interviews and the workplace.
TE: That confidence is something you can’t get out of a textbook or simply listening to a lecture. I’m sure it can only come from getting out there and jumping into the deep end.
Dr. Envick: That is one thing we really tried to focus on with this program – we looked at how to eliminate some of the common barriers that we have in education. If they never get out of the four walls of the classroom, it’s very hard for them to learn. For example, if somebody wanted to learn how to start a restaurant, I can only teach them so much, because I’ve never run a restaurant. But if I get them connected with someone who owns a restaurant, then they can help take the student to the next level. So that eliminates two barriers to education: the isolation on a campus and the limited expertise. That may sound bad when I say that about myself, but I can only take them so far because I haven’t opened a business in every industry out there. So I need to be able to get them in touch with people from multiple industries that they can network with. There’s also a cost issue. Like I said, we do these domestic and international trips that cost money. Each student puts $2500 into the program, because we want them to have some skin in the game. That gives them some investment, too. The proceeds from the Forum for Entrepreneurship Breakfast Series that I mentioned earlier go the E-Scholars program. This year they donated $25,000.
TE: Why do you encourage students to participate in the CEO Elevator Pitch competition?
Dr. Envick: Gaining elevator pitch skills also helps them pitch themselves. They are better equipped to talk about how they’re going to add value or help solve a problem for someone. Everything is changing so fast that investors just want the pitch. They don’t want the business plan, per se – especially initially. If they’re interested in the pitch, they’ll give you a card and then schedule a time for lunch or a meeting. They don’t have time to read through the business plans or hear twenty-minute presentations. Companies also are interested in entrepreneurial thinkers, so even if our E-Scholars graduate and they don’t start their own businesses right away, companies are interested in them to come in as an employee and think of new ideas and help solve problems. Years ago, entrepreneurship majors were seen as a threat in companies, but now they’re seen as a huge asset.
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All the exposure to different entrepreneurs in the community has given me an appreciation of what really makes people happy with their work. What they’ve helped me see is that, yes, you could go make six figures in a corporation, but is that necessarily what you want? They help me envision a future I could create for myself. When you work for a corporation, you have the corporation’s goals and mission statements and all that. But if you are running your own business, you make the mission statement, you have a purpose that you want to see driven and pretty much it’s all on you. I can see how happy people are who do that. My dad, for instance, runs his own business, and he’s always telling me to go get my experience right now and as I get out of college, but he would really like to see me start my own business some day as well. And that’s one of my long-term goals as soon as I get enough experience.
If you are not a great leader, you will never take that business that you hope to run someday to the next level. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned. That in order for me to one day own my company, I need to work on my leadership skills. I’m learning more as to what kind of manager I want to become and how to keep customers and employees happy. It takes a lot to run a business. We all have ideas. But it takes the initiative and leadership to take action. The program has really taught me, okay, if you want to do something, you have to start it now. And keep going forward.
I guess my biggest takeaway from the entire program is just what I’m capable of at this age. Even though I’m adult, I still think of myself as just some kid in school. But I’ve realized that as an entrepreneur, age doesn’t matter. There’s no minimum age limit. There’s no maximum age limit. So I feel I am capable of coming up with an idea and getting the resources to start it. At the CEO Elevator Pitch, I met someone who’s only a year older than me and he operated something like 16 hot dog carts all around in Chicago. And I thought that was insane! How did he do this? How do you even begin that? So seeing what other people are doing or thinking shows me that I can also do something similar. I realized, working with Dr. Envick and Pamela Duffy at the Meadows Center, just how many resources there are here in Texas. We have a great business community here, especially in San Antonio. And the fact that everybody knows somebody who can help me learn this or that is great. If I have an idea now, I can start it and get the resources now and easily – well, probably not that easily – but at least kind of get a jump start on it. And so I think that that’s just kind of my biggest takeaway – that I can do this and I can do it now. I don’t have to wait.
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This has been the most rewarding for me as a professor and I’ve been teaching college students for 20 years. This is my 17th year at St. Mary’s. We didn’t start going to CEO until 2006 and then in 2007 I thought maybe we should participate in this whole elevator pitch thing. In 2008, we took both first place and second place. We are the only university that has ever done that. That was probably the big ‘Aha moment’ for me. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in our students or anything like that, because we have some amazing students doing some amazing things. But seeing that happen made me realize that we are capable of doing anything any large university is able to do or anything that any Ivy League university is able to do. We have that caliber of student here. And I get to work with them in the E-Scholars program!
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